Updated: Oct 6, 2019
It is late summer, the grass feels crispy underfoot, the nights are just beginning to draw in and the vegetable patch is being harvested every other day, but vegetables are not the only thing that are being picked at this wonderful time of year, the grapes have found a beautiful harmony between tart and sweet and their skins are beginning to turn a majestic dark blue, it is time to make some red wine. Read on to find out how we make our natural and organic red wine here on our farm.
Wine is my absolute favourite alcoholic drink and the fascinating process from vine to glass plays a rather large part in that. Natural wine is a term that you have probably heard before if you are a wine drinker, it is the name for a wine that has not been tinkered with by the addition of yeasts, artificial flavours, additives and the like of. Natural wine generally has a different taste than that of its commercial counterpart, sometimes the taste can be likened to certain beers or yoghurts even and generally natural wines are considered more gamey and less fruity.
If you are interested in making your own wine (and you have means to acquire fresh wine grapes) I would strongly suggest at least once trying to make a natural wine, especially if, like me, you are passionate about knowing what is in your food and preferring organic produce. Nearly every single site on the internet gives recipes and instructions on how to make wine from a kit, they will tell you to add chemicals like sulphites and metabisulphites to kill the wild yeasts which can be unpredictable and then wait a while before adding a commercial yeast, this process will allow you to predict with a decent amount of accuracy what your finished flavour and aroma will be like. Here are the steps we take to produce our punchy, sweet, organic, Portuguese wine.
Harvesting the Grapes
Harvesting will be the first step required in order to make your own wine, grapes are the only fruit that have the needed esters, acids and tannins to consistently produce a balanced and stable wine. Assuming you are making wine from grapes from your own land, you will need to harvest them, this can be done when the grapes are mature, when the taste is as acidic as it is sweet. The grapes have been growing through the summer and have been collecting the unique tastes of that year based on your weather, soil types and location, these factors coupled with, of course, the variant of grape you produce will have a massive impact on your final product. Harvesting for most people is as simple as snipping the grape clusters with handheld secateurs, big commercial producers will use mechanical grape harvesters for this. In this post I am specifically speaking about red wine, as the processes from white wine are somewhat different, but if you also grow white grapes then when harvesting you would need to separate the white from the red into separate containers for ease later on (although some people combine red and white grapes to produce their wine, it is a matter of personal choice really).
Crushing and pressing the fruit
This process is where the fruit for thousands of years was stomped down by people treading the grapes with their bare feet, nowadays wine makers use mechanical presses such as the one I use in the photo below. The skins and the juice are left inside a large vat or container, the stems are mostly taken out, a small few can be left behind for the addition of tannins into the wine. It takes approximately one medium cluster of grapes to produce one glass of wine, so around four clusters of grapes to a bottle. If you are making a small amount of wine you can press the grapes with your hands or use a piece of sanitized wood to crush the grapes in a container, the mixture of skins and juice is now referred to as must
This is the part where 70% of the alcohol will be produced. The natural yeasts present on the skins of the fruit and in the air begin to convert the sugars into alcohol, in terms of commercial or kit produced wines this is where the sulfites, then eventually the yeast will be added, it can take anywhere from six hours to days later to start fermenting, although usually it starts within the first day or so. Use of a hydrometer (you can buy one at most agricultural shops) will be very handy here, you can read the SG (specific gravity of the must) using the hydrometer, the hydrometer will also have a reading for potential alcohol, this is how you can predict the amount of alcohol that will be in your final product, for must with a small reading of potential alcohol you can add a small amount of sugar at the beginning of fermentation to adjust the potential level of alcohol in the wine.
The must will need to be agitated and the cap will need 'punching' at least three times a day, this is because the skins and pips in the must floats to the top of the liquid and hardens in the air, break the cap up and stir regularly to increase air flow to the wine and to help fermentation take place.
Racking the wine
When you are sure that the primary fermentation has ceased (usually around the 5 - 7 days mark) and your SG readings are between 0.992 and 0.996, then it is time to rack your wine (to siphon into a different container) into a glass carboy, stainless steel tank or cask. It is best to not punch the cap and stir the wine for a few hours before you rack the wine, this is because you will struggle to siphon just the liquid if you have the skins and pips swirling around in the wine too, the name of the sediment is the lees.
This is where the remaining 30% of the alcohol is produced. The wine stays in here without the lees, normally the secondary fermentation is completed in two weeks or less, but for absolute certainty you can place a plastic airlock in the top of the carboy or cask, fill the airlock with vodka, as if you fill it with water it could get sucked into the carboy and water down the wine. As the fermentation takes place the carbon dioxide given off will bubble through the airlock without oxygen getting inside and oxidizing the wine, which would in turn spoil it. The bubbling will slow over a few days and then will eventually stop altogether.
Now that the wine has fully fermented we move on to the final step.
This is the final process in making wine and for me it is the hardest step as I am always eager to try the wine before it has completely finished maturing, you should let your wine age for at least three months but I find it tastes better after six. Do not leave your wine to age for much more than a year to two years (if you can wait that long) as this wine is natural and does not contain any preservatives so can end up over aging if you leave it for that long.
Most people age their wine inside bottles, make sure to sterilize the bottles before filling, then either a cork or a screw cap can be fitted to the bottle, for a cork you will need a wine bottle corker, this is a floor mountain apparatus, with a lever on the top, place the cork inside the hole, the bottle underneath, pull the lever and the bottle will be corked.
After this there is only one thing to do, wait and enjoy!