Winemaking 101: A Crash Course at Studio Vino

There's something magical about making food or drink with your own two hands. Not that I haven't passed a few store-bought cakes off as my own at dinner parties, but it just doesn't feel the same when your contribution to the meal comes out of a bottle, box or KFC bucket. But what about the wine? If the Blood Into Wine documentary featuring Tool frontman Maynard Keenan is any indication, making your own wine is a bitch. 

That's where places like Studio Vino at McClintock Rd. and Guadalupe in Tempe come in.

Studio Vino lets you skip the most difficult parts of the winemaking process (planting, growing, pressing), making for a fun, highly social experience. Owner Kari Zemper opened the Studio two years ago after purchasing supplies from another wine store that went out of business.

I popped by Studio Vino earlier this week for a crash course in personal winemaking. If you're imagining a barefoot romp in a vat of grapes followed by a Jell-o wrestling style catfight ala I Love Lucy's famous winemaking episode, no worries. There are no nasty feet on your grapes... in fact, there are no grapes!  

Here's how it works:

Step 1: Tasting and Prep You start with a tasting at Studio Vino -- basically a little preview party that includes gourmet cheeses and chocolates. You and each friend/relative/lucky stiff you invite get to sample 6-8 of the possible wine varieties, which range from Riesling to Shiraz and Zinfandel. 

Of course, we're talking mini samples here. Otherwise you'd be slurring your words and breaking bottles by the time the tasting was over.  

The prep part's a bit messier. After selecting your wine varietal, Zemper opens a carton of concentrated pre-juiced grapes from Lodi, California and you and your buddies dump it in a six-gallon bucket with hot water and add the provided chemicals. Bentonite, for example, is added as a clarifying agent, Zemper explains. "It acts like a magnet. As the yeast cells are dying off, they'll cling to the Bentonite and fall to the bottom."

This wine's in the bag.

​Next, you stir the whole concoction up using a power drill with a paint mixing spatula attachment, to get oxygen into the mix. Zemper says this is one of the most popular parts of the process. "People love playing with power tools!" she quips. Take a couple of readings with a thermometer and hydrometer to make sure the process is going well. Then it's time to oak this sucker.

Since Studio Vino ages their wine in glass carboys, their reds would normally lack the rich, distinctive flavoring of oak barrel aging. To mimic the flavor, you can add oak chips of varying types directly into the wine (it'll be filtered later so you're not drinking splinters). "The reason why you add oak during primary fermentation is that the wine is susceptible to flavors when it's very young," says Zemper. 

Sprinkle the yeast in, pop the lid on the bucket, label your wine batch and you're all done -- except for Facebooking the incriminating pics of your tipsy friends playing with power tools. Whew! The whole process, including the tasting, usually takes about 2 hours.

Step 2: Racking Three and a half weeks later, while you're busy having a pedicure or reading a good book, Zemper pulls the heavy bucket off the shelf and transfers the mixture into a glass carboy. The wine sits for five weeks *insert Jeopardy final question music here*. Zemper takes care of the filtering and designs a custom label for you. Then, it's time to come back and bottle.

Step 3: Bottling First, you'll wash some dishes. Happy fun time! Seriously, this is as easy as it gets. After selecting your bottle from the rack of choices (most are included in the Studio Vino package, but half-bottles/premium bottles are $15-30 extra per batch), you and your entourage head over to the washing station, where you plunge each bottle onto an automatic bottle washer and massage it up and down. (Note: If you're bottling wine for a bachelorette party, this is a perfect time for the inevitable raunchy jokes.)


Time for the automatic filling station. One tube goes in the bottle and the other goes in the carboy. Press a button and watch the bottle automatically fill with your wine. Easy-peasy.

Head to the corking station, pop a cork in and press down the giant handle to drive it in.

Select a colored capsule and use the heat-shrinker to seal the deal. Press on your custom label and you're done. Now, you can tell everyone you labored over this wine for years at the secret Italian vineyard your great-aunt Isabella left you. Try pairing it with an elegantly plated "homemade" dinner from your local KFC. Seriously, who will know?      

Cost for the entire Studio Vino experience, including tasting, custom labels and bottling, is $230 for a half-batch (14 bottles) or $389 for a full batch (28 bottles).  

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