When To Pick Your Grapes: The Big Compromise (Pt. 4)

Time To Harvest GrapesThis is the last part of a 4 part series on knowing when to pick your grapes. Part 1 went over the importance of knowing when to harvest. Part 2 covered how to take the readings from the grapes and what they mean. Part 3 went over what kind of readings to expect.

 

What’s One To Do?

Unless you have some high-dollar real estate in California wine country, it’s not likely you will hit the best Brix, pH and TA readings all at the same time. Some years the climate will just not cooperate, and you will most likely need to make compromises.

Of course, you can get lucky in a particular year with just the right weather at the right time, but counting on getting lucky is a fool’s bet. You must learn to make the optimal best out of the meteorological cards you are being dealt.

A good rule of thumb is to try to harvest when the ratio of Brix to TA is between 31:1 and 34:1. This will always get you a good compromise between alcohol content and tartness.

As an example, lets say you do a titration and discover that the TA is .85% – still a little high – and your refractometers Brix reading is 23. This gives you a Brix to TA ratio of about 27:1. You get this by taking the Brix and dividing it by the TA (23/.85)… not time to harvest.

Two weeks later you take another reading with your titration kit and get a TA of .73% (a little lower) and your refractometers reading says a Brix of 24 (a little higher). These readings get you a ratio of about 33:1… time to harvest.

The only exception to this general rule has to do with pH. If the pH looks like it is going to go out of ideal range, then go ahead and harvest right away. The pH getting out of range trumps the Brix to TA ratio. This means for white wines, if it looks like it’s going to go higher than of pH 3.3. then harvest. For reds, if it goes higher than 3.5, then harvest. Shop Acid Test Kit

Proper pH is more important than Brix and TA simply because you can’t directly adjust pH later on without effecting the tartness of the wine, but you can directly adjust Brix and TA without effecting the pH too much.

 

The Wine Hydrometer

In part one of this four part series I mentioned that a wine hydrometer should be purchased, just as a way of double-checking your refractometers reading before actually picking the grapes.

So it’s late in the season. You’ve been taking all your readings, and all the numbers have finely come into their best alignment, and you have come to the conclusion that its time to harvest. Stop! Now should be the time to take a reading with your hydrometer just as a means of making sure it is time to pick.

To do this you will need to crush up a couple of handfuls of grapes taken randomly throughout the vineyard and extract the juice. You need enough juice to get the hydrometer to float. A hydrometer jar is good in this regard because it is tall and slender and does not require a large amount of grape juice to get the wine hydrometer off the bottom.

Shop HydrometersIf your hydrometer’s reading taken from grapes throughout the vineyard matches your refractometer’s reading taken from one grape, then you’re ready to harvest. This is when to pick your grapes to make wine. Get to pickin’ and crushin’.

 

Read More >>

Part I: The Importance Of Timing
Part II: Taking Reading
Part III: What Readings To Expect
Part IV: The Big Compromise

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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

A Simple Guide To Making Wine From Grapes

Hands Full Of Wine GrapesMaking wine from a grape wine kit is relatively straightforward. You have the directions and the other ingredients pre-measured. But now that you’ve grown more comfortable with making wine from these kits, you’re ready for the next level: making wine from grapes. It’s not really all that different from making wine from a wine concentrate?

Most of the process is the same. However, the first few steps is where making wine from grapes becomes more involved and just a little more complex. You can no longer rely on the wine kit producers to prep the grapes for you. It’s now up to you!

 

Choosing The Wine Grapes:

When making wine from grapes, the first thing you’ll need to determine is what variety of grape you will be using, and where you will be getting these grapes.

What it boils down to is: what kind of wine do you like to drink? Are you a big red fan?  Then maybe don’t buy Sauvignon Blanc grapes, buy Cabernet Sauvignon!  You get the idea.

Next, you’ll need to decide where you wish to purchase your wine grapes.  Are you looking for a particular style – say a Napa Cab?  Maybe you just want to find the source that’s closest to you – for example a mid-western variety such as Chambourcin or Vignoles. Depending on the time of year and place, you may only have a few varieties to choose from.

