Quite often we are asked what the difference is between making wine from concentrates and making wine from grapes. There are a few differences, but there are also a lot of similarities.
Wine Making With Concentrates:
If you are just starting out, wine concentrates offer an easy way to consistently make spectacular wines. They come with simple, easy-to-follow directions that eliminate all of the guess-work and can easily be understood by even the first-time winemaker.
In most cases they also come with all of the additional home wine making ingredients that are called for, pre-measured and ready for use. All the variables have been taken away, so mistakes are hard to make.
With wine concentrates there is also a larger variety available to the home winemaker than if they were to try to purchase or grow their own grapes. Currently, we offer over 200 different wine juices from all over the world: France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Canada and California. An incredible selection that allows one to make a medley of wines that never gets tiring, and unlike grapes, these wine concentrates are available throughout the year.
Getting started with a batch of wine using concentrate is very quick and easy. It is simply a matter of pouring the concentrate into your wine fermentation vessel, adding water to the proper level (usually 6 gallons) and then adding the wine yeast and any other ingredients that are called for by the accompanying directions.
After that it's just a matter of siphoning the wine off the sediment from time to time as directed (called: racking) and then eventually bottling the wine. The whole process usually takes anywhere from 30 to 45 days, depending on the brand of wine concentrate you purchased and can be done in a very small area.
Wine Making With Grapes:
When making wine from grapes, much of the process is very similar to that of making wine from packaged juices. The fermentation, clearing and bottling goes pretty much the same way, but there are some key differences that need to be pointed out.
Dealing With The Grapes:
Many people do not realize it, but a lot of grapes are used in making wine. For example, each of our packaged wine concentrates represents anywhere from 70 to 100 pounds of wine grapes for making six gallons of wine. That's two to three bushels. You will need this many grapes as well.
Once the fermentation is complete and the pulp is removed you are then left with approximately six gallons of wine. No water is used, just a 100 percent straight juice is used to make wine from wine grapes.
AS A SIDE NOTE: The 70 to 100 pounds applies only to actual vociferous wine grapes such as: Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and others. When making wines made from grapes like: Muscadine, Fox and Scuppernongs, usually anywhere from 25 to 50 pounds is used for making six gallons. The difference is made up with sugar and water. This lesser amount is used because these grapes are stronger in flavor and higher in acid, so using 100% juice would make the wine sharp, sour and bitter tasting.
Dealing with such a large amount of grapes must be taken into consideration before taking on such a project. The grapes will need to be de-stemmed and crushed before fermenting, and then later pressed after a few days of fermentation; white wines are pressed before fermentation.
De-stemming and crushing the grapes can be done by hand. You can use anything from a potato masher to the butt-end of a 2 X 4. If you are dealing with several hundred pounds or more then you will want to consider getting either a grape crusher or a crusher/de-stemmer combo. Either of these items will speed up the process tremendously.
The pulp will need to be pressed after a few days of fermentation to extract all the juice possible from the pulp. In the case of white wine the grapes are pressed after crushing and before fermentation; the pulp never sees the fermentation.
Dealing With The Variables:
As stated earlier, when you make wine from concentrates all of the variables have been taken care of for you. That is why these packaged wine concentrates are perfect for the casual or even beginning winemaker; you can make fabulous wines with carefree, consistent results.
When making wine from grapes you must be ready to deal with these variables. Ignoring them is not an option. Ignoring them will only produce an agreeable wine "if you are lucky" but mastering them will allow you to produce a wine you can be proud of and worth sharing every time.
What are these variables? While one could consider quite a healthy list of things from minor to major, the list of variables that require strong attention is not so long. Focus on these few and you will have won most of the battle. The variables we speak of are as follows:
Knowledge of the hydrometer for controlling the beginning sugar level of the must is critical when making wine from grapes. The beginning sugar level is what determines the final alcohol level the wine. Different years, type of grape and time of harvest all add to the unpredictability of sugar levels grapes can naturally provide on their own. These varying sugar levels may require that either sugar or water be added to the must to adjust the potential alcohol level of the wine to a reasonable range--usually between 10 and 13 percent.
Just as sugar levels can vary, so can the acidity level. If the acid level is too high the wine will end up tasting sharp or sour; not enough acid and the wine will taste flat and flabby. The way to control this is to take readings with an Acid Test Kit. By taking acid level readings you will be able to determine if Acid Blend or water needs to be added to the must.
Pulp Contact Time:
The amount of time the pulp is allowed to remain in the fermentation needs to be controlled. The range of time is anywhere from one to seven days with five days being the most common. These times refer to red wines primarily. With white wines the pulp is not normally incorporated into the fermentation. The longer the pulp remains in the fermentation, the more color and grape character is brought into the wine. However, one should be cautious of going too long, doing so can bring an astringency to the wine that is irreversible. Varying pulp contact time is one of the reasons that White Zinfandels, Blush Zinfandels and Red Zinfandels can all be made from the same grape.
The amount of pressure applied to the pulp during pressing can alter the character of the wine in similar ways to pulp contact time. When the must is first put into a wine press you will get what is called "free run". This is the juice that has the lightest body. As pressure is applied to the pulp fuller bodied juice is released. So, the final level of pressure that is used in pressing can control the body of the resulting wine.
There are many other factors that play a more marginal role in producing the character of a wine. We will not go into them here as it is beyond the scope of this article. Just realize that there are enough variables of varying degree of importance to keep one learning for a life-time.
Summing It All Up:
As you can see there are a lot of things that come into play when dealing directly with grapes such as: crushing, pressing and dealing with the shear volume of grapes. The producers of wine making concentrates are experts at it. Everything from picking to concentrating is done in a way that preserves the true character of the grape and produces a wine that has balance in body, flavor and character, something that has to be strived for when dealing with grapes on your own.
But for the more aggressive home winemakers, making wine from grapes may be the only way that brings satisfaction to the hobby for them. For some there is something about the hands-on feeling you get when you crank down on a grape press that makes the process worth doing. If this is you then by all mean go for it. Making wine from fresh grapes is certainly rewarding, and once mastered, will allow you to produce wines that go well beyond some of the best wines you will find on the market today.
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