All Grape Things Come in a Wine Bottle

Do you know the idea that red wine should be drunk at room temperature was established when people lived in castles? How much cold could a castle room hold?

There are thousands of ways to make wine, with an end product sure to tantalize and awaken dormant taste buds. Depending upon what you want, techniques used and what’s available, winemaking is all a matter of personal taste and choice. Brian Ross of Willow Point Wines got started in winemaking in Germany. He and a friend found a book on winemaking and decided to try making blackberry wine. Using invented forms of sign language, since he didn’t speak German, Brian borrowed the equipment from a local wine shop and their premier wine was a success! Brian ended up working for two years at the wine shop, whose owners each had a viniculture degree, before returning to Canada where he later taught the winemaking portion of Serving it Right – the beverage service program developed by the Liquor Control Board and hospitality associations that helps ensure alcohol is served professionally and responsibly. Brian worked at a U-Brew in Victoria for two years, and has now been making wine for himself and customers in Campbell River since May 1998. His aim is to “educate the public, give good service, and have a product customers can enjoy.”

The two common ways to make wine are with wine kits, available from various producers in varying qualities, and fruit wine made from almost any fruit or combination thereof.

Cellar Craft wine kits come in 4-week, 5-week, 6-week and Showcase top-of-the-line kits. Brian uses an 8-week timeframe for all the kits, saying that, “The instructions are for fast wines, not necessarily the best wines.”   

A 4-week kit has 7.5 litres of juice/concentrate to make 23 litres of wine. This wine is less expensive and is quick to make, although doesn’t produce the more complex flavours of longer fermenting wines. 

The 5- week kit is new in the last few years. For red wine, 10.5 litres of juice/concentrate plus 1.5 litres of crushed grape pack makes 23 litres of wine. Crushed grape packs set this kit apart from the rest and are important because much of the colour and flavour of red wine derives from grape skins, seeds and the natural solids of grapes, where the juice and grapes ferment together for usually one to three weeks. This wine kit gives great value. 

A 6-week kit has 16 litres of juice/concentrate to give full body and a more complex flavour. It takes more time, though the red wine does not have the crushed grape pack. 

Showcase kits are vineyard specific, which means the grapes are traceable to the vineyards of origin. The red has 16 litres of juice/concentrate, 2 litres of crushed grapes and, if aged eight months to a year, is comparable to a $15.00 to $25.00 bottle of wine in the liquor store. 

Many customers are “experienced winemakers and know exactly what they want!” So again, personal choice – like having your coffee black, with cream, extra sugar, or both – determines the wines you can make. 

The option of fruit wine or juice is perfect for our region where an abundance of berries, tree fruit and garden delectables make an excellent drink to savour. One common mistake people make is bringing in grapes that aren’t ripe enough. Because we live at the northern edge of grape-growing territory, we get much variation in the quality of grapes, which need lots of heat and hard pruning. Vines may be covered with plastic towards late summer, or be grown in a grapey greenhouse with lots of ventilation to lengthen the growing season. 

The process for red grapes is to pick, crush, ferment, then press – again, the colour comes mostly from the skins. For white grapes the process is pick, crush, press, then ferment. Almost any fruit combo you would make jam, jelly or pie with, you can also use to make wine. Think of the possibilities! Blackberry-apple, blackberry-cherry, plum-apple, strawberry-rhubarb, rhubarb-pineapple, or you can make Mustgo wine: whatever’s left in the freezer that must go! So gather up the stray strawberries, ruby rhubarb, best blueberries and ripe raspberries, and make your own Mustgo wine!

The amount of fruit picked to make juice is variable as it depends on whether you want pure juice or prefer it diluted. Both have advantages and depend on the fruit used, storage space and practicality.

For wine, you need about 30 pounds of fruit to make a batch, or 23 litres. Bring in a bunch of grapes for Brian to sample and when ripe enough, pick and bring in the same day. The best time to pick, ripeness-wise, is just after the racoons get to them, so good luck with that! Red grapes need more ripening time and green grapes are usually sweet enough to make wine or juice – and sweet is the key. The most common fruit for wine is grapes; using other fruits makes fruit wine.

Other fruits, except apples, are picked ripe and frozen. If the pits are sharp, like plums, they should be pitted first, then frozen. Smooth-pitted fruit like cherries can be pressed whole and won’t damage the bladder press. So, when you have 30 pounds of frozen fruit, pick up a bucket and mix-packets from the wine shop, thaw the fruit, mix in the packets and in a few days bring it all in for pressing. Brian comments that, “fruit wine gives more ownership”, a certain pride perhaps, where you can “design to your taste” – dry, low-alcohol, light, strong? It’s “not just a random thing”. 

For both wine kits and fruit wine, customers must pitch the yeast, pay, then bottle themselves. Legislation brought in 2000 states that the wine-store owners cannot do this for the customer, as they’re not allowed to “make” wine or liquor to sell. Therefore wine testing celebrations aren’t allowed either. Too bad – sounds like a law that mustgo! 

I watched, and tasted, as a couple bottled their blackberry wine. Liquid invert sugar, 250 mL at a time was added, wine tasted, sugar added, wine tasted, one more sugar added and bravo – perfect blackberry wine for the two. Rather than the common 00, 01 sweetness scale, Brian uses terms like dry, off dry, semi-sweet or sweet, as numbers are so variable. 

Fruit wine sitting for one year gives a better product, although two to six months is common and probably easier done for some! It’s riskier to make than kits because fruit quality, colour and consistency can vary so much, which makes it hard to get the same product each time. Kits give that consistency. The end product must be clear and in the back room I can easily see differing stages of doneness from cloudy to clear in intense reds, pinks, pale golds and peach. 

It’s heartening to know that people are using up their backyard bounty of fruits and there’s a place to take it all to make great wines or juices. Do you have some fruit for must-go wine in your backyard?