Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa Valley, The Lewisham-Blackheath Boarders are all considered the top wine producing areas in the world. The LBB area was designated about a week ago when I traveled to an old family friends to steal their grapes from their lovely garden hiding behind a impressive Victorian house. A vine planted 20 or more years ago possibly with the intention of making wine had grown into a total monster stretching half the gardens length as it was now purely ornamental. It had never been trailed or pruned to produce managed wine grapes though it had been well looked after by Alan the gardener. He had thought the grapes should be picked earlier but my schedule and work had not allowed us to meet up and when we eventually managed to get there some clusters had withered slightly. I still easily managed to pick 15kg and have no complaints at all with mother nature and her dastardly end to summer. Free grapes and a chance to practice making “real” wine!
Picking the grapes was easy especially with help from Ms Gazette as whole bunches of grapes are harvested quicker that picking individual blackberries or even the most bountiful clusters of elderberries. In a little under 30 minutes we had climbed over plant pots and navigated terraced flower beds to fill 3 bags. Back north of the river in Walthamstow I started to sort the grapes with only 3 bunches out right rejected and all the browned, shriveled or split berries rejected as well as the odd spider and one dare devil snail. The whole bunches were then dipped and shaken in the sink (well cleaned) to rinse any bits of leaf, twig and dust away and they were ready to be picked and crushed.
Crushing was by hand rather than any machine and with a firm grip a whole handful of grapes could be pulled away from the stems. When three or four clusters of grapes had been stripped I literally crushed them further by punching them with a fist. Grrrr! The free run juice drained through a giant catering sieve into the primary fermentation bucket. It is surprising how fleshy grapes are to other fruit and crushing them was certainly a good work out. Once the majority of the juice had dripped into the primary fermenter I could press the skins to get the absolute maximum of juice out of them. The press was sanitised and a clean muslin held the grape skins together. There were 2 passed done with the first press getting to about half the volume and then the rest added to allow them all into the drum. The press was an even bigger work out and over 30 minutes the pulp was pressed and pressed to extract ever clearer juice. Pressing has to be incremental with a couple of turns every 30 seconds to be successful and any ideas of pressing it like Hulk Hogan all in one go is pure fantasy. I probably pressed about one to one and half extra litres of juice out the skins to manage 10 litres of juice in total. 12 bottles of wine to divide between me, Alan the gardener and Naida the owner… maybe my mum too as she was the intermediary that got me the grapes… and maybe my dad as he was also friends with sadly missed “Uncle” Dennis the planter.
The juice was sweet and fruity with a melon and lemon zest flavour. Ms Gazette and I were impressed that such a taste could be grown in Britain never mind a garden in Sarf London. The true identity of the grapes remains a mystery as they were rumoured to be Chardonnay but several genuine wine growers on message boards said the clusters and leaves did not match. It was agreed that they were Vinis Vinerfera – wine grapes and they were white. Some suggested Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Viognier. Maybe when the vine is pruned with less stress producing so many grapes it will give a few more clues. The grapes were not perfect for wine making with a gravity reading of 1.06, I think that is 15 brix and acid was slightly too low so I had to adjust it with some calcium carbonate. With some management pruning the total size, cutting back leaf cover and maybe pruning a few grape clusters there is no reason to think that grapes of 22 brix and perfect acidity could not be produced in London… as if I know what I’m talking about!
CY17 yeast was added as I want to keep as much of the flavour as possible and I may choose to make a sparkling wine by adding some EC1118 yeast before I bottle. Fermentation took a worrying 48 hours to kick off but it was vigorous once it got going. The chance to practice on real grapes has been a real eye opener and has solidified plans to get my own vine… vines as I have a perfect spot with south facing brick wall to warm the vine during the British winter and spring. I may consider setting up a kind of collective if other people wanted to devote a spot in their garden for a vine. Grapes given to me and half returned as sparking wine handed back to them. Its bad enough I want to make my own wine but now I want to start growing it on a wine tree too – good thing Ms Gazette likes the idea too.