It is a well known fact to my regular readers that I am annually bombarded with bumper crops of my Niagara grapes. A variety that I was told was actually a concord and didn’t find out otherwise until years later when I finally got it in the ground and it began bearing fruit. Fruit of lies and deception.
And to be completely honest, these grapes taste awful. Not a fan at all. But of the three varieties I have, this one of course is the healthiest and most robust. It has been a burden of mine for years now. Why not remove it you ask? Well, it serves another purpose as well. That of a cheap shaded patio nook to beat the heat of summer as illustrated below…
And it definitely does the job it was intended to do. The only thing is it does so while bearing the most yawn-inducing harvest ever. However, I do enjoy sitting underneath it during those hot days of drought and strife.
This years’ crop is no different. Once again the vines are loaded with juicy berries ripe for the picking.
The hens might be the biggest fans of these grapes. And who am I to deprive them of such ample vittles?
My friend Matt (who I’ll be talking about later) and I connected via a Facebook page called San Diego Backyard Fruit Exchange around the time of last years harvest. When researching my Niagara grape vine, he came across the following info: “Vitis labrusca ‘Niagara’ is a cross of the V. labrusca Concord and Cassady cultivars, which are themselves hybrids. Concord is a hybrid of an unknown experimental interspecific V. vinifera and V. labrusca pairing, and Cassady is an unintentional hybrid that has V. labrusca in its genetic makeup”
Over the years I tried making homemade raisins, fresh grape juice as well as popsicles . But nothing would take away the lack-luster flavor of the Niagara. The raisins were the best results I’ve had from this vine and were actually quite tasty. However, the time it takes to process all the grapes to make raisins leaves much to be desired. I most likely will not do that again on account of my general laziness when it comes to repetitive and dull tasks.
The juice was way too tart for my liking and this may be because the skins of the grapes were included in the processing. The popsicles also sat in my freezer just hoping that I would eventually love them. But I abandoned them quickly and refused to make eye contact until I was cleaning the freezer out a year later. I apologized in my own way as I slowly lowered them into a stream of hot water in the kitchen sink while doing my best James Bond villain impersonation.
Grape popsicle: “Do you expect me to talk?”
Evil James: “No grape popsicle, I expect you to die” [screams of melty horror]
Try the Wine:
After talking with Matt about my grape wants and woes, he suggested I try to produce wine from my annual bumper crop. Admittedly, it blew my mind quite a bit. I thought, “Hey! You like to drink and be merry. Why not cut out the middle man and make your own booze in the backyard like a moonshiner of old!?”
It seemed too perfect of an idea to pass up. Matt was also set up for the project with equipment and, more importantly, the know-how. I was a noob when it came to the process and couldn’t get past the mental image of barefoot grape squishing giddiness. Still can’t actually. Thankfully Matt offered his services in exchange for a split of the booze bounty. A perfect accord was reached in short order and I set to work harvesting the entire batch one warm June day with the aid of my lovely assistant/part-time migrant worker.
This was no small task as there were way more grapes than we originally thought. Most were accessible from below the trellis (as I planned and hoped) but there were many that needed to be picked from above.
We also made a discovery while perched up above on ladders.
It looks like Nury wasn’t the only lovely bird nestled in the vine! We had to take care not to disturb this area too much for fear of the finches abandoning their brood. I could see them up in the pepper tree watching intently and worriedly as two giant hairless apes stomped all about their lovely little home. Stupid humans.
After a couple hours, the job was finally completed. A massive harvest of mildly gross Niagara grapes. I know, I’m really selling these grapes aren’t I? Truth in advertising my good reader. When life gives you shitty grapes, make shitty wine with it. I digress.
And this was not a light bushel either. Well over 60 lbs. in fact!
After the harvest it was time for some classical poses and pretty pretty snapshots. When you’re this much of a jackass, they call you Mr. Jackass!
With dreams of future liver damage and slurred words mixed gracefully with poor decision making, I set off to Matt’s house. A trunk-load of these damned grapes weighing down my Tbird as I clung to the skirts of the two lane.
I arrived to a very welcoming host and a bottle of his homemade blueberry wine. I had to have two glasses of this amazing brew, it was simply divine! It is my sincere hope that Matthew is reading these words right now and giving thought to perhaps supplying me with another sample of this years’ batch of blueberry wine. Not that I would ask of course, just thinking out loud. *clears throat*
The blueberry wine also got me very excited about the prospects of a foxy Mind Your Dirt variety so we cut through the pleasantries and got down to business. The first step was to begin the arduous task of juicing the grapes.
Once the juicing was done, we had a nice bucket of must. About 4.22 gallons worth to be precise. That’s a lot of potential booze right there!
Matthew then added 5 campden (Potassium Metabisulphite) tablets to kill any unintentional microbes that might have started boozing up the mixture. We can’t have any fermenting anarchy going on now can we?
After 24 hours, he added 2.5 lbs. of brown sugar as well as brewer’s yeast (the specific isolate or strain was called Elixir). The large plastic fermenter was then stored for about two weeks to allow the sugars and yeast to work their magic. This process is called “racking“. Seeing as this wine was only racked once, it wouldn’t have as much of a shelf life as other wines. I was told I have about a year before the “lees” began altering the flavor.
“Because I juiced the grapes into must, instead of mashing them, the solids are blended into fine particulates which can have an effect on the taste and the way the lees develop. Lees that stay in the wine too long impart off flavors. That, and the bottling process, is why I said the wine may have a shelf life of about a year.”
After the two weeks was over, Matthew filtered out the must and bottled the brew immediately after.
Then, viola! The first official Mind Your Dirt wine from the Gielow Estate Vineyards of Mountain View!
And more booze!
The total was 24 bottles of wine. No small amount from my humble urban farm. All that remained at this point was to design the signature label for the branding of this new venture. With a little help from a certain graphic designer I know.
After we split the profits there was little more to do other than sample the wine and think about how rich and fancy my life will now become as a world-renowned vintner. So many checks to deposit, so little time!
The moment of truth! The cork removed, the glass awaiting the pour, and the mouth and liver drooling in anticipation!
“Oh my god! It’s…it’s…
…disgusting!” was my first reaction. All I could taste was the less than favorable Niagara grape sneaking back in with all its foxy sourness. Egads! I cannot escape this damnable grapey nightmare!
And now I feel as disturbed as Frank Alexander in A Clockwork Orange after receiving a bit of the ultraviolence. Pushing this shitty, yet potent, brew on any and all vistors. Here is a dramatization of what it’s like to pay me a visit…”TRY…THE WINE!”…
I’ve officially tried everything in the book of grape products that I can imagine regarding this vine. The only creatures that seem to enjoy it are the chickens, so the chickens shall have it all. Until I can finally cut back this vine to next to nothing and allow my true concord to take its place.
I retried the wine about three weeks ago as its shelf life is beginning to wane. While the underlying flavor is still lackluster, I must admit that the potency of the brew is impressive! I ended up drinking most of the bottle as a result. I also pawned some of it off to some friends in hopes that none of it goes to waste. I think I’ll re-brand it as a nice bottle of “Hobo White: A ‘palatable’ stinky brew that’ll get you really fucked up while sleeping under the railroad car.”
Not the worst legacy to leave I guess.
Any of you homesteaders have any wine making experience you’d like to share? I’m also curious if anyone has any experience with Niagara grapes that can offer a stay of execution for my vine. Let me know in the comments below please!