When Bill Cox moved to Michigan a dozen years ago the cold winter weather kept him inside. To fight cabin fever, Cox took up beer-making, which he had learned from his father.
Soon, making beer evolved into making wine. Now, Cox, who has returned to his native South, is a frequent entrant in both national and international wine-making competitions. The Adairsville, Ga., resident is competing for the third year in The Georgia Winery's annual amateur wine-making competition, now in its seventh year.
"We sell the wine-making supplies, and we have people coming in all the time looking for different supplies," said winery spokeswoman Julie Anderson. "We thought this would be a good opportunity for them to show us what they've been making."
The competition was set to close at the end of 2011 but was expanded another three weeks due to a shortage of contestants. Anderson said last year's inclement weather might be at fault.
"With the [storms] in April, a lot of people lost their crops. Maybe it has something to do with the weather."
Entries now close on Jan. 21, and the awards ceremony is on Jan. 28.
Each year, the competition brings many creative flavors. A couple of the most notable, said Glynn Estes, the winery's winemaker, have included a pumpkin pie wine and a tomato wine.
Contestants are both new and returning, and Anderson said each person is permitted to submit as many wines as desired.
"It's very diverse," said Anderson. "We have a lot of people in the area who like to get involved and show off their wines."
Estes acts as judge for the competition each year and has tasted a plethora of experiments. Some, he said, are better than others.
A favorite entrant was a persimmon wine. "The fact that [the contestant] took a really odd, strange fruit and turned it into a very nice wine was really impressive."
This year, Cox submitted two variations on mead. "It's very much in traditional style, only I used local honey," he said. "I used a special batch of honey that was harvested from a hive in a sorghum field, so it has a nice caramel-y back taste to it."
Though a honey wine would likely be perceived as sweet, Cox said his batch is actually quite dry.
"I was kind of playing around with a few different recipes, making beer most of the time, and I made what was called a mead ale," he said. "It was like a fairly alcoholic Mountain Dew, plus some hops for bittering. Then I moved away from making that into a very traditional style."
Though traditionally made from grapes, any fruit or vegetable juice, when combined with sugar, yeast and chemicals, then left to ferment, results in a wine, Estes said.
"Any ideas you might have, give it a try," he said. "You might stumble on something that no one else has before and you could have a really good product."
Some fruits, however, are beyond the pale. Estes said he has received several requests to make a banana wine.
"I absolutely refuse to even try that," he said.
Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...