By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Editor
The word "authentic" is bandied about with too much regularity when we discuss wine these days, and yet I feel compelled to use it here. That's because there is nothing in the world of wine so raw, so ungussied up, so uncorporate — so authentic! — as a bottle of wine created by a non-professional. It almost never carries an industrial label, and often conveys, through a smudged and sticky exterior, the dirty hands required to make it.
The home winemaker is unburdened by bias. You think all Baco is subpar? Talk to the amateur who treasures his small crop every year and the tobacco-tinged wine it creates. Not willing to give Carmine a try? Home winemakers know you're missing something.
Some of New York's finest winemakers started out making wine at home. There are many ways to do it; you can purchase fruit, or purchase juice, or pay to use someone else's facility. And there are more facilities than ever before devoted to allowing customers the chance to make wine.
This is not to say that all amateur wine is good. But the process of making wine creates a kind of kinship that can't come from chasing point scores. Wine is a personal thing. It can carry the imprint of person and place, and no winemaker understands that better than the home winemaker. The goal is not to snare a 90-point score; the goal is to emerge with a product suitable for consumption. And when things are really clicking, the goal is to create a wine that just might fool friends in a blind tasting. For most home winemakers, that's plenty satisfying enough.
The first bottle of Carmine I ever drank was a homemade version, grown in a tiny vineyard on Keuka Lake and labeled with a small strip of masking tape. It was dark in color but high in acidity and, if it wasn't magical, it was undeniably palatable. A homemade 2002 Keuka Lake Carmine.
The creator of this wine is the very definition of the anti-snob. His cellar treasures include a handful of 30-year-old second-growth Bordeaux and a handful of his own Lemberger, also grown on Keuka Lake. Each bottle brings something special to the dinner table. Some of his closest friends are wine judges, and they're just as likely to be treated to a bottle of homemade sparkling wine as a high-priced cabernet.
It should come as no surprise that this home winemaker is patient and generous. He showed my wife's step-father, George Dornberger, how to make something drinkable. Maybe even something good. George harbors no illusions about his small batch of wine, but you can see the pride in his eye when a dinner guest finds his wine good enough to finish.
Finally, after nearly a decade, I met this home winemaker. Joe Bourcy (far right in the picture) came out for a book chat I hosted in Canandaigua. He introduced himself only as "Joe." It was his daughter who mentioned his last name, and I instantly felt like I was in the presence of a renowned winemaker, even though Joe's most doting critics are his family members. He invited my wife and me over for a glass of wine with a friend of his, Carl Shively, who also happens to make a seriously a good sparkling wine.
We talked Carmine and Bordeaux and Finger Lakes wine and what friendship truly means. We toasted to, in Joe's words, "old winemakers and new friends." I've spent long hours with some of the world's finest winemakers. It's hard to imagine a more special visit than my day with Joe Bourcy. He thinks the 2002 Carmine I have in my cellar is probably shot. To me, it hardly matters.