$150 DIY Wine Press

We looked everywhere for a reasonably priced fruit press for our grapes but weren’t able to find anything we would actually spend the money on. We usually press about 100 lbs of grapes at a time with this press and it can easily handle it. I had access to some scrap metal through work, but you could easily get by without some slight tweaks. The Shop Press is the most expensive part but I got mine at one of Harbor Freight’s frequent sales and picked mine up for $89. You are basically going to make the basket, the press disc, and a way to contain the juice that is pressed out. Below is the shopping list:

Materials List:

How to Make it:

  • Basket: some simple math will help you figure out the diameter you are looking for. I bought a 16″ round baking pan from Gordon Food Service That I wanted to fit this basket into, so that drove the dimensions of my basket. I ended up needing 20 vertical slats based on the spacing of the holes in the slotted steel flat bar and desired diameter. The goal is to have the spacing narrow enough so it contains the grapes while still letting the juice run through.
    • I was going for 16″ outer diameter for the basket to fit in my baking pan, so I needed about 51″ for each length, but I cut them a few inches long to make sure I could line up the holes for the connecting 1/4-20 bolts.
    • Cut your 1X2 Oak boards to 18″ lengths
    • Pre-drill holes in the 18″ boards at 3″ from each end
    • Using the #8 Stainless Screws, screw the slotted bars to the Oak boards (top and bottom straps)
    • We will connect the ends with the 1/4 – 20 bolts and wing nuts so it can be taken apart easily for cleaning. You may need to use a drill to open up one of the holes if it doesn’t line up perfectly.
I used 2 spaces between each screw for my spacing
You basically want to make railroad tracks. Don’t forget to leave some extra steel on either end so you know how you are going to connect them before cutting them off.
It is pretty easy to roll this by hand. If you have a 16″ round baking pan you can make sure it fits to determine where to place the connecting bolts
  • Press Disc: Use a Jigsaw to cut out two 14″ round discs from the 3/4″ plywood. The diameter will depend on your basket, but I was consistent with maximizing the space available in the press.
    • Once these are cut, I screwed them together with 1.25″ wood screws. The two discs should line up perfectly to give you a double thickness and more strength.
    • Optional – I had a piece of 1/4″ steel that I screwed to the back of the press for even more strength. You are probably fine without it, but it helps distribute the forces coming down from the hydraulic press.
Finished press disk. This is what directly contacts the grape must.
  • Press Base:  I wanted to make sure I had a stable base to rest the basket and pan on, so I used the rest of the plywood to cut out a stable base that fit in Shop Press perfectly. I just measured my press and cut out notches for the verticals so it stayed in place
Press Base
Cut out a base for the press to have a stable platform for the rest of the basket/pans


Use it!

  • It take some perfecting before you don’t make a complete mess, but we have found using a clean and sanitized pot to transfer the must to the press basket. Transfer all of the must into the basket and then insert the disk to press the remaining juice out of the must. I typically will use two 2X4 pieces of wood as spacers between the press and the disc. When you have squeezed out most of the wine from the must, you will be left with the pomace which you can add to your compost.

Check out our other winemaking posts below!

What do you think? If you end up making this press, please let us know in the comment section below how it went!


Complete Guide to Making Wine at Home

This is meant to be a complete guide of how we make wine without getting too deep into the chemistry and nuances of winemaking. This guide will tell you what to do at each stage of the winemaking process focusing primarily on making wine from grapes, but a frozen must would also work. Also note that this post is mostly focused on red wines because there are more steps, but we note the steps you would need to take for white and rose wines.

Note on sanitation: At every step, sanitation is incredibly important. You want to limit the amount of potential bacteria that will turn your wine to vinegar. We have a two step cleaning/sanitizing process that uses ammonia and water to clean, then a sanitizing mixture of water and potassium metabisulfite.


Day 1: Grape Pickup Day

Bring the grapes home, you need to crush & de-stem if the vineyard did not already do that for you (ours gives us the option)

  • Remove all the stems, they will add a vegetal taste to the wine. Also remove anything that looks funky or any leaves that end up in there. You don’t have to go too crazy with it, but the better quality grapes you put in, the better wine you will get out.
  • Crush the grapes: you can stomp the grapes (make sure your feet are super clean first.) Erika tried stomping the grapes but gave up because it was too itchy due to the stems and seeds… maybe something that is less practical in reality than in the movies. You can also used rubber gloves and crush them by hand or a crusher/destemmer machine.
  • Pressing the Juice: If you are making white wine, this is when you want to press the juice off the skins, you will be working with juice the rest of the process. If you are making red wine you can decide how long you want to leave the skins on. We usually let the must sit on the skins 24-48 hours before adding the yeast and starting the fermentation on the skins. We let the must sit outside in our garage where it is cooler since this happens in October and we live in Michigan. We typically ferment on the skins for about two weeks before pressing. This allows a bit more color and flavor extraction. Think of the skins as tea bags, the longer you let your wine sit on the skins the more color, flavor, and tannin you will end up with in your wine. If you want to make a rose, you can press your must anywhere from 12-48 hours after crushing depending on how much color/tannin you want in the finished wine. At that point you will add yeast and ferment the juice just like you would a white wine.

