Making Wine

Our property features 3 well established grape vines in the front yard. These are scuppernong grapes, a cousin of the muscadine but lighter in color. In previous years we have made jelly or preserves from our grapes, but I decided to give wine making a try. Originally I was really intimidated by wine making because it seemed to have so many steps and you needed so many parts - but it's really easy! First I went out and harvested as many grapes as I could.

I washed the grapes and picked out any remaining stems that might be on them. Then I boiled the grapes for 10 minutes to burst them, then simmered them for an hour to remove all the good juices. There might be easier ways to make grape juice but this is the same process I use to make apple cider, so it's what I went with.

I strained the grape pulp and matter into a cheese cloth, being careful to save the grape juice I'd worked so hard for. At this point, to make regular grape juice, you would add sugar to taste. But for wine making you need to add enough sugar to feed the yeast during fermentation. I found a recipe in an old pamphlet (this is why I obsessively save old agricultural pamphlets) which called for 3 cups of sugar for each half gallon. Yes, it looks like a lot of sugar! Thankfully most of the sugar is consumed by the yeast during fermentation - the wine won't be super sweet, don't worry!

During fermentation the yeast will consume the sugars and give off gasses. Because of these gasses you can't just put a cap on your mason jar and call it dandy - eventually the cap will blow off and you'd end up with sticky grape-juice-wine all over. I purchased my yeast and these nifty little silicone air locks that fit a wide mouth mason jar over at Amazon. You can buy the yeast here and the airlocks here.

The silicone airlocks allow gasses to escape while keeping your wine safely sealed from outside contaminants. If you get outside contaminants in the wine you'll end up with vinegar - still useful, but much less fun to drink!

You cannot use bread yeast to make wine, unfortunately. I used champagne yeast because the pamphlet and online resources I read indicated that would give me the best finished product.

I poured the sugar into each half gallon mason jar and added a packet of yeast to each one. Then I poured my hot grape juice over it all and put the airlocks on. The wine should be stored in a cool dark place to ferment for 2 to 4 weeks, but initially I left them on the counter to see what would happen. The gasses being created were quite the show! Some sticky grape juice was also expelled because of how much foam was being built up, so I would recommend that when you store these you put a plastic bin under them lined with towels to catch any extra drips. Otherwise you might end up with a sticky ring on your basement floor or the bottoms of your cabinets. You want to leave them undisturbed until the fermentation finishes - when you don't see any more bubbles or foam in the wine, it's ready to rack.

Racking is the process of drawing off the wine while leaving the dead yeast and spent sugars in the bottom. Looking at your jar of wine, you'll see a lot of sediment in the bottom of the jar. That's the old yeast, and you certainly wouldn't find it appetizing in your drink! Use a siphon like this one to draw off the top four fifths of wine into a clean glass jar. Let that sit still for a week or so to allow any extraneous sediment to settle on the bottom, and rack it off again - this time into whatever finished container you want to use. You can save wine bottles from the store and clean them thoroughly to put your homemade wine in, although if you do this you will want to save bottles with a screw on top. If you want bottles with corks, you'll have to buy new corks and a corking tool, which was more trouble than I was willing to deal with. You can also take your first taste of the wine at this time - what do you think? I thought it tasted pretty good but had a very strong alcohol smell. I'm curious to see if this year's wine has the same smell. Remember that the flavor and strength will vary year to year with the harvest.

Store your wine in a cool, dark place for the longest shelf life. Break it out at New Years and have a toast to yourself for tackling wine making!