It all started with an impromptu road trip that included a tasting at Lovers Leap Vineyards and Winery. The vines near the tasting room were heavy with grapes and when we learned that they were Norton grapes that there were not going to use, we had to ask if they would be willing to sell us some if we would come pick them ourselves.
The answer was, “Yes!” So we both scheduled a vacation day at work and took off on this grand new adventure. We had made wine from kits and from juices. We even had some fruit wines in process from fresh fruit we pressed ourselves. But this was the first time we would be making wine from grapes.
Three hours later, we had enough grapes to net us eight or nine gallons of wine.
The first step was to wash and de-stem the grapes. As you can see, wine grapes are small, nothing like the table grapes you can purchase at the grocery. This ended up being a three day process. We both worked every spare minute we had after we got off work to clean the grapes.
Because as few as six or seven grapes can be toxic to dogs, our Classy Canines had to be barricaded from our work area. Knowing he’s the dog that is featured on the label of our red wines, Brody still attempted to oversee the process to make sure things were going well.
Finally! All 152 pounds of grapes were “Brody Approved” and ready for crushing!
The idea of stomping the grapes started out as a novelty. It wasn’t quite as big a vat as what Lucy had but she inspired us to have a some fun with it. And it turned out that this ended up being the most efficient way over all to crush the grapes. We spent an entire day stomping grapes.
The crushed grapes began fermenting on their own from the natural yeasts. Because this happened so quickly and so actively, our first specific gravity readings were thrown off and we made the mistake of adding sugar to bring them back up to where they were supposed to have been. But more about that later.
To simulate barrel aging, we added French Oak chips to the fermenting fruit.
Several times a day for the first two weeks we would need to “punch down the cap” as the carbon dioxide would get trapped under the grape skins and raise them up to the top of the fermenting buckets. There was certainly a lot of action going on.
Following the completion of primary fermentation, we removed the oak chips and then pressed the grapes by hand. Another lengthy process but we chose to do it in this manner to avoid as much waste as possible so that we could maximize our output. We strained the must and racked it for secondary fermentation and aging.
And of course we tasted it! Remember the mistake with the sugar? Well that turned out to be a happy accident and one that we plan to repeat. We figured out only after we had added the sugar that the reason our specific gravity readings were off was because of the active fermentation of the wild yeasts. So by adding more sugar, we ended up with a higher percentage of alcohol in our must and somewhat of a port-like quality. The fermentation on the wood brought out some fantastic oak flavor as well. We couldn’t have been happier with our first tastes.
Our Norton must now resides in two six gallon carboys. We are following the advise of two excellent wine makers with Norton experience to be patient and not to hurry the process.
And so we wait.