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Side Note: Sugar Vs. Acid: Before we move on to testing the wine, a bit of a lesson of acidity and sugar in your wine must. Sugar is the food for your yeast. The yeast will consume the sugar and their byproduct is alcohol and Co2. The sugar in your must can be measured by the brix or the specific gravity. You can use a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity or a refractometer to measure brix. We tend to rely on the SG test since it requires more must and you get a more accurate reading. On the other hand you also need to test the acidity of your must, when grapes grow, they are basically turning sunlight into sugar through photosynthesis. As grapes ripen, the sugar increases and the the acidity decreases. There is a sweet spot the growers are looking for where these two attributes hit their prime winemaking and they decide to harvest. Depending on your region and grower, your grapes might never hit that sweet spot and you may need to make adjustments to your must.

  • Sugar too low, acidity too high: wine will be low in alcohol and therefore body, may also not be stable for long term storage. The acidity might be a bit astringent (think sweet tarts).
  • Sugar too high, acidity too low: wine will be very high in alcohol without enough acidity to support it. Often described as ‘flabby’ these wines will feel very unbalanced.
  • You can find charts that show the specific gravity and how it relates to the theoretical alcohol content of the finished wine. One chart you can use is found here: https://www.brewersfriend.com/abv-calculator/

Checking Sugar Content

The  day you get the grapes you’ll need to check the specific gravity of the must. You are looking for a specific gravity of at LEAST 1.09 – this will get you about 12.5% finished alcohol. Any lower and you risk it not being stable for aging and is much more likely to spoil. It will also be lacking some body and will not feel as full in the mouth. If your must ends up less than a SG of 1.09, you will want to chaptalize (means to add sugar). This is a bit controversial (not allowed in France), but for us in Michigan where the season is short and we do not have control of when the farm harvests so we often have to chaptalize. You want to use just plain old refined sugar, don’t get fancy and buy turbinado sugar (like Sugar in the Raw) or unprocessed sugars since it still has the molasses that is in unrefined sugar and could give your wine some off flavors. Refined sugar is the way to go, your yeast will love it. Just add it in based on the formula below, and mix it in. You will want to allow it to dissolve and mingle for at least 12 hours before testing the SG again to make sure you hit your goal.

Testing Acidity

Finally you want to test the acidity and pH of the wine must. You will need to get an Acid Titration kit as well as some pH strips which you should be able to find at your winemaking store or Amazon. We also use a graduated beaker for the samples.

  • Your targets for red wine are: pH around 3.5 and an titratable acid (TA) of a minimum of 0.55%, but target closer to 0.60% (above 0.90% will lead to an unbalanced wine and will likely want to adjust it)
  • Your targets for white wine are: pH around 3.2 and a titratable acid (TA) of 0.65% minimum and target of around 0.70% (above 0.90% will lead to an unbalanced wine and will likely want to adjust it)
  • Adjusting acidity: If your acidity is outside of the parameters above, there are ways to adjust them in order to give you a more balanced finished wine.
    • If your acidity is too low: Full disclosure, we live in Michigan so we have never had to adjust the acidity up, but the basic theory is that you can add tartaric acid to your must to bring it up to desired levels. There are formulas you can find on other winemaking sites, but we have never done this adjustment so cannot personally offer advice on the subject. From what we have read, 18 grams of tartaric acid would raise the TA of a 5 gallon must by 0.10%. This process should be done before adding sulfites to kill the wild yeast on the first day.
    • If your acidity is too high: there are two options for reducing the acidity of your wine. You can do what is called malolactic fermentation, which basically just adding a malolactic bacteria culture to your wine near the end of your primary fermentation which turns the more astringent malic acid into a softer lactic acid. We have done this with great success in our own wines. You can buy vials of the ML culture at most winemaking stores or online – it should be refrigerated so keep that in mind if buying it online. We typically add it when the fermentation starts to slow down and the specific gravity is under 1.01, but we have read about people starting it with the primary fermentation with success. We will touch more on ML fermentation later in the winemaking process. You won’t have to do anything on the first day but make sure you write the acidity down and plan on it. The other way you can reduce acidity, and is more common for white wines, is what is called cold stabilizing: it is basically just keeping your wine in a cold environment for about 2-3 weeks in the 32-35 degree F range. During this time the wine will precipitate tartaric acid from the wine which will form crystals at the bottom of your carboy. Fun fact – If you ever go to a smaller winery that doesn’t cold stabilize, it is common you will see some of these crystals at the bottom of your wine glass.

Killing Wild Yeast

This is the last step on Day 1. Once your grapes are crushed, destemmed, tested and adjusted (chaptalized and/or TA adjustments) you need to kill the wild yeast that are naturally occurring on the grape skins. It is possible to ferment with wild yeast, and it is done in many French vineyards with hundreds of years of winemaking history. Most of the common yeast strains you buy at your winemaking store trace their origins back to France. Chances are you are not buying your grapes from one of these vineyards, so it is safest to go with a tried and true strain of yeast. If you go the wild route, there is a good chance you will have a stuck fermentation (not fully fermenting) or funky/off flavors in the finished wine. Your potassium metabisulfite container will likely tell you how much you need to add to your must, we typically buy the LD Carlson brand and it requires 1/4 tsp per 6 gallons of must. Add it, stir it around and let it sit for 24 hours.

Day 2: Start Fermenting

Yesterday you did all the hard stuff. Today all you have to do is make sure your must/juice is at room temperature and add the yeast. If you did any chaptalization, you will want to retest the specific gravity. If it still hasn’t hit your target SG, you may need to add more sugar before you can add the yeast. Just sprinkle the yeast on top of your must or add directly into your juice for white or rose wines. Your yeast will start working about 24 hours after being added to the must/juice. Fermentation should happen at about room temperature, if it is too cold fermentation could stall before completely fermenting your wine.

