Hi! Many people tell us "I/we make wine from juice, but want to work with grapes. It seems so expensive to get all the equipment, how do we get going?" Okay, that's a stretch. Mostly folks never consider after they realize how much money a good destemmer/crusher is, or the size of a press. It unfortunately ends the idea fast.
That's understood. Now, if you're making large amounts of wine, they are huge time savers. I dare say if you're making more than 10 gallons at a time you should make some investments. But that's not what this post is about. This is about making 2-4 boxes of grapes into wine.
Each box comes with 36 lbs of grapes, each box is good for about 2.4 to 2.5 gallons of wine (red, this post is for red - white wine is different). To make the wine you need to a) destem; b) crush apart without breaking seeds; c) punch down the cap (more on this later) and d) press out the skins.
What you'll need:
- Bucket with a spigot (use an old juice bucket, drill 1" hole cut, spigots are a few bucks!)
- a couple other buckets, solid
- Mesh straining bag
- Spoon or paddle
- everything else you would use to make wine (glass carboy/demijohn, etc)
- a milk crate is helpful but not required
- gloves if you don't want purple hands
Of course, 2-4 boxes of grapes.
I've done as much as 12 boxes using this process, but it was more work than I'd like to repeat on that scale. 4 boxes isn't bad at all, though.
Let your grapes warm up - even just leaving them in the sun outside is helpful. A warm space inside is fine, but put something under them, they'll juice out a little. You can do this in the boxes.
Once they're not so cold that you don't want to handle them, take the grapes off the stems. The easiest way is using a milk crate - rub the bunches over the crate that's positioned over a bucket. The grapes will fall in, and likely be crushed a little. If you don't have a milk crate, wring the bunches off with your hands. They'll mostly burst this way, and that's great. The next step is to break as many as you can anyways.
Once the grapes are off the stem, mash 'em. Yes, you can use your feet. It's a bit awkward doing that in narrow buckets, but any means you have. I've long used my hands in buckets (with kitchen gloves).
Do not attempt to put them through a food processor or juicer or blender. The seeds will be chopped/crushed and your wine will taste bad as a result.
The goal isn't to crush every last grape, but to break at least 90% of them. This will allow fermentation to take place and it will release enzymes that degrade the skin - adding the flavor and color of the skin into your wine.
Important: The Crushed Grapes Should only fill 2/3s of your bucket! Use more buckets, do not fill past 2/3s!
Bring these buckets of crushed grapes into a warm environment. Same space you ferment juice. Add a 1/8 tsp of KMS (Potassium Metabisulfite) to retard wild yeast and bacteria for every 2 boxes in a bucket. Mix it in, apply a loose lid.
Now you wait one day, then add yeast. One pack for every 2 boxes. Sprinkle in (or rehydrate as you prefer) and put a lid loosely on top again. Starting the following day, 1-3x per day, you'll push the cap down with a sanitized spoon/paddle.
Pushing the cap down isn't clear until you see it: the skins will press together and form a cap that rises over the fermenting juice below. Pushing it back in increases the extraction of flavor and color. At least once per day is needed, 2-3x is great if you are able. Always sanitize first.
For a more fruit-forward wine, press out in 7 days. More tannin and body, press out once the cap no longer rises (could be as much as 2 weeks or a little more). Once the cap doesn't rise anymore you need to press out.
To press, have that bucket with a spigot on the bottom sanitized and have the spigot closed. Line it with a mesh bag, then pour (gently) the fermented skin/must into the bag. Using a spoon to keep the bag off the side with the spigot, run the juice into a carboy (a little hose on the spigot is ideal, the same you'd have on a siphon stem).
Once the free-run juice is out, get your gloves on (if you haven't already) and using fists, beat that pulp down. Squeeze, push, punch - as you do this, you will loose more and more juice. Fill that carboy/demijohn up most of the way. If you pressed before finishing fermentation (it was still pushing a cap), leave some headroom for fermentation.
From there, it's just like juice that's mostly or completely fermented. You know the drill!
It's not hard - the hard part is discovering you love the product and wanting to make more. As always, call if you have any questions!