My basic philosophy on winemaking is
1. keep it simple;
2. when there is a problem, do less instead of more;
3. all wine grapes do not make great wines so be happy with what you got; you can make bad wine from good grapes but you cannot make good wine from bad grapes.
4. keep the wine as natural as possible by adding as few additives as possible
5. If you are going to bother to make 5 gallons, you may as well make 25, and if 25 why not 45?
6. be totally organized, plan each wine-making activity in detail, have all the stuff you need ready and clean, and don't do today what you can do tomorrow; in other words, do not try to do to much at one particular time; it takes time to make good wine.
7. you do not have to spend a lot of money on equipment
8. drink no wine before its time; it's time
THREE HELPFUL BOOKS
1. Philip Wagner's Grapes to Wine, a classic and a must read, even though more has been learned about wine-making since this book was published.
2. From Vines to Wines by Jeff Cox, lots of helpful information with clear explanations even though Jeff claims that "QUALITY" wine cannot be made with these Californian grapes shipped east in refrigerated trucks
3. American Wine Society - The Complete Winemaking Handbook - Several authors provide basic information as well as all the chemistry behind wine-making.
WHY HOMEMADE WINE?
It is totaly different than any bought wine. Home made wine gives you a great feeling - not drunk - and an attitude that you can do anything but you'd probably just rather do nothing except have another "GOCIETTO" = drop or little glass ---------- to capture that feeling of invincibility
WHY GRAPES FROM CALIFORNIA?
Not many places on this planet produce quality wine grapes -
many parts of Europe;
the southern part of South America;
the southern tip of Australia;
the northern and southern tips of Africa; and in the USA California and New York,
even though people are learning more about growing wine grapes in other parts of the USA - for now California is one of the best in the world.
I know that Californian wine grapes shipped east are not as good as when they are first picked in California. They are stuffed in boxes, usually 36 pounds. They are transported in refrigerated trucks, which is not good for wine grapes becasue this lowers total acidity and increases pH and allows mold and bacteria to develop.
But I live in Massachsetts so what are my choices?
1. Grapes grown in my backyard?
I'll never grow enough wine grapes for the amount of wine my friends and I like to make. However, I do have 50 vines - Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Golden Muscat and others and do make about 15 gallons from them.
2. Wine concentrates?
Don't taste like home made wines
3. Wine musts?
These make technologically perfect wines that taste more like the wines you can buy in a store and less like the original flavor of home made wines from grapes. In addition, with wine musts, you do not get to crush grapes and you miss all the sounds and smells of primary fermentation! However, if you are making wine at home for the first time and especially if you have limited space, wine musts may be the best choice for you.
4. Flash frozen grapes?
These probably would make the best home made wine. But, I do not know that much about them or even where to buy them. And, as far as I know they have alerady been crushed and corrected for total acidity and sugar content. So, what is there for me to do? Where do my wine-making art and creativity come in?
5. Elderberry wine?
Is this considered wine??? No insult to those who make wine from other fruits but only wine from grapes for me.
These 5 alternatives will not do for me becasue I have experienced those first weeks of the wine making process in September and October - the most exciting weeks of the year. After wine grapes have been crushed, which is so much fun, they will begin to ferment and the sounds and smells of fermentation are to be experienced and enjoyed!
If you enjoy wine and have never
fermented some more,
racked a few times,
maybe filtered, and
your own wine,
you do not know what you are mising!
BASIC WINE MAKING STEPS
for red wine with grapes from California
it's impossible to give all the details here!
There are many ways to make home made wine and one way is not better than another way, but cleanliness, being organized, measuring, experimenting and keeping records are the most important steps.
Rinse everything with a mixture of 1 gallon of water and 2 ounces of potassium metabisulfite - this solution will sterilize so don't rinse after it. You can reuse this solution until it becomes cloudy. Make sure you have ventilation when you work with this solution. You could also sterilize/disinfect with 1 part amonia to 5 parts water but you have to rinse after this many times to get rid of that amonia smell so I stay away from this unless I have a really dirty something to sterilize but I never let anything get dirty. You could also disinfect with bleach but I do not know if this is such a good idea. The sulfite mixture is good enough for me; I just sterlize everything before and after I use it and I never let anything get dirty.
When you crush grapes, press grapes, and rack wine always have a pail of hot water with a little detergent and a mop close by so you can clean up spills immediately. Do not step in and out of whatever falls on the floor.
The more organized you are, the easier it is to keep everything clean. Do not try to do too much. Have all your equipment ready. Do not multi-task! You want to enjoy each step and also have a glass of wine.
