Making Wine from Garden Grapes
Since we started making our own everything, I can't tell you how many people have asked us about making wine from garden grapes. Or, indeed, how many people have offered us their garden grapes to make wine. So it's about time I wrote down how to do it.
What equipment will I need?
Virtually all the equipment I describe in the process up to when the wine is transferred into a demijohn is included in our Basic Starter Kit.
- 23 Litre Bucket
- Lid for bucket with hole and grommet (for the airlock)
- Syphon Tubing with tap and sediment reducer
- LCD stick on thermometer
- Mixing Paddle
I do mention some other things too, like non-specialist buckets, muslin, demijohns and straining bags. Some of them you'll already have in your kitchen.
Why do I need steriliser?
Sterilising all the equipment you use is just about the most important thing when making any wine, beer or cider. Unwanted bacteria will spoil your brew and risk all your ingredients, hopes and dreams going to waste. Sterilisers are easy to use and you soon get into the habit of doing it, whatever you are making. Simply mix the sterilising powder with water. Then leave the equipment soaking for about 20 minutes, rinse under the tap and you're done.
What sugar do I use?
Standard granulated sugar from your kitchen cupboard is fine.
What yeast do I use?
Your choice of yeasts is vast. You could use a all-purpose universal wine yeast like GV1, or a specialist yeast depending on the 'style' of wine you'd like. To start with, we would just recommend an all-purpose red wine yeast for red grapes, or white wine yeast for white grapes. Alternatively you could leave your juice and rely on the natural yeasts to do the work, though that can be a risky business (see below).
How much wine will my grapes produce?
You can calculate how much wine your grapes will make once you know the weight. As a rough estimate,1kg of grapes will turn into 1 litre of juice. A demijohn (the glass fermentation vessel you transfer the wine into after you've done all the bucket stuff - see below) makes 6 bottles of wine. It holds 4.5 litres, so you'll need at least 5kg of grapes to ensure you have enough juice, maybe more to allow for wastage. If you don't quite have enough, you can top up with either Young's grape juice concentrate or Ritchies Grape Juice Concentrate (available from us - red or white, depending on whether you're making red or white wine). You could also top up with grape juice from a carton, provided it's pure 100% grape juice, not juice drink with sugar added.
Where can I get a demijohn?
When you move on to the second stage of your wine making, you'll be straining off your wine into a 'fermentation vessel'. Ideally you'll want a glass demijohn rather than making your wine in the bucket. If nobody in your family has a demijohn lurking in the garage, you may find one on Freecycle or at your local dump (they're far more common than you might imagine !). More about sourcing glass demijohns here.
We don't have them on our website as we avoid posting glass where possible, but we keep a few second hand ones in stock for local customers.
Alternatively, you can buy plastic pet demijohns and, again, we can source these for you if you can't get them locally. You can also convert a 5 litre water bottle from any major supermarket into a fermentation vessel. Simply drink the water, drill a hole in the top of the lid and insert the bubbler airlock which came in your starter kit. I'll blog separately about how to turn a 5 litre water bottle into a fermentation vessel. Always a winner :)
Can't I just do the whole thing in the bucket, rather than needing demijohns?
Yes you can, and the starter kit has a hole in the lid and an airlock for that purpose. The caveat to this is that you should not leave an enormous gap between the liquid and the lid (so you will need to top it up if you don't have enough juice to fill it). Also ensure the lid is a very tight fit, and never remove it once the airlock is fitted to avoid contamination. Most of us prefer to transfer the must to demijohns after the first fermentation though, not least of all because you can watch your wine clearing. Plus it looks nice.
How do I know when my grapes are ready to pick?
Your grapes will look ripe, feel firm and taste sweet. As though they were ready to eat in other words, except you're going to make wine with them. If they don't taste nice, the wine probably won't either.
Is there any difference in the process if I have red or white grapes?
If you have red grapes, you will be leaving the skins and pulp in the grape juice for a while when making your wine, as the red colour you want is mainly in the skins. If you have white grapes, you'll be straining the skins and pulp off and only using the juice. Otherwise the process is the same for both.
And if you want a rosé colour, you can leave the pulp and skins in the juice for a couple of days and then strain it so you just get a pink tinge rather than a red wine.
What if there isn't enough juice to fill my demijohn?
For fermentation you ideally want your juice to come up to the 'shoulders' of the demijohn. Sometimes when you pour your juice into your demijohn, it's only then you discover you don't have quite enough.
To avoid a large gap at the top of the demijohn which can cause issues, simply top up with store-bought grape juice (not grape juice drink with sugar added, just pure grape juice) or bottled water.
How long do I need to store the wine before I can drink it?
When it's bottling time, we always taste at this point to see what we think. If it's reasonably palatable already, about 6 months may be enough. If it's nowhere near, do not be downhearted. Just leave it for longer. When it comes to homemade wine, time is a great healer ! Or you could change tack and think about making wine vinegar instead (see below).
