THE FROTHING MASS OF PINKNESS at left is a close-up of grapes, juice, skins, pips, and stems fermenting their little hearts out in our Central Bottle in-store, micro-scale winemaking project.
Timed to coincide with the Cambridge Science Festival, the new wine is gurgling away at Central Bottle in a 5 gallon glass carboy borrowed from winemaker-for-real Kip Kumler at Turtle Creek Winery in nearby Lincoln, Massachusetts.
The idea is to make a Beaujolais nouveau-style wine (that’s why it’s faux) we can get into drinkable condition in a matter of few weeks, and before Liz Vilardi knows what we’re up to. (She’s been in Burgundy tasting the real thing and posting her adventures here). Fresh, local wine grapes aren’t available this time of year, of course, so on April 2 we get started with ordinary Chilean table grapes purchased at A. Russo & Sons market in Watertown. We spend about $75 for enough grapes to just fill the carboy.
The technique that makes the wine ready sooner than it might otherwise be is something called carbonic maceration, wherein a first stage of fermentation takes place inside the whole, intact berries without the aid of yeasts. We explained the process at length in a post on the Central Bottle blog earlier this year (“CO2 to you, too.“)
The primary fermentation involves nothing more than flushing the carboy with CO2 gas and filling it with whole grapes. We leave a bit of stem on each berry because pulling it off would leave an open wound and destroy the integrity of the grapeskin.
Once the jar is filled, we pump in a bit more CO2, insert an air-lock, and do nothing but watch it for two weeks. Not much happens visually, but after 14 days a taste shows that the fruit is indeed undergoing a transformation. Less sweetness and a tingle of ethanol suggest things are on schedule.
At 17 days we decide to empty the jar and crush the grapes the old fashioned way – by treading, in a plastic tub, right on the floor of the shop.
We then inoculate the freshly-crushed grapes with Lalvin BRL97 yeasts and send the whole business back into the carboy to undergo a few days of conventional fermentation that will bring the wine to dryness or very near it, extracting more color and a bit of texture.
On Saturday, April 20 the time seems right to drain off the free-run juice and press the solids. Working with (almost) nothing that couldn’t be found in a well-equipped kitchen means we have no proper wine press, so we improvise by scooping the gross lees into a big square of cheesecloth and wringing it out. We notice right away what we had been led to expect: the press wine is much more interesting than its free-run counterpart, offering substantially more extract, flavor, and grip.
Our homemade nouveau is still quite foggy, but its coral-pink color is cheery; its aromas perfectly clean and rather pretty. There’s a trace of spritz and some lively, but not puckering, acidity. The flavors remind one taster of a dry version of Hawaiian Punch.
Central Bottle regular Vaughn Tan, who is a great help all afternoon, describes our three week wonder as “surprisingly wine-like.” We’re thrilled.
Having decided that any further manipulation would be superfluous (we expect to drink it all up within a week or two) we go straight to bottling, just 18 days since we first put fresh grapes into the carboy.
We hope to repeat the project on a little larger scale this fall when true wine grapes from some local vineyards become available, and have some real New England Fauxjolais Nouveau ready for Thanksgiving.