Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wines at Home annual "Grapefest" 2011

Last weekend, I managed to work the time to attend the Wines at Home annual grapefest.

Now it's not really a festival, more of a go at the shared enthusiasm for making wine. In many ways, I was the odd one out, because I make mainly meads, with a few "country" wines (that's to say, wine made from fruit etc, not grapes). I decided to find the time, because Bob (who runs Winesathome) suggested it would be an excellent opportunity to sell/pass on some of the 400 or so half gallon DJ's that I got on ebay a couple of years ago.

Ha! a quick look at ebay's home brewing section today and I see someone selling some for £2.50 each - all I wanted was 50p each or 3 for £1, so despite them needing a damn good clean, they've got to be value for money.

Right, enough about the half gallon DJ's.....

Now I can't say for certain as this was the first of these events that I've been able to get to, but apparently, Bob and a few other regulars, decided it would be an excellent idea to include a few educational elements (Bob is a smashing bloke, who seems to really enjoy teaching/conveying his knowledge to others, and damn he knows his stuff).

So the basic plan was to have a curry in one of the local establishments, that also has a "take you own" policy (dunno if that's because they're not licensed or what). None of my meads being ready, I took a bottle of brandy, a half of sloe gin and some "cherimoya vodka flavoured" jelly shots, mainly in the hope that it wouldn't be too posh (you can never tell with wine functions as there is often a certain amount of snobbery attached to the sometimes - this wasn't the case). With the curry, most of the others took a bottle or two of their own products and I managed to provide the jelly shots as a sort of "starter". The wines I tasted, were all very nice, though not of a style I'd normally buy to drink. I point that out, because by choice and accident, the wines I like have been mainly, of the heavier, more "chewy" French reds i.e. Bordeaux and Burgundies. I'm happy to point out, that I know little about "proper" wines, I just try to remember the names of the ones I've liked and go for similar ones, like St Emillion's, Medoc's and the like. So part of my mission was to try and understand a bit more about "grape" wine making and whether I want to have a go myself (I've only made one proper kit before, but I won't bore you with the reasons, type, etc for now).

On the Saturday, we all arrived at Bob's place, at about 10, which was to sort out the kit needed, while we waited for Brian to arrive with the grapes. The grapes that Brian had managed to locate a supply of were, Merlot, Sangiovese and Grenache for "reds" and Trebbiano for "whites". The basic organisation for the day was that Brian arrived, his trailer arranged to be in Bob's driveway, so that the grapes could be unloaded and sorted, so that the Trebbiano could be processed first, being whites, it was best (apparently) that they would be de-stemmed and crushed, so they could then be pressed and the juice run straight into the fermenters/container supplied by those who'd ordered them. The de-stemmer/crusher is one device, that sit's atop a frame. It has like an Archimedes screw that feeds the grapes into a set of bladed rollers that pull the grapes off the stem, then pushes them through a crushing mechanism, so that the crushed, de-stemmed grapes and juice then flow out the bottom of the machine into a bucket/fermenter. Then in the case of the white grapes, the grape/skin/juice etc is poured into the press and it's all pressed to remove the skins, seeds and any remaining stalk/stem.

Once the Trebbiano was crushed/de-stemmed, it was then moved on to the press. A rather nice "bladder" press, that uses an inflating bladder, which I believe works by water pressure. It's certainly a hell of a lot quicker than using some sort of "spindle" press that has to be filled and then the spindle centre, is wound down to press the juice from the pulp, skins and seeds.

Then it was just a case of working out who'd ordered what of the remaining 3 grape types and putting them through the machine to de-stem and crush. You don't press them at this stage, as the ferment has to be started and at the same time, some other chem's added to help juice flavour and colour extraction. Black grapes are, apparently, routinely fermented on the skins so that the yeast goes to work on the pulp/flesh/juice, while other chems are added to aid colour extraction (I don't remember if anyone was planning to use any pectic enzyme, but Paul explained to me about why he uses Rohapect enzyme as it helps to get the colour etc out of the skins, apparently, quicker than other similar materials).

While all of the above was going on, Brian, Graham and someone else did little talks/lectures about some of the various wine making processes. Brian did a general "how to, with grapes" talk, Graham did one about wine making tests/testing (acids and the like). I don't recall the third one as I was helping out with other stuff.

Here's some other pictures I took that show a little of the goings on.......
 This is the view into Brians trailer after it had been emptied by about 2/3rd's

 This it the de-stemming machine being loaded.....

 This is a panorama view of activity around the machinery and a little rinsing of fermenters before they're filled with grape pulp

And here is what it looks like when the de-stemmed grape pulp/skin/juice is running into a fermenter bucket (note the grape stalk/stem's in the bottom of the picture, that drop out of the machine on the side after the fruit have been pulled off)

Now this process was all pretty much complete by about 3pm or so, and the clearing up started. The various machinery had to be washed/cleaned, the empty boxes the grape arrived in had to be disposed of (burned, as it's just like any other wooden fruit/veg packing) and various other bits of sorting out completed.

This all finished with some "nosebag" that had been arranged by Bob/Karl/Karls wife and daughter I believe. Large pots of beef hash and a chicken and veg "thing" (fake veggie chicken that was very nice) and rice. I seem to recall, we then all sat down (well stuffed) for what was planned as a wine swap - which actually turned into a mega tasting session/piss up. A lot of which, went straight over my head, though whether it was my lack of knowledge or the amount of wine I "tasted", I don't know

It was mostly wines, though some who also brew beer had bought some of that as well.

A very enjoyable day was had by all (presumably, but I enjoyed my day as it was the first time I'd taken part in such an event..... I'm still not sure about whether I will order any grapes next year, as it seems that there's still a hell of a lot to learn).

Just to prove that at least some of us ended up as a heap, here's the proof
That's a slightly unstable Graham. What you can't see is that it was raining quite hard and despite us saying he should move under the garden umbrella, he declared "bollocks" and stayed there, snoozing in rain puddles on the table. A top bloke!

I'll link the "Grapefest 2011 ferments" thread from Wines at Home here, so you have some idea of the interest. At the time of writing this, it's just over a week since Grapefest and the buggers have managed to clock up 15 pages of Q&A already..... I do hope that everyone's wines turn out as they would like.

Finally, a mega thanks too all who organised the event. I had a brilliant time and learned a considerable amount about a side of the home brewing hobby that I've yet to "dip my toe into"..... Brilliant, TVM one and all.