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Who is Jack Keller?
Jack Keller lives in Pleasanton, Texas just south of San Antone. Winemaking is his passion and for years he has been making wine from just about anything both fermentable and nontoxic. He has developed scores of recipes and tends to gravitate to the exotic or unusual, having once won first place with jalapeno wine, second place with cockleburr wine, and third with Bermuda grass clippings wine. He is creator and author of The Winemaking Home Page.

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February 18th, 2006

I was recently asked how to "rescue" a wine that had oxidized. My WineBlog entry of October 19th, 2005 gave one solution to this problem -- make a sherry, Madeira or Marsala type wine with it. Of course, there are other possibilities.

Wines oxidize for any of several reasons. The juice or concentrate used to make the wine may have been oxidized before the wine was made (the first kit wine I ever bought contained an oxidized Chardonnay concentrate). This, of course, is completely beyond the winemaker's control. Then there are juices that simply oxidize quickly, such as apple juice. But here, the winemaker can act to slow the process down.

Simply adding sulfites (SO2) to the must is not enough to combat oxidation. The dosage is determined by the pH of the must. The higher the pH, the more SO2 is required to protect the wine. The classic discussion of this is at the first link at the end of this entry. The winemaker is entirely responsible for sulfite additions, calculations and measurements.

Finally, the must can be oxidized by accidental, careless or negligent means. I have had airlocks knocked loose of their carboys by carried articles, by my pet dog, and by visitors. These are accidents. I have also had bungs lose their seal -- especially the so-called "universal" bungs which the manufacturers claim will seal almost any jug, carboy or demijohn. While their failure is blameless the first time it occurs, using one after one failed is just plain carelessness on the part of the winemaker. Similarly, failing to wipe the inside of the mouth of a secondary after adding dry additives directly is also carelessness. A single gain if yeast nutrient, acid blend or potassium sorbate will prevent the bung from sealing. And it can only be considered negligence when the winemaker allows the water seal in an airlock to go dry, allowing air to pass uninhibited into the secondary.

Treating Oxidation

But when a wine oxidizes, you can remove some -- but not all -- of the oxidase from the wine. An oxidase is any of the enzymes that catalyze biological oxidation either directly or indirectly. These enzymes may be an oxidoreductase, oxygenase or peroxidase. Whichever, you can remove some of the enzyme responsible for the oxidation.

First, correct the wine's SO2 level commensurate with its pH. Then measure 1/2 gram of non-fat powdered milk per liter of wine and dissolve this in 5 mL of cold water per liter. In other words, to treat 5 U.S. gallons of wine (approximately 19 liters), you would dissolve 9.5 grams of powdered skim-milk in 95 mL of cold water. This would be added to the wine while stirring the wine vigorously. The wine may foam, but will soon stop doing so. The reconstituted skim-milk solution must be thoroughly integrated into the wine or it will accomplish nothing. After it is added and integrated, small brown curds will develop in the wine but will eventually settle as lees.

In a previous entry here (June 25, 2003) I noted that Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) can remove some of the taste (but not the odor) of oxidation. Similarly, Polyclar Ultra K-100 and Polylact are products that combines casein with PVPP for tackling browning problems.

About three days after adding the reconstituted skim-milk solution, rack the wine carefully off the oxidase-laden curds into a clean secondary. You may want to tie a piece of fine, sanitized nylon over the intake end of the racking hose (or racking cane, if you use one) to prevent the small curds from being siphoned into the clean secondary. While racking the wine, add the required amount of PVPP, Polyclar Ultra K-100, Polylact, or another fining agent of choice such as Bentonite to the transferred wine (the clean secondary), Allow this to settle under airlock for about 10 days, then rack again. The wine will be greatly improved, but not as good as if it had not oxidized at all.




February 5th, 2006

This morning I made my wife a simple omelette of eggs, finely minced onions, cheese, and Herbs de Provence. It was the last ingredient(s) that led to this WineBlog entry.

"Herbs de Provence" is a blend of anywhere from 5 to 14 herbs. About a year ago, I found a wonderfully inviting lamb chops recipe calling for this blend. I spent something like $15 for an ounce of the blend. The lamb chops used about 1/4 teaspoon. I've been trying my best to use them ever since. Ergo, I thought I'd try them in her omelette.

When my wife asked what I put in the omelette, I told her. This led to the inevitable, "What's Herbs de Provence?" I went and got the container from the spice shelf and read her the contents, then handed her the jar. She read the label and noticed the jar was almost empty. "What have you been using them in?"

I smiled. "Mead."

Last August I decided I was never going to use all of these herbs. We just don't eat that much lamb, and although the herbs go well in various fish, seafood and fowl dishes, and on salads, pizza, broiled tomatoes, grilled zucchinis and peppers, ratatouille, pasta with mushrooms, and even basted with butter on porterhouse steak just before coming off the grill, I simply forget to use them on the rare occasions I do the cooking. So, I decided to use them in a Metheglin.

True Metheglin is a spiced sack mead, meaning it is on the sweetish side. When I decided to make one using Herbs de Provence, I reduced the honey from 4 pounds per gallon to 3 1/2 pounds. I did this because that is the amount of honey I had on hand. After tasting the final product at bottling time, I think this was the right move. I don't think it would have been as enjoyable if much sweeter.


Herbs de Provence Metheglin
Makes 1 Gallon

  • 3 1/2 lbs Orange Blossom Honey
  • 3/4 oz. Herbs de Provence
  • warm water to one gallon
  • 1 level teaspoon mead yeast nutrient or wine yeast nutrient
  • 2 level teaspoons acid blend
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • White Labs WLP720 Sweet Mead or Lalvin 71B-1122 Yeast

Tie herbs in piece of nylon with sanitized glass marble and toss into primary. Add honey to warm water and stir until dissolved. Add nutrient and acid blend and stir some more. Sprinkle grape tannin on bottom of primary and pour honey/water in primary. Cover primary and allow water to cool to room temperature. Add yeast in an activated starter solution and cover primary with sanitized cloth. Stir twice daily until specific gravity drops to 1.030. Remove bag of herbs and transfer to one-gallon secondary. Top up if needed and affix airlock. Wait until fermentation stops, rack, top up, and fit airlock. Repeat and two months. Mead should be clear, but if not wait another two months and rack again. Stabilize with potassium sorbate and finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Wait 30 days and bottle. Age at least six months. Longer is probably better. Flavor is complex. [Author's own recipe]


New and Old Blends

The other day I discovered 1.5 liters of a Muscadine wine I had made back in 1999. While it still tasted fine, its color had deteriorated and its nose was nondescript. I was about to set it aside for making into wine jelly when I remembered two opened bottles -- Mustang grape and Elderberry. Both are strongly flavored wines, so I decided to try a little blending. I was prepared to make up 5-10 blended samples, but as luck would have it my very first blend was so good I doubted I could improve upon it. The final blend was 75% Muscadine, 15% Mustang, and 10% Elderberry. The two blending wines resurrected the color to a nice red and also dominate the wine's nose. The yield was only two full 750 mL and one 375 mL bottles (with a glass left over for the blender), but the self-reward of saving the Muscadine as a drink rather than a jelly was enormous.

The experience also reinforced what I've said so many times in the past -- blended wines are very often much better than the individual wines that contribute to the blend.

Lord Corwin of Darkwater reminds us, "When Henry of Anjou married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, he also acquired Gascony (Bordeaux). Two years later, when he became King of England, England acquired Gascony, and with it, all of the vineyards of Bordeaux for the next 300 years. The palates of the English would never be the same." The light red wine of Bordeaux, what the French called clairet, was shipped to England by the tonne (today, we say "ton," but a tonne was a 252-gallon cask with 250 gallons of wine in it, the wine weighing exactly 2,000 pounds). The English simplified the spelling of this wine to "Claret," which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with small amounts of Malbec, Petit Verdot, St. Macaire, Gros Verdot, or Carmenere. Actually, any two of the first three wines blended with any one of the last five is considered to be Claret, although some folks believe you need all of the first three to call it Claret. Regardless, there must be more English blood in me than my parents admit because I love this stuff. I was most happy a dozen years ago to see American wineries start blending Claret, but I wasn't happy with their prices. I can buy very decent French claret for $8-$10 a bottle, so there is no reason to pay $35-$100 a bottle for California claret.

Blended red wines similar to those of Bordeaux are also known in America as "Meritage," a made- up name contracting "merit" and "heritage" -- the name is "owned" by the Meritage Association. In rules established by the Association, "A red Meritage is made from a blend of two or more of the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, St. Macaire, Gros Verdot, and Carmenere. No single variety may make up more than 90 percent of the blend." While this does not really make a Claret, it's close.





January 21st, 2006

A belated Happy New Year and Hello to all. The holidays were very good to us and we hope they were to you, too.

I recently decided to make a banana wine from a recipe sent to me by Jason Killingsworth, using dried banana chips. Here is the recipe:


Banana Wine

  • 10 oz. Dried bananas
  • 1 can concentrated Niagara grape juice (orange is not a substitute in this case)
  • 1 gallon warm water (warm enough to bring concentrate to room temp)
  • 2 lbs sugar (this will vary, SG should be 1.093-1.095)
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1/2 level teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • 3 level teaspoons acid blend
  • 1 packet Montrachet yeast

Put banana chips into a straining bag and mix all ingredients except yeast into primary. When must is room temperature sprinkle yeast gently over the must. After a "cap" forms, stir must daily for 5-7 days. If possible, strain must into secondary and wait 3 weeks, Siphon, top up and fit airlock and repeat and in another 3 months siphon into another secondary or bottling bucket. The FG should be 0.995 or lower and no stabilizer required. Bottle and age at least 10 months. Aged, this is a wonderful table wine that will go well with any non-spicy chicken, fish or even bar-b-q. [Recipe from Jason Killingsworth]


How Things Go Wrong

I bought a bag of banana chips at a local supermarket. I checked the label and it said they were 100% dehydrated banana chips "atomized in sulfur dioxide as a preservative." I brought them home but neglected to tell my wife they were for wine, so she opened the bag and ate a few. I decided it would be easy enough to buy more, so let her have the first bag.

It was perhaps a week before I returned to the market and bought another bag. The chips were in the same location in the store as the previous bag, but the package's label was just a little different in shape. Still, the chips looked the same. I brought them home and started the wine. Because I was out of Montrachet yeast, I used Gervin's No. 2 (French Strain) and made a starter solution, which I added to the must after it was at 72 degrees F. The next morning I noticed small globules the color of butter floating on the surface of the must. Indeed, they felt like butter when rubbed between thumb and fingers. I dug through the trash and dug out the bag the bananas had come in. The label indicated two additional ingredients -- honey and soy oil.

For five days, twice a day, I skimmed a teaspoon or so of soy oil off the surface of the must. It congealed on and inside the nylon straining bag, stuck to the sides of the primary, and in general looked unsightly, but it really caused no harm to the must. I strained it through a 0.075 (millimeter) mesh screen and continued fermenting the must. It has been two weeks and I think it is doing fine.

The lesson, for those who have not inferred it, is to always read the ingredients on the label. As much as I preach this, it is embarrassing to admit that this time I failed to do so. I assumed the ingredients were the same as the first package. That was a mistake, but not a fatal one.


Mint Jelly and Wine

When Oscar Gonzalez asked for a recipe for mint jelly wine, I posted the recipe I had worked out some years earlier. But Brian Ryan wrote from Australia asking for a recipe for mint jelly, a switch.


Mint Jelly

  • 4 cups apple juice
  • 1 (2 1/2 oz.) pkg. powdered fruit pectin
  • 2 tbsp. dry mint leaves, crushed
  • 8 drops green food color
  • 5 cups sugar

In large saucepan or kettle, combine apple juice, fruit pectin, crushed dry mint and green food color (leave the food coloring out if making this for wine). Cook and stir over high heat until mixture comes to full rolling boil. Stir in sugar immediately. Bring to full rolling boil again; boil hard for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; skim foam and strain out mint leaves. Pour into hot scalded jars. Seal. Makes 7 half pints.


Mint Jelly Wine

  • 3 lbs mint jelly
  • 6 pts water
  • 12 oz sugar
  • 10.5 oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 2-1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 tsp tannin
  • 1 tsp nutrient
  • 1 crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 pkg Montrachet yeast

Dissolve jelly in room temperature water with pectic enzyme and thawed grape concentrate in primary. Cover and set aside 12 hours. Stir in all remaining ingredients except yeast, recover primary, and set aside another 12 hours. Use hydrometer to ensure specific gravity is at or around 1.090. Add activated yeast starter and recover primary. When vigorous fermentation subsides, rack to secondary, top up if required, and attach airlock. Rack again after 6 weeks and again after 4 weeks. This is a dry wine. If you desire it sweet, stabilize at second racking and sweeten at third racking. Whether sweet or dry, age 8 additional weeks and bottle. [Author's own recipe.]

I have made jelly using the recipe above, and I have made wine from commercial mint jelly, but I have not made wine from the jelly produced by the jelly recipe above. Still, it should work.





December 16th, 2005

A recent email concerned a batch of plum wine that apparently stuck on the fifth day of primary fermentation. The writer assumed this was because the natural sugar in the must had been consumed, so he added refined sugar and Campden tablets. When he wrote to me, 24 hours had passed without change and he was worried.

I was not able to respond for several days, and when I did I said I suspected the must had started refermenting, as this is often the case. I was quickly notified that there had been no change in the must. The writer had visited a local homebrew shop that day and picked up a packet of Red Star Premier Curvee yeast to attempt to restart the fermentation. He noted that the shop owner told him it was not necessary to add yeast nutrient or energizer.


When Fermentation Stops Too Soon

When fermentation stops earlier than expected, it is entirely possible that the must has completed fermentation. In this case, it had been only five days, but it has happened to me in as little as three days. So, it is a good idea to float a hydrometer and see what the specific gravity actually is before panicking or adding more yeast. If it is below 1.000, then consider it done.

If the must obviously has not completed fermentation, there must be a reason it has stopped fermenting. It could be that the yeast has a low-alcohol toxicity level, has produced sufficient alcohol to reach that level, and has died out as a consequence. This is entirely possible when recipes call for 2-1/2 to 3 pounds of sugar per gallon, enough to make 15 to 18% alcohol and the yeast has a toxicity threshold of 13%. Recipes such as this are engineered to make a sweet wine, but if that is not your goal then you have no choice but to attempt to restart fermentation and deal with a high-alcohol wine later.

In this case, the recipe calls for adding part of the sugar up front and the rest later on during the fermentation process. It makes a sweet wine, but does so gradually. So, it is possible the yeast used up all the available sugar, simply stopped fermenting, and also began dying off when no more fuel (sugar) was detected. When more sugar was added, the yeast had to (1) adjust to the new environment, and (2) begin rebuilding its population to the point where fermentation would be obvious and detected. If the fermentation did not start on its own, then a new yeast culture would need to be introduced.

Premier Curvee is a very good wine yeast and is typically used to restart a stuck fermentation. It is always a good idea to make a yeast starter solution first and add that to the must, but this is especially so when restarting a stuck fermentation. The new yeast need time to get accustomed to the environment, which already contains a good deal of alcohol. You can search this page for "starter solution" if you don't know how to do this.

As for the homebrew shop owner's advice on not adding nutrient or energizer, here I take issue. If you are using wine grapes (or native grapes) I would agree with him (or her), but here one is making plum wine. Plums do not have the same mix of natural ingredients that grapes have and I would (and do) always add yeast nutrients to it (to any fruit must, actually).

I generally do not add energizer to musts unless they are sluggish or stuck. That is really the major reason they make it – to energize a sluggish fermentation (usually because the yeast need more nitrogen). If it turns out the fermentation is stuck above s.g. 1.000, then add ¼ teaspoon of energizer per gallon – no more than that. But the plum wine recipe used here does call for energizer up front -- because it is a high-sugar recipe and almost certainly a high-alcohol one at that.

As it turns out, the new yeast was not needed. When the winemaker checked on his must, he noticed it was finally bubbling away. It took five days for the yeast to adapt and rebuild their population to an adequate level, but they did it. There is still danger that this fermentation could slow and stop before finished, as the recipe used called for a good deal of sugar. But at least the winemaker now knows what to do should it stick again.


Sweet Plum Wine

Here is the recipe the winemaker mentioned above used. I am not certain how he used it (you will see why at the end), so I will simply publish it here as it appears on my site.

Normally, I do not like to publish recipes calling for 3 or more pounds of sugar, but this recipe is an exception. The creator of the recipe, the late Dorothy Alatorre, was for decades an icon for the home winemaker in San Antonio. Her recipes were not always conventional, but were well reasoned and purposeful. This recipe makes a high- alcohol, sweet-to-dessert wine that will age well and possesses the potential for developing a port-like character if the fruit quality excels and the final chemistry is favorable.


Sweet Plum Wine

  • 6 lbs plums
  • 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 lbs fine granulated sugar (see Note, below)
  • Water to bring to one gallon
  • 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/2 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • wine yeast

Put water on to boil. Wash the fruit, cut in halves to remove the seeds, then chop fruit and put in primary. Pour boiling water over fruit. Add half the sugar and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Cover and allow to cool to 70 degrees F. Add acid blend, pectic enzyme, tannin, nutrient, and energizer. Cover the primary and wait 12 hours before adding yeast. Recover primary and allow to ferment 5-7 days, stirring twice daily. Strain, stir in half of the remaining sugar to dissolve, siphon into secondary, and fit airlock. Rack after 30 days, add remaining sugar, stir well to dissolve sugar, top up, and refit airlock. Rack every 30-45 days until wine clears. Wait two additional weeks, rack again, stabilize wine, and bottle. This wine can be sampled after only 6 months. If not up to expectations, let age another 6 months and taste again. I have aged this wine up to four years and the result was exquisite, but that was only because the wine got covered with blankets in a closet and was forgotten. I suspect it was ready long before it took on its heavenly quality. [Author's notes and adaptation from Dorothy Alatorre's Home Wines of North America]

Note: If you have enough plums, make several batches of wine varying the sugar content (3-1/2 lbs, 3-1/4 lbs, 3 lbs, etc. -- the wine will be dessert-sweet until you get to about 2-3/4 to 2-1/2 lbs, but progressively less and less). Be sure to mark the bottle labels so you'll know which batch is which. In this way, you will later be able to determine which sugar content best suits your own taste.





November 19th, 2005

I racked, degassed and stabilized some wines today, moving them further along the path to bottling. I don't taste all of my wines when racking, but occassionally I taste a wine I've never made before to see where it is balance-wise. One of them today lacked tannin, and while I could have simply added powdered grape tannin, instead I added two tablespoons of dried elderberries to also increase its fruitiness.


Dried Elderberries

Long ago I picked some very ripe elderberries one morning at a time when the temperatures outside were hitting triple-digits by noon. When I got home, I had some free-run juice from the berries being crushed a little by weight and bouncing on the dirt roads. I drained off the juice and froze it. I then spread aluminum foil on our picnic table and spread the berries on it in the blazing sun. About two hours later I turned them with a spatula, and after around six hours they were hard and dry. I stored them and used them the following winter to make a wine and add color and tannin to several other batches. The free-run juice was used in another wine (can't recall which).

The wine made from just the dried elderberries was exceptional, as the change in flavor from wine made of raw or cooked berries, was dramatic. The aroma of the wine was so much like a blackberry it was uncanny. It completely lost the essence of elderberry that makes wines from it so recognizable.

A one-gallon batch of wine I made from too few blackberries lacked the color and rich flavor I desired, so I added 2 ounces of the dried elderberries to it while it was bulk aging. It never refermented and later required two additional racking to remove bits of pulp that came off the berries during the six months they were in there, but it was one of the best blackberry-based wines I have ever made.


Weather Effects

A winemaker recently complained, "A big storm front blew in with snow, high winds and plummeting temps. The yeast just quit, I mean not a bubble for a whole day. After the storm passed it took off again like it had never skipped a beat."

I answered, "When you say 'not a bubble,' I assume you mean through the airlock. That would be because your storm rode in on a high pressure system and the high pressure pushed in on the liquid in the airlock and essentially plugged it up. When the system moved past, the plug was removed and the bubbling resumed. You'll probably really need to degas that wine, as the CO2 had to go somewhere."

Then the winemaker replied, "It was in an open 5 gallon bucket and what I mean was that there wasn't a single bubble appearing on the still surface of the must. All the foam was gone and all that floated on the surface was some of the spice. A still, smooth surface with not even those little pin prick bubbles. The next day it was rolling right along again."

And si I explained I had assumed it was under airlock because this is really not that uncommon an occurrance. But in reality, the same phenomenon probably caused the effect -- the high pressure system that rolled over the Midwest. The pressure pushing down on the surface created a layer of density (strata) not unlike a thermal divide that effectively "capped" the must --CO2 could not penetrate it to escape. However, the pressure may have extended down through the whole must, creating a density the yeast found uncomfortable and so they simply went dormant and did not produce any CO2 (or alcohol) during the passage of the front. I think the latter is more likely.

Another winemaker reported, "I had a major eruption of my Elderberry when [Hurricane] Ivan came through last year. Matter of fact all my wines that were in carboys over-flowed. Not too sure of the meteorological reasoning but what I do know is it made a mess!!!"

To this I explained, "A hurricane is an extreme example of a low pressure system, which pulls the higher pressure in the carboy outward through the only opening -- the airlock."





November 5th, 2005

Once again personal and work-related travels have imposed an absence. However, both bore fruit and were rewarding. At the same time, emails dropped in volume, which occurs evry year around this time, although I am still playing catch-up with the flood that came in before the volume dropped.

Wine Won't Degas

In a forum discussion at WinePress.US, a winemaker noted he had an orange wine that had lots of air bubbles in it when he tried to take a hydrometer reading. Indeed, when he inserted a rod into it to degas it, an eruption of bubbles came up and caused an overflow out of the secondary. He would wait a while and attempt to degas it again, only to have another eruption of bubbles. It did not seem to him that any headway was being gained on the gas problem. The gas was undoubtedly CO2 which is usually produced in wine by either alcohol fermentation or malolactic fermentation (MLF). Various opinions were offered, including a hunch that MLF was occurring. I saw it quite differently.

I didn't think it was MLF. MLF is a bacterial fermentation in which very specialized organisms process malic acid into lactic acid. MLF can occur naturally if (1) the must contains malic acid in the first place, (2) the MLF bacteria was present on the grapes or other ingredients that went into the wine, and (3) the must is not sulfited beyond a certain point prior to MLF starting. But there wasn't any malic acid in the recipe (my Orange Wine [2] recipe) except what was in the raisins specified in the recipe, and that would not be enough to produce as much gas as was reported. Also, it was very unlikely that any ML bacteria came into the must through the orange juice, raisins or boiled banana slices the recipe called for. To rephrase Sherlock Holmes, if we eliminate the possible, the explanation must reside in what is left. I think it was just CO2 produced by the yeast during the later stages of alcohol fermentation.

I asked the winemaker if he was using a cylinder-type airlock or S-type bubbler? If a cylinder-type, I would guess it was over-filled (has too much water in it -- it should be filled to the line in the middle and then the inner cup inserted and the cap snapped on). If the S-type, I would again bet it was overfilled for the conditions. The wine is obviously still fermenting, although at a very slow rate. If fermentation slows so dramatically that the CO2 being produced doesn't create enough pressure to move the water in the airlock, the CO2 will be absorbed into the wine. I recommended he pour all of the water out of the S-type airlock except just enough to barely seal the bottom "U" and see it this doesn't allow bubbles to escape. Also, I recommended stabilizing the wine now so that fermentation indeed stops altogether in a few weeks. Then he can degas the wine once and for all.

If the must has been sulfited to an aseptic level -- a level sufficient to kill the various bacteria winemakers are likely to encounter -- spontaneous (i.e. natural) MLF will not occur. A sulfited must can decline from 70 ppm SO2 to 15 ppm during fermentation and then undergo MLF, but only if you inoculate it with the MLF culture. The 70 ppm high will have effectively killed any wild MLF bacteria in the must unless the must had a dangerously high pH to begin with (3.8 to 4.0, for example), in which cases a much higher dose of SO2 was needed to create an aseptic environment.

In the normal scheme of things, MLF is not all that dramatic an event unless you happen to be a molecule of malic acid that gets consumed by the bacteria and turned into a molecule of lactic acid. In grapes, excluding "late harvest" grapes and certain predominately sub- temperate varieties that have little malic acid anyway, an MLF in the bottle will produce just enough fizz to let you know the wine is no longer perfectly still -- not enough to warrant Champagne flutes as the winemaker described. The same applies even more to an MLF in a secondary, where an airlock can at least offer an escape route for the CO2.

On the other hand, an apple or blackberry or other exclusively malic fruit that undergoes MLF can produce a noticeable amount of gas, but nothing like the winemaker described and rarely ever enough to raise a cork should it occur in the bottle. The affect on TA and pH is slight except in wholly malic wines and is most useful in grape wines where a slight malic edge needs to be honed. It has little affect on grape wines with jagged edges, as these are usually caused by too much tartaric acid.

I consider these observations important because far too many novice (and even experienced) winemakers are talking about spontaneous MLF occurring under conditions in which it should not. If you analyze the must -- that is, the sum of all the ingredients that went into it -- and its history (it was boiled, or made from concentrate, or aseptically sulfited with Campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite), one can readily determine if natural MLF is even possible. When it isn't possible, then it almost certainly did not occur.


Measuring Sugar

A winemaker asked me for a conversion factor for sugar, volume to weight. This is quite simple. Using U.S. measures, two level cups of finely granulated refined sugar weighs one pound. Thus, eight ounces of the same weighs 1/2 pound, and one dry ounce (volume) equates to one ounce by weight.

Two pounds of refined sugar dissolved in one U.S. gallon of water has a specific gravity of 1.090. Thus, one pound of refined sugar dissolved in one U.S. gallon of water has a specific gravity of 1.045.

I specified finely granulated refined sugar for a reason. This sugar is fine enough that the measures given above work out perfectly. If regular granulated refined sugar is used, the air spaces between the gains of crystal are ever so slightly larger and the volume changes. I use two level cups plus 3/4 teaspoon of regular granulated refined sugar to measure one pound volumetrically. In truth, I rarely ever use the regular grind of sugar, even though it is usually a few pennies cheaper per pound -- even more if it is beet sugar rather than cane sugar. It is simply easier and faster to dissolve the finely granulated sugar than the coarser "regular" grind. And the volume measures work out evenly, as was already said.





October 19th, 2005

This past weekend was spent with winemakers and affectionados, as the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild hosted its annual Fall Competition. I truly do feel sorry for everyone that doesn't belong to a winemaking club. It's difficult to find a finer group of generous, unselfish folks.

As promised, here are some more of the emails and postings I've made recently.


Sulfite Solutions

I was asked about the strength used for sanitizing winemaking equipment, bottles and countertops and how to measure potassium metabisulfite for a 10% sulfite solution.

I use a solution made by adding one level teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite to one gallon of water. A 2-minute exposure to this will kill any known bacteria or mold likely to be in a kitchen or winery. This solution is undoubtedlyly stronger than it needs to be, but I just want to be sure the job is done when I use it. Its use hurts nothing. After use, I then pour it back into a capped gallon jug and reuse it. It lasts much longer than I keep it, which is around 3-4 months.

A 10% sulfite solution is easy to make if you have precise scales. A liter of water weighs 1,000 grams, so add 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of potassium metabisulfite to one liter of water. For a 5% sulfite solution, use 50 grams (1.75 ounces) of potassium metabisulfite to one liter of water.


Oxidized Wine

When a winemaker in Jamaica told me he had dumped a batch of Thompson Seedless Grape Wine wine because it had oxidized heavily, I told him the first grape wine I ever made was with Thompson Seedless. It, too, oxidized badly. I uncorked it, resulfited it to prevent further degradation, fortified it to 18%, and then sweetened it to around 1.020. It was a very nice sherry-type wine.

I've done the same with oxidized blackberry, black cherry and red grape wines to make very nice tawny-style ports. With a little more work (actually, a lot more), you can make passable Madeira- or Marsala-type wines.

Madeira wines are high in alcohol (18-20%) and slowly baked in special buildings called estufas -- the wines are kept at temperatures ranging from 101 to 140 degrees F. for several months. If you live in the hot South, you can achieve similar results by bulk storing your wines in a garage or out-building during the hot summer months.

Some Madeiras also used a solera system of blending, where a cask has one-tenth of it's volume replaced each year with an equal amount of younger wine. After ten years, the cask is fully soleraized. It can be further aged, but not further blended.

Marsala wines are actually made with very specific grapes grown only at the extreme western tip of Sicily around the city of Marsala (Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia and Damaschino for golden and amber Marsala; Pignatello, Calabrese, Nerello Mascalese, Nero d’Avola for ruby red Marsala), but other grapes can be used for "Marsala-type" wines. Depending on the style of Marsala, these usually have an alcohol content no less than 14% but often 18-20%, with residual sugar ranging from bone dry to dessert sweetness. They are aged 8 months to 10 years in oak, and are blended using the solera system. Thus, it is not possible to make a single vintage Marsala.

Well-made Marsalas can achieve a long life (over 100 years), while quality Madeiras can mature to 150 years and longer. However, do not expect such age from homemade wines of these types.


Stabilizing Wines

When asked why a stabilized wine continued to drop lees for over a month, I replied that when you stabilize a wine with potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate in conjunction with potassium or sodium metabisulfite (or Campden tablets), you are fixing the yeast population as of that moment. The living yeast in the must or wine are thereafter incapable of reproducing. That is the effect produced by stabilization. They yeast continue to live, but die naturally after a while -- hours to weeks. Because they can no longer reproduce, the entire colony eventually dies. As it dies off, dead yeast cells settle and form the very fine lees.

Living yeast cells are individually invisible to the eye except under powerful magnification. A single drop of heavily fermenting must can easily contain 150,000 yeast cells and will probably look cloudy. The cloudiness is caused not by the yeast themselves, but by the microscopic bubbles of CO2 gas they are emitting as fermentation waste. In a carboy, these bubbles are so close together that they combine rapidly into larger bubbles -- which get even larger as they rise. Within a few inches they become large enough to actually see. By the time they get near the top of the carboy, they are quite large compared to what they were originally. The bubbles breaking the suface of a 30,000-liter fermentation tank can be so large the surface looks like it is boiling. If you stabilized this batch at this time, you would not see a reduction in fermentation rate for several days, and it would probably drop heavy lees for two or three weeks -- lighter lees for up to six.

Most commercial wineries use (1) chilling, fining and racking, (2) sterile filtration, (3) heating, or (4) sorbates to remove yeast once fermentation has ceased and the wine clears. Using the first method alone still leaves a fairly substantial yeast population in the wine, so for sweet wines they usually follow through with sterile filtration or sorbating. The wines are then held 30 days and the wine is processed through a cell counter. If less than 10 cells per 750 mL remain, the wine will probably be bottled and released. If 10 or more cells per 750 mL are found, the wine is retained an additional 60 days to ensure the risk of re-fermentation is past.

I had a still wine that had finished dropping lees and had then been racked twice but not chilled, filtered or been sorbated. At that point I set it in a bulk aging area and left it there for 14 months. I then chaptalized it to a semi-sweet and bottled it. Two moths later I entered a bottle in competition where it was disqualified as being entered in the wrong category -- entered as a still wine instead of sparkling. Yes, whatever yeast remained began reproducing and recolonized the batch. I had never seen yeast live that long without dropping at least a fine dusting of lees, but they did. I now use two of the four stabilizing methods for my off-dry and sweet wines.





October 13th, 2005

In plowing through the ton of email backed up on me I ran across some very good questions which, in turn, prompted me to answer as I could. I'll try to address a few of them here as I have time, but first I need to address a problem that has surfaced.

Earthlink Users

Spam is not just a creeping problem, it is an epidemic. There are many strategies for combating spam, but Earthlink users are more and more opting to use a service that requires the sender to log into a webmail site and register to send them email. They then "preapprove" the sender and add them to a list of approved senders. While I admire this approach to combating spam, I cannot subscribe to it.

Let me explain. The computer I use to answer emails pertaining to my web site or WineBlog is behind a double firewall. The security I enjoy on this machine is non- negotiable; I cannot turn it on and off, and it will not connect to the Earthlink webmail site. Indeed, it will not log into any webmail site. This is a security feature designed to protect a very large network against computer viruses, worms and trojan horses, which can bypass email antivirus protection by coming in over webmail.

As a result, I cannot get placed on your preapproved senders lists and my answers to your questions end up being killed by Earthlink. I wasted at least an hour yesterday answering four emails which were so killed. I have very little time to answer emails as it is, so I really resent wasting what little time I have writing answers that will never be read. So I have had to adopt a new rule:

If you are an Earthlink user and use this extreme anti-spam measure, then put me on your preapproved senders list yourself, before you write to me, or don't bother writing. You're asking me for advice or information, so either allow me to answer you or ask someone else.


Shelf Life of Wines

I received two different but similar questions pertaining to the shelf life of wines. One concerned sugar and the other concerned acidity. One wanted to know why an expert had written that very dry wines had a short shelf life, while the other wanted to know why I had written that low acid wines also had a short shelf life. The answers are self-supporting.

The shelf life of wines -- that is, their ability to retain their freshness and drinkability while aging and growing more complex -- is determined by the preservative elements they contain. Primarily, these preservatives are alcohol, acid and sugar, although tannins also have lesser preservative qualities. The final preservative found in most wines is sulfur dioxide, which is usually introduced by the winemaker.

Alcohol has long been known as a preservative. Most winemaking books include a statement about alcohol preservation, such as, "Wines containing 12% alcohol by volume are self-preserving." Actually, the number is lower than that, but the point is made.

Sugar has also long been known as a preservative -- jams and jellies have very long lives until exposed to air. In wine, off-dry or semi-sweet wines generally have longer shelf lives than dry wines, while sweet ports, sherries and other dessert wines enjoy even longer potential lives.

Acidity as a preservative actually refers to its ability to deter spoilage bacteria. In wine, both alcohol and acidity work in concert to this end. Acetobacter aceti and related species that convert ethanol to acetic acid in the presence of air are unaffected by either alcohol or acids in wines, but are stopped cold by aseptic levels of sulfur dioxide.


POM Pomegranate Juice

A woman wrote to me about using POM-brand pomegranate juice to make wine with. She said, "The juice is pricey, but I think it might still be more economical than the 30-45 pomegranates a person would need for a 3 gallon batch." She essentially wanted to know how many pomegranates each bottle of POM represented. I had seen the juice in several supermarkets, but really had no idea what the answer to her question was. I basically told here this. Some time later she informed me she had written to the POM Company's customer service and they had responded: "Each 16 oz bottle contains the juice of approximately five crushed pomegranates. Thus, one 8-ounce serving would contain the juice of 2.5 pomegranates."

Based on this information, she then proposed a recipe for a 3-gallon batch. I made a few comments and that was that. I intend to make wine from this juice just to know it better. After I have done so, I will publish the recipe. However, if you want to get a head start on me, sources of the juice and an alternative concentrate are linked below.






October 9th, 2005

I have a ton of email to get to, but wanted to hit a few subjects here before I start on that -- which I may not get to today anyway. As I said in a previous post, life is full. I have 41 wines under airlock and two batches of venison jerky in the dehydrator. There is no correlation between the two, although venison jerky and dry red wine go together pretty well.

Varietal Raisins

Speaking of the dehydrator, I have a friend who takes all his second harvest wine grapes (those that were not quite ripe when he picked the bulk of the crop) and dries them out in a dehydrator. He then vacuum seals them and labels them for later use. As food raisins, they are not enjoyable because they have seeds, but as varietals for winter and spring winemaking projects they are exceptional. He gave me 1.5 pounds of Zinfandel raisins and they were used right away in two wines.

There are several things to say about using raisins:

  • They are generally about 60-70% sugar -- use 65% as the average. If you use 1/2 pound per gallon of wine to give the wine body, you are adding a little over 5 ounces of sugar (about 2% potential alcohol) to the must, so plan accordingly.
  • Even though grapes are usually dipped in sulfite solution and ascorbic acid before being dried into raisins, they still oxidize to some degree. This gives pure raisin wine its sherry-like flavor and does affect the flavor of every wine raisins are used in. Just be aware of it.
  • Varietal raisins cannot be minced or chopped because the seeds will break and flavor the wine adversely. Buy some seeded grapes and eat them, chewing the seeds and all. If you like the flavor, then go ahead and mince the varietal raisins. It is far better to put them in a bowl and pour hot (boiling is okay) water over them and let them sit and rehydrate. The plumped up raisins can then be easily crushed.
  • Commercial golden raisins can be rehydrated and then minced far easier than just mincing the dried fruit. That meat grinding attachment to your food processor is perfect for mincing (and not nearly as messy) after the raisins have soaked a while.
  • When making varietal raisins, be sure to wash them, destem them, dip in sulfite solution, and then thoroughly dehydrate them. They will go moldy if you don't. You can add ascorbic acid to the sulfite solution to help prevent oxidation, but you must realize there will still be some oxidation anyway.
  • Varietal raisins offer country winemakers a great deal of added diversity in their winemaking. I added 1/2 pound of Zinfandel raisins to my last batch of plum wine and it gave it body and a new dimension of fruitiness. I have some Blanc du Bois raisins I will use in a dandelion batch next spring. I could just as easily used hem in an apple wine I'm making now.

Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit

Prickly pear cactus fruit (called "tunas") are ripening in my area, so it is natural people are inquiring about making wine from and harvesting them. The wine can be one of the most beautiful wines one will ever encounter -- a deep, iridescent magenta -- but is an acquired taste. Further, if you are allergic to beets (approximately 1% of the population is), you will also be allergic to prickly pear wine, as it is a specific pigment in both that is the problem. However, for those of us who can drink it and acquire the taste, it is a most enjoyable wine. As a bonus, four ounces of the wine with an ounce of tequila makes a wonderful (but powerful) drink.

There are many ways to pick (harvest) the tunas. How you do it will depend on the means you have available or a personal preference.

I use long metal tongs and a long bladed fillet knife. The tongs are necessary because the tunas possess clusters of very small by annoying spines. The tunas should be dark purple or dark red. There are some varieties that turn yellow when ripe, but I have never seen them in South Texas. The deep color indicates ripeness. Grab one with the tongs and if it is really ripe it will practically fall off. If it doesn't fall off or break off and you are certain it is ripe, cut it off with the knife. I use a bucket to collect them, as the only time I used a plastic bag we ended up with millions of very fine spines in the trunk of the car that stuck to everything we put in it thereafter.

Most people burn off the spines. They are very fine -- only 1/16 to 3/16 of an inch long -- and grow in small clumps that burn easily. Some people use a propane torch, while others bring them home and use a propane barbecue grill -- lay them on the grill, turn the fire on high enough to burn the spines, and turn the tunas several times to burn off the spines all around. Do not "cook" them.

I don't burn the spines off because I don't have a propane torch or grill. I hold them with the tongs and cut the top off, then hold them upright on a wooden cutting board and use the fillet knife to thinly cut the skin off them with narrow downward slices. Then they get a quick wash, get copped up and go into the primary. If you burn the spines off, you don't need to peel them -- just chop.

Yet another way (I used this method for years) is to put the tunas in a large crock or pail and then pour one gallon of boiling water over them. Wait two minutes (to loosen their skin) and drain off the water. Allow the fruit to cool and use the tongs and knife to carefully peel the skin off.

