Wine Making in the East

Frequently people ask if Michigan produces a wine similar to one of their favorite California or European wine varieties. Usually the answer is yes. Cayuga White and St. Peppin are very popular for soft semi-dry wines. These wines with their prominent fruit flavor and flower bouquet are quite reminiscent of the German style of wine making. Because Germany and Michigan have similar cool climate conditions, these grape varieties have a tendency to evolve to the desired sugar and alcohol levels that provide soft, fruity and extremely palatable wines for all wine consumers.

Inspecting wine grapes

These same varieties are also fashioned into "Late Harvest" sweet wines by Michigan vintners who have learned to utilize the Botrytis mold, caused by the Lake Michigan micro-climates, to their advantage.   

Michigan wines will also please consumers who like French-style wines. Seyval and Vignoles l are produced in both the oak version of burgundy and the stainless steel finish of softer European wines.

The versatility of Michigan's grapes, particularly the hybrid versions of Seyval and Vignoles, have allowed a wide assortment of wine styles to develop from dry to sweet, other familiar "old world" tasting wines also occur from one Michigan winery to another.

Currently, consumer appeal and production emphasize the highly successful Michigan white wines. However, red wine is becoming a factor to reckon with. Marechal Foch, Baco Noir, and DeChaunac has been the backbone for most of the state's red table wine production. These wines bear many of the same desirable complexities and rich color of the more well-known Cabernet Sauvignons of California and Bordeaux. As more acreage is planted, these wines will achieve more national recognition.

Many beginning winemakers ask where they should go to purchase wine barrels. I always tell them to avoid using them unless they are making large lots of wine (50 gallons or more). A 50 gallon barrel has the proper ratio of air exchange through the wood to the wine, anything smaller may add too much oak flavor and cause rapid oxidation of the wine and cause it to spoil. Remember, if nature has it's way, grape juice will turn to wine and then to vinegar. 5 gallon glass carboys are the perfect size containers. They are easier to use and unless you are an expert in barrel use, they are much more reliable. Smaller carboys also allow you to make many different batches of wine for consumer variety. We grow over 20 varieties of grapes, and they are frequently blended into many unique wines.

Another question frequently asked is about wine yeast, sulfur and sugar. Many of our customers have a heritage of never adding anything to their wines. What makes wine making interesting is the many different techniques used, although I believe some methods should be left in the last century.

California grown grapes tend to be high in sugar, and low in acid sometimes making a high alcohol and "flat" tasting wine. French hybrid grapes grown in the east tend to be lower in sugar, but higher in acidity, adding more fruit characteristics to the wine. Home winemakers can easily correct lower sugar "musts" by slight additions of sugar or honey.

Fermenting grape juice using its natural wild yeast will usually work, but you are always taking a chance. (Did you ever hear of a baker baking bread with wild yeast's?) I always recommend adding sulfur (cambden tablets) at crushing time and adding a cultured wine yeast the next day. The sulfur will lower the level of wild yeast in the must, allowing the cultured yeast to take over. We have wine yeast and cambden tablets available at our fruit stand. Good luck with this years crush!

Simplified Winemaking

White Wine

  1. Take one gallon of our white grape juice (red for rose’ wine), loosen the top to let the bubbles escape and keep insects from entering and leave it at room temperature.
  2. Let it ferment (it will probably foam over slightly) for about 1-2 weeks.
  3. This will become a dry white wine of about 10% alcohol, let it settle and decant it into another container.

Red Wine

  1. Red wine is made with the skins of the grapes fermenting in contact with the juice. This gives it it’s color.
  2. Take 15 lbs. of grapes (for 1 gal. wine). Remove stems and crush grapes into a non-metal bucket.
  3. It will start fermenting in a few days. Gently push the floating grapes down into the liquid every day and keep it covered with cheesecloth.
  4. After 1-2 weeks, press grapes, transfer liquid into a glass container, loosely cover.
  5. Let fermentation finish and wine settle, decant into another container to remove the sediment on the bottom. This will make a red wine of about 10% alcohol. These recipes make a very simple wine and although it may be consumed at any stage it will improve with 6 months or more aging. More detailed winemaking booklets are available at the vineyard. For a 12% dry wine add 3-4 oz. of sugar or honey per gallon. For a sweet wine add 8-10 oz. of sugar or honey per gallon.

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