If you want to make a great wine that can stand the test of time, then you must the time and work into it – Charles Woodson
If you haven’t heard of Muscadine wine, don’t worry you’re not alone as this sumptuous, sweet, and delicate alcoholic nectar is one of the best-kept secrets in the vintner’s world.
But it isn’t a secret because the wineries who make it don’t want to share it with the public at large, they do. It’s a secret because the grape that it’s created from, the muscadine, doesn’t grow in the same abundant numbers as a lot of other varieties do.
In other words, the wineries who do make it, can’t make enough of it to satisfy the appetites of America’s ever-growing number of grape devotees. And that’s a shame because Muscadine wine is an American classic that every wine connoisseur should be able to at least try once in their lifetime, and if they did, it wouldn’t be a secret for long.
One taste of Muscadine is usually more than enough to convert even the most hardened skeptic and non-believer to the sweet wine cause.
The overwhelming reason why Muscadine has managed to stay relatively obscure is mainly due to the fact that the grape only seems to flourish in the South Eastern states and isn’t found in the heartland of American wine production, California.
It’s a Southern specialty that, so far at least, hasn’t really managed to escape its geographical limitations, which is why we decided to give up on waiting for California to play catch up and start producing Muscadine wine and opted to make our own instead.
And because it was so good, we thought we’d share our no-frills, simple and straightforward way to make Muscadine wine with you so that you can embrace, and fall in love with one of America’s best-kept secrets too.
A Little Knowledge Goes A Long Way – Muscadine Wine 101
One of the strangest things about the muscadine grape is that it’s one of the hardiest varieties in America and has been widely cultivated in the South since the sixteenth century.
Its naturally tough skin is a rich source of polyphenols which were used as dyes and for tanning garments before an enterprising soul discovered (probably in the aftermath of the industrial revolution) that the same grape that could be used to help clothe a community, was also an incredibly effective, and cheap way to get the same community drunk.
Unlike a lot of other grape varieties, muscadine comes in a wide range of colors, from deep red to white to bronze, which as you’ve probably already guessed greatly affects the color of the wine that it makes.
It can be white, it can be red and it can even be imbued with the same sort of light gold tinge that some European dessert wines possess, and the flavor of this wild, naturally sweet grape emerges during fermentation and creates a wine unlike any other produced in the United States.
It isn’t just the color that the juice of the fermented muscadine grape shares with European dessert wines, as its natural crisp sweetness means that it’s closer in taste to its distant Italian cousins than the more traditional grapes grown, and wines produced, in the Napa Valley.
It’s the odd man out in the American wine scene and doesn’t have any desire or wish to fit in with the contemporary and fashionable wines that have become the forte of the West Coast hub of wine-centric life.
It’s a law unto itself, and a wine that would if the grape had managed to find a footing outside of the humid, hot climate of the South have become famous the world over.
The Seven Steps To Muscadine Heaven
Now that you know a little more about this strange, and wonderful wine, we’d better cut straight to the chase and do what we promised we would do when you started reading. And that is, tell you how to make the sweet, delicious muscadine nectar that we’re sure you’ll fall head over heels in love with.
Before we begin, we think it’s worth noting that when you take a final reading with your hydrometer, you might be a little shocked. Unlike a lot of other wines which have an ABV (alcohol by volume) content somewhere between fourteen and sixteen percent, your finished Muscadine wine will probably be closer to ten or eleven percent alcohol by volume.
Don’t panic when you see those numbers, they’re absolutely on target, as Muscadine has a lower ABV than just about any other domestic wine.
That doesn’t however mean that you can drink more of it than you should just because it tastes like the nectar of the gods. Well, you could, but you’d still wake up the next day full of regret and lamenting the fact that you drank two bottles instead of your usual one. Where were we? That’s right, how to make Muscadine wine in seven easy steps.
Step One – The Ingredients And The Tools Of The Winemaking Trade
The first thing you’ll need to do is find somewhere online, or with the help of your local grocer to source muscadine grapes. If you live in Florida, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, North or South Carolina, it should be relatively easy as the grape is native to all of those states.
If you live anywhere else, it might be a little more difficult, so you’ll probably have to ask for some advice from your local wine-making or horticultural communities if your grocer can’t help you out.
As soon as you’ve found a supplier, or somewhere to get the grapes from, you may as well go for gold and make as much wine as you can because it might not be so easy to find the grapes next time around.
So let’s assume that you’re going to make two gallons of Muscadine wine, which should be enough to last you, and any of your family and friends that you want to share your bounty with, for a while – and in this case, a while, is a subjective amount of time that’s entirely dependent on your own alcohol intake and how much you do, or don’t drink.
To make two gallons of muscadine wine, you’ll need six pounds of muscadine grapes, ninety-six (or thereabout) ounces of sugar, two gallons of water, and a packet of wine yeast
After you’ve gathered the ingredients that you’ll need, you’ll also have to gather together the tools of the winemaking trade, and in order to make two gallons of muscadine wine, you need bottles and corks, two one-gallon fermenting jugs, a sieve, a hydrometer, and a fermenter
Step Two – Cleaning And Sanitization
Now that you’ve done all of the hard work, and put a small(ish) dent in your pocketbook, you can focus all of your attention on part of the job that everyone enjoys, and you can start getting ready to make your Muscadine wine.
