BX Beer Depot in Palm Springs has long been the go to place for homebrew supplies, ingredients and education. The owner, Sally Parsons, is passionate about crafting unique and interesting brews and she has expanded that passion to winemaking. I believe her philosophy is “with a little imagination, education and commitment anyone can make a tasty craft libation at home.” Her mission is to provide the supplies and knowledge while you bring the imagination and commitment. Passion will follow.”
Bx has expanded this mission to winemaking.
Last Wednesday evening, I gathered with a small group of fellow wine lovers to learn just what goes into making home wine. How hard could it be? Our instructor and BX manager, Corey took us step by step through the process. There are a couple of ways to approach the process. For beginners Corey recommended starting with a kit. It will include everything necessary to create the wine from the juice and yeast to the stabilizers and clarifiers. It won’t include the equipment but there are equipment kits that have everything a neophyte winemaker will need. The great thing about a kit is the clear and simple instructions that take the you through the process step by step. I know this because I used a kit for a chocolate-orange port style wine for Christmas presents this last year and not only was it simple, the result has gotten rave reviews from friends and family. Once you have the process down then it will be a matter of taste for what you will create, including fruit wines. Sally has a mango wine fermenting right now and two of my classmates are growing their own muscadine grapes to produce their wines. During the class we were treated to a homemade rose’ and a honey meade. They were both delicious.
The importance of Corey’s class Wednesday night was to put to demonstration the instructions on the sheet as well as some tips and common sense safe practices when fermenting wine. For the class he used one of the kits sold by the store for demonstrating the initial processes of winemaking. It was a cabernet sauvignon and if the smell of the juice is a predictor this is going to be a rich, complex wine with notes of chocolate, vanilla and pepper when it is ready. Here are the highlights of the class:
First is cleanliness and sanitation. Cleanliness means thoroughly washing all the equipment you will be using in the winemaking process. That makes sense, right? Well, sanitation is a little different and even more important to a good wine. Yeast is a living thing that feeds off the sugar in the grapes which then turns into alcohol and by sanitizing you are making sure that it is feeding from the grapes and nothing else microscopic in the fermenter. I know this doesn’t sound pleasant but without this step your finished product might not taste very pleasant. Corey took us through the steps for proper sanitization and suggested campden tablets or Potassium metabisulfite as sanitizers. BX sells the cleaners and sanitizers at the store as well as all the rest of the supplies you will need for making wine at home.
Second is the fermenting. This is when you will add the juice, acid, tannins (this is optional depending on the wine) and yeast. This is a very simple stage and makes you really feel like a winemaker. At the end of this stage you will take a sample of the wine, and with a nifty tool called a hydrometer, you will measure the gravity in the juice mixture. Gravity is the weight of the liquid in relation to the water. What sounded technical Corey made pretty simple. Basically the hydrometer assists the winemaker in determining the amount of sugar in the juice which will in turn predict the percentage of alcohol in the finished wine. More sugar will translate into more alcohol. Please note however, alcohol should never be the only measuring point in making wine. Flavor, color and aroma should be your guide posts.
Third is storage. The fermenting juice doesn’t need to be in a refrigerator to become wine. In fact, if it is too cool the yeast will die or at least not do its job and the juice won’t turn into wine. Too warm and pretty much the same problem and you will end up with vinegar. Find a cool dark space between 60-75 degrees to store your wine for this primary fermenting. If you have added grape skins, oak chips or other material for flavor then every other day you will do what is called a “punch down” and that is simply moving the material that has floated from the top to the bottom. As Corey instructed gentleness should be the rule of thumb here. “You are not stirring but more or less just pushing the stuff back down into the juice.”
Once the wine has fermented then it is time for clarifying and bottling for the final aging. Since we didn’t have any product ready for this stage no demonstration was given.
Throughout the class Corey added notes for those interested in making fruit wines like what is the best way to press the juice as well as suggestions for back sweetening to add sugar after fermentation. All in all it was a really interesting class and inspired me to continue to learn and experiment with this ancient craft. Thank you Corey for a great evening!
For more information on winemaking and future classes please visit www.bxbeerdepot.com, call 561-965-9494 or stop by the store in Palm Springs. The staff at BX BeerDepot will be glad to answer your questions and give plenty of support.