Buy a pH meter; it is worth it for about $100. With it you can measure both pH and total acidity - just follow the directions.
Buy a hydrometer to measure potential alcohol; this is cheap and comes with easy to follow directions. If you buy nothing else, you should at least buy this. I think less than 10 $.
If you do want to buy a pH meter for about 100 bucks, you can buy pH paper sticks to read the pH of juice but they are not 100% accurate. I do not think you can use these paper sticks to test wine.
You can also buy a cheap but effective acid test kit for about I think 10 dollars.
Most people of my father's generation never measured. When they went to buy their grapes, the only question they asked was,
"How much do the grapes cost?"
and they almost always bought the cheapest ones. Even some people of my generation are only concerned with price but more and more people who work with Californian grapes shipped east measure before they buy and want quality as opposed to quantity with a cheap price.
If you do not want to measure that's O.K too. Just be extra clean; however, realize that the wine may change at anytime with no warning. And, one year your wine may taste great and another year it may be less filling.
- Try different grapes.
- Use different wine yeasts.
- Let the juice ferment with the seeds, skins, and all of the stems, or some of the stems, or none of the stems.
- Vary the temperature during primary fermentation; one year 60; another 65; then 70 - just measure that sugar content/potential alcohol so you will know when most of the sugar has changed to alcohol.
- Age your wine in American or French oak barrels or just use oak chips.
- Note the difference when you age your wine in wine bottles, 5 gallon carboys, or 14/15 gallon demijohns.
Record everything to see what works best for the kind of wine you want to make.
THE BASIC STEPS, finally!
1. BUY your grapes but I strongly suggest that you measure pH, total acidity, and potential alcohol, before you buy.
If the pH is above 4.0, I would not buy them.
If the total acidity is below .3 I would not buy them.
If the potential alcohol is below 10% I would not buy them.
You need 16 pounds of grapes to make 1 gallon of wine. This is a general rule. Wine grapes from California usually come 36 pounds to a box. Sometimes 42 pounds. This is how it is in my area anyway.
Make sure too many fruit flies do not follow you home. Watch out for those wasps and bees!
2. CRUSH THE GRAPES into the primary fermenter - a primary fermenter can be a bucket made of food grade plastic or stainless steel - if you have enough money- or very clean wood. Food grade plastic works for me - I do not have that much money, and I do not trust wood- so I have several food grade plastic containers that hold 10 boxes of grapes - about 360 pounds to make about 25-28 gallons of wine. Don't fill the primary fermenter to the top becasue when fermentation starts, the grapes will grow!
If you have an old fashioned crusher like me, you will make a little mess. Always have a bucket of warm water and a mop nearby to clean up crushed grapes on the floor. Don't keep stepping in the mess. Fruit flies love those grapes on the floor. There are all kinds of crushers; some even remove all the stems. But, there are still people who crush their grapes with their feet and it works well. No matter how you crush, just clean up after yourself. This means mopping the floor and wiping down the walls where you might find dripping juice.
Don't let those fruit flies build up; there should be none but sometimes they do fly in so get rid of them.
Take out about a gallon of juice with skins. Strain some of this juice through a clean cloth towel or cheese cloth, and cover it. You will use this juice to measure pH, total acidity, and potential alcohol later, if you decide to do those things. Leave some of the juice with the skins. Cover it. You will use this juice with skins to get the yeast activated.
Remove some, all, or none of the stems; see below.
Add tartaric acid if you have to; see below.
Add water if you have to; see below.
Add potassium metabisulfite dissolved in a little warm water. 2 grams per five gallons of wine should be enough but you might be able to get away with 1 or 1 & 1/2 grams. 1 gram of sulfite is 1/4 teaspoon or a level espresso spoon. Mix it all up as best you can. Wipe down the primary fermenter to clean up any drips of juice down the sides. Cover the primary fermenter with a sheet - you can use cloth or plastic - and tie a string around it.
Escort the fruit flies out the door if there are any.
Use that strained juice to measure pH, total acidity, and potential alcohol and do nothing or make adjustments.
pH is becoming more and more important for me. pH tells us how healthy the wine will become. pH of red grapes before crushing or as soon as they are crushed should be 3.2 or 3.4 but these grapes from California are usually 3.5 or higher. After fermentation the pH will go up to 3.6 or even 3.9 and that is O.K. Wine with a pH of 4.0 is likely to get sick very quick. I usually get a pH reading of 3.8 or higher with these grapes so I usually add tartaric acid before fermentation and sometimes add an acid blend after fermentation. 15 grams for each 5 gallons of wine works for me. 1 gram is 1/4 teaspoon or a level espresso spoon.
