Experimental Homestead




I’ve been watching a vineyard on the route home from town go unharvested for a number of years. This year it looked especially tempting I guess, so we left a note in the mailbox asking if we could harvest grapes if no one was going to use them. Before we even arrived home there was a voicemail saying we could come anytime and harvest as much as we would want. So, one morning K and J and Chuck and I showed up and started picking. We were about 2 weeks too late and there was a little bit of mould here and there, so we had to be selective. Some of the grapes were shriveling into raisins, perfect for port, but those were also the ones that were tending to mould. I’m not sure what variety of grapes they are, but the vines were trained like little free standing trees. I don’t know what that’s called. Actually, I don’t know shit about grapes and wine and am not currently in a position to be able to or even want to geek out over grapes and wine… just getting them and pressing them was enough of a distraction. But in the future…..

we picked for a few hours and dumped them in the scrubbed out back of the truck. We looked at our pile and estimated 40 to 60 gallons of juice. K and J had to bail on the pressing with other stuff to do, but Chuck and I headed home to get to work. We got booted up that night, but didn’t get any pressing done as we had hoped to. Next morning we set to work on mashing, slashing and crushing the little balls of sugary goodness. We squeezed out about 45 gallons in two pressings with this big press that we have on long term loan from friends. I saved 5 gallons of the juice draining from the grapes that were run through the crusher, but before any squeezing to make a lighter rose type wine or maybe sparkling wine. By not crushing the grapes there is a lower tannin content (just learned this from a wine maker at a wine tasting). I added sulphite at about 140ppm followed by champagne yeast that I had in the fridge from cider making experiments. Most of the rest of the general pressing was canned or given away fresh or drunk and some is still fermenting away in the fridge. partly fermented, fizzy and alive with yeast it is better than fresh in my opinion.. which is considerable….


Chuck squeezing grapes

I like to hot pack juice, which means heating the juice, filling jars to the top, sealing the jars and then turning them upside down for a few minutes to be sure the lid is sterilized. This is in contrast to water bath canning in which the full jars are boiled for a time in a pot full of water. When processing juice for storage, in terms of flavor, the lower the temp and shorter the time the better. I had some problems last year with mould in my hot packed apple juice. It’s not uncommon to have a little speck of mould in hot packed jars. I’ve seen it many times in paraffin sealed and hot packed jams, but the juice with mould specks tasted funny… kind of smoky… and I thought better of drinking it. So I thought I’d do some things a little different this time. This year I sterilized the jars (except for a few for controls) and poured boiling water on the lids. I also heated the juice a little hotter to about 190 fahrenheit. Some of the juice boiled by accident or overheated to about 200 degrees. That’s probably just as well since it has the potential to provided data, so I labeled them as such to keep track. Maybe I’ll get around to posting results later. Most of the juice was heated to 190 filled to within 1/8inch of the top of the sterilized (dipped in boiling water) canning jar, covered with a lid sterilized with boiling water, the ring screwed on, and the jar turned upside down for about 3 to 5 minutes. I did add one more step though. I cooled the jars of juice in a water bath to bring the temp down ASAP as reading indicated that this also preserves flavor. In the future I would like to do a tube system where the juice passes through a heated tube and reaches 195 degrees on it’s way (temp controlled by rate of juice flow through tube). This way it can be put straight into sterilized bottles, the bottles capped and laid on their sides to sterilize the caps and then cooled in a water bath. Maybe that’s what flash pasteurization is??? Add a big bottle steamer to this set up and you could really crank it out!

The other interesting juice experiment is bottle conditioned sparkling grape juice. Bottle conditioned means that it’s fermented slightly in the bottle to create carbonation. Well, I didn’t check mine often enough and the yeast activity got a little ahead of me. I opened a bottle yesterday and it blew it’s load all over the sink. I lost about half the juice and many ants drowned themselves in what remained in the next couple of hours. Lesson learned. Check the bottles every day! It’s easy to open one and then recap it if it’s not ready enough. So, today I opened every bottle to let off some carbon dioxide pressure and caught as much as I could in a bowl. Some only spewed out about 1/4 while others I lost almost the whole bottle. I was thinking I had used juice all from the same carboy, but maybe I didn’t??? Anyhow, I re-filled and re-capped the bottles. Then I got to use my new big batch cooker! I’ve been saving parts for this cooker for years, but never got around to assembling them. The body is an old stainless steel pool filter. I soldered up an outlet and a valve for easy draining and with a fire underneath I was ready to rock! I packed the jars into the already warm water and found the lowest temperature/time pasteurization recipe I could, which was bring bottles up to 150 degrees fahrenheit for 20 minutes and then cool. Some of the caps bulged a lot, but none seemed to be leaking anything out and no bottles exploded. Only time will tell if all the life forms in the bottles are dead. I won’t be storing them indoors for a while just in case they start working again and explode.