 

Inspecting The Wine Grapes:

Shop RefractometersThis is where making wine from grapes gets down and dirty.  Squeeze a couple of grapes in between your fingers and taste the juice. Fill a hydrometer jar with some of the juice, and use a gravity hydrometer to measure the sugar content of the juice. If you want to get more serious, a refractometer also works good for testing the grapes and only require a drop or two of juice to do so. Ideally, you’re looking for a reading somewhere between 22 and 24 Brix.

 

Washing and Sorting The Wine Grapes:

You will want to wash the grapes lightly to remove any dirt, debris or any other foreign matter.

 

Preparing The Wine Must:

Now that you have the wine grapes ready to go, it is time to de-stem, crush and press the grapes:

  • De-stemming The Wine Grapes:
    This is something that can be done by hand. It’s simply a matter of pulling the grapes from the stems. If you have a larger amount of grapes, you may find it necessary to invest in a de-stemmer. Not only does the de-stemmer remove the stems, it crushes the grape, as well. Which happens to be the next step…Shop Grape Wine Presses
  • Crushing The Wine Grapes:
    One of the most common mistakes when making wine from grapes is over-crushing the grapes. You do not want to shred or macerate the grapes. You only want them to be crushed enough to break the skin. Nothing more is necessary. Crushing the grapes beyond this can lead to a wine with excessive tannin and bitterness.Crushing can be done by hand, but again, if you have a large number of grapes, you may decide it best to invest in a crusher/de-stemmer, or at least, a grape crusher.
  • Pressing The Wine Grapes:
    Most beginning winemakers will find it surprising to discover that most of the time the grapes are not pressed until after the first 3 to 5 days of fermentation. This is almost always true for red wines and sometimes even for whites. You want the pulp in with the fermentation. This is where the wine gets most of it’s flavor and body – from the pulp and skin of the grape.With white wines the pressing usually comes first – before the fermentation has started. While you can squeeze the grapes by hand or be some other rigged means. You will most likely want to purchase a wine press. They are available in several different sizes. A press will allow you get more juice/wine from the pulp. So much so, the pulp will have a dry feel to it when you are done – something that can’t be done by hand.

 

What’s Next?

Once you have the wine must together, the method for making wine from grapes and making wine from grape juice mostly comes back into sync: ferment, rack, etc. – with the exception of pressing the grapes.

Shop Digital pH MeterEven though you tested the grapes when purchasing them, you may also want to verify with a wine hydrometer that the must has enough sugar. If not, you will need to add sugar until the potential alcohol scale on the hydrometer reads between 11% and 13%. Most of the time the wine must will already be in this range.

You may also want to check that the pH of the wine is in the correct range. The pH relates to the acidity of the wine. This can be done with either pH papers or a digital pH meter. An ideal reading would be between 3.4 and 3.8. It is important to remember that the pH scale works backwards, so adding more acid blend will lower the pH. You can read more about adjusting acidity on our website.

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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

What On Earth Is Bottle Shock?

Exploding Wine BottleIf you didn’t already know what this blog was about, the term bottle shock might conger up some interesting visions. I personally think of someone getting hit over the head by a bottle while in some bar fight.

 

So What Is Bottle Shock?

Bottle shock is a term used to refer to a wine that is suffering from the symptoms of getting too much air in too little time. These wines tend to be flat in their overall character. Their bouquet lacks fruitiness, and the finish can be just a tad bit off.

Bottle shock normally comes over a wine when it is being bottled. When bottling homemade wines more oxygen than normal becomes saturated into the wine. It can also happen if when the wine is being transported. The sloshing of the wine can cause this effect as will. This is why it is also sometimes referred to as travel shock.

The good news is the effects of bottle shock are temporary. In a matter of weeks after putting in the cork stoppers, or letting the bottle rest after its long journey, the lack-luster wine will blossom back into something that is usually better than what it was before.

 

Why Does Bottle Shock Happen?Shop Wine Bottles

Now that you know the answer to, “What is bottle shock?”, it’s time to get to, “Why does bottle shock happen?”

Oxygen is one of the elements that initiates the aging process. It starts a series of chain-reactions which in and of itself is the definition of aging. But, this oxygen must be introduced into the wine sloooowly so that each aging process in the chain can progress in a balanced way. It must also happen if very small amounts. Too much oxygen can be the catalyst for oxidation.

This is because some aging processes can not keep up with the higher infusion of oxygen as fast as others. As a result, the wine begins to taste out of balance until all the different aging reactions can get caught up.

