Making Booze!



This was a good weekend spent making lots of different kinds of booze. A long hot summer led to some really nice chardonnay grapes at the parents’ farm.


It wasn’t a large yield, but the sugar, or brix were really high, hopefully yielding a nice end product. If you want to see how we make white wine, more pics are below the fold.

The first step is really easy. Starting early in the morning, before it gets too hot, you go out with clippers and start the harvest, chucking the grapes into containers called “lugs”.

Then you get anyone willing to be helpful to start cleaning and sanitizing the equipment. This year, I used a commercial cleaner rather than sulfites or bleach.

The next step is to crush and destem the grapes. For this you use a crusher/destemmer, which is basically just two gears designed to break open the grapes and pull them off the stems.

Just pour them in.

Then you take this mash and fill nylon bags with the grapes (the nylons prevent to many seeds and particulates (bees, spiders etc) from getting into to the pressed juice.

Then load them into a press.

And get juice!

The most important measurement to make before even trying to make wine is of specific gravity/brix/sugar content.

This wine topped out somewhere between 1.084-1.086, which is about 21 brix which will probably make a 12-14% alcohol wine depending on the fermentation.

We also measure the pH (it was a little over 3.0 which is perfect), and titrateable acids (wine that is too acid or too base is either undrinkable or likely to ferment bacteria rather than yeast) were measured at 7g/l, which again was perfect.

The last step is to use sulfites to sterilize the solution and prevent the natural yeasts and bacteria from fermenting the juice, which can be variable.

Due to a late frost and the goddamn deer (who we will take adequate countermeasures against next year), we had a pretty low yield – about 25 gallons.

This year I lost my last remaining sympathy for deer. I no longer have any illusions of their cuteness, and think all Americans as part of their patriotic duty should eat lots of venison.

Once the sulfites wear off – about 24-48 hours, I’ll dump in 1g/gallon of yeast, I use a strain called BM45 which I’ve had success with in the past. The wine ferments in steel or glass containers for about 2 weeks in a primary fermentation to convert the sugar to alcohol, which smells really nice – just like baking bread. After that you can go nuts and do all sorts of stuff in terms of aging in casks, or with wood chips, or malo-lactic fermentation (whites start out very tart and you often need to do something to soften the taste). I’ll cover those steps when I get to them.

Pictures thanks to Kristen and Jessica.


  1. Very cool. I’ve always wanted to try making wine. I’ve brewed beer many times and I make many food products you wouldn’t normally find someone making outside a butcher shop (bacon and dry sausages for instance) but have never taken a shot at wine.

    Very cool.

    You should make a nice cabernet to go with the venison next year…..

  2. I talked to a guy this summer who said that laying chain link fence flat on the ground around an area will keep deer out. He said that he had been having lots of trouble with deer getting into his garden, but that they gave up trying to cross the chain link pretty quickly.

    Since I haven’t tried it (and don’t have any deer around even if I did want to try it), I can’t say for certain it works, but it seems plausible.

  3. Great pictures, Kristen and Jessica! Excellent documentation of the process. Mark, is the parents’ farm in Virginia also? There are some great wines in Virginia.

    Reminds me of when I’d buy about 100 lbs. of grapes each Sept (enough for about 5 gallons) – small enough scale to do indoors and away from the bees. What a great life craft lesson for the little guy with the blond hair.

  4. Very cool. A little home-brewed organic chemistry is always fun. I’m a mead maker — my sons (10 and 11) help with the process. Still searching for the right combination of yeast and honey, though.

    Rev. Chimp: Have you tried cheese making yet? We’re just starting to get into this.

  5. Already honing your quonset skills while you direct us to look in the other direction. 🙂

    May I recommend The Foxfire series. Heh, who knows – faith healing may be in vogue by then.

    The Foxfire Book: Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining (Paperback)

    Available used for $1.15 plus shipping. Bargain.

    And don’t forget:

    Foxfire 2: Ghost Stories, Spring Wild Plant Foods, Spinning and Weaving, Midwifing, Burial Customs, Corn Shuckin’s, Wagon Making and More Affairs of Plain Living (Paperback)

  6. I agree with those above who have said, How cool! I’d also like to add that the grapes themselves look beautiful. 3000 years of still-life painters can’t be wrong!

  7. Very cool. A little home-brewed organic chemistry is always fun. I’m a mead maker — my sons (10 and 11) help with the process. Still searching for the right combination of yeast and honey, though.

    I generally find a champagne or sherry yeast works fairly well. I have used mead yeast, but the supplier seems to have disappeared. I run my meads dry, strong and aged, if you are looking for something sweeter and younger, try one of the other white yeasts, but be warned that they may not have the same alcohol tolerance, and may be less forgiving of nutrient imbalances.

    I also just buy the 15 kg tub of local clover honey.

    NB: Honey is sufficiently acidic on it’s own, most recipes call for added acid, and I have found this unecessary.

    a nice cabernet to go with the venison next year…..

    I’ve found Pinot Noir to be a fine accompaniment to antlered rat.

  8. Obdulantist

    Lalvin EC-1118 (Prise de Mousse) is also a pretty good yeast, widely used in wine making.

  9. Rev. Chimp: I’m a brewer moving into wine making (the frementation closet has recently bottled pale ale, peach wine, elderberry wine, ginger mead, blackberry melomel, fig wine, cranberry wine and a crock of sauerkraut) and I must admit I’m frustrated. Beer I can make pretty good with a minimum of attention to detail. Mash at the right temps, add the hops right, pay attention to the clock and the thermometer and all is well, but wine and mead are kicking my ass. I make consistently great beer, but frenquently nearly undrinkable wine. I guess I’m going to have to break down and do Ph and titratable acid tests. Ah well. That’s just my take on going from beer to wine. Beer=happy wine=frustrated and unsure

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