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Hobby bears fruit for home brewer Ben
12:42pm Saturday 12th May 2012 in Books
The diary of a DIY wine maker has just been published. MATT CLARK finds out more.
THIS is a home brewing book with a difference. A tale of one man’s attempts to create delicious and interesting wine from the most unlikely ingredients.
Ben Hardy, who grew up in York, takes us on a journey, in diary form, from picking his raw materials to drinking the final product. On the way we encounter 31 flavours from his ‘superb blackberry’ to the ‘undrinkable potato wine’ Ben meanders us from a bitterly cold, windy and wet visit to Sandal Castle, to a fortnight of riotous living in the Lake District sprinkled with evenings spent with a bassoon quartet, of which he is a member.
All result in yet another vintner experiment.
But this is not a catalogue of one man’s bohemian revelry. Ben both amuses and informs in his efforts to produce the nectar of the gods. He is refreshingly honest about what does and doesn’t work, and carefully records the triumphs, the disasters, long-suffering friends and his family’s reactions.
“I suppose it’s a cross between my diary and an instructional book on how to make wine,” says Ben. “I know that makes it sound terribly dull, but I hope it’s written with humour.”
The basic set up is that he starts with how the wine is made, including details on what he was doing the day he made it.
“Then there is a diary entry for every bottle drunk of that flavour: what I thought of the wine, what those fortunate or unfortunate enough to share the bottle thought, what I happened to be doing or eating while drinking it.”
Ben’s wine making adventures began in York’s Victorian cemetery, which he reckons has just the best blackberries around.
“I always get my blackberries from there and make a note of the names on the graves where I pick my fruit.
“Then, when I open the first bottle, we raise a glass to these forgotten 19th-century people for contributing to my wine.”
Anecdotes aside, the book has a really useful section entitled “How to actually make the stuff”.
But it wouldn’t be Ben’s style to leave out a rider in the foot note when he advises us to leave the wines for six months.
It’s something, he admits, that is not always successful.
“One thing I like about the book is that stories reveal themselves during the book, and not always in the correct order. So, the reader has to piece together individual tales – related to my wisdom tooth, or the death of an old lady, or job traumas, which are dotted throughout.”
It was never Ben’s intention to have his work published. He saw it simply as jottings; a wine diary to help him remember how he made a wine and what did or didn’t work.
“It was never a private diary though, and I encouraged visiting family to read through it. My mother enjoyed it particularly, and nagged me to try and get it published.
“I thought she was mad, who would be interested in the unremarkable life of a property lawyer who happened to make wine?”
However, she kept nagging, so to prove her wrong, Ben sent his diary to a publisher looking, he says, for a rapid rejection.
But it turned out he had underestimated the strength of his work, if not the strength of his wines.
After a posting extracts online – and getting positive responses – came the publisher’s verdict: “this is actually really good. Can we publish it?”
So, in trying to prove his mother wrong, it turns out Ben ended up proving her right, hence the dedication at the beginning of his book.
“I think that the disasters probably work better for pure amusement value than the successes. The book covers my ghastly potato wine, the pumpkin wine, which was frankly scary, and the lumpy strawberry wine.
“Everyone loves a glorious failure, and these wines certainly fell into that category. But the successes outweigh the disasters in number – otherwise I would have stopped long ago.”
• You can discover more about Ben’s adventures at his blog bensadventuresinwinemaking.blogspot.com
• Ben’s Adventures in Wine Making is available through The Good Life Press, goodlifepress.co.uk and Amazon.