Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cabernet Grapes

My friend Steve has a green thumb.  He's always bringing me zucchini and cucumbers and tomatoes from his garden.  His parents also have a backyard garden, and a few weeks ago Steve was walking, talking with his Dad when they passed his father's cabernet grape vine.  The vine was a giant natural bramble of twisted branches heavy with sun-ripened grapes ready to be picked.  Steve's father had purchased the vine in wine country in the bay area over a decade before, and the vine had steadily begun baring more and more fruit as it matured.  The grapes it had produced this year were dark and sweet.  Steve's Dad generously agreed to cut them and give them to Steve so that he could share them with me.  That's how on Friday afternoon last week I sat staring wide-eyed at this box resting on my front lawn:

My kids started eating them right away.  Organically grown, perfectly ripe wine quality cabernet grapes are easy to enjoy.  They tasted of deep berry (blackberry?) flavors with a hint of complimentary vanilla, and were sweet and juicy.  I realized that I needed to use them right away.  So after consulting with the Mad Fermentationist (thanks for emailing me back!) I decided to add some to my Farmer's Daughter Flanders Red that's been fermenting for almost ten months.  But first I needed to figure out how much I had.

So early last Saturday morning I started to remove the grapes from the vines.  I had some help from Claire and Ben who really just wanted to eat them.  The whole process took about two hours, with me carefully removing stems and bagging the grapes after washing them.  The result was much more than I expected.  Altogether the box contained almost 21 pounds of grapes!
Four 5 +lb bags
Ben sorting (eating) grapes
I decided to use half of them in the Farmer's Daughter Flanders Red.  I crushed them into a pulp and racked the Flanders on top.  The other half I decided to freeze.  Freezing fruit is a good way to preserve its flavor and helps with fermentation because when frozen, fruit cell walls tend to  burst, giving the yeast and other microbial cultures a chance to get to all of the available sugars and ferment.  It seems counter intuitive to freeze such a fresh product, but it's actually the best thing to do.

Over the past few days, I've worked out my plans for the remaining ten+ pounds.  I want to start a cycle of lambics, brewing one roughly each year for the next three years, and ultimately blending the three batches into a gueze that has the potential to be greater than the sum of its individual parts.  I'm planning to incorporate the remaining grapes somewhere within the process, but honestly am not sure exactly where.  Tentatively I think it might be added to a portion of this first lambic after at least a year of fermentation.  The grain and hop bill couldn't be any easier, with pilsner malt, unmalted wheat and aged hops providing a simple base for the myriad of microfauna to work its magic.  I plan to brew the first one with a turbid mash schedule mid-week:


  1. Awesome.

    So how long are you planning to let the Flanders sit on the grapes?

    And I'm doing something similar this weekend. I have a buddy that has far too many elderberries on his tree. I picked a few pounds and the frozen and crushed berries will be going into my Flanders Red. I'm still debating how long I want to leave the beer on the berries.

    1. I'm not exactly sure what sort of contact time I need for the grapes to provide the sort of flavor I'm looking for. Michael from the Mad Fermentationist suggested aging for 2-4 months on the grapes and then starting to think about blending it with my younger Flanders. I suppose I'll shoot for somewhere in that timeline, and will probably be tasting it frequently.

      I'm not familiar enough with elderberries to offer any real accurate advice for your project. What sort of flavor do they impart?

  2. I just kegged my Kriek. I used local tart cherries. It's frickin amazing. I wish some Cab grapes would land on my yard, but doubt that'll happen in MN! Cheers!

    1. Is that the Kripple Kriek I saw on your site? That's on my short list. I wish I had access to tart cherries locally. Overnight shipping from your neck of the woods to San Diego hovers around $100!


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