Tim and I were lucky to rent a house on a slightly larger than average plot of land in the area. We were also lucky that the landscaping included several fruit trees, a bunch of roses, and grape vines. The trees come and go with the quality and quantity of their fruit, but I managed to make some rose syrup this year, and just about every year, we get an abundance of grapes. So in preparation for another bumper crop, I pulled fifteen pounds of last year’s grapes out of the freezer and set to doing something with it.
This is not a hobby I would suggest for everyone. It’s kind of fun, and we usually manage to get about a dozen bottles, but it’s also a lot of work. And it takes time. Well, actually, the timing thing is one of the best parts. You don’t have to constantly baby the mixture. You wait several months after the initial mash is together, pull it out of the bucket into new containers, switch containers once again (I think), and then clear it up and put it into bottles. Doesn’t sound like much, right? You just have to have the time and equipment to get it all done.
For us, the equipment part is no longer a major problem. Tim orders everything online from suppliers, and after having done this twice before, I think we’ve got it down to a science. Well, mostly. I still have to refer to the one video we have about the process.
So how does it all work? The reason you freeze your fruit is so that the ice crystals that form will break down the interior structure. From there, you assure its demise by putting it in the blender. I stem, wash, and sort all of my grapes before I freeze them in an attempt to make a quality product. From the blender, it’s into a straining bag. Then comes the “most enjoyable” part of the process: you get to squeeze all the juice out of the fruit.
After also straining my lower back, I managed to get a little over a gallon of juice out of my grapes. They also ended up being pretty sweet, too, which helps. Even though the video has you check your proto-wine’s specific gravity after adding the rest of the sugar and water, I tested it right after I finished squeezing. The reason you check the specific gravity is to see how alcoholic your wine will turn out when it’s done. My hydrometer told me that if we’d fermented the juice alone, it would have come out to about 7% or so. Not bad for not doing anything other than growing!
Fiddling with adding a sugar and water mixture, I finally got the mash to where it should be 10% alcohol when it’s done, which is about how alcoholic you want fruit wines. After you get the proto-wine to the right future alcohol level and volume, you add things to help the yeast and taste along. I aimed for the 3 gallon mark. We do have secondary fermenters for 5 gallons, but I didn’t have enough grapes. Fifteen pounds is already a lot to prepare!
I ended it on the “set it and forget it for a bit” stage. You have to let it sit, with the bag of pulverized bits for taste, for 24 hours before you can safely add the yeast, which I did on Wednesday. I get to check it again tomorrow to make sure the yeast is doing its thing.
In the end, is it worth it? I think so. Though the initial investment in equipment, additives, bottles, and corks might have been a bit much, the grapes are free, and we usually have sugar around the house. We also have been slowly modifying our kit over time to best fit our needs, and we save our used bottles for later. By the end of the year, we should have a nice batch of white wine, just in time for Christmas! And if nothing else, we’ll have something to trade if the apocalypse rolls around. 😉