Winemaking 101: Our Final Session

The group on our first session in Oct. 2016
The finished product, with the blend described, and our company history printed on a back label.

The budding winemakers at Giroux Glass participated a few days ago in the final phase of creating our first-ever production of red table wine. As a fun way to hang with our co-workers and also to celebrate our company’s 70th Anniversary, we decided last summer to sign up for a series of team-building and educational winemaking events at Grape Expectations, in Henderson, Nevada, close to our Las Vegas office.

We commemorated our milestone anniversary with these beautiful labels, adding a nod to the location with a photo of our historic 2007 Grand Canyon Skywalk project to decorate the bottles. We started by picking what type of blend we wanted to produce, and ultimately turned about 750 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Syrah and Petite Verdot California grapes into one 53-gallon barrel of our own unique wine.

“The Professor” explains how adding yeast to the mix kick starts the fermentation process.

The result? A custom wine that already tastes fantastic, and will be more delicious once it matures in December. Our production yield from that one barrel was just over 240 bottles of wine, or 20 cases of our very special blend we named “Gi-Rouge.”

During our first session, we crushed the grapes, and then returned a week later to press the grape juice from the “must” with a wine press (not barefoot, as in the famous “I Love Lucy” episode.) During our third session we transferred the wine to a steel tank, removing any sediment along the way, before returning it to a refreshed oak barrel to begin aging. Our final session is captured on this video: bottling, capping, labeling and boxing it all.

Monica Molinaro makes sure it’s a bad day to be a grape, stirring up crushed grapes before the mix enters the hydraulic crusher.

The winemakers running this program are a close-knit, self-chosen family held together by their passion for the winemaking industry. Initially the brainchild of her late husband, Charlie, a very determined Patty Peters found the strength after Charlie’s unexpected passing to hang onto and grow into a successful enterprise what had initially been his hobby. Working closely with Charlie’s buddies, Mike Schoenbaechler,”Big Mike,” general manager and chief winemaker,  KJ Howe, “professor of yeastology,” and Chad Evans, head of production, this colorful cast of charismatic characters loves what they do and it shows. They do it very well. They know more about wine than most sommeliers, constantly take classes, travelling to wineries and wine schools. Their goal is to share their passion and to make great wine — and they succeed, hands down, at both. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and every one of us learned a lot about the process while having a great time.

Our ever fearless leader, Nataline Lomedico and KJ Howe tastes our blend at this early stage, when it tastes like high-end grape juice.

It was Alex Lurkins, Vice President at Southwest Specialty Contractors, who initially raved to us about this facility, and who had produced several blends of his own. Based on his recommendation, we checked it out last summer. We were immediately drawn to Grape Expectations not just for the education and entertainment factors of making our own wine – along with all the tasting required! – but for that something extra.

We recognized a kindred spirit in their passion to their industry; we too feel a strong passion about what we do every day, despite being in different industries. Added to that was the similar family feeling of their partners.

We made good wine, had a great time in each of the fun phases, and most importantly, we made new friends. We will definitely look forward to tasting the final fruit of our labor come this holiday season, perfect timing! Thanks again to “wine wench,” Patty Peters, and her team, for making our sessions as memorable and engaging as they were. I will pop in to say “hi” and taste their latest blends next time I am in town!

Kim Sok works the “bung hole” on our barrel.
The final bottling crew, including a visit from Monica Pomykal and her “Baby Jake” (who provided no help at all!) From left: KJ, Barbara, Monica Pomykal, Monica Molinaro, Nataline, Stephanie Lamb, Alyssa Renzi, Daniel Rodriguez and Jesse.
KJ Howe demonstrates the enhancement to an average bottle of wine with the use of a decanter.
Jesse Grubbs inserts cork into bottles during our last session.
Nataline Lomedico, Jesse Grubbs and Alyssa Renzi proudly display our finished product.
OOPS! With over 240 bottles produced, we could spare to lose just one . . .

Aptly named, “Big Mike” and me.
The very manual labeling process: the string was a plumb line to guide label process.