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A Virgin's Guide to Grapefest

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  • A Virgin's Guide to Grapefest

    UPDATED FOR 2010

    On Bob's advice, I'm posting this in the General AND Grapefest sections .....


    I attended my first Grapefest in 2008. I'm a bit of an old woman, and had no idea of what to take, what grapes to order, what happens on the day etc. (no offence to any old women who may be reading this). I thought I'd write this for the benefit of others of the same mindset. It isn't a grape winemaking tutorial (I'm not exactly qualified to do that) - it's just an explanation of what to expect of Grapefest, preparations to make and so on.

    It's mainly about making wine from grapes (the clue is in the name). It is also a great opportunity to pick the brains of the great and the good of WAH (well, some of the UK-based bods anyway), try different wines, get others to try your wines (good and bad). I purposely took a dodgy wine just to find out what the heck was wrong with it. This forum is a great source of information, but you'll learn loads face-to-face.

    Everyone can get involved with processing the grapes - we all get to use Bob's toys. Come dressed appropriately (old stuff).

    Oh, and it's a social event too. There are NO snobs at Grapefest, (but there are several excellent winemakers). Be prepared for robust language, a late night and a big hangover. Food was provided last year, but I'd suggest some sort of contribution to the cost (I'm sure Bob & Karl will advise).

    In 2008, things started happening for us mid-morning (they started happening for Bob the day before, driving to London to get the grapes and getting home in the early hours). The grapes were done and dusted by mid-afternoon, and serious wine appreciation started shortly after. This continued until stupid-o'clock at night.

    It's no more complex than making wine from tinned fruit. You CAN make it really complicated if you want (go to the Forum on and you'll see what I mean). Bring a notebook - the likes of Bob and Karl will tell you what to do with the grapes when you get them home.

    Bob normally publishes a provisional list of grape varieties, followed some time later by a firm(er) list. You'll be expected to let him know what varieties you want, and how many boxes. I wouldn't fret too much about varieties - if in doubt, choose a white and a red.

    Grapes are sold by the box.

    A box will yield approximately 1 gallon of must. I mean approximately. For instance, at Grapefest 2008 5 boxes of Sangiovese gave me 4.5 gallons after primary fermentation, but 5 boxes of Grenache gave me 6 gallons.


    Fermenters or buckets
    You'll need these to get your grapes/must home.

    For whites, you'll be taking home the juice only. With reds, you'll be taking the juice and the grapes themselves, which takes up more room.

    Typically you'll need a 6 gal container (i.e. the sort of thing you'd use for a 5 gallon kit) for every 3 or 4 boxes of red grapes.

    For 1 box of red grapes you'll need something like a Youngs 10l bucket.

    For whites, you can probably work on 1 and a bit gallons of must per box, give or take a bit.

    Make sure the lids fit well. If the lids take bungs or airlocks, bring some solid bungs or airlocks as appropriate. Nothing should spontaneously jump out of the bucket, but you don't want it sloshing out as you drive home.

    It is worth bringing one or two overflow containers (e.g. 5 litre better bottles) just in case. Or you can do what I did and 'borrow' a big fermenter from Bob .

    Sanitise your containers, give them a good spray of meta solution and seal them up. This can be done a couple of days in advance if necessary. Nobody will be preparing your containers for you on the day, other than giving them a quick rinse.

    Unless you are going to get home and kick off your fermentation the same day, it is a good idea to bring some meta (potassium metabisulphite) 10% solution with you. Oh, and something to measure 5ml or so doses. Don't worry if you forget - just steal Karl's.

    My filled fermenters stayed in Bob's garage overnight, were then driven home (3 hours), put in my garage overnight, and the fermentation was started then next day, all protected by a dose of meta.

    A good idea if you are buying different varieties (unless you have a very good memory).

    You'll probably be kicking off fermentation soon after you get your cargo of grapes home, so make sure you have everything you need, which is basically the same stuff as you'd use when putting a fruit wine together, including:

    For obvious reasons

    You might need to make your must(s) a bit more acidic. I used tartaric, but I guess citric would be OK too. The WAH 'elders' will advise of acid additions on the day.

    You might need to increase the SG with a bit of sugar. You shouldn't need much - I think I used around 1lb in my 6 gals of Grenache last year.

    Typically Lalvin RC212 or K1V-1116 for reds and D47 (aka Gervin F) for whites and rosés.

    Something to press the skins
    Quite a lot of your red wine's fermenting must will be in the grape skins, and you'll need some means of getting it out when the wine goes into the secondary.

    Some WAH members are equipped with presses. I didn't have one for my first attempt in 2008. You can get away without one, if you don't mind a bit of manual labour. I 'pressed' the skins by loading them into a sanitised muslin bag and squeezing. Hard. This works OK but your kitchen might develop a rash of red grape droplets as the odd jet of juice escapes the bag in the wrong direction. You'll need to spend quite a lot of time doing this. By Grapefest 09 I have acquired a small Boots press via eBay, which made life a bit easier.

