Our First Harvest – Wine Making, Cleaning and Beer

There’s an adage in the world of wine making – making wine is 90% cleaning and 10% beer.  The Cleaning has to be done and done thoroughly, both before and after using any and all equipment. Why so fastidious? There are a lot of mildews, rots, chemical reactions and more in the world of agriculture and so, to limit the chances of spoilage, you clean. And yes, wine making is part of this agricultural world, just rather glorified beyond the likes of, say, wheat growing for cereal, possibly because you have to do rather more to get to the complete product.

You clean to keep bugs, like fruit flies amongst other things, at bay. And because wine making is actually, really lovely chemistry, both in reality and figuratively, you clean to make sure the natural chemistry* that makes up wine comes together the way you want, and not have a tainted barrel or dirty hose possibly ruining a lot of work.

So cleaning is what Pumpjack put me to work doing when we brought our First Harvest in to the Winery.

Now to say ‘Winery’ is being a bit grand. It’s really a storage room, but it has the basics of  wine making equipment, which means we don’t have to buy or hire it (something we are not in a financial position to do just yet). To say this Winery is basic, however is an understatement. We were really going to be hands on, making do, with no frills.  But who where we to be picky?  We counted ourselves lucky we had the chance to make any wine at all.

The Winery came with 3 large, 500 litre tanks (made from some sort of fiberglass, I think), and a smaller 100 litre stainless steel. Also a de-stemmer machine and few odd buckets and scales. We borrowed an old fashioned apple/wine press from friends (who had bought it because it was pretty)  in exchange for fixing any broken parts it had, and there were a few. We splurged and bought a hydrometer ~ essentially it looks like a giant thermometer and measures the sugar level in the grape juice. This helps with determining when to harvest the grapes, and check on the fermentation.

Our first order of priority was to move all the items stored in the ‘Winery’ to one end, and then we cleaned. We spent 2 days cleaning. Luckily the room had originally been a shower room and had a tiled floor and walls with reasonable drains set in the floor. We cleaned every piece of equipment, every bucket, every spoon, table tops, walls, and finally the floors.

We decided to press the best of the grapes, some Pinot Noir, without de-stemming, e.g. taking off the stalk and stems, as this gives it additional colour and flavour.** It was hard work, the press had to be ratcheted by hand and once we got as much of the juice out as possible, we had to remove the remaining skins and stems. It took us 4 hour to do 50 litres of Pinot Noir grape juice, but my goodness it looked clean, clear and good. This was going to take awhile.

We opted to try the de-stemmer for the lesser quality grapes. A much cloudier juice resulted, but also much quicker. In the end we ended up with about 500 litres of juice, from three varieties of grapes: Chardonnay (barely 10 litres) , Pinot Noir and Pinot Meurnier, reasonably equal amounts. This is the classic selection for a sparking except we had nothing like the right quantities to make it, let alone good enough quality juice, so it was going to be more about simply making and see what we ended up with.

We found only 2 of the tanks would seal reasonably well, so attempted to rotate the lids and their parts to maximise the coverage.  We added yeasts and hoped fermentation would go reasonably well, e.g. the start of turning the grape juice into wine.

We ‘punched down’, where you break up the grape skins in the juice to bring out the colour and flavours, using a golf club. A driver, as it had the best width. Like I said, we made do, and improvised when we had to.

In the end how did the wine come out? Hmmm, not great. The grapes had been too off the scale to really work with, but we have a wine I love to cook with and one I plan to make into a vinegar, so nothing will go to waste. And we are hopeful that with the work we have been doing since that first harvest, we will improve the quality, and quantity, of the grapes for next harvest. It can’t be worse, and it’s only the beginning.

Oh, and what about the Beer? If you work around wine all day, often at the end of a 12 hour, hot and hard working day, the last thing you want is wine, where as a nice refreshing, thirst quenching beer…

*Note: If you are anti-sulphur, stop drinking wine, and well, eating lots of food. Sulphur is naturally present in much of what is grown. What you want is that the wine maker hasn’t added sulphur, or at least too much – often done in cheaper wines. Sulphur helps prevent oxidation (wine spoiling), so its rather like homogenising milk.

**Piddlewick’s Note: I am not the Oenologist in this team, rather having learned what I have through hands on participation and osmosis. I am simplifying much of the technical and chemistry aspect for us lay people who essentially just like to drink wine.

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