It’s been almost three years around wine and vineyards and I’m ready to share everything I’ve learned! It’s A LOT of work, but very rewarding. Trust me when I say, I knew nothing about wine making before I met my match. He’s been in the wine industry for over twenty years and has graciously been teaching me how to make wine. I’m breaking it down into various steps and videos to make sense of everything and give some insight to the whole process. Especially if you find it as interesting as I do!
Picking the Grapes (the short version)
The grapes are picked when they have good color and the PH and sugars are in line with what the winemaker desires. The viticulturist works alongside the winemaker tasting the grapes in the vineyard until he’s comfortable to call the pick. Usually this is centered around the tannins and overall ripeness of the grapes. It’s like chemistry and gut feelings come together to make something magical. Well, plus years of experience.
We ended up with a small batch of grapes to play with after harvest this year so we can make our own wine and needless to say, we took it very seriously…
Making Wine At Home
Once the grapes arrive at the winery (or garage) they’ve been picked accordingly and it’s time to rock and roll.
As resilient as grape vines tend to be, the grapes themselves, after being picked, need to be handled with care and in a timely manner. In a sense, it’s probably why the harvest season is celebrated and respected around the world. A lot of passion, love and hard work go into making wine. Even in your garage.
For my winemaking process, I’m focusing on red grapes. Pinot Noir to be exact from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The grapes are rich in flavor and complex. They tend to battle their way through fog and rain when other grapes are living it up in the sunshine. They can make a pretty badass Pinot Noir with the right vineyard manager and/or viticulturist.
Destemming/ Crushing Process
With red grapes in particular, the first step in the winery is to remove the stem from the berries. This process is commonly known as crushing or destemming. The main reason for this step with red wine in particular is to balance out the tannins. The stems can end up making the wine bitter and undrinkable.
Most wineries obviously have much bigger machines, but If you are ever considering trying this at home, you can get yourself a destemmer / crusher for around $1000 on Amazon.
Side Note: with white grapes, if you have a good stem, it can be beneficial to leave them on and go straight to the pressing process. For red, it’s a must. Unless your in France, then it’s debatable.
The destemmer works by loading the grapes in the top and letting the machine process the grapes and juice into a clean container below. The internal part of the machine separates the stems and kicks them off to the side.
For a process like this it’s best to have large bins to transfer the grapes from one to other so the they have a healthy and happy place to ferment. Once the fermentation process is over the grapes with be pressed and transferred into stainless steel or wood barrels. Part 2, and 3 of my mini wine making series of videos.
When we picked these particular grapes, the weather was a bit warm. The grapes we picked at night, but still felt a bit hot in the bins, so we opted to add dry ice to the crushed grapes. Not only does it look super cool on video, it’s a great way to extract flavors by cooling the grapes down. Adding dry ice delays the fermentation process a bit.
The last and final step is to test the sugar level. It allows wine makers to know the initial sugar level before fermentation. A good rule of thumb, the more sugar the higher the alcohol.
Hope you enjoy and stay tuned for my fermentation video coming soon.