2018 Harvest & Winemaking: Part I

This year we decided to go big! Ordering nearly 300 lbs of grapes from our local farmer. Two weeks ago we picked up 90 lb of Cabernet Franc, 90 lb of Zweigelt; and 100 lb of Noiret. Harvest pickup day is The farmer picks, crushes and de-stems the grapes for us (we have done it ourselves too). We bring our food grade 20 Gallon Brute Totes with us and he either has them crushed already or we crush them when we get there. This year he already had the Zweigelt crushed, but the other two varietals had been picked that morning.


After we bring the grapes home, the first day is more of a science project than anything. We have to test all of our wine must (grapes, juice, skins, seeds, etc.) for specific gravity, titratable acid, and pH. For this year’s batch, I was a bit disappointed in the harvest since it seems like the grapes were picked a bit early. When the grapes are picked before they are ready, you will end up with higher acid and lower sugar in your must. Which can lead to a more astringent taste (acid) and low alcohol (sugar) . Below is the chart of different metrics for each grape. Generally speaking for reference we were looking for >1.092 for Specific Gravity (SG) and between 6-7 for titratable acid (TA); pH of around 3.3-3.6.

  • Zweigelt
    • pH – 3.8
    • TA – 6.5
    • SG – 1.082
      • Added 2.2 lbs of sugar
  • Cab Franc
    • pH – 3.2
    • TA – 8.5 (too high!)
    • SG – 1.086
      • Added 1.6 lbs of sugar
  • Noiret
    • pH – 3.2
    • TA – 8 (too high!)
    • SG – 1.074
      • Added 4 lbs of sugar
Chemistry Stuff!

**Vines to Wines is a good book for Winemaking – we always keep it on hand!

At this point we actually let everything just sit outside in the garage overnight. We add enough sulfites to kill the wild yeast, and let the sugar, sulfites, and juices commingle for our next specific gravity test the next day. We want to give the sulfites time to work their magic and sugar time to dissolve and disperse. Sugar is basically the food for the yeast, which determines the level of alcohol which results in giving the wine more body (and can make you drunk!). Adding sugar to wine must is called chaptalization – which is frowned upon by some pinky pointing winos, but necessary for many northern wine regions to produce wine with high enough alcohol. Up here in Michigan, we have a farmer that is pretty conservative with when he harvests his grapes and we have always had to chaptalize – even if it is just a little bit. This year we had to add much more than prior years due to the early harvest, which was probably a good thing since we had about a week and a half of rain in the two weeks after we picked up the grapes, so they probably would have swollen and split due to the rain.

Chaptalization of the Noiret must

After 24 hours, we brought the totes inside to let them warm up to room temperature. Once ready, we pitched the yeast – we used the Lavlin Bourgovin RC 212 as we have had really good luck with in for red wines in the past.

Part One Resources:



With our love of wine came curiosity about wine and about the wine making process. We began with wine kits which come with the grape juice and everything you will need along with step by step instructions. We would recommend the Wine Expert brand if going with a wine making kit. After a few rounds of this we found a local farmer on Craigslist that sells about 20 different varietals. This weekend we picked up grapes for the fourth year. This year we got 90 lbs each of Cabernet Franc, Noiret and Zweigelt.

Cabernet Franc: is one of our favorite grapes and it does really well here in Michigan. It is genetically related to Cabernet Sauvignon, but better suited for the cooler climate and shorter growing season in Michigan. The best Michigan Cab Francs are medium bodied with a lot of red fruit on the nose (strawberries, raspberries, red currants) along with subtle oak and tobacco.

We tried Noiret for the first time two years ago. The bottles we have tried so far from that batch have really impressed us. It is a French-American hybrid, making it cold hardy for our climate. It almost reminds me of a cross between a Pinot Noir and a Cab Franc: more black pepper and maybe raspberry – that being said we have only had the Noiret we have made ourselves. We have tried both adding a Malolactic culture and not, I think the ML kind of freaked us out but both vintages have turned out really good.

Zweigelt: we have not ever tried outside of a red blend so it will be exciting to see how it turns out. It is a crossing between St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch developed in Austria. We really like Blaufränkisch, and our grower had it on his list so we thought we would try it out!

Prior Grapes:

Gruner Veltliner: Last year (2017 vintage) was a tough year for grape growing due to a late frost which hurt a lot of the Vitus Vinifera (The grapes of European origin you typically see at the store) varietals our grower sells. This resulted in us adjusting our normal order to get a 6 Gallons of Gruner Veltliner and 100 lbs of Noiret. The Gruner produces a really interesting white wine, which has a nicely balanced acidity with peach and maybe a peppery note in there as well. We tried the first bottle last night, it was fuller bodied than I had expected and I probably would have guessed a dry Riesling.

We have also made Marquette from grapes in the past – it was actually our first attempt at wine from grapes. We wanted to start with a hybrid since they are around half the price a Vitus Vinifera varietal. This is an interesting wine – first off it is basically like drinking purple ink as it stains your entire mouth. Outside of that I am always surprised by it because it tastes just like RASPBERRY SWEET TARTS – yes I did just yell that out loud in real life too. In retrospect, we probably should have gone a little bit heavier on the oak to mellow it out a bit more. That isn’t to say it isn’t good, just that it isn’t the most complex wine I have ever had. I have also never had it as a standalone wine, so I have nothing to compare it to – it is usually blended with other hybrid varietals for balance.

Check out our other winemaking posts!