Slow down a moment though, because we’re not quite ready to move on to the next stage of the game yet. Before you start mashing, mixing, and fermenting you’ll need to ensure that all of your winemaking equipment has been thoroughly sanitized, and is clean and ready to be used.
And after you’ve sanitized your equipment, you’ll need to wash your grapes. The easiest way to do it is to leave them to soak in a bucket of water for a couple of hours, as that should help to remove anything that the bugs and insects might have left behind, and any dirt that might have been missed during each and every stage of the supply chain.
As soon as you’re confident that your grapes are clean, take them out of the bucket and put them in the fermenter.
Step Three – Mashing And Crushing The Grapes
This is where the fun really begins, and depending on how big the fermenter (this is why we always recommend that you get a six-gallon fermenter as they’re big enough to let you pretend to be an old school French winemaker) you can be as inventive or traditional as you feel like while you’re crushing your grapes.
Personally, we like to take our shoes and socks off, step into the fermenter, and crush and mash them up the old-fashioned way, with our feet. If you’re wearing your Fitbit, it’ll help you to reach your steps goal for the day, and if you’re not or you don’t have one, it’s a little extra exercise and a few more steps never hurt anybody.
Just be aware, that if you do smush your grapes up the traditional way and you intend to share the wine with your friends and family, you might not want to tell them that you did. The whole feet thing can make some people feel squeamish.
Step Four – Pour Some Sugar (And Yeast) On Me
You might want to get a stick, or a large spoon for this next stage, as you’re going to start by pouring the two gallons of water onto your smushed-up grapes and then give everything in the fermenter a good stir.
After stirring for ten minutes, pour all ninety-six ounces of the sugar into the mixture of grapes and water and keep on stirring until you’re sure that all of the sugar has dissolved in the mixture. When it has, open a packet of yeast and pour that into the mix.
Can you guess what you’re going to do next? That’s right, you’re going to stir it again and you’re going to keep on stirring it until all of the yeast has dissolved and absorbed into your soon-to-be muscadine wine.
Step Five – Let The Fermentation Begin
Once the yeast has been added to the mix, the process of fermentation has begun and you can stand back and let nature take its course, and lend it an occasional helping hand to speed everything up.
Cover the fermentor and find somewhere in your house to store it that you’re confident has an ambient temperature of (or that you can maintain with a little thermostatic magic) roughly seventy degrees Fahrenheit, and leave the fermentor and its contents to do their thing for the next twenty-four hours.
After a day or so, pry open the lid and give the contents a quick, but thorough stir and for the next three to five days, stir the contents of the fermenter every six or seven hours and put the lid back on it in between your seven hourly stirs.
Step Six – Jugging It Up
It should take roughly five days for your Muscadine wine to finish its primary fermentation, and when it’s ready to leave the fermentor, you’ll need to transfer it to the fermentation jugs, which you’ll want to do slowly and carefully so you don’t spill or waste any of your “wine”
Place the sieve on the neck of the first jug and pour half of the contents of the fermentor into it, making sure that you don’t spill any. Then empty the sieve (believe us, you’re going to need to empty it) and then place it on the neck of the second jug, and carefully pour the remaining contents of the fermentor into the jug.
Close the top of both jugs with the supplied airlocks and bungs, put them in a cool, dry, and dark place in your house, and forget about them for a month. It’ll take that long for the process of secondary fermentation to work its magic, so again, let nature and the miracle of winemaking run their course.
Step Seven – Bottling Your Wine
As soon as that month has passed, your wine will be ready for bottling. Transfer the contents of each of the jugs to the bottles you purchased earlier, cork them and leave them to finish fermenting for another four weeks in the same cool, dry and dark place. And then… Your muscadine wine will be ready to be savored and enjoyed.
How Do I Know If I’ll Actually Like Muscadine Wine?
That’s a good question, and if you want to try some Muscadine wines before you start making your own, you could order a bottle or two from North Carolina’s Duplin Winery, Georgia’s Chateau Elan, or Florida’s San Sebastian Winery all of which have an extensive range of Muscadine and other sweet wines.
Actually, it’s probably a good idea to try the wine (if you’re not familiar with it) before you buy it, as it might save you the expense and time and effort of making your own if you don’t actually like it. And you wouldn’t want to be lumbered with two gallons of wine that you’ll never drink would you?
It’s Actually Good For You…
Muscadine wine has an additional, hidden secret that we probably should have shared with you at the beginning, but better late than never, right? Because the grapes have a high antioxidant and ellagic acid content, they’re classed as a “superfruit”, which means that the wine they make is actually good for you.
A glass of Muscadine wine a day can help to prevent heart disease, improve your digestion and reduce the inflammation caused by arthritis and other degenerative conditions.
And if you’re not enamored by the thought of Muscadine wine, you could cut the alcohol out of the equation and get all of the same benefits by drinking a glass or two of muscadine juice a day. After all, there’s more to grapes than wine.
The Last Word On Muscadine Wine
The sweet, Southern secret might be new to you, but now you know as much about this divine and delicious wine as we do, we hope that you might be tempted to at least try a bottle or two, or even want to make your own and help to spread the word about this underappreciated champion of the wine world.