This was the first year we had lots of grapes to harvest and preserve! I was thinking of making wine, but did not think that I would have enough or that it might be a bit too complicated, requiring blending of grapes, etc.; so I decided on juice (and jelly — apparently my husband loves it, who knew!).
It is quite a spectacular site, seeing a vine laden with grapes. It has always enchanted me and I love that I can do this in my tiny urban backyard garden. My vine is trellised along our south-facing fenceline along three tiers of wire and is one of the first things to wake up in the garden after winter.
One chilly September evening, after we had experienced a few nights of frost, I snuck outside to harvest our valiant grapes off the vine while the kids were in the bath being supervised by their dad. I used kitchen scissors to snip off the clusters and drop them into bowls.
I then filled our sink with cold water and the grapes. And, watched the ladybugs surface! There were at least seven. At this point, my youngest had joined me for a snack. Ladybugs are her absolute favourite. We released them into the backyard, trying to find them nice leaf-insulated homes for the night at the base of perennials (where we tend to find them waking up en masse in the spring).
I started to de-stem the grapes and then it was time for the littlest to go to bed. It was a prolonged affair (as these things can be some times) and came down to the job almost done. My magical husband had worked his way through hundreds of grapes. I was elated.
I put the grapes in a large cast-iron enamel pot and covered with water. Brought to a boil, then turned down to a gentle boil and cooked until the skins were split and the colour was good (about 10 minutes).
I used our chinoise to separate the seeds and skins from the juice. Alternatively, hanging it in cheesecloth should work (but you might want to cool it first before doing this); or, a food mill could do the job well. (Recently, a friend used a steam juicer to do the cooking and juicing step all-in-one which seems like a really spiffy alternative).
Bottling the grape juice
With a large bowl of juice, I ladled the dark purple liquid into bottles and jars via a funnel. I have chosen to keep it as concentrate for now and to sweeten it to taste as we drink it. I also plan to make some jelly out of it when I have a chance to grab some more pectin and jars. Right now I’m too busy out enjoying the beautiful late September that we are having. So, the juice waits in the freezer for our consumption, either way.
There are quite a few varieties of grapes that will grow in cold northern climates. And, even some more tender ones will survive with a little TLC. Check in with your local nursery or gardening groups and ask around. You may even stumble across someone willing to share some cuttings with you in the spring! They are a very fast growing vine, once established; expect them to take off in their third year of growing. They produce fruit on growth that is two or more years old. And, as they are pollinated by wind, it is a good idea to trellis them somehow to help keep good airflow for pollination and disease prevention. I don’t think I’ve yet to come across someone who has killed a valiant grape vine. Happy growing!
PS The leaves from your vine can be used when pickling grapes to help keep the pickles crisp!