Wild Grapes - I'm going for it!

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BigDaveK

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My "Going for it" posts are generally "unusual" wines, sometimes VERY unusual. Initially I wasn't planning a post for this but @vinny convinced me that there's some unusual aspects that would make it interesting to share. We'll see...you judge.

For starters, this is my vineyard -

20231015_120137.jpg

"River Grape", vitus riparia, is all over the property but for some reason only fruits near the water. This was my first year to harvest, 41 lbs, and all of it was collected within 15 ft of the pond. Some were near the ground but for the most part they were in the trees.

20231006_102646.jpg

Most clusters are small and compact. And being a native species I don't have to worry about disease. And growing in the trees, ground based creatures aren't a problem. Totally worry free - no trimming, no spraying, completely ignored until harvest.

20231004_142446.jpg

One vine filled the top of a dead elm tree and I didn't see a problem with pulling it down. I've read many grape growing posts and I'm wondering - am I the only one to use a chain saw and garden tractor to harvest grapes?😁

20231015_115446.jpg

I didn't have an actual lug to use for the first day's harvest but my help was forgiving.....barely.
(Had to have the obligatory cat somewhere here!)

20231006_124350.jpg

The numbers on the juice surprised me - Brix of 20, pH of 3.14. I know many think that's less than desirable but I was delighted because I was expecting much worse.

I used 6 lbs of grapes for a one gallon batch, the addition of water brought the pH to 3.40, and 71B was the choice this time. Fermented with the skins, pigment was crazy intense.

20231028_140444.jpg

Transferred to secondary yesterday.
Fermentation raised the pH to 3.47, color still crazy intense.
Aroma? Wonderful.
Flavor? I apologize, this is only my second grape wine and making wine in a vacuum I don't have an educated palate. The flavor is fruity intense and the mouthfeel incredible. It brought to mind my black raspberry and elderberry wines from earlier in the year. I was hoping for better descriptors but my only thought was "Holy Sh*t!"
I'm in love.
We'll see where this goes.

20231028_141608.jpg
 
Ha! Some unusual aspects? All of the posts on this forum about tending vines, pruning, trimming, training, mold and fungus spray, and you go and rip vines out of the trees with a chainsaw and a tractor to harvest... Ya I would say there are some unusual aspects.

That pond is vibrant. I can only imagine that as the fall colors set in it will get more impressive. You will have to update us!

Not a leaf left to be seen around here.
 
Dave, the fact that you're making wine from vitus riparia is unusual enough. That's a multitude of information on this forum about grapes ... cultivated grapes ... but not much about wild grapes that is in-depth enough to be fully useful to the folks who have access to vitus riparia.

The chainsaw and garden tractor just increase the entertainment value. 🤣
 
My "Going for it" posts are generally "unusual" wines, sometimes VERY unusual. Initially I wasn't planning a post for this but @vinny convinced me that there's some unusual aspects that would make it interesting to share. We'll see...you judge.

For starters, this is my vineyard -

View attachment 106948

"River Grape", vitus riparia, is all over the property but for some reason only fruits near the water. This was my first year to harvest, 41 lbs, and all of it was collected within 15 ft of the pond. Some were near the ground but for the most part they were in the trees.

View attachment 106949

Most clusters are small and compact. And being a native species I don't have to worry about disease. And growing in the trees, ground based creatures aren't a problem. Totally worry free - no trimming, no spraying, completely ignored until harvest.

View attachment 106950

One vine filled the top of a dead elm tree and I didn't see a problem with pulling it down. I've read many grape growing posts and I'm wondering - am I the only one to use a chain saw and garden tractor to harvest grapes?😁

View attachment 106951

I didn't have an actual lug to use for the first day's harvest but my help was forgiving.....barely.
(Had to have the obligatory cat somewhere here!)

View attachment 106955

The numbers on the juice surprised me - Brix of 20, pH of 3.14. I know many think that's less than desirable but I was delighted because I was expecting much worse.

I used 6 lbs of grapes for a one gallon batch, the addition of water brought the pH to 3.40, and 71B was the choice this time. Fermented with the skins, pigment was crazy intense.

View attachment 106953

Transferred to secondary yesterday.
Fermentation raised the pH to 3.47, color still crazy intense.
Aroma? Wonderful.
Flavor? I apologize, this is only my second grape wine and making wine in a vacuum I don't have an educated palate. The flavor is fruity intense and the mouthfeel incredible. It brought to mind my black raspberry and elderberry wines from earlier in the year. I was hoping for better descriptors but my only thought was "Holy Sh*t!"
I'm in love.
We'll see where this goes.

View attachment 106954
Did you destem by hand? I spent many a Sunday afternoon with one eye on a football game while destemming and sorting grapes.

I posted quite a bit about my wild grape. It nearly got dumped but ended up being my wife’s favorite.

We have river bank grapes (Vitis riparia) everywhere around here. They seem to bear abundant, and good quality grapes every few years. Three years ago only the young vines had good grapes. Other years the old vines 50 feet up in the tree are good. This year was a bust almost everywhere I looked. Lots of raisins and unfilled clusters… not worth picking through. I have been told that I will make wild grape again ( we’re down to 6 bottles) at the next opportunity.
 
