Sunday, January 11, 2015

Home Red Winemaking

This year I was lucky to take part in some old school Italian style red winemaking.  I stood in with a group of guys who have been making wine together for some years now.  Their styles differed from completely old school no additives or preservatives and extended ageing sur lees, to a more modern approach adding a minimal dose of sulphite and frequent transfer off lees to avoid any off flavors.  Here I will outline a basic recipe for turning fresh grapes into red wine with no added ingredients, completely natural and truly a gift from the gods.

First get some fresh quality grapes from a good winemaking varietal.  There are many to choose from.  Inspect the grapes for visible rot or mold.  Fresh undamaged fruit is essential in making wine with no additives.  Here in the USA most grapes available to the home winemaker are from the vast vineyards of California.  You may be lucky to live near a vineyard or have a freind who grows wine grapes. Grapes are usually harvested in late September until late August here in the northern Hemisphere.
First the grapes must be crushed removing most of the stems.  A little stem is good as it adds tannin to the wine.  This grape crusher above crushes the grapes and automatically removes most of the large stems.  It is placed over the vessel that will be used for fermentation.
This is 20 cases of grapes crushed.  At this point the wine is left to spontaneously ferment.  Natural yeast that lives on the skins will consume the sugar and create alchohol.  This usually begins in a day or 2 and lasts about 5 days or so.  Red wine fermentation occurs with all skins in contact with the grape juice.  From the skins are derived the color, tannin and characteristic aroma of red wine.
During fermentation the skins are pushed to the top by the gas produced by the fermentation giving the juice the appearance of boiling.  About twice a day the skins must be pushed down in order to release some gas and ensure proper color and tannin extraction from the skins.  This is done with a stick or metal device resembling a large potato masher.  This step is very important in a red wine.

When fermentation is almost complete the wine has to be pressed to remove the skins, pits, etc.  It is important that the fermentation is not complete because after this step great care must be taken to avoid the contact of oxygen with the wine.
After pressing the wine is put into some sort of bulk aging vessel.  This is a 54L glass demijohn typical of small scale wine making.  Fermentation will complete in this vessel expelling any remaining oxygen picked up during pressing.  From this point on great care must be taken to exclude oxygen from the ageing wine.  This means containers must be filled almost to the top and splashing of the wine during transfers must be avoided.

The wine must now age, mature and settle.  This is best done by patience.  Wine should not be rushed.  Between 1 and several months the wine will be transferred off any sediment that has collected in the fermenter.  It must be transferred again after a few months.  And possibly again.  During each transfer you will be leaving behind grape matter and dead yeast cells further clarifying the wine.  As mentioned above great care must be taken to exclude oxygen.  Fill your ageing vessels to the top.  If there's extra drink it and observe how the wine evolves over time.
After about six months the wine should be clear enough to bottle.  Fill clean sanitized bottles almost to the top and cork with a corking machine.  Allow to age a bit more.  All in all your wine will be ready after about 8 months from crushing.  Enjoy and send me a bottle!

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