For the past 20 years or so, I’ve been lucky enough to live in quite a few towns with microbreweries. Boulder, Fort Collins and Durango Colorado, Missoula Montana, Spokane and Walla Walla Washington. In fact, it was a small brewery in Boulder that taught me that I actually liked beer.
For years, at roadside parties and back yard keggers in high school and college, all anyone had on tap was cheap lagers. And I hated them (which kept me out of all kinds of trouble). Then, in Boulder, I tasted a nice rich brown ale for the first time. And it was, as a friend of mine says, “a loaf of bread in a glass”. And I loved it. I’ve done a little home beer brewing (and expect there to be more in my future). But with such a great proliferation of breweries like Laht Neppur and Mill Creek Brewpub in the area, making a fantastic product, we mostly choose to support our local businesses.
I have no interest in brewing wine from grapes. I can buy a darned good bottle of red wine for under $15, undoubtedly ones that are much better than anything I might be able to turn out myself in a 5 gallon batch (after buying a kit containing a “juice concentrate”). Besides, I live in one of the best “up and coming” wine regions in the country. But fruit wines…that’s a DIY project I can get behind.
You can make wine (i.e a drink whose alcohol content is somewhere in the 8-14% alcohol range) from just about anything, from elderberry flowers to carrots. I just recently learned that these are called “country” wines. All it takes is sugar, yeast and time. So when I see trees laden with fruit that no one is going to pick (i.e. free), and I already have a pantry packed with canned fruit, jam, compote, chutney, bbq sauce and pickles (yes, you can pickle fruit), it’s time to make some fruit wine. So far, I’ve tried dandelion, raspberry, apricot, chokecherry, plum, hawthorn, peach and perry and apple cider. All have been drinkable. Some (like the chokecherry and raspberry) have been darned good. (When they are only “drinkable” and not fabulous, we make the wine into sangria in the summer or mulled wine in the winter. Those additions would make three buck chuck taste good.)
Interested? You will need to buy (or scrounge) some equipment first. If you have already tried your hand at home beer brewing, you’ll have most of this stuff on hand already.
Food grade plastic pale with lid. Minimum size: 2 gallons. These can often be had for free from bakeries, as a lot of baking ingredients, from honey to premade icing (yuck), come in food grade buckets. This will serve as your primary fermenter.
Fine mesh nylon straining bags in which to put your fruit. Mine are 9 x 22. Can’t remember where I got them…either on line or from a brewing supply store. You could probably easily make your own. DO use nylon. It is much easier to clean and less prone to tearing then cotton or other natural fabrics.
One gallon glass bottles. I ordered 8 of them online, but if your family drinks a lot of natural food store apple cider this time of year, save those glass bottles! Fruit wine recipes generally make one gallon, so having at least two of these on hand is critical. This will be your secondary fermenter.
A bottle brush that will fit into and clean (think a slight curve) your glass bottles.
Air locks. These nifty two part little gadgets allow air (generally carbon dioxide from belching yeast) to leave your brew, but keeps oxygen, dirt and critters from outside (bacteria, molds, other yeasts) from entering, by using water as a barrier. The end of the air lock fits into a bung (plug), which fits into your bottle. They don’t cost much. Get at least two.
Bungs. Essentially a rubber plug with a hole in it to fit your air lock. These come in different sizes, and are tapered. One size does NOT fit all. I have an apple cider bottle recycled from the store who’s opening is larger than the bottles I mail ordered. And so I had to buy a special larger bung for this bottle.
Siphon/racking tube. When your fermenting fruit juice liquid sits, all the fruit solids and yeasts will eventually sink to the bottom of your container, which is where they should stay. You use a siphon to pull off the good stuff (called racking), and leave most of the bad stuff behind. Siphon tubes for beer/wine making pull from an inch or so above the bottom of the container, allowing most of the yuck to be left behind. Additional tubing, if you need it, can usually be purchased at the hardware store or a brew supply place. Yes, you COULD do this with just tubing, but an actual siphon, which you pump to get stuff flowing, is SO much easier.