Days 3-14: Fermenting & Punching Down the Cap

For White/Rose Wines

Allow the juice to ferment, maybe check on it to make sure it is fermenting (check the specific gravity after a week to see where it is, you won’t want to move on until fermentation slows and you have a specific gravity of around 1.001).

For Red Wines

You will need to do what is called ‘punching down the cap’ twice per day. You will notice as soon as your fermentation starts, the Co2 will push the skins to the top forming a cap. you want your skins to be in contact with your must as much as possible. There are other ways wineries do this, such as pumping wine over the cap, but we just use a long sanitized spoon to punch it down and stir it around twice per day. At this point, the must is producing enough Co2 to protect it from oxidation. Later on you will want to be careful to limit the wine’s exposure to the air. That being said, make sure your container has a lid, it will likely be attracting fruit flies at this stage.

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Day 14: Pressing the Reds, Racking into Carboys

At about day 10, you will notice the cap isn’t as pronounced and the fermentation is starting to slow down. We typically press when the fermentation is barely showing any life and 14 days is usually around the sweet spot. At 14 days we will press the wine off the skins. I made a simple wine press LINK HERE that we use a sanitized kitchen pot to transfer the wine must into.

  • We will then press the wine and transfer it into a carboy. We typically get between 90-100 lbs of grapes for each varietal which produces around 6 gallons of pressed wine (30 bottles). One thing to note is that some wineries will use the word ‘free run’ for their highest quality wines. That basically means that the wine wasn’t pressed, but rather the must was pumped into the press and any wine that ran through was saved for the best wine. After that they will press the remaining juice from the skins and use it for their next tier of wine. The reason we bring this up is that how much you press the wine does influence the quality of the wine. Generally speaking, the less you press, the higher quality the wine. That being said, we don’t have a large operation so press our wine pretty hard. Just something to keep in mind.
  • Check the specific gravity, the primary fermentation isn’t complete until it is under 0.998, and at 14 days it tends to be around 1.01. We will then let it sit another week to finish the primary fermentation and right after pressing we will add the Malolactic culture (if we need to do it). As mentioned above, Malolactic Fermentation helps soften the acidity, and we typically start it towards the end of the primary fermentation. At this point, you want to add the culture, it is not as vigorous of a fermentation as the primary fermentation, but it will produce small bubbles that will slowly and occasionally make their way to the surface (you probably will barely notice it is happening). Also note that the ML culture is pretty sensitive to sulfites, so do not add any sulfites until you are done with the ML fermentation. After another 2 weeks, we will check the TA and pH again to see if the acidity is in the range we are looking for, then add sulfites to stop any remaining fermentation and stabilize the wine for longer term storage. At this stage you can move the wine to the basement or other cool/dark area out of direct sunlight. It should stay stored in that type of area for the rest of the time.
  • After the ML Fermentation/30-40 days after picking up the grapes: At this point, you are ready to transfer (rack) the wine into another carboy. You do this to get the wine off the lees (dead yeast that will build up on the bottom of your carboy). At this time you may also add the sulfites to stop any ML fermentation and stabilize the wine. For reds, we usually add oak at this point, winemaking stores sell different forms of oak: cubes, spirals, powders, etc. We prefer the spirals, they go right in the carboy with the wine and you leave them for up to 6 weeks per the instructions. We have actually found we like a bit more time on the oak than the packaging says, and have found 8 weeks really does a nice job of giving the oak notes in the finished wine. We have never dealt with barrels, they seem to be too much of a hassle: the large ones take way more wine than we deal with and the small ones have a bad reputation and are costly. The spirals are nice and you have options on the type of oak and toast level.
  • A Note about Oak: There are two key decisions you need to make when you are buying oak: toast level and country of origin.
    • Toast level will determine the characteristics of the oak. Lighter toasting will be milder and and have a flavor profile that leans more towards earthy/wood/coffee flavors. The darker the level of toast the more you get the vanilla, brown sugar, espresso (darker coffee), etc. Very generally speaking, you want to match the color of the wine with the toast of the oak. The darker the wine, the darker the toast that it can handle. We typically buy medium or medium plus toast with American oak for our Michigan reds (typically a bit lighter).
    • Country of origin: there are oak forests all over the place. The most common you will see are French, American, and Hungarian.
      • French Oak is the most common for barrels and the most expensive. It give a great depth of flavor and structure to wine. When we were in Chile, at the winery Loma Larga they mentioned they buy French barrels from two different parts of France. One is closer to the ocean with a longer growing season, the other is a forest near the middle of the country and has a shorter growing season. This distinction influences how close together the grain. The tighter the grain, the lower the tannins. French Oak Spirals
      • American Oak is known for giving heavier vanilla notes (think bourbon) but is less expensive and can give a good structure to wines. We typically go with American Oak. American Oak Spirals
      • Hungarian Oak is actually a French Oak species, but with the colder climate it gives it a tighter grain . It is similar cost to American oak, but they do not make the spirals I mentioned at this point.

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8 weeks after adding the oak and beyond
After about 8 weeks, we will rack the wine off the oak and lees. There is usually a ton of lees at this point in the process since it has mostly fallen out of suspension after fermentation is done. Your wine should also be pretty clear and it is a great time to taste it and see where you are at. It usually tastes somewhat close to the final product at this point, although it will be a bit young and may have some effervescent characteristics to it. If it does, do not worry, it just needs more time. At this point, we like to let it sit for another 8-9 months in the carboy (bulk storage) racking it every two to three months. to make sure the final wine that goes into the bottle has as little sediment as possible. We will typically rack 4 times total before bottling. A lot of wine ‘kits’ will tell you to degas the wine by vigorously stirring or a drill mounted degassing attachment, but the primary reason is to speed up the process so you can bottle in 30 days after starting. If this is your goal, you can do it. We have a lot of carboys and don’t mind waiting for the bulk storage to let the gas escape naturally over a 9-12 month period. We like doing the bulk storage as we get more sediment out of it and it maintains a more stable temperature.



