We look forward to a glass of homemade wine and a piece of fruitcake every year. The homemade wine is light and full-bodied, with just a hint of spice, while the fruit cake is rich and full of dried fruits. This can be made by anyone, even a novice winemaker or distiller. It is more like a dessert than an alcoholic drink. You only need grapes, sugar, and some spice. The secret ingredient is time. It takes a few weeks to get there, but it is well worth the wait.
South India Homebrewing
This type of homebrewing was a common practice in my hometown. Half the population tried it, and the rest wished they could force someone to do it. Humans are resourceful, especially regarding our favorite food and drinks. Don’t be surprised to find a different bottle of Grisham, the Ayurvedic medicinal beverage, in your aunt M’s kitchen cupboard.
Popular drinks made from cashew apples and palm sap are enjoyed throughout the region. You can make homemade drinks that are mildly fizzy or high in alcohol. Although they are usually milder, the ones made at home tend to be more so. However, you should always be cautious if you receive one.
Back to the wine, I recall my mother fermenting gooseberries with spices for this Nellikka Arishtam. Nellikka, or Gooseberries, are full of nutrients. This was a great way to make it delicious! She decided to make wine more severe after we left home. It makes you wonder how it happened! The last time I was there, she had this incredible chambakka (rose apple) wine ready for me.
My Grape Wine Journey
Let’s go back to my wine journey. We planted two grapevines in our yard a little more than a decade ago. We found that only one of the grapevines produced Concord grapes. The only problem was the seeds. The errand seed may offend both kids and adults! We have become so fragile that even a few roots could ruin our day. Nevertheless, there were plenty of leftovers.
So I ended up with 60 lbs of dark-purple grapes. Some resourceful women I know would have made jams or squashes with these grapes. What did I do? Like a proud Malayali, my instinct was to return to my roots and make wine. Is that a mistake? Yes, it was. I must do it every year.
Grapes: What to Choose?
There are wide varieties of fruit highly prized in commercial winemaking, but this is not true for homebrewing. Each batch has its unique flavor. Use what you have.
Remember that grapes purchased at the supermarket may be treated with chemicals to stop the growth of bacteria and fungi. These chemicals prevent yeast fermentation. You can clean the chemicals with products and then add yeast to start fermentation. This is different from the path I recommend or would like to follow. It is too laborious, and there may be residual chemicals. Homebrewing is about enjoying your life and relaxing. Therefore, I prefer to go outside and find organic, untreated grapes.
The traditional recipe for homemade grape wine
Traditional recipes contain equal amounts of sugar and fruit. Concoctions last less than one month. This results in a sweetened drink that has very little alcohol. The same mixture develops complex flavors when allowed to ferment for three months or more. This sweet version will be available if you buy it from a Western Ghats bakery.
Many traditional recipes require boiled water, wheat kernels, or yeast. My experience is that the organic grape doesn’t need any starter, as the ambient yeast does a fantastic job. Commercial yeast can alter the microbial composition and result in a product with one flavor instead of the complex, nuanced flavors each season and crop creates.
Making grape wine is easy. It is essential to dry everything and keep it clean. You should clean all utensils and fruit. Wash the grapes and dry them. In alternating layers, layer the sugar and grapes in the container. Add a layer of sugar to top it all. Fill the container to the top with the fruits. This provides additional protection against fermentation overflow.
Bharani, large ceramic containers made of clay, were the traditional choice for jars. It is essential to use non-reactive containers. This can be done with ceramic and terracotta, but not metal or plastic. Here, I used glass. To prevent light from entering glass containers, cover them with clothing/brown paper bags. Now all you need to do is wait for the yeast to multiply and for bacteria to take effect.
Mixing the contents of many recipes once per day for several days is a common practice. This is not necessary if there is enough space for expansion. There is nothing to be concerned about if the CO2 generated can slowly escape. If in doubt, check the jar every two days for the first week. Then open the lid to vent any excess CO2.
This is truly a feast for your eyes! Strain the clear liquid into a glass and enjoy!
To extract the best from the fruit, you should stain it with a clear liquid. Although you could, the second extraction is less tasty than the first.