Prickly Pear Cactus Wine

  • 5-6 lb. prickly pear fruit
  • 2 lb. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • wine yeast

Remove spines from fruit using one of the methods discussed above. Cut fruit into pieces not larger than one inch, put in pot, add 1/2 gallon water, bring to boil. Reduce heat to maintain gentle boil for 15 minutes. Cover pot and allow to cool to luke warm. Pour fruit and juice into large nylon grain-bag (fine mesh) or sieve and squeeze juice into primary fermentation vessel. Discard pulp. To juice, add sugar, acid blend, pectic enzyme, and yeast nutrient. Stir to dissolve sugar and additives. Cover well and set aside for 10-12 hours. Add yeast and set aside in warm place for seven days, stirring daily. Siphon off lees into secondary fermentation vessel, top up with water, fit airlock, and let stand three weeks. Rack and top up, then rack again in two months. Allow to clear, rack again if necessary, and bottle. May taste after one year, but improves with age. [Author's own recipe.]




October 1st, 2005

I must apologize to all for the long absence. Some of you knew already that I am originally from Louisiana and have family members concentrated on both sides of the state. Hurricane Katrina roared through east Louisiana and Mississippi and relocated many of them -- mostly into Texas. The news has covered Katrina well -- too well, perhaps, but at least we can say well.

Then Hurricane Rita swept through western Louisiana and scattered many more of my extended family across three states -- and tens of thousands of others, as well. From Cameron, LA to Port Arthur, TX, on the Gulf, up past Leesville, LA to Jasper, TX, the Texas-Louisiana border region is in shambles. Most communities in that belt still do not have electricity, natural gas, water, sewer, gasoline, produce or refrigerated foods, or any retail outlets or services requiring electric power.

The news media has burnt out on this story. It was not as spectacular a storm as Katrina (although certainly it was more powerful a cyclonic storm) and no major city was devastated, so they tired of it and went home. But in a belt 90 miles wide and at least 200 miles long, hundreds of thousands of trees fell across roads, driveways, homes, automobiles, power lines, telephone lines, businesses, and everything in between. People are hurting for basic essentials, but I have not seen any major private, non-profit or corporate fund-raising efforts for these victims -- although this very morning in Wal-Mart I saw a collection box for Hurricane Katrina victims. The victims of Rita are not only already forgotten, they were not really ever recognized except in those few towns the news media chose to broadcast from. There are no collection boxes for Rita's victims.

During this period the President signed the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) recommendations and life at work got more complicated. My base will shed itself of its military components and my unit will move to Fort Sam Houston, TX. Someone has to represent the moving units in this process and see that adequate facilities are built and services provided at the gaining installation. For my unit, I am that person. There is a lot to do.

So, my attention has been elsewhere. I apologize for this, but hope you will understand. If you sent me an email recently asking for help or advice, be patient. It's all I can do to rack my wines on schedule.

Airlock Barometer

A little over a week ago I received a phone call from a winemaker in Winnie, Texas -- west of Beaumont. He said his airlock had been positive, passing CO2 bubbles intermittently from within the carboy to the outside, which was normal. He noted this Thursday evening, but about an hour later it had backed up, meaning the liquid in his "S"-type airlock reversed itself and was rising toward the inside of the airlock. Whenever this had happened before, his fermentation was finished, but this time bubbles were still being forced down through the liquid and out, a very strange occurrence. Then, Friday morning, it had reversed again. What, he asked, was going on?

I told him simply, "You're about to get a hurricane. The airlock was normal, but then the high pressure system that was keeping Rita in the Gulf of Mexico got compressed by the sheer force of the storm and that pushed the liquid down and toward the junction with the carboy. Overnight, the high pressure system moved away and the liquid reversed itself again under the influence of approaching storm. He thought that was cool. As we talked, I watched The Weather Channel display the anticipated track of Rita. I suggested he join the traffic jam heading west. I don't know if he did or not.

Semi-Sweet Orange Wine

Back in April I noted I was relaxing with a glass of semi-sweet orange wine. A reader wrote recently to ask for the recipe, which I provided him. This wine took a first place in the Fruit Wines (Dry) category at the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's 2005 Spring Competition, so it is pretty decent.

  • 6 lbs. very ripe or over-ripe oranges
  • 1 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1-1/2 lb Turbinado Sugar (do not substitute brown sugar)
  • water to make up a gallon
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • wine yeast

Put two quarts of water on to boil. Meanwhile, peel the oranges and remove any brown spots and all the white pith (it is bitter and will ruin the wine). Break the oranges into sections and remove all seeds (very important). Drop them in a juicer or a blender and liquefy (you may have to add a cup of water to the blender). Mix the juice or liquefied oranges with the sugar, tannin and yeast nutrient in primary. Add boiling water and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Add grape concentrate and additional water to make one gallon total must. Cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to room temperature, add yeast. Ferment 7-10 days and strain through a fine-meshed nylon straining bag, squeezing to extract juice from pulp. Transfer to secondary, top up if required and fit airlock. Rack every 30 days until not even a light dusting of lees settles on the bottom between rackings (3-4 times). Stabilize and sweeten to a specific gravity of 1.006. Wait 3 weeks to ensure fermentation does not restart and rack into bottles. Age (very important) 6 months to a year before tasting. We drank a 2-year old bottle recently that was to die for. [Author's own recipe]




August 28th, 2005

A reader mentioned my page entitled "Using Your Hydrometer" and noted it twice says that an S.G. reading of 1.045 equals 16 oz. (one pound) of sugar within one gallon of water. Later, in the specific gravity chart, it shows an S.G. at 1.045 equalling 1 lb. 5 oz. of sugar within a gallon of water. "Is this not a contradiction? he asks.

Actually, the hydrometer is not difficult to understand. What is difficult to fathom is the difference between sugar IN one gallon versus sugar TO one gallon. Consider the following:

Hydrometer Readings

(1) If you have one gallon of sugar-water solution with a specific gravity of 1.045, that gallon has exactly one pound of sugar dissolved in it.

(2) If you have one gallon of water and want to add sugar sufficient to raise the specific gravity to 1.045, you must add 1 pound 5 ounces of sugar to it. You will end up with more than a gallon of water because the sugar takes up space, but the specific gravity will be 1.045.

The table he referenced has five columns. The second column is the sugar IN a gallon at certain specific gravities if it is already sweetened. The third column is the sugar required to be added TO a gallon (of unsweetened water) to bring the specific gravity up to certain levels.

It turns out that when the writer printed out the page, the table was not formatted exactly as it is on the web page because of his margin settings. This caused him problems in seeing the table as intended. Once he went back on-line, he saw the relationships I described.

Mesquite Wine and Mesquite Jelly

I made another batch of mesquite wine. This time the beans were drier than I would usually want them. Ideally, the bean pods should have just turned brownish-tan and would still be hanging from the tree. They should not be pliable, as when they are still green, but neither should they be totally dry. But I waited too long and the beans fell. By then the pods were quite dry.

I went ahead and broke the 3 pounds of bean pods into one-inch pieces and simmered them in the water for an hour. After straining off the water, my wife and I decided to attempt making mesquite jelly from the already used pods. We put them back in the pot and added one and one-half quarts of water and simmered them for another hour. During that time, I used a potato masher to break up the pieces a bit more. When I strained the water from the pod pieces, it was deep yellow and reduced to four cups. Below are the two recipes I used.

Mesquite Bean Wine


  • 3 lbs mesquite beans
  • 1 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape frozen concentrate
  • 1-1/2 lbs granulated sugar
  • water to make up one gallon
  • 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Montrachet wine yeast

Wash the bean pods and break them into one-inch pieces. Put them into a large cooking pot and cover them with about 3 quarts of water. Simmer slowly for one hour, covered. Strain the beans off and discard or use to make jelly. Pour the water into a primary and stir into it half the sugar and the Welch's frozen concentrate. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Cover with cloth and set aside to cool. When at room temperature, add acid blend and yeast nutrient. Stir to dissolve these ingredients and add activated yeast starter and recover. Stir daily for about 5 days and stir in remaining sugar until dissolved. Transfer to secondary, top up, and fit airlock. Rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock every 30 days for next 4 months. Stabilize, sweeten if desired, bottle and allow to age one year before drinking. This wine will keep well, getting better as it ages. [Author's own recipe]

Mesquite Bean Jelly


  • 3 lbs mesquite bean pieces previously used to make wine
  • 6 cups water
  • 4-1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tblsp lemon juice
  • package of pectin

    Add water to bean pod pieces and simmer one hour, mashing the pieces as possible with a potato masher during the simmering time. Strain off liquid and measure. Either simmer longer to reduce quantity to 4 cups or add water to make 4 cups. Stir in sugar and lemon juice. When thoroughly dissolved, add pectin according to the directions that came with it. I cannot predict which pectin you use so cannot say what adjustments you might have to make, but I had to mix a powdered pectin with 3/4 cup of water, bring it to a boil, add an additional 1/2 cup of sugar to the mesquite- water mixture, add the pectin, and bring it to a 3-minute boil. It set up beautifully and is a most delicious jelly.




    August 17th, 2005

    A reader complained that most of his country wines are "too harsh" for his taste. He said at first he thought it was acid, but he tested the acid each time and it was fine. He wondered if it could be tannin.

    I really couldn't resist. I explained that the usual description for tannin was "astringent," not "harsh." I myself used to call it harsh -- or bitter -- but then a wine snob educated me and explained -- not too nicely either -- that the correct word was "astringent." I've used it ever since and am glad I have. It helps to use the right word on certain occasions -- when judging wines, for example.

    Why Tannin?

    I've written here before about tannin (see my entry of May 20, 2004). Tannin gives a wine that certain "bite" that helps differentiate it from fruit juice. A little tannin is essential in my book, but then that's just me. If you don't really care for the "bite" in wine, eliminate the tannin.

    But tannin serves another purpose. It promotes the ability of a wine to age well, but in this it is not alone and other factors are equally important. But if you intend to drink your wine without setting a few bottles aside for a couple of years down the road, then it really doesn't matter if the tannin is in there or not.

    Finally, tannin plays a minor but important role in the balance of a wine. As I said back in May of 2004, tannins are phenolic compounds with a bitter taste and astringent mouthfeel. In balance, tannins can help wines age and lend structure and texture to them, especially when they form complexes with anthocyanins (pigments). When we speak of a wine's balance, we should think of a balance scale with acids and tannins on one side and alcohols, sugars and glycerin on the other. Put another way, the sour and bitter tastes are on one side and the sweet tastes are on the other. The word "balance" implies a certain equilibrium should exist between these two opposing sides of the scale. When you eliminate the tannins altogether, you must rely on acids to hold down one side of the balance scale. When you do that, the acids really need to be perfect.

    Okay, so what do you do if you have wines, like the fellow who wrote to me, that have tannins in them and you decide you'd rather not have them there after all? Can you take them out? Sure you can..

    Tannins are negatively charged compounds. To remove them, you need to add a positively charged compound. The opposite charges attract each other, bind weakly, and their combined mass causes them to succumb to the force of gravity and settle to the bottom of the carboy. Gelatin, albumin (egg white), casein, Isinglass, chitin (Chitosan), and Sparkolloid are all positively charged fining agents that will remove some, if not all, of the tannins from your wine.

    Mesquite

    When I say mesquite, most of my winemaking friends think of one or two things. They either think of mesquite wood or mesquite beans or both. Because I happen to like the taste of mesquite wood in wine, I tend to promote it over the alternative -- oak.

    My introduction to mesquite wood as a wine flavoring came from Bob Denson, the winemaker at Poteet Country Winery in Poteet, Texas. Some years ago he served me a superb mustang wine aged with mesquite and I never looked back. Since then I've aged more than a few wines with mesquite and have avidly promoted it writings and talks. I have many friends that now use it,

    Bob Denson originally wanted to barrel age his mustang in mesquite, but when he priced the barrels at around $1700 each he visited a mesquite wood worker in Uvalde, Texas and obtained bags of mesquite shavings. He gave me some and since then I have made more. Here's how to do it.

    Age a fairly straight section of a mesquite branch, 4-6 inches in diameter and 1-2 feet long. I age them a year, but 6 months is probably long enough. In your workshop, use a chisel and hammer to remove the bark. Sweep up the bark and discard it before going any further. With a band or circular saw remove an inch or so from each end of the section. Then use an electric planer to remove the dark outer surface of the wood to a depth of at least a quarter-inch. Only fresh, red wood should be visible all the way around. Again, sweep up the sawdust and litter and discard them. Spray the floor around the planer with a 5% sulfite solutions and let it dry. Then turn on the planer and start making chips. But watch those fingers.... Alternatively, you can clamp the section in a bench vise and hand plane the wood into shavings.

    An acquaintance in Arizona rips the wood into thin planks and makes mesquite cubes. He uses a propane torch to lightly toast the cubes. I don't toast the shavings or chips. It isn't oak and I don't think of it in the same terms as I do oak, but the toasting might be okay. I haven't tasted his mesquite wine and he hasn't tasted mine, so who knows? Use the chips or shavings as you would use oak chips.

    All over South Texas the mesquite beans are falling. We have eight trees on our property and collected a few pounds last weekend for wine and jelly. The jelly is fabulous and the wine is worth making. It does need to be aged a year before drinking. This year I'm going to do something I've never done. I'm going to age my mesquite wine with mesquite chips. It should be interesting.




    August 1st, 2005

    I received the following email not too long ago: "I was reading a wine book and it listed wines from flowers that are poisonous. Lilac was listed. I have made lilac wine and have consumed it. I got the recipe from your site. Is the book wrong?"

    I bet I address the issue of toxicity at least 10 times a year in writings of one form or another. It occurred to me that I really haven't done it here in a thorough way, so this would be a good time -- especially after flirting with the issue in my last entry (on Day Lily Wine).

    Toxic Does Not Mean Poisonous

    Some years back I received a request for a lilac wine recipe. I had one (and 5 bottles of the wine gathering dust in a wine rack), but I declined sending it because I had come across a web site that said the flowers were toxic.

    Toxic does not mean poisonous. It is unfortunate so many people use the two words interchangeably. It is especially unfortunate when they set themselves up as an authority by publishing a list of either edible or non-edible plants and use the word "poisonous" when they should have used "toxic." For example, elderberries are toxic, but only a couple of species are toxic enough to actually make you wish you hadn't eaten them (or made wine from them).

    After a great deal of research, and many letters (and emails) later, I arrived at the following understanding.

    There are many sites out there that claim to list non-edible plants. If you examine them in enough detail, you might discover -- as I did -- that there are three original lists of non-edible plants. All other lists are variations of these three. Some we authors try to be all inclusive and combine two or even all three lists, but offer no explanation of how the lists were compiled or what they might mean. It is the three original lists that you have to examine and ignore all the rest. It took me a week to track down the original three lists, but I lost their names and URLs some months back when my computer crashed. But I did learn something before the crash.

    The Three Lists

    One list contains every plant that could find ever having been reported to cause illness in humans and animals. If one reads the entries instead of simply copying the listed names of plants, one will see that the author evaluates the data and says things like, "has been reported to cause illness in cattle grazing exclusively on this plant," or, "purgative toxicity confirmed for felines." This is the most helpful database I have ever found for toxic effects of plants, and I hope to stumble across it again some day.

    Another list contains toxicity reports for humans only, but also includes dermatological toxicity (from skin irritation to extreme rash, caused by skin contact to the sap, oils, or hairs on the plant). This, too, is a very useful list because it tells you the effect and relative dose for ingestion toxins, which is really all you should be concerned with. We all know that stinging nettles and poison ivy cause skin problems, but you can make wine from nettle tops without a problem. Not so with poison ivy because the oils that cause skin problems have an ingestion effect too. Web authors who use this site as a source are prone to simply copy the names of plants mentioned on the original site without comment or weight. In other words, nettles, poison ivy and deadly nightshade all get listed equally, but so do lilacs, elderberries and day lilies.

    The third list identifies the compounds of toxicity and reports every plant that contains any of them. This list is next to useless for the winemaker, as it contains the following compounds by class:

    • Alkaloids: considering that over 40% of the plant families contain alkaloids, this list contains coffee, tea, cocoa, and a lot of things we ingest all the time.
    • Glycosides: many glycosides are not toxic at all, but a large number (about 800) contain poisonous cyanoid compounds. The problem is the amount, where the compounds are located, and the dose required to cause problems. That list contains apricots, cherries, plums, apples, peaches, and tomatoes, to name just a few. The cyanoids are, of course, in their seeds or, in the case of tomatoes, in the green, raw fruit and stems.
    • Oxalates and Oxalic Acid: even heavenly laden plants can be eaten in moderation; beets and rhubarb are listed.
    • Tannins and Phenols: let's see...grapes, elderberries, blueberries, and a host of others are included. If this makes sense raise your hand.
    • Resins and Volatile Oils: plants listed here are really bad dudes and ingestion in quantity can cause death, so this is one true category of concern (includes poinsettias and rhododendrons).
    Let the Reader Beware

    The bottom line is that you really need to do in-depth research when it comes to toxic plants. Many, many lists contain the names of really common plants when in reality it is cats that are affected by them, or grazing sheep, or an oil in their roots that you would never encounter in a normal lifetime. The wise thing to do is stay away from simple lists and search out descriptive entries that actually tell you what it is about the plant that warrants avoidance and why. You may just discover, as I did, that some toxic plants lose all of their toxicity when cooked.

    An excellent reference book for any winemaker's library is Common Poison Plants and Mushrooms of North America.

    In answering the original question, I discovered that it was entirely unlikely (although still possible) anyone would get sick drinking lilac wine in moderation. I drank all of mine long ago and have made it several times since.




    July 22nd, 2005

    Last month my wife and I met a lovely couple who grow over 1,500 varieties of day lily and several hundred varieties of hydrangea. Coincidentally, a reader recently asked if I had a recipe for day lily wine. The two events are not related. Walking through a garden with over 1,500 varieties of day lily did not give me any special knowledge of the flower, except to learn there are an estimated 60,000 varieties of day lily in the world. But it did spark an interest in the flower, and since then I have learned more about it.

    Now, it so happens that I do have a recipe for day lily wine. The problem with day lilies is that while most -- but not all -- species are edible, some cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. My sources say you have to gorge yourself on the bad ones to experience this, or eat some of the green stem attached to the flower base. My problem is that I don’t know which are and which are not edible. But I learned that the very first day lilies imported to Colonial America were edible and quickly escaped into the wild. The large clumps of wild day lilies found throughout the Eastern United States and Canada are descendants of those early escapees. Known botanically as Hemerocallis fulva, the common day lily is perfectly safe to eat and make wine with. As for me, I have only made wine from flowers given to me and certified as edible. If you know that your lilies are edible, then you might try the following recipe.

    Day Lily Wine

    • 2-1/2 qts day lily petals, lightly packed
    • 1 11-1/2 oz can of Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
    • 6-1/2 pts water
    • 1 lb 10 oz granulated sugar
    • 2 tsp acid blend
    • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • Champagne or Hock wine yeast

    Pick petals only and wash. Be careful to remove all green portions of stem, as this will cause illness. Put petals in nylon straining bag, tie closed, and set in primary. Meanwhile, bring one quart of water to a boil and stir in sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat and quickly pour over nylon bag in primary. Cover primary and set aside for five minutes. Add remaining water and white grape juice concentrate to cool the must. Stir in the remaining ingredients and activated yeast, cover, and put in a warm place for five days, squeezing bag gently each day. Drip drain and discard petals. Pour liquid into secondary fermentation vessel and fit airlock. When wine clears, rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack, top up and refit airlock every 30 days as long as even a fine dusting of lees form. When wine stops throwing sediment for 30 days, rack into bottles and age 6-12 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe.]

    This recipe makes a wine with 12-1/2% alcohol by volume. Do not make it stronger than this or the alcohol will mask the flavor of the flower.

    I like this wine slightly sweet, and by "slightly" I mean with a specific gravity of 1.002 to 1.004. Serve it chilled. When the season is right, serve it on the patio with a salad garnished with day lily petals.




    July 8th, 2005

    I received a good question the other day. "I have been trying to find some ways to sweeten wine with sugar before bottling. My wife loves very sweet dessert type wines. I have read a lot, but nobody really discusses sweetening to ones proper taste. I have a friend who uses a syrup. He uses white table sugar and some other ingredients that you boil to make the syrup. My batch of syrup did not taste as good as his. So I have been trying to find some different ways to add sugar to sweeten my wine before bottling. Do you have any syrup type recipes that could be made from sugar or any other ways to sweeten my wine to taste?"

    Sweetening can be a problem, but need not be. Here are some thoughts on the subject:

    Stabilize First

    First, be very sure the wine is stabilized before adding sugar to it or it will start fermenting again, a potentially explosive situation if you sweeten and then bottle it. It takes both potassium metabisulfite (or crushed Campden tablets) and potassium sorbate and a little time to stabilize a wine.

    One crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate (also dissolved) per gallon of wine will do the trick, but this only prevents the existing live yeast from reproducing and keeping the colony going. Until they die out, these existing yeast are quite capable of restarting fermentation. So, stabilize, wait a couple of weeks, sweeten to taste, and then wait another couple of weeks just to be sure the airlock doesn't start bubbling again.

    I always rack my wine one last time before bottling, as racking removes more yeast from the wine than any other thing you can do. You will almost always see a very fines dusting of sediment on the bottom of the secondary after you stabilize and wait. That dust is the yeast that weren't able to reproduce before expiring.

    Simple Syrup

    Second, you can sweeten with just sugar or you can make a simple syrup. You make a syrup with two parts sugar dissolved in one part of water (as in two cups of sugar in one cup of water). You should boil the water, remove from the heat, add the sugar, and stir like heck to make the syrup, as that much sugar doesn't easily dissolve in cold or warm water.

    Here's a helpful hint. If you have a really strong blender (we have a Bosch), put the sugar in it, turn it on high for 2-3 minutes or until the sugar becomes powder, and then add the prescribed amount of warm-to-hot (not boiling) water and turn it on low until the sugar dissolves completely. Do NOT use commercial powdered sugar, as it contains corn starch to keep the sugar from re-solidifying and corn starch will permanently cloud your wine.

    Allow the simple syrup to cool to room temperature (not in a refrigerator or it might start re-crystallizing) before continuing.

    Sweetening to Taste

    Third, measure how much liquid it takes to fill your hydrometer test jar to within three inches of the top. It take about a cup to fill mine that far. Measure out that much wine into a large water glass and stir into it two tablespoons of simple syrup. Fill the hydrometer test jar with this sweetened wine and measure the specific gravity. Write that number on a piece of paper and set a wine glass on top of the number. Pour about one inch of wine from the hydrometer test jar into that wine glass and pour the remaining wine back into the large water glass.

    Replace the amount of wine you poured into the wine glass so you have as much as you started with last time and stir into it two more tablespoons of simple syrup. Again pour it into the hydrometer test jar and measure the specific gravity. Write the number on a piece of paper and again set an empty wine glass on the number. Pour an inch of wine into the glass and return the rest to the water glass.

    Again replace what you used and add two more tablespoons of simple syrup. Stir, pour into the hydrometer test jar, and repeat the previous procedures. Do this until you have four or five wine glasses sitting on their specific gravity figures. Now taste them in the order they were filled (first glass to the last) and note the one that tasted best to you. It will be the one you tasted just before you picked up the one that was too sweet. Look at it's specific gravity. That's the specific gravity you want to sweeten your wine to.

    Hitting a target specific gravity is not hard, but it does take time and patience. Unfortunately, I can't simply construct a look-up table for you saying to add this much simple syrup to achieve that specific gravity reading because not all wines will be equally dry to begin with. You just have to add some, stir, measure, and adjust until you are very close to the target s.g. Then add syrup, stir real good, wait 15-20 minutes, and stir again. This time when you measure the specific gravity the syrup will be better integrated into the wine and the reading will be more accurate.

    Here's another consideration. Over time, all wines mellow out somewhat and actually taste a little sweeter that they did when first bottled. If you plan on keeping the wine for a couple of years, you might want to back off the target sweetness just a hair to allow for this. For example, if the target s.g. is 1.012, you might want to sweeten it to 1.011 or even 1.010 to allow for this perception.




    June 21st, 2005

    A reader wrote, "I made about 25 gallons of pear wine last year. The wine is a light yellow color and has a weird kerosene smell to it. What is up with that?" The problem I have is that I would really like to have some of the wine to smell and taste. What you call "kerosene" may register differently to me. Nonetheless, I tried to answer as best I could.

    A Matter of Smell

    There is one wine that is more frequently identified with a kerosene smell than any other, and it is Niagara grape wine. I do not really know the reason for this, but have been told it has to do with skin-juice contact -- that pressing the grapes immediately after crushing them will eliminate it. Riesling, it has been pointed out, will develop a slight kerosene bouquet in about three years. No one really seems to know why. However, the reader was speaking of pear wine, not Niagara or Riesling.

    Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), I've been told, is often added to wine to shift disulfide odors to mercaptans, which can then be removed with copper. Wines with disulfides smell like rubber, vegetables, kerosene, cat urine, or just vaguely dirty. According to my source, ascorbic acid interferes with iodine SO2 tests, giving a false high result. The source does not recommend using ascorbic acid in grape juice immediately after crush (or press for white grapes) as an antioxidant because it scavenges oxygen needed by yeasts during their growth stage. I cannot confirm these claims.

    Another source told me that Rieslings get the smell of kerosene from a chemical called 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydrona­phthalene (TDN for short). The uninformed consider these wines to be a poorly made, but this is normal for Riesling. Again, I cannot confirm this as being true.

    The above explanations have been reviewed by a very good chemist who says they are "reasonable," but cannot confirm they are true in the context to which they were inserted, but that is good enough for me at this time. I'm trying to be helpful, not authoritative.

    Could it Be the Pears?

    The problem, of course, is that these do not necessarily explain the smell in the pear wine. I have made and tasted a great deal of pear wine. Most of my pear wine was from hard, cooking pears (Keiffer, Carnes, or Pineapple pears), but some was from softer, sweeter eating pears. I have learned over the years that neither of these are not the best pears for perry or wine, but they are what I had at hand. But I do not know what kind of pears the reader with the problem used. It might (or might not) make a difference.

    A rather lengthy web search produced the following classification of pears, from Grafton and Cunningham's Perry Pear Varieties web page (second link, below):

    • Sweet pears have low acidity; around 0.2% (w/v) (calculated as malic acid), and fairly low tannin content; below 0.15%(w/v).
    • Medium Sharp pears have an acidity of between 0.2% and 0.6% (w/v) and a tannin content of below 0.15% (w/v).
    • Bittersweet pears have an acidity of below 0.45% (w/v) and a tannin content of above 0.2% (w/v). Very few pear varieties fall into this category.
    • Bittersharp (Astringent-sharp) pears have an acidity of greater than 0.45% (w/v) and a tannin content of greater than 0.2% (w/v). These pears have a penetrating flavour which is very striking since the tannin is astringent rather than bitter. This category of pear is unsuitable for eating (due to the harsh flavour) but makes the best perries.

    Despite following many internal and external links, I could find nothing on the pears themselves that would account for the smell of kerosene (with over 3,000 varieties worldwide, the referenced site lists only a few dozen and so is not inclusive by any means). But elsewhere, I discovered something interesting....

    In the care and maintenance of the pear orchard, as with grape vineyards and gardens in general, trees are treated variously for disease and insect pests. One of the treatments for pear trees is "kerosene emulsion." As the name implies, it is made with kerosene itself (as well as several other ingredients). The directions I found said to spray on foliage 10 or even 15 times in the season. And so I wonder if the reader's problem could have been more direct. Could the pears simply not have been washed well enough...?




    June 11th, 2005

    Well, mustang grapes, they ain't too sweet
    But that mustang wine just can't be beat
    (lyrics of "Mustang Wine" by Steve Earle)

    I have been watching the WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition ever since its inception and have never seen a mustang grape wine place in the Native American Wines categories. This year I thought I would at least introduce the judges to this wonderful Texas staple, even if it didn't place. I was quite surprised to receive a Gold Medal in the mail, along with the judging sheets for my single entry. The only comment among the three judges -- at least the only one conveyed to me -- was, "Much better taste than aroma."

    Yes, grapes of the Vitis mustangensis species do have an unusual aroma that takes a little getting used to if you are unfamiliar with it. In this regard, it is similar to the Vitis labrusca species in that it has an unusual aroma, but the aroma of the mustang is nothing like that of the labruscas. They are quite different and unique, yet signatures unto themselves.

    The WineMaker International judging sheets, like every judging sheet I have ever seen, allows the evaluation of both aroma and bouquet. This competition allows up to 6 points for this most important characteristic, for we all know that smell and taste are the two features of a wine that allow the most enjoyment where it counts -- in the consumption. The WineMaker International sheet allows for the following awarding of points:

    • Exceptional -- Wonderful characteristic aroma of grape variety or wine type. Outstanding and complex bouquet. Exceptional balance of aroma and bouquet. (6 points)
    • Excellent -- Strong characteristic aroma of grape variety or wine type. Complex bouquet. Good balance of aroma and bouquet. (5 points)
    • Good -- Good characteristic aroma of grape variety or wine type. Admirable bouquet. (4 points)
    • Pleasant -- Good characteristic aroma of grape variety or wine type. Pleasant bouquet. (3 points)
    • Acceptable -- No perceptable aroma or bouquet or with slight off odors. (2 points)
    • Needs Improvement -- Off odors very detectable. (1 point)
    • Objectionable -- Offensive odors. (0 points)

    When I entered this wine, I also set aside a bottle to enter in the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) 2005 Spring Competition, as this would yield a true test of how good a mustang wine it actually was. SARWG's judges are very familiar with the mustang grape and most of them make it's wine. The wine placed 1st Place in the SARWG competition and was judged for (but did not win) Best of Show. In evaluating its aroma and bouquet, it earned the highest points allowable. The three WineMaker International judges found the aroma and bouquet to be Excellent (5 points), Acceptable (2 points), and Good (4 points). In other words, they did not know what mustang wine is supposed to smell like. But that is okay. They at least appreciated its taste, appearance and aftertaste, and it did very well in "overall impression."

    For an introductory evaluation, it wasn't bad at all. I only hope that others will enter mustang wines in this competition in future years. It is an important Texas grape, yet is virtually unknown outside this region of the country. It's time it "got around."




    June 6th, 2005

    I received two emails in two days asking where my new Blogs are. My apologies to all who look for them and only find the old ones. Life has been busy, and time has been in short supply. But I'll try to get back into writing for you.

    I received an email this morning from a grape grower "up north" who was complaining that his vines are not flowering as much this year as last. I had to think about that a moment. His grapes are just now in flower. Wow! My bunch grapes have fully grown bunches that will undergo verasion in 6-8 weeks. My mustang grapes will ripen around the end of this month and will start dropping grapes in about 6 weeks. By the end of August, I will have a hard time finding a grape still hanging. Such is the difference between South Texas and "up north." I am blessed.

    A fellow Texas wrote and asked about making wine from mimosa flowers. The mimosa (Albizia julibrissin -- al-BIZ-zee-uh joo-lih-BRISS-in) tree is native to Asia, from Iran to China, and is also known as the Silk Tree. It matures at 15-25 feet in height, 25-35 feet in spread and often has a flattened crown. It is low branching with open, spreading foliage with delicate, fern-like leaves. The pink, silky flowers are globular, pompom-like, very fragrant, and attractants of butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Its light, dappled shade and tropical effect make it popular as a deck or patio tree. It can withstand drought and strong winds and grows well in the American South. It now grows wild throughout much of the eastern half of the United States.

    Its leaves and flowers are used for tea. The flowers can be cooked as a vegetable. While I have never seen a recipe for mimosa wine, I have developed one that makes a very nice, light wine that is best served chilled. The recipe makes a 10-11% alcohol wine -- any stronger and you may have a balance problem.

    Mimosa Flower Wine

    • 2 quarts loosely packed mimosa flowers
    • 1 11-oz can 100% white grape juice concentrate, frozen
    • 1 lb 3 oz granulated sugar (to s.g. 1.076)
    • 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
    • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
    • 6-1/2 pints water
    • 1 crushed Campden tablet
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1 pkt Hock or Champagne wine yeast

    Wash the flowers and put in nylon straining bag with a dozen marbles for weight, tie bag, and place in primary. Heat 1 quart water and dissolve sugar. Cool with frozen grape juice concentrate and remaining water and add to primary. Add remaining ingredients except yeast and stir well. Cover primary and wait 10-12 hours before adding activated yeast. Recover primary, move to a warm place and stir daily. When specific gravity drops to 1.015 or below, drip-drain bag and transfer wine to secondary. Affix airlock and move to cooler (but not cold) place. Rack after 30 days and again after another 30 days, topping up and refitting airlock each time. If fermentation has finished, wine should be clear or begin to clear, although pollen will continue to settle for another 2-3 months. Rack again 90 days after wine has cleared, top up and reattach airlock. Set aside another 90 days to bulk age. Stabilize, sweeten to taste (excellent at 1.010) and rack into bottles. May taste after 6 months in bottle. [Author's own recipe]




    May 17th, 2005

    I received a very nice email back on May 2nd from a reader who pointed out an error in the "Extended Instructions for Making Wines from Kits" published here on December 18th, 2003. He was not the first to point out the error, but for one reason or another I always neglected to correct it until now.

    For the curious, the error was in referring to the quantity of wine made by most kits as 5 gallons when in fact it is 6 gallons. This is not a huge error, but it was an error nonetheless.

    The fact that I just read, answered and acted upon the gentleman's email today, when it was sent on the 2nd, speaks volumes for my schedule. Frequent trips, a backlog of work at home and at my day-job, and a strong desire to spend some time with my wife in the evenings add up to a huge backlog of email. I answered 106 emails over the past four days and still have over 150 waiting to be answered. Please don't write me unless absolutely necessary, and even then be prepared to wait a while for a reply.

    Tamarind Wine Revisited

    Another reader, recalling my blog last December about Tamarind Wine, wanted to point me to a published recipe. I appreciate this gesture immensely. She found the recipe on the About Mead website's posting of Mead Lover's Digest #779, which contained the recipe. Here it is:

    • 6 oz. tamarind pulp
    • 2 lb. sugar
    • 1 tsp. pectic enzyme
    • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
    • wine yeast

    Simmer the tamarind in 1/2 gallon of water for five or ten minutes, strain. Into the liquid, stir the sugar and nutrient. Cool and add the pectic enzyme and yeast. Top up with water to make one gallon. (From Worldwide Winemaking Recipes).

    My own Tamarindo WIne is still mellowing and I am not prepared to report on it yet. Let me just say the recipes are similar but not the same. Stay tuned....




    April 15th, 2005

    Well, it's tax day, I sent our return to the IRS this morning, and now I'm relaxing with a glass of semi-sweet Orange Wine. It's an outstanding wine, if I do say so myself. It took a 1st place in Fruit Wines Dry last Sunday at the Spring Competition of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild. What a tough competition this has become.

    In the Guild, the word Regional is interpreted broadly. Best of Show (Grape Wine) was won handily by Rob Overley of La Coste, Teaxs with an excellent home-grown Champanel, but Best of Show (Non-Grape Wine) was captured by Vernon Speer of Jefferson City, Missouri. Vernon joined the Guild about two weeks before the competition and sent four wines to get a "reality check" on how his skills were developing. Pretty well, I'd say -- all four placed, and he took the Big Kahuna to boot. According to the BOS judges, his Cranberry (Dry) narrowly beat my Hazelnut Mead for top honors, but beat it he did. The winemaker with the most placings was Luke Clark of Leesville, Louisiana, who went home with 12 (I counted them) ribbons.

    I've been asked to publish the recipe for the Hazelnut Mead, one of six wines I entered. All six placed, but the Mead was special. It's been aging for two years and has mellowed out really well.

    An Evolving Mead

    My intention was to make a varietal mead with a white clover honey I purchased from Homebrew Adventures. About the time the honey arrived, I bought a bag of hazelnuts at Sun Harvest, a health food supermarket, in San Antone. I mixed five gallons of must and began fermentation in a primary, as I always do. The initial specific gravity was 1.090. This was transferred to secondary on the 8th day. I did not record the yeast I used, but believe it was Côte des Blancs; in any case it was a very low foamer. A few days later I purchased some absolutely beautiful vanilla beans and decided to draw off a gallon of the mead for fermentation with the beans. This would leave me with four gallons in a 5-gallon carboy -- disaster waiting to happen -- and that's when I thought of the hazelnuts.

    I warmed the oven to 200 degrees F. and placed the shelled nuts in a pie tin in the oven. After 45 minutes, I removed them and let them cool. Then I cracked the nut kernels and put them back in the oven for 15 minutes. I rubbed them with paper towels to absorb the oil that beaded on the kernels. I placed the cracked kernels (about 20 ounces) in a one-gallon jug and the vanilla beans (chopped) in another one-gallon jug and siphoned a gallon of must into each. The remainder of the must went into a 3-gallon carboy. Dividing my initial ingredients by five, the recipe would look something like this:

    Hazelnut Mead

    • 20 oz cracked, dried hazelnut kernels
    • 2.4 lbs clover honey
    • water to make one gallon
    • 3 tsp acid blend
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1 crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
    • Red Star Côte des Blancs yeast

    Bring water to boil and add honey, stirring. When water returns to a boil, reduce heat to hold a simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Spoon off any scum that rises to the surface. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, make a yeast starter with a couple of tablespoons of the honey-water, a pinch of yeast nutrient and 1/2 cup of warm (not hot) water. When honey-water cools to 110 degrees F., transfer to primary and add all ingredients except yeast starter and hazelnuts. Stir to dissolve and cover with sanitized cloth for 6-8 hours. Add yeast starter and recover primary. On 8th day, put hazelnuts in secondary, stir the must to suspend any fallen yeast, and transfer must to secondary until surface is 4 inches below mouth. Attach airlock to secondary. Transfer remaining must to 375-mL bottle and attach airlock (in #3 bung). Ferment two months and check s.g. If below 1.020, strain off hazelnuts and combine musts. Allow sediments to settle and rack into sanitized secondary. Rack as required (I did it every two months) until mead clears, adding crushed and dissolved Campden tablet every other racking. Thereafter, rack every two months for six months. Sweeten with honey-syrup (2 parts honey dissolved in 1 part water) until s.g. is 1.006. Wait 30 days to ensure fermentation does not restart, add Campden if required, and bottle. Age in bottles for two years.




    April 2nd, 2005

    My article, "Grape / Non-Grape Blends," in the April-May 2005 issue of WineMaker magazine was severely edited. Still, they did a good job of making a homogeneous article out of it, considering they cut about 30%. But, what they deleted was material I was extremely proud of. I had thought about posting the deleted material here, but it just doesn't stand alone very well.

    There is one piece of it, however, that does deserve mention. The article makes a somewhat off-handed mention of using the Pearson Square to calculate the ratio of spirit to wine to use when fortifying a wine. This is not how I wrote it. The explanation of the Peason Square was a somewhat major portion of the article.

    WineMaker Magazine

    Feature: Blend Like a Pro


    The editor explained to me that they had recently published an article on the Peason Square and were therefore cutting this section, but the previous piece did not really say what my deleted section said. While I did indeed cover some of the same material, I went on to say that that the Pearson Square could be used to calculate ratios for blends to adjust for any measurable variable -- such as titratable acid (TA), pH, residual sugar, or even SO2. I thought this would be a rather major revelation for most readers of the magazine.

    Pearson Square

    Layout of the Peason Square


    The Pearson Square is normally used in winemaking to calculate how much brandy or other spirit we need to add to a wine to bring its alcohol level up to the range of Port. The figure above shows the Pearson Square for calculating for alcohol. If Wine1 (A) is a 40% alcohol by volume (abv) brandy, Wine2 (B) is a 10% abv Lenoir, and you wanted to blend them to create an 18% abv Port (C), simple math will tell you how much of each to add to the blend. Subtract the value of C from A to derive E, the amount of Wine1 you need. Subtract the value of B from C to derive D, the amount of Wine2 required. The figure below shows these calculated values. You would blend 8 parts (D) of the 10% wine (B) with 22 parts (E) of the 40% brandy (A) to derive an 18% Port (C).

