Imagine making your very own wine – by yourself. Now you can – and surprisingly it’s not in Northern California’s Wine Country.
By Rick Weinberg, Editor, California Business Journal.
THE SPRAWLING AND MAJECTIC WINE COUNTRY OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA OFFERS EVERYTHING FROM scintillating, romantic views to tasting the finest wines on earth.
But one thing you cannot do is make your own wine by yourself, bottle it yourself and slap on your own self-designed label.
However, you can do that at Purple Feet in Huntington Beach, Calif., which is a world away from California’s royal wine country.
Amelia Manes, who lives and works in Napa Valley – California’s premier wine republic — was “shocked” when friends in Huntington Beach told her about Purple Feet.
“Up here, we go wine tasting, but never to a place to make your own wine,” she says. “It’s pretty surprising to hear of that kind of place in Orange County and not Napa Valley.”
So Amelia and her boyfriend Tijani made the trek down to Huntington Beach specifically to go to Purple Feet to make their own wine — a German Riesling.
“Tijani was so excited to do it – it was something we had never done before together,” Amelia says. “It was a new and fun experience.”
It is a fun, new experience for everyone who goes to Purple Feet.
The plan to create Purple Feet was in the works right from the very beginning for Dennis Midden, the owner of BrewBakers, Huntington Beach’s popular facility where customers brew their own beer. He knew that one day he would open up “the perfect complement” to his beer-brewing operation – a wine-making, wine-tasting, wine-partying facility.
And that day has arrived.
Midden’s newest brainchild sits right next door to BrewBakers – and it provides wine lovers throughout Southern California the rare opportunity to experience making their own wine, bottling it, creating their own label, and placing it right on the bottle.
Purple Feet is the only do-it-yourself wine-making facility in Orange County – and it has genuinely piqued the curiosity of the oldest — and newest — wine lovers in the area.
“It’s an amazing place,” says Huntington Beach’s Jill Hirsh, who has already been to Purple Feet multiple times to make her own wine. “It’s truly one of the greatest experiences you can have – whether it’s with your husband, boyfriend, your parents or a group of your friends. We absolutely loved it.”
Every customer who experiences making wine at Purple Feet savors it because “it’s just so unique, so much fun and enriching,” says Long Beach’s K.C. Conners, who belongs to a wine club and had made the trek to Santa Barbara and Temecula every year to make wine, but is now devoted to Purple Feet.
“It’s really working out great,” Midden says of Purple Feet. “I always knew it would work out well. It really is the perfect balance to BrewBakers. I’d be a lousy businessman if I didn’t do this. What’s so great about it being right next door to BrewBakers is that guys are the beer drinkers and women tend to gravitate toward the wine. So the guys are here, the women are over there, and then they come back and forth to both spots. It’s really fun – and I’m all about fun.”
Says Jill Hirsch: “I tell everyone about it. It’s just the coolest place to go and one of the coolest things to do with family or friends. It’s also an awesome gift to give someone – and it’s a really fun girl’s night out.”
Making an Entrance
When you arrive at Purple Feet, you first notice that BrewBakers’ hop vines and Purple Feet’s grape vines are intertwined at the entrance. Once you step in, you’re greeted by manager Judy Slaton or her daughter Alissa, the assistant manager, and a full old-fashioned wine-making facility with an at-home feel and a wall featuring more than 25 wines to choose from, all made at Purple Feet.
You can taste different wines before making your decision as to which wine you’re going to make — “which adds to the overall fun of your wine-making experience,” Alissa says.
It certainly does – there’s nothing like drinking with family and friends as you make your own wine, listen to jazz or rock or classical music and laugh it up.
The first time K.C. Connors went to Purple Feet, she made a Pinot Noir with her boyfriend, Mike.
“It was so great the very first time we tasted it,” she says. “As the wine aged, it got even better. It’s really true how wine gets better with age. We’re really anxious to taste it a year from now, just to see how much better and sweeter it tastes.”
At her Southern California home, K.C. prominently displays her wine, which is named “Anyways” because she had a tendency to say that instead of “anyway” – and it became an inside joke between her and her boyfriend.
What’s also special about her wine is the label design: a couple sitting on the beach, something she does often with Mike.
Naming the wine and deciding on the label “is a kick,” K.C. says.
“Anything goes with labels — sometimes the designs can get out of hand,” Alissa adds with a laugh, “but it’s a blast. It’s totally up to the customer – we don’t censor. The label really brings the bottle to life for some customers.”
The wine K.C. made with her parents is called “Honey, Home Soon” – that’s what her father, a pilot, tells K.C.’s mom when he’s heading home on his plane. The label also features the desert landscape of Arizona, where her parents live.
“I agree — naming your wine is one of the best parts of the wine-making process,” says Jill Hirsch, who named her wine, “Mine, Mine Wine.” The name comes from her daughter, a softball player, who screams, “Mine, mine,” when she’s about to catch a pop up or fly ball during a game. “The name … it’s sort of an inside thing with the players and parents,” Jill says with a laugh.
The first batch of wine Jill made at Purple Feet was a Chardonnay. “It’s really good,” she says. “We didn’t rush to bottle it. We let it sit an extra week to let the sediment go down – it wound up being a clearer batch.”
Jill treasures Purple Feet so much that she’s taken her parents there as well as her girlfriends.
“My dad is not easy to buy a gift for – he’s one of those guys who has everything,” Jill says. “So taking him to Purple Feet for his Christmas present was so great because it was something he had never done before.”