Also, if the pH is high, you should add slightly more sulfite and if it is low, you can add less.
Total acidity for red grapes should be .6 Usually these grapes from California have a total acidity of .5 or lower even though in the last few years the total acidity has been higher. 18 grams of tartaric acid will increase 5 gallons of juice by .10 so add accordingly. The tartaric acid will also lower pH but nobody knows by how much. I have noticed that sometimes it lowers it more and sometimes less. That is why I sometimes add an the acid blend after fermentation. From my experience, the acid blend lowers pH better than the tartaric acid.
The wine experts say "If the total acidity is O.K. leave the pH alone." I do not trust these grapes frm California so I like to keep the pH below 4.0 at all times.
Some books or people may tell you to add an acid blend, which contains tartaric, malic, and lactic acids but this acid blend should only be added after fermetnation and never before fermentation because with Californian grapes shipped east the lactic acid might cause problems if added before fermentation.
Potential alcohol should be at least 12% or 12.5 %. A hydrometer measures this. If the potential alcohol is more than 14 % the yeasts will not be able to change all the sugar to alcohol and you will be stuck with sugar in your wine, which will most likely cause problems in the future. If you are making 5 gallons and the potential alcohol is 14.5 %, I think a small glass of water will get it down to about 12%. If you are making 25 gallons, 2 cups of water should do it. I just add a little water, mix it all up and measure the potential alcohol until I get between 12 and 14 %. I have only had to add water 2 or 3 times.
11% alcohol is O.K. also but again these grapes from California can develop problems and 12 % alcohol protects a wine more effectively.
Remove some all or none of the stems; this is up to you. I have been experimenting with this lately. Sometimes, I remove about 1/3 at crush and then a little more each day, but sometimes I do not remove any of them and sometimes I remove most of them at crush. I like the wine that comes out no matter what I do with the stems, but each one is a little different. However, stems give wine tannin and tannin helps clarify and stabilize wine and I think also preserve it so these grapes from California might like a little extra tannin.
Dissolve your yeast in a little warm water. After it has been totally blended with the water, add it to the juice and skins you removed from the primary fermenter earlier. One package of yeast is good for about 5 gallons of wine. Cover the bowl with the juice, skins and yeast and let it sit over night and the yeast will start to ferment the juice. Make sure the bowl is big enough because the yeast in the juice will grow!
Some books say this is not a good thing to do and that the yeast should be directly added into the primary fermetner but since these grapes from California are not in perfect condition, I want the fermentation to start as soon as possible.
If I add the yeast directly into the primary fermenter, without starting it first with a little juice and skins, it will take longer to start fermenting in the primary fermenter. I want these grapes from California to start fermenting as soon as possible.
3. After 18 - 24 hours ADD the correct red wine yeast into the primary fermenter to kick start a nice, clean fermentation. The sulfite you added earlier will kill all the wild yeasts. So, just add that yeast you prepared earlier with the juice and skins, and mix it all up as best you can and the primary fermenter should start fermenting in about a day.
Cover that primary fermenter and make sure those fruit flies are still missing.
A total acidity of at least .6 will make sure that the fermentation is clean and that no bad things will happen inside the primary fermenter.
I like to use Pasteur Champagne wine yeast. It does not cause the wine to take on a rotten egg smell as some other wine yeasts sometimes do. My experience is this yeast is the best one for these grapes from California.
At this stage, the yeast needs air to help it multiply.
This is a good time to talk about SMELL.
Do you have a good nose? If you do, use it. If you do not, develop one.
Become familiar with the smell of yeast, and the taste and smell of tartaric acid and acid blend added to some water. Rotten eggs?, you know that smell. These smells - yeast, acid, rotten egg - just a little rotten egg smell during primary fermentation are normal. As the yeast changes the sugar to alcohol carbon dioxide is released so you will feel the bubbles of the carbon dioxide when you lower your head into the primary fermenter, and smell the yeast and maybe also a little rotten egg but it should not be an overpowering rotten egg smell.
If you smell something like sweaty old socks that have been left out without washing, something is wrong. If all your equipment is clean, and you sterilize everything, you should smell a nice and clean fermentation.
Keep a window or two open during primary fermentation. The carbon dioxide can replace all the air in the room and you could have a big problem. Light a candle in the room where the primary fermenter is and if the candle does not stay lit, you need more ventilation.
4. PUNCH DOWN THE CAP: At this point, the yeast with the help of air begins to multiply and soon it will take over in the primary fermenter. More carbon dioxide will come out and you will hear something like gurgling and bubling. This is the best part of winemaking. Lower your head into the primary fermenter and take a deep breath, but be careful. It will burn your nose!