This is one of the major reasons why natural cork stoppers make such great closures for wine bottles. They allows new air into the bottle but at a slow rate. Even synthetic corks are carefully designed and tested to see how much air will slip past them over a given amount of time. This is how critical the rate of oxygen is to the aging process. You need oxygen, just not much of it and not very quickly.

Once the aging catches up to the oxygen, the wine begins to come back to life. The net effect almost always results in a wine that is just as good if not better than it was before bottling.

 

The Take Away…

Shop Wine CorksWines that have been recently bottled are not capable of being at their best because of bottle shock. These wines should be allowed to rest for a few weeks before consumption. A slow infusion of oxygen over a long period of time is what wines need to age. This is why natural corks and synthetic corks make good wine bottle closures.

Hopefully, this information will help you out a little in your wine making adventures. At minimum, you’ll now know what to say if someone comes up and asks you, “what is bottle shock?”

—————
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

When To Pick Your Grapes: What Readings To Expect (Pt. 3)

Evaluating Wine Grapes For HarvestThis is part 3 of a 4 part series about when to pick your grapes. Part 1 went over the importance of knowing when to harvest. Part 2 covered how to take the readings from the grapes and what they mean. 

 

Ideal Readings

Here’s a quick run-down of what would be optimum readings you would want from the grapes for producing most wines. As an amateur vintner these are the numbers you should be striving to achieve.

The refractometers sugar reading should be around 20 to 26 Brix. This will potentially produce a wine between 10% to 13% alcohol. White wines should lean more towards the 20-22 Brix range, whereas Reds should be closer to 24 to 26 Brix. Red’s have more flavor, so they can handle more alcohol and still stay in balance.

As for pH readings with a digital pH meter, you would like your whites wines to reach 3.2 to 3.3. Remember the scale is reverse. You’ll be starting out earlier in the year around 2.8. You would like Red wines to be somewhere around 3.4 to 3.5. From a preservation standpoint, Reds don’t need to be as acidic as Whites because they have more alcohol to ward off any microbial growth.

Shop Acid Test KitTitratable acidity (TA) readings, as measured by a titration kit, should be .65% to .75% for white wines and .60% to .70% for reds. Again, the difference in these two is stated in the reason above.

 

The Reality Of Readings

The above readings would be great if you could attain each of them every year, but the reality is that in most parts of the U.S. hitting all these numbers in the same year is a struggle. You can plant in good soil and cultivate with care, but all that can be for not if the climate does not cooperate.

In cooler climates the refractometers reading quite often never reaches the appropriate range before the weather becomes too cool. In other areas pH may become to high before the refractometers readings can become adequate. Or, it may rain too much right before harvest, causing the grapes to plumpen up too much. This can dilute the sugar, acid and flavor to disastrous levels.

It’s only in regions where temperatures are moderate enough to provide a long growing season with moderate rain that grape growers have very little problems achieving these numbers. Such is the case of the inner valleys of California: Napa, Sonoma, etc. These areas benefit from the even, Mediterranean climate that the Pacific winds provide.

For other regions it is usually a compromise to get these three numbers into alignment. And, that is what we will discuss in the next part of this series.

 

Read More >> Shop Digital pH Meter

Part I: The Importance Of Timing
Part II: Taking Reading
Part III: What Readings To Expect
Part IV: The Big Compromise

—————
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Controlling Your Wine’s Alcohol

Man Affraid of Alcohol in Wine.My name is Lee and I have been making wine from your recipes for awhile. I was wondering what I could do to lower the alcohol content. If I used half the sugar the recipe called for, would that do it? If you could help I would appreciate it.

Thank You,
Lee
____
Lee,

A very short answer to your question is, “yes”, however there is a lot more to controlling the alcohol content of your wine than meets the eye.

It sounds like you understand that when a wine ferments it is turning sugar into alcohol. Less sugar in the fermentation equals less alcohol in the wine, but adding half the sugar that a wine recipe calls for does not give you half the alcohol in the wine. This is because some of the sugar is coming from the fruit itself.

An easy way to get around this difficulty is to use this wine making tip as a general rule of thumb when attempting to control the alcohol content of a wine:

“For every pound of sugar that you add to a 5 gallon wine recipe,
you will increase the wine’s potential alcohol by 1%.”

In your case, the opposite holds true as well. This is not exact, but it is extremely close.

