"I have no idea what kind of grapes I have, but they are good.
Do you have a simple, easy to make recipe I might could try?"
Kevin D. White, McKenzie, TN
There are literally thousands of different kinds of grape. The vast majority of all grapes used to make wines are varieties of one single species, Vitis vinifera. However, there are nearly three dozen other species (depending on who is counting) of grape growing in the wilds throughout the world. There are between 19 and 29 species of native grapes in North American alone. If you come to possess a bulk amount of reasonably sweet grapes, no matter what kind they are, the following instructions will work. If you want to measure and adjust acidity and/or pH, be my guest. It isn't absolutely necessary to make wine, but doing so might considerably improve the wine you make.
Fill two 5-gallon buckets (these are plastic paint buckets available in any big home improvement store such as Home Depot) with 4 gallons of grapes each. If you don't have a grape crusher, crush them with a 4-foot length of 4X4 wood. This will take a little work, but you have to do it. It goes easier if you have an extra bucket and crush 6-8 inches of grapes in one and then pour these into the second and repeat the process until you have 4 gallons of crushed grapes. Leave at least 8 inches of space between the top of the grapes and the top of the bucket. Continue this until you have prepared two buckets of grapes. You should get around 2 to 2-1/2 gallons of juice from each 4-gallon batch of grapes, so at least two buckets are required to make 5 gallons of wine.
Pour 4-5 cups of crushed grapes into a nylon straining bag sitting inside a bowl. Tie the bag and squeeze it until you get a cup or two of juice. Pour the juice into a hydrometer test cylinder and measure the specific gravity of the juice with a hydrometer. You want a specific gravity of at least 1.090, so if you don't get that high a reading you're going to have to add sugar later. Write down the specific gravity reading and save it. Set aside 1/2 cup of the juice and return the remainder and the pulp from the nylon straining bag to the bucket.
Crush 5 Campden tablets and dissolve them in a cup of warm (but not hot) water. When completely dissolved, divide this between the two buckest of grapes, each receiving half. Stir the grapes with a long wooden (NOT metal) spoon. Cover the buckets with cloth and let set for 12 hours. Divide pectic enzyme between the two buckets, stir, recover, and set aside another 12 hours. Meanwhile, put the 1/2 cup of grape juice in a sterilized jar with 1/2 cup of warm (not hot) water. Sprinkle one or two 5-mg packets of wine yeast into the jar and cover with plastic wrap secured with a rubber band. Set this aside also. After the 12-hour waiting period following addition of the pectic enzyme, pour the yeast mixture equally into the two buckets of crushed grapes and replace the cloth coverings. Stir these two or three times a day (the pulp will rise, forming a "cap" of pulp on top of the juice), punching down the cap each time.
After five days, you have to press the grapes. You need a grape press for this, but if you have a local winemaking club you can probably borrow one. Press the grapes and save all the juice. You'll get more juice if you press them once, knock the compressed pulp out, fluff it up, and then put it back in the press and press it again. When done, measure the amount of grape juice and pour it into a sterilized glass carboy suitable for it's volume. Carboys come in 2-1/2, 3, 5, and 6-1/2 gallon sizes and cost between $13 and $19 each, depending on size. Do not completely fill the carboy. You need to leave 4-6 inches of space between the top of the juice and the top of the carboy. Put a bung with an airlock on the carboy and set it aside. When the fermentation dies down to just a bubble every 15 seconds or so, add the sugar required to bring the initial specific reading (the one you wrote down) to 1.090. Calculate this amount using the chart on my hydrometer page.
Let's say, for example, that your juice had an initial S.G. of 1.075. Using the chart, you'll see that this represents 1 lb 10 oz of sugar per gallon. To get it to S.G. 1.090 (2 lbs even per gallon), you'll need to add 6 oz of sugar per gallon (2 lb minus 1 lb 10 oz equals 6 oz). To add the sugar, measure it into a bowl and add to it 1/2 its volume in boiling water. To do this, measure the sugar by weight and then measure it again using a measuring cup. One lb of sugar, you'll discover, is almost exactly 2 cups. So, if you were going to add 2 cups of sugar, boil one cup of water and pour it into the bowl of sugar. Stir this until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it cool to room temperature (about two hours). Add it to the carboy and refit the airlock.
When the fermentation has completely run its course and the S.G. is around 0.095 to 0.090, you should have a thick layer of sediments on the bottom of the carboy. Rack the wine into another sterilized carboy, top up if required*, and refit the airlock. Set it aside to age for 3-6 more months, depending on taste. Rack into bottles and enjoy it. [Author's own recipe]
*If you are making a 3-gallon batch, you will probably be able to rack the wine into a 2-1/2 gallon carboy without having to top up. However, if you make a 5-gallon batch, I recommend you go ahead and make a 1-gallon batch too. This will allow you to top up (after racking) the 5-gallon batch from the 1-gallon batch. The advantage is you are topping up with wine, not water (which will dilute your wine).
My thanks to Kevin D. White of McKenzie, Tennessee for requesting this recipe.