Bottle filler. While not absolutely necessary, this little device, which stops the flow of wine in the siphon tube when you lift it off of the bottom of the wine bottle, will save you a lot of time and aggravation.
Wine bottles. OK, you COULD use beer bottles or any other bottle you can seal, but who doesn’t have a bunch of wine bottles around, or can find them in your local recycling bins. I once asked my coworkers to bring me used wine bottles, because I needed them for some wine I was going to bottle soon, and within a week, I had more than I could use (they were a wine drinking bunch). A soak in hot water and oxiclean or its generic equivalent will remove most labels. If they don’t come off easily in about an hour, find a different brand of wine bottle that doesn’t use such tenacious glue. It’s not worth the aggravation to scrape them (and scrape them and scrape them) off. By the way, oxiclean works for beer bottles too.
Corks and a corker.There is probably some way to put a cork in a bottle without a corker, but I am not brave enough to try it. I have a double lever corker and I’m astounded every time I use it at how well it works. In reviewing equipment options just now, I see there is now something called a “zork” which you don’t need a corker to use. Cool!
Hydrometer. This nifty device measures specific gravity. Specific gravity (remember high school chemistry?) is all about the density of a substance as measured against a standard. In this case, it’s the density of your fruit juice/sugar mixture before brewing (and again after brewing) compared to the density of water. The difference between the two is how much alcohol you end up with. The weighted hydrometer floats in a tube of liquid. If it was just filled with water, the water would come up to the zero line. Temperature affects your readings. They generally come with instructions and a correction chart if the temperature of your must doesn’t happen to be 68 degrees. You need one. Trust me on this.
Other stuff you hopefully already have.
- A scale.
- Measuring cups and spoons.
- A thermometer.
- A big pot for boiling sugar water.
Here are the weird (and not so weird) ingredients you will need to make fruit wines. A little goes a long way and most will last you for several gallons of wine. Most brew supply places will carry these, or they can be ordered online.
Acid Blend (a blend of tartaric, malic and citric acids). Adds a bit of tartness to wines that you will miss if it isn’t there, depending on the fruit used. Generally 1/2 to 2 tsp per gallon.
Tannin. Tannin is a bitterness naturally occurring in wine grapes, and also imparted by the oak barrels they are aged in. When making fruit wines, a little of this will add balance to your blend. Generally 1/8 to 1/2 tsp per gallon.
Yeast Nutrient. Helps feed the yeast all the other stuff it needs besides sugar to ensure that your brew ferments. Generally 1 tsp per gallon, sometimes 2 tsp per gallon.
Pectic Enzyme. Helps dissolve naturally occurring pectins in the fruit so that your wine comes out clear. Remember, pectin is what makes jams and jellies “gel”. Some fruit has more than others, and the less ripe the fruit, the more pectin. Generally 1/4 to 1 tsp, depending on the fruit.
Oxiclean or generic equivalent. The cleanser Straight-A is really just a high priced version of Oxiclean. Both are oxidizers, which work on the same principle as bleach, but use what is basically hydrogen peroxide instead. They are marketed as cleaners, not sanitizers. However, because wine is fairly alcoholic, I only use a “sanitizer” such as StarSan, on my final wine bottles. Otherwise, I use oxiclean, then a campden solution to “sanitize” my primary and secondary fermenters, siphon and tubing. So far so good. Maybe I’m living on borrowed time. If you are a home beer brewer, by all means use the same system you use for beer, which is far more sensitive to contamination.
Campden Tablets (potassium metabisulphite). Yes, this is the dreaded “sulphites” that some people are allergic to in wines. Campden tablets are used to purify the must (fruit juice) before the yeast is added to ensure that no “bad” yeasts or other critters are in your must before you start (think birds in trees, pooping on your fruit – even if you washed it, are you really sure it’s clean?). Usually, you use one tablet per gallon of must. I also dissolve a campden tablet (I crush it first) into a gallon of warm water and use it to rinse my clean bottles, siphon tubing, bungs, or anything else that might come into contact with my must to ensure there isn’t anything living in there that might contaminate my wine. I also use this same solution to fill my air locks. Sulphites are optional, but highly recommended, unless you know you have an allergy.
