Last summer I returned to my rural Massachusetts hometown on a mission: to make my own natural wine, with “nothing added, nothing taken away.” For months I’d watched friends embrace ambitious new hobbies to keep busy during the pandemic (DIY home improvement, shibori tie-dye, and who could forget all that sourdough). I figured if people have been making wine using only grapes since the beginning of time, why couldn’t I give it a go in my Jersey City apartment?

My mom reminded me that Black Rabbit Farm, around the corner from our house, operates a sprawling minimal-intervention, noncertified organic vineyard on its 10-acre lot. After a quick email exchange, I found out that for $50 , they could sell me a bushel of Marquette (a hybrid red grape that descends from Pinot Noir). Before heading back to Jersey City, I drove down the road and found a large black crate waiting for me, piled high with beautiful bunches. I’d only felt excited a handful of times during the pandemic, but this moment topped my list. Some people got puppies, some got pregnant, and I got grapes.

Though I had plenty of experience drinking natty wine, I hardly knew a thing about creating any from scratch. I watched an introductory YouTube video by No-Till Growers about making natural wine at home and scoured r/naturalwine on Reddit. I learned that after picking and macerating the grapes, fermentation could begin so long as I had two elements: yeasts (which grow wild on the grape skins) and sugar (from the fruit). I also stocked up on the right equipment and studied Isabelle Legeron’s book, Natural Wine, which gave me a much-needed confidence boost. Legeron, a Master of Wine, emphasizes the importance of patience in the process; natural vinification is ultimately about trusting healthy grapes to do their thing.

After my research and a visit to a local homebrew shop, I traveled back to Jersey City to fuss over my grapes there. I brought my grandmother’s six-gallon stoneware crock (a ceramic basin used for pickling and preserves). The homebrew shop set me up with six- and three-gallon carboys, two bungs, two airlocks, a steel funnel, cheesecloth, and a wooden spoon.

That night I covered the floor with old rags and carefully combed over the entire bushel, adding only the healthiest clusters to the crock. To my horror, dozens of spiders crawled out from between the bunches. I screamed the entire time, but those spiders were actually a good sign; the grapes had been organically farmed and gently harvested, with minimal use of sulfur and lime to cope with western Massachusetts humidity. When my partner, Jason, and I finished sifting, I cleaned my feet, climbed into the crock, and started stomping grapes in my tiny apartment. I couldn’t stop smiling at the absurdity of the scene.

Once the pulpy liquid was ready, I added just a few tablespoons of local honey to kick off fermentation, in case the wild yeasts needed a nudge (a move inspired by Zafa winemaker Krista Scruggs, whose wine blends often list maple syrup as an ingredient). Two days later the juice started bubbling. Before stirring the crock, I lowered my ear above the cheesecloth and listened to the happy sugar-feasting yeasts partying inside.

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