Making Wine at the Volkening Heritage Farm: Melanie Blume Reports on Her SUST Internship Experience this Semester

Blume, MelanieThis is the 3rd guest post by RU senior Melanie Blume, a SUST major who is interning with conservation and education staff at the Spring Valley Nature Center and the Volkening Heritage Farm near Roosevelt’s campus in Schaumburg IL. These excellent facilities are part of the 135-acre Spring Valley Conservation Area, the largest and most ecologically significant green space with the Village of Schaumburg limits, and are managed by the Schaumburg Park District. 

During the Spring 2015 semester, Melanie reflects on her work at Spring Valley on prairie conservation, seed propagation, invasive species identification and removal at the Nature Center; as well as on garden preparation, planting of their extensive vegetable garden, and contributing to Farm to Table programs with a focus on local food production at the Volkening Farm.

Last Tuesday at the Volkening Heritage Farm, Monique Inglot (Program Assistant at the Farm) and I began the wine making process from their grape harvest two seasons ago. These grapes were frozen and put into three huge garbage bags, well preserved for future squashing, fermenting, and straining.

Wine 1 Wine 2

First, we separated the stems from the grapes. Not because of taste, but just so the big stems wouldn’t get in the way of getting the juices out. Grapes, especially the Concord variety we used, naturally have yeast in their skins and stems. Because they were frozen for two years, much of the yeast probably died, so we added some yeast packets to make up for that. The grapes were frozen and after ten minutes of picking them my hands were icy.

We had a nice intermission and made some hot cocoa that hit the spot. The grapes needed to thaw out for a few hours before juicing them. Monique used metal strainers to work out the juices and eventually the pulp and skins all floated to the top. That luscious mixture sat for almost a week for its first fermentation.

Wine 4 Wine 3

When I came in the farmhouse on the following Tuesday I was overwhelmed by the distinct smell of red wine. I followed it around to the room where the grapes were fermenting. The two bins of purple mush looked beautiful! We strained out the liquid from the remaining pulp and put the resulting pinkish liquid through a sheet of cheesecloth. This part took surprisingly long as the cheesecloth got clogged and we had to work the liquid through it with ladles. Quality crafts take time.

Wine 5 Wine 6

After that process we funneled the juice into two glass carboys. It looked so alive with its bubbling surface. This was the second fermenting process, and the plugs we put on top of the carboys have tiny holes and a water compartment where the gas is released. Monique told me of a time when she was making beer and bottled it before it was done releasing the gases and ended up exploding in their glass containers. So once the contraptions on top stop bubbling, we can safely bottle the wine. We dumped the seeds, skins, and stems into the woods and buried it a bit with the snow and branches. It will be a sweet treat for the wild animals.

After one week in the glass carboys, the wine is still bubbling ever so slightly.

Wine 8 Wine 7

Melanie Blume, submitted 17 March 2015

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