For home wine making enthusiasts, fall is the time to begin making a fresh supply of homemade wine to get you through the upcoming winter (New England especially). One of my good friends shared with me the process that he takes part in every year with his in-laws of Italian descent that taught him the ropes. This is the process that he goes through, but I'm sure everyone's process differs slightly.
Be prepared to invest as least two full afternoons to the process, plus you will need to occasionally check on the wine and transfer it to a new container to rid it of sediment. The start-up cost can be quite high if you don’t have the necessary equipment. If you don’t, I’d suggest asking around to see if there are any clubs you might join or places that will let you utilize their equipment.
There are numerous places locally that sell a wide variety of wine grapes and/or grape juice. My friend has traditionally frequented wholesalers at the Chelsea & Everett fruit market. Grapes typically begin arriving in mid-September through the end of October. While the majority of grapes are sourced from California, you can also find a number imported from overseas markets including Italy. Just as a good chef seeks out the freshest ingredients make sure to shop around in search of the best quality grapes.
Determining which varietal of grapes to purchase is a personal decision. When purchasing grapes, pay attention to how the grapes look - - do they appear fresh?; is the skin firm?; or does it give?; are there signs of premature rot? - -and feel free to ask questions of the seller. It may help to break off one or two and taste for quality. Wine grapes are typically sold in 35lb wooden crates. On average 15lbs of grapes will yield about 1 gallon of wine, though this varies depending on how much juice you press out of them. If this is your first time you may want to start off small.
Once you buy your grapes, the first thing you want to do is crush them requiring a crusher & destemmer. You’ll need something to store your crushed grapes. The cheapest option is to use 5 gallon plastic trash cans. Crushing the grapes allows the fermentation process to start. You can let this process happen naturally or once you're more experienced you can check PH levels or add yeast.
Once you finish crushing the grapes, take some stirring device and turn over the mixture a few times. One very important point to note: it’s crucial that you turnover the mixture at least once, though preferably twice, each day in the intervening week. My friend lets the crushed mixture rest for a week before pressing them.
Pressing the grapes is a lot of work, but makes for a social occasion. You will need access to a press for this important step. My friend typically presses each load of grapes twice to ensure he's extracting as much juice as possible. The juice from the press falls into a bucket positioned underneath the press and is then transferred into a 5 gallon glass or 9 gallon containers for aging/storage. You can place a screen in the funnel to filter out any leftover debris from the pressing process. Ensure each storage vessel is filled up to the neck and properly sealed using a rubber stopper. Store in a dark, cool location and ensure it is away from any heat source.
After about 6 weeks, you will want to transfer your wine. You will want to do a second transfer, but typically wait 8+ weeks to do this. Usually the wine is drinkable around Christmas, but really hits its peak around Easter. By summer, most homemade wines start to turn, though it’s still possible to have a great tasting homemade wine a year later.
There’s no true right or wrong way to go about making homemade wine. Provided you follow the basic steps, you should be able to easily create a pleasing homemade wine. Note, if white wine is your thing, worry not. The primary difference in the process is that you simply combine the crushing and pressing process into one long day as you do not want the juice to begin fermenting on its skins as you would with a red wine.
It’s a great activity to pass the time on a fall weekend with a group of close family and friends and as mentioned above you could be enjoying a bottle now for the holidays!