Harvesting Merlot Grapes.
No Gym Membership Needed.
Harvesting and processing 200 lbs. of grapes is brutal work. Yesterday started at 6:00 am out in what can only be described as an idyllic vineyard setting. Fog gently receding over the rolling hills covered with oaks the occasional cow.
The CA wine grape harvest season is in full swing. The early maturing varietals have been coming in for several weeks now. Where I live closer to the coast, it’s still cool. We mainly grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – they’ll take a little longer to mature. Inland, however, it’s been a record-setting season with hot temperatures and these Merlot grapes are just amazingly sweet!
- Brix was 28
- Specific Gravity 1.16
- Potential Alcohol 15.4%
- Tartaric Acid 47.5 – little low, added acid blend
- Lalvin RC 212 yeast
I’ve been making wine from kits and fresh fruit for about 3 years now, but never fresh grapes. Last year I missed the CA grape harvest (just moved), but I helped out a local hobby winemaker and a group of his friends who have been making wine for about 30 years. They go in together and purchase about 2 tons of grapes – their setup is industrial, to say the least. Learned a lot about equipment and processing so that I could strike out on my own this year!
12 months later…
You can find anything on the internet. There is actually a ‘wine broker‘ of sorts up in the Bay Area who networks with vineyards and arranges picks for home winemakers. All types of varietals. You show up at the specified day/time with your pruning sheers and buckets. He also has a stemmer/crusher available for you to use for an extra $20 – we’ll get to that later, it’s important. So I signed up for his email blasts, but held off on going because the picks were about 3 hours away (Bay Area Traffic, ugh).
Found my grapes through Craigslist. The vineyard owner planted the vines 5 years ago, two acres of Petite Verdot and Merlot. Being semi-retired, this vineyard is his baby – talk about love! This is the first year that he’s had harvestable fruit.
We’ve made plans to keep in touch and I think I’ll reserve 3 rows for next year. This is a common arrangement. Think of it like your CSA. You purchase a share and then you get whatever is harvested from that share when it comes in. Only in this case instead of chard and (more) zucchini, you get wine grapes. Zucchini or Merlot grapes … hmm … hard choice …
How much does a pound of grapes go for? Depends. Typically in the 0.75/1.00 USD per pound. Older vines that produce award-winning wines can be much more expensive.
Things I learned…
Having never harvested grapes before, I brought 8, 5 gallon buckets figuring that each would probably hold about 30 lbs. of grapes. Oh how wrong I was! Those buckets held, on average about 20 lbs. The target was 200 lbs., so back of the napkin math means I would be short about 40 lbs. (They were going to be crushed anyways, so we just squished them down a little.).
You can learn anything on the internet. I don’t actually own a destemmer, crusher. It’s an expensive investment for the small hobby winemaker, especially for my first time out. You can rent them, but that’s an added headache. Instead, I followed this guy’s ingenious setup:
Using this crate system, it took about 2 hours to destem and crush 200 lbs of grapes – but it got the job done! Lots of internet calculations suggested that I would need about 10 gallons in volume for every 100 lbs of grape must for the primary fermentation. This was surprisingly accurate. The 200 lbs of must fit perfectly in a 20 gallon food-grade plastic garbage can. Yeah baby! Success!
People keep asking me if I’m using a recipe to make wine. Well, yes and no. It’s not really a recipe because grapes, being organic, are all distinct. The soil, sugar, acid levels are all going to be different. I’ve been referring to a free and invaluable pdf of How To Make Red Wine guide to get through the first steps. From this point on, though, it’s just like making any other wine. Also used this free pdf chart to select Merlot wine yeast.
I love the internet!
Next step is pressing the grapes! I’m not sure if I want to rent a press or go for the DIY version involving buckets and pillow cases… hmm…
Okay, okay, I know this is supposed to be a blog about antique cookbooks – and I do love finding recipes about wine making in the days of yore. If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, here’s a public domain book on wine making from the 1800s, just for you!
More Fun Discoveries from Antique Cookbooks