With the climate becoming more temperate in the UK, its becoming easier and easier to grow fantastic grapes for wine making.
Grapes make a welcome addition to any garden or allotment. They are easy to grow and can be trained up walls, on trellis or over arches. They need very little space if pruned carefully and kept under control. Vines need reasonably deep, free-draining soil and plenty of sunlight to ripen properly. They will happily grow on any good garden soil and sunny site in southern Britain. Indoor cultivation gives better and more reliable crops, especially in northern regions.
For the first year, water grapevines to avoid drying out. Indoor grapes will need careful watering, but outdoor-grown grapes will only need watering in severe and prolonged dry spells.
Remove all flowers for the first two years after planting.
Allow three bunches of grapes on three-year-old vines and about five on a four-year-old vine – slightly more if growing well. Allow full cropping thereafter.
Once you have a good crop of fruit from an established vine you can move onto the fun bit.
First up inspect the fruit. Make sure they are ripe by squishing up a good handful, straining the juice and measuring the sugar level with a hydrometer. The sugar density should be around 1.10 specific gravity or 24 brix. The fruit should taste sweet, ripe and slightly tart.
The grapes also must be clean, sound and relatively free of insects and other vineyard debris. Discard any grapes that look rotten or otherwise poor quality. It's very important that all the stems are removed otherwise they will make your wine bitter.
As with any beer or wine making, make sure you clean and sterilise all equipment.
Basic Red Wine Recipe (4 litres finished wine)
5.5 kg of grapes
Sugar if required to increase gravity
1: Pick your grapes. Thoroughly rinse them, remove any bad ones/debris. Allow them to soak in some cold water for 30 mins which should make any unwanted insects float so you can remove them.
2: Remove stem by hand. Ensure none are left as they will add bitterness to the wine.
3: Crush the grapes. Either by clean hand or by using a fruit press. If you go for the traditional foot method, make sure you catch the fun on camera! The aim is to crush the skins to allow the juice to come out but not to crush the seeds as, like the stems, these will add unwanted bitterness.
4. Check sugar levels and acid levels if you wish. You can keep things simple by omitting this stage but if you do perform these tests using a hydrometer and acid test kit you are looking for a gravity of around 1.10. More sugar can be added if necessary. The liquid is now known a must, which is unfermented wine.
6. Transfer to a sterilised bucket with a lid. The bucket should be big enough for all the liquid and skins but not too big to allow lots of air in the top.
5. Add one crushed campden tablet which will kill off any wild yeast/bacteria which are present in the must.
6. Leave for 24 hrs then add the yeast nutrient and pectolase.
7. Pitch yeast. One packet of wine yeast will be sufficient.
8. With red wine, initial fermentation is performed with the skins present, this is known as the maceration stage. How long you leave the skins in will affect the amount of tannins extracted and also the colour of the wine. Tasting is the best way to determine when to remove the skins but you are probably looking at leaving them for about 5 days.
9. Rack off into a sterilised glass demi john and insert bung and airlock. You can squeeze the skins if you wish although this can alter the taste of the wine. Make sure there is hardly any air space in the top of the demi john and top up with grape juice or wine if needed. Do not add water.
10. After around 3 weeks, once there are very few bubbles coming through the airlock, rack off until a clean demi john and leave until the gravity is stable. You can add oak chips if you like. Some wine makers add Malolatic bacteria to help malolatic fermentation to remove the malic acid but this should occur naturally unaided. Transfer to bottles and age for as long as you can. You may add another campden tablet before bottling to stabilise the wine and ensure no further fermentation occurs in the bottles.
For white wine, follow exactly the same process except remove the skins prior to fermentation as the skins give colour and tannins.
If you have more grapes just scale everything up.