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Sour Grapes – and Other Fruit

FeralLiberal's picture

You want some good exercise? Try harvesting wild grapes while standing in a canoe! To keep your balance you’ll use muscles you didn’t know you had.

I’ve been busy and was out of town last weekend so I haven’t gotten the next batch of wine started yet, but in the meantime there’s a bumper crop of wild grapes along my river, so I’m collecting with the plan of taking another shot at wild grape wine. I haven’t make wild grape since very early in my winemaking adventures and I have to admit my first attempt wasn’t all that good, but my techniques have improved immensely since then. And the grapes are free, all you have to do is collect and clean them. Which leads me to today’s topic: Procuring Fruit for Making Wine.

The SS Sour Grapes

I’m fortunate in that I live in an area where fruit is readily available, so I’ve rarely had to buy for winemaking. If you’re only making a gallon at a time the cost to buy isn’t excessive. It takes 2-5 lbs. of fruit per gallon to make most berry wines. Grape, apple, pear, and other wines that are made from predominately juice take considerably more weight per gallon as you’re not adding much, if any, water.

But for the enterprising winemaker there are many free sources of raw materials for making excellent wine. Check parks, nature preserves, hiking and biking trails, cemeteries, or fence lines along back roads. Wild black raspberries are common in these areas. You may also find mulberries, elderberries, wild grapes, or even apples. Friends and family may have trees or bushes with fruit they don’t use. Scout early in the year, and check back regularly to monitor ripeness. Taste as you go to familiarize yourself with how the fruit develops.

Wild areas along my river have abundant wild grapes, black raspberries and elderberries. Friends and family provide me with pears, more raspberries, cherries, and grapes. Five gallons of finished wine results in 25 bottles, so I offer a couple of bottles of wine to anyone who lets me use their fruit, a deal they find most equitable.

Berries often need to be picked in stages as they ripen. As it’s hard to collect enough of them in one picking to make a 5-6 gal. batch of wine I’ll give the berries a quick rinse, drain well and freeze in a zipper bag until I have enough for a full batch. You’ll be crushing the berries anyway so the fact that the freezing process can make them mushy when they thaw isn’t an issue. I’ve made wine from both fresh and frozen berries from the same year and can’t really tell the difference.

If you have the space you may be able to grow your own. On my half-acre lot I have red currants, red, gold and black raspberries, and an Ida Red apple tree. Currants and raspberries are easy to grow and take little maintenance. Apples are more labor intensive as you must use some type of pest control to keep insect damage to a minimum; pears not as much.

The most important thing about procuring fruit is to be sure to use the best quality fruit you can get. Optimal ripeness is crucial as underripe fruit can be too acidic and lack character, and overripe fruit can develop off flavors in wine. Avoid bruised or insect damaged fruit as bacteria will develop in those areas and affect flavors. It can be very time consuming to harvest, sort and clean your fruit, so you may opt to purchase it if you don’t have the time or access, but look it over carefully and rinse thoroughly to remove any dirt or pesticides.

Whether you buy or harvest your own, fruit for wine isn’t hard to come by. And since you’ve read my previous posts you know what equipment you need for making wine, so you really don’t have any excuse not to. Oh, that’s right. I haven’t covered actually making the wine yet. OK, that’s next, I’ll be starting a batch this weekend!

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Ruth's picture
Submitted by Ruth on

You know my feet were tingling at the prospect.


Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

That is the other name for wild grapes, and wine people write about not wanting a "foxxy" wine. It is the tannins that wild grapes have a lot of. To cut that down one needs to be careful not to crush stems and seeds. Even then they are pretty strong and, it is good to add an equal quantity (or more) of water and then use sugar to bring the hydrometer to the right level.
I used to make a pretty good wine from concord grapes (also high in tannins) in 50 gallon whiskey casks that used to be available from Kentucky distillers at quite reasonable prices. These oak casks with charcoal burnt insides help the wine age and mellow.
Good luck on the project.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Gizaardboy is right, the wine will be "foxy." This is not a good thing.

FeralLiberal's picture
Submitted by FeralLiberal on

The local wild grapes in my area are actually vitis riparia rather than vitis labrusca and have much less of the foxy characteristic. Some friends of mine made a batch last year and entered it into the native grape catagory at the Indiana State Fair, and won a silver medal.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

You have the wrong sort of canoe for harvesting grapes. What you really need is a 16 or 18-ft "lake" canoe with a wide beam at the water line but a narrower beam at the gunwales. Keep in mind this design will only work well with wild grapes near a pond or growing in a bog. It's practically useless in a vineyard.

Submitted by lambert on

I only got as far as big carboys, but I always wanted to go to oak. Lot of logistics, though, eh? More, more!

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

FeralLiberal's picture
Submitted by FeralLiberal on

Denton, you're right, but you don't go to harvest grapes with the canoe you want, you go to harvest grapes with the canoe you have :)

And gizzardboy is right about stems and seeds (that you don't need). I destem before crushing, and you should be careful not to break seeds with any kind of fruit. Wild grapes also have high acid levels which is another reason you need to dilute the must, and lower sugar levels which is why you add quite a bit to get your alcohol level to where you want it. I'll blog the wild grape process when I get that in the works.