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Archive for the ‘wildcrafting’ Category

After all the picking, and picking over, and pressing, and settling, and filtering was done, I had 1.35 liters of very strong, very dark, very bitter wild grape juice. Cobbling together a recipe from various sources, but relying heavily on the information here and here, and the wine-making section of my copy of The Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency by John Seymour, I decided to add enough water to bring the volume up to 4.5 liters, enough sugar to (hopefully) achieve a sweet dessert wine, and to make a trip to a local home-brew supply shop for a packet of real wine yeast. If, John Seymour, the Grandfather of self-sufficiency thinks it’s worth the $2.30 for a packet of wine yeast, then I believe him!

So I added 2.65 liters of water to my grape juice, and stirred in a half a Campden tablet (to “sterilize” the grape juice, or kill the wild and rogue non-wine yeast that are likely to be in it) because my kitchen is full of bread yeast, which apparently makes poor wine. Then floated my hydrometer in a liter jar of juice. I got a beer and wine-making kit for my birthday with included this neat gadget that measures the specific gravity of a liquid via Archimedes’ principal, and thus tells you how much sugar (and therefore potential alcohol) is in your grape juice. As it turned out, not very much, which was no surprise at all. Eastern Ontario is not known as a grape-growing area, and despite the blistering heat we had his summer, my wild grapes were still far from sweet.

I added 1 kg of sugar, aiming for a quite sweet, fruity dessert wine, (which I figure I have a better chance of hitting than I do a “nice dry Chablis,” for instance) which gave my grape juice a specific gravity of 1.12, and a potential alcohol content of 16.5% I’m aiming high rather than low because all the sugar might not convert, and you need enough alcohol for the wine to preserve itself once it’s bottled, otherwise it will go off instead of maturing.

Then I added the yeast. And absolutely nothing happened. Now, this is my first attempt at wine, and I don’t know what is supposed to happen. My first batch of mead bubbled and frothed nicely when I added the (instant bread) yeast. The grape juice just sat there. I covered it over and left it overnight. In the morning I looked in the bucket, and still nothing, or not much of anything, anyway.

Time for intervention. I brought the temperature of the grape juice (which I should probably start calling “must,” to use the technical term) up to 75┬░F (my wine-making instructions are all in either American or 1950s British, which is OK, because my canning thermometer is in 1905 British units) by sitting a tall glass jug of hot water in the bucket, in case the problem was that the yeast was too cold. And I added a quarter teaspoon of “yeast accelerant” (those of you keeping score will have noticed that my home-brew shop purchases went slightly beyond a single packet of wine yeast).

Then I covered it up again, and sat it in a sunny corner of the kitchen, and tried hard not to check on it every 10 minutes. 12 or so hours later, it is definitely doing something that is starting to look like fermenting. Pinky-purple-y foam is forming on the surface of the grape juice must. Now all I need to do is figure out how to keep it warm for a week. Right now the bucket is sitting in the corner of the kitchen by the stove, because I just took two loaves of bread out of the oven. I’m hoping it doesn’t get too cold overnight, but I’m not turning the heating on just for the wine, that’s for sure. Maybe I’ll drape a blanket or something over it.

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One of the things I’ve learned living out here is that the wild things that grow and live on our little patch vary tremendously each year, due in large part, I suppose to the differences in annual weather. Some years the roadsides are full of Mullen, but this year there are only a few plants here and there. Last year this time, my neighbour’s fields behind our property were full of Black-Eyed Susans, this year there are only a few. We’ve had a hot, dry summer here, and so the crickets and grasshoppers are particularly abundant this year, making our chickens very happy indeed as they hunt the hoppers through the grass. Something else that has had a very good year this year is Wild Grapes:

There are always some wild grapes in the hedgerows, but most years it is too wet for them to grow well and mature without rotting. This year the hot dry weather provided a bumper crop of wild grapes, so I’ve decided to harvest some and see what kind of Wild Wine I can make. At first I was just thinking that I would get some juice to make a small experimental batch of wild grape-flavoured mead, but I might get enough juice to try a very small batch of wine.

I’ve picked over the bunches of grapes, only keeping the ripe ones to get the sweetest fruit. Following the advice on this website, I wore latex gloves while picking the tiny grapes off the clusters, to protect my hands. It also made it a little less icky when I had to pick the numerous spiders and various other bugs out of the grapes as I was sorting them!

The next step is to mash the grapes before pressing them for juice:

In traditional wine-making, the skins and seeds are left in for the first stage of fermentation, but my research has recommended not to do that with wild grapes because the very high ratio of skins and seeds to juice would make the resulting wine too bitter.

This is my pressing set up:

A stainless steel colander is lined with damp cheesecloth. The mashed grapes are poured in, and then a plastic bowl that fits inside the colander goes on top of the grapes. A weight inside the bowl presses the grapes, and the juice collects in the bowl underneath.

And here is the result, exactly one liter of dark red grape juice. So the question is, do I make wild-grape wine (which would actually be more of a fruit wine like rhubarb or blueberry wine, rather than a true grape wine), or wild-grape flavoured mead with it? I’m leaning towards the wine, because in a normal “bad” year for wild grapes, I’m still likely to be able to collect enough to flavour mead, whereas I don’t know when we’ll have another really good summer for wild grapes… In either case, the juice is now going into the fridge overnight to let some of the tartrate┬áprecipitate out before I do anything further with it. And if I’m going to try to make wine, it might be worth the effort to harvest another batch of grapes for more juice, though let me tell you, separating out all the tiny grapes is very ┬átedious work indeed!

I will edit this post to include links to the next steps in the process as I document them:
Wild Wine: Part 2

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