In Vino Victory?
August 12, 2008 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Novice vintner seeks help turning backyard harvest of organically grown Chardonnay grapes into decent homemade wine.

The small, sweet, seedy green grapes covering the sunny north wall of my Los Angeles garden seem to be ready for harvest. The grapevine pre-dates my ownership of the house, but based on the grapes' physical characteristics and the preponderance of grape varieties sold at plant nurseries around here, I'm pretty sure they're Chardonnay grapes. They taste fine right off the vine as table grapes, but they have a lot of seeds, so I'm thinking that making either grape jellies or wine is the better way to go here.

I don't own any wine-making equipment and don't know where I should go to get some. Should I look for a pre-packaged starter kit or a more do-it-yourself model? Know any good books or sites to read for advice? And I'm not a wine snob, by any means -- I just want to turn this into something decently drinkable so I can point to an actual bottle of wine and say "hey, I made that!" So the aged oak casks probably aren't necessary.

Finally, I should mention that the grapevine isn't that big -- it has somewhere between 60-80 grape clusters, I think. How much wine can you really get out of that?
posted by Asparagirl to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you've got one or two huge grape vines that have 60-80 clusters, you're much better off making jam or grape juice with it than wine.
posted by foodgeek at 11:34 AM on August 12, 2008

Winemaking is a fun experiment, but the equipment can be kind of expensive and there's a big margin for error, especially the first time. You might try hitting up a homebrew store and talking to the people there to get their general thoughts.

The general rule is that it can take anywhere from fifty to eighty or ninety pounds of grapes to make five gallons of wine. You can go crazy with equipment, but as far as what you will absolutely need:

1) a press (small, and you could probably rig something up - a new tabletop press will set you back $150-$200)
2) a fermenting container (you could use a food-grade bucket)
3) a second fermenting container (a carboy with an airlock is nice, but you can use another bucket with an airlock lid)
4) the non-grape ingredients - yeast, potassium bisulfate, etc.
5) an acid test kit and a hydrometer. Both will help you test and correct acid and sugar levels so you end up with something at least drinkable the first time.

Everything else can be Macguyvered out of stuff you have around the house. Get some no-rinse sanitizer or bleach, too.

If you don't want to gamble your grapes on wine the first time, you can freeze your grapes and try winemaking out with juice or concentrate. If you decide you hate doing it, use your grapes for jelly or jam instead.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:05 PM on August 12, 2008

Get in touch with the Cellarmasters, the big LA winemaking club. Chances are -- if they're like homebrewers -- they love taking in new members and very likely will be willing to loan you equipment or at least let you use it on-site, if you share a bit of the end product.
posted by cog_nate at 12:26 PM on August 12, 2008

Also -- and again, if they're anything like homebrewers -- they will gladly share their expertise with novices.
posted by cog_nate at 12:28 PM on August 12, 2008

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