Did you destem by hand? I spent many a Sunday afternoon with one eye on a football game while destemming and sorting grapes.

I posted quite a bit about my wild grape. It nearly got dumped but ended up being my wife’s favorite.

We have river bank grapes (Vitis riparia) everywhere around here. They seem to bear abundant, and good quality grapes every few years. Three years ago only the young vines had good grapes. Other years the old vines 50 feet up in the tree are good. This year was a bust almost everywhere I looked. Lots of raisins and unfilled clusters… not worth picking through. I have been told that I will make wild grape again ( we’re down to 6 bottles) at the next opportunity.
Oh God yes I destemmed by hand. I very quickly wondered if it was really really necessary.🤣

Yeah, I'm expecting them to be different every year just like everything else. I spent the last month clearing wild roses and honeysuckle from around the pond, both terribly invasive. I'm hoping lack of competition for sunlight will make the grapes (and me) happier next year.

And it's a good thing I did my research! I spotted one Virginia Creeper and one Canadian moonseed. I cut those vines. It would have been easy to blindly harvest everything growing on a vine.
 
I suppose I can add a bit to this topic.

First, I should say: I'm so jealous. We visit the Shenandoah Mountains every year in western Virginia, and one of our favorite activities has always been harvesting the wild grapes along Skyline Drive (the Blue Ridge Parkway) and near the top of Massenutten Mountain. They make an amazing concord-like jelly or jam that we've loved for decades, and it's good enough to be a popular Christmas gift with our friends and family.

We often can collect gallons of grapes in a couple hours, although unlike your tractor-and-chain-saw method, I have to be more careful; it's a national park and there are people constantly driving past along the Parkway. I can only harvest what I can reach; I'll pull some branches down but I try hard to leave the vine intact for next year.

I checked for grapes again this past weekend on our vacation to the mountains to leaf peep, but it was such a dry summer that there was zero fruit to be had. Very disappointing. We'll try a bit earlier next year - we usually harvest about Columbus Day, so we were definitely late this time anyway.

Anyway, now that I'm into winemaking, last year I took a stab at a batch of wine from them. Hey, free fruit, right? I had very high hopes...

My wine attempt did NOT turn out well (at least, so far; I'm still aging it to see if it improves) with a horribly foxy musty sneaker smell. I've read that this is a very common problem with these kinds of grapes, but I'm assuming it was contamination in my case. There's often a lot of debris and dried fruit in the mix. The fruit is so small (pea-sized) that picking individual grapes off takes hours, so we do what we can and float off the dead berries in some water. Then we usually mash it all and strain off the juice. But a ton of junk still ends up in the juice. When you boil it for jelly, I'm sure that kills a lot of stuff that the winemaking process doesn't kill. Next time, maybe I'll use a much higher dose of campden before fermenting. (Recommendations welcome.)

I did find that there are actually two kinds of wild grapes along the Parkway that look very similar from the ground but up close they're quite different. We never cared much about the difference for jam/jelly, but in the process of this winemaking I discovered that they're very differently flavored. One of them is rather tangy, almost bitter, with a very high acidity; the other is the soft sweet concord flavor. I guess the amount of sugar in the jelly overrides any acidity, and probably adds a nice complexity to the jelly. But I couldn't overcome it in the wine must.

In the attached picture, notice the distinct difference - the lighter clusters on the left are more densely fruited, and are the sweeter variety. The darker-skinned ones on the right are the acidic ones. So my main recommendation to anyone trying this: be very observant of the grape type; I'd prefer the ones on the left. (Yes, I do know that there is a grape lookalike called moonseed, and these are not that dangerous fruit.)

1698670487741.png1698671243232.png
 
Thanks for sharing that, @Brandon M !

We have at least 6 wild grape varieties in Ohio. I have vines all over the property but never spotted grapes before. I was always in the the right place at the wrong time. I don't know why they seem to like being near water and I just luckily notice them this year. I also have some ancient massive vines with grapes along a stream and I'm wondering how the heck I can harvest grapes next year that are 50+ ft in the air.😅

I cleared an incredible amount of honeysuckle and wild roses from around the pond in the last few weeks and almost daily found more grapes that were hidden from view. Next year I'll be harvesting some from a pedal boat!

20231021_154421.jpg

And that's a heck of a drive. Have you found any closer to home?
 
And that's a heck of a drive. Have you found any closer to home?
It's our vacation spot every year, and only about 3 hours away, so no big deal. We LOVE going there in the fall.

I've found that, at least for the vines we harvest, wild grapes love growing on slopes but not far from water. So they seem to like roadsides where there's a damp ditch just at the bottom of the slope. They also favor west-facing slopes where they get good afternoon sun. They also seem to like climbing near pine trees particularly. Maybe it's something about the acidity in the soil that comes with pines. At any rate, these facts make it fairly easy to spot them from our car as we drive along the Parkway: during a late afternoon drive we focus anywhere with sunny slopes, 15-30 feet up the hill, preferably around pines.

I'm sure there are good places deep in the woods, but we're always looking from the car, so...
 