    Pearson Square

    Using the Pearson Square


    But you can just as easily calculate the ratio of wines to blend together to correct known variables -- pH, for example. Just make A the pH of Wine1, B the pH of Wine2, and C the desired pH of the blend. Simple math will yield D (the parts of Wine2) and E (the parts of Wine1) -- the number of units (pints, liters, gallons, etc.) to blend together to achieve the desired pH (C).

    It is recommended that you blend an intermediate sample according to the calculated formula and let it rest for 2-3 weeks to allow the two wines to harmonize or integrate their individualities. Then taste the sample to determine if the calculations yielded the desired taste results. If not, you can play with small variations of the calculated formula, mix these, and let them rest as before to see if any of the results are more satisfying. The sample blends can be in any volumes that fit whatever small wine bottles you have on hand. For example, the author has screw-cap wine bottles in 125-ml, 175-ml, 187-ml, and 250-ml sizes for this and other purposes.

    Because using the Pearson Square to solve for TA or pH involves math with decimals, I have posted a number of JavaScript calculators on a new page on my web site to make it easy for you. The second link below takes you to it..




    March 17th, 2005

    I've been using my Carboy Lifter to rack my elderberry and it truly is a back-saver. The Carboy Lifter is the invention of Martin Benke -- something I've needed for years.

    Martin's invention was born as an idea at a meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) last year. Martin and I were talking about new gadgets for winemakers and I said what I and many other winemakers need is a lift of some sort to lift our carboys. After several severe lower back "events," all stemming from a ruptured disc when I was still a young man, I finally decided I can't afford to lift a 6- or 6.5-gallon carboy any longer. Heck, when I lift a 5-gallon carboy I risk several days of agony.

    Martin took the idea home and a few months later told me at another SARWG meeting that he had built a carboy lift. I wanted to see it. He went out to his vehicle, got it, and demonstrated it to me. I wanted to buy it right then and there, but he wanted to test it a while to make sure it stood up to prolonged use. Last month, after making several modifications, he delivered the first ready-for-sale Lifter to me. I flat love it!

    Carboy Lifter

    6.5-gallons of elderberry on Carboy Lifter


    How Much Is Your Back Worth?

    The last three times I suffered a lower back "event" (that's what my neurologist calls them), I waited until the sciatic nerve pains pretty much encompassed my whole left leg and I could no longer find a tolerable position in which to stand, sit or lay. By then I was a basket case and deserved the frustration my doctor heaped upon me. But I gratefully accepted his prescription for a powerful pain reliever and forced myself to walk next door to the pharmacy for the medication. And every time I lift a big carboy, I risk going through the same ordeal. When I asked Martin how much he wanted for the Lifter, he said he had to get $150 just to make it worthwhile to build them. "Shucks," I said, "my back is worth twice that."

    The Carboy Lifter raises the carboy up to a height of just under 3 feet. It doesn't quite reach my kitchen counter, but does lift it up onto my dining room table and set it gently down. But it really doesn't need to be set on the table. The wine can be racked directly from the carboy while it is on the Lifter.

    The Carboy Lifter sits on 4 wheels for mobility and comes with two mini-pallets upon which to set the carboys. Extra pallets are available. Two forklift-like prongs slip into the pallets to hold and lift them. The forklift portion rides up a column, assisted by bearings. The ratchetted winch works easily and quietly to lift or lower the load.

    Carboy Lifter

    Winch section of Carboy Lifter


    Martin says he can ship the Carboy Lifter anywhere in the contiguous 48 states for under $30. While I don't usually promote products, I make an exception here. No one, no matter how young and fit at the time, should lift a 6- or 6.5-gallon carboy of wine. Wine kit manufacturers went from 5-gallon to 6-gallon batches, and put the back of every customer who buys their product in jeopardy. Martin Benke has made it possible for even my wife to manager a 6-gallon carboy, and that's worth promoting.

    Martin Benke can be reached at L & M General Store, 7800 FM 471 South, Castroville, Texas 78009, (210) 854-2178 or at home at (830) 538-6492.

    February 21st, 2005

    Yesterday was the February meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG). We met at the country home of Lesley Lunt and Martin Benke near Hondo, Texas, and it was a very worthwhile event for all who attended. The weather was perfect for an outdoor gathering, the variety of wines on the tasting table was truly vast, and the food and company was top- drawer.

    Speaking of the tasting table, there was something there for everyone's taste -- a Cherry/ Raisin blend, Strawberry, a Pear/Chardonnay blend, Blueberry, a Blackberry/Dewberry blend, Vanilla Mead, Peach, Prickly Pear Cactus fruit, a Pineapple/Peach/Banana blend, Tangerine, Chardonel, Norton, Syrah, Mustang, Concord, Pinot Grigio, and at least a dozen others. Ten guests shared the afternoon with us and we picked up eight new members (four couples). I have no doubt the tasting table was the best reason for joining the Guild.

    Participation in a home winemaking club is the best and most enjoyable way to advance one's skills and horizons in this wonderful hobby. Not only does one get an opportunity to share their own wines and receive feedback on them, but one gets to taste a large variety of different wines made in different styles and talk to the people when made them. Through such discussions, one can solve nagging problems, gain insight into different approachs to making the same wine, discover new yeast strains, additives and equipment, and generally tap into a ready-made network of expertise in your own area. Even if the club's membership is spread out across seven states, as is SARWG's, there are plenty of members within 20-30 miles of any but the most peripheral of the "locals," and that means numerous opportunities for advice, assistance, collaboration, or sharing specialized equipment.

    Club Programs

    Yesterday the SARWG meeting had several program activities for the benefit of all members and guests. Martin Benke demonstrated a method he developed for sweetening dry wines prior to bottling. In the process, he also demonstrated a simple homemade siphon starter he made -- not a new idea, but perhaps new to some attendees. I gave a short presentation on evaluating and judging wine color, part of an ongoing training program to prepare the membership for wine judge certification and elevate the skills of certified judges.

    We then had our annual grape cuttings exchange, where members bring trimmed cuttings from their vines and exchange them freely among the members. During that portion of the program, Marvin Nebgen, SARWG President, gave an impromptu demonstration of how to prepare cuttings for callousing. Members discussed historical dates for bud-break, soil pH preferences for the various varieties being exchanged, disease resistence or tolerance of the various grapes, spray and nutrient scheduling, pruning techniques, various trellising systems, and all manner of subjects contributory to better viticulture.

    Wherever you live, I encourage you to seek out and join a home winemaking club, guild or circle. The rewards far outweigh the cost if you are just a little active, and since most such groups publish a monthly newsletter, being active can consist of just a little reading each month. Listed below are websites of a few such organizations. Visit the last link for a larger listing of winemaking and wine appreciation clubs.




    January 29th, 2005

    Recently, a question was asked about transferring wine from primary to secondary to begin the "secondary fermentation." Forget that a question was asked. Instead, consider for a moment, as I did, the use of the term "secondary fermentation,"

    I apologized up front for my response, but words mean things and if we are going to communicate effectively we have to use them correctly. This may not concern you, but it should. Communication is essential for developing and maintaining a society, but especially critical where a core of specialized terms define processes -- as in winemaking. When I began constructing my web site, The Winemaking Home Page, the very first page I built was "A Glossary of Winemaking Terms." I consider the language we use in winemaking that important.

    Secondary Fermentation

    From the time you pitch the yeast until they all lay dead on the bottom of the carboy, it is all the "primary fermentation."

    A "secondary fermentation" is either, (1) a separate, second inoculation injected into bottles of primed wine for making sparkling wine by the Champagne method, or (2) a second inoculation to revive a stuck or sluggish fermentation, or (3) a malo-lactic fermentation.

    I know it is easy to associate "primary fermentation" with the fermentation in the primary and "secondary fermentation" with the fermentation in the secondary, but that is not what the terms mean. If one wants to be understood by other winemakers, one should stop using these terms incorrectly. Years ago we used to say "fermentation (in primary)" and "fermentation (in carboy)" to denote the two, but today we usually say "vigorous fermentation" and "subdued fermentation" or just "fermentation." When you say "secondary fermentation" to a real winemaker, he or she will automatically think you mean one of the three accepted meanings of the term. It is a small point, but important.

    Aerobic and Anaerobic Fermentation

    In a similar vein, another person wrote, "A long time ago, fermentations were explained to me as aerobic, in a primary fermentor with lots of ullage, and anaerobic, topped up in a secondary fermentor."

    It still works that way, but a number of years ago some really eye-opening discoveries were made by scientists that changed our understanding. But this is kind of involved, so please bear with me.

    In the days of aerobic and anaerobic consciousness, we fermented the must aerobically in primary a few days and then transferred the must to secondary for the anaerobic phase. Stuck fermentations were very common back then, and because the transferred musts were usually around 1.030 to 1.050 s.g., this was a serious problem. But the problem could be overcome by simply leaving the must in aerobic conditions longer -- until the s.g. got low enough that a stuck fermentation would not be catastrophic if it occurred.

    In the commercial winemaking world, variable capacity tanks were invented with their "floating tops." This made it possible for wineries to ferment their must aerobically in an open tank or a vented one with large ullage, then drop the top down to the level of the must and airlock it for anaerobic fermentation. By not moving the wine until the s.g. was down to 1.010 or lower, stuck fermentations were greatly reduced and the wine did not really have to be moved until it was racked -- unless style dictated otherwise.

    But for the home winemaker, the variable capacity tank was impractically large and smaller sizes were impractically expensive. So we solved the problem in one of several ways.

    One way was to continue as before, but ferment longer in primary and transfer to secondary when the potential damage caused by a stuck fermentation is minimized. But once the vigorous phase of fermentation passed, the CO2 blanket protecting it would blow off and the wine was susceptible to premature oxidation. Sulfites helped, but they are not foolproof in the hands of novices, and we were all novices once.

    Another option was to use a primary with a rigid, sealable top. After 72 hours or so of aerobic fermentation (with the top off, or at least not sealed), the top was fitted with an airlock and otherwise sealed. The large ullage was still filled with CO2 and if the top was removed the ullage could be flooded with CO2 from a cylinder as the top was replaced. Then, at first racking, the wine could be transferred to a properly-sized secondary.

    Still another way was to use a larger than necessary carboy for the primary and simply cap it with an airlock after a few days of aerobic fermentation. The wine could be left there until the first racking, with the ullage sparged with CO2 from a cylinder if required.

    There were other methods as well, but all required an external source of CO2 (or an inert gas such as argon) to do them right.

    Then scientists discovered that healthy yeast actually create a micro-anaerobic environment around them when they transition from reproductive to fermentation mode. So, from the point of view of the yeast, there no longer was any reason to create anaerobic conditions to trigger fermentation. The need for anaerobic conditions continued, but now it was largely for the benefit of the wine itself -- to prevent premature oxidation. For those who did not want CO2 or argon cylinders in the house, early sulfite applications became even more critical than ever, but the methods described above still worked without the protective gas layer. There was simply elevated risk to the wine.

    So, where does that leave us today? Do we care about aerobic and anaerobic fermentations? Yes we do, even though we realize they are not as critical as we once thought for the actual creation o f alcohol. But the creation of aerobic and anaerobic conditions are still extremely important to the prevention of premature oxidation.




    January 22nd, 2005

    Time flies very quickly when you are very busy. I've been very busy. After taking a two-week holiday vacation, I returned to work and found 338 emails awaiting me. It took a full day to scroll through them all, delete the ever-growing number of virus warnings (provided by my antivirus software) and spam, and sort the remainder into folders, by subject, for later attention. The next morning my computer would not boot. My IT manager came by and determined the hard drive had failed.

    As the Information Systems Security Officer at work, I frequently tell people to back-up their data. I frequently back-up my own, but what I back-up are my documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and database files. What I failed to back-up were my *.pst (email), *.pab (address book), and *.html (favorites) files. These were all on my C drive, while the data files I frequently backed-up are on my D drive. It was my C drive that failed.

    I spend between six and seven hours a day on my computer -- most of that time in email or in files sent and received by email. I had many, many folders packed with emails containing data files as attachments. Suddenly, they were all gone. In an instant I discovered the vulnerability in my filing and back-up systems. We decided the data lost was worth the cost of an attempted data retrieval. We shipped my hard drive, with a new, identical drive, to a company that specializes in recovering data from catastrophic failures. Two days later we got the bad news. The read-write head had crashed against the internal disks as they attempted to spin-up and physically destroyed their surfaces. There would be no data recovery.

    I mention this to all of you to motivate you, hopefully, into a more serious back-up program than I subscribed to. Back up your data -- all of it.

    Internet Winemaking Forums

    I belong to a number of internet-based discussion groups, forums, and use groups, as well as a number of internet-based, email-delivered, group lists. For the former you must log-in at the site to participate. For the latter the messages are delivered to your email in-box. You can reply or not. While I belong to many, I really do not participate that much. I have very limited time and just reading the messages is time-consuming. But recently I have spent a few hours at WinePress. US' Wine Making and Grape Growing Forums. On one of the forums I came across an interesting case of acid deficiency.

    The Importance of Acid

    A woman made a 6-gallon batch of marigold wine that finished fermenting to dryness (0.990 s.g.) in early November. While she has not yet revealed all the ingredients she used, she did reveal she put 2 teaspoons of acid blend in it. No other acid is mentioned (yet -- the thread is still on-going). The wine has been sulfited but not sorbated. She commented, in a discussion about degassing, that her wine has started actively bubbling again after being still for 2-1/2 months. She thought perhaps it was gas (CO2) coming out of solution.

    One participant thought it might be either bacterial action or a low-pressure weather cell passing through. I too thought it might be bacterial -- perhaps a malolactic fermentation (MLF). I suggested she (1) check sulfite level, correct to an aseptic level if needed, and wait 3 weeks. (2) An MLF is unlikely unless you added malic to the must (as acid blend, perhaps), and then it is possible (ML bacteria could have gotten in during atmospheric exposure while racking). If you bring wine up to an aseptic SO2 level and it was MLF, it will stop before the 3 weeks pass. If it doesn't stop, then degass the wine.

    marigold wine

    Six gallons, marigold wine


    When she tested for sulfite, her reading was 20 ppm. She added 4 Campden tablets to the wine to bring it up to about 50 ppm (her estimate). I asked if she had an acid test kit, a pH meter or even narrow-range litmus strips. Unless I had missed something, her acidity has to be low and the pH high. She simply didn't have enough acid in there from what had been revealed. I would have initially used 9 tsp of acid blend for 6 gallons of flower wine -- and then tested the acidity to see if and how much more I needed to add.

    Low titratable acid (TA), high pH and a low level of SO2 are a dangerous combination. For a white flower wine, I would want the TA up around 6.0 to 6.5 grams/liter and the pH down between 3.5-3.2. SO2 needs should be calculated based on pH. Here are the pH values in a white wine (first number) and unbound SO2 requirements (second number) to reach an aseptic level (i.e. where most bacteria can't live):

    pH--SO2 needed

    3.4--50 ppm
    3.5--60 ppm
    3.6--70 ppm
    3.7--80 ppm
    3.8--90 ppm
    3.9--100 ppm
    4.0--110 ppm
    4.2--130 ppm
    4.4--150 ppm

    The actual amount needed is impossible to accurately calculate without knowing the pH of the wine, but I would add 6 more crushed and dissolved Campden tablets to this wine and measure again. I would not be concerned if I over-sulfited. When she added the 4 Campden tablets previously, she mentioned that the wine foamed -- an indication it was saturated with CO2. simply degassing the wine would blow off some of the SO2.

    Another person thought adding 10 Campden tablets (her 4 plus my recommended 6) was way to much to add all at once. But my concern was that her problem was microbial -- a bacteria -- and her wine's chemistry was perfect for a runaway infection. Let's just look at what else we know about it.

    The only acid she initially mentioned is the 2 teaspoons of acid blend. If that is the only acid in the wine, there are serious problems. Two teaspoons of acid blend weigh about 10.2 grams. In 6 gallons (22.7 liters), this equates to about 1/2 gram of acid per liter, a far cry from the desired level of 6 to 6.5 grams per liter. There was also some acid locked in those marigold petals used as base, but it really wasn't much. She later revealed she used 4 cans of Welch's white grape juice in the must, so this improved her numbers considerably. But my estimations still say her TA is low and her pH high. What the exact numbers are is anyone's guess. It has to be measured to know, and for that one needs testing equipment kit -- which she doesn't have.

    Our forum discussion continues and I have no doubt her wine will be fine in the long run, but the discussion should make evident several things. First, the importance of acid in wine should be carefully calculated or measured. Second, both pH and TA are important and you need to know the approximate numbers. Third, a wine's SO2 requirement (dose) is dependent upon the wine's pH, so use litmus paper if nothing else. Finally, even if you are following a proven recipe for a wine, you still need the means to measure and monitor SO2, TA and pH.

    SO2 test kits are around $22 for the Titrets and Titrettor. Acid (TA) test kits vary from $7 to $10. Low-cost pH meters are now available for around $40 and calibrating solutions for less than $6. And if this busts your budget, you can still use the old-fashioned litmus paper strips for wine -- with a narrow range of 2.8 to 4.4 -- for under $3 (all $ are US).





    December 31st, 2004

    Yesterday's blog was only posted a few hours before I received an email about it. I have now received three emails and a phone call from Seattle on some aspect of it and have decided to post an immediate correction.

    Yes Roberto, 19 tamarindos to a quart of water would be undrinkable. I meant to type one-zero (ten) but hit the nine key instead of the zero. I have corrected the original post.

    Thank you, Mark, for pointing out that tamarindo wine is made in Cuba. I just Googled the parameters and found a reference to it, but no recipe (see first link, below).

    Thank you Kitch and Steve for reminding me that I did indeed try making this wine several years ago. No, I have not forgotten, although it was such a disaster I do try to forget it. For those unfamiliar with that attempt, In early 2000 I made a wine from a tamarind paste I bought at a gourmet shop in San Antonio (that was before I discovered the pods elsewhere -- today I can find them in any large South Texas market at a very reasonable price). I used the whole amount in the jar (8.5 ounces, according to my log), which was way too much. The wine was so sour it was undrinkable. I aged it for almost two years with no improvement and then blended 750-ml of it with 3 liters of Niagara. The rest was tossed. The blend was very nice, but was not a pure tamarindo wine. Therefore, I do not claim it as such.

    Tiny URL

    The first three URL's that follow this entry are from use groups. Each URL to the thread entry cited was 230 or more characters long. Even when the URL is buried in HTML code, that is simply too long a URL to work with. They would be even more difficult if I were pasting them into an email, as they would break over to many lines and the chances of such a long URL working at the other end of the email is problematic. So, I used a service called "Tiny URL" to reduce the long addresses into very short ones.

    For example, the URL to the first link was as follows:

    http://groups-beta.google.com/group/soc.culture.cuba/browse_
    thread/thread/47dafabe28cc7ade/64fa80a2a53bb63e?q=tamarind+w
    ine&_done=%2Fgroups%3Fq%3Dtamarind+wine%26start%3D0%26hl%3De
    n%26&_doneTitle=Back+to+Search&&d#64fa80a2a53bb63e

    The Tiny URL service convered it to the following:

    http://tinyurl.com/628p8

    Much easier to deal with, eh? The last link following this entry will take you to the Tiny URL site, where you can convert any long, unwieldly URL into a tiny one that can easily be emailed.





    December 30th, 2004

    Today is my birthday, so I began a wine I have never made before. Indeed, I have never heard of a wine made from this base. The base is tamarindo (a.k.a. tamarind, tamarindi, tamarinde, tamarindy, tamarin). As for my birthday, I turned sixty today. I don't feel it. I'm not sure what age I feel, but it certainly isn't sixty.

    Tamarindo

    Tamarindo in Arabic is tamr hindi, which simply means "date of India." It looks nothing like a date if we think of dates as being the fruit of certain palm trees. But I am told that "date" is derived from Greek (daktylos) and means "finger." If so, the tamarindo's fruit looks more like a daktylos than the fruit of those palm trees.

    tamarindo beans

    Tamarindo pods (Tamarindus indica )


    The fruit of the tamarindo tree (Tamarindus indica ) is actually in a bean-like pod containing several black beans encased in a thick, brown, paste-like pulp. It is this pulp that is of interest. Most of us have tasted tamarindo whether we know it or not. It is a major taste component of the original Worcestershire sauce and is an ingredient of many steak sauces, barbeque sauces, meat marinades, curries, and chutneys. The pulp is made into a soft drink known as refresco de tamarindo in Latin America and enjoyed here in Texas. Indeed, it was after I drank my first refresco de tamarindo several years ago that I resolved to try using it as a wine base. I have only now gotten around to attempting it.

    The tamarindo tree can get 90 feet tall but is usually less than 50 feet. It has a short, stocky trunk, drooping branches and a domed umbrella shaped crown about as wide as the tree's height. It can produce as much as 500 pounds of pods a year. The pulp that surrounds the seeds is both sweet and extremely sour (acidic). Originally, the tree was from Africa, but now is grown throughout the tropics. It is hardy up into Zones 10-11.

    According to one web site, being highly acidic, tamarindo is a refrigerant (cooling in the heat) and febrifuge (for fighting fevers). The Ananga Ranga suggests consuming tamarindo for enhancing a woman’s sexual enjoyment. This claim had no influence on my decision to attempt a tamarindo wine.

    Refresco de Tamarindo

    The tamarindo drink I enjoy (completely non-alcoholic) on hot summer days is homemade refresco de tamarindo. The pods are available in almost any large market that caters to Latinos. In South Texas, that means most of them. About 10 pods are required to make a quart of the drink. The pods are peeled and the fibrous veins are removed. Half the water is brought to a boil and the fruit dropped in. After about 15 minutes, the water is set aside to cool. When the pulp is cool enough to handle, remove the seeds from the pulp with your hands. Discard the seeds. Put the pulp, cooking water and 3/4 cup of sugar in a blender and then liquefy. Strain this mixture through several layers of cheesecloth into a pitcher and add the remaining water. Mix well and chill before serving.

    Once you have tasted this beverage, you will see the potential for making a wine. Whether it can be done or not will be reported in the future. It has only been an hour since I pitched the yeast.





    December 14th, 2004

    A reader recently asked when he should perform his first racking -- he had heard at 1.040 specific gravity. But, while gravity should be consulted when performing the first racking, that alone is not the criteria I adhere to.

    First Racking

    Racking should be done when necessary, not at specific times or intervals. However, many recipes -- including some of my own --say to ferment in primary for n days and then transfer to secondary. It is easier to say that than explain the following, so just keep it all in perspective. The rule is, as long as there are fresh deposits on the bottom of the fermentation vessel after a regular interval (30 to 60 days), even if they are just a light dusting, the wine should be racked. Only when that interval passes and there are no fresh lees -- AND the specific gravity is 1.000 or lower -- is the wine ready to be prepared for bottling. But that begs the question of when to perform the first racking.

    I do my first racking only after the vigorous fermentation in primary has stopped. The wine is still fermenting, but not producing enough CO2 to blanket the wine and keep oxygen out. It makes no difference what the s.g. is when this happens, as long as it is below 1.040 and is still falling. If not below that, I tend to think the fermentation is stuck and begin making another yeast starter. Better to be safe than sorry.

    Subsequent Racking

    For subsequent rackings, it is not necessary that the interval between rackings be 30 days, 45 days or 60 days, but it should not be less than three weeks. It is perfectly okay to leave the wine on the lees for three months. Beyond that and the wine enters a danger zone caused by dead yeast cells breaking down -- rotting. While this can cause off-flavors and odors if allowed to go on too long, the bigger danger is the formation of hydrogen-sulfide gas, which smells like rotten eggs and can be the death of the wine. But if the lees are stirred every week or so, neither the off flavors, off odors nor hydrogen-sulfide gas form. Indeed, the wine is actually improved by extended contact with the lees as long as they are stirred frequently.

    During this entire period, the sulfur dioxide gas released into the wine from crushed Campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite is slowly dissipated through the airlock and its protective qualities are lost. It is therefore necessary to replenish this protection by adding a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet per gallon (or an appropriate amount of potassium metabisulfite), and this is done at every other racking (or half a Campden tablet per gallon is added at every racking). The new sulfites are added to the receiving secondary and the wine racked into it.





    November 21st, 2004

    I have often been asked about making pulque wine. I love this question, not because of what it asks (although it is a strange question), but because of who asks it. Most often it is asked by readers south of the border in Mexico, and it pleases me that they visit my web site and read this blog. The strange thing about the question is that pulque is not a wine but more like a cider or flat beer, so they are asking to go beyond pulque and make wine.

    Pulque

    For those unfamiliar with this drink, pulque is a fermented drink made from the sap of agaves, a hardy desert plant that supports an entire industry in Mexico. Pulque itself is a soured brew of 6-7% alcohol. Pulque and agave pulp are distilled to make mescal (also spelled Mezcal) and tequilla. The former can be slightly golden in tint, but the latter is almost always a clear, fiery drink. Pulque wine (actually, maguey or agave wine) will be a white wine, without the sour taste of pulque.

    The maguey agave (Agave salminae) is the plant of choice for making pulque and mescal. The blue agave is favored for making tequilla, although other species (including magueys) can be used. Although often called the Century Plant, it is not. The true Century Plant is the Agave americana and can be used for making pulque. But the maguey yields the greatest amount of sap per plant, as much as 150 gallons before the plant dies. Yes, you must kill the plant to make these drinks.

    Maguey agaves

    Maguey agaves (Agave salminae)


    Most magueys destined to be made into pulque, mescal and tequilla are grown in plantations. When the plants are about eight to ten years old, they begin to send up a quiote (stem or cane) as high as thirty feet, that bears flowers carrying between three to five thousand fertile seeds. But it is not allowed to do this. Instead, the heart of the plant (called a piñas) is cut out of it and a cavity excavated. This is covered with a loosely woven cloth, like cheese cloth, and the cavity fills with sap -- the agua miel (literally "honey water" -- liquid that accumulates in the cavity of the plant). It is regularly pumped dry and fills again and again for six to eight months until eventually the plant dies. The piñas are slow roasted in an earthen pit for several days under a covering of palm-fiber mats, maguey fibers, and soil. Then, after resting in the shade for a week, the piñas are ground to a mash by horse-driven stone mills. The mash is transferred to large wooden vats and the only other ingredient, water (about 5%), is added. This then ferments for a month and is twice distilled to make mescal.

    Maguey or Agave Wine

    One will need some sap from a maguey or other agave plant. I know of no commercial source for the sap, so one must sacrifice a maguey (or other agave) to make it. Do NOT attempt to harvest the sap of the aloe -- although an agave, it is unsuitable for this purpose.

    • 7 pints of maguey sap
    • 1-1/2 lbs sugar (to s.g. 1.090)
    • 3/4 tsp acid blend
    • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • 1 Campden tablet, crushed and dissolved
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • Red Star Montrachet yeast

    Add one crushed and dissolved Campden tablet to the maguey sap in a primary. Cover and let sit for 12 hours. Add the acid blend, pectic enzyme, grape tannin, yeast nutrient, and sugar. Stir well to thoroughly dissolve the sugar. Recover the primary and set aside for another 12 hours. Add an activated yeast starter and recover the primary. The must should ferment quickly. Transfer to secondary when s.g. reaches 1.010, attach an airlock, and set aside to finish. When fermentation ceases, rack and top up the wine. Then degass it and stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate and another crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Refit the airlock and set aside again. Wait a full month and rack again, sweeten to taste and bottle. [Author's own recipe]





    November 7th, 2004

    I get many emails about fermentations not starting. Despite having said it many times before, I'll say it again. The best way to ensure a yeast starts is to make a yeast starter a day or two in advance of needing it. This is especially true when making melon wines (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, etc.), as they spoil very rapidly and the only way to ensure they ferment quickly, before the juice sours, is to inoculate them with a very active, healthy starter. Most importantly for all other wines, a starter tells you very quickly if your yeast are still viable.

    Making a Yeast Starter

    The preferred method of adding an active dry yeast (ADY) culture to a must is to add a yeast starter, or activated culture, to the aseptic must. This simply means the yeast is introduced to a liquid medium favorable to rapid activation and propagation one to three days prior to adding to the must. The liquid with the activated culture is then added to the must as required, where the yeast culture very rapidly propagates to a desired density.

    This method is preferable to adding the ADY culture directly to the must for several reasons. First and foremost, it results in a rapid fermentation. The flavors, aromas and nuances we want to capture from the must and impart into our wine are often very perishable and dissipate or change within days if not hours. The sooner the yeast can get to work capturing them, the better the resulting wine will be. Adding a starter, as opposed to adding the ADY culture directly from the foil packet, can save one to several days, depending on the yeast strain and the size of the batch of must.

    Secondly, it ensures viability of the strain. Normally, when you purchase a sachet of yeast you have no idea how old the ADY culture inside the packet is. Given a constant and acceptable temperature, the culture can survive for years in the foil without detriment. But the foil packets could have been--and probably were--shipped without regard to temperature. The box in which they were shipped could have sat in the sun on the tarmac at Los Angeles International in 110 degrees heat for an hour before being loaded in the plane that took it to your regional airport hub or local point of entry. It was then taken by truck to a transshipment warehouse where it may have sat for days in similar heat before being trucked to your city and then to your supplier. If 90% of the culture baked in the process, it will take that much longer for the culture to build to a density conducive to your needs. If 100% of the culture baked, you could easily waste a week discovering that fact, and during that week your must deteriorates and possibly is ruined. By making a starter solution two days before needed, you would have discovered that the yeast was non-viable within a day and still had time to prepare another.

    Thirdly, a starter properly made, using water, a small quantity of the must itself and some nutrients, will acclimate the yeast to its destined environment. When the starter is added to the primary, it will practically explode with activity and do what nature and selection programmed it to do and do it that much more efficiently.

    The correct method of making a starter is to rehydrate the yeast, activate its life cycle, and add it to the must. The optimum way to rehydrate the yeast is to add it directly to 1/2 cup of 100-degree F. tap water (the harder the water the better; do not use distilled water). Stir gently, cover, allow to rehydrate for at least 30 minutes, attemperate to within 10 degrees F. of the must or juice, and then add to it 1/4 cup of pre-sweetened, reconstituted juice (not pure concentrate) or strained must. Re-cover the starter, set it in a warm place and leave it alone. Check on it 24 hours later to ensure it is viable and add it to the must the next day. For highly acidic (native grapes) or potentially troublesome musts or juices (like blueberry, peach, or Ribena blackcurrant juice), I add another 1/4 cup of strained must or juice every 4 to 12 hours until "pitched" into the primary to better acclimate the yeast to the conditions they will be living in. There are other methods of starting a culture and most are just as successful, but this method was recommended by George Clayton Cone of Lallemand, the makers of Lalvin wine yeasts, and that is good enough an endorsement for me.

    The best method of adding the starter to the must (in a primary) is to hold a large spoon just above the surface of the must and pour the culture slowly into the spoon. It will splatter and overflow and the culture will spread across the surface of the must. That is where you want it, for the culture needs oxygen the first 48-72 hours in order to propagate rapidly and in good health. Cover the primary with a sanitized muslin cloth and leave it alone for 24 hours. It will be actively fermenting by then. Stir it shallowly, recover the primary, and give it another 24 hours. Then stir it deeply.

    Lallemand's scientists found that some musts and juices contain sprays, toxins and excessive SO2 that can be detrimental to the activity of yeast. The dry yeast is like a sponge for the first few seconds in liquid and will absorb everything into the cell that it would normally reject in the rehydrated form. Many home winemakers add the ADY culture directly to the must or juice and get away with it. However, many times it is the beginning of a sluggish or stuck fermentation. There are over 150 billion yeast cells in a 5-gram packet of Lallemand yeast. If you kill off half of them by improper rehydration, you still have 75 billion cells to work with. This 75 billion will go on to do a good job most of the time, but whatever killed off the other 75 billion may have seriously affected the health of the survivors. Can you spell "stuck fermentation?" A little prudence is good insurance.

    If you forget to make a starter or simply don't want to, then inoculate the must by sprinkling the ADY culture evenly over the top of the must and DON'T stir it in. Cover the primary and take a peek 12 hours later. If viable, there will be a prominent yeast colony across the surface and evidence in the form of a thin foam and/or a distinctly yeasty smell. Stir it shallowly into the must and 12 hours later stir it deeply. If there is no evidence of the yeast's viability, wait another 12 hours and check again. If still no evidence, inoculate again. Better yet, make a starter. Better late than sorry.





    October 22nd, 2004

    A little over a month ago I entered a Mustang Rosé in the Medina County (Texas) Fair's Home Wine Competition. They did not have a "Rosé" category, so I entered it in the "Red Table Wine" category, the same category a Mustang Rosé had won Best of Show a few years back. My rosé received 0 points for color. Despite the label that said "Mustang Rosé," both judges faulted it for being too light. One judge wrote, "Wines of this type can only be deep red." This was nonsensical bias and completely ignored the style in which the wine had purposely been made (and so labeled).

    Last Sunday I was Head Judge at the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's Autumn Competition. In my pre-judging briefing, I told the judges they had to leave their biases behind and respect the declared style of the winemaker. It was one heck of a competition, one I thoroughly enjoyed being part of. My White Mustang took a first place and my Mustang Rosé took a second. Both received maximum points for color appropriateness although neither was "deep red." That is how it should be when the color matches the labeled style.

    To those who do not belong to a winemaking club, guild, circle, or society, all I can say is you are missing out on a great experience. Not only are you missing out of participating in the conduct of regional competitions, but you are missing out of the monthly interactions with other winemakers. Most importantly, you are missing out on tasting the variety of wines that appear at every gathering for everyone's enjoyment. And when you say, "Hey, this Sassafras Wine is pretty good. How was it made?" the winemaker will always beam and tell you whatever you need to know.

    Many people write to me and ask what dandelion wine, fig wine, honeysuckle mead, mayhaw wine, or any number of others actually taste like. There is no way to answer these questions except to pour a glass of each and offer them a taste. You can do this every month if you belong to an organization that celebrates the making of wines in the home. If you don't, you can go a lifetime without ever being offered half of them. What a waste.

    If there isn't a local winemaking group organized in your area, it might be time to organize one. I don't know what the best way to do this is, but the tried and true way is to talk to the owner of your local homebrew/winemaking shop and ask if he or she will allow you to post a flier announcing an organizing meeting. The shop owner may even offer their premises for the first meeting, or may be willing to place a flier in the bag of every customer who buys winemaking supplies. Some shop owners send out their own fliers or a newsletter to customers and might include your flier in their next mailing. Finally, some shops sponsor clubs because promoting the hobby is good for their business.

    The first meeting can be at the shop, a neutral site (a restaurant) or at someone's home. Wherever it is, be sure you obtain permission well in advance to set up a "tasting table" of homemade wines for the enjoyment of attendees. And that should be the price of admission -- a bottle of homemade (or commercial) wine for the tasting table. The first meeting should be a discussion of the proposal to organize such a group and collect contact information from those interested in attending a second meeting. Set a standard time and date -- the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) meets the third Sunday of each month at 1:00 p.m. except on Father's Day (change to the 2nd or 4th Sunday) and November when the Executive Board (officers) meets. A holiday party in December is held earlier in the month for obvious reasons.

    The second meeting should be the actual organizing meeting, when by-laws are drafted, acting officers selected until the first election, and ideas solicited for the programs for the next several meetings. SARWG rotates its meetings among members' homes, with an occasional meeting held at a local winery. Programs can be a discussion of closures, yeast strains, pressing techniques, grapevine propagation, grapevine pruning, or anything you agree on.

    If you wish to explore this idea further, feel free to visit the SARWG web site for ideas.




    October 15th, 2004

    Luke Clark wrote to me a few days ago to remind me it is sugar cane harvest time in Louisiana. He has a hankering to make sugar cane wine and woindered if I had a recipe. I thought I did, but after searching only found a reference to making wine from sugar cane -- no recipe. A Google search revealed ample evidence that wine is made throughout the tropic and temperate zones from sugar cane. It goes by a variety of names. After several search strategies, I finally found one recipe.

    The following recipe is from "Recipes from Guyana and the Caribbean," a web site. I will first give the recipe as it is published, and then will enhance it a bit to yield a more balanced and (hopefully) better tasting wine.

    Sugar Cane Wine (1)

    • 3 lbs of white sugar
    • 3 joints of sugar cane (about 3 lbs)
    • 4-6 pints of water
    • 1 tsp of yeast

    Peel and cut the cane into very small pieces. Put all the ingredients into a clean jar and set aside for 9 weeks. Strain and bottle. Repeat this after 2 weeks.

    This, to me, will not be a balanced wine. It contains no acidity or tannin to speak of, no antioxidant, no sulfite. Three pounds of sugar will produce too high an alcohol level or too sweet a wine. I think it can be improved upon as follows

    Sugar Cane Wine (2)

    • 1 3/4 lbs of white sugar
    • 3 joints of sugar cane (about 3 lbs)
    • 6 pints of water
    • 1 3/4 tsp acid blend
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • 1 Campden tablet, crushed and dissolved
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • Red Star Premier Curvee yeast

    Peel and cut the cane into very small pieces. Place in nylon straining bag and mash in primary as best you can. Add all ingredients except yeast and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover and wait 12 hours, then add activated yeast starter. Recover and ferment 9 days, stirring twice daily. Remove bag, drain well, discard pulp, and transfer liquid to one-gallon secondary. Attach airlock and set aside 3 days. Top up and refit airlock. When fermentation ceases, wait two weeks and rack. Wait until wine clears, then rack again, add another crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Dissolve 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate into 1/2 cup of wine, stir into secondary and refit airlock. Wait about 3 days, then taste wine and sweeten to taste. Refit airlock, wait 2-3 weeks, and bottle. Store in dark place for 9-12 months, then drink.




    October 8th, 2004

    It is difficult to believe it has been nearly four weeks since I made an entry in the WineBlog. Time has literally flown by, with two competitions and a newspaper interview since I last wrote.

    County Fairs

    The county fair is a great place to enter wines in competition. You not only get great feedback, but get to meet some great people in the community. I entered some wines in the Medina County Fair at Hondo, Texas. I won three ribbons for my wines, but my real joy was witnessing my good friends Luke and Lynette Clark take five firsts. Luke took Best of Show (Grape) and Lynette earned an Honorable Mention (Grape). Peter Jacoby won Best of Show (Non-Grape) with a wild persimmon wine, the first time I have seen this lowly fruit take the grand prize.

    Luke Clark, of Leesville, Louisiana, entered his first ever mustang wines (a sweet and a dry) and each beat all competitors (including my own). Luke made these wines from grapes I picked last June in Pleasanton, Texas and brought to him in Louisiana. There are mustang grapes in his area, but they are difficult to find and not in large quantity. Lynette's big win was with Clair Muscardine, a grape Luke isolated from the wild and propagated.

    My own wines did better at the Atascosa County Fair in Poteet, Texas -- no doubt because Luke and Lynette were not there. My sweet blueberry was declared Grand Champion. It was made from blueberries grown by Luke Clark in Louisiana.

    I encourage all home winemakers to enter their wines in their county fair. It is a great tradition and the fairs are there for you. If your fair does not have a home winemaking competition, start writing your Fair Board about starting one. Also, if you send me a copy of the rules for your fair, I'll do my best to publish them on my web site.

