Monday, October 6, 2014

Making Grape Juice in Wine Country

      This weekend, for the second year, we made juice from the apples and grapes here on the farm. Our landlord's house is equipped with everything necessary to make wine- as most of the farms around here are. Our own house, although it only has three small rooms for living, also has a large press in the basement and built-in cement vats for storing and fermenting. The wine making area is as big as the living area! Wine making was and is an important activity for most small farms in the region. Vinho Verde, the low alcohol champagne-style wine, which has a very short fermentation is the only variety made in this part of the country and it must be made here to carry the name. The grapes are grown on tall vines, sometimes 30 feet high on the boarders of the fields and on trellises over roads, and as such, they don't have the quality necessary for aged wine. Vinho Verde should be consumed the same year it is bottled as it doesn't keep or improve.

A local man picking grapes. 

While there are some good Vinho Verde varieties out there and there is a kind of cult following abroad, most of the local wines are not very good in my opinion. The main purpose of these wines was never so much pleasure as nourishment. The grapes were grown along the boarders of the fields rather than in rows as a main crop as you might see in wineries in California, France and other parts of Portugal where mature wines are produced, in order to maximize production per acre. Unlike other parts of the country the North has very few large farms and most are not more than an acre or two. It made sense to let the grapes grow up and in the fields they could grow potatoes, corn and cabbage. Farmers would drink the low-alcohol wine throughout the day to keep themselves going as often little food was available. A common mid-day snack for farm laborers was raw onion slices dipped in red Vino Verde. These days the wine is still shockingly cheap, grapes sold to the co-op get just a few cents for a kilo and a bottle of the wine is rarely more than a few Euros. This is part of the reason why we decided to make juice rather than wine. Not only are we able to use the apples from the farm as well, but we can sell organic juice for much more than wine! 

Cleaning the press and preparing the fruit.

Slicing the apples and removing the bad ones.

Grinding the apples and grapes to a pulp that will be put in the press.

Over the course of a few hours we add pressure to the pulp using a hydraulic jack.

Out comes the juice! From the bucket it gets put in bottles using pitchers and a funnel.

A small capping machine puts beer-style tops on the bottles.

Finally, we pasteurize the bottles in a water bath to prevent fermentation.

When we remove the sides of the press this 'cake' of pressed fruit is left. It's mostly fiber but the cows and chickens love it!