Today in the Georgia Lowcountry, the temperature is hovering in the upper eighties, the humidity around ninety-five percent. My yard is filled with pines and live oaks, which remain thick with green foliage, and there is not a single leaf falling. Yet it feels like autumn, even if there is no nip in the air.
The clarified light gives it away, this turning of the seasons. That and the smell of muscadine wine fermenting in my downstairs bathtub, the closest thing I have to a cool, dark basement. When I was growing up, that pungent pong signaled the end of summer. It meant that the grapevines had finished producing, and that my father would be turning his attention from planting and weeding and harvesting to home brewing. And it meant that we’d have bottles of sweet wine ready for the grown-ups to drink on Christmas Day (and for us youngsters to enjoy in the fruit filling of my mother’s Lane Cake, a treat she baked only once a year).
I’m one of the grown-ups now, thank goodness, so I can have my cake and drink my wine too. My father no longer makes wine, so he gifted me with his giant glass brewing jars—the ones currently taking up all my spare bathtub space—and his secret recipe, which isn’t really a secret at all—I share it below—but I call it that because it makes a better story.
There’s nothing fancy here, folks. The yeast is regular old yeast like you find in the baking section of the supermarket (though I’m experimenting this year with yeast specifically for white wines). There are no specially engineered bungs and airlocks, no hydrometers and pH sticks. Just big glass jars with balloons on the neck that inflate as the mashed-up fruit ferments.
As I move into my fifties, I find myself coming into skills that I never had as a callow youth, gifts I inherited but could never fully utilize. My green thumb didn’t develop until my forties, and neither did my winemaking abilities. I think it has something to do with patience and attention, an appreciation of slow time, a willingness to settle into cycles and seasons.
My 2018 vintage is already bubbling away. If you’re in my neck of the woods on Christmas Day, come by and I’ll share a glass. Or you can make your own. Here’s how. Cheers!
Archie T’s Muscadine Wine
8 quarts muscadine grapes (purple or bronze)
4-5 lbs sugar (depending on sweetness of your grapes)
1 package yeast
1 gallon fresh water
You’ll need a large glass (preferable) or plastic container for fermenting—it should be big enough to hold all your ingredients, plus allow for the bubble of fermentation. I use a five-gallon pickle jar.
Wash your grapes very well, removing any leaf or stem bits. Get a big tub or cooking pot large enough to hold your grapes, and then crush them up good. You can do this with your bare hands (in which case, I recommend gloves as the juice is highly acidic), or with a potato smasher, or you can put the grapes in the freezer and let them burst, then thaw them to room temperature and continue.
Combine the grapes (hulls and juice together) with the water and sugar and yeast. Cover the lid of your container with something that will let gas escape (cheesecloth held on with a rubber band works well, as does a balloon). Let it sit for about three weeks, stirring daily.
Once fermentation has stopped, remove the pulp and siphon the wine into a clean container, leaving any sediment behind. Let it settle for three weeks, then siphon off again. Repeat the settle/siphon process at least one more time, then siphon into clean bottles.
Enjoy with people you love.
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Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph mysteries for Poisoned Pen Press. The sixth book in this Atlanta-based series—Necessary Ends—is available now. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and has served as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories: www.tinawhittle.com.