He knew next to nothing about wine until 10 years ago, when he joined a group of local home winemakers.
He's now the avid leader of his own group that makes thousands of bottles of wine each year, the grapes crushed, fermented, pressed, aged and bottled in his Los Altos Hills home.
Since 2012, Beyer has recruited friends and family to assist with what is now a serious home winemaking operation. He now has seven partners, none of whom have worked in the wine industry. There's a retired physician, former tech executives, a general contractor, a real estate agent and engineers, all hailing from Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto, save one who lives in Santa Cruz. They each pay about $1,500 per year to cover the cost of raw materials, from grapes and barrels to additives and lab testing.
They sometimes call themselves "the startup winery."
The group purchases grapes from growers, from Napa and Sonoma to Paso Robles, though they prefer to buy locally. Early on, Beyer realized that quality wineries prefer to sell in tons rather than pounds, hence his motivation for forming a group. They now buy about four to five tons each year.
Each fall, as harvest kicks into high gear, Beyer's Los Altos Hills home becomes a hive of activity. As soon as they get the call from growers, the men jump into trucks to harvest their grapes — mostly red, but not exclusively — and bring them back to Beyer's house. A concrete, covered patio overlooking the rolling foothills is turned into a "crush pad" where they mash the grapes and put them into containers to ferment.
Once fermentation is done, the group presses the wine and pumps it into barrels to age. They typically age red wines for two years in the barrel and one in the bottle. The bottles are stored in a refrigerated cellar elsewhere on Beyer's property.
A downstairs room that Beyer and his wife originally built as a casual space to enjoy wine has been transformed into a full-blown wine cellar, with more than a dozen American and French oak wine barrels, a bottling machine and a clean-up room stocked with wine-making equipment and chemicals. Everywhere are wine bottles, glasses and wine-related art (including, hanging on one wall, a patchwork quilt featuring colorful bottles). In one drawer are stacks of wine labels drawn by Beyer's daughter, including a black-and-white tree with the name "Romanbauer," a nod to Rombauer Vineyard's famed chardonnay.
It was in this 255-square-foot room that Beyer first thought about making wine. After building the addition to the house, he realized he couldn't fill it with just bottles, and wondered what he would have to do to get a barrel. He reached out to a friend who happened to make wine at home. The friend was leaving his winemaking group, so Beyer, impressed by the quality of their wine, took his place.
Winemaking quickly became more than a fleeting hobby. Beyer left the group two years later to start his own troop of hobbyist winemakers.
Beyer is still a "data collector" at heart. He coordinates blind tastings to check the wine's progress and creates schedules to organize who is doing what during the busiest times. He consults with experts, including Woodside Vineyards' Brian Caselden, who Beyer considers a mentor, and a local Home Vintners Association. He sends other members what one called "homework" — mostly articles and books about winemaking.
"I think because I'm a problem-solver, the engineering side of solving these different problems in making the wine is what I found fascinating," Beyer said. "Even today it's a matrix of many, many different possibilities and problems that you can come up with."
There is very little regulation of home winemaking for personal consumption. Under federal law, they can't make more than 200 gallons a year for a household with two or more adults or 100 gallons for a one-person home, but are otherwise left to their own devices.
The members love both the technicality and camaraderie of winemaking. Most of their children help out with the harvest and bottling every year. Marc Anker, a retired doctor who lives in Palo Alto, knew near nothing about wine when he joined and was skeptical about the quality of homemade wine.
Now, he said he no longer buys wine. He brings their bottles to restaurants and social gatherings.
"It's great to know how to make wine. But I would love this whole process if it was mediocre wine," Anker said. "This is not mediocre wine."
The group's wine has won local awards, including a 2013 chardonnay from Woodside that took home "double gold" for best white wine in the Santa Clara County Fair's annual amateur winemaking competition.
Over a recent lunch on the patio, Beyer, Anker and David Lautzenheiser (a semi-retired tech executive who's looking forward to his fifth harvest with the group) uncorked recent vintages. They moved from a freshly crisp 2016 Vermentino from Los Carneros to a deep but drinkable 2014 merlot from Jaeger Vineyards in Napa and finally, a peppery Barbera from a grower in Plymouth, just outside Sacramento.
They sipped each wine with unbridled enthusiasm, enjoying the fruits of their labors.
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