One young Catholic family on a Journey towards Intentional and Communal Sustainability. One Artist, one full time Mama and two babies, we'll tell you about all our successes, and failures, as we try to make it in our overly Consumeristic society on just the bare necessities.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Make It!- Making booze the ol' fashioned way.

*disclaimer, or something* Every state/city/locale has different laws concerning making alcohol as a private citizen. Usually because the governmental body in question has a vested interest in tax revenue that they are afraid they'll miss out on. I'm no expert on the law, so before trying this at home, do whatever research necessary to cover your hiney.

Anyway, today I made wine, or at least began the process of its making. Join me in my messy and enlightening journey:

Step one: procure many many grapes.

As luck would have it my younger sister (whom we obtained grapes from at the beginning of our last experiment as well) has grape vines in her backyard that are very well established, as they are older than me, and possibly my mother (they're gramma's old vines). This time around we harvested something like...65lbs. I confess that I didn't weigh them, but it was two big ol' boxes that seemed heavier than a 50lb box of clay. You can use any grape really, each will give a different flavour and each will have a different sugar content which effects alcohol content etc. I really don't recommend just going to the grocery and buying bulk grapes when they go on sale though because most of the "food grapes" we eat aren't really sweet enough to make a decent wine (let alone any pesticides/waxes/irradiation they've been subject to, but thats another rant altogether). The best bet is actually growing your own grapes, which I hear are remarkably easy to do, but need a few years before you're getting dozens of pounds of fruit. I dunno though, try it, prove me wrong.

Step two: smash said grapes.

There are many ways to smash grapes. Fancy wine presses, which are like $175 bucks, so nuts to that. Juicers, which for legit ones aren't cheap either, plus you have to take all of the grapes off of the stems and seed them,  something I just couldn't justify spending my time on. Food processors which work for some fruits like crabapples (look for our upcoming guest post on DynoMom about our crabapple cider and vinegar adventures) but beat up grapes too much and thereby release too much grape skin flavor/bitterness. Or getting a big open vessel, dumping your grapes into it and squishing them under foot. With those options how could we do anything but make a big fun mess, right? Honestly, it was a ball, if you've never stomped grapes, I highly recommend it. Next year I will try my hardest to get a couple hundred pounds of grapes by asking neighbors, friends etc. and having a big grape stompin' party. (stay tuned...)

My feet.
Charlotte does her part.
Even Bea joins in!

Step three: procure yeast.

There are lots of cool yeasts, for this project I'd recommend either an ale yeast or if you want the final product to be a little more dry, a champagne yeast. Either option is like... 75cents or something, so its not exactly going to break the bank to go with a "fancy" yeast. Maybe its because I already went to the trouble of pressing the grapes by hand (well...foot) and may as well go all out with old school techniques, maybe its a profound self-sufficiency statement to fight "big yeast business", or maybe its because I love unique local phenomena (ie.making pots from local clay) whatever the case I decided to go the route of wild yeasts.Oh, also maybe because its easy too, since the yeasts already existed on the grapes when I smashed 'em. The only thing to keep in mind is that wild yeasts are unpredictable. They could be awesome, they could be terrible. Either way you'll get alcohol, but yeasts strongly affect the flavour of your wine. In our case if it turns out badly, we'll just make the wine into vinegar and call it a victory, but of course we didn't have to buy our grapes...

Step four: ferment.

How long it takes to ferment your wine has everything to do with heat and the amount of sugars in your juice. If you want to be savvy you can use a hydrometer to test the specific gravity of the juice at the outset to know precisely how much sugar there is, and subsequently how much alcohol there will be. I didn't. Instead I went with the tride and true "ferment it till it stops bubbling" approach. How alcoholic will it be? No idea, frankly I don't have any reason to care since I'm not bottling it for sale nor am I intending to use to to sterilize wounds on the battlefield. The small bit of technology that I did decide to use is a water airlock to allow the wine to offgas while neither causing the jug to explode nor allowing unwanted mold spores, bacteria or foreign yeasts (like from Britt's kombucha) in. These valves are something like 75cents maybe a couple of bucks if you get the elite version. The rubber stopper that it goes into is maybe another dollar if that much.

All good winemakers need someone to test the juice.
Step five: bottle.
We'll talk about this later after the fermentation is done, but in our case rather than transfering several gallons into individual wine bottles for aging we're just going to cap the jugs we are using for the fermentation. If I get really industrious I might tap the wine into some swing top bottles, but I'm not even going to attempt corking or any such fancy contrivances as that.

The local brewery store that we patronize sells a home wine making kit for $165.00, and juice concentrate for wine making for around $100. Admittedly if you popped for all of that you'd be able to make 6 gallons of wine, rather than my measly 2 so we'll say that an equivalent price for the wine we are making would be...*crunches some numbers* something like $83.00. Honestly, if you got the kit and the concentrate you'd likely make some very nice wine. But I'm too frugal, too well connected with resources, and too non-wine snobby to bother.

Now for our cost breakdown since my brain is still on "urban survivalist"mode from last month.

Grapes: free. (this would have been by far the largest cost, thanks gramma and lil sis.)
Smashin' apparati: free (between borrowing our friend's father's 10gal crock and 15 minutes of exercise)
Yeast: free (and with literally no effort on my part to boot)
Carboy/jug(s): free (we used re purposed cider jugs, which will work for both fermentation and storage)
Airlock: I dunno, say 75 cents (though I actually already owned this, so I didn't go out and buy it anyway)
Rubber stopper: um. a dollar (again, already owned it)

Hopefully by Christmas I'll have 2 gallons of delicious delicious wine thanks to old timey techniques, friends, family and a couple hours of work, oh and $1.75.

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1 comment:

  1. Are you going to add any wood chips to give it that good old wooden cask flavor?