    Secondary fermenters
    i.e. DJs, Better Bottles, carboys. Make sure you have a few options because you won't know how much fermenting must you'll have until you rack to secondary.

    Equipment for second runs
    You can get more mileage from your red grapes by doing a second run. Typically this means mixing up a red kit, or red grape concentrate + sugar, then chucking in the grape skins. The yeast in the skins fires very quickly, and you could end up with some decent plonk on the cheap. Remember that you'll need another set of secondary fermenters.

    A Plan
    I didn't have one. Consequently I spent a great deal of time running around like a headless chicken. These things can ferment quite quickly (3 days down to 1.000 in one case), so make sure you are prepared!

    I managed to get 13 boxes - worth, plus overnight stuff for 2 people, plus Mrs. Goldseal, into a Renault Clio. Next year I'm going for 15 boxes (although I might have to leave the toothbrush at home).

    Option 1 WAS a tent in Bob's back garden. This is now difficult because he has moved and there is no longer anywhere to pitch a tent!

    Option 2 is any local Travelodge.

    Option 3 - my choice in 2008 was here: . It used to be a 5 minute stagger from Bob's, but he moved, so now it's a £5-ish taxi ride. The owners are friendly and helpful, and the breakfasts are great. Alternatively, PM Bob (lockwood1956) for a selection of decent local B&Bs.

    Just do it. You won't regret it.
    Last edited by goldseal; 01-08-2010, 10:00 AM.
    Pete the Instructor

    It looks like Phil Donahue throwing up into a tuba

  • #2
    well read this last year and after a bad year my wife paid for me to go. well the first thing i have to say is make sure you have the correct address. I left edinburgh early in morning and after a good run down when straight to rdc house ( bobs work address) after some swearing and trying to explain to wife how to search forum, eventually gave up and got her to post on the forum my mobile and did anyone have bob's address. luckily for me dave h phoned and stopped me trying to work out how to get into the haribo factory. so eventually got to bobs. now I had never met anyone from forum but was made welcome. more people arrived and then the grapes arrived and were unloaded from the van. we then started processing them. in fact this took no time at all as we were using bobs new electric crusher so was really just put boxes of grapes in top and collect in fermentor below. remember how much room these grapes take, not far off double the space of remaining must. so to get 5 gals you need 2 5 gallon fementors. we then all stood around sampling some wines and generally chatting, whilst bob cleaned the machine. we did help a wee bit. Had a laugh as rich and his mate fitted a lot of must into his car for return journey to aberdeen, was low at the back. There were some fantastic wines her lushness's strawberry with honey was devine. We then all retired to the back patio and had a good chat with martina ever present with the video. iam sure some of it could not be published. anne marie made a lovely curry which was most welcome. If you need supplies Karl will bring for you. I really cant say how much fun this was and how much I learnt just from idle chatter. recomend it to everyone, a few stayed in bob's house me i got a camper so just parked at top of drive. I took the plunge and tried to make both red and rose wines from the grapes and did a 2nd run with a wine no1 on skins. Cigli was great, merlot was drunk too early,and 2 dj's have oxidised due to lack of sulphide. 2nd run on cigli grape skins is nice. will try a cheap kit this time. Just remember that once home you still have to press grapes, which if you have a lot is a pain. I had 10 boxes, I eventually built a press which did work. All i can finish with is give it a go you will be welcome and have fun.


    • #3
      Mrs solly and I had a great time last year, meet lots of people from the forum and also got lots of tips (no not money) from Bob, Pete, Karl and others..........Bob & Martina were great hosts and made us very welcome and as Kampervan said Karl's wife made some lovely food .....because of my illness last year we never stayed late but even so had a great time and well worth the trip (even from Kent) and you get to meet so many people from the forum

      I only brought 3 boxes last year (2 boxes of Merlot and a box of Ciliegiolo) but plan on making lots more this year

      Bottled all the wine from Grapefest 2009 in June this year and made 5 bottles of Ciliegiolo, 10 bottles of Merlot and even made 12 bottles of rose (more like a red) from the second run

      Last year we stayed Here Last year and I think we paid about £75 for the night for a double room inc breakfast but it is a good 4 - 5 miles from Bobs house but a lovely hotel and worth the extra few pounds to stay there

      For some reason Pete's link no longer works (guess they no longer have a web site) but I did manage to find a working link for Wentvale Court and it is closer to Bobs house + you dont need a Car / Taxi to get back to the Hotel

      See you all in a few weeks


      • #4
        My top tip, wear old clothes. You will more than likely get covered in red grape juice, wine, curry and god knows what else as the day progresses.
        National Wine Judge NGWBJ

        Secretary of 5 Towns Wine and Beer Society

        My friends would think I was a nut, turning water into wine....... Lyrics from Solsbury hill by Peter Gabriel

        Member of THE newest wine circle in Yorkshire!!


        • #5
          I have updated the Guide to take into account experiences with yeast, and the fact that Bob has moved
          Pete the Instructor

          It looks like Phil Donahue throwing up into a tuba