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The winery’s January 31 release party gave some reason for hope. “Over 130 people showed up, and they kept going back and drinking, and they bought a lot of wine. We had a buyer from Costco — the father of a friend of mine — who said he liked our Cab.” And Mike Dunlap, who had never tasted Hashagen’s wine, smiled when he assessed the Merlot made from his grapes. “He said, ‘This is good. Good complexity, good depth, and the finish is quite nice.’ It was the best seller of the night.”

“It’s almost like a daytime Merlot,” continues Hashagen. “It’s actually got a little bit of residual sugar,” which shows up mainly in the wine’s fruity attack. “We had to decide whether to really fight to ferment it to total dryness.” But one of the winemakers who gave him advice at the outset warned him against fighting too hard against your fruit. “Obviously, we don’t want it tasting like Tang, but if your grapes come in really sweet, you might have a slightly sweet wine. But even more than sugar, we’re interested in the ratios between sugars and acids and the pH. We didn’t have to adjust the acid at all” — remarkable for a South Coast red.

“We’ll adjust and figure it out as we go along,” he concludes. “We’re learning in every department, but we’re having fun and meeting great people. And as I told my investor, ‘Worst case happens, we end up with 3000 bottles of wine to drink, and we have a massive party.’ ”

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