How to Make Wine with Fresh Grapes
Making wine with fresh grapes is the most authentic way to make wine and it gives you full control over the colour, character, and body of the wine you make. You can determine what type of grape varietials to use, single or a blend, how much to use, whether to blend with juice, how long to leave in the skins in the juice, and so on. It can also be a great way to use up grapes you may have growing in your yard! Get your buckets ready and take off your socks, in this post we’ll talk all about the process of making wine from fresh grapes.
Finding Grapes for wine
If you want to make wine from fresh grapes the first thing to consider is actually getting the grapes you want to use! Understandably, this really depends a lot on the season, because grapes only grow and can be harvested at specific times of the year in the late Summer and early Fall (in the Northern Hemisphere). Danny’s always brings in a great variety of fresh California grapes for home winemakers starting after labour day that can be purchased in 36lb crates. If you are looking to make a specific style of wine or blend different flavours together, this is the perfect way to do so with fresh grapes from a renowned wine region. If you purchase your grapes from Danny’s we can destem and crush them on-site with our equipment - the importance of this step will be explained shortly.
Alternatively, if you have grapes growing in your yard you could also use those! If you don’t have all that much and think it may not be worthwhile, you can also consider blending your grapes in with a fresh juice that we carry year round. In colder climates like ours in Canada, the grapes that tend to grow in our yards are concord grapes that have a distinct flavour. You should make sure that you in fact like that flavour before making wine with your chosen grapes, because it will greatly influence the character of your wine.
Preparing your Grapes for Winemaking
Once you have your grapes you may realize there is a slight problem - they are physical fruit and not a liquid. And are you supposed to use all of those stems? To solve these problems and end up with liquid wine with the colour and flavour we desire we have to process the grapes in a few ways.
Some winemakers may like the green herb flavours that can develop if leaving some or all of the stems during the winemaking process, but most generally don’t. They also get in the way of crushing and pressing. So your first step to process your grapes is to remove the grapes off of their stems and remove any leaves. This is a simple enough task but can quite literally take hours if using several pounds of grapes. This is compounded because wine grapes are generally smaller and grow in tighter bunches than the “grocery store” grapes you may be familiar with. If you purchase your wine grapes at Danny’s it consider our crushing and destemming service - it’s a definite time saver.
Crushing / Maceration:
And here comes the feet part. Well, only if you want to - there are several other options. Once your grapes are destemmed you’ll have to crush them to get their juices exposed and in contact with the skins. It is also necessary just to break the grapes up so that their juice is more easily extracted. You could crush with your feet at home if you want to, it has the added benefit of mashing the skins in there for enhanced colour transfer, but your hands work just as well for small amounts of grapes. Like destemming, without equipment, this can be very messy and take quite a while. Some winemakers will use a metal crank based crusher over a bucket to speed up the process. If you buy your grapes at Danny’s they can be run through our motorized destemmer and crushed in a matter of minutes directly into containers of your choosing.
Crushing alone isn’t enough to get the type of colour and flavour transfer you may want out of your skins however. So you have to let them sit together in their now soupy mixture for a few days and “macerate.” How long is entirely up to you, whites generally don’t benefit from this process because you want them to come out light and avoid the taste of the skins, whereas reds do (unless you’re going for a blush).
When macerating just keep in mind that your fresh grapes are exposed - you don’t want to wait weeks without treatment or else they may spoil. You can extend the time period that the juice is in contact with the skins for enhanced colour and body by keeping the juice in a colder temperature, and/or adding sulphite , or by simply leaving it all in when you begin fermentation and then removing it later.
NOTE: If you hear or see the term “free-run” juice this is what it refers to - crushed grapes with the skins in.
