It is not just the wine that is squeezed out of the Autumn grape harvest…
Grapes are a surprisingly versatile fruit, whether eaten as a healthy snack, pressed into juice, or cooked to make jam or even jelly. Arguably the primary reason for growing these little fruits though is for wine production. However, it is not just their juice that makes for rich pickings.
A by-product of wine production and common practice in Italy, grappa is a brandy that is made using grape pomace. As English wine production blossoms, our region too has become home to grappa production. In need of large quantities of grape skins to make this traditional Italian spirit, Devon Distillery has joined forces with numerous English vineyards such as Biddenden Vineyard, Bolney Wine Estate, Sharpham Vineyard and also Three Choirs Vineyard to meet their demand for grape skins and in turn use this once discarded product into something even more fruitful.
Autumn harvest is of great importance to both the wine and grappa industry. Picking just as they come into their prime, carefully ripened grapes are ready for harvest in late September, early October after a summer of sun and warmth. Whilst wine producers such as Sharpham Vineyard are concerned about the readiness and ripeness of the grape, grappa distiller’s such as Cosmo Caddy are looking to get their hands on the waste grape skins within a very small window after the grapes are pressed.
Founded by Cosmo’s grandfather, Maurice, and having started picking grapes at the age of 4, Cosmo understands all too well the importance of this time of year to Sharpham Vineyard. With 1000kg of grapes producing 1000 litres of wine, autumn is no mean feat, particularly as this quantity of grapes produces only 250kg of pomace which in turn makes just 8 litres of grappa.
Head Winemaker at Sharpham Vineyard added; “We love the fact Cosmo uses our red grape skins, which would otherwise go to waste, to create his unique and fantastic Devon grappa, Dappa. Even the Italians that visit us are impressed.
“Harvest is now in full swing and the more settled weather we are experiencing has been welcomed. We are expecting around 75 tonnes this year and so far sugar levels and acidity are both looking good.”
Working to a very precise tight time schedule, grape pomace has to be collected within 72 hours of the wine pressing process. Having to logistically plan the collection of pomace not just from Sharpham in Devon but from various locations around England including Gloucestershire, Kent and Sussex, Cosmo has to use his 72 hours wisely and start the distilling process particularly promptly.
Collecting the alcohol through an evaporation process using the fermented skins, this ‘waste product’ hides a surprising amount of alcohol. After the alcohol has been extracted, Cosmo is left with a product made up of 96% alcohol. After this initial stage of pure alcohol extraction the process of refining Dappa continues through a method where the liquid must be ‘cut’ and the final product is reduced to 46% alcohol before being bottled.
With the skins of these grapes being an unwanted and unused product of these vineyards it seems fitting that after Cosmo has made Dappa with them, the grapes leave the distillery and are sent to local farmers to be used as fertiliser on their fields – their third and final purpose. Cosmo explained; “It is great to be taking grapes on the next step of their journey, squeezing even more great products out of them – not only do I use them as a secondary purpose, but they are also used for a third time as a way of fertilising the soil of local farms. It really is a full circle”.