They made an Italian Merlot. “We made it with an Oak flavor and we’re letting that age too,” she says. “We plan to open it after one year. That’s going to be a fun night.”
Midden buys his must (an already-squished grape) from BrewMaster, a distributor in San Leandro, just 20 minutes south of San Francisco.
“They offer a nice variety of ingredients,” Midden says, “At least 25 choices. And if we get a request for something rare, they’ll find it for us.”
“What’s also nice about the small batches of must is that we can get it from all over the world – France, Italy, Germany,” says Midden’s daughter Abigail, who handles social media and marketing for BrewBakers and Purple Feet.
As for the name – Purple Feet … “Well, that was a no-brainer,” Midden says. “We wanted something fun that conjures up an image of stomping on grapes,” he says. “Purple Feet was it.”
It’s no wonder so many customers ask if they will be squishing grapes with their feet, or how they would be able to make wine out of season.
“The must arrives at Purple Feet in a vacuumed-sealed pack, which gives it shelf life,” Judy says. “It enables us to not only make wine year ‘round but also to stock a wide selection of must from all over the world.”
Making wine at Purple Feet is a 1-2 hour process – a little longer if you’re having a party or entertaining family or friends.
Six weeks after making the wine, the wine is ready to be bottled – which is another party.
“It’s as much fun bottling and labeling the wine as it is to making the wine,” says K.C. Connors.
To others, making the wine is the feature attraction.
“You can make just about any kind of wine you want,” Alissa says. “Some people know exactly what they want when come in; others need a little time to choose. Some are absolutely sure they want to make an Australian Shiraz when they walk in. Others are not so sure what they want.
“Sometimes they need to taste a few different varietals before deciding. That’s part of the fun and the experience.”
Alissa and Judy help make it a memorable experience because they’re so knowledgeable about wine. They know all the little details; it was almost like a history lesson on wine.
“I love it when customers ask questions when we’re making the wine – that shows how interested they are in the whole process,” Alissa says.
One customer recently decided to make a Black Cherry Chianti and Pinot Noir blend.
“It was unique and actually quite tasty,” Alissa says. “Few people would think of creating a wine like that. It was different. But they had a great time making it – and the alcohol by volume was off the charts,” she adds with a laugh.
The first decision in the wine-making process is whether you want to make a red or white wine. Once you decide which varietal you’re going to make from Purple Feet’s wine rack and wine list, you stroll over to a wine-making work bench, take a huge bag of thick and heavy-crushed grapes (called “must”) and pour it into a six-gallon bucket.
“The grape must is very sweet, which is good because it is the sugars that determine the potential alcohol,” Judy says.
Next, you add filtered water and stir. After that, you slowly pour in bentonite (a 100% natural earth compound), which absorbs unwanted proteins produced during fermentation and pulls it to the bottom.
Next, you take a long-handled hydrometer and measure the specific gravity of the must.
“You’re basically testing the sugar level of the must and finding out the potential alcohol,” Judy says.
Next, oak chips can be added to your batch.
“If you want your wine to taste as if it was aged in an oak barrel with a smoky flavor, you add fresh oak chips,” Alissa says.
The chips remain in the wine for a week to 10 days. Customers can choose between a light, medium or a dark oak flavor. The more oak chips added, the more toasted and smoky the wine tastes. Next comes one of the most important steps – if not the most important part: Adding the yeast.
“The yeast sets it all off,” Alissa says. “It’s the yeast that converts the sugar into alcohol.”
You sprinkle the yeast across top of the must in the six-gallon container and let it sit for 10 minutes, stir it in and let it sit. Over the next 48 hours, it begins to bubble.
“That’s when it transforms from grape must into a batch of fermenting wine,” Alissa says.
This completes the wine-making process. Now it’s time for your wine to sit and ferment.
When Alissa and Judy arrive at Purple Feet daily, they check up on all the wines.
When all the gas evaporates and the clearing stage is complete, Judy and Alissa call their customer and give them the good news – their wine is ready to be bottled.
The cost for Purple Feet’s unique wine-making experience is $150 for 12 bottles and $250 for 24 bottles.
Family and friends tell Alissa and Judy that they might just have the coolest jobs in Huntington Beach.
“How cool is this – working at a wine-making facility,” Alissa says as she looks around Purple Feet, marveling at its surroundings. “It’s awesome. Our customers are my motivation to keep working here.”
Judy enjoys the excitement the customers experience when they’re making and bottling their wines.
“They truly get attached to it,” she says. “It’s amazing to watch. It’s like we’re baby-sitting their baby.”
Both Alissa and Judy get a kick out of customers when they act skeptical of the process. Customers often find it hard to fathom that they’re actually going to make good wine.
“Occasionally, they think it’s a novelty – that they can’t drink the wine,” Alissa says. “Then they come back to bottle and taste it and go ‘wow.’ They love their wine. That’s the best part for me. It’s not only like ‘I told you so,’ but it’s that they love the wine too.
“As customers try to figure out what kind of wine to make, they’re tasting samples until they make up their mind,” she adds. “I want them to make an educated decision, and encourage them to have fun with it. So I’m like, ‘Drink up!’”
7240 Heil Ave.
Huntington Beach, Calif.
Copyright © 2013 California Business Journal
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Rick Weinberg is Editor-in-Chief at California Business Journal. He is a well-known journalist, writer, reporter and on-air talent who has worked for the New York Times, FOX and ESPN. He launched CalBizJournal.com to focus on California businesses and business professionals as well as California business news and information. Contact: [email protected] / 949-648-3815