Sunday, February 16, 2014


Early this week, the fermentation of our latest batch of wine ceased. You know this when the bubbling sounds cease, and when the baume is zero. Time to press.

We borrow a friend's press for this job. It is small, but all we need. Once the wine is pressed, we decant it into glass demijohns (seen at back in this photo) and let the wine settle for a few weeks. The hardest part of this is not to give into the temptation to taste the wine.

This wine is shaping up to be pretty good. We'll end up with about 40 litres or so. In the last few years, we have bought wine grapes to make our wines, and we still have some about the place, so this will probably be it for 2014.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Crush and ferment - winemaking Step 2

So on Sunday we picked the first grapes from our vineyard for quite a long time. Hooray. But that was only the start of the work.

Now on to the winemaking.

But first we need to step back a bit. How did we know when was the right time to pick. It is not possible to judge by look, but taste gives a good indicator. We knew that we would be close, and checking the sugar content, or baume, of our grapes confirmed that they were ripe for picking. Using a hydrometer, the baume measured 13, which was exactly smack bang in the middle of the ideal reading of between 12 and 14. No need to doctor with sugar (not that we would ever do that!)

Having picked, we then sprinkled 8-10 grams of sodium metabisulphite per 100litres of grapes just prior to crushing. This kills the natural yeasts on the grapes. Some home winemakers skip this step and let natural yeasts do the work. Unfortunately, you have no idea as to how much natural yeast there is, so this method is a bit unpredictable. If you have ever had dodgy homemade wine, this is probably why.

We crushed using our combined crusher/destemmer.

If I had $5 from everyone who has ever asked me whether we crush our grapes with our feet, I'd be buying bottles of Grange! If you are only dealing with a few kilos of grapes, you probably could. After all, the aim of crushing is simply to break the skins so that the yeasts can start their work of converting sugar to alcohol. If you have more than a few kilos, it's easier to use machinery, believe me!

Once crushed we transferred the grapes, skins and all (now called the must) into a food grade plastic drum with a lid. For the first 24 hours or so after crushing, the sodium metabisulphite will continue killing off the natural yeasts. Then you re-introduce yeast. Yes, sounds crazy. The must is inoculated with red winemaking yeasts and yeast nutrients (from a winemaking supplier), according to their directions.

Hopefully, fermentation soon starts at this point. Weird bubbling sounds come out of the drum.

For the last few days, our job has been to regularly punch down the skins that rise to the top so they don't dry out. We also tested for acidity, which should be between 3.3 and 3.4. Our must was a bit too acid, so we added calcium carbonate, and now all is well.

The other thing to monitor is that the wine does not get too warm, which means simply dropping ice bricks into the must, and regularly changing them. You don't want the must to be warmer than 30C. Fortunately, this hasn't been a big issue this week here. We've had a merciful respite from the heat, with nice temps in the low 20s. For once, mother nature is with us in our winemaking.

So that's it for the moment. Next stop...pressing.

Just for interest, here is what our winemaking central looks like:

So here it is. The wine is fermenting in the blue drum at left. If you are wondering what a microwave oven has to do with winemaking, the answer is nothing.
There are a number of commercial wineries around here and it was interesting to read a news report in the local paper about the picking. They noted that this year has been great for grape quality in the area, although quantity isn't massive. Just as we found. It was disappointing to note that the biggest winery here has bought a mechanical harvester. And there goes a few more jobs in this high unemployment area. But I won't go there here!

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask in the comments. Me and Action Man will do our best to answer them.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Grape picking

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, just haven't been blogging here at Spades and Spoons. I didn't make a conscious decision not to blog. I just didn't, then I got out of the habit, then before I knew it, it was nearly six months since I'd posted.
But I'm back. So let's get on with today's post.
Today was a bit of a red letter day for us. We have a small vineyard of about 100 shiraz and chambourcin grapevines, which we use to make wine. Well, that's the theory. The last time we managed to do this was 2009. In 2010, 2011, 2012 AND 2013, we lost the entire grape crop to excessive rain in the critical time before harvest. We were starting to think whether the whole vineyard thing was a bit of a folly.
But this year has been hot and dry (not as hot as places south and south east of here though) and the grapes have survived. It isn't a big crop, but the quality is definitely there.
The other notable fact is that this is the earliest we have picked the grapes by far. Normally we are looking at end February/beginning March. But the sugar level was perfect a month early. Once it hits the right levels, you just have to pick. You have no choice.
We had a few friends come over to help pick (not that it took too long), and then celebrated with lunch.

A good day was had by all.