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Grape skins are lousy grass fertilizer. That’s one of the first lessons that business litigator Ronald Murov learned when he tried his hand at winemaking. One year, he tossed leftover grape skins — that also contained seeds — on his lawn. Grapevines sprouted all over the yard, Murov recalled. “It was a disaster,” said Murov, a partner at Oakland, Calif.’s Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May. Now the attorney carefully disposes of the grape residue — and his wine tastes much better than it did in those early days. In fact, Murov won two prizes at the recent Alameda County Fair’s amateur winemaking competition. Fair judges were wowed by Murov’s merlot, which took first place among merlots and was voted the best red wine overall from a field of 37 wines, said Butch Brazil, exhibit supervisor for the Alameda County Fair. The prizes are a high point in his family’s long love affair with amateur winemaking. Murov, who calls himself a former “beer and nuts” guy, began dabbling with grapes 20 years ago. “My wife suggested it to get my mind off of work,” he recalled. Over time the hobby grew, and Murov began to get grapes from the outskirts of Calistoga and Napa so he could experiment with different wines. He and his wife, Debbie, bought a press and barrels and took classes at the University of California in Davis. When Murov’s family lost their home in the Oakland Hills fire in 1991, they rebuilt and added a room that was designated for winemaking. To date, Murov’s family has tried making almost every varietal that the average person has sampled, the lawyer said. Although the lawyer’s family has been crushing grapes for years, their wine has no firm name. Sometimes the wine has been called Snowberry, after berries that grew where some of the grapes came from. On other occasions, Murov’s family has printed bottle labels with pictures of Murov’s house or turkeys to commemorate batches they make with friends for Thanksgiving. “It’s too small of a scale to get very fancy,” the lawyer explained. The hobby is both an art and a science, since a wine can be botched by too much or too little tinkering when it’s made, said Murov. This year’s award-winning batch required more effort that usual. Murov started with grapes that were 27 percent sugar, a bit on the high side. He poured in tap water to bring it down and sprinkled in powdered acid toward the end of the process to balance the wine, he said. After two months, “we knew it was the best wine we had made,” said the attorney. The wine was deep crimson and had a pungent smell. “Good wine has a great aroma that will grab you,” Murov explained. Brazil, the Alameda County Fair official, says that successful amateur wine and beer makers sometimes start small commercial wine ventures or microbreweries. The Crosby Heafey partner said that he has no plans to quit his day job. “It gives you a great satisfaction to make a really good wine,” said Murov.

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