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Where to Make Your Own Wine

Sure, it's easy to drink wine -- but it might be even more rewarding to make your own.

At Sonoma Grapemasters, in the heart of California's Sonoma wine country, clients come from all over to do just that.

Before they start, clients choose their own grape variety and style of wine, then pair up with a consulting winemaker to produce a barrel (25 cases), or more, of their own wine.

The process takes a number of months. Clients first visit the grounds of the vineyards and then meet with a viticulturist who informs them about sugar levels and the degree of ripeness. When they are ready, the grapes are picked and sorted. Then the grapes must be fermented and put into tanks or bins. Depending on the variety, they are transferred to barrels.

"We recommend at least two visits a year, one at harvest and one to meet with your winemaker to discuss length of time in oak, etc.," says Stephen Yafa, who co-founded the company last year. Clients who can't get to the grounds are kept abreast of the wine's process through emails on the wine's characteristics.

The length of time depends on the specific type of wine. Most reds and Chardonnay age at least 11 months in French oak; Cabernet typically for 20 months, says Yafa. Then the wine is bottled and packed, with a label with the client's name on it.

Problems can arise, of course. One of the participants said he didn't pick enough grapes -- he came for another visit, and went back to the vineyard to pick more grapes.

Still, "there's something mystical about creating the perfect blend," says Yafa.

Sonoma attracts a range of people, from those who want to create wine for their own restaurants to those making wine for pleasure. The cost ranges from $5,000 to $9,000, which comes out to about $18 to $32 per bottle.

Crushpad, founded in 2004 located in San Francisco, is another option. People can take regular tasting and educational classes at the winery, says Patrick Hurly, vice president of marketing.

Some participants want the opportunity to de-stem their grapes, participate in fermentation punchdowns and see their grapes pressed, while others just want to find their current stats on the progress of their wine.

One of the differences of the two programs is that participants of Crushpad don't go into the vineyards to pick the grapes directly -- instead, they have access to grapes from 50 different vineyards, and get hands-on with the grapes once they arrive at the winery.

The cost to create a barrel of wine with Crushpad varies from $5,700 to about $15,000 depending on variables like the vineyard, type of barrel and type of bottle. Each barrel equates to 25 cases for 300 bottles, so the average cost per bottle ranges from $19 to $50.

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