The stems, skins, and seeds will slowly but surely form a cap, which has to be punched down at least two times a day. Three times per day is even better in my opinion. Punching the cap down, adds color and flavor to the juice and does not allow for any germs to grow in the primary fermenter, especialy in the cap itself. Enjoy the smell of the fementing grapes: most delicious! Get rid of those fruit flies.
You can punch down the cap the first few days with your hands and arms but I would use an instrument such as a sterlized stainless steel rod or wooden stick after the second or third day because if you use your hands they will get all stained from the color of the grapes. Or, you could just use your hands and arms and then wash with lemon; the lemon eventually removes the purple stains. However you do it, please be sure to get to the bottom of the primary fermenter and really stir ir up.
5. MEASURE, MEASURE, MEASURE: The cap is on the top, and the MUST is on the bottom. The Must is the grape juice that has not yet turned into wine. Measure the potential alcohol every time you punch down the cap and taste it as well. This is by far the most exciting time of the wine making process; it's bubbly, exhilarating, and smells great! Your neighbors will love to come over and smell it. Have a glass of wine together.
The first few days, the must will be sweet but you will notice daily that the must begins to lose its sweetnes and takes on a yeast taste and the acidic taste of wine. The acid taste may seem strong at first but it will diminish.
6. EXPERIMENT: How long do you keep the MUST in the primary fermenter? That is up to you. Sugar changes to alcohol more quickly at higher temperatures. So, if the temperature of the room is about 80 degrees F, in 3 to 5 days the sugar will have changed to alcohol. Just measure the potential alcohol. When most of the sugar has changed to alcohol it is time to press.
Also, make sure the cap and must does not go above 90 degrees. This should not happen but you should have a thermometer to measure.
If you want a lighter wine, do not let the juice or must sit on the skins and stems too long. Two or three days may be enough for your taste.
At lower temperatures, sugar converts to alcohol more slowly and the juice or must has more time to pick up flavors from the stems, seeds and skins so this is all a matter of taste. What kind of wine do you want to make? EXPERIMENT!
7. PRESS: Press the must out of the stems, seeds and skins and put the must into bottles or jugs, such as demijohns, which hold about 14 gallons, carboys, which hold 5 or 7 gallons, or 1 gallon jugs. You will need extra bottles and bottels of different sizes.
I do this when the potential alcohol is between 0% and 2%; when the potential alcohol is 0%, there is still about 2% sugar left in the must. But, do not let the must stay too much longer in the primary fermenter becasue you will notice that each day less and less carbon dioxide is being released. The carbon dioxide protects the must; it does not let too much air get inside. Once too much air can get into the primary fermenter, you can have problems. The carbon dioxide is like a protective layer.
You should have extra bottles around, all sterlized. As you pour the must/wine into the bottles wrap a towel around the neck to prevent spills from running down the bottles. Just be aware of when you are getting close to the top. You should have a wide mouth funnel, with a screen at the bottom to prevent pieces of skins, stems, and seeds from entering the bottle.
I have read that it is not a good idea to put all those seeds that fall to the bottom of the primary fermetner into the press. However, I have also read about the medical benefits of grape seeds, especialy red grape seeds, so I put them in the press and press them as much as I can. We did it in the OLD WORLD so why should we stop now. I think it makes a healthy wine that keeps us healthy.
The person who drinks wine, never dies. That's what we say in Italian anyway. Chi beve il vino non muore mai.
There are many kinds of presses and I have a small one and a large one. The large one is when I make 50 gallons, and the small one is perfect for when I make 20-30 gallons. The books say you could also squeeze the skins through cheesecloth but how long would that take?
Keep the floor and walls clean and no fruit flies. They love the smallest amount of sweet juice but if they can't find that will hang around the warmest area of the room, in warm air pockets near the ceiling or in corners, so look for them and escort them out! They multiply at an alarming rate.
8. PUT AIRLOCKS on these bottles because the air locks do not allow air into the bottles but they allow gas out. The airlocks are filled with sterilized water. Do not fill the bottles into the neck just yet; leave about four inches; the little sugar that is left still has to change to alcohol but that will happen soon and when it does, you can fill the bottles into the neck and keep those airlocks on. I usually fill into the neck of the bottle one or two days after I have pressed. I can tell from the bubbles. Make sure the wine is about an inch or an inch and a half from the bottom of the airlock. Air is the number 1 enemy of our wine now. Keep that air away from now on, and your wine should not have an problems.
Before you put an airlock into a bottle wipe the neck and bottle clean with a cloth soaked with sterilizing solution; squeeze the solution out of the cloth.
