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Tim's brewing shop: The Brown Owl Brew Shop
Techniques of Making Grape Wine Class
By: Brewmaster Timotheus Zacharia von Schloss Zwilling / Tim Coyle
History of Grape Wines
Throughout history wine has made an appearance. Other than finding evidence of wine in
cultures dating back to 11,000 BC there has not been much knowledge of the type of wine.
Mostly due to the nature of the beast: who lets it sit about – you drink it. In most
cases the DNA evidence only lets us know that the wine was a red or a white, not much
more detail is available.
Enough evidence survived between 1000 BC to 700 BC that we can determine that there were
about 5 red and 5 white wines in the world, but there didn’t seem to be much
standardization in the blends.
Around 700 BC record keeping and the desire to create more wines give us a picture of the
wines that came into existence.
- 500 BC – Riesling, Gamay, Pinot Noir
- 1 AD – Semillion
- 1100 AD – Syrah
- 1350 AD – Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Cabernet Franc, Grenache
- 1500 AD – Chardonnay
- After 1680 there was an explosion of wine making and most other wine varieties
came into existence at this point. There are short lived varieties being made
all the time that may only exist for that one year.
- Around 2000 there was another explosion in wine making and a number of other wine
varieties were developed. This was in part caused by a better understanding
of wine climates and micro climates that allow grapes to be grown in areas
that had not seen them before.
History of Grape Wines
While we often tend to drink the same few wines over and over, there are MANY more types
and varieties of wine to choose from. Below is a short listing of what’s available -- the
numbers were compiled 15 years ago, and have probably expanded quite a bit since then. Go
out and explore the wines available. Taste, evaluate, enjoy … and brew your own!
15 Well Known Reds
Other Major Reds: Between 45 to 55 types.
- Cabernet Franc
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Gamay (Rosé)
- Grenache /Garnacha
- Pinot Noir
- Syrah /Shiraz
Other Minor Reds: Temporary wines, blends, or varieties modified from the above
wines. Between 100 to 250 types at any point in time.
15 Well Known Whites
Other Major Whites: Between 50 to 60 types.
- Chenin Blanc
- Gruner Veltliner
- Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains
- Pinot Gris /Grigio
- Sauvignon Blanc
- White Burgundy
Other Minor Whites: Temporary wines, blends, or varieties modified from the above
wines. Between 125 to 200 types at any point in time.
Period Wines – How Did They Differ From Today’s Wines?
There were a number of differences; enough so that the average drinker today would not
enjoy a period wine, which is why it is important to tell anyone judging your wine if it
is period or not.
- Alcohol levels were usually between 5-10%. Today’s wines are between 5 and 20%.
- Clarity probably did not exist. They usually drank the wine in under 18 months,
often even 6 months, so it did not have time to clear. Most wines would have been
cloudy, hazy and might even still have had active yeast.
- Fermenting was usually stopped after 5-20 days, which contributed to the lower
alcohol content. There were only a couple of specific brewing yeasts available at
that time. Sometimes the yeast was a beer yeast, other times it was the yeast that
grew naturally on the grapes, and often it was reused from must of a previous brew.
The yeast used and the time allowed for fermentation and ageing was dependent on
what it was to be used for: Wine for the high table was of better quality than
homemade or tavern wine.
- The Nose (smell) of the drink would have had, in many cases, the smell of yeast,
as well as all of the spices and grape.
- The Flavor would have tasted of yeast, grape, and spices. In many cases they would
not have been well balanced because that comes with ageing.
Grapes on the Vine
If you are brewing from homegrown grapes, you need to think about when you plan to
harvest them. If you pick grapes early in the harvest season you will get drier wines
because the grapes will have developed less sugars then they will later in the season.
So pick as late as possible to get your best sugars.
However, if you don’t pick until after the first frost, you’ll get ice wine grapes. When
a ripe grape has frozen on the vine, the water freezes leaving a concentration of the
sugars and solids in the grape. This produces a sweet, crisp dessert wine. But the grapes
must be harvested and processed while they are still frozen, making this a risky venture.
There are two basic ways to get fermentation started. What you do depends on what you are
trying to do and the way you want your drink to progress. And this is the time to decide
which of the fermentation methods you will use.
Fermentation Method #1: Discard the grape solids and use packaged yeast to start
the grape juice fermentation
Fermentation Method #2: Use the yeast that naturally occurs on the grape to start
your initial fermentation
- This requires the minimum amount of work.
- You just have to keep an eye on things to make sure everything starts.
- This is involved and a little slower. It takes about 4 days for the wine to hit
- Wine started using this method will finish with better flavor.
- DO NOT WASH the grapes before crushing them; that will wash away the yeast you
want to use.