After multiple times racking the wine and many months of waiting, it is finally time to bottle. We typically bottle around September the year following harvest. The first thing we do (after sanitizing!) is siphon the wine from the carboys the wine was stored in to a bucket. We do this to get it off any lees that may be left in the bottom of the carboy. Once in the bucket you can attach the bottling wand to your siphon setup and start bottling. We will typically set the first bottle aside since it risked getting a bit aerated when you start the siphon. Fill the bottles as much as possible and move along. Usually at the end will be a partial bottle, which we will also set aside and drink that night.

  • Bottles – There are two options for acquiring bottles. You can buy them at a winemaking store for around $2/bottle or you can find good bottles of wine for less than $10 AND you get to drink it! The only pain is taking off the labels: you can soak them in hot water and dish soap with a dull knife and a Scotch Brite pad. Some labels will come off better than others, just make sure you rinse the bottles and hang them upside down to so they don’t get moldy
  • Aging – After bottling, we typically wait at least six months to a year before drinking them. We will taste a bottle after a few months to see where it’s at. The first wine from grapes we made was the 2015 vintage and it is still improving in the bottle. I would expect it to continue to improve over the next couple years. We get the same varietals every year for the most part so one thing we like to do is a ‘vertical’ tasting where we drink a 2015 and 2016 of the same varietal. It is interesting to see how your winemaking decisions and grape harvest influence the finished wine.
Time for long term storage!

Tools, Equipment, and Other Things You Will Need


A 10 Day Road Trip Through Central Chile


Our first big international trip was to Central Chile in November 2015. We were inspired by our love of Chilean wine, all things food, and wanting to see the Andes Mountains. Due to everything we wanted to get done is such a short trip, we decided to rent a car.  We started in Santiago, and from there went to Casablanca valley for some wine tasting on our way to Valparaiso which is a vibrant port city on the coast. From there we headed to the Colchagua Valley to spend a few days wine tasting and then back to Santiago. We wanted some flexibility, so we rented a car and made a road trip of it. While the roads were overall well marked, we did have some issues with Google maps being in Beta mode while we were there so occasionally our phone would tell us to turn on a road that wasn’t there, once even telling us to get on the highway where there was no on ramp. One recommendation we have would be that while your in Santiago you don’t need a car and driving in the city is a bit chaotic. Also we were not able to find an automatic car so be keep that in mind when you are looking for cars. One note on wine tasting in Chile- reservations are needed in advance for most (if not all) wineries. Tours typically include a tour of the vineyard and winery followed by a tasting at which you are accompanied by a sommelier to help teach you about each wine as you taste.  Everywhere we went had tours were offered in English among other languages (some variation of Spanish, French, German, and English at almost all of them), they were all well organized and responsive.

Here is what we did at each stop


We stayed in Santiago at the start and finish of our stay, and we stayed at the Hotel Altiplanico Bellas Artes, which was a small boutique hotel that was actually quite reasonably priced. It had a great location within walking distance of everything we wanted to do. The people at the front desk were incredibly helpful and allowed us to keep our bags there after we had checked out while we were waiting for our flight. There is a free walking tour of the city which we would recommend, and we did do in Valparaiso later on in our trip but didn’t end up doing in Santiago. Instead we explored the city on our own. We love food so we set off to find the Central Market (Mercado Central) which is the main fish market. Prepare for each restaurant you pass inside the market to try to get you to sit down and eat there. We settled on a small, quiet corner restaurant near the center of the market where we had some sea food and wine. It was good, we got a sampler of multiple different types of seafood – most of which we had never heard of or seen before. It was definitely targeting tourists, and while we did eat there and it was cool to walk around, you can definitely find better seafood somewhere else. Just across the main road, there are a series of markets: the Mercado Vega and the meat market is also a great place to wander through and see all the local fruits and veggies as well as meat. It is full of local people doing their shopping, not very many tourists in sight. We didn’t have any issues in the market but had read ahead of time to just be mindful of your belongings as it is a crowed area and pick pocket is known to happen. As you walk around the city you can see the Andes mountains in the distance.

Be sure to walk around the central square and see the Santigao Cathedral. The Cathedral is beautiful as are the buildings around it. You can walk inside the Cathedral as long as it is not in service. The Bellavista area is also a nice place to walk around, full of shops and restaurants, a bit touristy but a pretty spot to stop for a snack or a drink. There are also a bunch of vendors and if you are looking for something Lapiz Lazuli (the national stone), you will find a ton of it here. Be sure to try a Pisco sour- there is some debate about whether this drink is really from Peru vs Chile bit either way they are good and something new to try while you are there. We also went to a restaurant and wine bar called Barrica 94, where we had a Chile vs. France wine tasting and Chorrillana (Beef & fried egg loaded french fries!) which you need to try at some point in Chile.

