Wine making is not a great mystery. Like anything else, it can be as simple and as complicated as you want to make it. I know some people get into the science of the process and have elaborate set-ups. Others just make wine.
This year I had 5 grapes on my vines. Count them. FIVE. Either the squirrels and raccoons beat me to them or the vine was just in a bad mood this year. So I went to a local “you pick” vineyard and had a great time picking all the different kinds of Muscadine and scuppernong grapes growing there! (I also learned how to take better care of my own vines.) While there, I was introduced to a young man who was also a wine maker. He told me that he had no idea to make wine until his pappy came down from Tennessee to live with him and his family. When his dad saw the roadside signs for you pick Muscadine, he insisted they stop and get some.
“What for,” his son demanded.
“Why to make wine,” said his dad.
“We can’t make wine,” the son insisted. “It’s too complicated.”
“No, it’s not,” Dad said. “The folks back in the Tennessee hills have been making wine for years. I’ll show you how.”
Turns out he uses a similar recipe to mine, but he just strains it once and drinks it right away, sediment and all. He and his dad make wine every year, and that’s how they like it.
I tried to make dandelion wine years ago (like 50+) when I was first married. I ended up with a big mess (although it turns out the batch would have been alright if I’d been patient enough to age it a year or so!). Anyway, that experience was enough to make me swear off wine making. But then a couple of years ago I picked a bag of Muscadine grapes from the vines in the back yard and thought I’d try winemaking again. I found this awesome no-fail wine recipe on the internet and the wine turned out really well. It was a bit sweet and high in alcohol, but very pleasant to drink. (With all that alcohol? You bet’cha!!) But I had some problems with the recipe, mainly translating quarts into the right amount of grapes (pounds, cups?), so I had to do some adjusting, especially when I had a couple cups of grapes and had to figure out the correct ratio of other ingredients. But that’s easy with some basic math.
Adapting the recipe for various amounts of grapes:
The recipe calls for 8 quarts of grapes, 8 pounds of sugar (you use a lot of sugar making wine!), and 4 quarts of water. I just couldn’t figure out how to use the recipe for different amounts of grapes. And just how many cups or pounds of grapes equal 8 quarts anyway? So I worked it out:
1 pound of grapes = 2 ½ quarts of grapes – use 2 ½ pounds of sugar, 1 ¼ quarts of water.
2 pounds of grapes = 5 quarts of grapes – use 5 pounds of sugar, 2 ½ quarts of water.
You see the relationship? Use the same number of pounds of sugar as the quarts of grapes, and use half that amount of water. This is not brain surgery. If you want to try it, just do the best you can with the measurements. If you goof up, no one’s going to die, so relax and have fun.
Here’s an equipment list and my version of the original recipe:
You will need to buy a few things for making wine, but for the most part, you can use equipment you may have already or what’s readily and cheaply available at a local store. One thing I do collect are large glass gallon jugs to use as secondaries, but plastic milk containers work just as well. As for wine bottles, ask your friends to save them for you. You’ll soon have a surplus.
Here’s what you need:
- Primary – this is a large container – a food grade plastic bucket, a stainless steel canning pot, the liner and lid from the crock pot. Anything large enough to hold a good quantity of liquid and grapes, and has some kind of a cover (does not have to be air tight!).
- Secondaries – large glass or plastic containers/jugs where the wine can rest and let the sediment settle before it’s bottled. I have used gallon milk jugs, and they work, but I prefer something clear so I can see the amount of sediment in the bottom.
That whitish stuff at the bottom of the container in the photo is sediment – dead yeast cells and such.
- Quart mason jars – 1 quart is a little more than 750 ml which is the size of a standard wine bottle.
- BIG spoon to stir.
- Measuring cups
- Colander – plastic seems to work best.
- Large mesh strainer.
- About a yard of plastic tubing (the kind that’s used for aquarium pumps – get it at the pet store). If you have access to a store that sells wine-making supplies, there’s a small plastic tip that fits over the end of the tubing to keep it off the sediment in the bottom of the bottle. ** This enables you to syphon the wine out without disturbing the sediment. It is very handy!
- Plastic funnel
- Plastic measuring spoons
Buy the following online or in a winemaking store:
- Corks and corker – no, you may not use used corks. To avoid contaminating your wine, you need new ones. Sorry.
- I have a hydrometer. I’ve never used it. It’s up to you if you want to buy one. It measures the alcohol content of the wine.
- Sterilizer – a good one is potassium metabisulphate (Campden tablets). I am told that you can use vinegar, but if you don’t completely rinse the vinegar from the equipment, it will contaminate your wine and kill your yeast. You need live healthy yeast to make wine, so this is a disaster!! Be safe; forgo the vinegar and use the potassium metabisulphate. To make the sterilizing solution add 1 teaspoon to a gallon of water and stir.This can be stored for up to a year. I rinse my equipment, bottles and jars with this mixture, and then rinse everything well with cold water. That seems to work, and at the same time satisfies my aversion to using chemicals.
- **Get the small plastic tip – the little plastic thingy — for the end of the syphon tube here. They should know what you’re talking about.
