Old-school winemaking...

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Senior Member
Jan 4, 2008
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I was talking to my uncle yesterday about winemaking. He is in his late 70's and has been making wine for years. His wines are always very very good and also pretty sweet.
It was interesting discussing how he makes his wine. His primary fermenter is a larger clay crock that is probably as old as him or older. He lets it sit in the primary for about a week, then racks into gallon jugs with a balloon on top. Once the balloon goes limp ,if the wine is clear, he bottles.And he uses anything to put the wine in. Screw top wine bottles, plastic jugs from grape juice or apple juice :D
The part I found curious is that he NEVER backsweetens (he had never heard the term) yet his wine are always sweet, almost like a cordial or what I call 'desert' wine. He said he always uses more sugar than what the recipe calls for, which led me to thinking. Is he starting with an extremely high SG and he just lets it go until the alcohol level kills the yeast before it ferments dry? Don't know what kind of yeast he uses but his wines taste like they are usually around 13-14% ABV. He said he figures that's about his ABV (don't know if he uses a hydrometer...)
Another very curious thing I found. He brought some of his dandelion wine, which was excellent by the way, and I asked him how he does his. I have read on the forums how you don't want any green from the dandelion in the mix, and I asked him if that was how he did it. With a typical sage reply of slight indignation..."Hell no," he said "I'm not takin' the time to pick all the greens from around the head. I just throw the whole thing in. I saw a guy doing that once, picking off all the little greens around the head and I asked him.What in the hell are you doing???Just throw the whole thing in. I've never had a problem with doing it that way..."
And I will attest that his Dandelion wine was DANDY!!He's invited my brother and I to come for a visit and he'll pass on some family recipes to us :D
I told him if we make it into his cellar he'll need to put some cots out, 'cause we won't be drivin' home!! :eek: I suppose we could take a DD ;)

I just thought I'd share. It definitely makes you look at wine making different from a different perspective. We try to be very clean and sanitized and use chemicals to bring things in balance.Clearing agents and stabilizers....and we bottle and hope things age nicely...and here's an 'old timer' just throwin' it together, using rudimentary equipment and experience as his guide, and he cranks out some of the best sweet wines I've ever tasted. And he has made wine out of just about everything that could fit in a crock...lol
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Dutch Winemaker
Nov 5, 2006
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Well here is a thought.

People have been making wines for ages before the hydrometer
had been invented.
People have been making wines for ages before cultured yeast were available through shops.

Now we are looking upon all these 'new' technical gadgets but seem to forget that they are just aids, and nothing more.

Instead of using it as aids we are using these materials as rules and dictators.

The reason is that we make wine the 'scientific way'.
Your uncle is making wine by following his heart.

He has experience and presumably made loads of wines.
And I presume an occasional batch went bad.

In my personal opinion I would go out with the guy and
make wines together with him, as much as he was willing to make.
And I would learn to make wine by heart again.

I whish I had someone like that around........
I learn through books and my own experiences and by reading forums. That does not match experience like your uncle has.

There was a guy on another forum complaining about his wife.
They both made wine.
He measured everything and calculated the additions.
His wife used the 'put the finger in the air and if the wind was west add another pound of sugar' method.
Now all HER wines came out better as his did...........
And he was very frustrated about it.
Again she made wine by heart something we seem to
have forgotten.

Learn from that to make great wines !!!

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Senior Member
Oct 27, 2008
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{And he uses anything to put the wine in. Screw top wine bottles, plastic jugs from grape juice or apple juice}

and he stores the wine like this for along time?? [my long time is 2 yrs max...]

Wade E

Jul 3, 2006
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Great read and I think Luc said it best, he learned the hardway Im sure but it has taught him well that we dont need 1/2 this stuff but some of is worth using. I do make some ofmy fruit wines like that by overing the sg and using a weak abv tolerant yeast like Cotes Des Blanc but even then you can ferment way past what its tolerance is as it is a crap shoot. I made a blackberry wine 2 yers ago that went to 16% with a yeast that said 13% max. I was bummed but ended up making a port with it instead.


Arctic Contributor
Oct 26, 2008
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Yep, there is the accepted way, the right way, and a way. Not everyway, however, is the correct way. "If it works, and works consitently..it's a way."

Old Tymer

Aug 27, 2008
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I also have a similar experiance, My uncle makes wine the "old" way also. He puts the grapes in with the stems, sticks, leafs, and claims thats where the alcohol comes from. He ages his wine in barrels that are older than time. Honestly one is 80 years old. But somehow every year his wine comes out great. He stores wine in snapple bottles, carlo rossi jugs anything he can find. It usually lasts for 5 years before he makes it into balsamic vinegar. Not a lot lasts that long though.

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