A sip of home made wine and a slice of X’mas fruit cake is something we look forward to every year. The fruit cake is rich full of spices and studded with dried fruits while the home made wine is full bodied with just a hint of spices. This grape wine locally known as Munthiri wine is brewed with care at homes in the western ghats. One does not have to an expert to make this and to be fair it is more of a desert than an alcoholic beverage. Grapes, sugar and a touch of spice – these are all you need. There is a secret ingredient her – time – a few weeks of it to be exact – but all that wait is entirely worth it.
Where I grew up, this kind of home brewing was something half the population did, while the other half raised their eyebrows and wished someone would force them to try it. We humans very resourceful, especially when it comes to our favorite drinks. So don’t be surprised if that bottle of arishtam – the Ayurvedic medicinal drink – that you found tucked away in the corner of kitchen cabinet at aunt M’s place turns out to be something entirely different.
Coming back to the wine in hand – I remember my mom fermenting gooseberries with spices to make this delicious Nellikka Arishtam. Goose berries were rumored to be powerhouses of nutrition and what a delicious way to make us all take it! It wasn’t until we all left home that she decided to take wine making more seriously! Makes you wonder what brought it on ! Any how the last time I visited she had this amazing chambakka (rose apple) wine waiting for me. Love you AMMA – you are the best ♥
Getting back to my wine journey a little over a decade ago we had planted a couple grape vines in our backyard. Only one of them took and we found out that it produced these nice plump concorde grapes, the only catch was the seeds. Kids ( and some grownups) now seem to be offended by the errand seed! Apparently we become such fragile creatures that a few seeds can ruin our day! Anyhow the end result was that after the first few bunches were consumed there were plenty left over.
So there I was left with about 60 lbs of dark purple grapes. There are some resourceful ladies I know, who would have turned these to raisins, or made jams and squashes. But what did I do ? Well like a proud Malayali, I went back to my roots and made wine. Was that a mistake ? yes , big time. As it turns out I have to make it every year..
Traditionally these were made with equal quantities of fruit and sugar and not aged for more than a month. The end result was a sweet drink with minute traces of alcohol. The same concoction when allowed to ferment longer, 3 months or more, develops more complex flavors. When buying this from a local bakery in western ghat, chances are you are getting the sweet version, with nary a trace of alcohol.
Most of the traditional recipes call for boiled water and wheat kernels or yeast as starter. In my experience organic grapes does not need any starter as the ambient yeast does a great job. To me adding commercial yeast changes the microbial content and the final product has one flat flavor instead of the more complex, nuanced flavors each crop and season creates.
Another thing to keep in mind is that often times the grapes that we get from the markets are treated with chemical agents to inhibit the growth of fungi and bacteria. These prevent fermentation. We can use products to clean out the chemicals and add yeast to kick start fermentation, that is not a path i like to take. You see , that is too much work ! Home brewing is all about sitting back and enjoying life. So I would rather go out and look for organic untreated grapes.
The process of making grape wine is pretty easy. The most important part is to start with everything clean and dry. The utensils, fruit and anything else that you use in the process should be cleaned and dried. Wash and dry the grapes. Layer the grapes and sugar in the container in alternating layers. Top with a layer of sugar. Make sure that the container is large enough to hold the fruits and fill about 2/3 of the way. This is an additional insurance against spills.
Traditionally these were made in large ceramic containers called bharani. The idea is to use no reactive containers. I have seen terracotta and ceramic used for this, never plastic or metal. Here I have used glass. When using glass containers cover it with clothes / brown paper bags to prevent the light from getting in. All you have to now is to wait for the yeast and bacteria to work their magic.
Usually many recipes call for mixing the contents once a day for a few days. I find this to be unnecessary if there is enough room for expansion in the jar and the CO2 generated can escape without causing an explosion. If you are unsure check on the jar every other day for the first week and open the lid to vent if necessary.
Now that is a feast for the eyes ! Strain the clear liquid – and well enjoy !
- 500 g Grapes 1 lb
- 250 - 500 g Sugar 1 to 2 C
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- 3 Cloves
- Remove the grapes from the stem, wash and dry well.
- Clean and dry a large non reactive jar (see notes).
Measure the sugar and set aside. Adjust sugar per taste, use equal amount in weight of the grapes for the sweet wine.
- Divide the sugar and grapes into equal number of portions. Take one portion of the grapes and place in the jar. Crush it lightly with the back of a wooden spoon so the juices begin to ooze out. Layer a portion of the sugar.
- Repeat this process until all the fruit is used up. Crush the last layer of fruit and add the add the cinnamon stick and cloves. End with layer of sugar.
- Close the lid and store in a dark place, away from light and heat.
- 24 hours later shake the jar lightly to distribute the sugar and spices evenly. Repeat this process for 5 days. If the mix froths to the top open the lid a little to vent. Close and return to the storage area.
- Keep the jar undisturbed for at least 21 days. For more complex flavors keep it for 3 months. Open the jar and strain the juices into a clean dry bottle.
- Serve chilled.
- Use whole spices and organic grapes.
- Fill the jars only 2/3 of the way through.
- Keep the jars away from sunlight. If using glass jars cover with brown paper bags or clothes to block light.
After staining off the clear liquid usually the fruit is squeezed to extract every last bit of goodness from it. You could as well .. but the second extraction is not the most flavorful one.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my personal views and needs to be taken with a pinch of salt – or a bottle of good wine as the case may be. While open to interpretation please use your judgement when making and consuming alcoholic beverages and at all time obey the local laws.