Sharing the art of winemaking

By Emma Bartlett

Anthony Moretti was 10 years old when he learned to make wine from his Vermont Street neighbor, George Solitro. At 13, he was buying winemaking equipment with his birthday and Christmas money and making wine at home. Today, Moretti owns a small wine store and rents part of a warehouse on Dyer Avenue where he imports grapes from California, crushes and presses them, and sells the grape juice to customers so they can make their own wine.

Spending time with Solitro as a child, Moretti realized that everyone loved Solitro because he always shared things – wine being one of them.

“I really took a philosophical look at life when I was little, which made me a quick old man to say what really matters in life when all is said and done,” said Moretti, who is proud to perpetuate this Italian tradition.

Moretti bought a small wine store in Silver Lake in 2002 that his father and sister helped him out when he was in the middle of his career; the shop is open year round with limited/seasonal hours. He finds the most enjoyable part of winemaking is that it brings people together from all walks of life.

“When I look ahead not knowing exactly when retirement would be, that would be my hobby and how I can envision my retirement,” Moretti said.

The growing season in California begins in August, when customers begin ordering cases of grapes from Moretti. He said a case makes 2.5 gallons of grape juice for wine to be made. This fall, over 5,000 gallons of grape juice were pressed. In the spring – when Chilean wine and grapes are available – Moretti will also sell Chilean wine juice.

Winemaking

Moretti buys a variety of red and white grapes to make different types of wine. Some of the grapes include Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon, Merlot, and Alicante. When Moretti obtains the red grapes, they enter a manual or automated crusher which breaks the skins off the grapes and crushes them. After crushing the grapes, customers are given instructions on how to turn the grape juice into wine.

Four elements are necessary for the fermentation process of grape juice: sugar, yeast, temperature and oxygen. The sugar comes from grapes and is activated by yeast. While grapes have natural yeast on their skins, customers sprinkle one packet of yeast per two cases of grapes to encourage fermentation of the fruit. The yeast then grows between 68 and 78 degrees and the oxygen allows fermentation to occur.

The fermentation will take place in vats which retain the juice. Moretti said it takes two days to see the fermentation. As the sugar and grape juice turn into alcohol, the juice becomes heavier than the skins that settle at the bottom of the tank. Every day, throughout a week, individuals must put the grape skins back into the juice.

The next step is to separate the wine from the grape skins. The juice is transferred into containers called carboys or demijohns. A tap at the bottom of the tank allows the juice to flow freely into the storage containers. The damp grapes left in the vat are transferred to a press where they are crushed to extract the remaining juice from the grape skins.

Once the wine is in storage containers, Moretti said it takes three days for any sediment in the wine to sink to the bottom of the container. The sediment is removed by transferring the good juice to another container; this process (known as racking) is carried out three or four times over the following months.

When it comes to white wine, Moretti said people want to crush and press on the same day; the longer the skins are left, the deeper the pigmentation of the wine.

When making wine, individuals should use a hydrometer to tell them the sugar content of grape juice, and the sugar should be adjusted. Adding sugar increases the alcohol content while adding water decreases the alcohol content.

Storage and when to drink

A common question Moretti receives is how long after the fermentation process customers should wait until they can drink their wine. Although it all comes down to personal taste, Moretti recommends aging wine for at least nine to 12 months.

“Wine mellows out,” Moretti said, adding that it gets softer and less harsh over time.

He recommends an airlock and a cap for storage containers to prevent post-secondary fermentation.

Early in his career as a winemaker, Moretti discovered that carbon dioxide had accumulated in a one-gallon jug and exploded in the basement. The jug also hit a five-gallon jug – spilling six gallons of wine and shards of glass on the floor.

“That’s why I put the airlocks on every time now,” Moretti said.

Moretti said wine making was always something he wanted to do and money never motivated him. Its fall season will be coming to an end in the coming weeks.

“It became something I do now,” Moretti said.

Shirley M. Pinder