- You’ll add your packaged yeast after about 1 week, and let the fermentation finish
with that yeast.
Crushing the Grapes
So you throw your 200 pounds of grapes in a vat and jump in with bare feet to crush them!
If you have a fruit juicer or crusher than crushing is simple.
- If you plan to start your wine with its own yeast:
- Do NOT wash the grapes and do NOT discard the solids.
- If the solids are ground into small bits, you’ll need to put them in a nylon bag
to keep the bits from becoming a massive floating cloud in your finished wine.
- I hand crush the grapes
- Then mash them down them down in a 5-10 gallon vat
- If you plan to start your wine with its own yeast:
- Do NOT wash the grapes and you are set to go
- If not, strain the juice from the solids
First, taste the juice and measure with a hydrometer to determine the possible sugars.
Then get your fermentation started:
Fermentation Method #1 (Start with packaged yeast)
Fermentation Method #2 (Start with naturally occurring yeast)
- Place the juice in a carboy; add packaged yeast and an airlock.
- Cover the vat of solids and juice, and add an air lock.
- After about 1 week, strain the juice
- Place the juice in a carboy; add packaged yeast and an airlock.
Checking Sugars, Tannins and Flavors
When you tasted the juice you will be planning how you will treat it …
- How sweet does it taste?
- Is it tart?
- Is there a bite?
- How are the tannins?
- What is the flavor like?
Additives and Sugars
After tasting the juice, you’ll need to decide how you’ll be treating the juice:
- Based on the sweetness of the grape juice, determine how much sugar and what type(s)
of sugar you’ll need to add to get the finished wine you want.
- And then, if it is tart and/or has a bite do you want to add tartaric acid or malic
- Are the tannins good or do you need to add some.
- Is the flavor good or do you need to add things to up the flavors.
- White sugar – Is the simplest to add. But it does leave a taste of metal or
of chemical. So it’s suggested you don’t use that unless you really need to.
- Tornado sugar – Is a less processed sugar, much like Brown sugar, but with
less of a molasses taste. It will add a hint of molasses to your wine; will that work
well with your grapes?
- Corn syrup – It provides an almost neutral sweet flavor. Some people can
identify corn syrup in the finished drink as an extra silkiness. Use the variety
that does not have vanilla added.
- Malic Acid – If the juice has a heavy acidic base use Malic Acid to balance
it out. It works to soften other acid bases but it will also add tartness to the
- Tartaric Acid – Lowers the pH of the fermenting juice to a level where many
undesirable bacteria cannot live and acts as a preservative after fermentation.
Also, if you don’t want to soften the other acid bases (as Malic Acid will) but want
tartness to your finished drink, Tartaric Acid will add some.
- Citric Acid – There must be some acid in the juice for the yeast to work. If
you aren’t adding any other acid, then add Citric Acid for the yeast.
- Grape Tannin – Attracts protein in your wine which aids in creating clarity.
Will also aid in the aging process adding about 2.5 years to the drinkable life of
your wine. Be careful with it, if you add to much, depending on the wine, a
harshness and a dryness will occur.
- American Oak Chips – Provide a nice simple oak flavor. It is a quieter flavor,
more subtle than French.
- French Oak Chips – Provides a more complex oak flavor. It is a more
noticeable, more complex, and can add layers of flavor to your wine.
- Yeast Nutrient (Superfood-Plus) – This powder helps to invigorate the yeast. The
yeast works faster and longer with this powder added. It is a recommended addition
to most every wine.
- Short fermentation – If you stop after Primary Fermentation (about 5 days) it
will be about 5% alcohol.
- It will also be a bit unbalanced because the yeast hasn’t had enough time to work
on the sugars and acids, and there hasn’t been time for the elements to blend. It
will be sweeter than you expect in a wine, and it will have an edge to it. The
flavor will be rough.
- This will be very much like a period style wine.
- Medium Fermentation – If you stop fermentation about a third of the way
through Secondary Fermentation (another 3 weeks), you will have about 9% alcohol.
- The balance will be better. It will be more fruity than sweet and the edge will
mostly be gone. The flavor will not be at its best but approaching the profile
- This would approximate a high end period style wine.
- Long Fermentation – If you let through Secondary Fermentation complete (another
6-12 weeks, when the bubble stop) it will have about 12% alcohol (of course-as per
- The balance should be nice with sweetness, flavor, and edginess all be appropriate
to the wine type.
- Tertiary Fermentation – This is a method of restarting fermentation and can
add between 1 to 3 percent alcohol, but more importantly, it will enhance the
- Before you start Primary Fermentation, set aside 1/2 gallon of juice for every 5
gallons you’re fermenting. When Secondary Fermentation has completed and you’ve
racked your wine into a new carboy, the reserved juice will come into play.
