Homemade Catawba Wine

By Greg B: Well, it happened earlier than I had planned.  I got the chance to produce my own wine.  I amazingly, Jessica’s backyard had enough nutrients to allow my vines to grow and produce enough grapes to make 1 gallon of wine!  Below, I’ll take you on a step by step method by which I made what will surely be an interesting wine.  I notice that Mike doesn’t have a section on Catawba wines… the wine that started people thinking “hey, yeah, we CAN actually grow grape vines in America and produce wine over there!”.  So, hopefully I won’t mess this wine up!

The first step in wine making with grapes is to wait.  Wait for the grapes to grow, wait for the grapes to ripen, wait for them to ripen to the point where you’re sure they’re about to spoil.  Usually this occurs in September, but for whatever reason, my vines had produced and were almost past time by mid august.  So, I snipped the bunches of grapes off, made a quick stop by my local homebrew store to get supplies, and headed home to begin production.

One of the first steps is to decide if you want to allow the grapes to  ferment with their own yeast (natural yeast is found on the outside of  grape skins) or with another yeast of your choice.  I preferred to use ICV  K1V-1116 because it’ll give me more of a dry wine, though I could just  as easily used Monrachet yeast, which would give me a sweet wine.  I  assumed that, with the grapes ripening this early, possibly due to the  rains we received, they wouldn’t be as sweet and thus, a medium dry wine  would be in my future.

Step 2. remove split, rotten, spoiled, or open grapes and keep clean,  good grapes.  I put them in a colander to make washing easier.

Step 3. Ideally, you’d want to break the grapes, then press them, to  release as much juice as possible and try to avoid breaking the seeds, as  they can impart a very bitter taste to the wine.  Sometimes you’ll want to leave some stems in sometimes, but I’ll save that for when I attempt to make a red wine in the future.

Step 4.  Once you have crushed the grapes, pour them into a STERILE fermenting container.  Remember: sterilize everything that will come in contact with your, what is now known as ‘must’.

Step 5.  Chemicals!  Since I want to use my yeast and not the natural yeast, it’s necessary to kill the natural yeast.  Adding a tiny tiny tiny amount of Potassum Metabisulfite to the must and waiting 24 hours will allow for plenty of time to kill the natural yeast.  At this time, you can add Yeast Nutrient for your yeast, a Campden tablet to aid in preservation, and pectic enzyme which will help break down the flesh of the grapes and extract more juice and sugars.  Also, you can add your yeast of choice at this time, I added my yeast to a bowl with water and sugar a few hours before adding to the must, just to let it grow up a bit more and really make sure that, when I added it to the must the yeast I wanted completely overwhelmed any remaining natural yeast.  Also, depending on what the specific gravity reads at this time, you can add sugar to the wine. My gravity was a bit low, so I added about 1 3/4 pounds of sugar, which brought it up to 1.085 about, for approx 1 gallon of wine.

Step 6: Ferment!  Allow about 5 days, checking bubbling from container to see if fermentation is continuing, plus checking the specific gravity of the wine.  When the specific gravity (SG) gets to about 1.01, if you want to make the wine stronger, add small amounts of sugar.  If not, you can now stain from the skins.  Remember, the longer you leave the now fermented must in with the skins, the more color will be drawn from the skins into the liquid (as alcohol production increases, more color is dissolved into the liquid).  My SG for this wine ended up about .995, so I may actually have a high alcohol wine on my hands, about 13-14%.

Step 7: Straining.  I purchased cheesecloth, and strained the seeds and skins and leftover pulp from the must.  Be careful to get all the seeds and everything and just leave the juice!  Move this into yet another STERILE container, I used a small, 1 gallon jug and let it sit.  Eventually, the yeast will precipitate out of the liquid into what is known as the Lees, at this time, you can siphon the wine off the top and bottle… but that is another story for a few months from now!  Store this wine in a cool, dark place…. a wine cellar comes to mind, or a basement.  Seeing as how I have neither, my downstairs kitchen in a dark corner with a towel wrapped around it will have to do (I do this with beer and it works out nicely).

Something I have not covered here is how to check the pH balance of the wine.  Certain wines require specific pH to be good, reds are a bit lower than whites, and for whites it’s essential to get a nice balance between whatever residual sugars are left and the crispness of the acid.  My wine is very bland.  There is hardly the concentration of acids I needed.  I know this through tasting a tiny bit and also using an acid titration kit… that’s right, titration, that stuff you did in high school chemistry.  You can buy an acid titration kit from a homebrew store, and it’s easy to use.  However, I failed to purchase an additional ACID blend to up my acid concentration, so that is en route in the mail right now.  I’ll update you all as to how this does down, but acid blend is a mix of malic, citric and tartaric acids.  Also, it’s important to not allow access to air for wine, so after that final photo of the ‘wine’ in the jug, I topped it off to about an inch from the rubber bung with water.  You can also use wine for this or some people say mixtures of vodka and water…. I’ll just cut it with water for now.  This is done to prevent oxidation of the wine.  And that’s it for now, stay tuned for more updates in the coming months!

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3 Responses to Homemade Catawba Wine

  1. nice home-made wine, here is your homage…
    remember, all in good fun…
    http://slingingjuice.blogspot.com/2008/08/unlikely-garagiste.html
    I’m hoping to get some grapes next year, maybe some goofy Ohio varietals?

  2. t2000kw says:

    How did it turn out? How much acid blend did you add?

    I am planting a couple of Catawba grape vines this week, so I am interested in how it turned out. Hope I picked a good grape to plant.

    I have Concords transplanted from a friend’s place and they are doing well for their first year in a new spot. Very well, considering the stress I put them through! I know Concord wine can be very good. I’m hoping Catawba wine can also be good. Commercial Catawba wines are always mixed with about 1/2 of another type of grape wine, so I’m wondering if Catawba grapes are too acid?

  3. Greg says:

    Well, it turns out alright, though I did pick the grapes a few weeks early. I lacked patience, and the wine turned out more acidic and tart than I wanted, mostly for that very reason.

    As for the acid blend, I wrote a little bit more about it here http://foodandwineblog.com/2008/08/27/homemade-catawba-wine-part-2/
    just covering the basics of how to adjust the pH.

    The catawba plants are amazingly fast growers and heavy producers. Unfortunately, this spring my plants were cut down by a guy hired to remove the poison ivy from the backyard…they were cut to the ground. However, 2 of the 4 plants actually sprouted vines and are growing again, though I think the other 2 are dead for good. It was a sad day.

    I dont know that catawba are too acidic, but I can actually see a catawba/concord blend going nicely. The concord can bring in some extra sugar that would be nice. They are American hybrids and dont make the ‘best’ wine, but they do have distinct tastes, especially the concord, and it reminds me of my the wines my father made. they’re also great to learn the basics of growing, pruning, maintaining vines and going through the steps of wine making, then in a few years buy some fancier (and more fragile!) vines to try other varieties.

    And with these vines, if all else fails, they are delicious to eat, and make great jelly :)

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