There is something very satisfying about harvesting in late summer or autumn for winter consumption.
My son brought us damsons to turn into pulp and damson gin. My sister gave us apples and blackberries to be cooked down and then frozen for winter pies.
But our very own harvest, besides home-grown beans and tomatoes, has been our annual creating of wine from the vines in our small garden.
Ripening of grapes this year was a little uneven. So we harvested the ripest bunches of red Triomphe d’Alsace grapes on the 29th of August. Later we will vinify the later-to-ripen white grapes and the remaining bunches of Triomphe d’Alsace that will then be ready. Together these will be vinified to make rosé.
Two of us harvested five buckets of grapes, and de-stemmed them. Bunches of red grapes were stripped of their stems into two fermentation bins. The contents of the bins had sugar and yeast added, although the extra yeast was hardly necessary due to the bloom on the grape skins.
Fermentation started quickly and built up in vigour over three days.
It is necessary to keep forcing down the cap that rises to the surface during fermentation to prevent noxious moulds from forming on it. For the same reason, both inside and out of the bins have to be kept scrupulously clean.
Refusing to add sulphur to the wine (as more or less everyone else does) I rely on the alcohol produced as my preservative. So the higher alcohol content is contrived by the addition of a little more sugar than is normal.
Vinification takes place by ladling the fermenting must into a straining bag placed over a funnel in the demijohn. Some juice will run through the bag, and more after much squeezing and pummelling of the bag. Pips and skins are discarded, though in countries on the continent they might be turned into spirit.
There seems to have been a high proportion of pips and skins this year. So that five gallons of must produced only three and a half gallons of juice.
Because of the fear of bacterial contamination by not incorporating sulphur, I choose to strain the juice into the gallon demijohns when fermentation is still reasonably vigorous, hoping that nasties will not be able to invade the wine. This means that a certain amount of wine will issue forth from the gallon jars’ fermentation locks.
Then, when those locks have been changed regularly and washed clean, comes one of the joys of vinification. A regular stream of carbon dioxide bubbles plop forth from all the locks, making a noise rather like a chorus of croaking frogs. This lasts for as long as the yeast is turning sugar into alcohol. So the noise may continue when the demijohns are stored in the loft to be forgotten until shortly before Christmas. Then it is time to bottle the wine and see if 2010 has been a good year.