Shop Wine Hydrometer To Help Control The Alcohol Content Of Your Wine.The biggest problem with this generality is that it does not tell you where your potential alcohol level is at, currently – before you made any adjustments. If you are following someone’s wine recipe that calls for a specific amount of sugar, this can only get you in a potential alcohol range, not an exact target. This is because the amount of sugar coming from the fruit can vary.

Because of this, the best way to adjust the beginning sugar level in your wine’s must is to use a wine hydrometer. Most gravity hydrometers have a Potential Alcohol scale that will tell you how much alcohol the sugar in your wine can potentially make. Knowing this will allow you to control your finished wine’s alcohol level with more precision.

For more information about the hydrometer, the book First Steps In Winemaking has a great section on this subject. You also might want to take a look at the article, Getting To Know Your Hydrometer listed on our website’s Resources & Guides section.

 

Keeping Your Alcoholic Aspirations In Check…

While the above information and other wine making books will allow you to control the alcohol content of your wine to any alcohol level you desire, there are limitations that can not be ignored. I would be negligent if I did not bring them up at this point.

 

  1. You would always like the alcohol level of your wine to be at least 8%. Wines with less alcohol than this do not keep well. Wine needs the alcohol to keep contaminants in check. Over time, wines that have 5%-6%-7% alcohol Shop Hydrometer Jarstend to turn brown more easily and are more susceptible to spoilage.
  1. You do not want your wine’s potential alcohol to be more than 14%. Wine yeast, the stuff that gets the wine fermenting, has limits as to how much alcohol it can tolerate. Shooting for an alcohol level that is beyond your yeast’s ability to ferment can result in either a stuck fermentation and a wine that is too sweet for your liking.

 

Having said this, trying to control the alcohol content of your wine is not always necessary. Most times, just following a sound wine recipe is all you need. Most of them are designed to make a wine that is in balance and of an alcohol level that is appropriate to the wine’s traditional style.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus

—————
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

When to Aerate A Wine

Primary FermentersAt what point do you aerate your fruit wine?
—–
Jason,

Aeration should only be done during the primary fermentation. This is the first 3 to 5 days of when the wine is in a primary fermenter and most active.

The only reason aeration is done is to give the wine yeast more ability to multiply and establish a solid colony. When a packet of wine yeast is put into a 5 or 6 gallon batch of wine, it has the monumental task of growing itself 100 to 200 times that little packet. That’s what causes all the beige-colored sediment you at the bottom of a fermenter. To readily do this the wine yeast need air. Without the air the colony size may suffer resulting in a sluggish fermentation.

Ironically, after the yeast colony is well established and the fermentation is starting to slow down, air is the enemy. For the rest of the wine’s life you want to keep air exposure time short and splashing to a minimum. The major concern here being oxidation of the wine.

What all this means for the home winemaker who is making 5 or 10 gallons is that the primary fermenter should be left exposed to air. This can mean doing something as simple as leaving the lid completely off a bucket fermenter. Cover it with a thin tea towel, nothing more. Or for a winery dealing with 500 gallon vats, this could mean continuously pumping and recirculating the wine back out on top the fermentation surface, much like a fountain.

There is a second element to this as well. Regardless of how much you are fermenting, you will always want to make an effort to keep a dried cap from forming on the surface of the fermentation. The pulp will want to rise during a primary fermentation. If left undisturbed it can dry and form a solid cap, choking the wine yeast off from the much needed air.

To prevent this from happening you will want to punch the cap back down into the wine. For most home winemakers with their 5 and 10 gallon batches, once a day is plenty. You can use something as simple as a potato masher for this purpose or you can stir it until the cap is dispersed. For larger batches you may need to punch down the cap several times a day.

Hope this information helps you out.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
—————
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

When To Pick Your Grapes: Taking Readings (Pt. 2)

Refractomer, pH Meter and Acid Titration KitThis is part 2 of a 4 part series on when to pick your grapes. Part 1 went over why timing is so important.

As the grapes start to become fully mature what you’ll want to do is take periodic readings. First with your refractometer, then with the pH meter and then finally with the titration kit. These three readings will be considered all together to determine when to pick your grapes.

 

Readings With Refractometers

Refractometers will give you a reading in a scale called Brix. This scale simply represents the amount of sugar in the grape juice as a percentage. For example, if your refractometer is reading 20 Brix, this means the grape juice is 20% sugar by weight.

