Winemaking 101 – Episode 1 – Get Grapes

This is the first of a series of posts that describe my Fall 2019 wine making experience.

An experienced wine maker may not find this all that exciting as I’m writing for friends who have little or no experience with wine making. There will be technical details … but hopefully not enough to make eyes glaze over.

Note: This series is about grape wine. Fruit wine is a slightly different beast that I may address in the future.

There are numerous ways to get grapes:

  1. grow ’em
  2. buy grapes from a vineyard
  3. buy juice from a vineyard
  4. buy frozen juice (“juice buckets”) online
  5. wine kits (package containing grape juice/concentrate plus other consumables to make wine)
  6. buy grapes from a shipper

When I lived in Rome NY, my experience was with grapes and juice purchased from vineyards. I drove down to the Finger Lakes and picked ’em up.

My experiences in the late 90’s with NC grapes were far from positive, so I switched over to kit wines.

However, in August I spoke with Mark, owner of American Brewmaster in Raleigh. He connected me to a guy who has organized mass purchases of West Coast grapes for a number of years.

In September I joined that group — each fall they make a bulk purchase of West Coast grapes via a shipper in CT. Collectively we purchased 13,600 lbs of grapes, of which I purchased 540 lbs. These arrived on a tractor trailer — our load was about 1/3 of the load. There was also a barrel of Sauvignon Blanc juice, but I was not interested … this year.

First we had to unload the truck. We spent the money to rent a fork lift — apparently the group learned in years past that removing the wrapping from tons of grapes and schlepping them, box by box, off the truck and up a long driveway to the garage is not a good idea. [Grapes come in “lugs”, 36# boxes, not all that heavy … until you consider that we’re moving nearly 400 boxes.]

Lots of grapes plus bottles

Lots of grapes plus bottles

The pallets range from about 400 lbs to over 1,500 lbs. The forklift was an excellent idea, well worth the money!

The pallets are impressive:

Pallet of Grapes

Pallet of Grapes

Some folks were tasked with doing a count to ensure that what we received was what we ordered. Once the truck leaves, we’re stuck with what we have. If there’s a discrepancy, we have to talk to the shipper before the truck moves.

However — our order was accurate!

Next the forklift carried each pallet up to the garage where the grapes were temporarily stored.

NOW we get to schlep them! Our organizer drew lines on the concrete so we’ve have our piles organized and be able to walk between the stacks. Then we did a recount as we stacked the grapes, to ensure we had as many lugs of each variety as we ordered.

The final result was this:

Grapes in the garage

Grapes in the garage

A few people took their grapes then as they have their own crushers. The remainder waited until the following morning when the crush commenced!

Stay tuned for Winemaking 101 – Episode 2 – The Crush