    Wild Persimmons

    The Texas Persimmon (Diospyros texana), also known as the Mexican Persimmon, Black Persimmon or Chapote, ranges from Oklahoma down into northeastern Mexico. It is often a multi-trunked evergreen bush growing to 10-12 feet in height, but can rise to a 20-40-foot tree after many years. It is often pruned to a single trunk as an ornamental. It has green fruit that are astringent, but they turn dark brown to black when ripe -- usually after a frost or freeze -- and are then quite sweet. The fruit are small, usually not over an inch in diameter, and are an important winter food for wildlife.

    Texas Persimmon

    Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana)


    More widely distributed is Diospyros virginiana, or American Persimmon. It ranges from Florida to New England and west to Texas and Kansas. It is a decidious tree growing to 60 feet in height. It usually flowers in June, and the fruit ripen from October to November. The fruit are harsh and astringent until they ripen, usually after a frost or freeze. The fruit can also be ripened off-tree and eaten raw, cooked or dried. It is used in breads, cakes, cookies, pies, puddings, jellies, jams, and wine. The seeds can be roasted to make a coffee substitute or pressed to render a cooking oil. A tea rich in vitamin C can be made from the dried leaves, and molasses can be made from he fruit pulp. It's fruit ripen at a yellowish-orange and are about twice the size of the Texas Persimmon.

    A cousin of the Texas Persimmon is the Black Sapote (Diospyros digyna), also known as Zapote Negro, Ebano, or Chocolate-Pudding Fruit. It is not a sapote (Pouteria sapota), but a persimmon. Immature fruit are bright-green and shiny, 2 to 5 inches in diameter, and look like a green tomato. When ripe, the smooth, thin skin becomes olive-green and then rather muddy-green. The pulp within is glossy brown to very dark-brown, almost black, somewhat jelly-like, soft, sweet and mild in flavor. It may have 1 to 10 flat, smooth, brown seeds, but the fruits are often seedless. It ranges on both coasts of Mexico and in the forested lowlands of Central America. It has been widely exported and can be found throughout the semi-tropical Pacific, Caribbean and southern Florida. In Mexico, the fruits are common in the markets from August to January. Most black sapotes in Florida ripen in December, January or February. Certain trees, especially the large-fruited types, regularly ripen from June to August. The trees are evergreen and grow to 80 feet in height, although cultivated trees are kept at about 25 feet.

    Since the Texas and American Persimmons will be ripening soon, let's look at making them into wine.

    Wild Persimmon Wine

    • 3 lbs of Texas Persimmons or 3-1/2 lbs American Persimmons
    • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
    • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 tsp citric acid or 3/4 tsp acid blend
    • pinch or two powdered grape tannin, as needed
    • 1 Campden tablet, crushed and dissolved
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • water to one gallon (about 7 pints)
    • Red Star Champagne wine yeast

    Crush the ripe fruit, skins and all, in nylon straining bag in primary. Dissolve sugar, yeast nutrient, acid, and crushed Campden tablet in water and add to primary. Cover primary and set aside for 8 hours. Add pectic enzyme, recover, and set aside another 8 hours. Add activated yeast and recover the primary. When vigorous fermentation begins to subside (5-7 days), squeeze pulp and discard. Wait 24 hours and transfer liquid to secondary. Attach airlock and set aside in dark place. When all signs of fermentation have passed (about two months), rack into clean secondary. Wait additional two months and check for lees. If lees, rack. If none, taste wine for tannin. Add pinch or two if needed. Wine made from Texas Persimmons will be oily black in color with greenish edges. Wine made from Americal persimmons will be straw to light blush. Once bottled, wine should be stored in deark place for uo to one year before tasting.

    Although I have found numerous references to making liquors, liqueurs and wine from Black Sapote, I have never found a recipe for doing so. If you should have one, please consider sharing it with me so I can share it with others.




    September 11th, 2004

    I was recently asked, "When is the best time to pick...plums and can I pick them slightly early and let them finish ripening after they are picked?" This is a good question, so I thought I'd share my answer.

    Tree-Ripened Fruit

    What is true for plums is generally true for other fruit as well, so use this discussion as a guide generally. Pears, paw-paws and persimmons are three fruit that generally do not follow this model, so deal with them as literature specific to them dictates.

    The plums should not be picked early because they will not really "ripen" after being picked. Oh, they will continue to turn color and will eventually grow softer, but the amount of sugar in them will never increase after being picked. Sugar is created in the roots and brought up to the fruit in the sap, so once they are picked no additional sugar is delivered to the fruit. Since sugar affects flavor, leave them on the tree until perfectly ripe. When exactly they are ripe will be the tough part to determine. You will have to feel them for plumpness and a softening of their developmental hardness, and then taste several to assure yourself that they are good-tasting.

    Commercial growers know the historic dates when ripeness occurs and the natural sugar -- measured as degrees of Brix -- the fruit reaches when ripe. As that date approached, they will go out in the orchard and test the juice of a few plums for Brix using a refractometer. Since the plums need to be processed and shipped -- sometimes to jobbers, then distribution centers, and finally to stores -- they are picked before they are ripe or they will arrive at your market half-rotten. The refractometer allows them to judge the right time to pick. That is not practical for most folks with one or two plum trees, so use your taste buds as a guide.

    Tree-ripened plums should be several degrees of Brix sweeter than the same plums picked by commercial growers for grocery chains. The reason is contained in the above. They have to pick them several days before they are ripe so they will darken and soften in the few days it takes to process (sort and box), transport and display them for sale. The tree-ripened plums are picked at the peak of ripeness and therefore have more sugar and flavor.

    Wild Plums

    I am constantly amazed at how good a wine is made from wild plums. In the Americas, there are numerous wild plums. Here are a few, but by no means all, species native to the United States.

    Prunus alleghaniensis (Alleghany or Allegheny Plum) is the common wild plum of the northeastern United States. Their fruit are dark purple with yellow flesh.

    Prunus americana (American Plum, but also called American Red Plum, American Yellow Plum, Native Plum, Wild Plum, River Plum, August Plum, Goose Plum, Canadian Plum) is a wide-ranging species found almost everywhere in the United States except from the Texas panhandle up through the great plains. One-inch red, yellow or reddish-orange fruit with yellow flesh make excellent wine. This is the predominate wild plum of the eastern and central United States.

    Prunus angustifolia (Chickasaw Plum, but also known as Hog Plum) is native to Arkansas and surrounding states. Their fruit are small (1/2 in.) and red and turn yellowish when ripe although some retain a reddish blush. The flesh is yellow.

    Chickasaw Plum

    Chickasaw Plum (P. angustifolia)


    Prunus ilicifolia (Evergreen Cherry, Holly-Leaf Cherry, Islay) is native to California. It has spiny leathery leaves, showy white flowers and a very thin flesh that yields very little juice. The flowers make better wine than the fruit.

    Prunus maritima (Beach Plum, Shore Plum) is native to the seacoast of the northeast, with small (1/2 to 1 in.) bluish-purple fruit, but red or yellow fruit are also known. Makes excellent wine.

    Prunus mexicana (Mexican Plum, but also Fall Plum and Bigree Plum) is another native plum of Texas. It has a pinkish-purplish to reddish coloring, yellow flesh, and is very flavorful. Fruit average 1 inch diameter.

    Prunus munsoniana (Munson Plum, Potawatamie Plum, Wild Goose Plum) ranges from Texas to Illinois to Kentucky, is yellow when ripe with yellow flesh, and is quite flavorful.

    Prunus rivularis (Creek Plum and also Hog Plum) is native to Texas up to Colorado and Kansas. The small (3/8 in.) fruit ripen to a pinkish-purple with yellow flesh and are very flavorful.

    Prunus subcordata (Pacific Plum, but also known as Klamath Plum and Sierra Plum) is native to northern California and up through the Pacific Northwest. It is large (up to 1-1/2 in.) for a wild plum, bright red at maturity, very tastey, and has spawned two cultivars. Some with yellow fruit are known, probably due to natural hybridization.

    Prunus gracilis (Sour Plum, also Oklahoma Plum and Sand Plum) ranges from Texas to Kansas to Tennessee. It grows more as a shrub than a tree with red fruit when ripe. It is not considered a very good eating plum, but makes very decent wine.

    Prunus Texana (Texas Plum, but also Sand Plum, Peach Bush)) is native to one small area of south-central Texas (over and around the Edwards Aquifer) and produces small (1/2 to 3/4 in.) yellowish-orange to orangish-red fruit with yellow flesh. Slightly tart, they make great wine.




    August 26, 2004

    I receive many emails in which the writer alludes to sterilizing the must or wondering if adding sulfites (potassium metabisulfite or Campden tablets) to the must kills the yeast. I usually do not comment on these mistakes unless they are the central point of the email, but let me address these subjects now in hopes of clarifying a few misconceptions.

    We don't really sterilize wine. We sanitize it. The difference is that in the first you kill all germs (bacteria, viruses and molds), while in the second you only kill the more pedestrian ones (not the ones that can live in steam vents at Yellowstone) with sulfites and the acidity and alcohol in the wine kill the rest later.

    Sulfites don't kill yeast, but they do kill most bacteria and molds. All they do to yeasts is shock the wild varieties into inactivity for a period of hours, and during that time the cultured yeasts, which are largely sulfite tolerant, get a big growth head-start and dominate the must. The cultured ones crowd out the wild ones and don't allow them to gain more than a toe-hold. So, after sulfiting you do not want to wait too long before inoculating with cultured yeast or you lose the advantage the sulfites give them.

    In older recipes a waiting period of 24 hours was often specified between sulfiting and inoculating with yeast, but as science clarified the role of sulfites that period was generally reduced to 10-12 hours. Personally, I almost never wait more than 6-8 hours between sulfiting and pitching the yeast, as the cultured yeasts seem to do just fine at that time -- especially if you start them outside the must in a starter solution and introduce a little must or juice to the solution at half-hour intervals so they get used to the new environment before being pitched into it wholesale.

    When you use boiling water in the recipe, you do not need to sulfite right away because the boiling water does a fair job of killing bacteria and wild yeasts. But, you do need to wait until the water temperature drops below 100 degrees F. before pitching cultured wine yeast. I wait until the must is below 95 degrees F. (and prefer waiting until it returns to room temperature) before adding yeast. Most wine yeasts die (or at least stop metabolizing sugar or reproducing) at 104 degrees, so it is best to get well below that temperature before introducing them. Also, pectic enzymes do not work well in higher temperatures, so allowing the must to drop to room temperature is a good idea before adding the enzyme to your must.

    You can take water bottles, empty out an inch or so of water, freeze them, and then drop two or more of these into the must about an hour after adding boiling water to get the temperature down quicker. Just mix up an amount of cold, 1% sulfite water first and submerge the frozen water bottles in it for two minutes to sanitize the outside before dropping them into the must. To make up a 1% sulfite solution, dissolve 10 grams of potassium metabisulfite in one liter of water. It can be saved to sanitize wine bottles, corks, or winemaking equipment.




    August 20, 2004

    I received an email from a first time winemaker reporting a beginning specific gravity (s.g.) of 1.082 and a cessation of bubbles in the airlock at 0.996. She was afraid she had no alcohol in her wine because there is no potential alcohol (PA) on the PA scale at that s.g. She wanted to know if I could explain to her what was happening.

    I told this person it was important to understand the processes involved and what the various things like bubbles in the airlock and specific gravity mean. I pointed her to my web site and suggested she read up on the processes a bit more. She then wrote back and it became obvious she did not understand the concept of specific gravity. She has Terry Garvey's excellent book, The Joy of Home Winemaking, and therein lies the problem.

    I love Terry's book, but she really doesn't explain specific gravity worth a hoot. Her key hydrometer reading is the PA scale. Add sugar until the PA is 11 and then ferment until it is 0. Simple, yes. Explanatory, no. Once I understood what the writer's frame of reference was, I felt compelled to fill in where Terry neglected. So, here is what I replied to her.

    Explaining Specific Gravity

    The specific gravity (s.g.) of water is 1.000. When you add sugar, it rises. At 1.088, it theoretically has enough sugar to make 12% alcohol by volume (abv). But there are other things dissolved in must that raise the s.g. and do not ferment -- do not convert to alcohol -- such as yeast nutrients, acids, trace minerals from the water and fruit, tannin, pigments, etc. These make up less than 2% of the s.g. reading, so we largely ignore them and use the s.g. reading as a "potential alcohol" (PA) reading. As the s.g. drops from 1.088, every decrease represents abv added to the wine. When it gets back to 1.000, it is nearly done but not quite.

    he s.g. of alcohol is far less than that of water (way down to 0.789). Thus, if ALL the material dissolved in the must were sugar and were converted to alcohol, the finished s.g. of a 12% abv wine would be 0.975 because 12% of it would be at 0.789 asnd the remaining 88% at 1.000. But, since about 2% of the must's s.g. is nonfermentable dissolved compounds, the actual "finished" mark is around (just less than) 0.994. If the original s.g. figure is higher than 1,088, the final s.g for a bone dry (no remaining sugar) wine would be even lower because more of it would be ethanol (alcohol) at the lower s.g. (I have had wines finish fermentation at 0-.986, and that is really dry). Conversely, if the original s.g. figure is lower than 1.088 (as was yours), the finished s.g. would be higher than 0.994 because there would be less sugar in the original must and a lower PA. Less sugar means less abv and a higher finished s.g.

    So, when you say you started with an s.g of 1.082 and finished with an s.g. of 0.996, my conclusion is that your wine is finished. There may be a fraction of a gram of sugar left in it, but I would consider it done.




    August 13, 2004

    My last installment, regarding making an "ice-style" wine with blackberry, generated several emails. The most common question by far was why the berries need to be frozen "on the vine" to make real ice wine. My reply is based on an explanation given me by a reknown botanist and extension agent.

    First of all, remember that grapes destined to make ice wine are late-ripening grapes that ripen much closer to the first hard freeze than most varieties. But they are also grapes that hang well, meaning they do not drop when they have reached or passed optimum ripeness as many varieties do. That means they stand a much better chance of being on the vine when that first hard freeze occurs. Between the time they reach ripeness and the time the first hard freeze occurs, they tend to shrivel and start becoming raisins. If the freeze is very late and they have completely turned to raisin, their usefullness for making ice wine has passed. But if they have only partially turned, and by that I mean only shriveled slightly, their sugars have concentrated and they are prime candidates for ice wine.

    But there is more to it than this. When a berry (blackberry or grape) is picked, within minutes it "dies" and undergoes a physical (chemical) change. Its cell walls become "hard" and when the berry is frozen many of those walls break due to the expansion of water when it becomes ice. When the berry is thawed and crushed, it releases juice easier -- which is why many winemakers like to freeze fruit and berries before making wine from them. When a living berry is frozen while still on the vine or cane or stem, the cell walls allow some of the water to pass through them just before freezing. This water is "respired" into the atmosphere or adjoining celluar material and the result is two-fold. First, the cell walls do not tend to rupture when the water in the cells freezes. Secondly, and more important for making ice wines, the loss of a small amount of water results in a further concentration of sugar within the berry -- the same amount of sugar that was there before is still there, but in a reduced amount of fluid. The result is a further concentration of sugar in a smaller volume. These are why you cannot make real ice wines by picking berries and then freezing them.

    A Complex Wine

    I have noted before that multi-fruit wines, when the juices or fruit are fermented together, are called "complex wines" as opposed to "blends." Blends are two or more finished wines that are combined into one. The two differ in several ways, but most notably taste. When fruits are combined prior to fermentation, their chemistries react and this often produces subtle changes that react differently to fermentation and affect taste. Certainly the chemistries of two finished wine that are blended together react as well, but the difference here is that the various enzymatic reactions that occur during fermentation have already occurred individually.

    Because of the differences between complex wines and blends, some fruit combinations make better wine when fermented as complex creations than as blends, while the opposite is also true. My point here is not to evaluate and compare the almost endless combinations of complex or blended wines, but to point you to one complex wine that is very good and also easy to make because it comes pre-mixed. The finished wine tastes like neither base ingredient, yet is still suggestive of each.

    White Grape-Cherry Wine

    • 2 64-oz bottles of Welch's 100% White Grape-Cherry Juice
    • 14 oz finely granulated sugar
    • 1/4 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1/2 tsp acid blend
    • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • Lalvin RC 212 wine yeast

    Pour one bottle of the juice into a 4-liter jug and then add the sugar, pectic enzyme, acid blend, tannin, and yeast nutrient. Stir the juice very well (6-8 minutes) until all sugar is dissolved, then add the second half-gallon of juice. The jug will not be full. Add the activated yeast and cover primary with a multi-layered paper napkin or towel secured by a rubber band. Set aside three days, then remove covering and seal with a bung-airlock. When all fermentation ceases and wine clears, rack into a 1-gallon jug, add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, and top up with cherry or white wine. Refit airlock and set aside 2 months. Rack, stabilize and sweeten to taste or bottle dry. If sweetened, allow another 2-3 weeks under airlock before bottling. Wine may be enjoyed after only two months in bottle. [Author's own recipe]

    If you wish to compare this wine to a White Grape-Cherry Wine blend, the recipes for each is referenced below. I have no idea of the proportions of each in the Welch's juice used above, so you will have to experiment. However, I have blended these two before in a 60-40 White Wine/Cherry Wine ratio that was quite good but still quite different from the wine referenced above. I think the wine above is the better wine.




    August 6, 2004

    A winemaker has asked for a recipe for an "ice style" blackeberry wine. My reply was that real ice wine is made from ripe grapes that get caught in an early freeze and typically are harvested at 2-3 a.m. (in any case must be harvested before the sun comes up and thaws them) and are being processed into wine before most of us have breakfast. You can't simply freeze grapes (or any other fruit) and make real ice wine, but that is exactly what a lot of wineries are doing to cash in on that $35-$50 per half-bottle price.

    Now, having said that, if you simply want to make a sweet wine with about 15% alcohol from frozen blackberries, we can do that. In fact, the last 30 or so gallons of blackberry wine I have made have been from frozen berries.

    Ice-Style Blackberry Wine

    • 8 lb frozen blackberries
    • 2 lb granulated sugar
    • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1/2 tsp acid blend
    • 1/2 gal water
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • Lalvin K1-V1116 wine yeast

    The berries are washed, selected and frozen for several weeks and then thawed. Crush berries in primary and stir in pectic enzyme, acid blend and yeast nutrient. Cover primary and set aside. Bring 1/2 gallon water to boil. Dissolve sugar in water, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Pour into primary and allow to steep four hours. Add activated yeast, cover, and set aside, stirring daily. When fermentation slows (s.g. 1.010 or less), press berries in fruit press and transfer liquid to secondary. Fit airlock and set aside 2-3 months to finish fermentation. Rack and add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, and reattach airlock. Set aside until clear, but at least two months. Rack again and stabilize. Add 6 ounces finely granulated sugar to wine and stir with sanitized wooden dowel until sugar is completely dissolved (may take 10 minutes, so be patient). Check s.g. and add sugar if not at 1.015. Reattach airlock and set aside 30 days. Add another finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, stir well, and bottle. Age at least 6 months. [Author's own recipe]

    The above recipe is based on the natural sugar in blackberries being about 8%. The addition of 2 pounds should bring the specific gravity of the must to 1.114 for a potential alcohol content of 15%. This is a very high s.g. to begin a fermentation, but Lalvin K1-V1116 should be up to the task. If you have any doubts, initially dissolve only 1 1/2 pounds of sugar in the primary and add the other 1/2 pound after the s.g. falls to 1.030 or lower.




    July 14, 2004

    I was recently sent a bottle of black raspberry wine and asked how it could have been improved upon. The winemaker noted he had sweetened the wine to a healthy level after stabiling it, but the sweetness declined with each sip and was gone after the third sip.

    Too Much Fruit, Again

    This wine was made with 7+ pounds of very ripe black raspberries per gallon of wine (I recommend 3-4 pounds, max). Everything else looked right in his recipe. Upon taking the first sip, I knew what the problem was. The flavor of black raspberry was very, very pronounced. Indeed, it was too strong. Knowing in advance the final specific gravity helped me to diagnose the problem. The wine did not taste nearly as sweet as it should have.

    As I said in my August 29, 2003 entry, some bases are not suited to over-use in winemaking. In that entry I used red raspberry as the prime example. Now I can positively report that black raspberry, too, can be overpowering in flavor. The problem is not that the flavor itself is unpleasant. It is instead rather wonderful. The problem is that the flavor is so strong that it clings to the tongue and overloads the taste buds. The next sip adds to the effect and overwhelms the taste buds responsible for detecting sugar. As a result, less and less sugar is tasted with each successive sip until the residual sugar in the wine is no longer detectable. At that point, the wine is harsh -- flavorful, to be sure, but harsh.

    After contacting the winemaker with my verdict, he wrote back, "This puts the concentrated flavor debate to bed for me." If unfamiliar with this debate, please read my August 29, 2003 entry.

    A Cooling Problem

    A winemaker from Hedgesville, West Virginia asked me if he should air condition his winemaking area, as his fermentation temperatures were in the 77-82 degrees Fahrenheit range. This is a bit high, but not destructively so. Still, one can lower them to a more healthy range without air conditioning.

    Some years back a winemaker from Zapata, Texas, down along the Texas-Mexico border, asked a similar question. His problem was that his house was not air conditioned and he suffered from 15-30 100-degree days (or higher) each and every summer. I suggested he place his carboys in plastic pans (the kind used to drain oil into under the car), fill the pan with water, and then wrap a towel around the carboy -- tied at the top -- so it hung in the water. The towel would wick up the water, which would then evaporate and cool the carboy. Cooling would be greater if a fan were directed onto the carboy. I did not know how much cooling could be obtained by this method, but did know that the ancient Persians made ice in the summer by filling shallow clay basins with water during the final hours of the day and the water turned to ice during the night while the air remained well above freezing.

    Two years ago Giles Marion and Rob Bates published an article in WineMaker magazine entitled "Evaporative Cooling" that explained the technique better than I could. They also furnished a table that showed the effects of relative humidity on evaporative cooling, somthing I hadn't thought about. For example, they showed that at 80 degrees F. the cooling potential at 10% humidity is 27 degrees, for a carboy temperature of 53 degrees. At 50% relative humidity, this potential is reduced to about 14 degrees (carboy temperature of 66 degrees).

    The winemaker in Zapata placed his carboys on a table in front of a window through which an afternoon and evening breeze flowed through the room and out another window. He claimed this also cooled the room, albeit slightly. But the real story was a near constant 68-72-degree fermentation temperature, even when the daily high topped 108 degrees.





    July 7, 2004

    Several writers have asked if they can (or mentioned their intent to) use 6-gallon carboys to make small batches of wine. The funny thing is that no one ever wrote to me about doing this until about a year or two ago. This got me to wondering what had changed.

    Secondary Size Matters

    The answer, of course, is that Homebrew/Winemaking Shops are now all selling "starter kits" of equipment. There is nothing wrong with this except they are selling 6-gallon carboys to push the customer into their higher end kit wines, most of which now make six gallons instead of five. I have even had people write me that there was 4-5 inches of air in their carboy above their kit wine, only to learn through questioning that they were sold a 6-gallon carboy with a 5-gallon kit. This is really irresponsible salesmanship.

    When a newbie walks into a shop and says he or she needs some equipment to make some wine, the shop salesman needs to ask the customer what his or her intent is -- what size batch do they intend to make? This seems so obvious I never thought I'd have to say it, but apparently I was wrong. The sales staff needs to take a more professional attitude or earn a reputation formerly reserved for lawyers. ASK THEM WHAT THEY INTEND TO MAKE, for crying out loud! Sacrifice a couple of bucks profit and sell them what they need. They'll appreciate it and come back. Rob them and they will shop elsewhere. The internet is a BIG shopping mall.

    And newbies, get this into your heads, please: unless you are making flor sherry, the secondary needs to be the same size as the batch you intend to make. You can buy 1-gallon jugs and 2.5-gallon, 2.8-gallon, 3-gallon, 5-gallon, 6-gallon, and 6.5-gallon carboys. If you buy a kit wine, you need a carboy the size of the kit's intended batch.

    Racking Down or Topping Up

    Everyone who has made wine once knows that when you leave the lees behind, you lose some wine. If you are making wine from raw ingredients, whether grapes or strawberries or peaches or oranges, you lose even more because you have "gross lees" as well as "fine lees." Gross lees are loose pulp, skins, pips (seeds), and membranes. Fine lees are dead yeast cells, bentonite or other fining matter, and really fine vegatable matter. Gross lees contain more wine than fine lees. I have made strawberry wine where the gross lees occupied a third of the gallon jug. You only have to do that once before realizing the value of a nylon straining bag.

    When making a 3-gallon batch of fruit or berry wine, one can rack, top up and continue, or you can rack into a 2.8- or 2.5-gallon carboy and continue. The first method will produce a slightly diluted wine while the second will not. You decide which wine you'd rather drink.

    But to be honest with you, most of my recipes anticipate you will top uo, and so they contain a bit more sugar than the wine actually needs. This will produce more alcohol, but after topping up the wine will be diluted to 12 to 12.5% alcohol by volume. If you rack down (into a smaller carboy), you need to be espacially careful when constituting the must -- measure the specific gravity and exactly calculate the sugar needed yourself.

    Most of my recipes are for 1-gallon batches. In truth, they usually make slightly more than one gallon. You can begin with an Imperial gallon (4.5 liters) jug and rack down to a 4-liter or U.S. gallon jug, or you can start with a U.S. gallon and put the extra in a small wine bottle (375, 250, 187, or 175 mL) -- a #2 or #3 bung with airlock will fit these.

    Alternatively, you can adjust the liquid (water) added so as to exactly fill a 1-gallon jug and rack into another 1-gallon jug. Then add sanitized glass marbles until the ullage (air space between wine and bung) is about 3/4 inch.

    Finally, there is the practice of topping up with a similar wine. This does not dilute the new wine, as both alcohol and flavored water are being added.

    These various techniques produce different results. Racking down, adding marbles or topping up with a similar wine or extra must all result in an undiluted wine. If the recipe calls for more than 2 pounds of sugar, it is expected that you will top up with water so adjust the sugar by measuring the specific gravity and calculating what is actually needed. Even with recipes you must plan ahead and perhaps make a measurement or two.





    June 28, 2004

    I received a request that I simply could not ignore. The requester, from Mount Vernon, Washington, writes, "My Goumi plant is full of berries this year and I thought I would make some wine. Have you made wine from these berries and do you have a recipe? I am pretty sure I could come up with something drinkable but am not sure if I will need a lot of nutrient, pectin enzyme, etc.. The goumi has some taste of alum before it is fully ripe so making sure each little berry is ripe may be important...."

    Goumi (also spelled "gumi," botanically Elaeagnus multiflora) is a deciduous shrub native to Japan and China. It is a handsome landscape plant with clusters of tiny, very fragrant, fuchsia-like flowers in spring that are silvery-yellow and followed by fruit that is cherry-like in appearance (although elongated), but covered in small silver-white dots (thus the common name "Cherry Silverberry"). The fruit is pleasantly acid and juicy, though it is astringent until fully ripe, usually in July. Cooked, it makes excellent pies, tarts, jellies, etc. I have long thought it would make an excellent wine and so answered the request somewhat as follows.

    Although I know the berry well (I have an aunt who has a bush), it is not available to me. Without berries to experiment with, I hesitate to even offer suggestions as to how one might make wine from them. However, I do recall the taste of the berries when ripe (yum) and unripe (ugh) and therefore will jump in anyway.

    I do know that ripeness will be the key to avoid the alum taste noted earlier. I would suggest waiting until they are indeed ripe and try making a wine from them. If it were me, I would try making three batches -- one batch using 2 pounds of berries, one batch using 3 pounds, and one batch using 4 pounds.

    Making Goumi Wine

    Sort through and clean the berries. I don't think de-seeding is necessary, since I believe the seeds are edible but fibrous. Just cut the berries lengthwise in half (yes, this will take some time but you have to open the pulp up so the yeast can get to it), place them in a nylon straining bag, tie it closed, and place it in a primary.

    For the 2-lb batch, boil 7 pints of water. Pour 2 pounds of sugar in the primary and then the boiling water. Stir to dissolve. Add 1-1/4 tsp yeast nutrient, stir again, and cover until room temperature. Then add 1 tsp pectic enzyme, stir and set aside covered for 10-12 hours. If you have an acid test kit, measure the acid and correct upward to 6 grams per liter. If you don't have a kit, taste the liquid and use your tongue as a guide. You may have to add 3/4 to 1 tsp of acid blend. I think the skins will provide enough tannin, but be prepared to add 1/4 tsp if you can't taste the tannin. Pitch an activated wine yeast and push the bag down twice a day for 5-7 days after vigorous fermentation starts. When specific gravity drops to 1.010, squeeze the bag and transfer liquid to a secondary, lees and all. Crush, dissolve and add one Campden tablet now and at the second racking (do not count this transfer as a racking). Discard fruit and top up if required with water. Ferment to dryness and rack every 30 days until clear and no longer dropping any lees. Rack again, stabilize with potassium sorbate and one Campden tablet (finely crushed and thoroughly dissolved). Wait 2 weeks, sweeten to taste, wait another 2 weeks (to see if fermentation restarts, and rack into bottles. I would image it should rest in the bottle 3-6 months, but if it still tastes young then leave another 6 months.

    For the 3-lb batch, use 6-1/2 pints water and 1-3/4 lbs sugar. Add 1 tsp yeast nutrient and perhaps only 3/4 tsp acid blend. Tannin should be stronger, but may still need to be added. All other procedures apply.

    For the 4-lb batch, use 6 pints water and 1-1/2 lbs sugar. Add 7/8 tsp yeast nutrient and perhaps only 2/3 tsp acid blend. Tannin should be stronger, but may still need to be added (1/8 tsp?). All other procedures apply.

    Age all batches the same and taste side-by-side to evaluate which recipe works best. Further experimentation (next year?) can refine the recipe. In cases like this, I bottle the gallon in three 750-mL bottles and four 375-mL bottles. This allows me to open the wine at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and one year without wasting a full 750 mL bottle each time.





    June 16, 2004

    The most requested recipe I can't provide is for chocolate wine. I really can't say how many people have asked me for this, but it has been several hundred.

    I have tried fermenting chocolate shavings, chocolate syrup and chocolate drink powders. Only the powders came close to making something you might want to drink, but it sure wasn't wine.

    I have been told one can ferment cocoa beans, but I don't have any and so have never done it. If someone sends me some, I will try it. Until then, I'm tired of throwing out chocolate concoctions and so I don't even try making it anymore.

    People have told me they have tasted commercial chocolate wine. I have too, but the one I tasted was pretty bad. However, there is a Chocolate Orange Wine made by Shallon Winery in Astoria, Oregon that is simply out of this world, or so I've been told. If you want to pursue chocolate wine, see the first link, below.

    Fruit Cocktail

    Some time back I was asked if I had a recipe for fruit cocktail wine. I did not, but suggested going to my "Requested Recipes" section and adapting the recipe for Peach or Pear (Canned) Wine (see second link, below), cutting back the sugar to 1-1/2 pounds per gallon, and adjusting the water according to the amount of juice in the fruit cocktail. That's what I would do.

    Indeed, that's what I did. Well, almost. I had to tweak it a bit. It turns out you can buy fruit cocktail (canned, mixed fruit) in water or in light or heavy syrup. Obviously the heavy syrup products have more sugar in them then the other two, Any sugar in the one with water is in the fruit and, if using it, I would add 2 pounds of sugar per gallon. Finally, read the label carefully. If it lists potassium sorbate, sorbate, sorbic acid, or benzoate as a preservative, keep looking. It won't ferment with any of them in the can. For fruit cocktail in heavy syrup, here's the recipe.

    Fruit Cocktail Wine

    • 32 oz canned fruit cocktail in heavy syrup
    • 1-1/2 lbs granulated sugar (approximate)
    • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
    • 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
    • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • 3 qts water
    • 1 crushed Campden tablet
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • Champagne, Hock or Sauternes wine yeast

    Bring water to a boil. Over a primary fermentation vessel, pour fruit into nylon straining bag. Tie bag and put in primary. Add orange juice. When water boils, remove from heat and add liquid from canned fruit. Stir in 1 lb. sugar and stir until dissolved. Pour over fruit, cover primary and allow to fully cool. Strain enough liquid to float a hydrometer and measure specific gravity. Calculate how much additional sugar to add to raise the specific gravity to 1.088-1.090. Add acid blend, tannin, yeast nutrient, and crushed Campden tablet and stir. Cover with cloth, wait 12 hours, then add pectic enzyme. Recover, wait additional 12 hours, then add activated yeast (starter). When fermentation is very active (1-2 days later), stir and push bag of fruit under. Don't worry if it floats back up. Ferment 5 days, stirring daily and pushing bag under liquid several times. Drip drain (don't squeeze) the bag and return drained juices to primary. Discard fruit. Allow liquid to settle, then rack into sanitized secondary and fit air lock. Rack after two months and again after additional two months, topping up each time. Wait one more month, add stabilizer, sweeten to taste, and wait additional month. Bottle the wine. Allow 3 months aging before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

    Fruit cocktail wine is not strongly flavored. Indeed, it is quite neutral. You can add any fresh or canned fruit to it for added flavor and adjust the ingredients accordingly. You can also add banana or apricots to it for added body.





    June 8, 2004

    There is good news and bad news out of the University of Virginia Health System for red wine drinkers, and the old admonition, "all things in moderation," is again proving to hold more than a kernel of wisdom.

    The Good News

    The good news is the discovery of how resveratrol, a compound found in grape skins and therefore in most red wines, works as an anti-cancer agent. The bad news is that drinking more than an optimum amount of red wine could actually stop this affect and lead to a greater risk of cancer.

    In an article in The EMBO Journal (May 2004; 10.1038) with the encrypted title of "Modulation of NF-B-dependent Transcription and Cell Survival by the SIRT1 Deacetylase," authors Fan Yeung et al. appear to solve the mystery. Scientists have known for a number of years that resveratrol acts as an anti-cancer agent, but exactly how it fights cancer has not been well understood. A University of Virginia team led by Assistant Professor of Biochemisty and Molecular Genetics Marty Mayo demonstrated that cancer cells treated with resveratrol died because they became sensitive to a compound called Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNFa). They found that resveratrol initiated a reaction in a protein, called nuclear factor- kappa B (NF-kB), that caused the cancer cells essentially to self-destruct in a process known as apoptosis.

    NF-kB is found in the nucleus of all cells and activates genes responsible for cell survival. The researchers used physiologically-relevant doses of resveratrol and found "...dramatic effects on human cancer cells." While the use of NF-kB inhibitors like resveratrol has important implications for increasing the effectiveness of cancer therapy, Mayo warns that this in itself is not a cure. But it does bring medical science closer to developing one. Resveratrol has also shown to be helpful in controlling atherosclerosis, heart disease, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders. There is much more work to be done to understand it all.

    The Bad News

    According to the researchers, the resveratrol in one glass of wine three or four times a week is the right amount to block the protein from feeding cancer cells. As stated earlier, drinking much more than that could be counterproductive and actually lead to a greater risk of cancer. If this is correct, one or two glasses of wine with each evening meal is obviously excessive. When you make as much wine as I do, consuming wine with the evening meal is necessary just to prevent the wines from over-running the household. This could be very bad news indeed....

    For those who refuse to drink wine but are taking resveratrol as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement (oh yes, it is available as such), it would appear you too are getting way too much for any anti-cancer benefit. You would be better off eating fresh grapes -- or a cup of mulberries, raspberries or peanuts (three other sources of resveratrol) -- 3-4 times a week. As for me, I intend to practice moderation, but stick to my wine.





    May 20, 2004

    I have gotten good feedback on my article in WineMaker magazine, "Taming the Wild Mustang." I even was asked to autograph a few copies while visiting L & M General Store (a winemaking suppy shop) in Castroville, Texas.

    In my article, I stated there are no mustang grape vineyards. An email received today informed me there is indeed a vineyard of mustang grapes -- in Cedar Park, Texas -- that also boasts a 200-year old mustang grape vine. This is one grapevine I want to see.

    One interesting question asked about the article was, "Why do you always say to destem the grapes? I have whole-bunch crushed, fermented and pressed many grapes without undesirable effects." I have no doubt this lady is honestly relating her experience, but with these particular grapes you would not want to ferment the grapes on the stems. The reason has to do with balance in general and tannin in particular.

    The Role of Tannin in Balance

    Tannins are phenolic compounds with a bitter taste and astringent mouthfeel. In balance, tannins can help wines age and lend structure and texture to them, especially when they form complexes with anthocyanins (pigments). When we speak of a wine's balance, we should think of a balance scale with acids and tannins on one side and alcohols, sugars and glycerin on the other. Put another way, the sour and bitter tastes are on one side and the sweet tastes are on the other. The word "balance" implies a certain equalibrium should exist between these two opposing sides of the scale. Indeed, this is conceptually the case.

    There is one type of tannin in all grape wines and at least two types in some. The one type common to all grape wines is condensed tannin, of which there are many. Condensed tannins are carbon-bonded compounds. The most notable of these in red wines are the leucoanthocyanins, the tannins derived from the skins, seeds and especially the stems of the grapes. The most notable other tannins found in some wines are pyrogallic tannins. These are derived from commercial tannins extracted from plants or from exposure to wood, such as oak. Thus, a red wine which has also been "oaked" will have more tannins present than the same wine not exposed to oak. Similarly, a wine fermented on the skins and stems will contain more tannins than the same wine fermented only on the skins. This is important because of one simple rule. When it comes to balance, strong tannin is acceptable only if acidity is weak.

    Since mustang grapes are strong on acid to begin with, one should be careful about the tannic content of the must and resulting wine. There are far more tannins in the small stems of mustangs than there are in their rather large skins. Destemming mustang grapes is essential if you desire to drink the wine within a decade.

    This discussion has spawned a couple of other thoughts about tannins. An overly tannic wine is clearly out of balance. It seems hard, harsh, rough. It has sting or bite. It is bitter, astringent. It feels confined or has narrow walls. Sweetness helps but does not hide these characteristics. The onset of bitterness is delayed by sugar, but not eliminated. Alcohol seems to prolong the disagreeable harshness of the wine's finish. An overly-tannic wine can be helped by fining with gelatin or egg white, or it can be aged. Aging polymerizes the tannin molecules, causing them to link together into long molecular chains. Over time, they gain mass and precipitate to the bottom, requiring that the wine be carefully decanted before serving. White wines can stand having more acid than reds because their tannic composition is usually so low, but in practice, they generally have less.

    I recently tasted a red wine that was "big" by any standard used. The winemaker asked me what I would do with it if it were my wine. I said I would age it for five years and then see if it had mellowed any. The problem was merely one of tannin and a bit too much acid. Yes, it was a mustang wine.

    Softer tannins may be encouraged in mustang by blending and even by co-fermentation with low-tannin varietals. There are many strategies for selective tannin extraction and management -- some are merely theoretical in my opinion -- and include yeast selection, cap management, fermentation temperature and duration, and fining practices. One can enhance tannin structure through micro-oxygenation, periodic macro-oxygenation and lees contact. These are not amateur winemaking techniques, however, and most are beyond my kitchen winery.





    May 14, 2004

    My last blog entry prodded one fellow (Steve...) to write me six times begging for a copy of my upcoming WineMaker article on mustang grapes and wine. He'll just have to wait, like everyone else, but he did get me to send him an unpublished recipe for mustang grape wine.

    I relented only because I have the recipe and wanted to share it, and because it is from Greg Howard (see blog entry of April 23rd), the best mustang wine-maker I know.

    My wife asked me only yesterday when the mustangs would be ripening. She wants to make some jelly. In our area, the answer is the end of June, but most places it is later than that. For Greg's recipe, harvest them as late as you can. He actually recommends October.