It's our vacation spot every year, and only about 3 hours away, so no big deal. We LOVE going there in the fall.

I've found that, at least for the vines we harvest, wild grapes love growing on slopes but not far from water. So they seem to like roadsides where there's a damp ditch just at the bottom of the slope. They also favor west-facing slopes where they get good afternoon sun. They also seem to like climbing near pine trees particularly. Maybe it's something about the acidity in the soil that comes with pines. At any rate, these facts make it fairly easy to spot them from our car as we drive along the Parkway: during a late afternoon drive we focus anywhere with sunny slopes, 15-30 feet up the hill, preferably around pines.

I'm sure there are good places deep in the woods, but we're always looking from the car, so...
I know what you mean about fall. It's one of the big tourist seasons here and a more mature and better behaved crowd than summer. We call them "Leafers".

And what is it with the grapes and water?! Is it the water itself? Higher humidity? Insects that like water? I don't know!
 
Brandon M, Newbie here, I live in western NY. The grapes on the left look like what I have been picking for the last month. I 'Think' its vitis labrusca. The ones I pick are tight bunches like that and have that yeast or white film/powder on them. I say labrusca for a few reasons, but they are also the parent of concord, which is the flavor I recognize from them. I'm about 600 to 800ft above sea level if that helps, but they are every hundred feet from buffalo to Rochester. like road sides but I have seen them on fences, telephone poles, and like to climb elm trees on occasion, but I think many trees would do. Destemming is a chore and I'm defiantly purple when I'm done. When rinsed the juice turns a really nice blue, maybe that's all grape? don't know. What I have picked this year is still in primary, so workflow for them is on going. Used 71B and did not sulfite the juice, but I may change methods moving forward. My brother added way too much sugar to his from the start but after fermentation it tasted like Manischewitz. I really want to try and propagate them in the spring and see how they do with a little nurturing.
 
I know what you mean about fall. It's one of the big tourist seasons here and a more mature and better behaved crowd than summer. We call them "Leafers".

And what is it with the grapes and water?! Is it the water itself? Higher humidity? Insects that like water? I don't know!
My guess is birds? Powerlines over ditches, I assume that may be a good way to seed themselves 🤣. They stick close to water sources maybe?
 
My guess is birds? Powerlines over ditches, I assume that may be a good way to seed themselves 🤣. They stick close to water sources maybe?
Birds are certainly a possibility. Some parts of the property are almost quiet but near the pond it's almost like being in an aviary.
 
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Destemming is a chore and I'm defiantly purple when I'm done. When rinsed the juice turns a really nice blue, maybe that's all grape? don't know. What I have picked this year is still in primary, so workflow for them is on going. Used 71B and did not sulfite the juice, but I may change methods moving forward. My brother added way too much sugar to his from the start but after fermentation it tasted like Manischewitz. I really want to try and propagate them in the spring and see how they do with a little nurturing.
A chore? It's more like a short prison sentence or KP duty.😆

I hope to make 6-7 1-gallon batches this year, each with a variation, hoping to zero in on what I like for future harvests.

My mom loved Manischewitz. As a kid it was a treat to have a tiny bit at holiday meals but I have never ever bought it for myself. My palate has become much more refined so now I drink elderberry, sassafras, tomato, and green bean wines.😅
 
A chore? It's more like a short prison sentence or KP duty.😆

I hope to make 6-7 1-gallon batches this year, each with a variation, hoping to zero in on what I like for future harvests.

My mom loved Manischewitz. As a kid it was a treat to have a tiny bit at holiday meals but I have never ever bought it for myself. My palate has become much more refined so now I drink elderberry, sassafras, tomato, and green bean wines.😅
I hear ya! At first I was like oh this is nice, its like therapy, and after about 20 min. I was questioning my life decisions.
I like the variation idea, thats kind of what I'm wanting to do, probably should have started with different yeasts but only made a half gal. with a different yeast.
Yeah similar deal, my mom likes it so tried it a few years ago again as an adult.
I'm really excited for next season, my wife loves foraging so we have been talking about elderberry, juneberry, dandelion and all that, that'll be an adventure Im sure. Never heard about tomato and green been wines, guess I haven't heard much about vegetable wine.
 
I'm really excited for next season, my wife loves foraging so we have been talking about elderberry, juneberry, dandelion and all that, that'll be an adventure Im sure. Never heard about tomato and green been wines, guess I haven't heard much about vegetable wine.
If your wife loves to forage I would definitely exploit that. Gotta keep her happy! And don't forget to tell her that sweat makes her look even more beautiful!😅

I almost added juneberries to the yard this year. I chose instead to increase the elderberries and add currants and haskaps. Maybe next year?

This is the place to find out about vegetable wines! And flowers. And roots. And herbs. And.... Folks have used everything!

BTW, my first green bean wine was just green beans. No, it didn't taste like beans and turned out very nice. My second one was half green bean and half yard-long Chinese noodle beans. Wow! Night and day difference! Delicious!
 
🤣 She will love that! Shes been trying to get me outside for years, now I'm all there.
Thats crazy! I'm definitely excited to learn more, i'll have to try that this year. What does it taste like? Is it discribable?
 

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