How Do I Begin?
by Robert Linder
I've been making wine for over ten years now and when I mention this fact inevitably I am asked, "How do I begin?" As simple as the question is posed, the answer differs depending on your interest, time commitment and oh yes, money.
If you want to make wine you basically have three options.
1.You can make wine from fruit or vegetables.
2.You can make wine from grapes (vinifera).
3.You can make wine from kits.
I would like to explore these three options in this first article and then work on the basic details in future articles.
To make wine from fruit or vegetables is as easy as obtaining said fruit or vegetables from your backyard, a generous neighbor, a farmer's market or a food store. If it's January and you crave a blueberry wine, simply go to a food store buy a few bags of blueberries and your practically in business!
Fruit/Vegetable winemaking is probably the easiest making of wine to get into it. You can start small, get ingredients that are practically free and learn the process. The downside is quite frankly fruit/vegetable winemaking isn't vinifera winemaking. The taste of the finished product varies and sometimes lacks the wonderful nuances of wine made from grapes.
Fruit/Vegetable winemaking is meant for those who want to taste a wine within a month and drink it all within a year. These types of wine, due to their lack of tannic acids (we'll get to that later) tend to age poorly. So if you want to try winemaking on a limited basis, this type of wine might be for you.
Beware, one quickly gets hooked and is aching to do vinifera winemaking at the next fall harvest!
Without a doubt, Vinifera winemaking is the most reward for the time and money allocated to this new hobby of yours. Grapes have grape seeds and those grape seeds have a whole level of complexity to them that when combined with the flavor of the grape skin and the flesh of the grape just make wonderful wine. Period.
Making wine from grapes can get expensive depending on the type of grape you are working with. You can obtain grapes from your backyard or from a vineyard and yes the end product will vary depending on the type and source of the grape. Not all grapes are meant to be made into wine. The type of grapes you buy at the fruitstand is not for making wine, they're for eating.
We can go into more detail on the types of grapes to make wine from but for now let's just say if you heard of Merlot or Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, those are also names of grapes that those wines were made from. If you like Chardonnay wine, maybe that should be the type of wine you should make. It's fun to make something you'll enjoy drinking, right?
If you want to make wine from grapes your options are fresh grapes or frozen grapes. Fresh are available for a very limited time called harvest. The grapes are picked when the farmer (or vineyard manager) knows the grapes are at their maximum ripeness without getting too sugary (more on that later). When it's harvest time — it's harvest time and you need to be ready to make that wine.
If it's past harvest time, your only option is making vinifera wine from frozen grapes or a wine kit. Frozen grapes are available through distributors across the country that essentially take the grapes at harvest and prepare them for winemaking then freeze them and keep them stored in cold storage. If you live in the Seattle area, I know of one distributor that keeps grapes frozen in the Portland area.
Want to make a Chardonnay in January? It's possible with a little work. If you missed out on harvest time and tracking down frozen grapes is not on your to-do list, making vinifera wine from a kit is a very good option.
Kit wines are products derived from fresh grapes. The grapes are prepared for winemaking (in the case of white wines the grapes are crushed, destemmed and pressed) into a juice that has the water content removed so you end up with a very concentrated wine juice that is stored in a sealed container.
Most wine kits are processed in Canada and are available in Wine and Beer making stores throughout the country or through mail order. When you're ready to make a wine, you simply buy the wine kit and make the wine according to instructions included in the kit.
I've discussed the three sources of product of which to make wine. In most cases the actual art of making wine is very similar whichever source of product you choose to start with. What my next article will cover is the basics of what equipment you should have.
I've been making wine for ten years now and started a winemaking audio show called WineMaking Radio four years ago. One of the episodes covered the topic of basic winemaking steps. You can obtain a mp3 file of the episode by clicking here. You can also audio stream the episode. To see more information, click here.
I hope this article was informative and has peaked your interest. Winemaking is a hobby that is fun to partake in and it's always easy to share the end result with the people around you.
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Read Wine Making Radio Episode 1
Read Wine Making Radio Episode 2
Read Wine Making Radio Episode 3
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