Grape Harvest 2013
August 31, 2013
Since we applied the bird netting a few weeks ago, our grapes have continued to mature unbothered by birds. The Leon Millot grapes have really dense clusters and many of them look great, but we got some heavy rain a few days ago and due to the sudden increase in water some of the grapes are starting to split open.
The Marquette grapes seem less affected by the heavy rains, although they still have some splitting. They were badly set back by the late spring freeze so they have only a small crop but the grapes look pretty good.
Due to the considerable splitting and some spoilage we decided to go ahead and harvest the Leon Millot and Marquette grapes even though the acidity and sugar levels indicate they are not yet as ripe as we'd like. We got a total of 29.2 pounds of grapes from 7 Leon Millot vines, and only 7.1 pounds of grapes from 4 Marquette vines, for a total of 36.3 pounds. That's a very low yield, partly because the vines are still young vines and partly due the late freeze that we had this spring. Because there was spoilage in some clusters, we sorted through them by hand and picked off the bad grapes.
We decided to combine the two varieties together and make one batch of wine from them. We crushed the berries by running the whole clusters through our grape crusher. Although this device doesn't work for larger fruit like apples, it does a good job on grapes by gently crushing the berries without cracking the seeds.
Because the stems can impart undesirable harsh tannins to the wine, we picked out most of the stems by hand after they went through the crusher. In the end we got 30.3 pounds of must, about 3.3 gallons.
With our refractometer we measured the sugar level at only 17.8 Brix (approximately equal to the percentage sugar by weight), which is not terrible but it's lower than desired for wine. To raise the sugar level we added a pint of honey, bringing the must to 23.7 Brix which is about right. By adding honey we've turned it into pyment, which is a hybrid of grape wine and mead. Now it will ferment with the skins for about a week at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, then we'll press it and transfer to a glass carboy to finish fermenting.
September 22, 2013
We intentionally planted varieties of grapes that mature at different times so that we wouldn't have to pick process them all at once. The Frontenac and Frontenac Gris grapes have finally reached maturity as judged by their sugar and acid levels. As you can see below, some of the grapes have also shriveled into raisins because of botrytis, which in this form doesn't hurt the flavor and actually concentrates the sugars so it can improve the quality of the wine but it reduces the yield considerably as the grapes lose moisture. Some of the grapes also have less desirable forms of rot so we will need to pick those out by hand. We don't really have much choice at this stage, so we'll make the best wine we can from the grapes we have. The Frontenac in the first photo is a dark-skinned grape that is usually made into red wine, and the Frontenac Gris on the right is a light-skinned variant that is made into white wine. We're going to handle them both the same way by pressing them before fermenting, so we'll get a rosé-style wine from the Frontenac and a white wine from the Frontenac Gris.
We picked the Frontenac and Frontenac Gris but we kept them separate rather than combining the varieties as we did with the earlier harvest. We ended up with 83 pounds of Frontenac and 44.4 pounds of Frontenac Gris.
We picked through all the clusters by hand to remove spoiled grapes, then crushed them and finally picked out the stems by hand. It's very labor-intensive this way but not worth using more complicated equipment for such a relatively small quantity of grapes.
After the grapes were crushed, we added some pectic enzyme to help break down the pulp and kept the must on ice for about 6 hours. This lets the grapes release more juice and also helps extract sugar from the grapes that had dried out due to botrytis. After this cold soak the Brix had increased from 20.8 to 23.3 so we did get quite a bit higher sugar content by processing them this way.
Following the 6-hour cold soak we transferred the must into the wine press and began squeezing. With the dark-skinned Frontenac grapes, this treatment is what turns them into a rosé-style wine instead of a red wine because pressing them before fermentation means relatively little color will be extracted from the skins.
The juice is collected at the bottom of the press and transferred to a glass carboy for fermentation. These photos show the Frontenac Gris juice. It looks like pea soup at this stage, green and cloudy but this is normal. The Frontenac juice came out quite red even though it had only soaked on the skins for 6 hours or so.
After the juice had settled overnight in the cool garage, we racked (transferred) it to another container leaving most of the sediment behind. It will be fermented similarly to red wine but at a lower temperature, around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. After being racked a few more times and spending the winter in the root cellar, this season's wine should be ready to bottle in the spring. We expect to end up with about 30 bottles of wine from our own grapes this year, which is a very small harvest but it's a start. Next year the vines will be more mature and should yield considerably more, especially if the weather is more cooperative.