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Home-made wine in 2020

Last year I made my first home made wine from grapes grown in a family greenhouse back in Bucks. It went well, I produced something that was pleasant to drink and as my Dad commented “it’s quite good for a first attempt.” As a result I was very excited to be looking after even more vines in 2020, with expectation of being able to make 2 or even 3 different wines this year. Everything started well, I pruned 15 vines in family gardens back in February and was eager to look after them in the coming growing season. Then March came and the world changed.

 

Working for South Downs Cellars, I was one of the lucky ones who found my hours increase as we delivered drinks to our customers in lock-down, but my vines were less lucky. They grew through the spring and early summer without any of the care I had hoped to heap upon them. As lock-down eased my workload increased (I also run tours for Albourne Estate) and as a result the vines I had hoped to see at least once a month got tended to twice in their growing season. The vines faced other challenges too. May’s hard frosts destroyed the buds on 9 on the vines, In August, wasps got into the greenhouse where my best vine grows, birds feasted on the grapes of 3 other vines and the September rains resulted in grey rot forming on the grapes of another.

 

When I harvested my grapes at the beginning of October, I ended up with a tiny harvest made up of grapes of mixed quality, with some vines producing only a handful of grapes. The only option was to put all the grapes in one pot and ferment them together Even then I did not have enough to fill a demi-john but thankfully I also work for a vineyard and they kindly let me harvest a couple of their vines to bulk up my juice. I decided that whatever I made, I would call it a ‘BS Field Blend’ as the grapes were from Bucks and Sussex and a mixture of whatever I could find – It also was an indication of what I expecting from the quality of the resulting wine.

 

With the grapes to hand I sterilised my stock pot with boiling water, washed my hands for the length of 4 happy birthdays and cleaned down the kitchen table. Crushing my grapes by hand I put them all in the pot/tank and left in some of the skins to make a rose wine. Once the grapes were juice, I put the pot in the fridge for 5 days to cold soak. This stops the bacteria and yeasts from working and allows more colour and flavour to be extracted from the skins. After 5 days it was time to take the juice out, let it come up to room temperature and start fermenting it into wine.

 

Upon checking how sweet my juice was I decided to boost the sugar levels a little by adding a couple of table spoons of sugar to help the yeast along. The only other thing I added to the pot was a packet of Wilko own brand dried yeast. Despite knowing that it is always best to rehydrate and activate your yeast before you add it to the juice, I decided to follow the instructions on the packet and simply sprinkled it on top. Although it took longer to get going than if I had used best practice, it did work and over the next few days my pot bubbled away as the yeast worked its magic. Twice a day I boiled my potato masher and used it to do ‘punch downs’, a process where you mush the grape skins back into the juice to maximise skin contact and release any build up of CO2.

 

A week later the grape juice had finished fermenting and was now wine. This time I boiled my soup ladle, disinfected a demi-john, sieve and funnel and got ready to press the wine. Ladling the wine into the sieve and pressing the grapes that still had some juice inside I managed to fill up the demijohn. Once it was full I put an airlock in place and put the demijohn in a dark spot in the hall to settle out the dead yeast cells and other bits floating in the wine. A week later I cleaned out another demijohn and very carefully poured the juice from one to the other taking care not to disturb the sediment, known as the gross lees, at the bottom. With my wine racked off its gross lees there was a gap at the top of the demijohn that needed to be filled. To do this I boiled up some marbles and added them to the demijohn until it removed the air pocket at the top.

The wine is now back in its dark spot in the hallway, resting and maturing. I do not know how good it will be, the fermentation was clean and there were no off flavours caused by bacterial infection when I tasted it, but it was also very high in acid and an odd mix of white and red grape flavours. I hope that given time the acidity will become less pronounced and that the flavours will come together in harmony. Despite all the difficulties that the vines faced, the less than ideal harvest and the occasionally questionable decision making, wine was still made and thanks to the magic of cleaning and sanitation it might even be drinkable even if it is not perfect. To me that seems to be quite reflective of 2020 – a year few things went to plan, little was produced in challenging circumstances and cleaning was king.

 

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