I’m Crushing Grapes & Making WineWe have a heatwave this weekend. I’ve already postponed the harvesting of my muscat grapes for almost too long. They have been good to pick for several weeks now but I kept finding excuses. Well, now with the heat upon us it’s time to channel my inner migrant worker, put on a my straw hat and bandanna and pick and crush some grapes.

My single muscat vine grows on the North side of my house. I had a hole cut in the concrete so that I could plant it by the trash bin and up against the property dividing wall. It loves the location — shaded roots and sun drenched top — it has rewarded me with many years of fine harvests. I think a watered it twice this year and yet I got a bumper crop for my neglect.

My single muscat vine grows on the North side of my house against the property dividing wall. That single vine of muscat has rewarded me with many years of fine harvests and this year was amazing. This year was a supper good yeild and I'm guessing this muscat vine is just coming into its own.
My single muscat vine grows on the North side of my house against the property dividing wall. That single vine of muscat has rewarded me with many years of fine harvests. This year was a supper good yeild and I'm guessing this muscat vine is just coming into its own.

Now I’ve been to Sonoma County and I’ve seen the way professional grapes get treated.  Small well spaced vines, trimmed several times a year, each bunch of grapes individually cared for and tended — water, fertilizer, insecticide, fungicide a pedicure and a back-rub. If my lonely vine saw this excess it would no doubt go on strike. I prune it once a year and water it when I remember — that’s it. But boy do I get my effort’s worth.

Stages of grapes: raisin, half way to raisin, not so plump but still juicy and plump and juicy. I spent the day channeling my inner migrant worker. I use a basket that I tend to overfill with my muscat grapes.
Stages of grapes: raisin, half way to raisin, not so plump but still juicy and plump and juicy. I spent the day channeling my inner migrant worker. I use a basket that I tend to overfill with my muscat grapes.

I’ve already made several attempts at making wine with moderate success. I’ve made an exquisite muscat/honey Nalewka that has gotten many unsolicited “…you should sell this stuff…” accolades — the highest award a home producer can get. I’ve also made an excellent vinegar from the not so great wines and a nice full-bodied fortified wine that I’m still refining.

I think I know how to improve the wine I’ve been getting but even if it doesn’t work it will be fun trying. As with everything I will try to preserve its terrior — nothing from outside the Minecki estate will be used in this product unless I’m forced to decide otherwise down the road.

First Step — Harvesting and Crushing the Grapes

At this late stage of the game and without any interim trimming or care my muscat grape bunches come in a graded state of dryness. From plump and juicy, not so plump but still juicy, half way to raisin and finally raisin — depending on where they are on the vine, and how much they got exposed to the relentless sun. I pick and use them all. The raisins have the most concentrated sugar and flavor but the plump ones contribute to the wine yield. As I pick I dump rotten, brittle and chewed on grapes while removing dry leaves, twigs and spiderwebs. I use a basket that I tend to overfill with my harvest. Maybe I could use a bigger basket for next year.

I gently put the bunches on a rinsing rack I made from a nursery tray and an old tin tub. animation It took a total of 8 brimming baskets to fill up with muscat juice, skins and stems.
I gently put the bunches on a rinsing rack I made from a nursery tray and an old tin tub. It feels a little like popping bubble wrap but it’s gooey and slimy. It took a total of 8 brimming baskets to fill up the bucket with muscat juice, skins and stems.

Once I can’t fit any more grapes in my basket without them spilling out I take my harvest and gently put the bunches on a rinsing rack I made from a nursery tray and an old tin tub. I rinse them off with a strong spray of water. My improvised rinsing rack takes 2 full baskets of grapes. I give all the bugs and spiders 10 minutes to move out and than I turn myself into a human crusher/destemmer machine. You can get an actual hand cranked machine for about $200 or you can build one for about $100 but for now, while it’s still one vine, I will give it that extra special human touch. With a little practice it does go rather quickly.

The goal is to pop every grape while leaving the stem and seeds in tact. It feels a little like popping bubble wrap but it’s gooey and slimy — a good time to get in touch with your 8 year old boy self.

The 6.5 gallon brew bucket I was using took a total of 8 brimming baskets to fill up with muscat juice, skins and stems. It’s good to keep your bucket covered whenever possible to avoid the juice from oxidizing and turning a nasty brown color. In the conditions of such primitive home productions as I practice some oxidation is unavoidable.

At this point I mix up my must — that’s what the mixture of juice and pomace (the seeds and skins) is called — and give it a taste...

Step Two — Trying to Improve the Eventual Flavor

So? It tastes O.K. but I don’t know… I only have a few years experience and I don’t the notes or anything. I seem to have a vague memory of what I didn’t like about my last wines: not enough zip, not enough depth and not enough finish.

So? Well, this time I will try to augment my muscat with some local, meaning from my yard, additives. Some I chose because I think they will help and some I put in because they are here and need something to do:

  • about 3 pounds of key limes with skins and seeds (acidic balance and fresh zesty zip)
  • about 3 pounds of kiwi fruit (a mellow fruitiness for some flavor depth)
  • 3 pomegranates (color and a little tarty zest)
  • 5 very ripe figs (they were the last Genoa figs of the season and maybe they will impart a slight hint of honey flavor)

The stuff in parenthesis is just pure conjecture — we will see what happens after the wine is done and has time to age a little.

Key limes, kiwi, pomegranates and ripe Genoa figs — go into the mix in hopes of improving the taste. The last of my Genoa figs will maybe impart a slight hint of honey to the final wine. My kiwi vine also did very well this year.
Key limes, kiwi, pomegranates and ripe Genoa figs — go into the mix in hopes of improving the taste. The last of my Genoa figs will maybe impart a slight hint of honey to the final wine. My kiwi vine also did very well this year.

I picked the seeds out of the pomegranates right over the brew bucket, I washed, halved and squeezed my limes, I halved my ripe figs and put it all in the bucket. Only a few of my kiwis were ripe enough to use. I sliced these up but the rest went into a paper bag with a ripe pear. In a few days they will ripen and they will also go into the bucket.

After all the additives were in I gave the juice a try — much better — I think.

All the additives are in , tastes good and it's all ready to ferment. A nice cap of airy pomace had formed on top but the bucket was almost overflowing. I split my must between two buckets.
All the additives are in , tastes good and it's all ready to ferment. A nice cap of airy pomace had formed on top but the bucket was almost overflowing. I split my must between two buckets.

I was hot and sweaty and done for the day by now. Most wine making manuals will tell you that you need to buy a certain kind of yeast to match your grapes and the style of wine you want to make. Well, I know that my muscat grapes already come with a local strain of yeast and since I’m not going for an imitation Barbera d’Asti, Moscatel de Favaios or even Vendange Tardive — I’m done — my must needs nothing more.

The next day my muscat was already fermenting and a nice cap of airy pomace had formed on top. Looks like I had too much must in the bucket and barely avoided a spill over. I got an additional 1 gallon bucket and transferred some fermenting must into that. I think we are safe now. I will add the kiwi as they ripen and all I have to do is give my brewing goop a stir once a day.

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