From Vines to Wines… Winter 2013 Master Gardener Newsletter

By Master Gardener Joe Bernardo

UNR Wine5 Joe B-1The ancient Egyptians recorded wine-making in their writings and so growing grapes for wine dates back to before the GREAT PYRAMIDS were around. Wine has been made and enjoyed since the time of the Curds and the Hunds. This is because it is something that can be kept without spoiling. The natural transformation of sugar to alcohol with natural yeast has been the norm for centuries. Now, wine is made in most countries of the world and in all of the states.

Wine can be made from most fruits and vegetables, but is typically made from grapes. Over three thousand varieties of grapes exist and are used for many things, including making wine. Grapes are eaten as fruit for the table and fed to certain animals. Grapes are used in making raisins and juices for drinking and cooking.

Growing grapes in Nevada can be a challenge. They do not like late freezes and fruit doesn’t always ripen before the early frost. I planted my first vines to see if I could grow grapes. In 1998, I started with just three vines in front of my house. They took off and grew great. So I thought “OK let’s plant 100 vines and make some wine.” I planted them behind my house on a revenue sloop and in about three years lost them to frost. After going to Dr. Grant Cramer’s class, I learned that are several ways to avoid the killing frost. One is to restrict the amount of water to the vines close to winter to harden-off the plants. Also, there is a spray chemical that will delay bud break in spring. Certain varieties do better here due to our weather patterns. You have to adapt to your needs, but it is possible to have good wine grapes here. In fact, some of the experts think cold climates like Reno will become the wine capital of the United States with global warming.

From the Master Gardener point of view, making wine can be quick and easy. You can make wine in your kitchen with whatever cooking tools you have. You only need to follow four steps to make wine.

  1. Get grapes or fruit that you want to turn into wine.
  2. Crush, smash or break down the grapes for the wine. After smashing the grapes then you need to extract the juice out and get rid of seeds and skins. Usually this is done with a press , but in the older days women did it with their feet. In some of the old European small towns, it is still done like that today.
  3. Let the juice (called Must) start changing from sugar to alcohol; a process called fermenting. It takes a while for the process to happen, sometimes it takes years for a complete change. Some grapes age faster than others and some do not age well.
  4. Bottle or store the new wine so it can age some more. Some red wines need to age for ten years or more to be excellent wines. Others start to go bad in only four or five years. How long wines need to age depends on many factors like temperature, light, amount of air in the wine, and even the color of bottle.

I have known many people to make a good wine at home in their kitchen and in their own refrigerator. Some of it has been better than I could buy in a store. As a Master Gardener, I find growing grapes and turning it into wine a great past-time and a challenge. If any of you would like to know more about growing grapes, let me know. I will gladly give my limited knowledge to you. I do have an on-going winery. This is my view only from my experiences.