Each year we make wine using grapes from our little vinyard here in Portugal. The process is surprisingly easy and can be done by anyone at home with basic equipment.
We realised during the process, that we could make wine sustainably, and using a closed loop system. We can create 7 outputs, thats 7 consumable products just from the vines, as well as compost.
The product outputs are…
- Grapes for eating
- Grape juice
- Jeropiga (grape juice mixed with last years grappa to make a sweet spirit)
- Aguardente (50% proof clear spirit)
- The list actually goes on including preserves etc…
How to Make Wine …
First you will need to collect your grapes. The unripe ones can make your wine sour so pick the ripest and sweetest. Leave out the completely dry grapes, half dry grapes are ok as long as they are sweet to eat. Everyone has different preferences here…and for a lot of the process actually, so everything is open to interpretation.
Keep the grapes you have picked in a shady spot during the day before you take them to the place you are going to press them.
Once you have all your grapes together, you are ready to press. Your press location should keep a relatively stable temperature throughout the day.
In the picture below we are using a crushing machine which strips the grapes off the stalks, and presses them. The crushed grapes, juice and seeds drop into the first fermentation tank below. You do not need to do it this way though. You can put your grapes directly into a big tank, tub or anything that can hold them for a week or so, and stomp on them till they are all crushed. You now have your grape juice which you can drink or use to make Jeropiga
The stalks are then fed to livestock, or composted, as are the left over seeds after the wine has fermented
For the next one to two weeks you will need to mix the wine on a daily basis – two or three times a day. Make sure to push all the dry grapes on top through to the bottom and mix well. At this point you may be attracting a lot of fruit flies. You can keep them off the wine using a cover if you like. Our neighbours don´t bother, sometimes they haven´t been a problem, I like to keep a cover. During this time the wine will be making a bubbling sound, constantly at first and slowly getting less and less
If you are using a wooden barrel make sure to soak it a few days before. Fill it with water so the wood becomes saturated and stops leaking.
After a week or so you´ll notice the bubbling sound starting to slow down, but not stop completely. At this point you can get ready to transfer to the barrel. Do not mix the wine on the last day or two before the transfer so the skins rise to the top making it easier to siphon off the wine from the bottom.
Now you need to pump the juice from the tank. Here is the final bit of our juice being squeezed from the grape pulp. You will need a plastic pipe with lots of small holes drilled in it, this acts as a filter for the solids. Place a clear tube inside this, suck and drain fermented grape juice into the barrel you plan to keep it in for the second ferment.
We had to transport our wine from a friends press so we had to decant into the black 50L beer kegs, and then into our 100L wine barrel at home.
Over the next six weeks or so, the wine will undergo the second fermentation, and it will sound like it is fizzing. Just plug the top of the barrel with a tissue or something similar to allow air to escape but not allow anything in. Once the fizzing stops the barrel can be plugged, or you can decant your wine into bottles for storage. During this fizzing time you can stir the wine in the barrel using a clean stick if you like, this can be done a couple of times during the 6-8 weeks.
If you want to make some grappa, make sure to take the rest of the grape pulp to a distiller. Our distillery allowed us to take the leftovers of previous customers grapes after the distillation process so you can even close the loop and bring home compost after the whole process is done. Add your compost around the vines and you have created a closed loop system.
In winter, during a drier period if possible we prune our vines almost back to the main trunk. There are many different things to consider when pruning so perhaps that is for a future post. When the cuttings are dry the following year we use them as fire lighters.
If the process seems daunting, try it with a small quantity of grapes and you can see how easy it is.
On November 11th is the traditional time in our region to open the barrel and have a first taste of the wine. If it tastes good you can bottle some. It is good to see how it tastes every couple of weeks and bottle as you go. Sometimes if the wine sits in the barrel too long with thick sediment at the bottom it can start to taste bad so if you notice that you may consider removing all the wine, cleaning the barrel and replacing the wine again for longer term storage. In our first year this happened around January and from then all the wine left in the barrel was bottled and designated as – end of party wine – only to be consumed at the end of a night when everyone was too drunk to realise it was a bit off.
Any questions please get in touch, and most of all, enjoy the process.