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Wine can be produced from local grapes

Grapes are beginning to ripen in the area for many different uses. John Zvirovski / The Sun

The early autumn season brings with it many different festivals for people to enjoy and participate in. Two of the main festivals are Octoberfest and the numerous wine festivals in the area. Some begin as early as mid-August and run through November.

Of course, I always love to participate in these events as they are quite enjoyable and the perfect time to get away and be social. Whether you are a beer or a wine drinker, you will not be disappointed with the assortments in which to choose.

Many people in the area love to dabble with growing their own grapevines. Oftentimes, people do not know quite what to do with grapes once they are ripe. Many leave them on the vines for the birds to eat and others pick them and make jams and jellies for use later on.

Not being big on preserving grapes in that way, I choose to make wine. Something about making your own wine from the fruit that one grows has a sense of accomplishment. It seems like a painstaking process, but if you keep it simple, it can turn out fairly good. Now, do not be misled into believing you will be making $100 bottles of wine at home, but anything is possible. I like to think of it more as an experimentation process while refining the art in your own home.

Unlike commercial producers who use huge stainless steel vats, machinery and oak barrels that fill warehouses, personal homemade wine is a completely different process. It is on a much smaller scale as you only need some basic household items to make a decent bottle of wine.

The key to making wine is the sterilization of all products being used. Dirty equipment will make for contaminated wine, which results in wasted time and money. If you are going to go through the efforts, make sure to work with clean equipment.

There are many grape types that can be grown in our area for making wine. These include varieties such as valiant, beta, Swenson red, Frontenac gris, Marquette, king of the north and Somerset seedless. These are all common grapes that tend to make very good wine in North Dakota.

There are some basic elements that are needed for making your own wine from grapes. For myself, I have 2-gallon glass jars, lids, saran wrap, a siphon, a strainer, clean bottles, corks, the harvested grapes, sugar, yeast, and water.

Pick the grapes when they are fully ready around the beginning of September till mid-October, depending on the grape selection. When their colors are full and they have a sweet flavor, they are time to harvest. Once they have been picked, rinse them thoroughly and pull off all the stems from each berry. To make 1 1/2 to 2 gallons, you will need to have just over 2 heaping quarts of berries. Pour the berries in the 2-gallon jar and smash them with a clean utensil until all skins have been split. Add 4 cups of sugar and then 6 quarts of nearly boiling water. Mix well until all the sugar is dissolved. Add 3 to 3 1/2 teaspoons of dry active yeast to the mix and blend in well. Let stand for a few hours and then place a layer of saran wrap over the top and secure it with rubber bands. Insert a pinhole in the center of the saran wrap. This will allow the gases to escape without allowing oxygen in to spoil the wine. Within a day, the mixture will be rolling from top to bottom. This is the yeast reacting with the sugar in the fermentation process. Yeast feeds on sugar in order to produce alcohol, once the sugar has been completely used, the fermentation process is ready for the next step.

Let this ferment for three to four weeks. Next use a siphon to remove the liquid through a strainer and into another sterile container. The leftover fruit pulp and skins will get discarded at this time. This remnant is known as the “must”. Let sit for another week and siphon it again into another clean jar through a filter (coffee filters work well). Repeat this process week after week until the liquid is clear of any sediment. This could take anywhere from one to three months.

Once the liquid is clear, siphon the wine into sterile wine bottles for the final process of aging. Always get standard dark-colored bottles from a retailer and standard corks instead of using recycled ones. A variety of bottles will only cause problems once corked, as the openings may all be slightly different and the corks may not fit securely. A popped cork will make a huge mess due to the pressure inside the bottle, so avoid this type of ordeal.

Soak your corks over night with two crushed Campden tablets to kill any bacteria. This will also allow the corks to enter the bottle easier. Purchase an inexpensive manual corker to pound the corks into the bottle and allow the bottles to sit upright overnight. Check the bottles the next day to make sure no corks are pushing forward. Next gently lay them on their side in a cool dark location so air cannot enter the bottle. Age the wine for a minimum of one year before drinking for best flavor.

Wine can be made from more than just grapes. Items such as rhubarb, elderberries, currants, apples, chokecherries and plums are also very common from our area. They all have a different form of processing to make wine, so check out a variety of recipes online to see what will work best for you.

Making wine is an interesting process, but the fun begins at growing your own grapes and fruit. From there, it just becomes a fascinating journey of exploration and experimentation. Who knows, maybe your first batch doesn’t turn out the best, but it may just produce some of the best wine you have tasted.

If you are interested in making beer, I am the wrong person to ask. But attend the Octoberfest celebration through the Arts Center on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the Stutsman County Fairgrounds. There you will be able to sample beer from local suppliers and eat some good German-style food. It is a great evening of fun. More information can be obtained directly through the Arts Center.