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Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Sommelier I'm Not.


With 15 to 20 people at our dinner table every Sunday evening, we go through a lot of wine at our house. A while back, Mom started providing her homemade wine to help us cut costs.
Now some people turn up their nose at homemade wine, because they feel it is not up to their standards. I’m not exactly a conoisseur, but I’ve had some pretty expensive wine in my travels – and in many cases I would prefer the taste of the homemade stuff.
Mom needed help bottling her wine batch the other night, so I met her at the Brew-by-You on Prescott Street, ready to pitch in.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the place was the water stain up the wall to the ceiling. Apparently Mom had had an altercation with the bottle-rinsing mechanism. She smiled sheepishly and handed me an apron.
I watched as she placed one bottle after another under the plunger, filling them with wine. Her routine had a rhythm to it. When she paused for a moment to rinse out a few more bottles, I watched as the wine rose up the side of the bottle to the neck…”Aah! It’s going to spill over!” I panicked. Mom jumped and rushed over to look at the equipment. “No it isn’t, silly. It stops when it gets to the top.”
Phew. For a minute there I was having visions of  Lucille Ball at the conveyor belt, popping one chocolate after another into her mouth when the assembly line backed up. Except it would be Mom and I, taking turns putting our mouths under the plunger to catch the overflow in between bottles. I told the owner of the shop what I was imagining. He handed us two wine glasses for sampling.
“Something tells me the two of you would do just fine if that happened,” he said, and walked away.
I was given the job of corking the bottles. “Good. I hate that job,” Mom complained.
When I asked why, she said, “Because I hate that stupid little machine.”
I watched the shop owner demonstrating how to use the manual cork plunger. Position the bottle, pop the cork into the funnel at the top, squeeze the handle down to bring the cork into position and plunge. Simple. I looked at Mom. Something tells me she had had a bad experience with the bottle slipping and spilling in the past. I made a note to be extra careful.
The machine was quite stiff to operate so after a half dozen bottles, I was already starting to sweat. I paused to lose a layer of clothing. Mom looked at me and smiled. A-ha. So that’s why she gave me the corking job.
Next, Mom chose labels and started applying them to the wine bottles. I was allowed to pick out the sleeve-things for the bottle top. Fun, fun. I chose a rainbow of colours, each one complementing an accent on the label art.
Mom watched as I popped one sleeve after another onto the bottle tops. “Normally I colour-coordinate them according to wine type and size of bottle,” she said. “That way I don’t have to take them out of the case to see what I’ve got.” Well, that makes sense, but my way is more fun, I said.
I pushed the bottles into a huddle in the corner of the countertop. Then I carefully placed one at a time into the heated coil ring, to shrink the sleeve. “What happens if you leave it in too long?” I asked.
“It begins to smoke and melt,” the shop owner said, raising one eyebrow at me. Mom may find a few singed sleeves on her bottles but after the first half-dozen bottles, I got the hang of it.
At the end of the evening, we sampled our wine and pronounced it delicious.
“Mmm. Yummy. Two more months and it’ll be perfect. Just in time for Christmas.”
Who does she think she’s kidding? That wine isn’t going to last until December unless we put it in her basement and completely forget it’s there.

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