Making Wine from Garden Grapes - The Method
- Remove as many grapes from the stems as you can bear without losing your mind. Wash grapes well, send any rotting/squashed ones plus leaves to the compost.
- Put the grapes in a bucket and squish them until you can squish no more. Of course you can always use your feet too! Whichever parts of your body you use, please wash them first. If your grapes are white, you could pop them in a sterilised straining bag first and press them in the bag, avoiding the need to strain the juice off later. Don't be tempted to put your grapes through a fruit press or food processor, broken pips will make your wine bitter. The aim is to extract the maximum possible juice without damaging the pips.
- Then if you have white grapes, strain the whole lot through a sterilised straining bag, muslin or cheesecloth into a sterilised fermenting bucket (unless you squeezed them in the bag already, see above). If you have red grapes, pour the contents of your 'mashing' bucket into a fermenting bucket.
- Crush one Campden Tablet per 5 litres of juice/juice skins & pulp, henceforth referred to as "the must", add and stir with a sterilised paddle. Campden Tables kill off any 'bad' yeast in your grape juice. Now traditionalists may choose to leave the natural yeasts in their grape juice and allow them to ferment in the wine. The problem with that: if any unhelpful bacteria has got into your juice at some point, it could contaminate the whole batch. This could cause anything from a slight 'off' taste in the final product, to the whole lot being spoiled. So whether you choose to kill of the natural yeasts with a Campden Tablet is your choice.
- Cover loosely with a lid or tea towel to prevent fruit flies getting in (which will also spoil you wine), leave for 24 hours. Assuming you've added Campden Tablet(s), don't add your yeast yet because the same sterilising agents in Campden Tablets that kill the bad bacteria will also kill your yeast. So you need to give the Campden Tablet time to do its work and disperse. 24 hours is enough time.Don't seal the vessel at this point, you want all the Campden to dissipate into the atmosphere before you add your yeast or you may have problems later. More about that in my post 10 reasons why a wine fermentation may be reluctant to start.
- 24 hours later: add sugar. If you don't want to use a hydrometer: a good guide would be to add 900 grams of granulated sugar per 4.5 litres of must and stir well with your sterilised paddle. If you want to know precisely how much sugar to add: that's what the hydrometer in your starter kit is for. The hydrometer in your kit has instructions on how to use it. If your must reading is less than 1.010, add a small quantity of granulated sugar. Stir well with a sterilised paddle and test again. Keep doing this until you get the reading up to at least 1.010. If you go higher than this, that's no problem. Bear in mind the higher the sugar content, the higher the alcohol content of the final product is likely to be. The ideal reading is between 1.080 and 1.090. (You'll find more details about using a hydrometer and how much sugar to add here.)
- Straight after adding sugar: add wine yeast of choice. You could also add yeast nutrient to help the yeast along. Or adding a handful of raisins to the must will do the same job.
- Pop a clean cloth over the bucket, loosely put the lid over the top to keep it in place and stir it once a day with a sterilised paddle. If you're making white wine, do this for 8 days. If you are making rose wine there is an additional step as follows: strain off the skins after 2 days. That should be enough time for your red grape skins to have given a pinky colour to the must. Then put the strained must back in the sterile bucket and continue as above, stirring once a day, for 6 days. If you are making red wine, simply leave the skins in the must for the full 8 days.
- Strain the must into either a sterilise demijohn or a sterilised fermenting bucket that has a tight fitting lid and a hole for the airlock (as contained in the starter kit).
- Fill the sterilised airlock with water and fit it to the bucket lid. If you are using a demijohn, you will also need a sterilised bung for the airlock.
- Leave the vessel somewhere warm (80-85°F /26-30°C is ideal) for about 8 weeks. You will know things are working because the water will be bubbling ('bloop') through your airlock. Do not be tempted, under any circumstances, to remove the lid to have a look (bucket) or remove the airlock and bung (demijohn).
- When fermentation has finished, ie no more 'blooping', rack the wine off the sediment into a sterile vessel. Add 1 crushed Campden Tablet per demijohn, refit the airlock and bung and leave for 24 hours.
- Transfer into wine bottles and seal.
- Label and store.
The method I've read about doesn't exactly match yours.
There are lots of tried and tested ways to do this, though the the principles are largely the same. If the method you're following differs slightly from the above, don't worry about it. If it works for you, stick with it.
What if something goes wrong?
All is not lost if air got in somewhere along the line, or you simply don't like the taste. Simply remove the airlocks and bungs from the demijohns (or corks from the bottles, if you've got that far). Put a small piece of muslin over the top of the vessel and secure with a rubber band. Pop it in the airing cupboard and forget about it. 6-12 months later: et voila. Your very own homemade wine vinegar. And yes, we have been known to do that - see evidence below. So your efforts will not have been wasted!
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Other Almost Off Grid Favourites:
Blackberry Wine (Mock Claret) Recipe
Beginner's Guide to Making Wine from Fruit and Flowers
What is Bottle Shock, and why would it affect my wine?
10 Reasons your Wine Fermentation Won't Start - checklist