Once your crushed grapes, or “free-run” juice, has either sat for as long as you want, or has been fermented, you’ll need to get those skins and seeds out. Also, you’ll want to squeeze the juice out of grapes. Like with the other steps, this can be done by hand or with a mesh bag if you have just a small amount of grapes or plenty of time, energy, and grip strength. The preferred option by most winemakers it to purchase or rent a grape press that ensures maximal efficiency at getting all the juice must out of the grapes skins. We carry grape presses and have rental units at Danny’s. When pressing your grapes you’ll be pressing into a sanitized primary fermenter.
NOTE: If you hear or see the term “press-run” juice this is what it refers to - grape juice that has been pressed out and separated from the skins!
If you’ve ever made wine from a fresh juice or concentrated kit its smooth sailing from here! The process is exactly the same because now you have just the juice left. If you skipped pressing and plan to go back to it later don’t worry, it’s still the exact same process. Remember that before fermentation starts you’ll want to take a specific gravity reading with your hydrometer to see how much alcohol can get produced and as a reference when monitoring fermentation. If your SG is low because the grapes you used aren’t very sweet you can always boost it up with sugar or preferably sweeter grape juice or concentrate.
Once you’ve got your free-run or press-run juice in a sanitized primary fermenter with an airlock you can simply pitch the yeast and add any additional additives you think you need or that your recipe calls for. If using a low acid grape or other fruit you’ll want to add acid blend or tartaric acid. It is always safe to add yeast nutrient and energizer when pitching your yeast and remember to keep your juice/must in a stable temperature within the range of your chosen yeast. When fermenting from fresh grapes Lavlin K1-V1116 or EC-1118 is often the recommended dry wine yeast for use with fresh grapes and juices. To help you decide which yeast to use see our dry wine yeast comparison chart. (link)
From this point forward you can refer to the general wine making process contained in our post, How to Make Wine:
- Secondary Fermentation: Once fermentation has calmed you will want to transfer your wine from the primary fermenter to the secondary one with a siphon that has been sanitized. It is okay if the wine is not completely fermented through yet, it will still have time here. The purpose of this is to ensure that harmful exposure to air is kept at a minimum. This stage is often 1 week.
- Conditioning/Stabilizing: This step is to allow the wine to mature a little and lose some of the harsh aromas it may have developed during fermentation prior to bottling. You will know the fermentation has stopped by the lack of bubbling and the hydrometer’s specific gravity reading is stable and at the desired level; you will want to let the wine condition (age) or stabilize before bottling. It is fine to leave the wine in the secondary fermenting container at this point but make sure to reduce any movement of the container so that the sediment can settle and allow the wine to clear. This is often the stage where you will add campden tablets or potassium metabisulphite and sorbate. As mentioned above, these products stop the yeast from re-fermenting to ensure a stable wine with a longer shelf-life. If possible, it is best to have the wine in a cooler environment (10-15C) at this stage. This stage is often 1 week.
- Filtering: If you have wine filtering equipment, now is the time to use it. Wine filters produce a clear clean tasting wine and are recommended for the best quality. However, clearing products like chitosan and kieselsol also work well with wine if you don’t have a filter. See more detailed instructions and products for clarifying wine here. (link)
- Degassing: Once your wine is stable and clear you are nearly ready to bottle. Before you bottle, you’ll want to remove as much gas from the wine as possible to reduce pressure in the bottle and have it ready to serve. You’ll want to carefully siphon the clear wine from your secondary fermenter into either another carboy or back into your clean and sterile primary fermenter. You can degas the wine simply by giving it a thorough stir with a spoon or wine degassing tool.
- Bottling/Storage: Once the wine is clear and stable it can be transferred into bottles, bags, or jugs according to your preference. Like with all equipment, ensure that these are cleaned and sterilized before using. Once the wine is safely sealed away you will want to store it in a cool, dark place such as a cellar if possible. If stored properly homemade wine can often last at least a year and will continue to age and mature into perfection during this time.
- Enjoying: This is what it is all for! Pair you wine with meals, enjoy at parties, or show off your craft to loved ones as gifts.