-E.B. White

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wine Making 101

Published in 1971 by Herters (outdoor goods specialists) and found in Rick's father's store of wine making supplies (in our cellar), along with some Tokay grape wine of 1971 and miscellaneous equipment. (It's currently available on Amazon for around $28.00, a collectors item?) Rick's comment: There are better information sources available today. (And the Tokay wine is headed for the still. Going to make some good brandy!)

So what's the interest in wine making? Turns out Rick tried a vineyard in his earlier life in Kansas in the late 70's on an old farm site, propagating a few hundred french hybrid grapes from winter pruning in a Missouri vineyard (but that's another story).  Story has it the vines were great, the wine was good and then an early spring and a subsequent freeze proved the location to be a frost pocket and the end of the vineyard. Good idea, bad location. Lots of tears. But the fun of making your own wine remains with Rick to this day. So, the last couple of years Rick and a high school friend, Bob, have been making "home brew" from some Beta grape vines Rick and Bob's dad had planted some 50 years ago. Beta is a cold hardy hybrid of concord and native Minnesota wild grapes (and a bit of a challenge to make good wine with).

This has become one of our new favorite places - kind of like a "Tractor Supply/Fleet Farm" for wine makers. We also decided to try a few other grapes, so we headed about an hour south to a small vineyard in the town of Cannon Falls, MN.

Calisota Ranch & Vineyard 
(They were formerly from California and relocated to Minnesota)

The owner was willing to part with a few grapes (Marquette, a University of Minnesota cold hardy hybrid  variety).  He sells most of his grapes to a local winery "Cannon River Winery", but does sell some to home vintners. He also produces a few bottles of his own for friends and family. It's good! Very good!

The Marquette grapes - 80 lbs worth.  We should get 6-7 gallons of must, juice and grapes, and 5 gallons of wine from this quantity of grapes.

Putting the grapes into the manual  crusher/de-stemmer. This device removes most of the stems and breaks the skin of the grape (crushing).

and the grapes and juice come out here.

Rick giving it a whirl. A lot easier than hand picking the grapes off the bunch!

Checking that most of the grapes were crushed.

Checking the brix, or balling, with an hydrometer (sugar content).  The juice from this grape was amazing with a 26.5 brix reading, or for those who like specific gravity, 1.109 - excited to make it into wine.

Transferring to our fancy (Home Depot) wine buckets.

Other interesting things at the Ranch/Vineyard.  I believe the owner said it was a 1951 Minneapolis Moline Tractor.

As long as we were here we decided to check out the Cannon River Winery (the winery where Calisota sells its grapes).

The place was packed - it was their 9th Anniversary.  We squeezed in, enjoyed the wine tasting, music and found out we were just ten minutes too late for the free food. Timing is everything. 

Now we are hooked. While this isn't Napa Valley, the next weekend we found ourselves back in Cannon Falls picking grapes at the Cannon River Vineyard and another Minnesota hybrid cold hardy variety, Frontenac Gris.  Rick having fun, and  no that's not Izzy but Rosie, the vineyard Labrador. Now we know Vets don't like dogs eating grapes, but any grapes that did fall on the ground were quickly picked up by Rosie.

Hoping to get a white or at least a blush wine out of these grapes - they are beauties.
Do I see another vineyard in our future????? He looks right at home.

Just a beautiful day for grape picking/eating.

So here is the deal.  When we went to pay for our grapes, the manager explained to us that today was a harvesting day and they needed a few more volunteers, would we be interested in helping.  Volunteers show up to pick grapes for four hours, get a free lunch, a 10% discount coupon for wines at their winery and I guess the beauty of the experience.  So we said we would help.  Our group consisted of about 70 people about 35 people on each side of the vine.

How many operations can have people show up to harvest their crop for a lunch and a 10% discount on their products from the company store? It was a fun experience and of course we (and all the others) showed up at the store (winery) and bought a bunch of wine! Go figure.
Gas to Cannon Falls and home = $30.00
30 lbs. of Frontenac Gris grapes = $45.00
Wine Tasting at the Winery = $15.00
Wine Bottles purchased = $54.00
Experience = Priceless

Grapes harvested now the work begins.
Rick and his high school and golf buddy, Bob, pressing the Frontenac Gris grapes. The vineyard didn't offer to de-stem or crush the grapes (and their grapes were more expensive), so the duo had to hand strip the grapes from the stems and crush the grapes in the old fruit press.

Checking the brix on the white grape. It's 26! lots of sugar and the raw juice is very, very good. (Note the bottles on their sides in the background; last year's Beta wine aging. Don't ask about the bottles with the pointies/erections on their tops......... OK,  they are reserve or make-up quantities of juice with rubber gloves as stoppers.)

But even very good raw juice can get better; "the brew", at least we hope. lets see, there's a Beta wine working in carboy top left, followed by 2 elderberry runs, Marquette nouveau style (on the must for only 2 days) bottom left and center and a Marquette full bodied (on the must for 9 days) in the crock jug. Last years full bodied Beta grape wine at one year old is just now turning out nicely. The "sampling" has become the fun part - hopefully the 2014 bottling will be even better.

In other news, we had a visit from our friends Sharon, Bob and Annie (formerly live aboards on Big Run, Krogen 42).  The recently sold their boat and are en-route to their next great adventure.  Thanks so much for spending a couple of days with us and we wish you luck on your next (land) journey. 

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