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It's fall, which means home wine makers across the country are getting ready for an annual ritual - turning grape juice into wine. Jeff Cohen, of member station WNPR in Hartford, Connecticut, started making wine at home with friends a couple years back, and they picked up their grapes a week ago.

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: The loading dock at the M&M Wine Grape Company in Hartford is stacked high with boxes of grapes. Around them, people wander, mostly men. Some stick their fingers into the boxes of merlot and muscat to taste the fruit they may want to buy, dodging forklifts as they do. Others are inside settling some of their tabs. Mario Zavaglia is standing between the dock and the bed of a pickup truck, as he slides in big buckets of grape juice. He doesn't mess with the grapes anymore.

MARIO ZAVAGLIA: With the reds, you got to work them three times more. I did it with my grandfather. My father, my grandfather did it when I was a kid.

COHEN: Is that one reason you like doing it?

ZAVAGLIA: Yeah, I like to drink them, too.

COHEN: Next to Zavaglia is a nice pickup with a trailer heavy with boxes of grapes. Its owner is clearly a serious winemaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hey, Rich. Someone wants to talk to you.

COHEN: Rich Sabato wandered over. He started a few years ago making small batches of wine from kits. Then, eventually, he went all in. He's got $15,000 in equipment alone, and today, he and his friends are bringing home a gigantic haul.

RICH SABATO: This year we're buying 5,600 pounds of grapes.

COHEN: That's like 300 gallons of wine. For Sabato, winemaking's in the family. His grandfather did it, first in Italy, then in south Philadelphia.

SABATO: When he died, nobody else did it and it was kind of lost. And that's what drove me. It's not like wooden barrels like in the old country. It's not Lucille Ball stamping it with her feet in a tank, but it's a lot of fun, a little camaraderie, and we share it with our friends.

COHEN: That's why I make wine. It's not something my family ever did. But it's a tradition in the Italian community where I live and it's fun. So, two years ago, a few friends and I decided to try it out. We started small and then we grew. Last year, I had 150 gallons aging in my basement. Today we're picking up our chardonnay grapes. They've already been taken off the stem and crushed, so all we have to do is slide them into the truck.


COHEN: Take them home, pour the grapes into a wooden press, and crank until the juice stops running. We get about 50 gallons worth and a couple of days later, the yeast starts to work, turning juice into wine, bubbling off gas as it does. Soon, we'll have a young chardonnay. In a few weeks, when the red grapes come in, we'll do it all over again, and then we wait. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen, in Hartford.

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