A highlight for most people is getting to the top of Cristobal Hill. I am not so good with heights so the funicular ride up to the top deterred me from going all the way up even though Ryan tried very hard to convince me it was a must do. Instead we walked part way up the hill and spent some time in the Zoo which is on the hill and offered spectacular views of the city as you walk through. Finally, we walked up Santa Lucia Hill, which is the remnants of a 15 million year old volcano and right in the center of the city. There are several lookout points that provide incredible views of the city and snow capped Andes. After a few days in Santiago, we headed west to Valparaiso, stopping on the way in Casablanca Valley to tour & taste at Loma Larga Winery.

Loma Larga Winery:
Our next stop was Loma Larga Winery in the Casablanca Valley. This winery had several options for their tour and taste including a helicopter ride, horseback, or just the tour and taste. We opted for the horseback ride tour through the vineyard followed by a tour of the winery and a tasting. We rode through the vineyard with our guide and two cowboys. Ryan’s horse’s name was Farcas – named after Leonardo Farcas, a Chilean business man and 2009 presidential candidate due to the similarities in the horse’s mane to the politician’s hair. The winery and wine itself was excellent – Casablanca valley has a cooler climate than other regions of Chile due to the moderating effect of the Pacific which shows through in their wines. The whites are crisp, and while the reds don’t get as big and bold, they have a high level of concentration and are able to produce excellent Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

Casa Marin:
Casa Marin is a very small winery and while it is technically in the San Antonio Valley, there are not many other wineries that are very close by. This winemaker here is the first female wine maker in Chile. This place caught our attention because they have several small guest houses in the vineyard where you can stay. We stayed one night in one of these houses which was wonderful. We arrived and had our tour of the winery and tasting (we were the only visitors there at the time) then we were brought up to our house in the vineyard. We had chosen a dinner menu prior and dinner was pre-made and delivered to the house of us to warm up sous vide when we were ready to eat. The kitchen was stocked with several bottles of wine from the winery which we could drink as many as we wanted and the cost was added to our bill at gift shop pricing. This allowed us to taste more wines than the ones included in our tasting. The living room of the house has large glass windows so you can sit comfortably inside and watch the sunset over the vines with a view of the ocean off in the distance. There was also a giant porch outside overlooking the vines, which we did yoga on in the morning.

Valparaiso is a port city and is known for its colorful buildings and many hills. The city is full of funiculars you can take to get you up/down the various hills. We did the free walking tour of the city the first full day we were there. We met at Anibal Pinto Square, look for the Guides with the red shirts that say “FREE TOUR” that is the company name (this same company offers a tour in Santiago as well). Tours leave Monday to Sunday at 10AM and 3pm. The tour included a stop at a small empanada shop where you could purchase a snack if you wanted. We would highly recommend trying empanadas while you are in Chile, they were amazing everywhere we had them and you can get them either baked or fried. The tour is free but tips are encouraged if you enjoy the tour which we definitely did – we tipped around $10 USD per person. The tour ended at the waterfront where our guide recommended we take the short boat tour around the harbor (not associated with the free tour). Our whole walking tour group (about 8 people) decided to do the boat tour together as well. The walking tour was in English but the boat tour was only offered in Spanish. We didn’t understand everything they were saying but we did get to see sea lions and got a great view of the city from the water.
Valparaiso is a great city to walk around and explore. The street art is amazing and is actually “art” not just graffiti tags. While there is some graffiti and issues with buildings being tagged the majority of what you will see walking through the streets is really amazing work by a variety of artists.

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We spent one day after Valparaiso driving north up the coast line. We stopped at a restaurant right on the beach in Vina del Mar for a Pisco Sour, and walked along the beach watching the surfers and bodyboarders . After stopping there we continued on further up the coast. The coast line is beautiful, it’s similar to the rocky coast line of California. There are lots of places to pull off and get out to walk on the beach or just watch the waves for a bit. We also came across some very large sand dunes, Dunas de Concon. We stopped there and Ryan rented something similar to a snow board and a candle. It was really inexpensive and charged hourly, but it took some charades to figure out that the candle was to wax the board to make it go faster. We climbed the dunes and got a great view of the water far below, and Valparaiso in the distance. Dune boarding as a concept sounds pretty cool, but in reality it just looks cool. I would definitely do it again, but it is like snowboarding but you can’t turn that well and you have to climb back up on your own. Overall, this day of driving the coast with no real plan was probably the favorite day of the trip for us both. In Vina del Mar you will drive right past Wulff Castle as you come in from Valparaiso. The pictures we saw before we went made this place seem much larger than it was. It was pretty to see but is much smaller than we expected and probably not worth the trip to Vina del Mar on it’s own. It also had very limited parking, so you might want to keep that in mind if you are driving yourself. Vina del Mar is a nice beach town to walk through with some nice places to eat or have a drink with a view of the beach. While in Vina del Mar be sure to stop at Empanadas Mauricio for some of the best empanadas we had during our trip.

Colchagua Valley:
This valley is where a lot of the wineries we had heard about in Chile were located so we spent two days wine tasting in this area. The wineries in the valley are fairly close together so you can do more than one in a day. The tours last a couple of hours. We did drive but we did run into a couple who was biking to/from each winery.

Los Vascos: This winery is owned by the Baron Philippe Rothschild family of France. We had heard of their winery in Bordeaux so we were interested in trying their wine while we were in Chile. The tour was interesting, taking us through the vineyard and throughout the winery. They use barrels from the Rothschild cooperage (same as their winery in Bordeaux). The wine tasting here offered large samples of four different wines, and we tasted with the sommelier.

