Making Red Wine at the Farm - 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 reviews
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Red Wine at the Farm

Many years we are so busy, and the grapes are sold so quickly we tend to take whatever is left for our own wine.  Once a few years ago, I decided that I wanted some Baco-Foch red wine so I had some picked before our customers picked them first. This is the story of that wine....



We started with about 4 bushels of 50% Baco and 50% Marechal Foch black grapes. These are crushed, de-stemmed and 15 cambden tablets were crushed and added to the must.  "Must" is the winemakers term for the mass of crushed grapes.


The grapes are put into a large fermentor. Almost anything will work except metal, although stainless steel is great. Many people use new plastic containers or barrels with the end off.

The sugar is now adjusted. The brix was 18 (specific gravity of 1.074) which would ferment out to about 9.5% alcohol and I wanted to correct it to make a 11% wine. Going to the sugar conversion chart it showed that I needed 3.9 oz per gallon of sugar to add. I estimated about 10 gallons of final wine = 10 x 3.9 = 39 oz or about 2.5 lbs. In this case I went over to our bulk honey tank, put 2.5 lbs of honey in a pail, added a gallon of the juice, mixed it together so the honey is dissolved and then added it to the must.

Then I checked the sugar level again with my hydrometer to make sure that it went up to the 1.090 or 20 brix that I was aiming for.


So, now we have the crushed and de-stemmed grapes with the sugar adjusted and sulphite (cambden tablets) added to kill wild yeast and to help keep the wine from turning into vinegar. At this point many people also check the acidity and sometimes adjust it. I did not do that at this point - it can be done later if necessary. The must is covered with cloth or a top to keep the fruit flies off.

I usually recomend waiting 24 hrs for the cambden tablet to weaken the wild yeast and then adding cultured wine yeast either directly or using a yeast starter.

As things happen around our place, I was so busy that I forgot the wine for a few days and did not add the yeast the next day. 2 days later when the light bulb went on I ran back and added 3 packages of Pasteur Red wine yeast (mixed in a cup of water to re-hydrate the yeast slightly) and mixed it in. The must may have started to ferment already - I wasn't sure.

Anyway, a few days later the must, either fermenting with wild yeast or my cultured wine yeast (or a little of both) was happily fermenting away. The cap, the mass of grapes on the top was pushed back into the juice every day. This keeps these grapes covered with juice and allows the color and flavors to be extracted properly.




After about a week of fermenting on the skins and pushing the cap down it is ready to press.

The grapes are removed with a pail and poured into our old press. We use fiberglass bags in it to help keep the pulp from going through the slats of the press.

The new wine is then poured into 5 gallon carboys with a lot of head space for the foaming wine.
After a few weeks the fermentation slows down or stops and the carboys are now filled to the top to keep air away from the wine. Extra wine is left in smaller containers also filled to the top.
This is as far as we have gone with this wine this year. In a few months we will rack the wine (siphon it off of the sediment on the bottom).

A Few Moons Later.....   Sandy Paetz, our MSU wine student (just a kid in his 50's), and I were sampling some of the wine and decided that it needed some treatment.The wine was a little high in acid to taste. (I did not really measure it like I should of - but tested it by tasting.) We decided to treat the wine with Calcium Carbonate to reduce the acid and also add some ground oak chips for a little oak flavor.
This year (Fall 2011), we did the same treatment to some Frontenac we had - It also tends to run high on acidity.  I think with the treatment and some malolactic fermentation in the summer it will be just fine.



We used a wine thief and some fancy glasses (1/2 pint jelly jars that I use for honey) to same the wine.  The carboy on the right was racked into both of the lower 5 gallon carboys. This ensures that everything is mixed ok.



 1 camben tablet (sulfur) per gallon (10 total) is is crushed in a little water and half is put into each new carboy.
 25 grams of Calcium Carbonate is measured and added to the wine.


25 grams of oak chips are measured and added to the wine.
The second carboy is racked into the two new ones and they are topped up with some smaller bottles of the wine that we previously set aside.

Both the Calcium Carbonate and the oak chips were added only to the carboy on the right. Later on we will taste the wine and most likely blend them together.

After another 6 mos to a year of aging the wine is now ready to bottle. The two 10 gallon carboys are racked the final time and blended together.

washing bottles1

washing bottles2

Wine bottles are soaked and washed in a sink.

People ask us where we get our bottles - We always tell them to go to a wine store and buy them (full) and drink the free wine that comes with the bottle that you purchased. After a few years of drinking wine you will have plenty of bottles.

The bottles are washed with a simple bottle washer that can be purchased at any winemaking supply store.
We made these bottle draining racks many years ago. You can really use anything you want.
We recycle (save old corks) and re-use them. It is a good idea to soak them in boiling water to soften them before use. The wine is racked into individual bottles and then corked. -- Lately, we have been using a lot of screw cap bottles as they are easier to use and just as good.

The finished product. This wine ended up being a nice light red wine of about 11% alcohol.

Bully Hill Vineyards makes a very nice red wine called "Bulldog Baco" - Maybe thats what we will call this wine.

Most of the time we do not have to take the steps to reduce acidity like we did with this wine. The grapes in 2003 had a hard time ripening and the acidity in Baco Noir tends to run high by itself.

Even though we added oak 2 times I still did not notice the oak flavor in this wine. ??Maybe the oak chips were old?? This is what makes winemaking fun - you can experiment and then consume the final product.


For further information view our downloadable "Winemaking Booklet".
This is a booklet that we hand out at our farm to help winemakers get started.

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What do grape blossoms smell like?

Walking through the vineyard when it is in full bloom is a unique experience. The scent is slightly more subtle than other fruits. Each flower blossom will develop into a separate berry...
How do you propagate grape vines?

Grape vines are propagated by taking dormant shoots pruned off during the spring. These 3 to 4 bud long cuttings are planted in garden soil and grown one year. The next year they are ready to plant in your vineyard. They will be the same variety as the vine that they were taken from.

What time of the year should I prune my vines?

Grape vines may be pruned any time that the leaves are off and they are dormant. Many vineyards with huge acres of vines to prune may work all winter, but we prefer to prune in the spring. In the spring, any winter damage that has occurred will be visible and pruning adjustments will be made.

Do Michigan vines need to be grafted?

Most vinifera vines that are grown (such as Cabernet, Reisling, etc) need to be grafted on to a strong rootstock because they are not tolerant of the Phloxera louse, a pest that will kill the vines. Most all vines in California and any vinifera vine grown in Michigan are grafted for this reason.


Do grapes need a frost to ripen?

Absolutely not. There are early and late season varieties, an early season grape left on the vine until frost will be mushy and overripe.
Once a frost hits the vine and all the leaves are burned off, any further photosynthesis or ripening will cease...

How is our vineyard different than others?

I do not know any other vineyard that has more than 20 varieties of grapes and sells 100% U-PICK!

Since we are not a winery we do not keep the premium grapes for ourselves and sell what is left to local customers.

YOU are our only customers!

What is your favorite grape?

We get this asked of us all the time. Which grape makes the best wine, best jelly, best juice, etc. This is very difficult to answer & also varies from season to season. Many of our customers have very different tastes than we do.
My personal favorites as of April, 2007:


Do you recommend oak barrels for winemaking?
Oak barrels can be very useful in winemaking, but they can be problematic and I prefer glass carboys.

Oak barrels are excellent for large amounts of wine such as 55 gallons. The ration of air to wine is just right. When you use smaller barrels...

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