    Mustang Grape Wine
    (makes 5 gallons)
    by Greg Howard


    • 30-35 lbs destemmed grapes
    • 13 lbs finely granulated sugar
    • 2 1/2 gal water
    • 4 Tblsp pectic enzyme
    • 5 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1-1/2 tsp yeast energizer
    • 1/4 tsp potassium metabisulfite
    • 1 packet Champaign yeast

    Grapes are picked when fully ripe and shrivelling on the vine (October time-frame). Wash, destem and crush. I place the grapes in 1-gallon Zip-Loc freezer bags, in the freezer, for one month. This aids in the breakdown of the grapes from solids to liquids and I believe additional color is obtained by freezing.

    Place grapes in fermentation bag in primary and add water, enzyme, nutrient, energizer, pot meta, and sugar. Use a hydrometer to fine-tune the amount of sugar required to attain a 12.5% alcohol finished wine.

    After 24 hours, add your favorite yeast starter solution. Stir at least twice a day (the more the better). Check the specific gravity after a few days and, when down to 1.015 or lower remove the grapes. When specific gravity reaches 1.000, transfer all liquid to secondary.

    Rack as required, allowing the pulp and yeast to drop out. (Greg: "I usually rack my wines 7 times before bottling.") Filters can be used to speed up the process, but I believe in aging the wine for one year before bottling. Also, you may add oak chips during the aging process or other additives for a different taste (orange peels, cloves). Add stabilizer to wine before bottling if you sweeten with sugar.





    April 23, 2004

    A reader named Doug wrote and asked how I did in the SARWG Spring Competition (see entry for April 19, 2004). My wines placed 1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, no place, and no place. The placed wines are listed on SARWG's web site (see first link in this and previous entry). The two wines that did not place were a white Marula wine (entered in Fruit Sweet) and a red grape wine of undetermined identity (entered in Red Grape Dry).

    For those who do not know what Marula is (there are probably a few of you), it is the fruit of a tree that grows in Africa. Fallen fruit begin fermenting quite rapidly and are especially prized by elephants and baboons. That this wine did not place was especially disappointing as it has a very good (although novel) flavor and is well balanced. But, as I said in my previous entry, there were some excellent wines entered and one cannot complain when beaten by superb wines. The red grape wine I entered was perhaps a different matter. It simply may not have been as good as I thought.

    The mustang grape wine that won best of category for Native Grape Dry was made from a very late harvested grape. Greg Howard of Tecumseh, Oklahoma (formerly of Pleasanton, Texas) has told me for years that his Best of Show mustang wines were made from partially raisined grapes. Very few mustangs hang long enough to become raisins and I had never found enough to make even a gallon of wine.

    Last year I harvested mustangs at the end of June, middle of July, end of July, and middle of August. By the end of August, very few grapes were left on the vines and I stopped looking. In early November my wife and I were driving the backroads and happened upon a fencerow overgrown with mustangs. To my surprise, there were many grapes still hanging. I returned and harvested them all, then spent the better part of the day looking for more. When all was said and done I had enough to make one gallon of wine. When I bottled this wine in February, it tasted so good I decided to enter it in April even though it was decidedly young. God bless you, Greg, for your advice, for thew late hangers do indeed make a much smoother wine.

    I will not go into making the wine here because the next issue of WineMaker magazine will feature my article entitled Taming the Wild Mustang. If you don't yet subscribe to the magazine, go to my home page, scroll down just past the halfway mark and click on Wine maker's banner ad to subscribe to it. The upcoming (June-July) issue will focus on country wines, with articles on raspberry wine (by Alexis Hartung), fruit port (by Joe O'Niell) and root wine (by Sylvia Kent) planned. I assume all will come through. At the very least, my article on mustang grape wines will be there.

    Measuring Sugar in Must

    One distressed reader recently asked the best way to measure total sugar in a must. He rightly pointed out that adding two pounds of sugar to a must would, in itself, produce an ample alcohol content for a table wine. So, he asked, what about the natural sugar locked in the berries or fruit? How is this accounted for?

    In truth there are natural sugars locked in most musts. Even flower wines benefit from a small amount of natural sugar in the flower petals. Before we get into accounting for this sugar, let me say that my recipes usually assume you will rack 3-4 times, losing some volume each time and then topping up with water to replace the lost volume. The wine lost in the lees, coupled with the water used to top up, will dilute the alcohol content to a 12-13% range. If you top up with a finished wine of the same or similar type, your finished wine could sport 15-16% alcohol. If you intend to do this, it is best to accurately measure the total natural sugar and reduce the amount you add so as to finish at an acceptable level of alcohol.

    There is more sugar in fruit and berries than in most vegetables, roots, stems and flower petals. Exceptions abound -- sweet corn, sugar beets, sugar cane, and cactus flowers all come to mind. Let's ignore the exceptions here (their recipes will speak to them) and concentrate on the fruits and berries most country wines are made from. Wash, peel, destone, and cut up as required. Then mash the pulp, either freely or captured in a nylon straining bag. Take the total amount of water the recipe calls for and subtract from it one cup for each pound of sugar called for in the recipe. In other words, if the recipe calls for 7 pints of water and 2 pounds of sugar, subtract 2 cups of water (one cup for each pound of sugar) for an adjusted amount of 6 pints. Add that to the mashed fruit or berries in a primary and stir into it a crushed Campden tablet. Cover the primary and wait 8-10 hours. Then add the amount of pectic enzyme called for in the recipe and stir well. Cover the primary and wait 10-12 hours. Then stir the must or gently squeeze and resqueeze the nylon straining bag to get the extracted juices mixed thoroughly through the must. Strain enough liquid from the must to fill your hydrometer's test cylinder. Measure the specific gravity and, using a hydrometer table, calculate the amount of sugar you need to add to reach a desired level of alcohol. Remember, if you top up with water you need to add enough sugar to allow a 2-3% dilution. Add the remaining ingredients as called for.

    I am aware that many recipes, including some of my own, list the water requirement as "Water to make up one gallon." Many fruit vary dramatically in size and juice. I think we have all bitten into a peach that sent a river of juice running down our chins, while other peaches were so firm as to be almost juiceless. It is difficult to judge the amount of water you might need when bases vary so much. Where possible, I try to measure the water exactly, but realize the fruit you use may vary considerably from mine.





    April 19, 2004

    The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild held its spring home wine competition yesterday. Some really excellent wines were entered and many wines that did not place may well have placed on another day. There was consolation in knowing the competition was so tough.

    A question arose among some of the judges, more of a curiosity than anything else. Several pear wines were entered in the Fruit Wines Dry and Fruit Wines Sweet categories. It turns out that all but one were made from Kieffer Pears (Pyrus communis x Pyrus pyrifolia). This is the pear that most people refer to as the canning pear. It has long, large, greenish-yellow to golden fruit with a crimson blush that have crisp, juicy, coarse textured, white flesh with a slightly musky aroma. The fruit generally drop after an early frost, while still hard, and can be stored in a cool place until ripe. Wines made from these pears were either straw blonde or light lavender (I jokingly called them "amethyst wines"). The discussions centered around the varience in color.

    One theory advanced was that the lavender color derived from the crimson in the skin. When I have made this wine (we used to have two very productive trees) it always came out straw, regardless of the anount of color in the skins. A second theory is that the color derives from stems and seeds scattered throughout the must. I never noticed any similar color in my pear wines, and I often had stems and seeds in the must. The third theory discussed is that trace minerals in the soils or underlying rock are responsible for the lavender coloration. I don't know if this is true or not, but I do know the lavender color seems quite common. A fourth theory came to me as I recalled the beautiful lavender tint in my memory. Iron implements can impart a purplish tint to white wines. But it seems unlikely to me that three winemakers would all use iron implements in making a pear wine and not use such implements when making peach, apricot and citrus wines. If anyone has anything to add to this discussion, please feel free to send it my way.

    My interests in the color variences are three-fold. First, I am simply curious to know the why of it. Mysteries should be solved and this is a mystery. Secondly, one needs to know the natural color range if one is to judge the wine fairly. I would hate to deny someone a point or two for an "off-color" when it appears to be a natural occurance. And thirdly, I am interested in similar off-colors and what might cause them. Just this morning, for example, I received an email describing an apple wine that started off yellow but then took on a reddish tint as it finished its fermentation. I do recall an apple wine once taking on a very slight pink, but then the wine stabilized and the color fell out with the lees. I attributed it to a yeast coloration. I've never known an apple wine to pick up color from the skins.

    Making Pear Wine

    The best pears for pear wine are Beurre Hardy (French Butter Pear, slightly astringent), Clara-Frijs (Danish, exceptionally sweet), Colette (aromatic, spicy), Doyenne Gris (spicy, buttery), Flemish Beauty (sweet, aromatic, musky), Garber (best for perry), Mericourt (sweet, buttery, sprightly flavor), Rousselet de Reims (extremely sweet, spicy or musky), Seckel (Honey Pear or Sugar Pear, spiocy, aromatic, rich flavor), Sucre de Montlucon (buttery, acidulous, delicately perfumed), Warren's Monterrey (spritely, tart flavor), and Winter Nelis (delicious, aromatic, sweet). But, if you have a Bartlett, Comice, Bell, Duchess, Highland, Kieffer, or Warren, you are not automatically assigned a seat in the back of the bus. They all make very good wine, although it can be somewhat herbaceous in flavor if the pears are not ripe enough.

    Here is my favorite pear wine recipe:

    Pear Wine
    • 4-6 lbs ripe Beurre Hardy (or other sweet) pears
    • 1/2 lb chopped golden raisins
    • 1-1/2 lbs finely granulated sugar
    • 3 quarts water
    • 2 tsp acid blend
    • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • 2 crushed Campden tablet
    • 1/4 tep potassium sorbate
    • 1-1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1 packet Champagne or Hock yeast

    Boil the water and dissolve the sugar. Wash, destem and core the pears, being sure to remove all seeds. Chop roughly and put in nylon straining bag with chopped raisins. Tie bag and put in primary. Mash pears and pour boiling water over crushed pulp. Add one crushed Campden tablet, acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Wait 10 hours and add pectic enzyme. Wait another 10 hours and add yeast. Cover with sanitized muslin. Stir daily, squeezing nylon bag gently to extract flavor. After 7 days, remove bag and let drip drain one hour. Do not squeeze. Return drained juice to primary and allow to settle 24 hours. Siphon into glass secondary, fit airlock, and set aside. Rack after two weeks, top up, and refit airlock. Rack again every two months until wine clears. Rack again, stabilize with potassium sorbate and crushed Campden tablet, wait 3 weeks, and add 1/8 to 1/4 pound sugar (depending on your taste) dissolved in 1/8 cup water. Bottle and age 6-12 months before tasting. Serve chilled. [Author's own recipe]




    March 30, 2004

    Too much is going on these days to keep up with. It isn't made easier with my wife out of town, my home computer down, and problems with my phone line, but one must cope.

    I hosted a meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild at our home recently. It was one of the best meetings we've had in a while -- not because it was at our house but because everyone was so darned nice. It must be the fine weather, the buds breaking in the vineyard, and the wildflowers in bloom (phlox, bluebonnets and Indian paint brush adorn my back acre). Our program at this meeting was about port wine. John Breitler of Adkins, Texas gave a presentation on the history and making of port, shared two really great ports with us, and his own recipe for making this delicious repast.

    Making Port

    There are essentially three ways to make port. The "classic way" (read "commercial") is to ferment a wine to a given point where 3-6% of the residual sugar remains unfermented and then stop the fermentation by adding a quantity of spirit sufficient to bring the alcohol level up to a desired endpoint -- 18-20%, for example. Brandy is the usual spirit of choice, but there is another option I will discuss later. The "traditional" way (read "mom and pop operation") is to use a high alcohol port yeast to actually ferment the wine to the target endpoint. Port yeasts are quite capable of fermenting up to 20%, even 22%, alcohol by volume. The fermented wine is then stabilized and sweetened as desired. The third way ("freezer assisted method") is to make a finished wine of, say, 14% alcohol, bring it down to 28-30° F., and remove ice as it forms until the remaining wine has the alcohol endpoint desired. Water will freeze at at temperature, but alcohol will not. As ice (frozen water) is removed, the alcohol remains and the percentage of alcohol by volume increases.

    The variation of the "classic way" I mentioned is actually a variation of the freezer assisted method also mentioned. A must is fermented to 10% alcohol by volume. Half of it is then placed in open containers with sufficient headroom to allow for expansion caused by ice formation. The containers are placed in a freezer at 28-30° F. and closely monitored. Ice will form from the outside inward. Eventually, the water in the wine will pretty much all freeze, leaving a core of slushy alcohol and concentrated flavor in the middle of the container. At this point the container is removed, capped with a strainer, and turned upside down over a bowl. The concentrated alcohol and flavor drains out and the ice is discarded. The concentrate is then added to the remaining half of the wine, doubling its alcohol level from 10% to 20%. I think of this as freezer distilling.

    In the United States, there are severe restrictions against fortifying wines at home. I am not familiar with the revelvant laws of most states, but I do know that in Texas homemade wine may not be distilled, fortified, or otherwise altered to increase its alcohol content. Be aware of the laws in your state before making port wine. Thus, the laws of Texas only allow one kind of port winemaking, and that is through fermentation -- start to finish. The English market many high alcohol and port wine yeast strains, but there are few strains widely available in the United States and Canada. Most notable of those available in the U.S. and Canada are Lalvin EC-1118 (Prise de Mousse), Lalvin K1-V1116 (Montpellier), Wyeast 3347 Eau de Vie - (Water of Life), and White Labs WLP740 (Merlot Red Wine).

    Blueberry-Elderberry Port
    • 6 lb. blueberries
    • 6 oz. dried elderberries
    • 1 cup red grape concentrate
    • 1/2 cup light dry malt
    • 3-1/2 lb. granulated sugar
    • 1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
    • 1-1/2 tsp. acid blend
    • 1/2 tsp. USP glycerin
    • 1/2 tsp. yeast nutrients
    • 1/4 tsp. yeast energizer
    • 4 pt. water
    • crushed Campden tablet
    • port wine yeast

    Wash and crush blueberries in nylon straining bag and strain juice into primary. Add dried elderberries to bag, tie closed and place in primary. Stir in half the sugar and all other ingredients except yeast, glycerin, and red grape concentrate. Stir well to dissolve sugar, cover, and set aside for 12-14 hours. Add yeast, cover, and daily stir ingredients and press pulp in nylon bag to extract flavor. When specific gravity is 1.010 (about 7-8 days), strain juice from bag into primary but do not squeeze. Discard fruit pulp, transfer wine to secondary (leaving 3-4 inches of ullage (head space) and add 1/4 remaining sugar. Stir well to dissolve and attack an airlock. When s.g. again drops to 1.010, add 1/3 remaining sugar and again stir well to dissolve. Re-fit airlock and wait for s.g. to again drop to 1.010. Add half the remaining sugar, stir well, re-fit airlock, and wait for s.g. to drop to 1.010 one last time. Add remaining sugar, stir well, re-fit airlock, and let ferment to dryness or until fermentation arrests. Stabilize and rack in three weeks, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again in two months, leaving 3 inches of ullage before re-fitting airlock. When wine is clear and stable, add red grape concentrate and glycerin. Let wine rest 10 days, rack again and bottle. Allow at least a year to improve, but 3-5 years to truly mature. [Author's own recipe]





    March 12, 2004

    Two good questions reached me this week. One had to do with fermenting wine. The other had to do with grape cuttings.

    Milky Must
    milky must

    The writer is making wine from canned peaches. He writes, "Fermentation has been going strong for about 3 weeks, now. I checked in on my carboy and found that it's still VERY milky. Pics from 2 weeks ago aren't any different from now."

    My reply is short and succinct. The "milkiness" is from the yeast. All vigorous fermentations look like or similar to this. Both the density of the yeast and the tiny (microscopic) CO2 bubbles in the must make it appear opaque rather than transparent. When it stops fermenting and the yeast fall to the bottom and the CO2 all rises to the top, the wine will "fall clear" starting at the top. Be patient....

    Cuttings From Wild Grape Vines

    The second email asks if I could... "take time to offer your opinions how to use cuttings of select wild grapes."

    One must decide what one wants the vines for. If for use of the grapes (for eating, jam and jelly or wine), then you need to carefully select the vines out there that produce the best fruit for your use. Look for vines producing larger clusters, larger berries, more clusters per lateral, sweeter berries, etc. and mark those vines. It is not good enough to mark the site. You have to mark the actual vines because when you take cuttings (in January or February) all the vines will be bare and you won't be able to tell which ones had the best fruit. Be sure to mark and take cuttings only from female plants, as the males will never bear fruit. If you want the vines as rootstock to graft V. Vinifera onto, select the most vigorous growers in soil like your own. Again, mark the vines, and either male or female will do. If you haven't done this, you'll have to wait another year to harvest cuttings.

    Wild vines can put out more growth than new roots can support. Make your cuttings tight, with three nodes only. Snip the two lower buds off, cutting down through all layers of bark when you do so. Callus the cuttings for at least three weeks in moist (but not "wet" soil, sand, vermiculite, etc.) media when the soil has warmed to 72 degrees. It takes that long at that temperature to grow callus where you snipped off the buds. If a thick callus has not formed in three weeks, leave another week only. Dig up the cuttings from the callusing media and plant, leaving only one bud above ground. I water with a rooting promoter for the first week.

    If the cuttings try to send out two laterals from the single node (bud), cut one off.

    Do not expect much the first year, although if you get good growth so much the better but pinch off the growing tips at two feet. What you really want is good roots, not growth, but you will not be able to check this.

    If the new growth tries to put out flowers the first year, snip them off. You do not, under any circumstances, want fruit the first year.

    Callus in a callusing box or bin, but plant directly into the ground where you want the vines to be. If you only have room for 5-10 vines, put two cuttings 6 inches apart at each growing site. If both take, get rid of the weakest one. Also plant a few cuttings in pots or plant bands, as all of the cuttings will not take. In fact, some species (like V. Mustangensis) are extremely difficult to root from cuttings, but easy to propagate by layering (an altogether different process you can start this spring if you know which vines to work with). Leave potted plants in the pots until next winter just before spring arrives, then transplant into the ground.

    You can use a heating pad or belt to warm up the callusing box or bin, but if you do make sure you can regulate the temperature at 72-75 degrees or use an in-ground thermometer to help regulate the heat.





    March 5, 2004

    A number of readers have recently asked how much of a 5-gram sachet of wine yeast they need to use to get a good fermentation in a 1-gallon batch of must. The answer is all of it.

    A good fermentation is one in which an adequate population of healthy yeast receives adequate nutrition at an appropriate pH and temperature to metabolize sugar until it is all consumed. It goes without saying that eliminating growth inhibitors is as important as providing optimum growth factors. To theses ends, there are several variables we can and should control.

    Positive Yeast Growth Factors

    According to George Clayton Cone of Lallemand, makers of the Lalvin line of wine yeast, the initial population of yeast should be large enough to quickly overwhelm any indigenous yeast and micro-organisms that may have incidentally found their way into the must. The mature population should be at least 15 million yeast sells per milliliter and should be attained within 48-72 hours of inoculation. To attain this density, rehydrate in a starter solution at the rate of one sachet of yeast per 1-3-gallon batch, two sachets per 4-6-gallon batch, regardless of what the instructions say.

    Yeast need oxygen during the first 48-72 hours after rehydration (the growth phase) and fermentable nitrogen along with other nutrients thereafter. A wide-mouthed primary covered with muslin, coupled with must-stirring twice a day after fermentation is evident, will ensure an adequate amount of oxygen and keep the yeast in suspension. DAP, a major component of most yeast nutrient formulations, is a good source of fermentable nitrogen. Yeast nutrient should also contain vitamins, trace minerals, amino acids, and yeast "ghosts" (dead yeast cell walls). Fermaid® is currently my nutrient of choice.

    One should try to maintain a pH as high above 3.1 as the wine style you are seeking will permit, but not higher than 3.6. While this seems like a narrow range, it really is not. If the pH is higher than 3.6, add sufficient acid to bring it to this number. If the pH is below 3.1, increase the amount of yeast initially rehydrated and added to the must. I would add an additional sachet for batches up to 14 gallons in volume, two sachets for batches of 15-29 gallons, and so on. Good wine yeast strains are inexpensive, so use enough to get the job done properly.

    Yeast create carbon dioxide as a byproduct of alcohol fermentation. Most of that CO2 escapes the wine, but some of it dissolves into the wine itself, especially under airlock when the vigorous phase of fermentation is past. Make sure the must/wine has sufficient sulfite to protect it from absorbing oxygen and stir the wine with a wood, plastic or glass dowel sufficiently hard to cause cavitation. If the wine is saturated with CO2 it will release thousands of tiny bubbles. If it does, continue degassing the wine. Then measure the sulfur dioxide (SO2) level of the wine and add more if needed, as degassing releases both gases. On the other hand, if you stir the wine vigorously and thousands of tiny bubbles are not released, the wine is not overly saturated with CO2 and you can simply reattach the airlock.

    If you cold settle your juice prior to fermentation, as one should for Blanc du Bois for example, you should increase the amount of yeast initially rehydrated and added to the must just as you would for excessively low pH -- an additional sachet for batches up to 14 gallons in volume, etc. If you will be conducting a cold fermentation, increase the amount of yeast similarly.

    Yeast Growth Inhibitors

    Both low pH and carbon dioxide saturation are yeast growth inhibitors already discussed. Temperature extremes also inhibit yeast growth, but the actual extremes vary among yeast strains. My website page on yeast strains identifies the temperature ranges for a number of the yeast listed.

    Reconstituted grape or fruit concentrates can inhibit fermentation. The act of concentration removes assimilable nitrogen by as much as 90%, a deficiency which must be corrected. Concentrates used in winemaking kits do not usually experience this problem because the manufacturer usually adds fermentable nitrogen to the must, but if a kit must ferments sluggishly you may try adding DAP (2/3 teaspoon per gallon) or Fermaid® (3/4 teaspoon per gallon). For other grape, fruit or berry concentrates, add yeast nutrient or Fermaid® at 1 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.

    Kit manufacturers have conditioned thousands of winemakers into adding Bentonite or kieselsol to musts before commencing fermentation. On its face this is generally a bad idea, as these agents remove both protein and assimilable nitrogen from the must. However, by adjusting (increasing) the nutrients added you can negate the harmful effects of adding these fining agents early.

    I am fond of saying that the yeast do most of the work of making wine. While this is true, it is equally true that the yeast must be healthy to accomplish this miracle. Attend to your yeast properly, feed them well, and enjoy the fruits of their labor.





    February 22, 2004

    A reader noted conflicting instructions on different web sites and asked me three questions. I thought I'd share my answers with you.

    Q1: For primary fermentation some sites say cover, cover with plastic wrap, or even cover and use an air trap. Are there major differences?

    A: The idea is to cover the wine so dust, germs and fruit flies can't get in, while at the same time allowing the must as much exposure to oxygen the first few (3-4) days as possible. Yeast need oxygen to reproduces, and that's exactly what you want them to do for the first day or two. After that, oxygen exposure is not desired. However, one by-product of fermentation is CO2 gas, and a blanket of CO2 will form that will keep out the oxygen except when you stir or knock down the cap. I cover mine with muslin cloth for 3-4 days so it can breathe, then with a plastic sheet or plastic lid.

    Q2: Some sites say remove the fruit and rack after 5 days. Many sites say wait till the S.G. gets to 1.030 before you rack. Some even say wait "till completion", whatever that means. Are there major differences in outcome?

    A: This is a matter of what you are comfortable with. The usual "strain fruit after 5-7 days" is a rule of thumb for people who make wine by recipes but really don't want to pay that much attention to what is going on. The "strain when S.G. drops to 1.010-1.030" is for people who are more involved in the process. "Wait 'til completion" is for people who really should be buying their wine, as they aren't involved in making it at all.

    Q3: I've seen the 1.030 number mentioned on several sites. What is magical about 1.030?

    A: Actually, there is nothing magic about 1.030 or 1.020, or 1.010 for that matter. This is simply the specific gravity range in which the vigorous fermentation begins to subside. From this point (vigor subsides) on, the wine will be vulnerable to oxygen exposure, so this is a good time to strain out the skin, pulp and pits and transfer the liquid to a carboy where it can be capped with an airlock. It is also a good time to sulfite the wine if you did not do so initially.

    Pruning Time

    For those of us growing our own grapes, this is -- or soon will be -- time to prune back the vines. Here in south Texas the buds on most varieties are already prominent, indicating the time is at hand.

    For those who have never pruned before, cutting away 12-20 feet of growth per lateral and just leaving three buds per spur seems awfully severe. If you only get two or three clusters per new shoot, leaving additional buds could double the yield. Why not leave six or eight buds and get that many more clusters this year?

    Some of my vines had 20-30 laterals last year. Through prunning, I have reduced those to three spurs on each cordon with two to three buds per spur. Experience indicates I will still have more growth than I want, so I will be pruning again from May through harvest time. If I don't, I'll be overrun with new growth. It would be far, far worse if I left all those extra buds on the spurs.

    Prunning makes the vines more productive on a per cluster basis. If you have too many clusters, the vine may not be able to support them and they will set few berries, or the berries will ripen unevenly or not really ripen at all. Remove most of the buds and the vine only has to feed a fraction of the potential new growth. Chusters will be larger, berries will be better quality, and growth will not get out of hand as easily.





    February 10, 2004

    A long-time corresponding winemaker from India recently made wine with Reliance grapes. He used a food processer to pulp the grapes and asked me why I don't recommend this method.

    Reliance is a seedless variety brought out by the University of Arkansas. Its parents are Vitis Labrusca hybrid Ontario x Suffolk Red. It is arguably one of the finest quality seedless grapes anywhere and I was pleased to hear they are available in quantity in India. There is nothing wrong with using a food processor to puree seedless fruit like Reliance grapes. Using it with seeded grapes or fruit such as apples, pears, persimmons, pomegranate, etc. will produce very astringent wines because of the compounds in the seeds leaching into the wines. In some cases (apples and pears) the wine can even become slightly toxic from arsenic in the seeds.

    Just be careful if you use a food processor, mixer or other electric appliance to pulp or puree fruit for wines. If there are seeds that can be broken up by the device, bite into one of the seeds yourself and taste the result. If unpleasant, think of it in your wine. If not, then you should still do a search to see if the seeds contain toxins. It is better to be safe than sorry.

    Stopping Fermentation

    Another winemaker wrote me that he wanted a sweeter wine than his yeast were leaving him, so when a muscadine's specific gravity dropped to 1.030 and had the taste he wanted, he plunged it in a pan of water and brought the water's temperature up to 115 degrees F. This killed the yeast and the wine cleared quickly thereafter, but many months later he tasted the wine and it seems to have changed taste. He said it was drier than he recalled it being -- the sweetness he was after was gone.

    It is difficult to determine exactly what is wrong with a wine you didn't make and have never seen or tasted. Still, there are two probable causes for the taste described.

    It is possible that the problem is one of balance. This is not unusual. There are several things that can contribute to this, but the main one is acid. By arresting the fermentation before it was finished, the alcohol level is considerably low -- okay for a delicate wine like rose petal or honeysuckle, but wrong for a grape wine like muscadine. This makes the acidity of the wine stand out -- there is very little alcohol to counter and compliment it. This throws the balance off considerably and the wine does not taste right. It may not "taste" overly acidic and probably isn't for a 12 or 13% alcohol wine, but this wine is probably less than 9% alcohol and the acid was probably right for 12-13%.

    For the record, his method of stopping fermentation is a legitimate one, but one fraught with dangers. No commercial winery I know of does it that way, and for good reason. Heating the wine with that much residual sugar in it, even without an acidity imbalance, accelerates many chemical changes that occur in wine after it is bottled. The most notable of these is the tendency of the sugar to taste "cooked." This is the taste of sherry or Madeira and in both cases the residual sugar does not taste sweet even though it is there.

    A better way to stop the fermentation is to chill the wine down to around 30 degrees F. for 2-3 weeks.

    Whenever we intend to stop a fermentation prematurely, we need to make sure the alcohol is right for the wine being made. If our starting specific gravity is 1.090 (about perfect for making a 12% alcohol wine) and we stop it at 1.030, the actual alcohol level of the wine is only 8% -- dangerously low. In fact, such a wine might need to be refrigerated to prevent it from spoiling. In the case just reviewed, there were two ways to improve the alcohol imbalance. One is to add alcohol to the wine to ensure it is self-preserving. The other is to wait until the specific gravity is down to 1.030 and add 11 ounces of sugar per gallon of wine. When it ferments back down to 1.030, it will be a 12% alcohol wine with a lot of sugar left in it. A third option is to start the fermentation at a specific gravity of 1.120, but that is dangerously high and some yeasts simply will not start at that gravity.

    As for me, when I want a sweet wine I start at a specific gravity of 1.090 to 1.095, ferment to absolute dryness, stabilize the wine, age it a couple of months, add sugar back (as simple syrup), and age it another month or two before bottling. That is the safe thing to do. It also allows the wine time to settle, degasse itself, and assimilate the sugar (it often does taste different after the sugar has been in there a month or two).





    February 2, 2004

    I received an email similar to many others I've received in the past. It went somthing like this:

    "I have been having trouble getting my wine fermentation started. I have a crock as a primary. I use one camden tablet, waited 12 hours and then pitched the yeast. Nothing happened. It's peach wine. After 3 more days I pitched it again and this time it worked."

    About Wine Yeast

    Yeast, even active dry yeast cultures, are living organisms. They live within certain temperature ranges. While in their dried state, they can tolerate cold better than heat.

    Years ago yeast were always shipped by refrigerated freight. This assured the person ordering the yeast that they would arrive alive and healthy. About 20 years ago that started to change. Stores began managing their inventories more tightly and this led to the practice of telephone ordering when inventories of certain items dropped too low. Today that is done increasingly by internet or email ordering, but the result is the same. Just enough of a product are ordered to satisfy the inventory needs of the merchant. Small parcels of yeast are mailed and arrive in a few days cheaply, whereas refrigerated shipments might take a week or more and are expensive in comparison. Customers usually don't know this and don't care, as long as the yeast is cheap.

    The problem occurs in the summer, when small shipments are handled as mail instead of freight. Mail trucks are not refrigerated. The temperature in a metal truck can reach 120-140 degrees F. on hot summer days. A mail bag or shipping container sitting on the tarmac at an airport, waiting for a plane to carry it, can get super-heated from the asphalt and the sun and reach 110-120 degrees F. Most wine yeast strains die at around 104-108 degrees F.

    Then there are folks who go in and buy yeast, throw the bag in the back seat or trunk, and make several other stops on the way home. The yeast sits in a sweltering car while the person does other things and the result is the same. The yeast cooks on the way home.

    Most yeast that don't start right away are dead or at least a good portion of their population is dead. Heat is what kills most of them. Age kills another portion. Yeast do not live forever. Packets of yeast bought last year may have been sitting in the store another year before being purchased. A two-year old yeast colony is not necessarily weak, but it might be--especially if the yeast were shipped to the store in the summer. If 90% of the colony is dead, it will take a day for the colony to build up to what it should have been to begin with and another day or two to build up to what is actually needed to do the job you want it to do.

    Using Wine Yeast

    Store your yeast in the refrigerator until needed. When you know you are going to use a yeast, take it out and let it warm to room temperature before opening it. Then make a yeast starter several hours before you actually need to pitch it. With a starter, you will know within a half hour if the yeast you are using is still viable. You will also allow the yeast time to propagate--doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling in number--before pitching, thereby ensuing a faster start. I like to make a starter at least 6-8 hours before actually needing it.

    When adding a starter, hold a spoon just above the surface of the must. Pour the starter into the spoon so it overflows into the must. The spoon breaks the fall of the yeast and deposits it onto the surface, where it gets plenty of oxygen. Do not stir it into the must. When the surface of the must shows clear evidence of fermentation (about 3-6 hours), stir the yeast in very shallowly--just an inch or so deep. After another 4-6 hours, stir it deeply. If there is a serious imbalance in the must itself, you will know it within a couple of hours instead of days.





    January 28, 2004

    Achieving balance in a wine is what we all strive for. The flavor may not be as intense as we would like, the color might not be perfect, but if the wine is balanced it will speak for itself, even if a bit delicately or lightly.

    Fixing a wine that is just not right is an essential challenge in winemaking, if for no other reason than wines do not always turn out the way we'd like them to when the wine clears.

    If a wine's acidity is out of whack, it simply will not taste right. If the acid is too little, the wine will taste flat, lifeless and insipid. It can be enlivened by adding acid and hopefully brought into balance. But if it is too acidic, we have an altogether different problem. Intervention might be light or severe, depending on the severity of the problem.


    Reducing Acidity

    If the wine contains any considerate amount of both malic and tartaric acids, there are two easy things we can do. The first is to introduce a malolactic fermentation to convert some of the malic acid in the wine into less harsh lactic acid. The only way to be sure you have a malolactic fermentation is to inoculate the wine with a malolactic bacteria culture, available at most homebrew/winemaking supply shops. It is also essential that the wine not be heavily sulfited when the culture is introduced. A sulfur dioxide test kit should be used to ensure the wine has no more than 20 ppm of free (unbound) sulfur dioxide. If too much, one should aerate the wine just enough to reduce it. Sulfur dioxide is a gas, and as such can be forced to dissipate.

    Malolactic fermentation typically will not reduce total acidity more than 0.05 to 0.08 percent, but it softens the overall harshness of the acidity considerably. But if the wine is still too acidic and contains tartaric acid--either because it is made from grapes or because we added acid blend to a non-grape base--we can chill the wine down to 35 degrees F. (2 degrees C.) for about two weeks. Excess potassium and tartaric acid will combine as potassium bitartrate crystals and precipitate to the bottom of the wine. We can speed this up by stirring into the wine about 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar per gallon of wine. After two weeks, the wine should be racked off the crystals.

    We can also remove tartaric acid chemically by mixing calcium carbonate into the wine, which removes tartrate anions and leaves carbonic acid. The latter dissipates over time as carbon dioxide and water. Treat perhaps 1/4 of the wine and then stir the treated wine back into the batch. Allow the wine to set at least 48 hours before taste testing, as the carbon dioxide produced during treatment will greatly affect the taste.

    Or, we can add potassium bicarbonate in a similar manner to the wine, which leaves potassium bitartrate, carbon dioxide and water. The wine is then chilled to precipitate the potassium bitartrate (as described above) and then degassed or set aside to dissipate the carbon dioxide naturally.

    In extreme cases, we might have to do all of these things to correct a severe acidity problem. But there is one more thing we can do that doesn't involve bacterial or chemical intervention. We can blend the wine with an acid deficient wine (that flat, lifeless, insipid wine we mentioned earlier) to achieve better balance. Blending should always be done first with small samples to establish the desired ratio of the two (or more) wines to be blended.





    January 13, 2004

    I received many emails over the holidays, while I was in California, wishing me and my family a joyous season and prosperous new year. I appreciate those sentiments and echo them to all of you. The death of my wife's father took some of the joy out of the holidays, but a loving family and the company of good friends did much to alleviate what otherwise could have been a somber season. Again, thank you all.

    Many, many winemaking emails also awaited my return. I apologize that I will not be able to respond to all of them. The next two months will be, as it is every year, the busiest of the year for me. Still, I answer what I can.


    Unknown Grapes

    A recent email explained that the writer had been given several gallons of steam-extracted grape juice with which to make wine. He did not know what kind of grapes the juice was from and did not know how to approach the task. However, he thought the grapes were a Concord-Beta 2 hybrid.

    I too have received both juice and grapes of unknown origin. Making wine from them is not the difficult part. Knowing what to expect from the wine is the hard part. I have a 5-gallon carboy of "mystery wine" that is just over three years old and still too tannic to enjoy. I will bulk age it until the tannins soften just a bit and then bottle it. It may require and additional year (or a few) in the bottle before it "arrives," but I have no doubt it will be a good wine when it's ready.

    Allowing for the unknowns, what follows in my advice on making wine from "mystery grapes."


    Making Wine from Unknown Grapes

    Take 4-1/3 gallons of the juice, measure the specific gravity, and bump it up to 1.088 with simple sugar syrup made with two parts sugar and one part boiling water. Assuming the grapes really are a Concord hybrid, this should increase the volume to just under five gallons.

    Add five teaspoons of powdered pectic enzyme (if you have liquid pectic enzyme, follow its directions for treating five gallons). Transfer the juice to a six-gallon carboy and pitch an activated yeast starter. When vigorous fermentation peaks begins to slow, transfer the wine to a five-gallon carboy and slap on an airlock.

    Wait two weeks, stir in 1/4 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite and top up the carboy. Wait another two weeks and rack. Wait another month and rack again. If wine is fairly clear at this time, stabilize with potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite. If not clear, wait another month and rack again, then stabilize. Sweeten wine to taste and keep under airlock another month. Rack again and if any lees were deposited set aside three months, rack, and bottle after additional month. If no lees were present, set aside two months and then rack into bottles.

    Wait at least two months after bottling to taste, but longer aging might be necessary. The old saying -- "Serve no wine before its time" -- means just what it says.

    The importance of holding newly bottled wine for two months before tasting cannot be understated. All wines undergo "bottle shock" after bottling and need time to recover their zest. A newly bottled wine will taste flat and lifeless, but will regain its vibrancy after a few weeks. I use two months as a rule of thumb because it is sufficient for perhaps 95% of all wines.

    I have no doubt the above instructions will produce an adequate wine. One can "tweak" these instructions by also measuring both acidity and pH initially and adjusting the juice accordingly, but unless the grapes are wild natives they probably will not have and unacceptable TA or pH.





    December 29, 2003

    Some of you probably know I'm on vacation in California. Writing a Blog, even one as fun as this one, is more work than I want to do on vacation. So, I'm taking the lazy way out and am throwing together some material sent to readers who asked my opinion on the subjects below.

    Getting the Most Out of Fruit Wines

    Good fruit wines are made with good fruit. With few exceptions, most fruit peak in flavor when the fruit are at the peak of ripeness. Harvesting your own is the way to go because if you pick any under-ripe fruit you can only blame yourself. Commercial (supermarket) fruit are notoriously under-ripe when harvested because their cycle is timed to allow the fruit to "turn" during transit and on the shelf. The proof of this is to taste a deep red strawberry purchased at the supermarket and then taste a vine-ripened strawberry from your garden. You wouldn't even know they are the same species!

    But you need to be clear about one thing. Fruit wines do not taste like the fruit they are made from any more than grape wine tastes like the grapes they are made from. But if they are made well, from fruit at the peak of their ripeness, they will taste like wine from that fruit is supposed to taste. You will know what it is because your nose and palate will recognize the fruit character in the base. Sweetening a dry fruit wine a little will bring out some of the flavors the alcohol masks. So will bulk aging it (usually). Some fruit need six months of aging, some need a year, and some need two or more years. Read the recipe carefully and if says something like, "Wait a year before tasting," that is writer's code for "It needs to age a year before you drink it." If you aren't willing to wait, don't make the wine.

    By "made well" I mean they are balanced. Alcohol is a major component of balance (the other major components being sugar, tannin and acidity--both TA and pH). If the alcohol is too high for the fruit type, you will never achieve balance without major intervention. Newbies make high alcohol wine because they don't understand balance. Some of the best fruit wines I have ever enjoyed (and I sure didn't make them all) were 10.5 to 11.5% abv. I even tasted an outstanding kiwi wine that was only 9.25% abv. It had an s.g. of 1.002, but it tasted like it was 1.006 at least because the alcohol did not compete with it. The kiwi flavor jumped out at you because it was a very well-balanced wine--TA was around 5.5 g/L and pH a bit high at 3.6 to 3.7 (two measurements--same meter--gave two readings). She (the winemaker) had fermented on the skins and then added just a smidgen of tannin from tea leaves.


