Red Grape Wine making process is so easy and their culture so ubiquitous. Its a joke among anthropologists: “There is no traditional ritual across the globe that does not involve serving or consumption of wines”. Grape wine is probably the most widely homemade alcoholic beverage in an Indian household. Besides, thousands of households have been practicing this home made wine making art for generations. It is most prevalent across Goa, Coorg, Himachal, and North East India. Unfortunately, the alcohol beverage industry reports capture only the commercial scale manufacturing. Big corporate entities are given importance instead of artisans. As a result, most studies on Indian beverage habits do not even mention traditional wine culture in India.
How to Make Wine at Home
The attempt here is to initiate our hobby and not to make snobbish sommeliers (an expert in wines). Hence, Arishtam will be covering only the basic process. We will also talk about a few ways to improve our art, food-craft & artisanal wine. Remember that each person’s taste buds are very different; some like dry others sweet, some red others white!
Do not box yourself in stereotypes but be a trailblazer. You will be surprised by how contagious passion and perseverance are. If we don’t have access to fresh grapes, a decent wine can be made from raisins as well. Raisins are 75% sugar and so we use ¼ of the quantity to get similar flavors. We can always tweak the wine making process to take into account the local harvesting conditions.
How to Make Wine
- Two vessels. One wide mouth open top for primary fermentation. Second with a narrow mouth and a tight seal for the secondary fermentation. Primary to be of twice the size as secondary and it is better if the lid/ mouth is large enough to allow our hand through.
- A large potato masher to pulp the grapes or a screw juicer
- A muslin cloth to strain.
- Airlock and a cloth to keep the bugs away
- Siphon or transfer pipe
- A stirrer, preferably steel or something with an easy to clean non-porous surface (avoid wood).
- Log book or a piece of paper where we can record all our observations.
- Bottles with matching caps/ corks
- Ornate Labels or stickers
- (Optional): A hydrometer (1.0 to 1.2 specific gravity or triple scale) or refractometer to check the sugar levels.
- 1.5 kg Lots and lots of grapes: about 1.5kg per liter of wine. I prefer locally produced fresh grapes from the March harvest. There is no merit in watering down our wines and then later hunt for ways to increase its body.
- 0.5 gm Potassium MetaBiSulphate Campden a preservative to kill molds.
- 100 gm Adding some sliced raisins can help increase the sugar content 100gms per liter is ideal. Table sugar/ glucose/ jaggery/ dry malt extract to increase alcohol content/ back sweeten.
- 0.3 gm Yeast Nutrients: fruits lack enough proteins to sustain healthy fermentation for extended periods.
- 5 ml Sanitizer food grade rinse free
- 1 gm red wine Yeast (1gm/liter)
- 0.25 gm Fining agents: Pectinase 0.5gm/L, Bentonite (0.5gm/L), Isinglass (0.01g/L), egg white(0.05gm/L).
- 0.5 gm Potassium Sorbate another preservative to kill yeast so that we can back sweeten wines.
- Manually select the ripest of the grape bunches from the vine. A refractometer will help to measure the sugar content by taking a few drops of juice. Else, pulp about 250ml of grape juice and measure the density with a hydrometer.
- Remember, wine grapes are supposed to taste tart, which tends to mask their sweetness. Therefore, for the untrained tongue, tasting a few grapes will not give them the right sugar levels. Good grapes have more than 18% sugar and their juice has a specific gravity of 1.074. (Which corresponds to ~10% potential alcohol levels).
- BRIX is the jargon used in the industry. Technically, it means percentage of sugar in the fruit juice. The Latin name for this is , “young wine".
- Go through the grapes, remove any bruised or rotting fruit. Remove NGM (Non-grape material) like insects, infected parts and remove as much woody stem as possible. It is outdated to see people stomping on the grapes but a more practical method will be to put them in linen, nylon or mesh bags and then squeeze them. An oversized potato masher like device does wonders. If the grapes have seeds, then avoid using a blender. The crushed seeds and stems release bitter off flavors. Inviting friends and kids over to help is something that will give everyone a nice group activity to bond over the course of the day.
- Collect the must (fresh grape juice). The red color of grape wines comes from the exocarp (skin of the grapes). Depending on how deep a color we want, one might tweak the contact with the skin that releases red tannins.
- Most recipes will call for some Campden or potassium metabisulphate to kill the wild yeast and mold. However, Europeans do not use it because they prefer wild yeast, so the choice is yours. About ½ a gm of this preservative is good enough for 4kg of grapes and it has to be kept overnight in a covered place for the Sulphur dioxide to kill the microbes.
- Adding some Pectin Enzyme (pectinase) would also aid in clearing of the wine. Since the enzyme breaks down the cell walls, it improves the extraction efficiency drastically making the wine more flavorful.
- Grapes are poor in nitrogen or proteins, hence ~0.5gm of yeast nutrients per liter should be added to facilitate yeast to multiply and make a healthy culture. The goal here is to allow the yeast strains to grow and dominate the juice. If we are using wild yeast then the nutrients should be added on first day itself.
- I also supplement some additional sugar to increase the wine strength. If using raisins, jaggery or unrefined sugar, my advice would be to dissolve and boil the syrup to get rid of the mold sticking on it. The goal is to reach about 18-20% sugar (fruit sugar + added sugar), so depending on the type of grape, we would need anything between 60 to 120gms of sugar per liter.
- Indian taste buds prefer a bit stronger alcohol with a sweeter finishing taste. A lot of Indian wine makers aim for a Brix of 24% (SG of 1.1 that typically results in 13.5-14% alcohol).