Montes: We were excited about this winery before we arrived because they were one of the first Chilean wines we tried and loved. Costco sometimes has their cheapest line of wines which run about $10 and are a great deal. We were very excited to see the winery and try their higher quality wines. The winery is beautiful and they have a restaurant on site where we had lunch and enjoyed a beautiful view of the valley and mountains. Since we were there, they also added another restaurant that is focused on grilling and smoking meat. The winery and vineyard you tour is dedicated to their ICON wines: Folly, Purple Angel, and M. The rest of their wines are made at a higher volume facility in Central Valley. The entire winery is designed with the principles of Feng shui in mind, and they pipe the sound of chanting monks into the barrel room. The theory is that the vibrations from the sound help with the contact between the barrel and the wine.

Montgras: At this winery we skipped the tour since we had already toured several of the other wineries. Instead we arrived for a late lunch which was a four course meal with a wine pairing for each course. We sat outside in the wineries courtyard area and were the only people eating there at the time which was nice. After our meal we joined a small group that had just finished their tour of the winery and got to enjoy a tasting with them.

Lapostolle: The sommelier that gave us this tour and tasting was the best. It is the best tour we have had at a winery so far and it is definitely due to the knowledge of the sommelier we had. The building is beautiful and is carved into the mountain side to help protect from earthquakes. The whole winery was designed to move the wine from floor to floor by gravity with no use of pumps. You start on the top of the mountain where the fermentation vats were, then works down to two progressive barrel rooms. In this facility/vineyard, they produce only their ultra premium Clos Apalta wine, which may have been the best wine we have ever tasted.

From Colchagua we drove back to Santiago for one more day walking around and exploring the city before heading back home. We would definitely recommend this area of Chile for anyone, even if you are not a wino like we both are. Santiago and Valparaiso are great locations with plenty to do. The country is beautiful, and while we just saw a small bit in the center, it has a lot to offer from the Atacama in the north, the Andes in the East, Patagonia in the South and the Pacific coast in the West.

A Morning in Parras, and Wine Tasting at Don Leo

The Mexican winery that got the most praise in our internet research was Don Leo – which is about one hour from Parras de la Fuente. It is situated 7000 ft above sea level in its own small valley. Saturday morning we woke up, took a very cold shower (no heat!) and did a quick yoga. We then went into town to see about some breakfast – I had found a gordita place on tripadvisor, but we were not able to locate it. We did get some gas at the Pemex since we were just under a half tank and the stations are sparse in the desert. After refueling, we continued our search for breakfast, which ended up at Casa Vieja, which was a small family run restaurant that served some really good Cafe de Olla and huevos divorciados along with some elephant ear-like glazed tortillas. The eggs were great, and both the red and green salsas were very good. After breakfast, we decided to head up to Iglesia de Santo Madero. The curvy path we took was a bit sketchy and precarious, Siri wanted us to go up a steep road that our trusty Nissan March was terrified of (so was Erika). We finally got up to where the walk to the church starts and took a few pictures. The hike up to the church is a pretty wide brick path width steps on one side. You spiral your way around the church on the way up and there are a few benches along the way to take a rest or picture on the way. Where the path ends, steps start to the top of the hill. You can take the path on the left, which is made up of really steep stone steps or the right, which has a more gradual and consistent steps. We took the left route up, and on the way you up there is a short tunnel you walk through with a few places to light candles under a crucifix on either side. Once at the top, you have a great view of Parras below, and are up at the small chapel. We took a few pictures and headed back down. There were great views not only of the valley, but the surrounding mountain range that Parras is in the foothills of.

After the quick trip to the church, we headed back into town and got some cash before departing for Don Leo. We ended up stumbling upon a more lively market in a square near Las Parras De Santa Maria (restaurant) with a lot of cool stuff. We tried and bought some whiskey cream, but they also had Pecan cream liqueur that was good. They had a lot of wine themed accessories and decorations. We knew we would be really early, but our map said it was an hour drive from our hotel so we didn’t want to take any chances. We were initially under the impression that Don Leo was in the Parras region, and while it technically might be, it is completely different. From Parras, it is about a 45 minute drive closer to Saltillo (but not taking the toll road). Then after a really scenic drive through orchards, desert, eroded river beds, and Don Leo signs meant to encourage you that you are on the right road, you reach the entrance sign for Don Leo. Picture driving through the desert without having seen a building for 25 miles and turning right on a dirt road that leads up the mountain – it was a nice looking sign that told us we were at least on the right path.

It was another 10 km or something up the mountain on this dirt road climbing roughly 2k feet of elevation to be at the roughly 7k ft of elevation Don Leo says they are located. Since we were about 45 minutes early we took the ride really slowly and took a bunch of pictures – it is a really pretty ride up, which ends up in a huge clearing in a high valley that resembles a bowl surrounded by mountains. In the middle, there is a massive field of cattle grazing on grass. In the distance there at other crops that are difficult to distinguish from the distance. You finally veer to the right to end up at the winery with the vineyard surrounding it. It was by far the most refined place we visited. We parked and found our way to the reception desk where we gave them reservation name and paid. We were lucky that a nice English speaking gentleman that worked there caught our poor Spanish and showed us around for a few minutes since we were waiting. We walked around on the balcony and took in the views, which were great! When it got closer to our tour time, we went back to the reception desk where they corralled us onto a trailer for a vineyard tour. As I had expected, the tour was in Spanish (our communication in setting up the reservation made it sound like there was a chance at English) which wasn’t a huge deal: I can understand a fair bit and we have been to enough wineries to know what they are doing. We just missed some of the specifics of what made Don Leo unique. What I did gather is that they are a bit unique to the other Mexican wineries in that they are situated at a higher elevation. This allows them to grow grapes the others would not, such as Pinot Noir, Semillon, and others. When we got back to the winery after a trip around the vineyard, we unloaded and descended the steps ok to the barrel room – as with any winery, this is usually the highlight that most people get excited about and this one did not disappoint. It actually reminded me of a larger Loma Larga (Chile)- with backlit “Don Leo” signs in an otherwise dark room, all the barrels in neat rows and ready for the pictures. From the barrels, I saw they used American, European (Hungary), and I heard our guide say French barrels (I didn’t see any though). There was also another tour going through their tasting in the barrel room, so it was a bit difficult to understand him. We then went into the winery – very modern and clean in comparison to the old Casa Madero winery we had seen the day before. He then proceeded to talk through the entire winemaking process from grapes to crushing/destemming to fermentationp, pressing and fining. Well I am assuming so – my winemaking Spanish vocabulary could be a bit better, but he was very thorough in his explanation.

