Bottling Homemade Wine

Louis Pasteur said that “wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.” This is good to hear because we spent this weekend bottling homemade wine at my cousins in New Jersey.

It was only a short 12 months ago that we gathered up our grapes from Prosperos in Pleasantville and spent the afternoon picking them from their stems and giving them a good crush.


Two barrels & lots of bottles

Our barrels totaled 220 liters, plus my cousin had 15 gallons in glass carboys. Imperial to metric system conversions aside, this is a lot of homemade wine!


We ended up bottling just over 370 bottles in 4 hours. As a reminder, the major grape in this batch is Sangiovese accompanied by Merlot, Barbera and Thompson for sweetness. No sugar or sulfides added.


Aged one year in oak

It was aged for one year primarily because everyone was nearly out of last year’s batch. In future years and as many vinters do, maybe we will age the wine 2 or 3+ years longer. Aging wine longer in the barrel concentrates flavors, depth, body and aroma compounds.


But of course this also takes time and care. As the wine evaporates and “breathes” through the oak, it loses volume and gains some oxygen which smooths out the tannins.

Having too large an air space in the barrel is a no-no because too much oxygen can spoil the wine. If this happens you end up with OK vinegar if you’re lucky. So the barrels must be monitored and continuously filled over time.


A versatile wine that still needs time

Being so young, this Sangiovese is very fruit-forward. It has an emerging earthy flavor on the back end yet still has nice legs on the cup.

Many wine shops will tell you that Sangiovese is a versatile wine.

Sangiovese pairs with a wide range of foods because of its medium weighted body and savory character. Use Sangiovese’s savory as a congruent flavor with herbs and tomatos. This technique will actually bring out more fruity flavors in the wine. A Sangiovese with high tannins will work perfectly with rich roasted meat, cured sausages and hard cheeses. –


Bottle Shock

Being moved and agitated is not so fun. This is the same for wine. Going from being quite content in a large oak barrel to a 750 ml bottle produces what is known as “bottle shock.” (This is also the name of a great movie!)  

The flavors get all out of whack during the movement. The wine needs to sit in it’s new habitat for at least a few weeks for bottle sickness, as it is also known, to disappear.


Another bottle shock

When it was my turn on bottling, I had a “shock” of sorts. As I was plunging down the cork, the bottle exploded either because it was just a little too full of wine or it could have been a fault in the glass. Either way I had a nice gash across my toes, one on an artery that took forever to stop bleeding.

My cousin’s daughter was not only a great helper on the day, she also was an excellent nurse in taking care of my “broken toe” (that’s what the kids called it).

Sweet taste of success


The plans for next year’s batch have already begun as the new grapes should be here around the end of this month. I think a lot about one day doing this at the farm and researching where I can buy New York State grapes.


For now though, my cousin has the perfect set-up in his basement. Plus it’s always very festive when the family gets together every time we drive down. Be it for crushing, pressing, racking or bottling.

I’m really looking forward to trying our 2013 batch.

Just a few more weeks to go… in this journey!


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