Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grape Crush 2011

After a brief break from blogging, I'm back! And just in time for a very special day... Grape Crush.  Thanks to those of you who voted for the varietal you'd like to see made this year.  The winner was Syrah! Mr. Purple is also giving wine making a go this year and his grape of choice was Sangiovese.  Over the next several months, I'll walk you through the process of home winemaking with details that hopefully inspire you to give winemaking a try yourself.

First order of business was to order the grapes themselves.  I'm sure there are plenty of options out there, but I have had great luck ordering grapes from Mountain Homebrew and Wine Supply in Kirkland.  They offer a one stop shop for wine making ingredients and equipment.  They also purchase grapes from a grower in Eastern Washington and resell them in 25 pound increments.  Sure, the prices per pound are higher than if you were to buy them direct.  But, for amateur wine makers like Purple Girl, there aren't many places out there that sell grapes in such small lots.  And, for 10 cents more per pound, you have access to their Crusher/Destemmer and Press, which are spendy pieces of equipment for hobby winemakers like myself.  About 6 weeks ago, we purchased 75 pounds of Sangiovese grapes and 75 pounds of Syrah grapes and have been waiting patiently for the grapes to ripen enough for harvest.  Halloween Night - we got the call.  Grapes were ready and being harvested on Thursday, 11/3.  This is a fairly late harvest (typically early to mid October) and unfortunately, the sugar levels in the grapes were still not completely ideal.  But, winter is approaching quickly and frost is not a friend to wine grapes so it was time for them to come off the vine.

Some basics... glucose and fructose are the main fermentable sugars in grapes.  Yeast feeds on these sugars to produce ethanol (or alcohol) and carbon dioxide.  This process is called fermentation. So, the amount of sugar present at the time of fermentation is critical... not enough and the wine doesn't get to ideal alcohol levels, too much and fermentation might be hard to start as too much sugar can shock the yeast. The most common way to measure sugar in grape must is by using a hydrometer to calculate the Brix.  Ideal Brix for red wines at harvest is 22 - 23.  About one week before harvest, our grapes measured 18.9 for the Sangiovese and 20.5 for the Syrah.  Again... not ideal but easier to add sugar to the process later than to deal with rotten, frozen grapes.

Day of Crush - we brought two 12 gallon food grade containers to the crushing location, each one sufficient to hold 75 pounds of crushed grapes.  The containers were cleaned thoroughly prior to crush and then rinsed with a sanitzing solution provided by Mountain Homebrew. (You can also make this solution with potassium metabisulfite).  First step - grapes are added to the Crusher/Destemmer.  While a few stems present during fermentation aren't damaging, stems are high in tannin and too many can increase pH and thereby reducing color intensity and fruitiness in the finished wine.  Here are the grapes before going through the Crusher/Destemmer

And here they are on their way out

The process is pretty simple, especially for such a small quantity.  Total crushing time took us about 10 minutes and that was including clean up.  Grapes were loaded in the car and off to their next step in the journey to become wine.  The next 10 days are critical for these grapes... stay tuned for tonight's activities.


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