    Shelf Life of Certain Chemicals

    A guy complained that he stabilized his wine, sweetened it, and it fermented in the bottle anyway. "What gives?" he asked. Well, I asked, how long have you had your postassium sorbate? "About six years," he said. Bingo!

    Potassium sorbate has a reasonably short shelf life (6-8 months) and after a year is about half-strength. I only discovered this myself when I stabilized a couple of wines one year, sweetened them, and they began a very active fermentation just as I was going to bottle them. I called the company who made the stuff and found out the story. As long as it is vacuum sealed in a bottle, it is potent. As soon as you open the jar it starts declining. Most people don't buy sorbate in a jar, but rather buy a 1 or 2-ounce supply in a little ZipLoc bag. The shop owner bought it in a jar and opened it to fill those little bags. You have no idea when he did that because he didn't (and won't) date the bag. It might be four months old when it's sold.

    I buy my sorbate in jars. The smallest amount I can buy in a jar is 55 grams. I buy 4-6 jars at a time. I never open one unless I have several carboys and several gallon jugs of wine to treat--the reason should be obvious. I date the jar when I break the seal and I throw it out 3/4 full six months later. If I don't do this, I won't be stabilizing my wine. I've tried using more to make up for the deterioration, but there is a level at which you can taste it and wish you couldn't.

    Potassium metabisulfite and Campden tablets should optimally be replaced every year, but every other year is probably safe if you measure your free SO2 and compensate for the lower numbers. They do lose potency, but not as badly as K sorbate. But, if you got a good deal on Campden in 1992, bought a bottle of 1000 and still have 920 left, forget it. The stuff is cheap. Buy a new suppy every year or two.

    I have both liquid and powdered pectic enzyme. Between the two, I personally think the liquid does a faster, better job of what I am using it for. But, and this is important, it costs significantly more than powdered and loses 20% of its strength each year at room temperature. Stored in a refrigerator, it still declines 5% a year. So, I tend to use the powdered enzyme more, and when I publish a new wine recipe that calls for pectic enzyme, I almost always refer to the powdered form.

    If you use Exberry Grape Skin Extract to add color to your reds, just be aware that it should be stored at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees C.). It has a shelf life of about a year when so stored, but that declines rapidly the warmer it is stored.


    • Getting Started, some hints for winemakers and how to use winemaking recipes



    December 18, 2003

    I promised last time (see WineBlog for December 8th) I would tell you how to extend a 28-day kit over a reasonable period to make an even better wine. The instructions below were originally devised by Ed Goist on the rec.crafts.winemaking use group on March 31st, 2000. While I have modified Ed's original to better fit my own belief system for making wines, I must give Ed the credit for the bulk of what follows. If you want to read his original posting, visit the third link at the end of this entry.

    These instructions are for kits that make 6 U.S. gallons (23 liters) of wine.

    Extended Instructions for Making Wines from Kits

    DAY 1:
    • Rehydrate your must to the full 6 U.S. gallons in a 6-gallon carboy, stirring well. If your tap water is good, use it. Otherwise use bottled spring water. Distilled water contains no trace minerals, which yeast need, and should be avoided.
    • Many styles of full-bodied red wine kits benefit from the addition of grape tannin to the must before fermentation. Therefore, one may wish to add 1 to 1-1/2 level teaspoons of grape tannin as follows: Before rehydrating the must, thoroughly dissolve selected amount of grape tannin in about 1 quart of boiling water. Once dissolved, add the tannin solution to the must as part of its rehydration.
    • Use a hydrometer to check the specific gravity of the must. A starting s.g. of 1.088 is perfect if you have a finished dry wine of similar type and style to top up with. If you intend to top up with water, raise the s.g. to 1.095 by adding 1 pound 4 ounces of sugar to 6 U.S. gallons of must.
    • Next, withdraw 1 U.S. gallon of the must to a sealed glass jug and refrigerate it as a reserve for later addition to the main batch.
    • If your kit has oak powder, add it now as instructed. If not and an oak fermentation is desired, add 1.4 ounce (39 grams) of untoasted Oak-Mor American White Oak Powder or 1.5 ounce (43 grams) of toasted to the carboy. The 5 gallons will get the oak. The reserved gallon will not until added back later.
    • Now, properly rehydrate the enclosed yeast. For detailed instructions on how to rehydrate your yeast, please go to the first link following this entry (3 Easy Steps...) when you are finished here. Also, please note the additional link at the bottom of that page (second link below).
    • Add 1/3 cup of must to your yeast slurry to make it easier to pour and pour the mixture into the carboy. Do not attach your airlock for the first 48 hours of fermentation. Yeast need oxygen to propagate and you want them to do that. Instead, cover the mouth of the carboy with a sanitized piece of muslin secured with a rubber band.
    • Place your carboy in an area where the temperature remains at about 70 degrees F. (20 degrees C.).
    DAY 2:
    • On the second day of fermentation, lightly stir the must to keep the yeast in suspension.
    • At the end of the second day (after 48 hours), attach the airlock.
    DAYS 3 - 5:
    • Stir the must once a day on days 3 and 4. Stir on day 5 as well if the fermentation is not obviously vigorous.
    • Always reattach the airlock after stirring.
    DAY 7 - 9:
    • Watch for the vigorous fermentation to subside (this will be on about day 7 or 8, but possibly 9 or 10).
    • When the vigorous fermentation has subsided, slowly add the reserve 1 U.S. gallon of juice back to the main batch. If the juice is still cold from refrigeration, add 1 pint every 15 minutes and then stir the must for 15-20 seconds. If the reserve is at room temperature, add 1 quart every 15 minutes and again stir.
    • Reattach the airlock and keep the must at around 70 degrees F. (20C) for the next three weeks.
    DAY 28:
    • Using a sanitized hydrometer, check the specific gravity of the must. Note the specific gravity and reattach the airlock.
    • The specific gravity of the must should be under 0.995 for most kits (and under 1.000 for some kits for big reds).
    DAY 29:
    • If making a white wine, prepare your bentonite as follows:
      • Place 1 quart of boiling water in a blender and turn the blender on to medium.
      • Slowly add 1 level tablespoon of bentonite to the blender.
      • The final slurry should have the consistency of pea soup. If required, add a small amount of additional water to make the slurry the proper consistency.
      • Once the proper consistency is achieved, blend the bentonite on high for 2 minutes.
    • Cover the bentonite slurry and set aside.
    DAY 30:
    • Using a sanitized hydrometer, again check the specific gravity of the must. Note the specific gravity. If the value has not dropped since Day 28, move on to stabilization.
    • If the specific gravity has dropped since Day 28, reattach the airlock and allow further fermentation. Check the gravity on a daily basis until it remains unchanged for 2 consecutive days.
    • Stabilization and Fining:
      • Add the contents of the bag marked potassium metabisulfite to an empty, sanitized, 5-gallon carboy.
      • Rack the wine from its original carboy into the new carboy, leaving the lees behind.
      • Degass the wine by stirring it vigorously for 3 minutes. Wait 15 minutes and stir it again, vigorously, for 3 minutes.
      • If making a white wine, add the bentonite slurry which you prepared on Day 29. If possible, mix the slurry in your blender for about 2 minutes on high just before adding.
      • If making a red wine, add the packet marked Kieselsol from a Wine Art Claro K-C red wine finings package (may not be included).
      • Stir vigorously for 4 minutes.
      • Top up with a similar, dry wine and reattach your airlock.
    DAY 31:
    • Using a wine thief, withdraw about 200ml of wine and set aside.
    • If making a white wine, add the packet marked Finings which came in your kit to the carboy. Alternatively, you can add the packet marked Clarifier which comes in a packet of Wine Art Claro K-C white wine finings.
    • If making a red wine, add the packet marked Clarifier from a Wine Art Claro K-C red wine finings package to the carboy.
    • Stir vigorously for 4 minutes. Wait 15 minutes and again stir vigorously for 4 minutes.
    • Top-up with the 200ml of wine withdrawn earlier. Reattach airlock.
    • Place wine in a very cool location. Alternatively, the carboy can be stoppered with a cork and placed in a refrigerator.
    DAY 45:
    • Carefully rack the wine into a sanitized carboy. Avoid splashing.
    • If making a red wine or a Chardonnay and you did not add oak powder earlier (on Day 1), you may add some now using either of the following two alternatives:
      • Add Medium toast, French Allier white oak chips (from World Cooperage). "Heat sanitize" 4 oz (115g) of chips for 30 minutes by placing them on a piece of aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 250 degrees F. Allow the chips to cool and add to wine.
      • Add medium toast French StaVin (http://www.stavin.com/homewinemaker.htm) oak cubes at a rate of 3.5 oz (100g) per 6-gallon carboy. No preparation of the cubes is necessary. Simply add to carboy.
    • Top-up carboy to the very top with a similar, dry wine. If wine was refrigerated, allow about 2.5 inches of ullage below the bung for expansion of the wine as it warms up.
    • Place wine in a cool dark place. Over the next 35 days, check to be sure that your airlock remains filled with fluid to the indicated level.
    DAY 80:
    • Rack wine off of its light lees into a sanitized carboy.
    • If using the oak chips, discard the used chips.
    • If using the Sta-Vin cubes, rinse and return them to the fresh carboy.
    • Top-up the carboy with a similar, dry wine.
    • Check fluid level in airlock and reattach to carboy.
    • Place wine in a cool dark place. Over the next 60 days, check to be sure that your airlock remains filled with fluid to the indicated level.
    DAY 140:
    • Your wine should now be crystal clear.
    • Degass the wine as follows:
      • Stir it vigorously with a sanitized plastic or wooden dowel. You must cause the wine to cavitate (stir vigorously enough that an air cavity forms behind the dowel as it moves). Foam will be released,
      • Be careful at first to not create so much foam that it rises out of the carboy and overflows.
      • Stir for 2-3 minutes, then let the wine rest 10-15 minutes under airlock.
      • Repeat until foam stops rising.
    • Check your wine for residual CO2 as follows:
      • Use a wine thief to place about 200ml of wine in a 375ml clear wine bottle.
      • Cover the mouth of the bottle with your thumb and shake vigorously.
      • If the wine foams substantially, further degassing is warranted.
    • Rack the wine into a sanitized carboy into which 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite has been added.
    • If using the Sta-Vin cubes, and further oak character is desired, the cubes can be rinsed and returned to the fresh carboy.
    • If the wine needs further degassing (as determined above), stir vigorously for 4 minutes. Wait 15 minutes and stir vigorously for 4 more minutes.
    • If the wine does not seem to need further degassing, stir lightly.
    • Taste test the wine.
    • Top-up with wine in 375ml degassing test bottle and additional dry wine if necessary.
    • Check fluid level in airlock and reattach to carboy.
    DAY 170:
    • Reds which are still in contact with the StaVin cubes and which are going to be filtered can be racked into a sanitized carboy. Top-up with a dry wine. Cubes should be discarded.
    • Taste test the wine.
    • If wine tastes balanced, is free of defects, and free of excess CO2, bottle at leisure or filter for bottling on Day 180.
    DAY 180:
    • Taste test the wine.
    • Bottle wines filtered on Day 170.

    Now when you get that wine kit for Christmas, you'll have a solid plan for bottling in late June and shocking your friends on Labor Day (September 6th, 2004) with a wine tasting party....




    December 8, 2003

    I keep getting requests for easy wine. What, exactly, is that? If someone would tell me I'd pass it on. To me, most wines made from grapes are fairly easy compared to making wines from non-grape ingredients. But, upon reflection, I guess making wine from grape concentrate or a kit has to be the easiest.

    Wine from Grape Concentrate

    There are grape concentrates and there are wine grape concentrates. Both can be made into wine. I have already covered making wine from the best-known grape concentrate -- Welch's. See my entry for November 14th, below. So I'll say a few words here about making wine from wine grape concentrates. These usually are varietals, such as Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel (both red and white), etc. But there are also well known blends, such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, Meritage, and Chianti. Unlike Welch's, these concentrates invariably come with instructions printed on the can or bottle, so I will not try to second-guess them here. Just assemble the necessary ingredients and follow the instructions. One will normally need the concentrate, sugar (some need it, some don't), water, and a few additives like Campden tablets, potassium sorbate (or premixed stabilizer or "wine conditioner"), and an optional fining agent. You might want some oak chips, powder or essence, but it isn't required.

    I have tasted some very good wines made from concentrates. I think I've made a few myself. But the old adage, "The finest wine is made in the vineyard," applies to wine from grape concentrate too. The thing to remember about concentrates is you really do get what you pay for. Inexpensive concentrate can only be made from inexpensive grapes. More than likely these are grapes that no one else wanted for one reason or another. Quality concentrates are made from quality grapes and, like the grapes themselves, demand a quality price.

    But in all fairness, those lowly cans of Welch's frozen grape concentrate make pretty good wine if the winemaker is up to the task. As I've said before, I've seen several Best of Show rosettes go to wines made from Welch's. More than anything, this speaks volumes for the quality control of the Welch's company.


    Kit Wines

    Most kits contain grape concentrate, but some contain pasteurized grape juice. A few contain packages of grape skins or other reduced material for adding color and tannin to the wine. This might even be provided as a extract, paste or powdered additive. Whatever is needed for the wine will be in the kit. One need only follow the instructions carefully to make a decent wine. With premium kits, you can make some very good wines.

    If you deviate from the manufacturer's instructions, be sure to write down what you did. I can pretty much guarantee you that by the time the wine has aged sufficiently for its type and style you will not remember what you did. And yes, kit wines should be aged according to the type and style of wine being made. In any event, even a wine that is "instantly drinkable" should be allowed to lay for two months before consuming to allow it to recover from bottling shock (a.k.a. bottle sickness), the flatness many wines temporarily suffer after bottling.

    My biggest complaint with wine kits is that they rush you through the winemaking process. Wine is not meant to be made fast, yet we have 28-day kits, 21-day kits 14-days kits, and now even faster ones than that. This isn't beer. It's wine. Wine takes time, but the kit manufacturers have understandably seccumbed to the consumers' desire for instant gratification. In my next WineBlog, I will tell you how to extend a 28-day kit over a reasonable period to make an even better wine. In the meantime, if you care to read my pros and cons of grape concentrates, the link is below.





    November 18, 2003

    I received three emails in two days concerning the use of Campden tablets. It is obvious to me that not everyone knows the best way to use them.

    Campden Tablets

    Campden tablets are a blend of either potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite with an inert filler material that bonds it all together in tablet form. One Campden tablet delivers around 50 parts per million (ppm) of free (unbound) sulfur as sulfur dioxide (SO2) to the wine. I have read claims that the dose is as low as 45 ppm and as high as 75 ppm. Both are possible, as well as everything in between, because Campden tablets can contain either of the two mentioned salts, which might affect dosage, and the tablets can come in different sizes. Campden tablets manufactured for Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth countries are made for Imperial gallons, which are close to 3/4 liter larger than U.S. gallons. If you use those Campden tablets in smaller U.S. gallons, the dose will be larger. When you buy a fresh supply of Campden tablets, you might want to crush and dissolve one in a gallon of white grape juice and then measure the free sulfur using an SO2 test kit. The last three batches of 100 tablets I purchased measured around 50 ppm.

    The name "Campden" is always capitalized because it is the name of the chemist who devised (and patented) the formula for the tablet. Most tablets today use potassium metabisulfite rather than sodium. There are several possible reasons for this. Sodium ions, I am told, may leave an unpleasant aftertaste in your wine. Potassium Metabisulfite is somewhat healthier and better for diabetics. Potassium metabisulfite stays fresher longer and doesn't develop an off-smell (akin to lye) like the sodium salt can when exposed to air. Potassium Metabisulfite also has a slightly higher sulphur content. But the number one reason for me is because the United States government has prohibited the addition of sodium metabisulfite to commercial wines or their musts, and that's good enough reason for me. The government does get overly protective at times, but in matters of health it pays to err on the side of caution.

    Campden has to be crushed very fine before adding to wine or it won't dissolve completely. I use a glass mortar and pestle and can reduce a tablet to a powdered sugar fineness in about 45 seconds (it's all in the wrist). After reducing to a flour-like powder, pour it in a glass and add 1/2 cup of water, wine, or liquid strained from the must. I use a small whisk to mix the powder into solution, but a fork with long tines works well too. It takes about 2 minutes to completely dissolve all the ingredients in Campden. It takes only a few seconds to dissolve pure potassium metabisulfite. So why use the tablets?

    Most of us who use Campden tablets do so because it is diffucult at best to measure the exact amount of potassium metabisulfite required for a gallon of must or wine. Only 1/4 teaspoon of the salt is required to deliver the proper dose to 5 gallons of wine, so a single gallon needs 1/5 of 1/4 teaspoon -- not very much at all. It is very difficult to divide 1/4 teaspoon of powder into 5 equal lots, but one can get it close dividing the 1/4 teaspoon on a mirror with a razor blade. It just isn't convenient or completely accurate. But the tablet -- well, one tablet is easy to count.


    Vitis Berlandieri Revisited

    Back on October 1st I wrote about harvesting some Vitis berlandieri too early. This native Texas grape had undergone verasion two months earlier and the ones I tasted seemed ripe enough, so I assumed they had ripened about a month early and picked a 5-gallon bucket full. Well, they weren't at all ripe -- only the ones I taste-tested.

    I revisited the stand about a week ago and taste-tested many before picking again. This time they were nice and sweet -- all of them. I manually destemmed and crushed them, chaptalized (sweetened) them slightly to get the specific gravity up to 1.088, and they fermented to 1.010 in about 5 days. They're in secondary now, pushing bubbles. I have high hopes for this batch. Not so for the earlier one, but I will try to salvage it if I can.

    If you're interested in the recipe or just want to see what these grapes look like, visit them at my "Requested Recipes" section on my web site. Use the third link below.





    November 14, 2003

    Two nights ago I was interviewed over the phone by a reporter writing a story on home winemaking. He began by explaining the thrust of his story, naming others he had interviewed, and asking me what one thing I might say to assure people who had never made wine before that they could do it. I replied, "If the Sumerians could do it, you probably can too."

    I get emails all the time from people who want to know how to start, what equipment they need to purchase, and asking for a recipe that "can't fail." What they are really asking for is assurance they won't spend a lot of money and end up with vinegar or worse.

    For that first, simple, "can't fail" recipe, I always recommend my recipe for Welch's Frozen Grape Juice Wine. It only makes a gallon, so they don't have to buy a carboy. It uses concentrate, so they don't need a grape press. It always clears on its own so they don't need fining agents or a filter. And it always makes a very decent, drinkable wine. Indeed, this wine is so good that in the last three competitions of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, a Welch's wine has taken two Best of Shows.

    The only equipment you need is a primary (a 1.5-gallon crock pot will do), a one-gallon secondary, bung, airlock, and racking tubing. The only "winemaking supplies" (additives) you need are acid blend, pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient, and wine yeast. You can make a red wine (Concord) or white (Niagara).


    Welch's Frozen Grape Juice Wine

    The amount of sugar called for in this recipe is an approximation. The sugar content of Welch's 100% grape juice concentrates does vary slightly because the grapes vary slightly in their ability to make sugar from year to year and vineyard to vineyard. I do recommend you use a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the reconstituted grape juice and calculate the amount of sugar needed to yield a starting gravity of 1.088 to 1.095 (no higher). However, if you don't have a hydrometer and this is your first batch, the amount indicated below will do fine.


    Welch's Frozen Grape Juice Wine

    • 2 cans (11.5 oz) Welch's 100% frozen grape concentrate
    • 1-1/4 lbs granulated sugar
    • 2 tsp acid blend
    • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 6-3/4 pints water
    • wine yeast (Red Star Premier Curvee or Montrachet will work for either red or white concentrate)

    Bring 1 quart water to boil and dissolve the sugar in the water. Remove from heat and add frozen concentrate. Add additional water to make one gallon and pour into primary. Cover with sanitized cloth and allow to cool to room temperature. Add remaining ingredients except yeast. Recover and set aside 8 hours. Add activated wine yeast and recover the primary. A vigorous fermentation will be evident the next day. When vigorous fermentation slows down (about 5 days), transfer to secondary and fit airlock. When clear (about 30 days), rack, top up and refit airlock. After additional 30 days, stabilize, sweeten if desired and rack into bottles. If you do not wish to stabilize and sweeten, rack the wine again and let it sit an additional 30 days before bottling. [Author's own recipe]




    October 31, 2003

    Life has been full lately. That's another way of saying I have been extremely busy. I still have almost two dozen mail and email requests to answer but they will have to wait a little longer. My wife expects me home soon to help greet the trick-or-treaters. I apologize to those waiting, but there is only so much time.

    But I was able to retire several email questions and respond to one recipe request today. I selected it simply because it was so interesting. It was a request for a recipe for a green onion wine.


    Green Onion Cooking Wine?

    I have never made a wine from green onions, nor could I find a recipe from another source. Still, I felt green onions would make a good cooking wine and knew instinctively how I would go about making it. My assumptions were that sugar and body could be had from potatoes and white grape concentrate, but even then I would need to add acid, nutrients, and...well, here's what I came up with.


    Green Onion Cooking Wine

    • 1 lb green onions
    • ½ lb potatoes
    • 1 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
    • 1 lb finely granulated sugar
    • 6½ pts water
    • 2 tsp citric acid or acid blend
    • ½ tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 crushed Campden tablet
    • 1½ tsp yeast nutrient
    • Champagne Yeast

    Use lower portion of onions--white and into light green leaves--avoiding darkly colored leaf. Thinly slice onions and potatoes in 1 quart of water. Put on heat and bring to a simmer, holding simmer for 45 minutes. Put sugar, citric acid, concentrate, and yeast nutrient in primary. Strain simmering water into primary, discarding onions and carrots. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved, then add remaining water. Cover with clean cloth and set aside to cool. When at room temperature, add crushed Campden tablet and stir. Recover primary and set aside for 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme, stir, recover primary, and set aside another 12 hours. Add activated yeast. Stir daily until s.g. drops to 1.020. Rack liquid into secondary, top up if required and fit airlock. Rack, top up and refit airlock every 30 days until wine clears and no new sediments form during a 30-day period. Stabilize, sweeten to taste, wait 10 days, and rack into bottles. Allow to age 6 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]




    October 16, 2003

    The East Texas Homebrew Association held its annual amateur wine competition last weekend. My wife and I made the 6-hour drive from Pleasanton to Tyler, Texas on Friday and returned Sunday. It was a trip well worth the drive in more ways than one. Jake Wise, President of the ETHA, hosted Donna and I. Jake, his wife Lavern, and 14-going-on-20 daughter Heide made us feel more welcome than family.

    The competition was Saturday, with a morning set-up and registration, afternoon judging, and evening awards dinner. Since I know I will not correctly remember or spell everyone's names, I'll forego the many thanks and acknowledgements and simply say they had a great, hard-working crew. It probably went a lot smoother for us judges than it did for the stewards and auditors, but if there was any panic or friction it went undetected by me.

    As is often the case with such events, the need for judges and the desire to allow people to compete were weighed equally. One could enter and judge, but naturally could not judge categories in which you were entered. Judging was blind using a nothing-like-UC-Davis 20-point system. The awarding of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals was based on the Danish system. All entries were available for tasting (and integration into the meal) at the awards dinner. Luke Clark's superb Best of Show white muscadine blend was the first to disappear. His sparkling gooseberry took longer, but that's because we hid it at our table and selfishly did not share it very widely. But the wine I want to talk about today is one of my own. I mention it because I was twice asked for the recipe and promised to share it here.


    Sand Burr Wine?

    I have been known to make wines from strange ingredients. Sand burr is not the strangest, but it comes in second by only a hair's width.

    sand burr

    The common sand burr (Cenchrus echinatus)


    The common grass burr (Cenchrus incertus) and sand burr (Cenchrus echinatus) are a major nuisance in Texas and elsewhere. The half-dozen to a dozen sharp spikelets on each seed stalk grab whatever passes by. My English Springer Spaniel's hair has been so loaded with them she could not lie down. There are numerous strategies for getting rid of this unwanted weed-grass. I divised another. Make wine of their spiked seeds.

    I picked the seed stems while the seeds were still green and tossed them into a bucket. When my back ached sufficiently, I went inside and used a fork's tines to strip the spikelets off the stems. When done, I made two more trips outside to "harvest" more burrs. When at last I had a quart, I placed them in a 2-quart pan and added a quart of water. I stirred to dampen them, then put on the lid and brought them to a boil. Twenty minutes later I strained them out and saved the dark green water. I assumed some tannin was present, but no sugar or acids. The recipe developed from those assumptions. The finished wine was light straw, without any hint of green.


    Sand Burr Wine

    • 1 qt sand burr spikelets
    • 1 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
    • 1 1/4 lbs finely granulated sugar
    • 1 1/4 tsp acid blend
    • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
    • 6 1/2 pts water
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
    • 1 crushed Campden tablet
    • Pasteur Champagne Yeast

    Bring sand burrs to boil in 1 qt water for 15-20 minutes. Strain and discard burrs, but retain water. Add sugar, tannin, acid blend, and yeast nutrient and stir well to dissolve. Add grape concentrate and remaining water. Cover and set aside to cool. When room temperature, add activated yeast and recover. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides (7-10 days). Transfer to secondary, top up and fit airlock. Ferment to absolute dryness (30-45 days). Rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack after 60 days and again 30 days after that. Stabilize with potassium sorbate and crushed Campden tablet (stirred well), then sweeten to taste. Wait 30 days and rack into bottles. This wine was very drinkable after two months but absolutely heavenly after a year. [Author's own recipe]




    October 1, 2003

    Time does fly when you're busy. This seems to be especially true when you have more to do than time allows.

    I've been watching a stand of wild Vitis berlandieri for several months. This is a late-ripening grape, as evidenced by two of its common names -- the "fall grape" and "winter grape." At least three other North American native grapes share the name "winter grape" -- V. bicolor, V. cordifolia (properly, V. vulpina), and V. cinerea. V. cordifolia/vulpina rightfully owns the name. But the point is that the name hints at a very late ripening for all four species, so when I tasted several last Friday and they all tasted sweet, I should have looked before I leaped. Instead, I got an ever-present bucket out of the truck and picked three gallons of them. But in fact, they weren't ripe. I discovered this when I got home and my wife tasted a couple.

    Well, I destemmed and crushed them anyway, and they are fermenting along at a very vigorous pace as I write. I'm not sure what I will do with them, but they are well on their way to becoming an embarrassment. I haven't measured the acidity yet, but know I can deal with that later. It's the greenish taste under all that deep red color that will probably cause the most trouble, but I plan on attempting to deal with it if I can. I'll probably have more to say about it later. Meanwhile, I'll continue watch the stand of Vitis berlandieri, for there are plenty of grapes left to harvest when they finally reach ripeness.


    More Fun with Jalapeños

    If you were to check my "Requested Recipes" section on my website, you would find the featured request is for a Capsicumel (or Capsimel) recipe. Capsicumel/Capsimel is a metheglin, a spiced mead made with chiles (not chili, and not peppers). I provided him three recipes. One is made using jalapeños. It is a particularly good mead, so I thought I would share it with you.

    Making this requires a balancing act -- between the heat, the flavor of the honey, the flavor of the jalapeño chiles themselves, the alcohol, and the residual sweetness of the mead. Conventional wisdom says the mead must be sweet to balance the heat, but not so sweet that the flavor of the base honey and chiles are masked. I cannot tell you how to achieve that, since every batch will differ slightly or greatly depending on the variety and number of chiles used. Achieving balance is a winemaker's art, and capsicumel is one beverage where it must be practiced.

    I do, however, off some basic hints at how to achieve that in the recipe itself. Some fine-tuning will undoubtedly be necessary, but that is up to you. Also, some mead-makers boil their honey and skim the scum off the top and some do not heat their honey at all. I leave that decision up to you, but my recipe calls for boiling. The recipe below uses more honey than the one on my website. Both will work fine, but this one is for more of a sack.


    Capsicumel (Jalapeño Mead)

    • 16 medium-sized jalapeños (for less heat, use 8 jalapeños)
    • 1 lb golden raisins chopped or minced
    • 3 lbs light honey
    • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 6 1/2 pts water
    • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
    • 1 crushed Campden tablet
    • 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient
    • Pasteur Champagne Yeast

    Mix honey into 5 1/2 pints water and bring to boil. Boil 20 minutes, skimming off any scum that forms. Meanwhile, wearing rubber gloves, wash jalapeños and cut off stems. Slice length-ways and remove seeds. Place chiles in blender or food chopper with 2 cups water and chop coarsely. Separately, chop or mince raisins. Put raisins in nylon straining bag and, over primary, pour chopped jalapeños in with raisins. Tie bag and leave in primary. Add acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Pour honey-water over ingredients and stir. Cover primary and set aside until room temperature. Add pectic enzyme, recover and set aside 12 hours. Add yeast and recover. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides (7-10 days). Wearing rubber gloves, squeeze nylon bag over primary, then discard contents of bag. Transfer liquid to secondary, top up and fit airlock. Ferment to absolute dryness (60-90 days). Rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack twice more, 45 days apart. Stabilize with potassium sorbate and crushed Campden tablet (stirred well), wait 14 days, then add 1/2 cup light, clear honey and stir well to dissolve. Taste. If heat is too strong, add 1/4 cup honey and stir well. Taste again. Add additional honey if required. Wait final 30 days and rack into bottles. Age at least 6 months. Will improve to 2 years. [Author's own recipe]




    September 17, 2003

    A fellow wrote me that he had made jalapeño wine from the award-winning recipe on my website. He was happy with the wine, but the next wine he made in the same primary -- a white Concord -- tasted strongly of jalapeños, and he wasn't too happy about that.

    I informed him that the hot stuff in jalapeños is capsaicin (or capsicin). It is an oil and is therefore oil-soluble. Water will not cut it. Thus, when you eat a too-hot chile pepper and want relief, a half-glass of whole milk will cut the heat but a whole bucket of water will not.

    I advised him to buy a quart or two of whole milk and put it in the carboy. Hold the palm of your hand over the mouth of the carboy and lift the carboy sideways, so the mouth is to your right, the bottom to your left, and the milk is laying along the inner side. Now swirl the carboy in a circular motion so the milk swirls around inside and coats the entire interior of the carboy. Do this for about two minutes and set the carboy down and rest your arms. Wait a few minutes and repeat. Wait a few more minutes and repeat again. Now dump the milk and wash the carboy out thoroughly with a sanitizer such as B-Brite or potassium metabisulfite and a carboy brush. Rinse well.

    As for the white Concord, I suggested that perhaps he could make some holiday wine, adding cinnamon sticks, ginger roots and cloves. I recommended the recipe for Spiced Apple Wine on my site as a model for the amount of spices per gallon, and the heat from the jalapeños should blend in well with them. This winter, I'm sure family and friends will be delighted to warm a little Holiday Wine and enjoy it in front of the fireplace.


    Spiced Wine and Vermouth

    Apple makes a good spiced wine, but the Big Kahuna of spiced wines is Vermouth. I have noted several times that the recipes I have for vermouth are quite tedious, involving small amounts of up to 28 spices. One day I received an email from a reader that was really a discussion on how to make vermouth.

    Since vermouth is really just a bitterly spiced wine, to make it you start with a fairly uninteresting red wine and sweeten it (for the Italian style) or get a dry white (for the French style). Once you have done that, go to a homebrew / winemaking shop. They usually have a bunch of flavor essences for making liqueurs -- Vermouth included. Just follow the essence's directions. For the true do-it-yourselfer, just grab the spice rack!

    The fellow's instructions for making vermouth are so simple that I have made it twice. The link to these instructions is below. He mentions a number of herbs that work well in vermouth, but I suggest you pick up Ken Schramm's The Compleat Meadmaker and check out his chapter on "Spices and Metheglin." Here he discusses 51 spices and herbs that work well in mead and can be used in vermouth or other spiced wines.

    My favorite spices and herbs for spiking my wines are anise, basil, bay leaves, chamomile, cherry blossoms, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger, hops, juniper berries, lemon blossoms, lemon grass, marjoram, orange peel, peppercorns, raspberry leaves, rosemary, rose petals, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme, and turmeric. But you should work on your own list.





    September 9, 2003

    My August 29th entry about "Too Much Fruit" drew a few emails. All but one were from commercial wineries that make fruit wines. They informed me what I already knew -- that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms regulates the winemaking process in the United States and allows only enough amelioration with water to bring the acidity into an acceptable window. Thus, most fruit wines made in the United States are pure, or very close to pure, fruit wines, chaptalized, of course. Further, these wines, with rare exception, do not require four years of aging to be drinkable.

    Folks, I am writing primarily for the amateur. I well know the body of regulation commercial wineries must comply with, and I admire all who produce outstanding fruit wines under such circumstances. There is a science to doing that, but also an art. The science is in complying with the BATF -- in weaving coherency from the scores of dos and do-nots while producing a balanced product. The art is in making exceptional wines. Last year I tasted six commercial cherry wines in southwestern Michigan. One was truly exceptional, two were outstanding, two were okay, and one was a huge disappointment. The previous year I tasted several blueberry wines in Pennsylvania and New York State and noted a similar distribution of good to bad.

    What all of this is leading to is my mea culpa. Yes, you can make pure juice and high fruit content wines that mature within a reasonable time. But there you are guided not by recipes, but rather by science and craftsmanship. I pay homage to such craftsmen all over this country and the world. I try my best to taste their wines wherever I go, and I buy the ones that exemplify the art.


    Fortifying a Wine

    I was recently asked how to calculate the amount of brandy to add to a wine to raise its alcohol level a set amount. The procedure is the same as calculating the amount of brandy or Everclear to add to a low-alcohol wine to fortify it for Port.

    The method for making Port this way is to stop the fermentation at a given point by adding sufficient alcohol to raise the alcohol by volume (ABV) content to 20-22% and then sweeten to balance. This method has many variations and I really don't have time today to go into them. However, the major issue for variations is whether you are going to add high- or low-proof spirits to your wine. If high-proof (Rum 151, for example, at 151-proof, or Everclear at 190-proof), you will need to add far less than if you add low-proof (80-proof brandy, for example). Anything you add will affect the taste, but that is a separate issue.

    The question is one of quantity, and proof (actually, ABV) will determine how much of whatever spirit you choose and the total finished volume. One also needs to know the ABV of the wine being used to make the port from, or in the referenced case, simply to boost the alcohol. Since I do not know the variables involved, you will have to calculate the answers yourself.


    The Pearson Square

    The key to calculating this is the Pearson Square. If you know it, use it. If not, Michiel Pesgens has built a small program called WineCalc that incorporates the Pearson Square.

    Go to the link above or below and download WineCalc. After downloading and opening the program, click on the tab called "Blending."

    Enter "Value wine #1" and "Value wine #2" as percentages of ABV. Wine #1 is your wine. Wine #2 is the spirit you are adding (brandy, for example). Remember, 80-proof brandy is 40% ABV, 100-proof anything is 50% ABV, 151-proof rum is 75.5% ABV, and 190-proof Everclear is 95% ABV. Enter the ABV %, not proof. Enter the target value (% ABV) you want, such as 20%.

    The 4th variable you need to supply is volume. The drop box has 3 choices, but choose the only one you know, "Volume wine #1." It makes no difference what unit you use -- just type in the number ("5" for 5 gallons, for example, or "19" for 19 liters). Your answer will be in the same unit, so you don't have to specify it.

    Then click on the arrow and the answers will appear to the right.





    September 4, 2003

    I sometimes get inquiries about insufficient body or flavor of wines -- especially non-grape wines. A fellow named Lee once wrote, "The only concern that I have is that some of them (blueberry, blackberry, pear) seem to lack body or intense flavor." While this was partially addressed to me, it was posted on the rec.crafts.winemaking news group. It generated a thread of 32 messages. My reply was but one of them, but I often quote portions of it when addressing similar questions. Today I thought I'd share my entire answer to the quoted concern. Some editing was necessary.

    Lee,...your concern, noted above, is actually two concerns.


    Adding Body

    The first is the absence of body in some of the wines. This is addressed in many places on my site, but the addressing is sometimes oblique rather than straight on. It boils down, however, to this. Many fruit produce thin wines unless supplemented with a body-building fruit such as grape (dried ones work very well, but so does juice from concentrate), banana, apricot, or date.

    For years I used raisins, dates and bananas almost exclusively for body, but [several] years ago I began using one 11½-ounce can of Welch's 100% Grape Juice (White or Red) Frozen Concentrate per gallon of wine and found it much easier than forcing raisins through a mincer. Most of the recipes you'll find on my site that do not use a body enhancer are from other sources, although I have made quite a few wines myself from fruit alone so I must claim some of them.


    A Question of Flavor

    The second concern you raise has to do with flavor. You actually have two avenues you can follow to intensify the lacking flavor. First, as others have advised, you can add more fruit. If you do this, simply reduce the amount of supplemental sugar, acid and possibly tannin, while adding, when needed, a bit more pectic enzyme. The alternative is to simply get more flavorful fruit.

    I don't know where you get your fruit, but let me give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you either grow your own or pick them fresh and absolutely at the peak of ripeness at a "U-pick-'em" farm. I would then suggest that you begin looking for a more flavorful variety.

    Last year my wife and I picked strawberries at a friend's farm. After we had picked more than we could actually use, my friend came out to the field, looked at our flats of berries, and asked why we hadn't picked any of his Cheyenne berries. I replied that I hadn't even heard of Cheyenne strawberries and, besides, the ones we picked were fine. He then led us to several rows of ripe but unattractive berries -- unattractive only because of their very large, yellow seeds. He picked one and handed it to me. I bit into it and, well, it was a transforming moment. The flavor of the ones we picked was very, very good, but this was fantastic. He smiled and handed me an empty flat....

    The point is, there is good flavor and there is fantastic flavor. Seek out the fantastic. The same goes for blackberries, pears, blueberries, peaches, plums, etc. -- and even grapes! (Who would have thought?) It goes without saying that if you buy your fruit from your grocer you are buying fruit that was probably picked a week (and possibly two) before it reached ripeness, so it will never taste fantastic.

    That is pretty much my entire response. If you are interested in reading the whole thread, of which my reply is but one of many, the link below should work.





    August 29, 2003

    I recently found another stand of late-hanging mustang grapes that were just beginning to shivel on the vine. Such grapes are prized here in south Texas because their acidity is lower than at any other time and their sugar is concentrating in the diminished juice. I picked 5 gallons of them in about 45 minutes and split the take with my wife. She makes some truly fabulous jelly from mustangs and I only wanted enough to make a gallon of white wine.

    Making white wine from mustang grapes is difficult. This is a pitch black grape with a decidedly purple juice sac just under the skin. The pulp itself is colorless. My friends at Poteet Country Winery make white mustang wine by simply crushing and pressing in one consecutive operation. The juice still makes contact with the skins and color is picked up. Their white mustang is the color of white zinfandel. Truly, it is a blush rather than a white, but a name is only a name and their wine sure is good. I, on the other hand, make a white mustang the color of chardonnay. It takes a bit of work.

    I do it the hard way. I manually destem the grapes one at a time. The mustang is a slipskin grape. If you squeeze it, its interior pops out the stem tear. So, as I remove each grape from its stem, I squeeze the grape over a bowl. Out shoots the pulp and a little purple juice. I do this until my thumb cramps up on me or until I have 1 1/2 quarts of pulp/juice that has never touched the outside of the grapeskin. This is sweetened, diluted with water, nutrified, and treated with 1/2 teaspoon of pectic enzyme. Ten to twelve hours later I pitch the yeast.

