We are often asked what the difference is between making wine from concentrates and making wine from grapes. There are some differences, but there are also many similarities.
If you are just starting out, concentrates offer an easy way to consistently produce fine wines. They come with easy-to-follow instructions that take all the guesswork out of the process and are easy to understand, even for first-time winemakers.
In most cases, they also come with all the additional home winemaking ingredients that need to be pre-measured and ready to use. All the variables are removed so it's hard to make mistakes.
Home winemakers also have access to more varietals with wine concentrates than if they tried to buy or grow their own grapes. We currently offer over 200 different wine juices from all over the world: France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Canada and California. An incredible selection for making a blend that never gets tired, and unlike grapes, these concentrates are available all year round.
Starting a batch of wine with a concentrate is very quick and easy. Simply pour the concentrate into a wine fermentation vessel, add water to the proper level (usually 6 gallons), and then add the wine yeast and any other ingredients called for in the accompanying instructions.
After that, the wine is simply aspirated out of the sediment (called: racking) from time to time as directed and then finally bottled. The entire process usually takes 30 to 45 days, depending on the brand of wine concentrate you purchase, and can be done in a very small area.
When making wine from grapes, most of the process is very similar to that of making wine from packaged juice. The fermentation, cleaning and bottling processes are almost identical, but there are some key differences to point out.
Handling of grapes.
Many people don't realize this, but many grapes are used to make wine. For example, each package of our wine concentrates represents 70 to 100 pounds of wine grapes used to make 6 gallons of wine. That's two to three bushels. You need that many grapes, too.
After fermentation is complete and the pulp is removed, you will be left with about six gallons of wine. Use no water, just 100% pure juice to make wine from wine grapes.
As a side note: 70 to 100 pounds applies only to really loud wine grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, etc. When making wine from grapes, typically 25 to 50 pounds is used to make 6 gallons. The difference is made up by sugar and water. A smaller amount is used because these grapes are more flavorful and have more acidity, so using 100% juice will make the wine sharp, acidic and bitter.
Handling such large quantities of grapes must be taken into account before undertaking such a project. The grapes need to be destemmed and crushed before fermentation and then pressed after a few days of fermentation; white wines are pressed before fermentation.
The grapes can be destemmed and crushed by hand. You can use anything from a potato masher to the end of a 2 X 4. If you are dealing with hundreds of pounds or more, then you will need to consider using a grape crusher or crusher/de-stemmer combination. Either of these items will speed up the process considerably.
After a few days of fermentation, the pulp needs to be pressed to extract all possible juice from the pulp. In the case of white wines, the grapes are pressed prior to fermentation after crushing; the pulp never sees fermentation.
As mentioned earlier, when you make wine from concentrates, all the variables are already taken care of for you. That's why these packaged concentrates are perfect for the casual winemaker, or even the novice winemaker. You can make wonderful wines with ease and consistency.
When making wine from grapes, you must be prepared to deal with these variables. Ignoring them is not an option. Ignoring them will only "if you're lucky" produce enjoyable wines, but mastering them will allow you to produce wines you can be proud of and share every time.
What are these variables? While one could consider a fairly healthy list from small to large, the list of variables that require a great deal of attention is not that long. Focus on these few and you will win most of your battles. The variables we are talking about are as follows.
When making wine from grapes, knowledge of the specific gravity meter used to control the starting brix of the must is critical. The starting brix determines the final alcohol content of the wine. Different vintages, grape types and harvest times all add to the unpredictability of the sugar levels naturally provided by the grapes themselves. These varying sugar levels may require the addition of sugar or water to adjust the wine's potential alcohol content to a reasonable range - usually between 10% and 13%.
Just as sugar levels can vary, so can acidity. If the acidity is too high, the wine will eventually become harsh or sour; without enough acidity, the wine will become flat and flabby. The way to control this is to take readings with an acid test kit. By taking an acidity reading, you will be able to determine if an acid mixture or water needs to be added to the must.
Pulp contact time.
The amount of time that the pulp is allowed to remain in the fermentation needs to be controlled. The time range is 1 to 7 days, most commonly 5 days. These times refer mainly to red wines. The pulp of white wines is not usually incorporated into the fermentation process. The longer the pulp stays in the fermentation process, the more color and grape character the wine will have. However, be careful not to drink it for too long, as doing so can give the wine an irreversible astringent taste. The different pulp contact times are one of the reasons why White Zinfandel, Blush Zinfandel and Red Zinfandel can all be made from the same grape.
The amount of pressure applied to the flesh during pressing can change the character of the wine in a similar way to the flesh contact time. When the juice is first placed in the press, you get what is called a "free run". This is the juice with the lightest body. When pressure is applied to the pulp, a more concentrated juice is released. Therefore, the final pressure level used for pressing controls the body of the resulting wine.
There are many other factors that play a more marginal role in producing the character of the wine. We will not discuss them here, as it is beyond the scope of this article. Just be aware that there are enough variables of varying degrees of importance that one can learn from throughout one's life.
As you can see, there are many things that come into play when dealing directly with grapes, such as crushing, pressing and handling the shear volume of the grapes. Producers of wine concentrates are experts in this area. Everything from harvesting to concentration is done in a way that preserves the true character of the grapes and produces a wine with the balance of body, flavor and character that you must strive for when handling grapes yourself.
But for the more active home winemaker, making wine from grapes may be the only way to get their hobby off the ground. For some people, the hands-on experience you get when you slow down on the grape press makes the process worth trying. If this is you, then definitely go for it. Making wine from fresh grapes is certainly rewarding and once mastered, you will be able to produce wines that far exceed the best wines on the market today.