- (Advanced tip:) You may step feed sugar and nutrients, which means rather than putting all in one go, add 1/3 parts over the next 3-5 days. Adding nutrients in the secondary part is a bad idea as yeast is not supposed to multiply in anaerobic conditions.
- Maintaining acidity is also important to prevent mold spoilage. Good wine grapes are very acidic (pH ~3.5). If we are using table wines then some citric acid or mallic acid or tartaric acid addition is required to maintain the acidity. They are usually sold as acid blends in wine making stores.
- Primary Fermentation: Add yeast nutrients, sugar & yeast. Pour the must in a wide mouth jar. Cover it with a cloth mesh and wait for the magic to happen. It will rise a bit so taking a jar of twice the final output of wine is the thumb rule.
- The bubbling sound should start coming after 24 hours. Now, the most wonderful morning ritual of the winemaker will start. Sanitize a big spoon/ paddle and stir our fermenter every day. If we put our ears on the walls of the vessel, we can overhear vigorous bubbling sounds. It is like cooking without fire. No wonder Latin roots of fermentation is Fervere which means “to boil, seethe”
- The fermentation is an exothermic reaction. Also high temperatures stresses the yeast, which results in higher ratios of fusel alcohols and Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS). This is the leading cause of migraines and hangover. Keep the temperature below 25oC and above 10oC. Ideal temperature is about 15oC but remember to measure the liquid temperature and not the room temperature.
- (Advanced tip): A thermostat fitted refrigerator, chest freezer or air-conditioned room is ideal to battle the Indian summers. Amateurs can keep the fermenter in a tub and fill it with ice before leaving for office in the morning. As the ice melts, the stress of noon peak temperatures is overcome. Swamp cooling can be achieved by covering the fermenter by a wet t-shirt.
- It is time to separate the seeds, skin and pulp from the wine (Did you notice that we are referring to it as wine rather than grape must?) The vigor in fermentation has also slowed down and the natural CO2 blanket shielding the liquid from oxidation will weaken. Hence, it is time to siphon the wine. Take extra care so that we do not disturb the sediment and floating debris. The clear broth in the center is what we want for our best wine.
- Primary fermentation is open to air. Hence susceptible to oxidation. If the wine is not removed in time (7-14 days), it can turn oxidized and even turn from red to golden color. Hence we move to secondary fermentation.
- (Advanced tip): You should monitor hydrometer reading daily. When 70% of the sugar is fermented (from the brix level reading), it is time to transfer the wine to secondary vessel. This is important if we are using wild yeast or low temperature fermentation where the process can take longer than necessary.
- (Advanced tip): Small batch makers often discard the floating pulp. However, large batch makers want to focus on maximum yield. Hence they press the skin and pulp residue in a wine press or in any oversized potato masher to extract wine.
- Secondary Fermentation: Now that we have transferred our clean wine into a narrow mouth airtight fermenter with an airlock, it is time to wait for it to settle. The happiest part is that one need not stir the pulp every day, instead observe it once a week to top up the airlock (refilling the airlock’s water barrier with a disinfectant). Temperatures now can be lowered to ~13oC to aid in clarification and mellowing of harsh flavors. Be mindful of the headspace or the air gap between the liquid and the airlock. This could fill with Oxygen and cause unnecessary oxidation.
- (Advanced tip): You can now taste the wine and improve flavors and colors by adding oak chips (1-3gms per liter), tannins (artificial red color extract), spices (peppers, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves etc. pairs well, few gms per liter is usually sufficient). If we plan to use fining agents, now is the right time to introduce some bentonite slurry or isinglass.
- In another week, the bubbling in the airlock should slow down drastically and the hydrometer would sink below 1.00 (indicating dry wine or completion of fermentation).
- Now comes the real test of patience. Allowing it to sit for another 2 weeks (total 4 weeks from grape pulping) would allow it to clarify, tone down the harsh flavors and make it palatable. The yeasty flavors of the fresh wine will also mellow down over time.
- (Advanced Tip): Cold crashing (i.e. keeping the wine at 4o C) would help slowing the Brownian motion and accelerate sedimentation. Beverages are colloidal solution with small solid particles suspended in it causing haze. Brownian motion is the term used to measure their suspension.
- Bottling day. Now comes another hard working day. Clean the bottles, sanitize them and siphon the wine (without disturbing the sediments). Adding a bit of Campden (1/8gm per liter) would give it enough SO2 to preserve the wine. It might be a good idea to invite friends over to drink fresh wine as they help clean the bottles. Take a poll on what name should be given to the wines and what would be the appropriate artwork of the labels.
Back Sweeten Wine: If we want to sweeten the wine, there are three ways:
- First, raise the alcohol levels to the extent that yeast can no longer metabolize. This strategy is used in port wines where distilled brandy is added to raise the alcohol to ~20% ABV.
- Some home wine makers would also add excess of sugar in primary to take the yeast to its alcohol tolerance limits. I will not recommend that as it can produce stressed yeast flavors. That being said, it is still widely used tactic in traditional recipes.
- Add preservatives (like potassium sorbate) at the time of bottling to stop yeast action. These wine stabilizers stop yeast from functioning and prevent the added sugar from being fermented and corks popping out. It is widely used in industry and is the most preferred method.
- I always ferment my wine dry. It helps me detect off flavors easily (without sugar masking them) and gives me flexibility to convert the batch into a dry, sweet, cooking or cider vinegar based on the progress of transformation.
- It is a misconception that older wines are better, like any fermented food items, wines have an optimal timeframe where they taste best. Most winemakers will make one or two batches a year and it might be a good idea to store them in a cool place away from sunlight for one to three years. The above is a basic recipe that one can alter based on their style, heritage and availability of time & resources.