Thursday 5 December 2013

Make Your Own Wine: Waitrose Champteloup Chardonnay

So I acquire this bottle of ChampteloupChardonnay for £5 or £6 on special offer, and to my amazement - so much to my amazement it almost feels like chagrin - I find that it's incredibly tasty (nicely structured, a bit of richness but without losing, yes, a degree of formal elegance, this concept made tangible by virtue of the wine being presented in one of those thoughtfully slim-hipped bottles such as I used to buy Muscadet sur lie in), tasty to the extent that I go straight out and buy another bottle. This is delicious, too. And there my wine week ends, or it does until I see a news item about a guy in California who has invented a domestic-scale, automated wine maker, called a WinePod.

What does this WinePod do? Apparently you tip a quantity of grapes into the Pod, set the controls, and wait. Cunningly-crafted software tells you what's going on inside the Pod and what interventions might be needed. A couple of months later, you pour out forty-eight bottles of drinkable wine. The WinePod™ will press, monitor, ferment, age and ultimately produce a classic vintage of your design. Yes, yours, it says on the website. The device has been likened to a kitchen bread maker in its simplicity and ease of use. It even looks like a giant stainless steel wine glass, thus conflating the means and the end in a way which heroically anticipates cows shaped like milk bottles and chickens with peel-off barcoded wings. It costs (correct me if I'm wrong) something over $6000, which includes the Winecoach software but not the grapes.

I cannot decide if the WinePod™ is quite a good thing or a threat to the totality of civilisation. Because if you think about all the home-made alcoholic drinks you've consumed in the past, what sensations are evoked? Cautious gratitude? Moist-eyed nostalgia? Or dread?

We've all drunk teenagers' homebrew for its narcotic value and the interesting texture of the sludge at the bottom, but after that? A friend of ours makes, according to my wife, a pretty nice cider, but then you've got to like cider and in any normal conditions I'd rather drink my own bathwater. On the other hand, my father-in-law used to make a kind of Vinho Verde from the vines he cultivated in his greenhouse - using the tendrils, the bits of stalk and leaf, the pebble-like grapes, plus all the spiders which had settled there over the summer months. Spider wine it was sometimes known as, and it wasn't bad: tart, pétillant, but with a good colour and a positive attitude. But that was a happy accident. All other home-created drinks have been uniformly awful, and I include among these the sloe gin we cobbled together some years ago - which was just sloes, sugar and supermarket gin, I mean, how bad could it have been? Painfully bad as it happened, bad enough for me to throw down the sink with a look of bleached horror, like a walk-on in The Thing.

Which is as much as to say, what chance does a serious drinker stand with the WinePod™? I mean, the website looks great, it gives off an air of magisterial competence, and after about nine or ten pressings the Pod will have amortised its initial costs pretty well. But even allowing for all this, there is no getting away from the fact that making wine yourself is like building a kit car or taking part in amateur theatricals: you don't do it for other people to enjoy, you do it so you can enjoy the thrilling proximity between your own efforts and what those efforts would look like if they were excuted properly. It is asymptotic, because however good you get, you can never reach that final condition of sweet professional achievement which is paradoxically at the heart of every DIY adventure. Put it another way: in order to succeed, the WinePod™ must, fundamentally, fail.

Which brings me back (ha!) to my Champteloup Chardonnay, of which I could buy maybe one thousand bottles before it cost me more than a WinePod™ + shipping costs + grapes + electricity + bottles and corks. To say nothing of the heartache and the sense of futility and the blurred vision and the terrible, terrible, indigestion which would be my inevitable reward if I had one. Need I say more? That on this occasion, the easy thing - not to buy a WinePod™ - is also the correct thing? No, I don't think I do.



  1. Who would be prepared to spend $6000 on something that produces wine that might well be undrinkable? Had a look at the website, and was impressed with just how little information they gave you. Quite happy to let you add thousands of dollars worth of stainless steel to you trolley, though. Am trying, and utterly failing, to imagine their target market...

    1. To be honest, it didn't even occur to me to question how little sense the product makes in the real world. It may be no more than an indicator of how fast the American economy is recovering, that expensive & nonsensical items like the WinePod have begun to reappear - items which will start littering the pages of eBay, once the next recession is due


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