Recipe to make one gallon of wine from local New England grapes like Concord:
- 6 lbs, fresh grapes
- 3.25 cups white sugar
- 5 pints of water
- 1 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
- 1 package wine yeast for red wine
- ½ tsp pectic enzyme
- 1 Campden tablet (crushed)
- Nylon straining bag or cheesecloth
- Wash grapes, remove from stems and discard moldy or badly bruised grapes.
Put in nylon bag or cheesecloth and tie top, squeezing as much juice as you can into your food grade plastic primary fermenter bucket, leaving bag filled with crushed grapes in bucket. Take a sample of the juice and get a hydrometer reading if you have one, which will tell you how much alcohol you have the potential to make. Stir in all other ingredients except the yeast, and cover bucket loosely or with an airlock in place. After 12-24 hours, add your yeast, stir, and cover again. Stir and squeeze daily, and after 5-6 days, squeeze remaining juice out of bag, and discard or wash out. Siphon to one gallon glass jug and attach airlock and stopper. After 3 weeks, siphon to a clean jug, and repeat every 30 days until clear. Take a hydrometer reading if using one, and it should read right around zero, meaning that you attained the alcohol content that your original reading indicated. Wine will be dry, but can be sweetened if desired by adding ½ teaspoon of Potassium Sorbate stabilizer and ½ cup dissolved sugar. Wait 3 days to make sure sugar doesn’t start to ferment, and then put in wine bottles and cork. One gallon makes 5 bottles. You can multiply all of this by however many gallons you want to make, except the yeast, which will do up to 5 gallons.
Let your wine age for at least a month, then enjoy! Longer aging can improve your wine.
Cider season is upon us, and as always it creates excitement and anticipation, as we New Englanders transition from Summer to Autumn. Although Summer is not technically over, Labor Day weekend usually kicks off the apple fermenting season. I first got into making hard cider in the early 1980s after turning twenty-one and remembering the stories my grandfather told me about when he was the caretaker at the old White Reservoir in Westhampton, Massachusetts. He and my grandmother lived in a remote house on the protected property, with my dad and his sister, with not a single person for miles around. They used to call it the “Hotel Shivers” because in the Winter it never warmed up!
Mark’s grandfather, standing on the far right, and father, sitting far right.
There were hundreds of old heirloom apple trees on the property, mostly from old orchards that existed before they dammed the stream to make the reservoir. My grandpa was a robust and hard worker, a World War One veteran, born in 1898, and never could get enough of hard work. He would pick, collect off the ground, grind, and press all the apples he physically could, and put the cider into large barrels. He did not add yeast as we do today, mostly because he could not get anything but baker’s yeast, so he did what the local cider mills did and let the natural yeast that was on the apple skins do the work. He would add store-bought white or brown sugar to some of the barrels to increase the alcohol content, but leave some to ferment as they came off the press. It got very cold over the winters in those days, and there was no heat except for fireplaces, so usually he would sell as much of it as he could in late Autumn, and people would drive from all around the area to buy it in gallon jugs.
However, his greatest notoriety came from his Apple Jack, which is a crudely distilled hard cider. He would drain some of the remaining barrels into maple syrup pails, carry them down to the frozen surface of the reservoir, and wait in the freezing cold until ice crystals began to form, using a fishing strainer to get them out. When you keep doing this, it removes the water and concentrates the alcohol, making what is commonly called “Apple Jack”. For this extra effort and the extra “kick”, he would charge a premium, and customers would come from all directions, including law enforcement personnel, to whom he gave a nice discount. I come from a long line of home fermenting pioneers, and will be relating more true stories of my fermenting heritage in the near future.