Sunday, January 3, 2010

Local men mix up a hobby of the mind, palate

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

There's nothing like a good hobby.
'It gives you something to do,' said Earl Soudelier of Gatesville. 'And it keeps you foucsed and active.'
From gardening to woodwork, anything can be a hobby.
'Whatever it is, it's got to interest you,' said Charles Smith of Temple. 'And then as you pursue it, the hobby becomes an individualized art.'
For Smith and Soudelier, wine is their hobby.
'It's such a beautiful thing to make,' Smith said.
'Yes,' Soudelier said. 'And, for me, it's an endorphin rush when I have people over and they specifically ask for something I made. It's a real ego boost.' Smith was 18 at the time of his debut into the wine world.
'Many years ago, before the Internet was common, I was living in Canada,' Smith said. 'And it was legal to drink at that age.'
His venture was dandelion wine.
'I wanted to know what it tasted like,' Smith said. 'I kept on reading about it in novels. It seemed to be a big deal to the characters.'
He couldn't find any to buy, so he did some research 'old school style' - in a library with the aid of a card-catalogue - and found a recipe.
'I worked at it, and got the measurements of everything just right. It turned out superb,' Smith said. 'And then I was hooked. I had to do it again.'
His next creation was a batch of elderberry wine.
'I had to make that one,' Smith said. 'That's the wine from 'Arsenic and Old Lace,' the comedy about two sweet old-lady sisters who think it's an act of kindness to take in lonely old men, feed them a good dinner and then murder them with a wonderful, but poisoned glass of eldeberry wine.'
Smith is sure the Old Lace sisters would have approved of the taste of his arsenic-free eldeberry wine.
'It's such a sweet drink,' Smith said. 'Not in any way bitter.'
Soudelier's wine journey began in 2003, the year he retired.
'(Smith) was a friend from church (St. Luke's in Temple), and what he did with wine sounded interesting,' Soudelier said. 'So I thought I'd give it a try.'
For the first year or two, Soudelier shadowed Smith, watching how wine could be born from water, fruit and yeast.
'Then I got the knack of it,' Soudelier said. 'And I started coming up with my own recipes.'
Some of Soudelier's more interesting wines use jalapeƃ±o, tree bark, and acorns as their base ingredients.
'You can make wine out of just about anything,' Soudelier said, smiling like an eager boy who just discovered the magic of a chemistry set. 'The tastes are unique and can be quite good. In fact, there's no such thing as a bad wine. There's just some tastes I prefer more than others.'
One of Soudelier's favorite wines comes from history.
'Raisin jack wine, also called jungle juice. It was popular with World War II soldiers,' Soudelier said. 'It's made from potato peelings, brown sugar and raisins. It's really sweet, just like eating a candy bar.'
Soudelier and Smith spend a lot of time tasting their wine.
'But it's not about getting inibriated,' Smith said. 'It's about experiencing the flavor and manipulating the ingredients to get it right.'
It's not just the taste that's variable.
'You can control the the alcohol content and the appearance,' Smith said. 'It's all about how long you let the wine age and how and when you mix the ingredients.'
As with any hobby, wine making requires a bit of study.
'The easiest way to start is to get a wine-making kit,' Smith said. 'They come with all the tools, instructions and ingredients you need for a few basic grape wines.'
Wine kits can be purchased at the hill country vineyards of Texas - like those of Driftwood, Chisholm Trail in Fredericksburg and Grape Creek in Stonewall. They're also available online at midwestsupplies.com, winemakersdepot.com and homebrewers.com. Prices range from $50 to $150.
'It's not too expensive when you think about everything that comes in it,' Smith said. 'It really is enough to get you started.'
Potential wine makers, however, need to be warned that this hobby requires time and patience.
'It's not something that happens overnight,' Soudelier said. 'You've got to be willing to give six or seven months to make a good bottle of wine.'
The first step is the combination of all of the ingredients.
'I put mine in a big 5 gallon bucket,' Soudelier said. 'I cover it with a dish cloth and then let it sit for seven or eight days.'
After that, he strains any sediment that's formed and disposes of it.
'Then I put it into a jug with an air lock on it,' Soudelier said. 'That slows the yeast growth down and allows the sugars turn into alcohol.'
The sealed jug then sits in his utility room for at least four months.
'It's got to be kept at a constant temperature,' Soudelier said.
The next step is to stabilize the wine.
'That means that you have to prevent the yeast from multiplying,' Smith explained. 'You've got to add an additive, usually potassium sorbate. It's called a Campden tablet.'
That additive keeps the wine safe to drink.
'It prevents the growing of germs,' Smith said. 'You let it stabilize for about two months, and then it's ready to bottle.'
'And if you like, you can make your own label,' Soudelier said.
The two wine-making gents say it's hard to ruin wine.
'If the taste comes out nasty, you just add some sugar and turn it into jelly,' Smith said. 'If it sours, turn it into a salad dressing.'

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