9. RACK 7 to 10 days after you have pressed. This is a must do thing with grapes from California.
If you want to, you can add a little sulfite. 1 gram per 5 gallons is plenty. You do not really have to add sulfite because when you rack and let the wine run down the side of the bottle, natural sulfites are released.
When you rack this first time, let the wine run down the side of the bottle. You might smell a little rotten egg but that is O.K. You should not smell any if you had a nice and clean fermentation but sometimes you can smell it.
Rack means to transfer the wine from one bottle to another and you leave the sediment behind. When you rack the first time, the sediment on the bottom is known as "the gross lees" and they are kind of gross. Organic and squishy! Please, do not let the wine made from Californian gapes shipped east sit on these gross lees.
To rack you will need 3/8 inch rubber tubbing and a stick. Tie one end of the tube to the stick; you will have to guess where the sediment is and tie the tube slightly above it. I say about 1 &1/2 to 2 inches.
The bottle you are racking from has to be much higher than the bottle you are racking into. Suck the other end of the tubing and the wine will flow out. Just put that end of the tube slightly into the receiving bottle so that the wine splashes down the side.
MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION? I never allow a malolactic fermentation with grapes from California, so once I know all the sugar has changed to alcohol by measuring, I RACK (SEE STEP 9) and add potasium metabisulfite, which will not allow a malolactic fermentation. During malolactic fermentation, the harsher malic acid is converted to the milder lactic acid, but with these grapes from California too many thngs could go wrong when this happens, so I have never let it happen, except with my sulfite free wine, but I drink that wine before anything bad can happen to it.
Another word of caution with these grapes. They may look perfect when you buy them, but do not judge the book by its cover.
10. RACK: I rack again on November 11 becasue it is an Italian tradition and I love traditions. November 11 is both Veteran's Day and Saint Martino; as a veteran I celebrate Veteran's day and Saint Martin is the patron saint of wine in Italy, so I celebrate both by racking and tasting the new wines with friends.
When you rack the second time and any other time but the first time, do not let the wine splash down the side of the bottle. We do not want any air to interact with our wine.
So, when you rack the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time, you will need two sticks. Put one into the bottle you are racking from, and this time 1/2 inch from the bottom will do it becasue there will be less sediment. Tie the other end of the tube to the other stick and after sucking to get the wine into it put it at the very bottom of the receiving bottle. Remember to keep the receiving bottle much lower than the other bottle.
You will notice that the sediment will be much different this time. It will not be organic and squishy as it was with the first racking; instead, it will be hard, or at least it should be and every time you rack after , it will be harder.
Racking clears the wine and I do it 3 or 4 times, always after a full-moon on a clear day but November 11 full moon or empty moon, I rack. Then I usually rack again in December/January and March/April.
But, do not rack too much or your wine might turn brown.
In between rackings, make sure the wine is close to the bottom of the airlock. You can top up with any good wine; it doesn't have to be home made. "TOP UP" means to keep the bottles full and avoid air from interacting with the wine. I keep the airlocks on in case any gas has to be released by the wine. I do not use corks on my demijohns, carboys, gallon bottles, or barrels.
Be careful of any drastic changes in temperature. If the temperature increases to much or very quickly, the wine may expand and flow up into the airlock.
11. BOTTLE: The measurements help us decide when to bottle; I bottle and drink high pH wines soon. If I want to keep the fruity taste I also bottle soon because in the small bottle the fruit flavor will last longer. If I want the fruit taste to change to other complex tastes, I will let the wine sit in a demijohn or carboy, and I bottle later.
You do not have to bottle if you do not want to. Simply rack your wine from for example a 5 gallon bottle to 1 gallon bottles and from a 1 gallon bottle into 5 wine bottles, and you can use "taster corks" that are cheap to close them. Never leave your home made wine in a half full bottle, and never leave your home without your home made wine!
Hey, that's it! It may sound a little complicated but believe me it is not and the wine is worth the effort and with the effort comes much enjoyment.
Home made wines are the most interesting wines to drink. They express the individual's personality and character. More importantly, Chi beve il vino non muore mai! The person who drinks wine (home made) never dies! Well the person may die, but the spirit will live on.
From the vine comes the grape.....from the grape comes the wine.....from the wine comes a dream to a lover.....Red red wine......red red wine you make me feel so fine....you keep me happy all of the time.....When your eyes start to shine like you've had too much wine, that's amore!.....Bottle of red-----bottle of white-----I'll meet you anytime you want in your favorite Italian restaurant
LA MUSICA E FINITA
Vino per tutti!
Chi beve il vino non muore mai! =
The person who drinks wine never dies! .