When fortune shines on you
Well, this is it. Raw organic red wine! Our first foray into the fermented realm of wine proper. With it being a bumper summer, it was bound to happen sooner rather than later. That these grapes were free pickin’s to boot guaranteed this to be a low-risk endeavor. Raw organic red wine, here we come!
When you first start home brewing, everything is expensive. Between that and the time and labor involved, it often feels like there are more barriers to entry than it’s worth. The flip side to this is that as your experience mounts. Time passes. Costs can go down drastically. I’m not just talking about equipment costs being spread out over time. I’m talking about ingredients, friend!
Since I’ve been brewing for the better half of a decade now, practically everyone in my immediate and even extended family knows that I spend a lot of my time making alcoholic beverages. Most are afraid to try them. Others think my DIY endeavors are strange (“But you can buy that at the store.”) In spite of some suspicion some family members will contact me when they have access to loads of free fruit.
So it was with these Concord grapes. There was a late summer heat when Jasmine and I found ourselves in the backyard of a person we didn’t know on a warm Saturday morning.
Holy smokes were there a lot of grapes. After a couple hours and 2-3 people picking (thanks, Grandpa!), Jasmine and I left with three 5-gallon buckets filled with grapes. Let the vinification begin!
Now for something different
That’s because grapes embody the perfect fermentable fruit. They, through nature and careful human attention, have come to hold the perfect balance of sugar, acids, enzymes, and nutrients vital to healthy fermentation by yeast.
Nearly all of these requirements are met by the humble wine grape itself. No wonder they’re the de facto fruit for wine!
Since we’re not using a true wine grape and we want some kick to our raw organic red wine we’ll need some things besides the grapes. Those additions are black tea (for acid balance), table sugar, bee pollen (for yeast nutrient), and bentonite clay (for clarification).
Putting the raw in raw organic red wine
Grapes come off the vine ready for winemaking. They fruit in bunches with stems which are easy to deal with when picking. These stems do present logistical challenges in the winemaking process.
This is conventionally where a de-stemmer would come into play. Since we’re on-a-budget type folks we just removed the grapes from their stems by hand with about 4-6 people over an hour or so. While fairly grueling individually, it wasn’t impossible with a medium-sized group.
As we plucked the grapes we put them in a gallon-sized bucket to be weighed a little bit at a time. The weight was noted on paper and added to a mesh sack placed inside our largest fermentation vessel.
White wines are also made from red grapes by pressing the juice before fermentation. The white color is maintained by keeping the juice separate from the skins during fermentation, as most of the bitterness and color come from the liquid making contact with the pigment-rich skins.
Since we’re making a raw organic red wine, pressing comes later in the process for us.
After de-stemming all of our grapes, weighing them, and adding them to our primary fermenter, our total weight was just over 60 pounds of grapes! Wow!
Then came the fun part. With 60 glorious pounds of Concord grapes in our mesh bag and fermenting bucket we began the “crushing” process. Concord grapes are a slip-skin variety of grape. That means the skins break easily. Mashing them for our raw organic red wine was easy-peasy!
Getting a little messy
We aren’t aiming to pulverize the grapes. We’re just trying to break the skin to expose the sugary centers. Remember, we’re making raw organic red wine so it’s important to keep the skins, seeds, etc. in with the juice for a couple days.
Once crushed, this combination of grape juice, skins, seeds, and sometimes stems is called the must. At this point we took a sample to measure the sugar content of our must. It was about 15 Brix. This was unsurprisingly on the lower side since Concord grapes aren’t bred exclusively as wine grapes. Wine grapes are usually closer to 25 Brix. We added 5 lbs of organic sugar and that brought us up to 25 Bx.
Once the yeast was added, the must was left to ferment for 4 days. We came back four days later for the next step, which was to remove the pomace and press the juice from it. The pomace is the name for the pulpy mass of skins, seeds, and stems left after pressing out the juice. The mesh bag made this mass easy to remove. This was the point where our one and only true winemaking piece of equipment came into play, a press!
Pressing the raw organic red wine
It didn’t take us too long to figure out the wine press, and soon we were able to squeeze out a good gallon of juice from the pomace.
It was at this point that we racked the raw organic red wine into a secondary fermenter to finish it out as purely liquid. It will clarify and the yeast will drop out in this vessel. We will probably eventually move it to a third vessel for final clarification, then into bottles to age a little bit.
We took a sample once we added the pressed wine into the secondary fermenter. This beauty had dropped from an impressive 25 Bx down to 11 Bx in merely four days! That’s 13% ABV, with some sugar left in there yet to ferment. While there are still only a couple Bx points worth of sugar left, it still tastes like dangerously delicious grape juice at this point. I’m thinking this new friend has dessert wine written all over it!
The real test will come when we drink it in earnest, but I’m ready to call this fermentemptation a success!
And there you are, raw organic red wine.