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After another 15-20 minutes we had finally sat around a big table for the tasting (this was about an hour and 20 minutes in and we were getting restless). We sat down to a cheese and meat platter, with three tastings coming up. He then went into the tasting process (See/Swirl/Smell/Sip/Savor) as we stared longingly at our wine glasses hoping for permission to taste. The actual tasting, food pairings, and wine were all very good. We ended up liking the Cab/Syrah the best of the wines we tasted. There was also a Zinfandel rose (thankfully it was dry), and Merlot – which was good, but not as full bodied after having the Cab/Syrah (I probably would have structured the Merlot before the Cab/Syrah). After the tasting, some of the group went upstairs to have a meal paired with wine, but we didn’t opt for that and just bought a bottle of Syrah, which we hadn’t tried, and started our journey back to Saltillo.

-Overall impression of Don Leo was that they were putting in a lot of effort to educate the people on wine: what it is, what the process is, how to taste it, etc. The guide at Rivero Gonzales had mentioned that they are trying to create more of a wine culture in Mexico, since right now people view it more as a mixer (sweet reds, sangria, etc.). In that regard, I think Don Leo is doing a good job of the education side. I would say that the tour, while educational was a bit drawn out – two hours total for a tour and tasting of three wines is a long time. I think a solid hour could have kept people a bit more interested. To be fair, I was listening in a second language that isn’t super strong in an echoey loud room and I was just tired of trying to listen. The winery, vineyard, and surroundings are all really nice, and the wine was quite good.

– Tour- 7/10 English would have been nice, but more points were deducted because it was a bit longer than I thought it needed to be.

– Tasting 8/10 – He did a nice job of walking through the tasting process, the wines were all good, and the pairings were actually really good. For an almost 35 minute tasting I probably would have preferred 4 or 5 wines (or cut the time down a bit) we talked about the wine sitting in the glass in front of us for 15 minutes before our first taste. The group was probably also about 25 people, which was part of the reason it took so long and made it much less personal. Ideal for this style of tour/taste would have probably been 10-12

– Wines – 8/10 All of the wines we tried were solid, nothing blew my socks off though. That being said, I would have liked to try their premium bottle – which I am guessing received first-use oak and better concentration. We probably also would have bought a bottle of it if we had.

– Winery/Vineyard – 9/10 it is an impressive place. Not a large scale operation, but the whole experience of the drive in to the winery itself is on par some of the better wineries we have been to. The view itself is worth the drive.

After we worked our way out of the Don Leo estate, we took the long backroad to Saltillo since it doesn’t make sense to backtrack to Parras to take the toll road. You are basically crossing the Coahuila Desert and you won’t see many cars, have any cell service, or see a gas station so make sure you are prepared (I preloaded a map before departing Parras). It is a really scenic route though and if you aren’t in too much of a hurry, plan to stop to take pictures.

Here are the links to our other posts about more wine tasting in this area of Mexico:

Rivero Gonzalez Wine Tasting

The Oldest Winery in North America


2018 Harvest & Winemaking: Part I

This year we decided to go big! Ordering nearly 300 lbs of grapes from our local farmer. Two weeks ago we picked up 90 lb of Cabernet Franc, 90 lb of Zweigelt; and 100 lb of Noiret. Harvest pickup day is The farmer picks, crushes and de-stems the grapes for us (we have done it ourselves too). We bring our food grade 20 Gallon Brute Totes with us and he either has them crushed already or we crush them when we get there. This year he already had the Zweigelt crushed, but the other two varietals had been picked that morning.


After we bring the grapes home, the first day is more of a science project than anything. We have to test all of our wine must (grapes, juice, skins, seeds, etc.) for specific gravity, titratable acid, and pH. For this year’s batch, I was a bit disappointed in the harvest since it seems like the grapes were picked a bit early. When the grapes are picked before they are ready, you will end up with higher acid and lower sugar in your must. Which can lead to a more astringent taste (acid) and low alcohol (sugar) . Below is the chart of different metrics for each grape. Generally speaking for reference we were looking for >1.092 for Specific Gravity (SG) and between 6-7 for titratable acid (TA); pH of around 3.3-3.6.

  • Zweigelt
    • pH – 3.8
    • TA – 6.5
    • SG – 1.082
      • Added 2.2 lbs of sugar
  • Cab Franc
    • pH – 3.2
    • TA – 8.5 (too high!)
    • SG – 1.086
      • Added 1.6 lbs of sugar
  • Noiret
    • pH – 3.2
    • TA – 8 (too high!)
    • SG – 1.074
      • Added 4 lbs of sugar
Chemistry Stuff!

