Yep, we’re revealing secrets up in here.
I’m going to tell you how to make wine out of nothing but grapes.
I’m talking old-school Calabresi wine. Some call it Noah-style.
But wait, you ask, why bother with grapes when you can buy juice? And aren’t you supposed to add your sulfites and then add yeast and yeast nutrient and then strain and add tannins and then sugar and take the pH and check with the hydrometer and then add more little packets…
Sure, if you want to end up with, as Nana would put it, medicina per la tosse (cough medicine).
Noah didn’t go get his little packets of tannins from the homebrew store, now did he? This is the real deal – the way wine was made for thousands of years.
The process, in short? Smash it up and let ‘er rip.
Here’s how to do it.
What you need…
- large plastic storage bins (estimate double the volume of wine you expect, because you have to account for skins and stems)
- plastic must paddle or sturdy spatula
- grape crusher
- fruit press
- lots of old towels
- large fine mesh sheer curtain
Call around your produce warehouses in June or July and start asking about grapes for winemaking. You have to specify that you do not want juice, you want berries.
As far as grape type goes, use whatever you like! Our southern Italian recipe is 5 crates of Red Zinfandel to 3 crates of Moscato. The crates of Moscato are bigger, so it’s not a perfect ratio, but in our experience, the crate size has been standard between years vendors.
Estimate how much wine you want. We made just under 30 gallons of wine using eight crates of grapes. You can never be sure, as some years yield juicier grapes than others. Remember, you need to order in mid-summer for the September crop.
Check out your grapes.
Make sure that you got what you ordered, and that your grapes are free of mold and not too smashed. You’ll have a little crushing from transport, and that’s fine. But, for the most part, your grapes should be intact. It’s okay if your grapes arrive frozen. You may need to let them thaw for a few days before you get started.
Run your grapes through a turn-crank fruit crusher, stems and all. You only need to break the skin. Moldy grapes shouldn’t go in, but smashed or shiveled grapes are fine. We crush them into 30-gallon plastic storage bins. Cover your bins with a clean fine mesh sheer curtain to keep the fruit flies out and the air flowing freely.
Move your grapes around with your paddle or spatula every 12 hours. The skins and stems float up to the top, and you need to break that seal a couple of times a day to let the yeasts breathe. After 24-48 hours, you should notice some fizz action and a delicious wine aroma. It’s working!
If you notice an egg odor, just stir more often until it goes away. Your grapes are fine – it’s just sulfur compounds going a little haywire. Some good old-fashioned oxygen should take care of it. If not, you may have to Google around for solutions. I’ve never had to deal with anything severe.
Strain and press.
Around day 7, it’s time to strain and press. Don’t worry if you can’t get to it right on day 7. It can sit in the skins and stems for a while. Just keep up your stirring schedule so you don’t wind up with sulfur overload. Some people want to separate out the reserve from the later presses, but we mix it all together for consistency.
Pour it into 5-gallon carboys. Do not cork them yet. They’ll go KABLOWIE! Cover with coffee filters and rubber bands. You still need air at this point.
Wait, sniff, wait more.
Smell your wine daily for the first week, then every few days after that. If you detect sulfur, even a little, pour it into a new carboy. This gives your yeast a little boost of oxygen. There’s nothing wrong with your carboy, so if they all have sulfur odor, you can pour #1 into a new carboy and #2 into #1 without rinsing. Have no fear – that gunk at the bottom is just yeast.
At 4 weeks, it’s time to soft-cork.
Put your corks in and press down, but don’t seal off the air completely. Nana says your wine will be weak if you leave them completely open.
At 6 weeks, it’s time to taste!
Take a sip of your creation. If you still taste sweetness, let it go another week and taste again. If it’s ready, seal it up! You can big-cork the carboys until you’re ready to bottle.
As with all wine, it gets better the longer you wait.