I'm hoping you've finished all of your holiday shopping by now, but if you're like me and need a deadline to really get motivated, perhaps Team Wine's sleuthing can help get you to the finish line. We started with stocking-stuffers, then moved under the tree. In this final installment of our wine-loving gift guide, we present the splashiest gifts—ones that dance like sugar plums across our wildest dreams.
Act like a pro—put your wine in a barrelWhen our wines were fermenting, Team Wine used glass carboys and added oak chips for complexity because we didn’t have the budget for an oak barrel (they’re spendy—see below). But if you can afford not to compromise—or if you think that St. Nick will remember that you’ve been a really good boy or girl this year—read on.
French oak is considered to be the gold standard in barrels. E.C. Kraus, a reliable retailer of quality home winemaking goods, offers four sizes. There’s an impish 5-gallon barrel (that’s 26 bottles of wine) for about $330, all the way up to a mondo 28-gallon barrel (145 bottles! 12 cases of wine!) for about $775.
Staying true to our local theme and our Western roots, I looked into Oregon oak barrels too. Oregon Barrel Works of McMinnville, Oregon, has taken the art of French cooperage (barrel making) and applied it to local oak. The staves (long strips of wood) are hand-split, air-dried for a minimum of three years, hand-coopered, and slow-toasted. These beauties go for $645 … and they’re sold out at the moment, but OBW encourages inquiries about availability. Old World purists, note that the company also offers handmade barrels of imported oak from four different regions in France ($945 to $1,100 each).
Trick out your garage—turn it into a winemaking facilityWe’ve been reading about the WinePod “personal winery system” for about a year, and Sunset wine editor (and Team Wine leader) Sara Schneider and I even thought about trying one out at Sunset (alas, we couldn’t find the right spot for it in our ranch house). Before I elaborate on how much the owners of one of these space-age self-contained fermenters love theirs, you need to know that the WinePod is a splurge supreme:From $4,500 for the standard set-up to $6,350 for the Complete version, which includes the computerized stainless steel fermenter plus a choice of five grape varietals (frozen, so you can start your wine at any time of year), a French oak barrel (and you now know how much those cost), and all the accessories, including bottling materials. (Shipping? That’s $400 to $600 more.)
But oh the fun you could have. Just ask Paul and Paula Cooper (pictured above with their WinePod) of Marin County, California. They contacted us to rave about their experience (and they tout how good their wine is in this 45-second WinePod video), saying, “We sincerely believe you would be doing your readers a good turn by checking out the WinePod.”
So I emailed them for details. Here’s what I learned: The Coopers got their WinePod this past spring, and their first wine was a Cabernet from frozen Napa-sourced grapes (chosen as part of their Complete kit). The computerized fermenter’s software allowed them to choose their own adventures along the way, and it always kept the wine at a consistent temperature, like a professional tank system but on a much smaller scale.
How does their first Cab taste? Since they made it in their garage, Paul and Paula joke that the wine has “high notes of Lexus,” then give it some serious compliments: “We just finished bottling, and though young, we think it’s already as good as the premium wines in our collection. We must think so because we are bottling this for our daughter’s wedding next June.”
Next up for the Coopers: a Cab made from Robert Mondavi rootstock (yum!), as the two were original IPO shareholders in the Mondavi Winery. Paul and Paula only have two vines in their yard, so the grapes used to end up in homemade Cabernet ice cream. But the WinePod’s from-frozen-grapes option is going to allow them to freeze two years’ worth of harvest and “honor the man and honor the vines by making wine.”
If you’re interested in this set-up but gasp at the WinePod’s price tag, perhaps its new kid sister is a better fit: The smaller and lower-tech (no Brix monitor or temperature control) Garagiste sells for $2,000.
Happy holidays, all!