There are options other than oxiclean and campden tablets for sterilizing equipment, but they all generally cost more (see StarSan below). Campden tablets are cheap. Can you skip all of this and just hope for the best? Yes. Because wine is more alcoholic than beer, it tends to be less likely to go “off” from random contaminates. But if your wine smells nasty (not like alcohol or vinegar – you don’t want vinegar, but you CAN use it if that is where you end up) or has stuff growing on its surface, toss it and start again.
Sanitizing agent such as StarSan. StarSan claims that it “is a flavorless, odorless, no-rinse food grade sanitizer that leaves a microscopic film on sanitized items that continues to protect your bottles and equipment even after they have dried. Will not effect the taste of your finished product.” It cleans with oxygen. In other words, it’s an oxidizer…like oxiclean…but stronger. Chlorine bleach is an alternative, but needs to be rinsed really really well to avoid any contamination. Bleach wine. Yum. No thanks.
Potasium Sorbate. Used at the end of fermentation to “stabilize” our wine, ensuring that any remaining yeast won’t reactivate and accidentally explode your aging bottles. It also allows you to sweeten your wine to taste just before bottling.
Yeast. You can buy liquid wine yeast (short shelf life, but reportedly better flavor) or dry wine yeast, which is less expensive and more shelf stable. Honestly, I’m not striving for a gold metal winner here, and the fruit was free, and I’ve already spent a bunch of money on the above ingredients and equipment, so I just buy the dry stuff. Common yeasts in fruit wines include Montrachet and champagne yeast.
Fruit. Most one gallon recipes will use 3-4 pounds of ripe fruit. Feeling daring? Try a mixed fruit wine!
Sugar. Most one gallon recipes will use 2 to 2 1/2 lbs of sugar, depending on the natural sweetness of the fruit. This will give you a wine in the 10-12% alcohol range. Honey can be substituted, but note that because honey is naturally sterile, it can sometimes be more difficult to ferment. I did a mead once that about drove me crazy trying to get the yeast to go.
OK, let’s get brewing already, sheesh
Here are the steps (I made this list after being frustrated at having to read through paragraphs of instructions for each recipe each time, as the steps are pretty much always the same. I’ll comment on some steps more below. Assume that until your wine is in bottles, you are working at room temperature. Note that because of the 12 hour time increments, it is best to start a batch of wine either around 8:00 am or 8:00 pm, so that you don’t have to get up at midnight to add yeast or pectic enzyme to your must.
- Clean your primary fermenter (i.e your food grade bucket).
- Chop fruit and put in clean nylon bag. Put in primary fermenter and mash with clean hands or potato masher or whatever. Tie off top with string.
- Mix sugar and ½ of the water – filtered or bottled if chlorinated – (about 1 3/4 quarts) and heat to boiling. Pour hot syrup over fruit bag in bucket.
- Add reserved cold water (about 1 3/4 quarts) to bring temperature down.
- Once must has reached 100 degrees or less, add acid blend, tannin, yeast nutrient and campden tablet (if using). Stir and let sit with lid on.
- 12 hours later, add pectic enzyme and stir. Take specific gravity and write down (I always want to forget)!
- 12 hours later, add yeast and stir. Replace lid, but leave loose, or put a bung and air lock on the container so gas can be released. Stir daily.
- After one week, drain and remove fruit bag. Do not squeeze!
- Let ferment until percent alcohol reaches 3-4% or less. Use your hydrometer to determine this.
- Rack into secondary fermenter. Put on air lock. Store in a dark place.
- Rack once every couple of months until fermented out and clear. After 4-6 months, taste. Avoid introducing air into the solution as much as possible. Oxidation = yuck wine.
- Prior to bottling, stabilize with potassium sorbate (dissolved in some finished wine, then stirred in) to prevent the restart of fermentation. After stabilizing for an hour or so, sweeten the wine to taste; the sugar will bring out the flavor and aroma of the fruit that may have fermented into alcohol.
Take a hydrometer reading of the finished wine. Relate that reading to the scale below to determine the adjustment that should be made.
