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A pail, some grape juice and you can make fine wine at home

Time:2019-05-22 08:36wine - Red wine life health Click:

Beverages Food Drink 1 Edmonton culture and lifestyle


If you go the juice-pail route, here’s the minimum you need: a combination pump/siphon, a 23-litre glass or plastic carboy with airlock stopper, a long plastic spoon and sanitizing powder for cleaning equipment. Now, yes, you will soon learn that there are many other devices in the winemaker’s toolkit, like hydrometers and electric filters, but these aren’t essential to begin with, if ever.

Kailey Lang / Swerve

At one of my favourite stores, the Italian Super Market at Edmonton Trail and 20th Avenue N.E., autumn used to be marked by the appearance of tall stacks of California grapes in crates. As a sometime winemaker for the past 15 years, those grapes always made me envy the savvy Italians who could turn them into rich, authentic wines. If only it didn’t seem so far beyond my pay grade, not to mention my limited residential space.

This fall, however, I realized I hadn’t seen those crates for a few years. Then I learned why: with their extra work and increased possibility for mishandling, bulk grapes have been superseded by freshly pressed juice, refrigerated to 1 C and trucked direct from California in 23-litre pails. In back, it turns out, the ISM has cold storage with up to 25 different grape varietals ready to turn into wine.

Before I get into the process, let me describe the alternative. Like most newbies, we started with what are called kit wines. In one box you get a sealed plastic bag of wine juice (or, more commonly, juice concentrate) plus sundry additives like yeast, clarifiers, oak chips, corks and labels. Follow the instructions to the letter and in a few months you end up with a drinkable wine that more or less passes for whatever varietal it purports to be.

With all those gewgaws, however, kit wines lack the sense of making a product directly from the earth. If nothing else, the act of concentrating grape juice only to add the water back before fermentation seems like one industrial process too many.

Enter the juice-pail phenomenon, which has all but replaced whole grapes according to ISM’s Emilio DiGaeta, the second-generation padrone of the family-operated store founded in 1963 across from the St. Louis Hotel. “My father would not be happy about it,” says Emilio. “And I’m still a grape guy myself. But the reality is that newer generations don’t have the knowledge that people used to have. I started hearing, for example, that people were crushing these beautiful grapes with the stems on, which makes terrible wine.”

Against his better instincts, Emilio deigned to bring in some juice pails. “I didn’t know how good they would be,” he recalls. “But I figured it would be a lot easier, especially for some of my customers who are elderly, widowed Italian ladies.” It was one of them, Emilio’s aunt, who gave him his first taste. “I’d completely forgotten that I got my guy to take her over some juice to make wine the previous fall. But I tasted this white she handed me, and I said, ‘This is fantastic. How did you make it?’”

Well, here’s the technique, which Emilio rightly characterizes as “stupid easy.” Buy juice for $48 to $63 (it’s food—no tax!), pretty much any grape you can name. My first two batches were San Giovese and Pinot Grigio. Make sure the cashier gives you a packet of yeast. Go home, place in a 20 C room, open pail and add rehydrated yeast. Fermentation will begin immediately. Let it bubble away, loosely covered, for 10 days. Then rack it (siphon) into a clean carboy. Top up to the neck with wine of the same varietal, then let it sit for two months. This stage is called secondary fermentation.

Rack it once more, avoiding sediment, top up. Behold, ladies and gentlemen, wine—ready to rest in carboy or bottle. If you’re a bumpkin like me, consider two-litre plastic pop containers. The snap-top Grolsch-type beer bottles work, too.

All wines develop character with age, even in plastic. But I’m not making wine this way to lay down, or impress people, or win competitions. I’m just trying to have decent table wine with a minimum of hassle and expense, and now I’ve found it. Three bucks a bottle? Hail to the pail.


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