A true wine lover doesn’t just drink wine. A true wine lover makes wine. And that’s where Tin Lizzie comes in.
Susan Troll and her husband, Jeff, were visited by neighbor Ed Pigott one day, and he offered them a glass of Syrah made by David Zuchero. Pigott noted that he, Zuchero, and another friend, Rob Pierre, were forming a wineworks and teaching facility so that anyone could make wine.
After one sip of the exquisite Syrah, Susan knew she had to enroll.
"We were the first ones in," she recalls proudly.
The wineworks is housed in a metal barn on a farm in Clarksville and caters mostly to small groups. The barn once housed a 1915 Model T Ford, or Tin Lizzie— hence, the company’s name.
Zuchero, its master winemaker, has been producing wine for over 40 years, having learned the secrets of the vine from his father and grandfather. (The family's 75-year-old wine press sits in one corner of the Tin Lizzie facility.)
He enriched his homegrown training with a bachelor's degree in microbiology from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Winemaker's Certificate from the University of California at Davis, the top winemaking school in the U.S. He has since won dozens of winemaking awards, including two Gold Medals at the 2009 Fermenters International Association Annual Wine Competition.
Says Zuchero, "Winemaking allows you to express yourself through creating something you can enjoy and share with others."
The first step in Tin Lizzie’s students creating something they can share with others is the selection of the grapes. Once they’re delivered to the Howard County facility—often from California or South America—it’s time for de-stemming and crushing.
In keeping with Tin Lizzie’s do-it-yourself theme, Troll and her fellow students form an assembly line to feed the grapes into a large auger that knocks the fruit loose from the stems. The grapes then run through a pump to press out the juice, leaving a layer of skins on top. The mixture of juice, skins, and pulp is called the “must,” and Zuchero returns to the wineworks each day for the next week to check on it.
"David is a great teacher," says Troll. “You learn a lot more about wine than you would think."
Step two begins seven to 10 days later. Sometimes resembling a bucket brigade, the must is run through a bladder press to separate the skins and divert the juice into buckets, which are then poured into oak barrels. With buckets filling faster than they can be emptied, spills are inevitable.
Jokes Zuchero of his occasionally juice-drenched students, "It's a time that they become fully immersed in the process."
Once in barrels, the wine is left to age for several months, until step three: racking. The act of draining the wine from one barrel to another and topping off each one for final fermentation, racking is a six-hour free-for-all where students are invited to sample the budding vintages.
At this point, “It's not quite grape juice and not quite wine," says Troll.
The final step, which takes place nearly a year after the start of the process, is bottling and labeling. "Designing the label is one of the most fun parts," says Troll, whose own label features—what else?—a troll.
Three stations are set up for the bottling: one for filling, one for corking, and one for labeling. Bottling is clearly the best gig—where over-filled bottles get poured into waiting glasses—so students take turns manning each station.
With the labeling complete and the bottles in cardboard cases, students are now winemakers.
"It's like bringing your baby home!" laughs Troll.
For more information on Tin Lizzie Wineworks, call 301-318-9954 or visit www.tinlizziewineworks.com.
Slip something special into grownup trick-or-treaters’ bags this Halloween! If you don’t have a bottle of homemade wine from Tin Lizzie on hand, use any robust red, such as Adlum’s First from Mount Felix Estate Vineyard & Winery
Chocolate Wine Balls*
3 1/4 c. crushed vanilla or chocolate wafers
3/4 c. confectioner’s sugar
1/4 c. cocoa powder
3 T. corn syrup
1/2 c. full-bodied red wine
1 c. orange decorator sugar, optional
In a large bowl, combine the wafers, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup, and wine. Mix until a sturdy dough is formed. Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in decorator sugar, if using. Cover and refrigerate for up to one week. Bring to room temperature before serving.
*Adapted from Allrecipes.com.