The Sad Saga of our DIY Turpentine Wine

When life gives you grapes, make wine.

Such was our thinking this September when we noticed the vine that Wei-ting had planted along the fence a few years ago had grown quite big. With so many grapes on our hands, we decided to try our hand at the age-old process of wine making. After all, how hard could it be?

Harder than we thought, it turns out. The first step in the process involved washing, destemming, and then crushing the grapes with a potato smasher in a mesh bag (no, you don’t just step/jump on them, as we initially imagined doing). We had about 40-50 bunches of grapes, which would yield about 2.5 gallons (12 bottles) of wine. We then let the mixture (which looked a bit like cider) sit for an hour in a sanitized bucket with a campden tablet (potassium metabisulfite), before adding the yeast and transferring indoors for fermentation.

Error #1: We forgot to measure the specific gravity at this point, which meant we wouldn’t be able to determine the alcohol content when it was finished.

Two weeks later, we checked on the wine’s progress, and it had completed fermentation. Although the color was a bit cloudy, once we filtered out some of the sediment, it didn’t look that bad. And the taste was pretty good. We racked the wine into another sanitized jug and let it sit for a few more weeks while we collected bottles.

Error #2: We used a 5 gallon jug, leaving the wine exposed to a lot of air within the partially-empty jug. This, combined with the fact that we never topped it off with a wine of a similar type when transferring into this jug (forgot to look at the instructions again!), meant that the wine oxidized during its racking phase.

When we unveiled the wine a few weeks later, we realized we had made a mistake. Although oxidation can sometimes be fixed, it was pretty hopeless when we smelled it this time around. Cheryl even took a sip (and survived!), describing the scent as something akin to that of turpentine. Not the most appetizing, to say the least.

We were a bit disappointed that our first adventure in winemaking didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. However, the best part about grapes is that they’re a perennial plant. Which means that we always have next year to try again (and use this winter as a time to perfect our process with some practicing!).

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