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Thread: A Virgin's Guide to Grapefest

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Herefordshire, England

    Default A Virgin's Guide to Grapefest

    UPDATED FOR 2012

    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 (at the time of writing I had little experience) - 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).

    Normally, things started happening 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 or Brian (Cellar Rat) normally publish 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 use tartaric for reds and citric for whites. 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 in 2008.

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

    Yeast Nutrient
    Something good-quality like Tronozymol. Some yeasts, like RC-212, are 'needy' when it comes to nutrient.

    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 had acquired a small Boots press via eBay, which made life a bit easier. A press of this size is perfectly adequate for 20-odd gallons of red.

    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!

    My record is 23 boxes - worth, plus overnight stuff, in a Renault Clio. I recommend doing a dry-run with your fermenters and other kit before placing your final order for grapes. Remember that a box of grapes weight somewhere between 9 and 11kg, so make sure you don't overload your car.

    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 the local Premier Inn:

    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.

    This thread will give you some ideas for getting the most from the grapes you buy.

    Just do it. You won't regret it.
    Last edited by goldseal; 16-09-2012 at 08:37 AM.
    Pete the Instructor

    It looks like Phil Donahue throwing up into a tuba

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