    Interestingly, the color in the juice sac is not fast. It falls into the lees as fermentation ends, leaving a clear, colorless wine in its wake. It's a labor-intensive wine, but well worth the trouble.


    Too Much Fruit

    There is a debate that has been going on for longer than I have been around. It centers around the practice of diluting non-grape wines with water. In the past few years, Ben Rotter has raised the debate anew. Ben is a Scot. His website, "Improved Winemaking," is listed below and in the left-hand column of this page. Ben is a champion of what he calls a "concentration of flavor" that he insists is only achieved by making wines with little or no dilution. He, I and others have debated this for at least two -- probably three -- years on the rec.crafts.winemaking newsgroup. My position has always been that certain fruits are too acidic or simply have too much flavor to not dilute. Red Raspberry and elderberry are the examples I like to use. At the same time I have argued for dilution, I have also experimented with using more and more fruit in some of my wines. More about that another day.

    The debate came home to me this week with two emails I received. A gentleman in Missouri wrote that he used 22 pounds of apricots to make a single gallon of wine. He crushed the fruit and fermented it on the pulp for a week, then pressed and continued fermentation until the wine was still. This was in 2001. The wine is still undrinkable. The other email came from Ohio and described a 100% pure red raspberry juice wine "...the color of a rare ruby. It's fragrance fills the room only seconds after being uncorked, but as inviting as it smells, it is vile to taste." Both gentlemen asked for my help in making their wine palatable. I suggested to each that he blend it with a nondescript white (for the apricot) or red (for the raspberry) wine until it is acceptable to the taste. Since one used eleven times the amount of apricots and the other used seven times the amount of raspberries I recommend, I suspect they will have to blend quite severely.

    Last night I was thumbing through Betty Sampson's "The Art of Making Wine" and happened upon the following:

    Most of the garden and country fruits used in winemaking have some natural sugars, but with high acid levels and pronounced flavours they need dilution with water in order to produce a drinkable wine within a reasonable maturing period. If sultanas [or raisins] are used to provide as much natural sugar and tartaric acid as possible, the level of garden or hedgerow fruits should not exceed more than two or three pounds per gallon (except in the case of apples and pears), otherwise the wine will contain an excessive amount of acid.

    So, if you are out picking fuit, berries or other ingredients for wine and read in the recipe that only 2 1/2 pounds of fruit are needed, before you double or triple that amount ask yourself how long you are willing to let the wine age to drinkability. Few people are willing to wait more than four years.





    August 20, 2003

    Many readers make the transition every year from making wines from kits to making wines from fresh grapes. I am often asked what special steps are required to successfully make this transition. There are so many styles of wine that it would be impossible to cover a fraction of them in this format, so I will just say a few general things I believe apply across the board.


    White Grapes

    The old adage that "good wine is made in the vineyard" is especially true for whites. We can add sugar and adjust TA and pH, but we cannot add flavor to a grape that simply doesn't have any. Allowing a grape to hang on the vine to develop flavor when both Brix and acidity are favorable is chancey. Disease, insects, birds, and wildlife (deer, possums, raccoons, etc.) can all steal a harvest overnight. So can an early frost or a two-week rain pattern. But no amount of winemaking skill can rescue a poorly flavored grape. Either let them hang until they are ready for wine or pick them for the table. But remember, a grape not flavorful enough for a heavier, aged style wine may be perfectly suitable for a softer, lighter syle. Work with the grape you have.

    A refractometer will give a more accurate sugar reading than will a hydrometer, but test fruit throughout the vineyard row. For each bunch tested, pick a berry from the top of the bunch and another from the bottom. Test for pectins when you crush. Pectic enzymes vary and should be used according to their indiviual instructions, but will yield more juice if allowed to work for 2-4 hours before pressing. Test acitity and if low add tartaric when you press. The wine will be better if its acids undergo fermentation than if added later. If you press directly after crushing or after allowing pectic enzymes to work on the grapes and then allow the juice to settle, be sure to add sulfur dioxide to control bacterias and molds and retard browning and oxidation. A common practice these days is to inoculate with a large yeast starter culture, ferment the juice to a Brix of 8-10, and then add sugar if needed.


    Red Grapes

    As with whites, good grapes make good wines. Underripe grapes will carry more acid and less sugar and flavor to the wine. It is bad from the start and can be improveded upon but not really corrected. With whites, grapes picked in the heat of the day might be cooled overnight so that fermentation does not start at too high a temperature. With reds, this is less of a problem but really hot grapes should be cooled to below 80 degrees F. so that fermentation temperatures do not reach 90.

    The amount of sulfur dioxide to add at crush depends on the condition of the grapes and whether or not the wine is destined to undergo malolactic fermentation. Home winemakers who avoid sulfites for faddish health reasons rather than real ones (sulfite sensitivity -- very rare -- or asthma or emphysema) are simply being foolish. Some very bad bugs find grapes an ideal home, as do many strains of wild yeast. Sulfiting doesn't kill wild yeast, but does stunt their vigor enough that inoculations of cultured yeast rapidly gain domination over the batch.

    Care should be given to the selection of yeast, as for any wine, and with the characteristics it can elicit from these particular grapes. But also consider the degree of control you have over the temperature and whether or not you will encourage malolactic fermentation. Then build a yeast starter and inoculate after crush and after any adjustments have been made for acidity and pectin.

    When you have small amounts of different grapes, you may want to crush and ferment them together. This often results in smoother, more pleasing blends, but the winemaker actually has no control over the result except as to style. Making separate wines and then blending according to tastes assures control, but the blends will then need to age to incorporate the various individual characters into the whole.

    With reds, fermentation usually precedes pressing because tannins and pigments from grape skins are usually more soluble with alcohol present. Fermentation on the skins is done to extract color, tannin and complexity. Flavor per se is not generally associated with skin contact except in a negative way. If the juice carries good color, skin contact can be reduced considerably and maintained just long enough to extract the desired tannins. If color must also be extracted, its rate of extraction should be carefully monitored to coincide with the extraction of tannin. Color is generally extracted faster at higher temperatures, while tannin is extracted at a given rate regardless of temperature. For example, if color extraction at 70 degrees F. is proceeding slowly and you fear tannin extraction might be excessive by the time the color is right, simply raise the temperature of the must to 80 degrees to extract color faster. The change in temperature will have no noticeable effect on the extraction of tannin. Similarly, if color is being extracted too quickly in relation to tannins, lower the temperature of the must to slow down color extraction.





    August 8, 2003

    In parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mexico (and, reportedly in Alabama but not Mississippi), the lowly mustang grape is approaching the end of its season. If you roam any of these parts and have not made mustang wine in 2003, get out there and find some grapes before they are all gone.


    Mustang Grapes

    wild mustang grapes
    Wild mustang grapes of typical cluster size at
    a friend's place in Fredericksburg, Texas

    Vitis mustangensis has always been Vitis candicans to me, but it now looks as though they have officially changed its name to reflect its common nomenclature. Don't ask me who "they" are.

    This is my most prolific local wild grape. I love this grape. Not because it tastes good. It doesn't. Not because it's beautiful. It isn't. But because it is simply the most hardy grape I've ever seen. If it can establish itself for two years, it is darned near impossible to kill. It survived summers (1998) with 62 triple-digit-temperature days (Fahrenheit, of course). It survives Phylloxera, Pierce's Disease and Downey Mildew. I don't know about cotton root rot or bitter rot, but I've never seen it with black rot or anthracnose. We don't get many freezes down here that last more than three days, but they survived them pretty well. And we have vines that are 8-10 inches in diameter at the base. Finally, and perhaps the best of all, very few birds really like them, so they ripen and survive long enough to be picked.

    Mustangs don't hang real well, but they do hang long enough to become raisins often enough that Greg Howard of Tecumseh, Oklahoma can find enough mustang raisins to make another Best of Show wine whenever he feels like it. Others have had remarkable success with mustang. Marvin Nebgen of Fredricksburg, Texas made the best red mustang wine I've ever tasted. My white mustang won Best of Show several years ago. What truly is amazing is that a grape that tastes this bad can make such good wine. Of course, it can also make some pretty bad wine. You have to work at it to coax the good stuff into being. And in South Texas, making a good mustang wine is a sign that you've finally become a good winemaker.


    Mustang Grape Wine

    Vitis mustangensis is not very good at making natural sugars. On the other hand, it has perfected acid-making to the nth degree. You'd better wear rubber gloves when working with this grape or your hands can get pretty acid-burned. And, just to make the winemaker's chore that much more challenging, mustangs are loaded with tannin. If you make this wine you can cellar it for quite some time, so splurge and buy some really good corks. The following recipe makes one gallon. Do the math to make more....

    • 8 lbs. very ripe black Mustang Grapes
    • 2 lbs. granulated sugar
    • 2 qts. water
    • 1 tsp. pectic enzyme
    • 1 crushed Campden tablet
    • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
    • Montrachet yeast for dry wine or 71B-1122 yeast for sweet

    Wearing gloves, remove the stems and wash the grapes. Bring one quart of water to boil and stir in sugar intil dissolved. Remove from heat. Crush the grapes in a crock or polyethyline bucket and pour the hot sugar-water over them. Add finely crushed Campden tablet and yeast nutrient. Add remaining water, stir and cover primary. After 12 hours, stir in pectic enzyme, stir again and recover. Afetr additional 12 hours, add activated yeast. The must will form a floating "cap" of skins and seeds which should be pushed under and stirred several times each day. On fourth day following inoculation, strain off solids and press. Combine pressed juice with strained and stir well, then transfer quickly into secondary, fit airlock and set aside -- there will be room for foaming. When vigorous fermentation subsides, top up with water, refit airlock, and let stand three weeks. Rack, top up and refit airlock. Repeat monthly until wine clears and no new lees are deposited, adding crushed Campden tablet after every other racking. Set aside three months, stabilize and sweeten to taste if desired. Bottle three weeks after stabilizing. Wait six months before tasting, but improves remarkably with age (3-4 years). [Author's own recipe.]

    If you don't live in Mustang Grape Country, there are at least two Texas wineries that make the wine from pure mustang grape juice -- now there's a challenge! You'll find them listed in the links below.





    July 21, 2003

    My July 15th entry produced this email from India: "Your article about Sulfur Dioxide and Ascorbic Acid is really thought-provoking. But the linked article is not giving much information than to a very high level scientist. Hope you will work out some method to quantisize the amount of ascorbic acid to be added before bottling -- more or less in a layman's terms." My reply, in part, follows.


    Ascorbic Acid

    I have been following the ascorbic acid debate for about three years now. I have always been uneasy about it. New techniques, especially when they involve adding chemicals to wine, always meet resistance. Just look at the resistance to adding sulfites, as an example, and they were around long before Louis Pasteur explained just why they are effective.

    But there is an elusive something about ascorbic acid that has bothered me from the start. It's use in winemaking came on like a fad, but the fad was centered in Australia and South Africa. These are both centers of innovation in winemaking and some really good techniques have arisen in both places. But in the United States, we look to our government to test and approve additives before we use them. Ascorbic acid is not exactly new. It has been around a long, long time as a color stabilizer and preservative and its safety was proven long ago. So it was not a human consumption safety issue, but something else. That something else was: show me the long-term effects on the wine before you try to sell me this stuff. Now, at last, I think we are beginning to see them, and the results are not exactly what was predicted.

    Therefore, I still do not use ascorbic acid in my wines. I recently rejected a kit that included it. Perhaps I am being overly cautious. I may change positions tomorrow. But today I will err on the side of caution and continue reading reports for evidence that might sway me into the ascorbic camp. Until I see such evidence, I will stick to sulfites alone or in conjunction with sorbic acid as a stabilizer.

    I do not wish to imply anywhere herein that I think those who use ascorbic acid in their wines are foolish or are rushing headlong into disaster. Certainly the data do not suggest that, unless, of course, they are using ascorbic acid without also using sulfites. But the data do not give me a warm fuzzy feeling about using it either, and so I don't.


    Carbon Dioxide Eruption

    Another writer wrote me about adding honey to an actively fermenting 5-gallong batch of wine. This caused an eruption of foam that caused quite a mess. Here is an explanantion of what happened.

    When wine is at its fermentation peak, there are about 5-10 million yeast cells per drop of wine. Each one of these is trying to emit a tiny molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas as a byproduct of fermentation. Until those bubbles all reach the surface and dissipate, the wine is "dynamically carbonated," meaning there is a lot of CO2 both suspended and absorbed in it. After fermentation, the CO2 dissipates into the atmosphere and it becomes "still" wine.

    When you add anything solid to a liquid containing a lot of carbonation, the solid particles of what was added fall through the liquid and create minute vortexes that "knock" the CO2 molecules together, where they join. Where it might take a single molecule several minutes to rise to the surface, two joined molecules rise faster. On the way they bump into and are joined with other molecules, their bubbles grow larger still, and in turn they rise even faster. The rising bubbles are like a reverse avalanche, picking up mass, numbers, force, and speed as they rise. They also create opposing vortexes and knock even more molecules together. The result is a cascade of fizz rising to a constricting passage with a resulting volcano-like eruption through the small mouth at the top of the carboy. To demonstrate a similar effect on a quieter scale, sprinkle a few grains of sugar or salt into a glass of 7-Up or beer.




    July 15, 2003

    All wines eventually oxidize. The only rescue from this fate is to drink the wine before oxidation sets in. The wine drank may or may not be at its peak of maturity, but hopefully it is. Knowing this and the ability of a particular wine to age, the consumer attains certain expectations. A particular red may display distinct potential for a 7-10-year cellar life, while a robust white may promise maturity in 3-5-years. It is therefore upsetting when one or two bottles of such a wine oxidize after 6-18 months in the bin while the remainder age on flawlessly.


    Random Oxidation

    The phenomenon by which a small percentage of a batch turns brown, loses flavor and bouquet, and exhibits all the characteristics of oxidation only 6-18 months after bottling is called random oxidation. Among well-made wines, its incidence ranges from 1 to 4 percent. For wines of equal potential but made with less care, the incidence can rise to 10% of a batch.

    The bottle closure is often blamed for random oxidation. Variations in cork quality, the argument goes, account for the incidence. An occasional cork that fails to seal as completely as expected allows for the simultaneous escape of antioxidants and entry of oxygen (O2) to the bottle. While this may well be true, it is not the whole story.


    Sulfur Dioxide and Ascorbic Acid

    Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is typically added to wines to prevent oxidation. If the dosage is sufficient, the SO2 does several things beneficial to the wine. Among these are the prevention of the enzymatic activity responsible for browning and the occupation of intermolecular spaces. These spaces typically will be occupied by O2 unless SO2 is introduced first - usually at crush - and its concentration maintained by periodic additions up until bottling.

    Another well-known antioxidant often used in conjunction with SO2 in winemaking is ascorbic acid. It is used to scavenge oxygen and enhance fruit quality. Nowhere has the use of ascorbic acid been embraced more whole-heartedly by commercial wineries than in Australia. Consequently, nowhere is more research done on the use of ascorbic acid in wine than in Australia.

    Australian researchers have shown that while ascorbic acid itself possesses antioxidant qualities, it breaks down -- reduces -- into chemicals that can actually promote oxidation. When present in approximate quantities with SO2, the onset of oxidation is delayed but not stopped. Indeed, they found that for ascorbic acid to be effective as a long-term antioxidant, more SO2 is required than if no ascorbic acid were used at all.

    Used incorrectly, ascorbic acid may actually contribute to the incidence of random oxidation. If used only to brighten fruit quality, it should be added at bottling time only and then with a sufficient quantity of SO2 to counteract its reductive potential to actually promote oxidation.

    Whether used by itself or in conjunction with ascorbic acid, sulfur dioxide dissipates predictably. Under a closure it is theoretically trapped until the closure is removed. Thus, reliable closures are crucial to the cellaring potential of a wine. We will save for another day the debate as to which is the best wine bottle closure -- natural cork, synthetic cork, screw cap, or crimped cap.





    July 9, 2003

    There is nothing more frustrating than to have a batch simply quit on you. I get a few "stuck fermentation" letters every month and my replies are fairly standard.

    Billy recently wrote me that 6-gallon batches of strawberry and peach wines simply stopped fermenting at around 1.060 specific gravity and all attempts to restart them have failed. He listed a number of things he had tried.

    I wrote back and asked Billy what he had done to the wine that precipitated the change, as yeast don't simply stop all activity when there is that much sugar left. Something caused the inactivity.

    Billy replied that he had racked both wines to carboys and attached airlocks after a week in primaries. And that is all I needed to know.


    The Stuck Fermentation

    There are many ways to look at yeast. You can classify them by species, by strains, by regions they were isolated from, by the alcohol tolerance levels they possess, by their optimum temperature preferences, or many, many other ways. You can also classify the by whether they prefer to live at the surface of a must, at the bottom in the lees, or free-floating everywhere.

    Most winemakers prefer bottom dwelling yeast because if you rack carefully, you leave them behind in the lees. This is great when it comes time to bottle a wine, because you know you are less likely to be bottling yeast in with the wine. But, if you rack carefully but too soon -- before fermentation is complete -- you leave them behind and your fermentation stops cold. I would bet the farm that's what Billy did.

    My advice to Billy was as follows. It will work for you, too, 99% of the time. First, make a yeast starter. Set aside a cup of warm water, into which you dissolve a tablespoon or two of sugar and a pinch (1/8 teaspoon) of yeast nutrient. Into that you should introduce your yeast. You should get confirmation of viability within 20 minutes to an hour, but wait two hours before drawing off 1/4 cup of must and adding it to the starter.If you haven't seen evidence of the yeast's viability by this time, add another packet of yeast and wait another two hours before adding the must.

    The sulfite in the must has never impeded the reproduction of the cultured yeast I have used in the starter, as all wine yeasts I have used are very sulfite-tolerant. Two hours later, with a good viability again proven, add another 1/4 cup of must. The starter is now 1/3 must and 2/3 water. Two hours later add another 1/4 cup of must, and two hours after that add another 1/4 cup. The starter is now 1/2 must and 1/2 water.

    You can pitch it anytime after it again reaches a very vigorous activity stage. If adding to a primary, hold a spoon on the surface of the must and gently pour the starter into it to break the fall of the pouring liquid. The idea is to keep the yeast right there on the surface of the must where they can get plenty of oxygen during the next day or two. Cover the primary, but do not stir the must or put it under airlock for 48 hours. If the must is already in a secondary, pour the starter in as gently as you can. Cover the secondary, but do not airlock it for 48 hours. It should take off.

    While yeast are single-cell creatures, there is nothing simple about them. The more you learn about them, the more you'll appreciate what they do. Here are a few places to learn more:





    July 3, 2003

    The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG -- pronounced SAR-WIG) met on the last Saturday in June at the home of our two eastern-most members, Luke and Lynette Clark of Leesville, Louisiana. Luke and Lynette have been making the 850-mile round-trip to SARWG meetings in the San Antonio area for two years, so it was only fitting that the rest of us returned the favor and went to their home for a meeting. And what a meeting it was!

    June is the month SARWG holds its annual General Meeting -- when we hold elections for our officers. Susie Higgins, our President for the past year, conducted the business part of the meeting while Luke and Lynette took care of refreshments, lunch and entertainment. Luke conducted tours of his winery and vineyard/berry farm. He has somewhere around 19-20 varieties of grapes growing on his property, plus blackberries, blueberries, mayhaws, kiwis, pears, and figs. He gave everyone who was inclined a bucket and turned them loose among his blueberries. I don't think anyone picked less than a gallon. Some of us (ahem) went home with six gallons. What generosity...!

    Jake, LaVern and Heide Wise of the East Texas Home Brew and Wine Association (Jake is their President) joined us, as did two of the Clarks local friends. The East Texas bunch is centered around Tyler. Luke and Lynette are members of both clubs, plus at least one in California.


    Blueberries

    Luke grows at least three varieties of blueberry. I say "at least" because he thinks he has a single specimen of a fourth variety that sneaked in with the nursery stock, but he isn't quite sure. Planting several varieties assures a better pollination, insures you against single variety die-back, and offers flavor complexity when the berries are mixed.

    Blueberries make a decent wine with only acid and sugar added, but also adding a body-enhancer can turn it into an excellent wine. Traditionally, raisins or grape concentrate is added for body-building, but several years ago I used dried bananas and was pleasantly surprised. Only two pounds of berries are required to achieve a decent flavor profile that is decidedly blueberry, but this can be greatly improved upon if you can leave Luke's place with six gallons of berries. And, it makes it so much easier to decide to make a blueberry port, which requires three times the amount of berries as does ordinary blueberry wine.


    A Healthier White Wine

    On the long drive to Luke and Lynette's place, my wonderful wife sat beside me reading a magazine called Woman's World. Suddenly she said, "Hey, here's one for you." She then read aloud an article about a white wine developed in France by a team at the University of Montpellier. Paradoxe Blanc, named for the French Paradox (see WineBlog of April 11th), is rich in polyphenols (antioxidants) which may help to prevent heart disease. Polyphenols are concentrated in the skin of grapes. Because red wine is made with an extended juice-to-skin contact period while white wine eliminates the juice-to-skin contact altogether, red wine has a higher polyphenol content than white wine. Also, red wine grapes are fermented warmer than are white wine grape juices. Not so with Paradoxe Blanc, a white with all the reported benefits of its red counterpart.

    The researchers, led by Pierre-Louis Teissedre, chose white grapes that were rich in polyphenols and used a wine-making process similar to that for red wine, including steps such as heating up the mixture to a higher level than normal.

    Polyphenols are antioxidants which destroy harmful substances called free radicals that can cause cancer and other health problems. They may also help to keep arteries clear and reduce heart disease. Paradoxe Blanc was originally developed for people with Type 1 diabetes whose bodies cannot destroy free radicals efficiently. Tests of the wine suggest a glass or two a day restores antioxidant levels in diabetics. But the wine's developers have yet to show that their wine keeps arteries clear of fat deposits and thus reduces the chances of heart attack or strokes. Even without this extended proof, the wine is sure to be a hit among health conscious white wine lovers.

    Paradoxe Blanc, now available commercially in Europe, is just the first of a new generation of wines deliberately enriched with antioxidants. It is, incidentally, a Chardonnay. It is expected to arrive in America within the year.





    June 25, 2003

    A couple of you wrote asking for more information on fining agents. Your questions lead me to conclude you are really looking for one fining material that will suit any need. Let me share a secret with you. It doesn't exist. My explanation in my previous entry as to how fining agents work should have made that abundantly clear. Generally speaking, you will need to choose among those agents available to you for the one that best meets your need. However, there are three fining agents that will meet most needs and you might want to have on hand. To these three I would add Super Kleer K-C, the two-part clarifying product I mentioned in my last installment.

    Bentonite: I use 1.5 to 2 grams of Bentonite per gallon in white wines to remove protein and "heat stablize" the wine. By doubling the dose to 3-4 grams per gallon, Bentonite is useful to generally aid in clarification. That is why so many kit manufacturers include Bentonite in their kits. Unless used to excess, it will not harm the wine.

    Gelatin: For simply clarifying a white wine, this is my fining of choice. Only a small amount is needed (1/8 to 1/4 gram per gallon), so you do need a good scale. To remove any bitterness in white wines, usually caused by excess phenols or crushed pips, 1/4 to 1/3 gram per gallon is sufficient. To remove excess tannin from a white or red wine (especially useful with elderberry), 1/2 gram per gallon will suffice.

    PVPP: The real name is Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone, but PVPP is much easier to handle. The brand name for PVPP is Polyclar VT, one of the other Polyclar formulations, or Divergan F. With the possible exception of activated carbon and casein, no other fining agent is more closely aligned with "correcting" problems associated with winemaking as is PVPP. Besides Casein, it is the only agent I have found that is effective at removing browning from oxidized wines. It will not return the wine to pre-oxidized condition, but 1/2 to 1 gram per gallon will usually yield results. To lighten a blush, 3/4 to 1.5 grams per gallon is sufficient. Polyclar Ultra K-100 and Polylact are products that combines casein with PVPP for tackling browning problems. To remove the taste of oxidation (but not the odor), 1/2 to 1 gram per gallon will usually be appreciated. Finally, to remove bitterness from wines, again 1/2 to 1 gram per gallon will usually suffice. If you are not going to filter the wine, a light fining of Bentonite 4-6 hours after fining with PVPP will help the settle the PVPP. The wine can be racked 2-4 days later.




    June 20, 2003

    A reader wrote to ask how to best filter his wine to remove a persistent cloudiness. Another asked if filtering could lighten a white wine that had begun to turn a "heavy brown." To both I wrote that filtering was not the answer -- fining was. To the second reader I added that his wine would not have browned so quickly and darkly had he simply used appropriate doses of potassium metabisulfite. I tire of saying this, but readers seem content to ignore it and then ask me to correct the defects resulting from their inaction.

    Before you fine a wine to remove cloudiness, it helps considerably if you know what is causing the cloudiness. I discuss a few of the more common reasons for cloudiness on my web site and suggest you read "Winemaking Problems" as a starting point in analyzing your wine. After determining the cause of your wine's cloudiness, you should then visit my page entitled "Finishing Your Wine." Here you will find the general theory behind fining -- why fining agents work at all and why some work for some problems but not others and other finings work in an opposite manner. Reading these two pages steers most readers along the proper course of action. Both pages are linked below. On my web site, they are two of several pages collected under "Advanced Winemaking Basics."

    Generally, fining agents work because they possess one charge (positive or negative) and the cloudiness is caused by something that possesses the opposite charge. Opposites attract, creating larger (and heavier) particulates, which fall into the lees. If you use the wrong fining agent, it will repell the particulate and serve no purpose. Indeed, it could exacerbate the problem

    The best -- meaning the most useful -- general fining agents are (in my opinion) Bentonite, Kieselsol, Chitosan, and Gelatin. The first two are negatively charged particles that are useful in removing proteins and some metallic compounds. The latter two are positively charged and useful in removing tannin, phenols, anthrocyanins, yeast cells, and bacteria -- all of which are negatively charged. Casein and Sparkolloid are also useful and fairly common finings. Both are positively charged agents. There are at least a couple of products out there that are two-part clarifiers. They contain both positive and negative charged finings, so if you really aren't sure what is causing the problem and you've tried pectic enzyme without success, these products will usually work. In fact, I've never had one not work for me. The one I've used most often is a product is called Super Kleer K-C, a liquid, whose fining agents are Kieselsol and Chitosan (the "K-C" in the name). One 150-ml dose will treat 6 gallons of wine. Ten days later you rack the wine and, if desired, filter it.

    When I say filter, I do not mean dripping your wine through coffee filters. On a microscopic level, this would not even qualify as straining. Nor do I mean using an in-line gravity filter with pads or a similar type with a hand-pump. No, when I say filtering I mean one with an electric pump and in-line pad-, cartridge-, or membrane-type filters secured in a housing. I have used both of the other (non-electric) types.

    The electric pump/filter is a somewhat expensive piece of equipment and it took me years to finally break down and spend the money, but after I did so I kicked myself for waiting so long. I put the filter in the same category as a floor corker -- if you are going to make more than an occasional gallon or kit, buy a floor corker and electric pump/filter. Life is hard enough all by itself. Why not make it easier where you can?

    The primary rule in filtering a wine is this: never filter a cloudy wine. The purposes of filtering is not to clarify a wine, but rather to polish an already clear one. If you use a sub-half-micron filter, you will also remove almost every living thing from the wine -- yeast, bacteria, viruses, molds.

    The secondary rule is this: never filter a wine that needs racking. Rack it first! It only takes a small amount of lees to plug up the filter media and burn up the pump, so clarify, rack and filter -- in that order. Finally, because filtering aerates the wine to some degree, I always sulfite my wines before filtering.




    June 17, 2003

    I was recently asked about using molasses in wine in lieu of sugar. I strongly recommended against this, as molasses can be overpowering to the senses. In wine, it smells unattractive, does unpleasant things to the flavors of the base ingredient(s), and colors the wine brown. Finally, it smells bad while fermenting. In short, it has nothing to recommend it as a sweetener in wine.

    But, as in many things edible, a little can be a good thing. I have many wine recipes that use light brown sugar instead of white -- or a combination of both -- and brown sugar gets its color from molasses. I think combining light brown and white sugars is usually better than using all brown sugar. For example, one of my published recipes (Strawberry Wine [2]) calls for 2½ pounds of light brown sugar. In reality, this wine is better is made with 1 to 1¾ pounds of white sugar (depending on the sweetness of the strawberries) and ¼ to ½ pound of light brown sugar. The finished wine then carries a hint of molasses without being obvious, but more importantly the color of the strawberries is retained unspoiled.

    Brown sugar is not the only sugar that uses molasses as a browning agent. Barbados sugar, also known as Muscavado sugar, has a particularly strong molasses flavor. Turbinado sugar, a raw sugar which has been partially processed by removing some of the surface molasses, is a blonde sugar that enhances some wines as no other sugar can. On the other hand, Demerara sugar, a light brown sugar with large, slightly sticky golden crystals, does not appear to contain any molasses but is prized for its unusual flavor. The strawberry wine mentioned above tastes quite different if made with Demerara sugar exclusively.

    Here are two recipes that work well with brown sugar -- one each for light and dark.

    Apricot Wine

    • 2 pounds chopped dry apricots
    • 1 pound chopped golden raisins
    • 1¾ pound light brown sugar
    • 1¼ teaspoon acid blend
    • 8 pints water
    • 1 teaspoon pectic enzyme
    • 1¼ teaspoon grape tannin
    • 1 crushed Campden tablet
    • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
    • Champagne wine yeast

    Combine all ingredients in primary except pectic enzyme and yeast, stir to dissolve sugar, cover, and set in warm place for 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme, stir, cover, and set aside additional 12 hours. Add activated yeast, cover and stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides. Strain into secondary, pressing pulp lightly, and fit airlock. Rack, top up and refit airlock after 30 days and again after another 60 days. When clear, rack again and bottle. Allow to age one year. [Author's own recipe]

    Coffee Wine

    • ½ pound freshly ground coffee beans
    • 2 pounds dark brown sugar
    • 1½ teaspoon citric acid
    • ¼ teaspoon tannin
    • 7½ pints water
    • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
    • Sauterne wine yeast

    Put water on to boil. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Stir in coffee and wait until water boils. Remove from heat, cover and set aside to cool. To a sanitized secondary, combine citric acid, tannin and yeast nutrient. Strain coffee through a double layer of muslin into secondary, discarding the grounds. Add activated yeast and cover mouth of secondary with napkin held in place with rubber band. When fermentation is vigorous (usually, second or third day), remove napkin and fit airlock. Rack three times, 60 days apart, topping up and refitting airlock each time. Stabilize, sweeten to taste if desired, wait two weeks, and rack into bottles. Age two months before tasting. Improves with age. [Author's own recipe]




    June 12, 2003

    Last Monday's WineBlog was about a second wine I made from elderberry pomace. I mentioned then that this was one of the few second wines I've made that was actually better than the orginal batch made from the same fruit. A couple of you wrote to explain that the original batch had absorbed most of the tannin that elderberries are over-endowed with, so the second batch was more drinkable due to the depleted tannin and therefore appears to be a better wine. This is true. One writer went on to remind me that the original batch from those elderberries is still aging and may not be drinkable for several years. When it is drinkable, it may very well be the better wine of the two batches. This, too, may prove to be true. Thanks for the reality check.

    While thinking about the elderberry second, I couldn't help but think about the most recent second wine I've made -- a blueberry. As is often the case with seconds, this one is lighter in body than the first, but not in any way inferior. It is as flavorful, as aromatic, as the first, but lighter in color as well as body. There is no doubt it is a completely different wine.

    Another Second Wine

    The blueberry second is a shade past rosé, light-bodied, and very, very flavorful. You would never know from the flavor and aroma that it is a second wine, although the color does suggest it. It was made from hand-squeezed -- not pressed -- pomace from 22 pounds of previously frozen blueberries. Both the elderberries and blueberries were home-grown gifts of good friends from Leesville, Louisiana.


    Blueberry Second Wine

    The 22 pounds of blueberries had made 3 gallons of very heavy-bodied wine. Using 7 pounds of blueberries per gallon was over 3 times the amount of bleberries I normally use, but the wine didn't mind. Because I only hand-squeezed the blueberries, the pomace was quite loose and still retained some juice with quite a bit of flavor. From it I made a gallon of light, blueberry rosé -- although perhaps a shade too dark to be entered as a rosé in competition.

    • pomace from 22 pounds of hand-squeezed blueberries
    • 2 pounds granulated sugar
    • 1 teaspoon acid blend
    • 1/8 teaspoon tannin
    • 1/16 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite
    • 1-1/4 teaspoon yeast nutrient
    • 1 gallon water

    I dissolved the sugar in a pint of boiling water and mixed the syrup with 7 pints of cold water to bring it to a usable temperature right away. I put the pomace in a 2-gallon primary, sprinkled the acid blend, tannin, yeast nutrient and potassium metabisulfite over it, and poured the sweetened water over the lot, stirring immediately. Fermentation began immediately, although there was no immediate sign of color. I punched down the cap 3 times a day for four days and was pleased with the color released from the berries each time. I poured the batch through a nylon straining bag to catch the berries and pressed them. Had I hand-squeezed them again, the color would have been a true rosé.

    Like the elderberry before it, this wine also finished rather quickly -- over two weeks faster than the original batch I had made from the same berries. It was racked twice -- at 4 and 8 weeks -- and stabilized, sweetened to 1.002, and filtered with Number 2 Buon Vino filters. Its light body could have been increased with grape concentrate, but instead lends itself to chilling and serving as a refreshment on a hot afternoon. Because I went light on the tannin, this wine is unlikely to have staying potential, but with a long hot summer still before me, it is unlikely to last into the fall.




    June 9, 2003

    Many of you have written me over the years asking about second wines. Second wines are those made from the pomace of a previous batch, or, as one fellow put it, the "leavings." Pomace is the residue of pulp, skins and pips of apples, grapes or any fruit after pressing. When pressed under great pressure, a pomace cake or brick results. Pomace from appropriate fruit can be ameliorated with sugar, acid, water, tannin, and yeast nutrients and a second wine can be made. The pomace provides enough flavor for a reduced volume of wine and should contain enough viable yeast (assuming the pulp was pressed after an initial period of fermentation) to continue fermentation.

    Last year I made a second wine from elderberries given to me by good friends from Leesville, Louisiana. This wine is one of the few seconds I've made that was better than the original batch made from the same berries. It is full-bodied, but not too astringent as many elderberry wines are. It is also absolutely delicious. The pomace used was mechanically pressed in three batches from 46 pounds of previously frozen elderberries.


    Elderberry Second Wine

    The 46 pounds of frozen elderberries yielded 6 gallons of very tannic wine, ameliorated with 3 gallons and 3 pints of water and a pinch over 9 pounds of sugar. Alcohol is 11.5 % and the wine was sweetened to 1.010 after stabilization. This wine will age a couple of years at least. Pressing was done in a 1-gallon fruit press after 3 days fermentation on the pulp. I did not weigh the pomace, but it occupied about 2-1/2 gallons of dry volume. >From it I made a 3-gallon batch of second wine.

    • pomace from 46 pounds of mechanically pressed elderberries
    • 6 pounds granulated sugar
    • 1 tablespoon acid blend
    • 1/8 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite
    • 3-1/2 teaspoon yeast nutrient
    • 3 gallons water

    The sugar was dissolved in a quart of boiling water with the acid blend and allowed to cool. It was then poured over the pomace, which was broken up and placed loose in a 5-gallon primary. The yeast nutrient and potassium metabisulfite were added and the must stirred and covered. I did not know if the yeast in the pomace was still viable as I had stored the pomace overnight in the refrigerator. Just in case, I made a starter of Red Star Côte des Blancs yeast. I need not have bothered, as emitted CO2 was raising the cap within an hour. I fermented on the pulp for 6 days, then bagged and pressed the pulp a second time. The wine was not as dark as the first batch, but was darker than a rosé. Indeed, the finished wine was every bit as deep as a good claret.

    This batch fermented to dryness in only two weeks. I racked it twice, at 5 weeks and again at 9 weeks. I then stabilized it and sweetened it to 1.006. I filtered it only because it didn't quite shine. I brought a bottle to a meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild after only 3 months in the bottle, not really sure if it was drinkable but wanting very much to find out. It was very well received.




    May 23, 2003

    My entry of May 19th on Campden tablets prompted one very good question. A reader noted that many of the recipes on my web site either don't mention sulfites at all or only mention an initial dose of Campden. The natural question is does this mean that the recipe assumes you will reapply Campden later or that no further doses are needed? I thank Mark (Mad Dog) DeForest for asking it. The answer is on a page that almost no one reads called "Getting Started." Under a section called "How to Use Recipes", I offer the following:

    "Add the Campden or potassium metabisulfite (pot meta for short) when the fruit is crushed, unless you are going to use boiling water to extract the flavors, color and juices of the base. The boiling water will kill off the bacteria, fungus and wild yeast, but when you rack the wine you should add the appropriate dose of crushed Campden or pot meta. Some of the sulfur in the dose will bind with other components of the wine but some will exist as unbound sulfur in the form of a dissolved gas called sulfur dioxide, or SO2. This gas is the sanitizing and antioxidizing agent. As time progresses, the gas is slowly released into the atmoshere or breaks down and the sulfut in it binds with new components of wine created as the wine develops and ages. Thus, the dose of SO2 must be regenerated periodically. If you add the Campden or pot meta to the must at the beginning, add another dose at the 2nd, 4th, and 6th rackings and just before bottling (it must be added at the same time as potassium sorbate when stabilizing a wine, as the potassium sorbate will not effect the yeast without pot meta being present at the same time). If you add Campden or pot meta at the time of the 1st racking, add it again at the 3rd and 5th rackings and before bottling (when stabilizing the wine). This should be done whether the recipe mentions it or not." I hope this is clear to all.

    Developing a New Recipe

    I occasionally receive a request for a recipe I've never enountered. If I can find it, I pass it on. If not, I might try developing one if the ingredients are available to me. But sometimes I strike out all around -- no recipe to be found, no one who has ever heard of such a wine, and no available ingredients to experiment with. Such was the case recently when I was asked for a recipe for manzanita berry wine.

    I know manzanita (Arcostaphylos manzanita), having grown up with it adorning the mountains of California. The smooth, reddish-purple bark frames a handsome evergreen bush that can grow into a 20- foot tree if watered, with dark to light grey-green foilage. It's beautiful interior wood is prized for its multi-colors and strength and its drought-tolerance makes it a desirable landscape planting. But it is the plant's pink, rose-to-red, or mahogany-brown berries that the writer was inquiring about. The generic name is Greek for "bear grape," but the common name means "little apple" in Spanish. And, indeed, the berries look like tiny apples with a mealy rather than juicy flesh and very hard seeds. I have heard of manzanita jelly, but never tasted it.

    Nor have I ever seen a recipe for manzanita wine. Whenever I see a fruit, berry or common flower that no one has ever recorded making wine from, I get suspicious that there might be a good reason. Doing a quick search, I found that manzanita berries are edible -- raw or cooked -- in moderation, but can cause constipation if too many are eaten. This might be a reason no one has made the wine, but I think not. I grew up in manzanita country and never heard of this effect, so I doubt it is widely known. And, since the berries reportedly produce a delightful infused drink, surely there is another reason it isn't known for wine.

    I have seen manzanita growing in the steep mountains all over California and into Oregon. It seems to like growing on dry, steep inclines where little else tends to grow, and it favors high altitudes. In other words, if you are going to collect manzanita berries, you're going to work for them. More than likely, it is the difficulty in collecting the berries that has prevented them from becoming widely exploited by man, but it is probably the dryness of the berries' flesh that makes them an unlikely base for wine. At least, that's where I'd place my bet.

