Destemming wine grapes

Harvesting grapes at the ranch

We have four acres of wine grapes growing at our ranch. Wine grapes are common in Southern California, but pretty rare in our area where there is a lot of homesteading, but few commercial level farms. I don’t know if we exactly qualify as a commercial farm, but we sure are trying hard to support ourselves through farming alone!

Anyhow, the High Desert of Southern California is a pretty extreme climate with cold winters and hot summers. Since it gets so hot in our area, we harvest our grapes pretty early at the beginning of August.

This year was the easiest harvest we’ve ever had because we had so much family over to help!

We were a bit behind schedule as well and we harvested mid August, which means we shared quite a bit of our harvest with the darn birds. It also means that we were working insanely hard to try to get everything done before the school semester started. Two of us are college professors and my sister homeschools her kids so we had a lot of work to do in one week before school started.

Destemming by hand was a no go

Last year we destemmed everything by hand. This means we literally plucked each and every single grape individually. It sucked.

This year we started doing it again by hand, but there was a problem. Because we were harvesting later than usual, the honey bees had turned from our fruit orchard to our grape vineyard for food. There were honeybees in the grapes and of course I ended up getting stung.

No more doing this by hand! I was striking. And by the next day, we had a machine destemmer.

Luckily there is a nice little wine and beer making shop down in Riverside, CA called Wine and more! We went down there to buy a destemmer, but they were all out. The owner was so nice though he said just take one for the weekend for free! I definitely recommend checking out their shop!

Setting up the Destemmer

We were admittedly a bit daunted by the idea of this machine when we were used to doing everything by hand. The grape destemmer was a beautiful machine, made in Italy and like a lot of Italian machinery, it was a lot simpler than it looked. Basically, we just had to hose it out, bolt on the handle (because it was manual, not electric) and toss in some grapes.

Piece of cake!

Using the Destemmer

Using the grape destemmer was just as simple as setting it up. Evidently if you put too many grapes in, the machine will clog up. That wasn’t an issue for us as we were washing grapes and sending them out to my sister Stephanie and her daughter Nora. They’d throw a couple of bucket of grapes in and send the buckets back in for more while they cranked the machine.

The grapes went through some plastic paddles that knocked the fruit off the stem. The grapes would fall through holes at the bottom while the stems worked their way towards a chute at the end. Really simple and really effective. Some of the stems made through way through with the grapes but for wine making that isn’t a huge problem. A few stems only add tannins and flavor to the wine and that’s acceptable.

Note: We washed all of our grapes. I guess some people don’t do that, but I thought that was kind of gross.

Storing the wine grapes

Since we were in such a rush this year, we decided to freeze the grapes for when we have more time. We weren’t sure about freezing at first because some fruit lose color, quality and taste when frozen. I did some research and turns out not only can grapes take being frozen, but you actually end up getting more juice and more flavor from frozen grapes! Win win!

Simple enough, we put the wines in ziplock freezer bags (pay for the extra quality people!) and just tossed them in the deep freezers.

As soon as we get around to making wine and jelly I will post again!

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