Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dorm Room Wineries

As I stepped into the dorm room of resident assistant Tyler Sutherland, he kindly offered me a sample of his latest product. He walked over to a large, orange container that featured a spigot that allowed for easy dispensing, filled a coffee mug and handed it over to me. My lips puckered as I consumed my first sip of what he called his more “fruity batch,” and did my best to determine the contents that made up this particular batch of wine.

This was unlike any wine I had ever had before. It featured a dark, luscious red hue and tasted like a combination of red wine and sour raspberries. It was good though, in a “wow, this was manufactured in a dorm room” kind of way. Sutherland chose to use grape juice for this particular batch but added that any fruit juice will work, as long as it’s not a citrus juice. “Yeah, I probably should have warned you before you took a sip of that. This is one of my stronger batches,” laughed Sutherland.

His homemade wine is kept and stored in a jug that slightly resembles the orange Gatorade coolers you may see on the sidelines of sporting events; except this particular jug lacks the Gatorade logo and looks as if it were made 20 years before Gatorade even existed. It’s a ceramic jug and looks as brittle as the bones of the person that seems to have constructed it at least 80 years prior, but it works as a perfect container for wine.

Sutherland admitted that he has a well-equipped setup in his dorm room, a luxury that most college students don’t have. As he walks into the bathroom, located within his own dorm (one of the perks of being an RA), he goes to check on his latest batch. I put my mug down and follow him into the bathroom to get my first glimpse of the winemaking process. As he pulls back his wizard-slaying-a-dragon shower curtain, therein lies what appears to simply be just a gallon milk jug filled with apple cider. The jug also featured a balloon rubber banded around the top of it. I was confused, but he assured me that this was the soon-to-be wine.

While there are many different techniques that can be applied to winemaking, Sutherland described this one as “pretty hoboish”. He continued by clarifying that this particular process involved simply adding a few ingredients to an empty milk jug and then waiting for the results. “You just add yeast, sugar, grape juice and some water,” grinned Sutherland as he put the jug down and looked back up at me. “Then, it’s basically autopilot from there on out.”

Sutherland described that the balloon attached to the top worked as his own personal timer. “The balloon on top will eventually expand and then once it has deflated completely, the wine will be good to go.” The sugars eventually become alcohol and within about two weeks, the wine is ready for ingestion.

While he stated that his winemaking hobby is more for recreational purposes, the cost of production is another key factor in his enjoyment of the process. Most college students don’t have the money to buy all the drinks they may wish to consume, so this has proved to be a very economically-beneficial alternative for him. He said that it only costs him about 75 cents to produce a gallon of wine. “That’s a deal you’re simply not going to be able to beat around here.”

As we were sitting in the comfort of his dorm room, a knock on the door signaled that Tyler had a customer that he was expecting. While not much of a distributor himself, Sutherland has several steady patrons whom he allocates his wine to. The young, eager consumer at the door was James Roh, a talented student studying photojournalism at Ohio University. It was obvious upon entering the room that Roh was no random customer. The two gleefully greeted, and while Roh served the role of the customer and Sutherland the supplier, it was evident that there was a level of trust between them. These two were friends, not clients.

Roh came to the dorm with intentions to purchase some of the raspberry-tasting creation that Sutherland generously offered me earlier when I entered his dorm room. After an elongated, mutual laughing session at his uniquely designed shower curtain, Sutherland filled an empty bottle, topped it with a cap then handed it to his customer. He assumed that he would just give his friend the bottle free of charge until Roh insisted that he at least take something. Roh reached into his pocket and convinced Sutherland to take its contents as compensation for the wine. Two dollars and sixty cents, the transaction cost Roh a mere two dollars and sixty cents for the bottle.

“It’s not about the money,” said Tyler. “I just enjoy making the wine, and if people are willing to consume it, you take pride in that.” Sutherland wasn’t the only one who was proud of his wine. Roh admitted that he too took pride in supporting the idea of self-concocted wine.

Roh said that people are always very intrigued when he offers them a taste of the homemade wine. While not the most common drink at parties, the homemade wine always seems to ferment some level of interest from those who are unfamiliar with it. “People are fascinated when they try it and find out it’s not terrible. Especially when I throw in the fact that it was made in the comfort of a college dorm room,” laughed Roh.

While some might think of this transaction as shady or suspicious, this was nothing more than a friendly exchange between pals. Witnessing the whole situation seemed more like a stamp collector showing off his collection to another appreciator of stamps; it was just two friends sharing a common hobby. Sutherland’s employers would more than likely not be fond of the transaction, but there was nothing illicit about it. These two are neither bootleggers nor are they alcoholics, just two friends with economically and aesthetically-savvy minds. This is a unique pastime and Athens should be proud to foster these young connoisseurs.

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