(Update:  the sparkling grape juice turned out great.  There is a lot of sediment, so I think an initial ferment to drop out the sediment followed by bottling, a brief further ferment and then pasturization might be the ticket.  Anyway, it’s really good and popular with the kids and non-drinkers.  I’ll definitely be doing it again.)



I also made some grape syrup. The first batch caramelized a lot, but I’m sure it’ll be useful. The second batch caramelized quite a bit, but not as much the third batch only caramelized a little, but it is so thick that I can’t effectively pour it out of a bottle that’s stored in the fridge. I think I’ve got it down now though! I’m pretty sure the method is going to be to pull it off the heat as soon as it starts to form a lot of bubbles on the surface. I believe that’s when it’s getting down to very little water and mostly sugar. I’m not sure that this syrup is stable at room temp and would guess that it’s not, so my inclination is to hot pack it in small jars for later and store opened jars in the fridge, just as one does for maple syrup which is not stable at room temp either. Anyway, it’s tasty on pancakes and I’m sure it’s going to be good in some BBQ glazes and sauces. I definitely recommend trying it.

I also crushed a not so carefully selected batch of grapes for vinegar which yielded two gallons. One gallon I put in a jar with an airlock on it to make wine and the other gallon I put into a jar with a starter of some really tasty vinegar from a woman in town. She got the vinegar barrel (full of course!) from her Italian grandmother. It’s far and away the best wine vinegar I ever tasted. The vinegar spiked bottle was just screened to keep bugs out and let air in. The experiment is to see if the one made into wine and then into vinegar is better than the straight to vinegar batch.

Finally, I picked some grapes that were maybe 1/2 shriveled to try making port. These were run through the crusher and left to sit overnight before pressing. I checked the sugar level of the juice and it registered only about 11 percent alcohol potential, meaning if all the sugar in the juice fermented to alcohol it would come out at around 11% alcohol. That’s not very high for port making. Maybe thinning the grapes would give a higher sugar content? I might abandon the port Idea and just let it ferment all the way out. It’ll probably be terrible, but maybe it’ll make good vinegar. The juice was very tasty, like liquid raisins. (UPDATE: I did let it ferment all the way dry and just bottled it last night.  It’s not that great, but still fruity and pretty drinkable which is more than I expected.  Maybe it will age well, but I used no sulfite in the bottling, so we’ll see.  If it goes bad I can always use vinegar:)

First bottles of Chateau de Chant Dindon (castle of the singing turkey)

I’ll probably be eyeing that vineyard next year. It the meantime I’m just waiting to see how all my experiments go.



November 6, 2009 - Posted by | Food and Drink Making


  1. Great blog, i enjoyed read it, thanks

    BTW, “castle of the singing turkey” is translated “Château du dindon chantant” (for your next millésime ;) )

    (funny, my blog title is cherry song)

    Comment by Le chant des cerises (@chantdescerises) | October 15, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks for the translation! I just used one of the those online translators and thats what it spit out.

      Comment by Stevene | October 16, 2012 | Reply

  2. A very interesting post, really. Thank you.
    Grape syrup is the main grape product produced in the Islamic parts of the mediterranean basin (due to religious alcohol prohibition). In Palestinian arabic it’s called “Dibbes”, and is totally stable at (high) room temperature. In fact it is usually sold in one-gallon plastic containers, not even really air tight (I do hot pack my own in reused glass jars, just to be on the safe side. It keeps for 2 years at least in the shade). The traditional way is to cook it in a huge copper pot (I know it is said to be bad for you) then clarificated with some clay, which gives it a very nice bluish transparency I find completely unnecessary (I never clarified mine). There is also a nice sweet treat called “Mlaben” made by cooking the Dibbes with semolina and then drying it to thin sheets, together with some spice. keeps in a plastic bag almost forever, I reckon.

    I appologize for my constant reappearance in the comments section of ancient posts. I just found out about this blog recently, and am browsing through it against the grain, chronologically speaking.

    Comment by nimrod | November 20, 2014 | Reply

    • That’s really interesting stuff Nimrod. I haven’t had much access to grapes since posting this. My own grapes are just enough that I freeze or eat them all. Next would probably be raisins, but I’m definitely interested in pursing grape syrup more when ever more juice happens. Most of my syrup was cooked too far I think, and quite a bit of it was significantly caramelized. It is all crystalized now too, so it’s almost more like grape sugar. The clarifying with clay bit is interesting. Reducing crystallization would be something I’d like to figure out. A true syrup would be more useful.

      No need to apologize for comments. The more comments the better. it helps with search engine ranking.

      Comment by Stevene | November 20, 2014 | Reply

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