This fall, I decided to make wine from my mother-in-law’s backyard scuppernong grape vines. The green-and-gold orbs, a relative of the muscadine, and native to the American South, have tough astringent skins, big seeds and a pronounced Concord-style flavor. They’re delicious, but a bit exhausting to eat, and I was curious about other uses.
Wine isn’t hard to make. And as any prisoner well knows, for every fancy winemaking gadget there’s a DIY option. Maybe next year I’ll hit up Bet-Mar Liquid Hobby shop for wine yeast and supplies, but this year I managed to make wine without buying a single thing. Yet the result, two and a half months later, is fascinatingly drinkable.
My toddler son and I squished up 7.5 pounds of grapes, squeezing the thick pulp out of the leathery skins until our hands were itchy. I then mixed the skins, pulp, seeds and juice with a few pounds of sugar and a packet of active dry yeast — yes, the bread kind. I set the mixture on the counter to ferment, lightly covered with a dish towel. After a few weeks, when most of the bubbling had died down, I pressed out the juice through a fine sieve and put it in bottles and plastic jugs. Instead of buying an airlock, I poked pinpricks in the fingers of unlubricated rubber gloves and rubber-banded one to the top of each jug or bottle.
After several more weeks, I capped the bottles, letting them rest in the pantry for a few months.
The resulting wine is a jewel-like pure amber color, with thick sediment in the bottle. Without a hydrometer, I don’t know its alcohol content, but I’d pin it around 10 percent ABV. While sweeter wines are usually served chilled, I think it tastes best at a cool room temperature. It’s medium-heavy in body, but lightly sweet rather than syrupy, with an intriguing tannic weight from the skins.
It smells of lime and grape candy, and the flavor bears out those aromas, along with clove and black pepper. It’s not a complex wine, but it tastes clean and bright. And best of all, I made it myself.