Back at the Living Colour Gardens headquarters, we are very excited that after three years, our grapevine, Vitis vinifera ‘de Bere’ has finally reached maturity and is producing grapes in abundance. The entire pergola over our decking has a lush covering of grapes and foliage, turning our outdoor seating area into a beautiful shady oasis.
This year we harvested the fruit for the first time, using sharp secateurs to carefully cut each bunch off at the stem. Since these grapes are going to be made into wine, they needed to be as ripe as possible before harvesting. This we were able to check by looking at the colour of the berries (the darker the better), feeling how soft they were and tasting individual berries from different bunches to see what proportion of the bunches were already sweet.
If a grape pulls away easily from a bunch without any resistance, the grapes are ripe. If it resists then it can ripen further. Any mouldy grapes were removed as these can spoil the wine, but slightly shrivelled grapes are okay and will still contain some juice, as long as they’re not completely dried out.
We then packed our grapes carefully in plastic crates to prevent crushing, and took them up to Organiclea, a community food project based in the Lea Valley in north-east London. There they run a Community Wine Making Scheme, using a mix of grapes from their own organic vineyard, and grapes grown organically in gardens and allotments across London.
At delivery, our grapes were measured for sugar content using a hydrometer or refractometer. In fully ripe London grapes the sugar content is normally between 16-20%. The picture below shows Marko who runs the winery at Organiclea, measuring our grapes! They were 18-18.5% sugar, which will help to make a sweeter wine, and mean that less sugar will need to be added during fermentation.
The sugar content also gives us an idea of the resulting alcohol volume of the wine, with the percentage alcohol of the finished wine being approximately half of the sugar level of the grapes. So grapes with an 18% sugar content can achieve a wine of around 9% alcohol.
Our grapes were then crushed in a special machine to extract the juice, and this was added into a large vat to begin the first stage of fermentation. In January, we’ll get to have a little taster of the wine from the cask, mid-fermentation! This picture shows the bottled 2013 vintage from the harvest of Organiclea and other London grape growers. Meanwhile, at LCG we are enjoying our other grape harvest, Vitis vinifera ‘Muscat de Hambourg‘, delicious black grapes that are larger and best for eating.