As the grape matures the sugar percentage rises. This is important because during a fermentation the yeast turns about half of the sugar into alcohol. So the more sugar the grape juice has the more alcohol it can make. The other half of the sugar is turned into carbon dioxide gas (carbonation) and dissipates from the fermentation. In our example, this would mean that if you have a Brix of 20 when picking your wine grapes, you would have enough sugar to potentially make 10% alcohol.

Using refractometers to take Brix readings is very simple and instantaneous. All that is needed is a drop or two of the juice squeezed from the wine grape. Place the drops on the glass prism of the refractometer and then close the cover plate. Look into the lens while pointing it to a good light source, preferably the sun. You may have to adjust the lens to bring the Brix scale into focus. Wherever a brightness change occurs across the scale on the lens, that is the Brix of your wine.

 

Readings With pH Meters Shop Wine Hydrometers

Now it’s time to take a pH reading with your pH meter. What pH is telling you is the total strength of the acidity in the grape juice. As the grapes mature their acidic strength becomes weaker and weaker. If it becomes too weak then there is an increased potential for microbial action, spoilage. Having a low acidic strength can also weaken a wine’s color richness and lower its fruity impression.

The pH scale is a backwards scale. What this means is that the higher the number, the lower the acidity. So it’s important to understand that even though the acidic strength is weakening over time, you should be experiencing higher pH readings as time goes on. A typical pH reading might be 3.2.

To take a reading you will need to squeeze the juice from a hand-full of grapes into a cup or similar. The idea being, you need enough grape juice to completely submerge the entire probe end of the pH meter. Give it a few seconds, and you should get a reading on the display.

 

Readings With Titration Kits

A titration kit measures the total volume of acid in the wine regardless of its strength. It will give a reading as percentage of mass. While this reading does play a roll in the stability of the wine, it is more directly tied to the flavor of the wine. To much acid, the wine is too tart. Not enough acid, the wine if flat and lifeless. A typical reading might be .70%. This means the acid in the wine is 7 tenths of a percent by mass.

To take a reading with the titration kit you can use the same juice sample used to take the pH reading. Basically, what you’ll be doing is adding a solution to the wine until it changes color. By knowing how much solution it took to change the color of the wine sample, you can determine the wine’s total volume of acid. Shop Refractometers

 

Read More >>

Part I: The Importance Of Timing
Part II: Taking Reading
Part III: What Readings To Expect
Part IV: The Big Compromise

—————
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Getting Started With A Beginner Wine Making Kit

Wine Making Kit For BeginnerAlthough you do a good job of explaining the beginner wine making kits, I’m still not sure what I need to purchase.  I’d like to start making fruit wines and was looking at the Your Fruit Necessities Box.  I don’t have any wine making products at all so I would like to know what I need to buy in addition to this kit.  Let’s say I want to start with strawberry wine.  I have the beginner wine making kit in my shopping cart and now I need to add . . . bottles?  strawberry fruit mix (how many cans)? any sanitizing equipment for the bottles? Anything else?

Chris
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Dear Chris,

Using the Your Fruit! Necessities Box is a great way to start making wine. Regardless if you’re wanting to make strawberry wine from whole fruits or from your  County Fair canned strawberries, this will be the best way to start out. The wine making process will be the same as well, regardless if you choose to go with fresh or canned strawberries.

In the case of making strawberry wine you can go by the 5 gallon strawberry wine recipe in the center of our mailing catalog, or you can use the strawberry wine recipe listed on the wine recipe page of our website. The directions for making the wine can be found in both places as well. We call them The 7 Easy Steps To Making Wine. The wine making kit already has all the ingredients that are called for in the wine recipe.

As for any additional wine making products or wine making materials you might need, wine bottles is a fairly obvious one. The reason these are not included with the kit is because so many of our customers already have used bottles piling up from their commercial wine purchases.

The sanitizer you asked about is included in the beginner wine making kit. It’s called CleanPro SDH. It work great on all kinds of surfaces: glass, plastic, metal, etc.