- At that point mix into the reserved juice: 1/2 teaspoon of Yeast Nutrient per half
gallon of juice, and enough sugar to change the alcohol percentage by about 3%
(at least 2 pounds of sugar per half gallon of juice).
- When the sugar is completely dissolved add a package of the same yeast you used
for the main batch and let it sit until Primary Fermentation starts, about 12
- Then slowly add enough of this mix (approximately 1/2 gallon) to top off each
carboy of racked wine. The higher alcohol content in the fermented wine will slow
down the new fermentation, and the Tertiary Fermentation will take approximately
another 12 months to complete.
- The balance and flavor profiles should be above standard profile – well worth the
extra time and effort!
Bottling and Aging
Once fermentation stops, let the wine clear and then rack it.
Decide how long you are going to age the wine (see guidelines below).
After racking, let it sit in the fermentation vat for half of the time you plan to age it.
Then bottle it, and let it age it the rest of the time in the bottle.
- White wines are light in sugar, alcohol, and usually have no tannins. They usually
need at least 6 months total aging before drinking. They usually reach their peak of
maturity between 1-2 years, show signs of decline at 3-5 years, and usually go bad
- Rosé wines have a little more sugar and a little more alcohol than the
whites, and have a touch of tannin. They usually need at least 9 months aging before
drinking. They usually reach their peak of maturity between 1-3 years, show signs of
decline at 4-7 years and usually go bad after that.
- Red wines have a little more sugar and a little more alcohol than the
Rosés, and have a lot of tannin. They usually need at least 12 months aging
before drinking. They usually reach their peak of maturity between 4-6 years, show
signs of decline at 8-12 years and usually go bad after that. However, there are
several that will continue to age and continue to improve up to 25, 50, and even
100 years old.
Aging and the Dinner Table
So you grab a bottle out of your wine cellar or you ordered a wine at the restaurant –
How good is it?
Most wines at a restaurant have been bought at a young age, allowing a few extra years of
shelf life. So chances are that you may have received a bottle that is not yet at its peak,
or is just past its prime.
A bottle of wine from your own cellar may have been forgotten and is just now seeing the
light of day.
So how do I know how good this wine really is?
So it’s not perfect, what can I do?
- Age – The first thing to do is determine its age: Is it in its prime? Starting
downhill? A year downhill? Or at the end of the slope?
- Smell – Do you smell off odors or vinegar? If so you’ll want to pop another
bottle for tonight’s dinner.
- Taste – If it’s in its prime – Enjoy! Even if it has just started downhill it
should still be very enjoyable. Some wines as they slide past their prime will lose
their unique flavors and become a nice, mellow unidentifiable wine.
There are items on your dinner table that can help revive a wine that has just started
down the slope. In order to utilize them think about the wine’s proper flavor profiles.
- Pepper – Most reds going downhill have lost their peppery flavor or bite. To
perk it up, add a pinch of pepper per glass and let it sit for about 3 minutes.
- Salt – As in cooking, salt can bring out many flavors. A pinch per bottle can
perk things up for reds or whites.
- Lemon – Many whites have a citrus component in their flavor and they lose
that as they go downhill. A couple of drops of lemon juice per bottle can help bring
- Sugar – Sugar helps carry the flavors. Sometimes a pinch of sugar in a bottle
will work to revive dying flavors. But it will also make it sweeter.
- In all cases – think about how the wine should taste versus how it does
taste. What flavors are missing, and what can you do to add, revive, or enhance U
When to Toss
I almost never toss a wine. It can often be revived as above, or enjoyed in its lesser
But sometimes it is just foul … and the only thing left to do is pour it down the sink and
wish you’d gotten to it sooner!
- If it’s vinegary use it in cooking or make it into vinegar.
- If it’s just a pleasant mellow wine that has lost its uniqueness, then drink it
around the campfire late at night, or sip it Friday night while watching a movie or
anytime you want something pleasant to drink and don’t really care that it’s at its
- Use it as a mixer for punch or other drinks.
- Again, think about the current taste of the wine and how it can be enjoyed.
That Ends Our Exploration into Making Grape Wine
There are many resources available to help you on this wonderful journey.
An excellent resource is the
Right Noble Brewers Guild of Caid Facebook Group, there you find brewers
willing to help and sharing their own brewing activities.
I also recommend Home Beer Wine Cheesemaking
Shop in Woodland Hills, CA.
And feel free to contact me
with any questions, I love to talk brewing!
Have fun and enjoy your grape wine!
(Copyright 2018 by Tim Coyle)
Lynnette (Debbie) |
Unicorn Fiber Arts |
Questions? Comments? Whatever? Email
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Copyright by Debbie & Tim Coyle