Today I did something I’ve been wanting to do for ages – I started making wine. Despite what the hundreds of websites on the subject would have you believe, it’s (apparently) pretty easy. So, over the next few weeks, I hope to turn this pile of stuff (not so much the knives)…
When you tell people you’re going to make wine, it’s amazing how much advice people have to give you. So if you have any tips, feel free to leave them in the comments. But the main thing people say is, “why don’t you just buy it?” The assumption is that making wine is complicated and expensive. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how complicated it is – I’ll let you know in a few weeks. Cost-wise, it’s actually pretty reasonable. Now that I’ve got the basic equipment (which was also pretty cheap), and thanks to a 3 for £4 deal on Sainsbury’s Red Grape Juice, it should work out at just over £1 a bottle! That’s pretty good going.
But there’s more to it than that.
There’s something satisfying about taking some stuff, turning it into something else and enjoying the results (I’ve been inspired by my friend Nay, who spends most of the summer and autumn foraging for flowers and fruit to turn into all kinds of things). In fact, I think it’s part of what it means to be human. As a Christian, I believe that God gave human beings the special privilege and command to cultivate and shape their environment. Whereas God spoke and created from nothing, as we follow in his footsteps we take the raw materials he’s placed around us and we turn them into new things. Things we can enjoy.
There’s also something weirdly familiar about making wine, which is totally lost when I buy it in a bottle. My Dad used to make wine. I remember watching the bubbling demijohns by the kitchen fireplace; I remember watching him suck the syphon tube to get the wine flowing to a new container, and thinking he was drinking it; I’m still a little bit scared of the sodium metabisulphate steriliser that we were told never to touch. And his Dad made wine too. There’s a room in their attic that was filled with wine made of all kinds of different things, and although he hasn’t made wine for a long time, the room still smells of alcohol and yeast. It was weird how making my own wine stirred up those memories, and it was nice to be able to ask my Dad for his help and advice (something which happens less and less as I get older). I like his winemaking philosophy. I said, “I just hope it’s drinkable,” to which he replied, “it’s always drinkable.” It feels like I’m following in their footsteps and connecting with them in a new way.
Which got me thinking that there’s something really relational about winemaking. I’ve talked before about the importance of relationship in art, although it’s easily forgotten. Wine is made to be shared. It’s all about relationship and hospitality and generosity. You can do that with a bottle from the supermarket, but how much more can you do that with something you’ve taken the time and effort to produce yourself, something you’ve invested yourself in? Something like that becomes personal and precious, and sharing it becomes even more significant.
And I guess that’s my hope as I leave my demijohn bubbling away in the garage for the next few weeks. Obviously, I hope it’ll be nice. But I also hope not just to enjoy it as a good thing in itself, but I hope it will allow me to be generous in enjoying it with other people too.
[Update: I just went out to the garage to have a look, and it’s bubbling away nicely. So far so good…]