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At the risk of appearing foreign and fussy, I asked Fernando as often as I could how to turn grapes into wine. Each time he explained you pick them, you press them, put the juice in something, leave it open to ferment, then cover it up, wait a while and ‘sale muy bueno’. But I couldn’t help feeling it might all be a bit more complicated than this.

Online I found ‘Step-by-Step Guide to Your First Fresh Grape Wine‘ by Alison Crowe. ‘Here’s everything you need to make your first one-gallon batch of wine from fresh grapes’ explained Alison. ‘You can find this equipment at any well-stocked homebrewing or home winemaking supply store’.
• Large nylon straining bag (boil bag)
• Food-grade pail with lid
◦ (2 to 4 gallons)
• Cheesecloth
• Hydrometer
• Thermometer
• Acid titration kit
• Clear, flexible half-inch diameter plastic tubing
• Two one-gallon glass jugs
• Fermentation lock and bung
• Five 750-ml wine bottles
• Corks
• Hand corker
It was baffling trying to extrapolate how many fermentation locks and bungs, glass jugs, and corks would be required for an unknown, but substantially larger quantity of grapes. Perhaps 200 kilos? But as there are no winemaking supply stores in these parts, it didn’t really matter. Instead, at the local co-op, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, they suggested using a giant rubber bucket, mosquito netting, and a rain butt (in which to trample the grapes, strain the juice, and store the fermenting wine, respectively). So I bought those, and continued the research.

It’s useful to know what your grapes are – green is not enough. I asked a friend. She said they’re not muscatel, thank god.

Pick the grapes when the sugar density is around 24° Brix (1.098 SG), something you ascertain with a hydrometer. Check the wine PH (maybe I could do this with the thing from the pool cleaning kit), and then add a specific amount of sulphites, based on the reading. High pH levels decrease the effectiveness of free SO2, apparently, and sulphites are essential to prevent bacteria growing, and bacteria, as even I know, is not good.

For every gallon (4.5 liters) of wine, you need 0.44g (0.0155 oz.) of sodium or potassium metabisulphite. The sulphite should reach 50 mg/L after adding this amount. Safe levels of sulphite are between 30 mg/L and 50 mg/L. At some point there should probably be the addition of yeast, something to clear out the suspended sediment (customarily egg white or animal blood in old Spain), a stabilising agent so the process stops at the right point, and perhaps a dash of tartaric acid to freshen it up and add vigour. Store your wine in the making at temperatures between 18 and 20 degrees (i.e. ten degrees below the ambient temperature) until it’s ‘ready’. And enjoy!

The kit

In a ferretería near the hospital in Ronda, I found a man with some winemaking things under the counter. I bought a densímetro (waste of money because I forgot to use it), and, after some smooth sales talk, a 100 litre stainless steel vacuum vat thing. Its airtight lid and tap near the bottom mean that we can skip the bottling stage. This is good, because the prospect of boiling a hundred or so bottles over firewood in order to sterilise them, was deeply worrying. Fernando loaned us his wine press, like a split wooden barrel on a tripod with a heavy iron plate that you wind down (and down and down and down, then up, and up, and up) a central pole.

Okay so here’s what we did (oenologists look away now):

1. Emptied the ten sacks out onto plastic sheeting, looked at the grapes, removed three or four stalks. Felt exhausted.
2. Scrubbed rubber bucket, wine press parts, and newfangled vat with soapy water, then washed with random solution of sulphite crystals.
3. Assembled wine press and wooden barrel in water to swell the wood and narrow the gaps. Took hours (read book).
4. Covered vat with mosquito netting.
5. Put plastic bags on feet and trampled grapes in bucket. Really not pleasant.
6. Heaved the bucket over the vat and poured in vile looking swill.
7. Put the strained squashed grapes in the press, wound down the plate, collected surprising amount of extra juice in bucket.
8. Emptied bucket into vat. (Stages 5-8 repeated ad infinitum – in the later hours with a glass of wine to hand).
9. Half covered vat to allowing for fermentation and noxious fermentation gas to escape.
10. Left it like that for two weeks – a mistake. I think, after the bubbling stopped, it was supposed to be almost sealed. Time will tell.
11. On day 20, got my brother and sister-in-law to suck the ‘wine’ out through a tube and into a motley selection of sterilised buckets and whatnot in order to separate it from the sediment as part of their holiday fun.
12. Cleaned out the vat (disgusting).
13. Filtered the ‘wine’ back in. Weird colour due to throwing in a sack of red grapes – wrong, apparently. Smells alcoholic though.
14. Dropped the lid in so it bobbed on the surface, and used the pump thing to inflate the air around it creating an airtight seal.
15. Have left in corner of shed. May run a drop off around Christmas time. Although wine is cheap here (drinkable at €1.30 a litre).

DISCLAIMER: this is a confession not a recipe.

For the full wine story see also GRAPES OF WRATH, and GRAPES & RATS.


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