For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to get into home brewing.
I started researching home brewing beer back in my college years, when I preferred beer. However, this was also at a time when I lived in an apartment and what I was learning at the time indicated that such small quarters didn't lend itself to an ideal home brewing situation. So, I never brewed any beer. (But I still have the book, “The Joy of Home Brewing”, to this day. I remember exactly when I bought that book so many years ago.)
Fast forward roughly 20 years later. I rarely drink beer, love wine, have a home with enough room to sustain a small, dedicated area to home brewing — and I still have the itch to get into home brewing.
One night in October of last year, my friend Pat Campion told me that he was making his own wine at home. He said his wife enjoys the wine, it's inexpensive and he really loves the “science” of it all (but doesn't drink wine himself).
Over the next few months Pat and I discussed his home brewing experiences further, and I told him “I'm in! The next time you get juice, grab some for me and I'll join you”.
In February, Pat called me one evening and told me about this special deal he found with this wine supply store in Dundee. A 5 gallon bucket of Shiraz juice from California would cost me $60. So I ordered two!
Here's the interesting part of this: When Pat showed up to my house with these two 5 gallon drums of Shiraz juice, he didn't come with a ton of other supplies needed to ferment the juice and turn it into wine. (Normally, you'd need to add yeast to the juice and let it ferment in a large container, with special caps to allow the carbon dioxide and other gases escape.) Instead, he told me that these juices had “naturally fermented” over time, since they had been part of a large delivery in the prior autumn and hadn't sold. They had been properly stored / refrigerated at such a temperature that the juice didn't spoil, but rather fermented via the yeast that naturally occurs in the air.
Now, I'm no scientist and I don't fully understand this. I have learned a bit about actually “brewing” your own wine, and this process of “natural fermentation” seemed alien and somewhat wrong to me.
But I sure was surprised to learn that the two 5 gallon drums of “Shiraz juice” I purchased for $60 each was actually two 5 gallon drums of “Shiraz wine”.
$60 for five gallons of wine? Seriously? “There's gotta be a catch”, I thought.
We proceeded to siphon the wine out of the original containers into a single large barrel container. (This is known as “racking”.) Within a few days, I went to my local wine supply store (Adventures in Homebrewing) and picked up two 5-gallon glass carboys and air lock caps.
Over the next few weeks, I simply “racked” the wine from carboy to carboy to let the sediment clear out from the wine.
I also had to “degas” the wine to release some of the remaining carbon dioxide bubbles. Before degassing, the wine had a “sparkling wine” tongue feel (gross), and the bubbles actually gave the remaining solids within the wine something to cling to. Thus, releasing the gas allowed the sediment to drop to the bottom of the carboy, so it resulted in clear, delicious wine.
Now, I'm hooked.
In the evening when my girlfriend, or neighbors, or friends, or family are over, I'm prone to steal some wine out of a carboy instead of opening a bottle of “commercial wine”.
It is surprisingly delicious!
I'm not only hooked on the flavor of this home made wine, I'm hooked on the process of home made wine!
I now have four 5-gallon carboys, three 3-gallon carboys and a few 1-gallon jugs that remind me of the old moonshine jugs you'd see on TV on the Beverly Hillbillies.
I also have plenty of siphons, tubes, a degassing wand, a hydrometer (to measure the alcohol content), caps & valves, drying racks and proper sanitization chemicals. Since my initial two batches of Shiraz, I've used all of these supplies to make another three 5-gallon batches of “naturally fermented” wine. (So far, I've made a total of 3 batches of Shiraz, 1 batch of Cabernet and 1 batch of Pinot Noir. They're all freaking delicious.)
Up next: I'm going to actually ferment juice from a wine kit (that includes the yeast and other essential items specialized for this batch.) I've purchased an 8 gallon primary fermentation bucket and a 6 gallon glass carboy for secondary fermentation and racking over the next several weeks. Will keep you posted on my experiences and what I've learned!