I have never tasted a glass of homemade wine that was great… I have also never tasted a glass of homemade wine that wasn’t great… at least in the eyes of the winemaker.
I’m not saying homemade wine is bad—I’ve fortunately only tasted a few of those and that’s when the “I may have to drive later” excuse comes into play. Many of the wines I’ve tasted are actually quite good—take this from someone who’s consumed a fair amount of κρασί, vino and vinho.
A few decades ago, almost every Greek, Italian and Portuguese family made wine. Come September, it was common to see freshly cleaned wooden barrels drying in front of the garage, stacks of crates filled with grapes and a rise in the neighbourhood wasp population.
It was a family affair. With the never-ending list of after-school activities today’s kids have to endure, they wouldn’t have free time to help make wine, but back in the day, juggling hockey, piano lessons or homework for that matter, wasn’t an issue. We were ready to help, and happily accepted our payment in the form of all the grapes we could eat. Unfortunately, all good things come at a price, and that came in the form of quite a few extra trips to the washroom the next day. It was normal to help our fathers and uncles make wine… it was also normal for us to help drink it. I mean, we weren’t guzzling glasses of wine every night but a few drops of wine into our glass of Tang or ginger-ale was quite common. Funny, I don’t remember ever seeing a glass of water on the dinner table.
Homemade wine paired well with meat, fish, chicken, nuts… meals really… any meal. Granted the variety was limited—you’d be hard pressed to find a Merlot, Pinot Noir or Cab. Homemade wine came in just two flavours—red or white… and white was usually reserved for cooking or to make the occasional pitcher of champarrião (a spritzer/shandy combo made with wine, beer, 7-Up and sugar—hope you’re not counting calories). Wine was medicinal—apparently a glass of wine mixed with honey could cure the flu (this may not be proven). It was rustic tasting, and usually [too] strong. It was also pure, containing one simple ingredient—no chemicals, yeast or sulfite just grapes.
Over the years it seems making homemade wine has become a lost art. Why would one waste so much time just to save a few dollars when a bottle of “better tasting” wine can be picked up on our way home from the grocery store?
Truth is, although it is more cost effective to make wine at home, that wasn’t the only reason—it seemed to be more about pride. The wine drinking ritual was a pretty standard practice: guests would come over, a bottle of wine was put on the table, and the bragging would begin. This was usually followed by the taste-test and a counter-invitation made by the guest, something like, “this is good, but you need to try my wine.”
In the 21st century, many people have put away the press and turned to buying pails of juice to fill their barrels. Although this process is less labour intensive and ultimately produces the same product, for those of us who are nostalgic, it’s missing the connection to our past. Naturally, there are critics of this method. Some “experts” claim it’s poorer quality and that they can tell the difference between the two… this, of course is hooey. Trust me, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I witnessed the same person tricked on two different occasions. The first time this gentleman was visiting a friend and said the wine was quite good considering it was made from juice—he was wrong. A year later, the same man was having dinner at the same friend’s house and praised the wine… because it was made from grapes—wrong again, this year’s batch was made from juice.
Wine rant: To the know-it-all-wine-connoisseurs out there, most people cannot tell the difference between a $15 bottle and a $50 bottle—in fact, most experts can’t even tell the difference (in blind taste tests, they rate the same wines differently). If you think you can, good for you, but I say hooey… again.
Making wine seems like it could be something quite complex. A search of the inter-webs will turn up thousands of recipes, videos and theories on how to make your own home brew—everything from one-hour wine made using fruit juice from your local grocery store, to complex sets of instructions using sulfites, stabilizing additives, enzymes, yeasts and acid control additives. It doesn’t need to be that complex. Wine is a living, breathing organism—it doesn’t need a chemist, it needs a babysitter.
The old-school recipe for making wine that I’ve seen used by (basically) everyone is quite simple. The only difference being the winemaker’s choice of grapes:
CLEAN: Equipment must spotless—sanitation is key
CRUSH: Traditionally done by stomping on the grapes, most people find a hand crank crusher to be a convenient option. Make sure to leave the skins and stems—this is natures wild yeast.
PRIMARY FERMENTATION: Let the must ferment for a few days until a cap of grape skins rises.
STIR: Push the cap down and stir the wine a couple of times a day for the next two or three days.
FILL: Start filling you barrel or demijohn with the fermented juice.
PRESS: All those remaining skins contain lots of juice, so press them, collect the juice and add this to the barrel. (Some people make moonshine like aguardente or grappa by distilling the fermented grape skins… but that’s a story for another issue!)
SECONDARY FERMENTATION: Cap the barrel with a water filled air lock to let the gas escape without letting outside air enter. The wine will bubble and burp for a month or so.
RACKING: Syphon the wine to a new barrel leaving the sediment behind.
RACK AGAIN: Do this after 2 months.
BOTTLE: Do this around Easter.
DRINK & ENJOY: You’re now ready to transform grapes into a homemade wine that is [hopefully] great.
WORDS: DAVID GANHÃO
PHOTOS: NOAH GANHÃO