    Be that as it may be, if one could collect enough berries for wine, how would one go about making it? Since I no longer have access to the berries, I can't experiment with them to develop a recipe. That leaves me without a clue as to the amount of berries to use, how much acid and sugar to add, etc., but I have no doubt manzanita berries are suitable for wine. And here's how I would make it:


    Making Manzanita Berry Wine

    I would collect as many of the berries as I could -- at least a quart, maybe two -- and measure them by weight and volume for reference. I would then crush them and soak them in 1/2 gallon of cold water with one crushed and dissolved Campden tablet for 12 hours, and then add one teaspoon of pectic enzyme and set them aside for 12 hours. I would then strain the berries into a nylon straining bag (retaining the water) and press them as well as I can, combining the pressed juice with the water. I would then increase the volume of liquid to seven pints and take a hydrometer reading. I would add sufficient sugar to bring the specific gravity to 1.085 and stir well until all the sugar is dissolved. I would then add one teaspoon of acid blend to start with (I can add more if needed) and 1/4 teaspoon of grape tannin dissolved in a little of the liquid. Finally, I'd add one teaspoon of yeast nutrient and stir to dissolve.

    I'm not sure which wine yeast would be best, so I'd probably go with Côte des Blancs just to be safe. It is a good candidate for preserving whatever fruity qualities are inherent in these berries. I'd add the yeast already activated in a starter solution, cover the primary, and wait for active fermentation to subside in 7-10 days. At that point I'd transfer to a secondary, top up and attach an airlock. The rest is standard: ferment to dryness, racking every 30-45 days as needed, stabilize, sweeten to taste, and evaluate the quality of the wine. If it tastes flat, I'd add more acid blend (1/4 teaspoon dissolved in 1/4 cup of the wine and then stirred into the gallon -- repeated until the wine has "bite"). When satisfied, I'd bottle it in four 750-ml bottles and two 375-ml halves (for tasting purposes). I have no idea how long it might have to age, but I would age it at least six months before tasting.

    If any of you try making this wine, I would be very interested in receiving a copy of your wine log and comments. This may be a wine I will get a chance to make one day. The berries can be dried and so I may be able to acquire some.




    May 19, 2003

    Last Sunday I tasted an excellent raspberry wine made by fellow San Antonio Regional Wine Guild member Bob Wehner. Bob has won many, many first place ribbons for his wines and captured at least two best of shows. Bob's secret is no secret at all. He freely admits he uses only Welch's frozen concentrates. Sunday's wine, Raspberry Royale, was made using Welch's White Grape and Raspberry Frozen Concentrate. As I said, it was excellent, from nose to finish -- so good in fact that I had three glasses.

    I made a similar wine from the same base last year, although I freely admit that Bob's had mine beat. I'm hopeful he will examine the recipe I posted on my site earlier this year (see the first link, below) and tell me how it differs from his own. If he does, I will certainly post the adjustments here. If he doesn't, I encourage you to make it anyway. Mine was still darned good.

    Campden Tablets, or Sulfite

    I get a lot of email asking how to make wine without using sulfites. As recently as today I was asked how to make rhubarb wine without using Campden tablets. I always answer these questions essentially the same way.

    The history of winemaking has largely been one of following techniques that minimized spoilage. A lot of bad batches were made because no one knew how to prevent seemingly spurious spoilage and, to a lesser extent, control oxidation. About 250-300 years ago, it was discovered that certain sulfurous salts could be added to the must in small quantities and would prevent almost all spoilage that had been troubling winemakers for thousands of years. What these salts did was kill most of the troublesome bacteria, but it also controlled oxidation that prematurely ruined most wines. >From that moment on, winemaking changed. To ignore the tremendous benefits of sulfites is to place one's wines at risk. You are free to do so, but I am free to refuse to help you do it.

    Both sodium and potassium metabisulfite are the salts most often used in winemaking. An extremely small amount of either -- 1/16th to 1/20th of a teaspoon per gallon of wine -- is sufficient to raise a must or wine to an aseptic level of protection. This amount is so small that it is difficult to measure except by weight, and even this is difficult without very accurate and sensitive scales. Campden tablets solve this problem by containing a premeasured amount of one of the salts. This measure is bound together in tablet form by an inert material which will not harm one's wine. To add the dose to one's wine, one must crush the tablet into a very fine powder and dissolve it in water or some of the base juice or wine.

    Crushing a Campden tablet is simplified with a mortar and pestle. The hard tablet can be reduced to the consistency of powdered sugar in under a minute. It is then added to a half-cup of liquid and whipped with a small bamboo whisk or the tines of a dinner fork until dissolved. It is then stirred into the must, juice, or wine where it will add between 55-75 ppm of free sulfur to a gallon of wine. The difference depends on which salt is used and the pH of the wine itself. As pH increases, the effectiveness of free sulfur decreases and more is required to attain an aseptic level of protection. The amount needed is easily calculated using WineMaker magazine's downloadable Sulfite Calculator (see third link, below).

    When making batches of 5 gallons or more, it is more convenient to simply measure the sulfurous salt than fool around with crushing several Campden tablets. As a rule of thumb, one-quarter teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite is generally sufficient for 5 gallons of wine. However, this dose is approximate. Accuracy requires you to measure the pH and any residual free sulfur already in the wine to be treated. The Sulfite Calculator linked below considers both residual SO2 and pH. You can also add free sulfur in the form of a 10% sulfite solution (in water). See the literature below for use of this form.




    May 13, 2003

    I still keep getting questions on dandelion wine. One of the more interesting ones is why I use boiling water initially and then, two days later, bring the must to a boil and continue simmering it for an hour (see April 21, 2003 blog, below).

    My recipe is a modification of one of C. J. J. Berry's recipes -- the first dandelion wine recipe I ever used. When I first used it, I didn't really think about the process all that much. I trusted Mr. Berry and simply followed his recipe. But as I made more and more wine and returned to Berry's recipe again, I too began to question why certain steps were being taken. I concluded that the initial heat is to extract the essence of flavor and aroma from the dandelion petals. The second heating is to invert the sugar and make fermentation progress much more rapidly and easily. I could be wrong about this, but inasmuch as Mr. Berry is no longer with us and cannot provide his own explanation, I hope you will accept mine. Should another explanation surface, I will pass it on.

    Cleaning Wine Bottles

    You can buy new wine bottles or you can recycle previously used ones. Since it is very easy to acquire a huge supply of used bottles, the only ones I buy are specialty bottles -- splits or halves. Since the purchased ones are new, all they require before using is a soak in a sanitizing solution. I use good old potassium metabisulfite. It is cheap, highly effective, and easily acquired. The bottles are stood upright, submerged in a pail of the solution, for no less than two minutes. They are then emptied, allowed to drain for a few seconds, and filled with wine without rinsing.

    I obtain used wine bottles from many sources, but mainly from friends, winery tasting rooms, and restaurants. Of the latter, I prefer steak houses and both French and Italian restaurants. If you favor hock and Riesling bottles, then add German restaurants to the list. There is a preferred way to negotiate with a restaurateur for used wine bottles.

    First, do this in person, but before the evening dinner crowd arrives. Ask for the manager and introduce yourself. Explain that you are a home winemaker in need of used wine bottles and ask if it would be possible for you to obtain some from his establishment. Explain that you can pick up the bottles at any time he prefers. If he says yes and that 9:00 p.m. would be a good time, be there at 9:00 p.m. sharp! If his staff is boxing bottles for you, the boxes will take up space in the kitchen or wherever and the time he specifies is usually the time he needs that space back -- either for cleaning or for closing. Ask about the kitchen entrance and then ask to see it. This is a good time to meet the kitchen staff so they will accept you later when you return. Ask where the bottles will be. If for any reason you cannot return that evening, call the restaurant and apologize. To leave them holding several boxes or bags of bottles for you without calling is inexcusably tacky.

    Use the kitchen entrance if this was their preference. Again, be on time. Take all the bottles they offer you, even if some are not to your liking. They have saved their trash for you, so take it as you said you would. Load them in your vehicle and leave. Do not bother the kitchen staff. As soon as you get the bottles home, bring them into the kitchen. Empty each one of any residual wine and then rinse it in hot water -- as hot as your system will deliver. Drain the bottle for a few minutes and then place it in a wine case upside down so it can continue draining and bugs can't fall in it. The emptying and rinsing is very important, as mold will grow on any wine left in the bottle and might then be difficult to remove.

    You can remove the labels from the bottles later, as time permits. There are many methods used to remove labels. I will simply recount my own method. If you have another, so be it and use it. My motto here is that whatever works is fine. There is no wrong or right of it.

    I fill each bottle with very hot water and stand it upright in a 5-gallon pail. To the pail I add 1/2 cup of Clorox Advantage Bleach -- you have to look for the word "Advantage" on the label. This bleach has an oxidizer that I find makes it more effective than other bleaches. I then fill the space around the upright bottles with hot water, but do not bring the water level quite up to the rim of the bottles. I simply don't want to worry about removing bleach from the inside of the bottles.

    I allow the bottles to soak for a while. This may be two hours or may be overnight. Longer is generally better and many labels will simply float off, but some labels use stronger adhesives and will come off easier if the water is still warm. Try peeling the label off. If this doesn't work, use a paring knife or a single-edged razor blade to help separate it from the glass. A scouring pad or metal scrubbie will help remove most residual glue, but some adhesives defy this treatment and are best removed with Goo Gone or another adhesive-remover product.

    Some wineries -- especially in Australia -- use waterproof labels that defy removal. I don't even waste my time with them. But if you learn of a way to remove those stubborn ones, please let me know.




    May 9, 2003

    I get more email than I desire, but wouldn't want to part with most of it. This is especially true of questions I receive from folks struggling to figure it all out. Here is one such inquiry, followed by my reply:

    Why is it that so many recipes do not account for the sugar in fruit? Won't some fruit add a significant amount of sugar? Wouldn't 2 1/2lbs of sugar would bring the s.g. of water up to 1.095? As an example, your Apricot(4) calls for 3 lbs of sugar. That would bring it up to starting at s.g. 1.115 before sugar from the fruit is accounted for. I am having trouble with this part. I understand these are guidelines, but I thought it was better to start at around 1.090 and ferment down to 0.995 or so and sweeten afterwards if you want. Personally, I like dry, but 3 lbs of sugar plus fruit would surely be very sweet wouldn't it? Is there any advantage to extracting the flavor and sugar from the pulp for 4 or 5 days before straining. That way one could measure the s.g and add sugar as needed. Most recipes I see say ferment on the pulp, but how do you really know what the starting s.g. will be?

    Accounting for Natural Sugars

    This is THE big question. Before I go there, let me say a thing or two about some of the recipes on my site.

    With few exceptions, any recipe on my site that calls for more than 2 1/2 pounds of sugar is someone else's recipe I am citing. Many of these recipes are old. Thirty to forty years ago there weren't a lot of yeasts available that would ferment past 13-14%, so if you put in three pounds of sugar you almost always finished with a sweet wine of about 13.5% alcohol, which was what most people wanted in a fruit or berry wine. Today we have many yeasts available that will go to 15-16% and a dozen or more that will go to 18-20%, so if you use three pounds of sugar and the right yeast you end up with dry rocket fuel. Also, many of the recipes are British, and an Imperial gallon is about 16% larger than an American one. Three pounds of sugar in an Imperial gallon is about the same (note the word "about") as 2 1/2 pounds in an American gallon. But both are still a lot of sugar, especially if the fruit base has any natural sugar in it.

    I very often chop and crush my fruit and steep them several days in cold water with pectic enzyme to extract sugar for just the reasons you cite. But you can't do this with all fruit. Many will spoil on you. Thus, you are presented with several options.

    Over the years I have collected data on the average sugar content of many fruit, but even when this information comes from a reputable source (a fruit growers' association, for example) it is only an estimate. As in grapes, the natural sugar content of fruits and berries differs from place to place, climate to climate, and individual field to individual field. But, you can obtain a range of sweetness this way and, by tasting the fruit, make an educated guess as to where your fruit are in that range. Once you determine that your fruit probably contains around x% sugar, you have to do some math to subtract that sugar from the total required to produce the specific gravity you want to start with. This gets complicated if you are using the minimum weight of fruit to produce a good flavor and adding water to bring up the volume to a gallon or five gallons or whatever. Still, it doesn't require trigonometry.

    You can also measure the sugar in the juice of the fruit you are using with a refractometer to arrive at a Brix value. You still have to factor in the dilution of water added, but your assumptions will be more precise.

    Or, if the fruit will allow it, you can steep the chopped and crushed fruit in water as I described earlier, measure the specific gravity, and then calculate how much sugar to add to reach your desired starting gravity.

    To take this one step further, you can chop, crush and press the fresh fruit, dilute as desired, measure the specific gravity, and then calculate how much sugar to add to reach your targeted starting gravity.

    Finally, you can study a variety of recipes and try to determine which will probably make the best wine to your taste, make minor adjustments as you see fit, and see what comes of it. I have done quite a bit of this over the years and the results are usually quite satisfactory. When not, I make further adjustments and try again. It generally works, but more importantly I learn a lot every time I do it.




    May 5, 2003

    My previous posting drew a mixed reaction. If you haven't read my previous posting, I suggest you skip down and do so. You might return here agreeing with the reader who wrote, "Sour grapes by any other name will taste just as sour." Or, you might be one of the additional two entrants in the competition in question who agreed that wines were judged as "oxidized" when in fact they were not.

    Some people simply will not accept the motives of others at face value. My motive was to inspire better judging in the future, or at least judging that does not attribute a major fault to wines that do not possess it. I enter competitions to gain useful feedback that will help me make better wines in the future. Of course I like to win, but that is actually secondary to improving my skills. Incorrectly ascribing faults to a wine helps no one.

    More on Amateur Wine Judging

    The Cowie International Amateur Wine Competition is one of the better competitions around. It has the right mix of entry categories (classes) for just about anyone, is held in the beautiful remoteness of the Arkansas Ozarks, and is a barrel of fun to attend. Robert Cowie, the owner of and winemaker at Cowie Wine Cellars, is the sponsor and patron of the CIAWC. He is also one of the nicest people you would want to meet. My criticism of the judging of this event is neither aimed at the event itself nor the prime mover behind it. Indeed, I have nothing but admiration and respect for Robert Cowie. But his competition will be improved in the future if entrants know their wines are being judged competently. This is true of any competition.

    My complaint is not meant in any way to imply that the wines that took honors at the last CIAWC did not deserve their placements. There were many, many superb wines entered and all the winners were deserving. I myself did well, winning a best in class with a Loganberry. My regret is that I did not taste Raymond Meyer's Cynthiana, Concord or Rhubarb/Strawberry, Charles and Rhonda Younger's sweet Muscadine, Charley Wilson's Shiraz, or Mark Jurgens' Best of Show Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc. I have no doubt these wines would have placed exactly as they did had the judges not faulted a number of wines as "oxidized" when they were not. But, who knows...?

    My complaint, then, is that a number of wines (two of mine included) were judged to have been "oxidized" when they exhibited neither the odor nor taste of an oxidized wine. I do not claim my wines or any of the wines so faulted would have placed -- only that they were not judged correctly. That is a legitimate complaint some readers missed or simply dismissed.

    It was my mistake, I suppose, to use my own wine as an example of faulty judging. I chose my Praline Dessert Wine as a critical example because it could only have been judged as "oxidized" based on its color, and yet its color was absolutely appropriate to the base ingredients. This raises the question of how one judges color in a wine.

    Maynard Amerine and Edward Roessler, in Wines - Their Sensory Evaluation, discuss three aspects of wine color evaluation. The first of these is the appropriateness of the color to the type and age of wine being evaluated. It is appropriate for a white Catawba to have some pink in it and similarly appropriate for a white Zinfandel to be a blush. It is also appropriate for a three- year old Chardonnay to be a darker yellow that a yearling Chard. That is precisely why most competitions ask for the entry's vintage. A wine based from Praline, a confection made by boiling sugar syrup until it burns and browns, would appropriately possess an amber to golden-brown color and the evaluator should expect this.

    The second aspect of color is hue or tint, meaning the specific shade (wavelength, actually) of color. For example, most white wines are in fact yellow in color, but many new wines emerge as a lighter, straw yellow while others emerge with a deeper, golden hue. Since all wines darken with age and darkness in a wine can be an indicator of excessive oxidation, it is important that the judge knows which wines typically emerge as straw and which emerge with darker hues. The latter do not necessarily indicate either age or oxidation, but in certain wines would indicate one or the other or both. Hue, then, is associated with appropriateness and both the hue and its appropriateness change as wines age.

    The third aspect of color is its clarity in terms of transparency or translucence. These are not the same thing, nor is clarity in color the same thing as clarity in the wine itself. A transparent color is one you can read through, while a translucent color is one that allows the transmission of light while diffusing it sufficiently to deny transparency. While all wines and all wines' colors should emerge transparent, some colors will yield to translucency with age as a normal step in their evolution while others will do so only if spoiled or contaminated in some manner. Thus, the evaluator must recognize that clarity in color does not automatically mean transparency and that translucency is appropriate for certain wines of certain ages while indicative of trouble in others.

    So, there is more to judging a wine's color than deciding if it is too light or too dark. When a wine judge looks at a wine's color and sees only it's hue, the wine is at risk of being poorly judged. It does not follow that it will be poorly judged, but it might....




    April 30, 2003

    A reader pointed out that I omitted the quantity of water to use in the Dandelion Wine recipe of April 21st. My apologies. Another reader asked why, if you taste the fresh dandelion petals, some taste bitter and others taste almost sweet. I was stumped on this one, but by sheer chance discovered the answer in a book on wildflowers. The false dandelion or common catsear (Hypochoeris radicata) possesses bitter-tasting flower petals. The true dandelion (Taraxacum officiale) does not. The flowers and seed look almost identical to the true dandelion and would fool most people, but here is an identifier for you. The true dandelion sports a single flower on each stem rising from the leaves. The common catsear sports 2 to 7 flowers on each stalk.


    Amateur Wine Competition Judges

    Last weekend I entered wines in competitions in two states -- Texas and Arkansas. The quality of judging for the two competitions was as different as day and night. Given a choice, I'll take the day.

    To be fair, I did not observe the judging in Arkansas, but then no competitor did. One of two bottles per entry was shipped from Paris, Arkansas to Fayetteville, where the judging occurred. All I know about the judges is what the sponsor of the competition told me -- that the judges are the enology students of Dr. Justin Morris, University of Arkansas. Meanwhile, the second bottle per entry was retained in Paris and later opened for participants to taste. At the tasting, competitors had available the judging sheets. Anyone could taste anyone else's wine and compare their impressions with the judging sheet for the wine being tasted. This competition brought together some very good winemakers from all over the United States and Canada. It is not very likely many wines would be entered here possessing major faults, and yet the judging sheets of the wines that did not place indicate just that -- major faults.

    Let's jump to Texas for a moment. The venue was the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's 2003 Spring Competition. This club counts some very good winemakers among its members, but more importantly, it has a cadre of certified Home Wine Judges who have been rigorously tested before being certified. The tests include the detection and identification of known faults among 10 wines; a consistency test in which five white wines presented in mixed order must be arranged in a consistent order of merit three different times, and then the same consistency must be demonstrated three times for five red wines; and a wine classification test in which ten wines, both grape and non-grape, must be evaluated and correctly identified as to class (e.g. berry wine dry, red grape wine sweet, fruit wine dry, novelty wine sweet, dessert wine, native grape wine dry, etc. The judging was in public and the entrants observed it from a distance. Obviously, judges did not evaluate wines in classes they may have netered. Judging sheets were available after the competition as were the actual bottles of wine judged. As in Arkansas, one could taste a wine while reading the judges' evaluations and comments regarding the wine. Amazingly, very few of these wines possessed major faults. Probably no more than 5% suffered the major fault of "oxidation."

    Conversely, in Arkansas, almost every single wine that did not place suffered, according to the judging sheets, from "oxidation." This seems awfully strange to me -- that some of the best amateur winemakers in the country would be so foolish as to enter so many wines that had undergone "oxidation" into a competition. How can one account for so much utter stupidity? Let's look at a wine and see if we can detect the winemaker's folly.

    Pralines are crisp confections made with nuts (typically pecans) stirred in boiling syrup until brown. One can use both brown sugar and/or molasses to give them different flavors. Last year I made a Praline-flavored wine, using Savannah Mixes' Southern Praline Mix as the base, which I then aged approximately nine months in the bottle. The 2003 Cowie International Amateur Wine Competition, at Paris, Arkansas, was where I chose to "introduce" it to the world.

    My praline dessert wine did not place at this competition, although it did very well at the San Antonio Regional Competition the following day. In Arkansas, the wine was severely judged down for being "brown" and "oxidized." The wine, in fact, is a golden-brown to amber color, looking very much like sherry. This color would be a natural expectation of anyone who has ever eaten a praline. Such confections are, however, evidently beyond the limited experiences of the judges employed for the Arkansas competition. I guess they expected praline wine to look as if it were made from snow-white divinity rather than a sugar that is purposely browned through prolonged boiling. However, the San Antonio judges correctly recognized that any wine calling itself "praline" must necessarily possess a brownish hue to be correct to the wine's description.

    Color aside, the wine certainly is not oxidized. It has neither the odor nor the taste of an oxidized wine. These obvious tell-tale signs of oxidation seem to be beyond the experience and/or knowledge of Dr. Morris' students, so what are they doing judging wines? Should not one expect that if you are going to assign a student to judge someone's wine -- someone who may have been making wine for 40 years -- that you at least teach that student how to recognize the olefactory and gustatory evidence of oxidation? And what about the other 25-30 wine faults one might expect a judge to recohgnize?

    If it sounds like I am being a sore loser, I assure you I am not. Disappointed, yes. Sore, no. Rather, I have several emails (okay, four) complaining of the judges' lack of knowledge and experience as evidenced by the judging sheets. Further, two of these emailers tasted this wine, saw the judging sheets and thought they demonstrated perfect judging ineptness -- not even knowing that a wine made from burnt sugar should have a brownish hue is one thing, but not recognizing that the wine didn't exhibit the smell or taste of the fault they attributed to it is inexcusible. Thus, I am making that case here -- not to embarrass the students or their professor, but hopefully to inspire better judging in the future. This will not happen unless the judging body is taught how to recognize wine faults (at the very least) and how to evaluate and judge non-grape wines in particular. This is not at all the same as judging grape wines, and if you don't know the base, you have no business judging the wine.

    If you are interested in trying this wine, the fourth link below is to the recipe.




    April 25, 2003

    I just spent an hour picking several pints of blackberries -- dewberries, actually -- from a fenceline not far from where I work. I spotted the brambles in flower about a month ago and as I passed them today I stopped just to see how they are doing. Had I waited another week I probably would have missed them. These berries are destined to fill a pie or two, but if I didn't have 13 gallons of blackberry and two gallons of dewberry wine at home, I'd have stayed another hour and picked enough for some of the best red wine man can make.


    Dewberry Wine

    The main difference between blackberries and dewberries is that the latter grow trailing canes rather than upright ones as do blackberries. Thus, dewberries are a bit more work to pick and not as easy on the back, either. And, when you're bent over picking dewberries, it's much more tempting to go ahead and pick a few that are not quite ready yet -- that still have a hint of redness to them. This is a big mistake and one only you can correct. These not-quite-ripe berries will spoil the wine. I once aged a dewberry wine three years waiting for the astringency of unripe berries to mellow out of it, and finally gave up and sweetened it with simple syrup. Pick only jet black berries.

    • 6 lbs of ripe dewberriess
    • 2 lbs granulated sugar
    • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1/2 tsp tartaric or malic acid
    • 1/4 tsp tannin
    • 1 crushed Campden tablet
    • 1-1/4 teaspoon yeast nutrient
    • water to make up one gallon
    • Burgundy wine yeast

    Use freshly picked and washed berries. Put them in a nylon straining bag and press them in a grape or fruit press. Save the pulp. Put one quart of water on to boil and dissolve the sugar thoroughly in it. In a primary, combine the dewberry juice and sugar water and add sufficient cold water to bring the volume up to a gallon. Dissolve the crushed Campden tablet in the must and stir well. Add the bag of pommace (pressed pulp) and cover the primary. Wait 10-12 hours and add remaining ingredients except yeast. Recover primary and wait another 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast starter.

    Squeeze the bag twice daily -- more often if you'd like -- but remove bag 48 hours after pitching yeast. Drain the pommace and press it again. Return all juice to the primary and cover again. When vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary and attach an airlock.

    Rack after 30 days, top up and refit airlock. Allow another 60 days to finish and rack again. At this point I add another crushed Campden tablet and set aside in a dark place to age for 4 months. Rack again, stabilize, and set aside another month. Sweeten if desired and bottle it. This recipe works equally well with blackberries. Enjoy it.




    April 21, 2003

    My traditional Easter wine is dandelion. In this part of Texas they usually begin blooming around the end of March or beginning of April, so I can always start a batch before Easter arrives. That means last year's batch is probably old enough to taste. For those who haven't made a dandelion wine yet, the important thing to remember is it should be aged nine months to a year before tasting. Since it takes about three months to make, mine is technically only about nine months old when the following Easter arrives, but that usually is sufficient.


    Jack Keller's Dandelion Wine

    There are many, many different ways to make dandelion wine. I have 30 recipes posted on my site, plus another 12 recipes of dandelion-something else combinations. I have probably tried no less than 15 of these recipes, but by far my favorite is the one I developed below. I have never published it before. Inspired by C.J.J. Berry's classic recipe, it involves infusing the petals for two days before adding other ingredients to the infusion. The must is then simmered for an hour, allowed to cool, and finally fermented. I always use this recipe for my first batch of the year, but try different recipes (and some experimentation) on subsequent batches. I have never made a bad batch of dandelion wine, although some batches (especially those using the trimmed flower heads instead of just the petals) require two or more years of aging to lose the slight bitterness imparted by the greenery.

    The easiest way to make this wine is to make it a group affair. If you have kids, or friends with kids, give each of them a small bucket and pay them a set amount for every bucket of dandelion flowers they pick. Then divide the flower heads among the other (adult?) members of the group and start plucking petals. I think the best wine is made using two quarts of petals per gallon of wine. Loosely packed dandelion petals weigh about 80 grams per quart, while one quart of tightly packed petals weighs approximately 100 grams. Whole blossoms weigh 110-120 grams per quart. Another way of looking at it is that it takes about 500 flower heads to deliver a quart of petals. The bottom line is that you have to work for this wine, but it sure is worth it.

    • 2 quarts dandelion petals or 3 quarts of trimmed flower heads
    • 3 oranges
    • 1 lemon
    • 1 pound chopped white raisins or sultanas
    • 2 pounds of granulated sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon grape tannin
    • 1-1/4 teaspoon yeast nutrient
    • 6-1/2 pts water
    • Sauternes wine yeast

    Pick the flowers just before starting, so they're fresh. You do not need to pick the petals off the flower heads, but the heads should be trimmed of any stalk. Use 3 quarts of trimmed flower heads if you don't use just the petals. Put the water on to boil and the flowers in a large bowl. When the water boils, pour it over the dandelions and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Do not be concerned about the color or the smell. Trust me on this -- the finished wine will be a beautiful straw color and will smell wonderful.

    Leave the petals in the water for two days, stirring twice daily. Do not exceed this time. Pour flowers and water in large pot and bring to a low boil. Add the sugar and the peels (peel thinly and avoid any of the white pith) of the oranges and lemon. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for one hour, then pour into a crock or plastic pail. Add the juice and pulp of the oranges and lemon. Allow to stand until cool (70-75 degrees F.). Add tannin and yeast nutrient, stir well, then add the activated yeast.

    Cover the primary and put in a warm place for three days. Strain off the solids and pour the liquid into a secondary fermentation vessel (bottle or jug) with one crushed Campden tablet dissolved into 1/2 cup of the liquid. Add the chopped raisins or sultanas and fit an airlock to the vessel. Leave until fermentation ceases completely. Strain off the raisins or sultanas, put the liquid back under the airlock for another week, and then rack. Top up, refit the airlock, and set aside six weeks. If the wine is not perfectly clear, add 1/2 teaspoon of powdered pectic enzyme (or 5 drops of liquid) and fine with Bentonite according to directions. Wait a week, rack, add another crushed Campden tablet dissolved in 1/2 cup of the wine, and bottle the wine. Remember, this wine must age nine months to a year in the bottle before tasting -- longer if you use the flower heads instead of petals. Enjoy it.





    April 18, 2003

    I recently received an email from a gent asking why his wine bottles have sediment in them after he filtered and stabilized the wine before bottling. He noted that only some of the bottles have sediment. Here is the essence of my answer:


    Filtering Wine

    Wine filters usually come classified as coarse, medium or fine. My guess is that the winemaker did not use a fine filter -- the only one that will remove yeast cells. If he had, he probably wouldn't have had this problem -- especially if he had filtered his wine twice. Also, it is obvious he filtered and bottled the wine before it was finished fermenting.

    Here's what probably happened. My guess is that his fermentation slowed down and he decided that filtering and stabilizing was quicker than waiting for nature to take her course, or the pressure changed in the airlock (from positive to negative) and he figured the wine was finished. I've made this mistake myself at least twice, so it can happen to any of us when we get in a hurry.

    If he used filtration and stabilization to save a few weeks of time, I assume he has now learned an important lesson. A filter is no substitute for time, and one should never filter a fermenting wine.

    If the pressure changed in the airlock and he thought the fermetation was finished, this could be (and offten is) caused by a high pressure front or cell moving through the area. Whenever the pressure changes (reverses) in an airlock, one should wait 10 days, rack and stabilize the wine, and wait another 10-14 days before doing anything more. The first 10 days allows the weather to normalize and the pressure to return to positive if fermentation is still ongoing. Racking and stabilizing is just a smart thing to do before filtering or bottling a wine. Indeed, all filter manufacturers warn the consumer to never filter a wine that isn't already clear and sediment-free -- that requires racking. The final 10-14 days of waiting after racking allows the yeast to begin working again if it is still there and alive. If it doesn't start working again, go ahead and filter and/or bottle it. If it does continue fermenting, wait until it stops.

    As to why some of his wine bottles have sediment and some don't, the answer is quite simple. Most wine yeast are bottom breeders, meaning they live on the bottom of the container. Very few are evenly distributed in suspension once the initial, active fermentation subsides and fewer still are top breeders. What he probably did was bottle his wine first from the top and middle of the carboy and then bottle the remainder from the bottom. The first bottles had little or no yeast in them because the wine did not come from the bottom of the secondary. No sediment formed in them. The later bottles had the bottom-breeding yeast in them, which eventually died. The sediment in the bottles are the dead yeast. I recommended that he open one of those bottles to see if the wine has become spritzy or sparkling. My guess is that it probably has, since any CO2 produced by the yeast would still be in the bottles.

    If you're in a hurry, make beer. If you want to make wine, give it all the time it needs. For pointers on the final steps in making a wine, see:





    April 14, 2003

    Several years ago I found myself in possession of several brands and forms of Champagne yeast. These included three active dried cultures in sachets, a dried culture on dried grape media (skins, pulp and pips) in a paper package, and two containers (one in a mylar bag, the other in a glass tube) of living cultures. Having just received a large quantity of mixed varieties of apples from a wholesaler, I decided to run a comparison test.


    Champagne Yeast Test

    I quartered and crushed the apples and drew off 600 ml of strained juice. This was separated into six 100 ml samples in six beakers. To each sample I added 100 ml of bottled water, 1/4 level teaspoon of yeast nutrient and one level teaspoon of invert sugar. I added a sachet of active dried yeast culture to each of three beakers, the envelope of dried culture on dried grape media to another, and 1/2 of each liquid culture to the two remaining beakers. I covered these with paper towels and set them aside.

    I then added water, sugar, acid blend, yeast nutrient, tannin, and potassium metabisulfite to the vat of crushed apple juice, which contained a modest amount of very fine pulp. My total volume was six US gallons at a specific gravity of 1.084. I covered this and 16 hours later added pectic enzyme. Ten hours later I divided the 6 gallons between six one-gallon jugs, reserving a pint from each. All culture starters were active except the one using dried culture on dried grape media. I therefore inoculated five of the one-gallon jugs and covered each jug opening with a folded paper towel held in place with a rubber band. On the third day the sixth starter was reasonably active and I added it to the sixth jug.

    After several days, which varied from 6 to 10, each jug's fermentation quieted down. The pint of reserved must was added to each jug and the paper covering replaced with an airlock. After 30 days total from the day the apples were crushed, which only equaled 27 to 29 days after activated yeast cultures were added, I measured each jug's specific gravity. While this did vary as much as 0.015 in range between samples, I found no significant difference between the active dried yeast and the liquid cultures. But I did notice that the contents of both jugs inoculated from liquid cultures were noticeably darker than the contents of the remaining four jugs.

    After 90 days and two rackings, all six jugs contained wine at a specific gravity of 1.000 or less-- the lowest being 0.994. The color of the wine in all six jugs was about equivalent, although one jug inoculated with a liquid culture was slightly darker but well within range for an apple wine. Sulfite levels for all six wines were maintained as close to each other as possible. The wines were then aged another 90 days, stabilized, and aged another 60 days before bottling. None were tasted until the first anniversary of the crush. My observations were as follows:

    • Directions for each form of culture specified activating the yeast in a starter solution before pitching it into the must. Thus, there was no appreciable time advantage to having liquid cultures as they did not activate any quicker than the active dried yeast cultures.
    • Only the dried culture on dried grape media took an unusually long time (three days) to activate. It also produced the slowest fermentation rate, but I suspect that had I kept the starter solution another day before pitching it into the must it would have been healthier for the wait.
    • The liquid cultures were very dark. This coloration affected the wine initially, but seemed to settle out with time. Had this been a lighter-colored wine, such as elderflower or dandelion, the coloration may have made a serious difference in the appearance of the finished wine, but this is speculation.
    • Four of the wines were quite decent and would have pleased anyone who likes apple wine. The wine made with the dried yeast on dried grape media was clearly inferior in apple flavor but equal in body and nose. One of the active dry yeasts, a culture of UCD strain 505, had better nose, body and flavor. It also had a longer finish and seemed slightly sweeter than the other five cultures.

    Second Wine

    The pommace (pulp) from the crush in the above experiment was hydrated with a gallon of water, balanced with additives, and inoculated with part of one of the remaining liquid cultures used in the experiment. This was fermented a full two weeks on the pulp and pressed again. It was then fermented normally in a gallon jug. It threw heavy gross lees (with a lot of pulp) which were chilled and allowed to separate in order to recover some of the wine in the lees, This wine finished darker than the other six wines, but had a nice bouquet and decent flavor.

    Here are some links you might find interesting:




    April 11, 2003

    Today I was contacted by the health and medicine editor of the San Antonio Express News concerning the health benefits of moderate red wine consumption. More than 100 scientific reports have been published since 1991 providing strong evidence that moderate wine consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

    The French Paradox

    Most of these studies center around the so-called "French Paradox," twice the focus of CBS 60 Minutes segments and by far the recipient of the most press. The "paradox" is that the French eat 30% more fat than Americans but suffer 40% fewer heart attacks. The evidence that the French consumption of red wine with their meals countermands the fattier diet seems compelling in light of subsequent research.

    The largest study, the Copenhagen City Heart Study, which monitored 13,000 men and women aged 30 to 70 between 1976 and 1988, found compelling evidence of the connection between moderate wine consumption and a sharp reduction in human mortality rates. This study found that daily wine consumers have literally half the risk of dying at any given age when compared to those who never drink wine.

    Both alcohol and antioxidants found in red wine contribute to the results. Certain substances unique to wines, such as tannins and flavonoids, act as antioxidants and may be the key factors in the positive effects of red wine consumption. Some 400 substances in red wine apparently raise the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL, or "good" cholesterol) in the blood while decreasing the low-density lipoproteins (LDL, or "bad" cholesterol) and thereby help prevent heart attacks and strokes. HDL is known to lower the risk of arteriosclerosis and heart disease by clearing "bad" cholesterol from the arterial walls and helping eliminate it from the body.

    Another study zeroed in on polyphenols such as catechin, quercetin, resveratrol and others which are found in red wine, but not white. The reason they are found in red wines but not white is that these substances are natural components of grape skins. Since red wines are fermented on the skins while white wines are not, it is the fermentation of the skins that seems critical to health promotion. This contention is supported by a study conducted by researchers from Portugal, Switzerland, Finland and Denmark. An extract from red-wine fermentation called ANOX (a trademark of IME, Switzerland) has been developed as a source of red-wine polyphenols. This extract has a significantly greater effect than either red wine or red wine powder on the inhibition of platelet aggregation in vitro and has several health promotion benefits.

    Despite later studies that tried to show that drinking beer or liquor provided the same benefits as red wine, a 16-year study found there is no significant reduction in risk found among those who drink beer or spirits instead of red wine. I have seen web pages use the same studies to convey the impression that beer consumption offers the same benefits as wine, but this simply isn't what the study found.

    Among the many health benefits of red wine consumption research has discovered are reduced risk of heart disease, improved blood-cholesterol level, reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, reduced risk of arterial disease in legs, lower incidence of contracting kidney stones, lower risk of suffering psychological distress, and a longer life-span.

    If you want to explore the subject, a rudimentary search will turn up hundreds to thousands of hits, or just check out a couple of these links:





    April 7, 2003

    When Brian Smyth of Homebrew Adventures first asked me to write a weblog (blog), I declined because I was simply too busy. But I did want to do it. When I was asked again a year later I was still too busy but accepted anyway because I still wanted to do it, and I realized I would probably always be busy. Some things you just have to make time for.

    Brian was gracious enough to allow me to write about whatever I desired. Many things came to mind immediately -- so many it will take a long time to cover them -- so let me simply start now and continue when I can.

    Yeast

    I am fond of reminding people that yeast make the wine. We, as winemakers, simply orchestrate the process as best we can. We arrange the environment yeast live and work in and clean up after they are gone, but they truly do the work. And what magnificent and efficient workers they are! If we are half as good at orchestrating as they are at doing what they do, ogether we will make some pretty good wine.

    There are two approaches to yeast when making wine. You can use the wild yeast that ride in on the skins of the grapes, fruit or berries you choose to make your wine from. In this case you are not orchestrating the making of the wine, but rather leaving it up to chance. You are betting the yeast that dominate the fermentation are good yeast for making wine. Usually, they will be and the wine will at least be decent and often good. Occasionally, they won't be and the result will make good vinegar but terrible wine.

    You can also use a cultured wine yeast that was isolated and selected because of the unique characteristics it imparts while fermenting sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Make a 5- or 6-gallon batch of blackberry must and then break it down into 1-gallon primaries. Inoculate each with different yeast. The result will be five or six different wines. The differences between some may be insignificant, but certain yeasts will make superior blackberry wine. I have run this experiment six times, making 32 individual batches of blackberry wine. Without doubt, almost all of the Burgundy strains consistently make great blackberry wine.

    In 2001, I made 13 gallons of blackberry and fermented them with all of the Burgundy strains I could obtain. There were almost no differences in the young wines, but after 18 months the Lalvin RC212 and RA17 strains each had more complex bouquets, retained richer colors and possessed creamier mouthfeel. Gervin Yeast No. 2 (Red Label) made a superb full-bodied wine with a delightful, lingering finish. I regret Vierka had not yet come out with its liquid Burgundy yeast, for I would have loved to include it in this trial. All three of these wines, by the way, have earned blue ribbons.

    Yeast are a tool. Choose the strain you use carefully and it will serve you well. Here are a few online resources to assist you in choosing a yeast strain:





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