"Must" is the stuff wine is made of, before the yeast gets added. Crushed or juiced fruit, sugar, maybe water, and a heady cocktail of other additives, like yeast nutrient, acid blends, pectic enzyme and so on. It's sweet, syrupy, and the delight of small children – as long as they don't mind 'bits' in their 'drink'.
I've made 36 bottles of wine this year, and half of those have been country-style (non-grape) wines made from 'free' ingredients – crabapples, elderberries, dandelion flowers. The rest have been from grape extract kits, and, whilst definitely drinkable, do not give me anything like the same sense of satisfaction as the 'wild' wines.
So imagine my delight when a colleague asked, with great eagerness, if I could use 'some grapes' that he had available. The man has a vine in a greenhouse, and has been unable to get his usual brewer(!) to come in and sort them out this year. Short of letting them all drop off the vine and ferment around his ankles, I think he was at his wit's end as to what to do with the things.
I said yes. (Duh!)
He showed up on Monday with a five gallon bucket pretty much full of grapes. (That's a six gallon bucket for readers in the US. Why US gallons are different to UK ones I don't know, but it makes googling for brewing recipes a risky business.) Apparently, there's still probably an equal amount of grapes on the floor of his greenhouse, but I think I'll leave him to deal with those.
Anyway. Forty pounds of grapes. Enough to make a confident 3 gallons of wine (UK measures), or another 18 bottles, give or take.
No wine press.
To make wine from grapes, you need to crush the grapes, and press the juice out. In the case of red wine, which is what I plan to make from these intensely dark and sweet grapes, some fermentation happens between the crushing and pressing; for white wine, it's pretty much all done as a single step, before the fermentation happens. Pressing takes a fair amount of muscle if you don't want to waste loads of juice, and I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do about that.
Crushing, though, I can do. Turns out that a food processor with the plastic 'pastry' blade fitted has enough clout to pulverise the grapes without splitting the pips open. Pips are bitter; we don't want to extract the flavour from them.
It'll still take you a couple of hours to work through 40 or so pounds, though.
So, that's my must. I tried to take a hydrometer reading1 to find out how sweet these grapes are. I ate a couple (they're sweet! – unusual for a wine variety, but these have been picked late), but the hydrometer is more accurate. Or should be.
First, I tried grabbing a scoopful of the must and straining it through a mesh bag. That gave me a hydrometer reading of 1.118, which is –errm- on the high side even for sweet grapes with no sugar added. I think the 'bits' that made it though the strainer were buoying up the hydrometer, giving me an artificially high reading.
Then, I tried to use the wine thief2 to get 'just juice' out of the bucket. I got juice and pips. The pips stuck between the wall of the measuring cylinder and the body of the hydrometer, and stopped it moving. I could get any reading from over 1.200 to under 0.990 with this system.
I poured the juice-plus-pips through the nylon bag, and finally got a reading of 1.080, which seems more reasonable. I'm aiming for a reading of between 1.113 and 1.123, according to this recipe, so I plumped for a mid-point of 1.118 and used the rule of thumb that 12-15g of sugar per litre will raise the S.G by 0.005 to figure out I probably need 2kg of sugar to get me up to that point.
It's easier to add more sugar than remove it, so I bunged 1.5kg sugar into the bucket (nowhere near the 6kg that the Concord recipe suggests – that's how sweet these grapes are!), added Campden tablets, nutrient and pectolase and went to bed. I'll try and get a more accurate reading this evening, before I add the yeast.
I didn't have enough pectolase left (this stuff breaks down cell walls and makes for more efficient juice extraction), so I just added all I had. I did have enough nutrient – just! – but I now need to order more of both. Because clearly, I never know when I simply must make wine.
1 A hydrometer measures the density of a liquid, relative to water (S.G 1.000). Sugar makes the liquid denser, and gives a higher reading. Alcohol does the opposite. If you know the starting and finishing gravities of a brew, you can estimate the alcohol content, by assuming that the only change that has occurred is that sugar has turned into alcohol.
2 A wine thief is a tube with a narrow hole at each end. The theory is that you plunge it into whatever you want a sample of, then stop the top hole with your thumb. When you take it out, the liquid you have just trapped inside it comes with you, and you can put it in your hydrometer, your tasting glass, whatever.