Dry Wine .990 – 1.000
Medium Sweet Wine 1.000 – 1.008
Very Sweet Wine over 1.008
Two ounces of sugar will raise one gallon of wine by .005 or five gallons by .001.
- Bottle in clean sterilized bottles with sterilized corks.
- Store for 6 months to one year before tasting. Most fruit wines are best when drunk within 2 years.
Notes. I clean my primary fermenter using only a soft sponge, as I don’t want to scratch the inside of the plastic, leaving places for bad guys to hide. I use oxiclean, and then rinse with a campden tablet mixed with 1 gallon of warm water.
I dissolve my dry yeast in 1/4 cup 100 degree water for about 5 minutes, then add it to the must – don’t use your must to dissolve your yeast – the sugars will make it foam over – ask me how I know.
I use a turkey baster to remove must from my fermenter and place into hydrometer. I reserve it for only this purpose. Do not put must from the hydrometer back into your fermenter. Toss it.
I always forget to stir my must every day when it is in the primary fermenter. It seems to come out fine anyway.
Because the yeast packets I use will ferment up to 5 gallons of must, and I’m only making one gallon of wine, my must always ferments out to completely dry (no sugar left – read .99 on a hydrometer) in a week or less. So the fruit removal, checking specific gravity of resulting must, and racking into secondary all take place at the same time for me.
You could skip the potasium sorbate, and just bottle your wine, leaving it dry. I would NOT recommend this if you want to add back some sweetness, unless you are bottling in champagne bottles or beer bottles that can take on the additional pressure. You will end up with not only a sweetened wine, but a slightly carbonated one. I have NOT tried this myself (though I have done this when making cider or perry). Experiment at your own risk, and store wine somewhere where, if it does explode, it minimizes mess and doesn’t take out any family pets. I’ve heard, by the way, that if a bottle is going to explode, it is most likely to happen in the middle of the night, when you are least equipped to deal with it. Drive by shooting? No, it’s just the wine bottles exploding. Grin.
Keep notes. You may come up with something fantastic and not be able to duplicate it. Or your life may get busy and you will wonder, “how long ago was it that I racked that wine”? I made this Template, which I print out and tape to the fermenter, to remind me of where I am at in the process.
Recommended Web Sites/Reading
The Joy of Home Winemaking by Terry Garey. Pretty much specializes in fruit wines, unlike most of the other wine making books I’ve looked at. Yes, it could use a good editing, and sometimes his recipes leave out an ingredient or instruction, but it is written in a friendly, “you can do this”, style and is a great place to start.
First Steps in Winemaking by C.J.J Berry. I haven’t spent a lot of time with this book, as it covers the same information as Garey’s book, and I purchased it later, after I already had the process down. It does give recipes by month, which is kind of a cool idea.
Supplies: MoreWine. Sister site to MoreBeer. They will have everything you need. LetsDoWine sells a one gallon kit to get you started. But as it seems with all kits, you’ll need other stuff too, like a second gallon jug (cause where are you going to rack our wine when your wine is IN the one gallon jug you own?). They also sell an additive pack with the yeast nutrient, tannin etc. which is nice. I have not ordered from here.
Be sure to check in on your local microbrewery. A lot of microbrewers started out brewing beer in their bathrooms. And a lot of the ingredients and equipment you use to brew beer, you can also use to make wine. Most breweries have a soft spot for home brewers and are happy to offer advice. Many (particularly the ones with tap rooms rather than restaurants) stock the supplies you need. Larger towns will have a dedicated brewing supply store.
OK, here’s a recipe to get you started.
(since you might still be able to find raspberries this time of year, or have a gallon bag of them in your freezer).
- 3-4 lbs fresh or frozen raspberries
- 3 3/4 quarts water
- 2 1/4 lbs sugar or 2 1/2 lbs mild honey
- 1/2 tsp acid blend
- 1/8 tsp tannin
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1 campden tablet, crushed (optional)
- 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
- 1 packet Montrachet or champagne wine yeast
Follow instructions above, wait about a year, and enjoy.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2012, where we haven’t made much fruit wine this year, other than the plum, but do have a batch of perry cider going, and plans for some apple cider (perhaps turned into applejack) as well.