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Something to wine about

Make your own wine at home

Make your own wine at home

October 08, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

If you've got patience, you've got what it takes to make wine at home.

Whether you're stomping down grapes with your feet or using a store-bought wine-making kit, the process can be as high- or low-tech as you want.

Right now, Maryland and Pennsylvania vineyards are harvesting grapes for the season, said Richard Penna, chair of the governor's advisory commission on Maryland wine and grape growing. Penna owns Antietam Vineyards in Knoxville, Md., east of the Washington County line.

There are also plenty of places to buy easy-to-follow wine-making kits if you're not up for picking and smashing grapes on your own.

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Kit or no kit, it's a process that takes nearly a year and can cost between $200 and $300 for 5 to 6 gallons of wine (25 to 30 standard-sized, 750 milliliter bottles).

If you're willing to put in the time and money, you could end up with wines that rival what you'd find at your local wine shop, local grape growers and specialty shop owners say. But at the moment, grape supply is thin. Washington County growers said they're nearly out of white grapes.

"It's getting late in the season," Penna said.

But barring an early frost, you can still get cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and Norton, an American variety.

Homemade wine more popular now

According to local purveyors in Hagerstown, Frederick, Md., and Pennsylvania, there has been a steady uptick in the popularity of homemade wine since the early 1990s.

"When we started off, we used to sell more beer kits than wine kits," said Bob Frank, owner of the Flying Barrel in Frederick, Md. The shop has sold home brew- and wine-making kits since 1980, Frank said. "Now, it's more wine."

Frank said as more baby boomers slow down, "they can't do the six-pack." Wine is an attractive alternative, he said. Local vineyards said they've seen an increase in the number of people coming to pick grapes for wine making.

Maryland grape growers had a good year, said Joseph A. Fiola, specialist in viticulture and small fruits for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.

Fiola works from the Western Maryland Research & Education Center near Keedysville and studies grape harvests from around the state.

How it's made

Fiola said the process of wine-making is simple. Yeast converts the sugar in the grapes into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide bubbles away during the process.

Grapes are ideal for wine because they seem to naturally have the right balance of sugar and acid, though you can use other fruits - even Concord grapes. Acid is what makes white wine taste crisp, but too much acid will sting the back of the tongue, Fiola said.

The process of wine making can take at least a year, said John Kramb, vintner at Adams County Winery in Orrtanna, Pa. In fact, people are starting on their wines for next Christmas.

"If you want something fast, make beer," Kramb said.

Starting off with juice and yeast

There are many ways to make wine, and certain things you will or won't do depending on whether you're making white or red wine.

"It's really trial and error," Penna said. But there are some basic steps involved in each method.

To start, you'll need fruit juice. You can get this by smashing up the fruit yourself, or by buying a package of concentrated juice from a wine shop and adding water. If you're starting with fresh, whole fruit, you'll have to pick a method for extracting the juice. This can be done mechanically or the old-school way - stomping them with your feet, said Dawson Ahalt, owner of Ahalt Vineyards in Brownsville, off Rohrersville Road.

Penna said that for red wine, you'll want to crush the grapes - breaking the skin to release the juice - and let them sit for a while before pressing them. This is something you would not have to do if you're making white wine or rosé.

If you're using fresh grapes, you'll need between 12 and 15 pounds. In Washington County, you can pick grapes at Ahalt Vineyards and at Antietam Vineyards. Both vineyards will crush and press your grapes at no additional charge.

Gary Bowles, owner of the Cracked Cork in Funkstown, offered another low-tech process for extracting the juice: Put the grapes in a sturdy, plastic bag, break them up and squeeze the juice into a bucket.

Once you've got juice concentrate, you'll want to add the yeast. But you don't want to use bread-baking yeast.

"It would work, but it's not going to taste very good," Kramb said.

Instead, get yeast especially designated for wine making. Add the yeast to the juice, close up your bucket and let everything sit. Close it up and let it sit. And sit.

Get ready to wait

For some people, the waiting is the hardest part. Frank said the initial fermentation step takes three to 10 days. Kramb recommends letting it ferment longer.

Frank said that after the initial fermentation period, pour what's in the bucket into a large, glass jar called a carboy and let it ferment for two to three months.

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