Anthony Moretti was 10 years old when he learned to make wine from his Vermont Street neighbor George Solitro. By 13, he was purchasing wine making equipment with his birthday and Christmas money and making wine at home. Today, Moretti owns a small wine shop 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.
By spending time with Solitro as a kid, 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 a little kid that made me an old man fast to say what really matters in life when it’s all said and done,” said Moretti, who is proud to carry on this Italian tradition.
Moretti purchased a small wine shop in Silver Lake in 2002 which his father and sister assisted him while he was in the midst of his career; the shop is open year round with limited/seasonal hours. He finds that the nicest part of wine making is that it brings people of all walks of life together.
“When I look ahead not knowing exactly when retirement would be, this would be my pastime and how I can envision my retirement,” Moretti said.
California’s growing season starts in August, which is when customers start ordering cases of grapes from Moretti. He said one case makes 2.5 gallons of grape juice for wine to be made. This fall, over 5,000 gallons worth of grape juice was pressed. In the spring – when Chilean wine and grapes are available – Moretti will also sell Chilean wine juice.
Wine making process
Moretti purchases a variety of red and white grapes to make different types of wines. Some of the grapes include sangiovese, petite sirah, sauvignon, merlot and alicante. When Moretti obtains the red grapes, they go into a manual or automated grape crusher that breaks the grapes’ skins and grinds them up. After crushing grapes, customers receive instructions on how to turn the grape juice into wine.
Four elements are needed for the grape juice’s fermentation process: sugar, yeast, temperature and oxygen. Sugar comes from the grapes and is activated by yeast. While grapes have a natural yeast on their skins, customers sprinkle a pack of yeast per two cases of grapes to encourage the fruit to ferment. The yeast then grows between 68 and 78 degrees and oxygen allows for fermentation to occur.
Fermentation will occur in vats which hold the juice. Moretti said it takes two days to see fermentation. As the sugar and grape juice convert to alcohol, the juice becomes heavier than the skins which settle at the bottom of the vat. Daily, throughout the course of a week, individuals must push the grape skins back into the juice.
The next step is separating the wine from the grape skins. The juice is transferred into containers called demijohns or carboys. A spigot at the bottom of the vat allows for a free run of juice into the storage containers. The wet grapes left in the vat are transferred to a wine press where they are squished to get any remaining juice from the grape skins.
Once the wine is in storage vessels, Moretti said it takes three days for any sediment in the wine to fall to the container’s bottom. The sediment is removed by transferring the good juice to another container; this process (known as racking), is completed three or four times in the subsequent months.
When it comes to white wine, Moretti said individuals want to crush and press the same day; the longer the skins are left on, the deeper the pigmentation of the wine.
When making wine, individuals should use a hydrometer to tell them the grape juice’s sugar content and the sugar needs any adjustments. 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 should customers wait until they can drink their wine. While it all depends on personal taste, Moretti recommends letting the wine age for a minimum of nine to 12 months.
“The wine is mellowing,” Moretti said, adding that it becomes smoother and less harsh over time.
He recommends an airlock and stopper for the storage containers so post-secondary fermentation does not occur.
Early in his winemaking career, Moretti discovered that carbon dioxide had built up in a one gallon jug and exploded in the basement. The jug also hit a five gallon jug – spilling six gallons of wine and fragments of glass all over the floor.
“That's why I put the air locks on every time now,” Moretti said.
Moretti said wine making was always something he wanted to do and money never motivated him. His fall season will be coming to a close in the coming weeks.
“It became something I do now,” Moretti said.
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