**Vines to Wines is a good book for Winemaking – we always keep it on hand!

At this point we actually let everything just sit outside in the garage overnight. We add enough sulfites to kill the wild yeast, and let the sugar, sulfites, and juices commingle for our next specific gravity test the next day. We want to give the sulfites time to work their magic and sugar time to dissolve and disperse. Sugar is basically the food for the yeast, which determines the level of alcohol which results in giving the wine more body (and can make you drunk!). Adding sugar to wine must is called chaptalization – which is frowned upon by some pinky pointing winos, but necessary for many northern wine regions to produce wine with high enough alcohol. Up here in Michigan, we have a farmer that is pretty conservative with when he harvests his grapes and we have always had to chaptalize – even if it is just a little bit. This year we had to add much more than prior years due to the early harvest, which was probably a good thing since we had about a week and a half of rain in the two weeks after we picked up the grapes, so they probably would have swollen and split due to the rain.

Chaptalization of the Noiret must

After 24 hours, we brought the totes inside to let them warm up to room temperature. Once ready, we pitched the yeast – we used the Lavlin Bourgovin RC 212 as we have had really good luck with in for red wines in the past.

Part One Resources:


Wine Tasting

The first time we went wine tasting was in 2012. We went to the Old Mission Peninsula near Traverse City Michigan. We both liked wine, but I (Ryan) was pretty picky when it came to drinking anything that wasn’t a big California style red wine. California has a much different climate than Michigan, but regardless I was going to find my big, bold wine. To me any lighter reds, whites, or sweet reds were for the birds – well I still think sweet reds are a waste of grapes. Over the course of the day, I learned a lot about wine: specifically that the bigger and bolder a wine is doesn’t necessarily make it higher quality (sorry California). That the lighter wines can also have an extraordinary depth of flavor and nuance that is not “better” or “worse”, but different from the big wines I had formerly associated with quality.

We have done wine tastings in the US, Chile, and South Africa in at least 60+ different wineries over the years. We are going to review some of the wineries & wine regions, so we decided to create a some scoring criteria. Each criteria is scored out of a total of 10 points for a maximum score of 50 for the wineries we have taken tours of; 40 points maximum for the ones we have not. The criteria are:

  • Sommelier/Service: this one can make or break a wine tasting. You can have the busy server who is trying to fill 10 different glasses on one hand or a completely private tour where you are tasting with a sommelier.
  • Wine quality (overall) – is this a good producer of wine? Is it more mass produced, or are they striving for quality. Any wine faults?
  • Tasting room/ambiance: What is the tasting room like? Anything notable?
  • Vineyard Views: Anything remarkable about the vineyard/view/etc?
  • Winery Tour (If taken): Wineries we take a tour of will also have another 10 points possible for the quality of the tour: what sets them apart, barrel room, anything interesting or unique?


With our love of wine came curiosity about wine and about the wine making process. We began with wine kits which come with the grape juice and everything you will need along with step by step instructions. We would recommend the Wine Expert brand if going with a wine making kit. After a few rounds of this we found a local farmer on Craigslist that sells about 20 different varietals. This weekend we picked up grapes for the fourth year. This year we got 90 lbs each of Cabernet Franc, Noiret and Zweigelt.

Cabernet Franc: is one of our favorite grapes and it does really well here in Michigan. It is genetically related to Cabernet Sauvignon, but better suited for the cooler climate and shorter growing season in Michigan. The best Michigan Cab Francs are medium bodied with a lot of red fruit on the nose (strawberries, raspberries, red currants) along with subtle oak and tobacco.

We tried Noiret for the first time two years ago. The bottles we have tried so far from that batch have really impressed us. It is a French-American hybrid, making it cold hardy for our climate. It almost reminds me of a cross between a Pinot Noir and a Cab Franc: more black pepper and maybe raspberry – that being said we have only had the Noiret we have made ourselves. We have tried both adding a Malolactic culture and not, I think the ML kind of freaked us out but both vintages have turned out really good.

Zweigelt: we have not ever tried outside of a red blend so it will be exciting to see how it turns out. It is a crossing between St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch developed in Austria. We really like Blaufränkisch, and our grower had it on his list so we thought we would try it out!

Prior Grapes:

Gruner Veltliner: Last year (2017 vintage) was a tough year for grape growing due to a late frost which hurt a lot of the Vitus Vinifera (The grapes of European origin you typically see at the store) varietals our grower sells. This resulted in us adjusting our normal order to get a 6 Gallons of Gruner Veltliner and 100 lbs of Noiret. The Gruner produces a really interesting white wine, which has a nicely balanced acidity with peach and maybe a peppery note in there as well. We tried the first bottle last night, it was fuller bodied than I had expected and I probably would have guessed a dry Riesling.

We have also made Marquette from grapes in the past – it was actually our first attempt at wine from grapes. We wanted to start with a hybrid since they are around half the price a Vitus Vinifera varietal. This is an interesting wine – first off it is basically like drinking purple ink as it stains your entire mouth. Outside of that I am always surprised by it because it tastes just like RASPBERRY SWEET TARTS – yes I did just yell that out loud in real life too. In retrospect, we probably should have gone a little bit heavier on the oak to mellow it out a bit more. That isn’t to say it isn’t good, just that it isn’t the most complex wine I have ever had. I have also never had it as a standalone wine, so I have nothing to compare it to – it is usually blended with other hybrid varietals for balance.

Check out our other winemaking posts!