Airlocks, yes or no? I have several air locks. I’ve never had to use them with this recipe. I did make a batch of Merlot once using a commercial mixture, and yes, I definitely needed an airlock for that — one bottle of wine actually exploded! (What fun.) If you get an airlock or two or three, you will need stoppers to hold them in the mouth of the secondaries. But this recipe does not need an airlock.
- 8 quarts of fruit
- 8 pounds of sugar
- 4 quarts (1 gallon) of non-chlorinated water
- 1 package of dry yeast (yes, bread yeast works with the recipe! Having said that, I’ve used both bread and wine-making yeast with similar results.)
Follow these directions exactly! This is a simple, no fuss recipe and makes a delicious wine.
- Mash the grapes. You can use your feet — although I don’t recommend it for this small a batch — a potato masher, or a wooden rolling pin with the handles removed. The grapes don’t have to be completely pulverized, just squished enough to release the juice. I have used a blender and that works, but you end up with smaller particles and so you will have to strain * the wine very carefully a couple of times. (See STRAINING at the end of this article.)
- Transfer the mashed grapes to a large crock. (Food grade plastic buckets work very well and come in several sizes.)
- In a separate container, mix the sugar into the water
- Dissolve the yeast in sugar water. The directions on the yeast packet say to “proof” the yeast before using it. This means dissolving it into about ¼ cup of warm water. What you get is a puffy, sticky mass. I’ve done it both ways and both work. Suit yourself.
- Pour the sugar/yeast water over the mashed grapes and stir
- Slice on potato and put the slices on top. (I know. Sounds weird, but yes, do this. The potato provides nutrients for the yeast – yeast is a living organism – and also counters the acidity in Muscadine and scuppernong grapes.
- Spread a good handful of old fashioned steel cut oats or potato meal over the potatoes. (Once again, yes, this is important.)
- Let the whole thing stand for 28 days, stirring every couple of days.
- Strain the wine into a secondary container (see STRAINING below). Basically the wine if finished at this point (i.e. you can drink it), however a couple more steps make for a much better wine. So, at this point, I “rack” my wine into large clear containers to let it settle. (Rack = siphon the wine from one container to another leaving any sediment behind.) Settling can take anywhere from a couple of days to a month. And you may want to do it more than once depending on the amount of sediment.
- After the wine is clear (clear liquid on top with a layer of sediment at the bottom), I siphon the clear wine into mason jars and put the jars in the refrigerator to let the wine clarify even more. (I like my wine perfectly clear.)
- If there’s still more sediment on the bottom of the jars, I will rack the wine again into clean mason jars. Only when I’m satisfied with the wine’s clarity do I bottle it. I don’t have a separate refrigerator for wine, so I tend to just keep it in mason jars because they take up less room than wine bottles. If the wine is going to be a gift, I’ll put it in a wine bottle. If I’m serving the wine, I’ll pour it into a decanter. This isn’t to be fancy (well, sometimes it is!) but because it’s easier to pour wine from a bottle or decanter than it is from a mason jar.
- Before bottling or storing your wine, in order to stabilize it so it can be aged long-term, add potassium metabisulphate (Campden tablets) which inhibits the growth of bacteria, and potassium sorbate (Sorbistat K) which will kill any residual yeast before bottling. Always use these two chemicals together. (You will have to order them online or get them from a wine supplier.) Dosage: ¼ teaspoon potassium metabisulphate per 5 gallons of wine; or 1 crushed and dissolved Campden tablet per gallon of wine. And ½ teaspoon of potassium sorbate to a gallon of wine.
- Bottle, but do not seal the bottles. That’s what the recipe says. I have no idea why you can’t seal the bottle at this time.
NOTE: You might want to consider adding water if the wine is very strong, and believe me, it can be! One time I had a batch that was so strong, just the fumes would knock you over! I added an additional gallon of water, and ended up with a very nice wine. Use your own judgement and be prepared for some failures. If you add water and the wine is too weak and thin, you can add some more wine from another batch. I usually have 4 or 5 batches going at one time, so this is possible. Or you could use some wine from the previous pressing.
Another NOTE: Potassium metabisulphate is also good for sanitizing wine bottles and equipment
*STRAINING: I use a colander for the initial straining to remove the largest particles — grape seeds and skins and so forth. You can put this waste, less the potato slices, in a mesh bag and let that drip into a bowl to salvage the last drops of liquid. After the wine is strained through the colander and the largest particles are removed, I strain it one of two more times through a screen strainer — a bigger version of the small strainer you used for tea. You’ll be surprised at the amount of sediment you get both times. You’re going to have to clean both strainers a number of times during this process because they will become clogged pretty quickly, especially if you used a blender to crush the grapes. I have tried filtering the wine through coffee filters but it takes forever, and the filters get clogged up really fast. It’s not worth it. Just let the wine sit and the sediment will eventually settle to the bottom and you can siphon the clear wine off the top of that.
Enjoy your wine! BTW, it’s legal to make wine for your own use. You can also give it as a gift. But it is against the law to sell it. Keep this in mind. Also, in some places in Eastern Europe they take the mash left over from making wine and distill it to make liqueur. If anyone figures out how to do this, I’d love to know how!!!