If you think you’ll want your wines to be sweet, you may want to purchase a bottle of Wine Conditioner. You will add this to your strawberry wine to bring the sweetness up to the desire level. Just add to taste before bottling the wine.Shop Wine Conditioner

Some people do like to add a second plastic fermenter, but it certainly is not necessary. During the wine making process you will need to move the wine off the sediment a couple of times. This is a process called racking. Having a second fermenter makes the process a little easier. You can just go back-and-forth from one container and to the next as needed.

So as you can start to see the Your Fruit! beginner wine making kit is fairly inclusive, yet economical. While there may be an item or two you may want to add, for the most part this wine kit is complete.

Best Wishes,
Ed Kraus
—————
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Can I Use Welch’s Grape Juice To Make Wine?

Welchs Grape JuiceHello Kraus,

I would like to know if wine can be made from Welch’s grape juice that you buy at your local grocery store if you use yeast and go through the process of wine making? Will the Welch’s grape juice ferment into wine?

Curtis
—–
Hello Curtis,

As a beginning winemaker, using Welch’s grape juice is a great way to learn how to make your own wine. The resulting wine may not necessarily be prize-winning, but it will be well worth the effort.

The really neat part about it is you can make a few gallons of grape wine without having to worry about crushing the grapes and dealing with using a grape presses. You will still need, however, regular wine making materials such as wine yeast, yeast nutrient, wine tannin, etc.

You can use other brands besides Welch’s. The main thing to remember is that the grape juice can not have any preservatives that would interfere with a fermentation. Examples of these would be: sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate. All of Welch’s products are fine for fermentation.

Here’s a basic Welch’s grape wine recipe. It is for making one gallon. If you want to make 5 gallons, just times everything by 5, expect for the yeast. Each packet of yeast is good for 1 to 5 gallons of wine:

 

Welch’s Grape Juice Wine Recipe (1 Gallon)
2- 64 oz. Welch’s Grape Juice
1/2- lb. Cane Sugar
1- Package of Yeast (Red Star Montrachet)
1- Teaspoon Yeast Nutrient
Shop Wine Making Kits3/4 – Teaspoon Acid Blend
1/8 – Teaspoon Grape Tannin

 

If you prefer, you can use Welch’s Frozen Concentrate, you can do that as well. Just reconstitute the Welch’s concentrate with water as the directions from Welch’s indicate, and start from there.

You can follow the 7 Easy Steps To Making Wine that are listed on our website. We also have other wine recipes you can use with these Easy Steps on our Wine Recipe Page.

This should be all the info you need to make some Welch’s grape wine. If you have any other questions just let us know.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
—————
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

When To Pick Your Grapes: The Importance Of Timing (Pt. 1)

Man Picking Grapes For WineKnowing the optimum time to pick your grapes for wine is a crucial skill that must be mastered before any vineyard can become successful, yet the “knowing when” seems to be the one thing that eludes many amateur vintners.

What’s At Stake
The timing of the harvest plays a serious roll in the resulting wine. Basic features such as flavor, acidity, body, color, as well as stability are all tied to this decision. One should think of the harvest timing as the first decision to be made in the wine making process.

The Goal
Grapes are no different than most fruits on the face of this earth. As they mature through the growing season, they go from small and tart to big and sweet. In general, we want the grapes to be as sweet as possible but without risking the loss of too much acidity or acidic strength.

The sugars are what the yeast ferment into alcohol. The more sugars there are in the grape juice the more alcohol you will have from the fermentation, so we always want more sugar. But we also don’t want the acidic concentration and strength to deplete too much. This will cause the wine to be less stable and less likely to be able to protect itself from flavor deterioration, loss of color intensity, and potentially spoilage. We also don’t want the wine to be too acidic. This will make the wine too tart or sharp in flavor.

The Tools
Shop RefractometersAs a vintner there are three key pieces of equipment that are necessary to determine the when to pick your grapes: a refractometer, an acid titration kit, and a pH meter. Refractometers measure the amount of sugar in the juice. An acid titration kit measures the amount of the acid in a juice. The pH meter measures the strength of the acid in the grape juice.

I would also strongly recommend getting a wine hydrometer for doing a final check of sugar levels before actually picking the grapes. The hydrometer actually floats in the juice to determine the Brix level. Having a wine hydrometer will also be handy later on when you’re actually making the wine.

Read More >>
Part I: The Importance Of Timing
Part II: Taking Reading
Part III: What Readings To Expect
Part IV: The Big Compromise

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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years. #picking