Tag Archives: winemaking; wine; grapes; vineyards


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At the risk of being 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 and it comes out very nice. 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 home-brewing 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 Nuestra Señora del Rosario cooperativa, 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. No-one is sure; not moscatel anyway thank the lord.

This is how I understand it: 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 strip  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 is not good.

For every gallon (4.5 litres) 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 (egg white or animal blood in old Spain), a stabilising agent so the process stops at the right point (whatever this could be), 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’.

In a farm store I found a man with some winemaking things under the counter. I bought a densímetro (I forgot to use it and have since lost it) and a 100 litre stainless steel vacuum vat with an airtight lid and tap which means I can avoid the bottling stage. The prospect of boiling a hundred bottles over firewood in order to sterilise them was not attractive. I borrowed Fernando’s wine press, a split wooden barrel on a tripod with a heavy iron plate to be wound down, down, down then up, up, up  the threads of the central pole.

I did this:

1. Emptied the ten sacks of grapes onto plastic sheeting, removed three or four stalks. Felt exhausted.
2. Scrubbed rubber bucket, wine press parts, and wiped 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.
4. Covered vat with mosquito netting secured with stretchy things with hooks on the end.
5. Put plastic bags on feet and trampled grapes in bucket. Nothing pleasant about this.
6. Heaved the bucket of juice over the vat and poured in the swill.
7. Put the strained squashed grapes in the press, wound down the plate, collected surprising quantity 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, asked my visitors to suck on a tube to get the ‘wine’ flowing from vat to motley selection of sterilised buckets and whatnot in order to separate it from the sediment. Holiday fun.
12. Cleaned out the vat.
13. Filtered the ‘wine’ back in. Weird colour is due to having thrown 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 to inflate the air around it creating an efficient airtight seal.
15. Have left in corner of shed. May run a drop off around Christmas time.

This is a confession not a recipe.



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Now the ‘wine’ is in the barrel, but things were different back in September when the prospect of harvesting the grapes and making the first batch of wine lay ahead. I now know how not to do it.

September 10: I have had headaches from wine before; this time it is different. It’s not the result of drinking wine but the prospect of making it that’s giving me a skull-shrinking ache and sense of doom.

The vineyard is an impenetrable mess. The row of old sticks sunk from view in spring, smothered by thistles, poppies, and michaelmas daisies. Only in late May did I notice lime green shoots, as thick as my wrist, rising above the sea of flowers in all directions, waving speculatively, big leaves flapping in the breeze. From then on, the vines grew a foot a day, lunging and grabbing at each other, clawing their way up, hanging from anything they could find other than the vineyard trellis.

I’d first approached them innocently, in a sundress, straw hat, and flip-flops, to ‘tidy them up’. I moved along dark tunnels of knitted vines full of snares and nooses, got caught up and fell  into thistles and stinging nettles. I sensed the rows close behind me and in front of me heard the whining hum of wasps. Some of the wasps were fortifying their head sized nests, others were travelling in and out of holes in the ground. I picked a bunch of grapes and was stung twice. The vineyard was a hostile place and I made a Navy Seal style retreat crawl back to the light, losing hat and shoes and getting my hair so inextricably tangled in something thorny that I had to cut it off.

So I have only infiltrated and cut back two rows out of many. Once or twice I have googled ‘can wasp stings kill you’, and the answers are sometimes ‘yes’ and sometimes ‘no’. People keep asking if I have picked the grapes and made the wine yet, so I am guessing that it is harvest time. I don’t want to pick the grapes, and I don’t know how to  make the wine. It seems that it is something I have to do and having something I have to do that I don’t want to do is creating tension.

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