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PHOTO: Rachael Brugger
When we think of wine, our minds go almost exclusively toward grapes. But for centuries, wines around the world have been made of many other things—tree saps, fruits, herbs and so much more. Maybe at some point in time, you’ve had a glut of berries, apples or cherries and wondered what to do with them. By following these simple rules, you can turn those delicious fruits (and other garden bumper crops) into delicious wine. Serve it to guests and enjoy watching them guess which fruit, veggie or even flower it was made from.
1. Choose Fruit and Measure Sweetness
The sweetness of a food is almost directly proportional to the amount of alcohol it will produce. For instance, if your fruit is 17 percent sugar (aka 17 degrees Brix—the standard measurement of sugar), it will almost always render a wine of about 9.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
To scientifically measure the sugar volume of your produce, use a refractometer, which will give you exact sweetness in degrees Brix, or a hydrometer, which will measure the alcohol potential (or gravity) of a liquid. The less scientific, but perhaps more beginner-friendly starting point, is to use a Brix chart, which will give the general sweetness of most produce when ripe.
2. Add Sweetener
Once you have a general idea of the sweetness of the produce you’re working with, you can know how much sweetener to add. Your goal is to get a wine of around 20- to 23-percent sweetness, which will land the wine in the alcohol sweet spot of 10 to 13 percent ABV, where grape wine typically falls. If you’ve determined the fruit you want to use has 14-percent sweetness, you need to increase the sweetness by at least 6 percent using a sweetener. (If you prefer sweeter wine, feel free to add more.)
Sugar and honey are the most common sweeteners used in wine-making; however, most anything sweet can be used, save Stevia, which lacks fermentable carbohydrates. Honey and sugar both have their advantages and disadvantages, though. Raw honey can carry its own yeast but takes longer to ferment and can add off flavors. Sugar is nearly pure sweetness, but most of us hobby farmers can’t produce it ourselves, like we can honey. To increase the wine by 1 percent sweetness, add 1½ ounces sugar or 2 ounces honey per gallon of liquid before fermentation.
3. Determine Acid Type
Most fruit other than grapes are predominately made of either malic acid or citric acid—refer to this chart for specific fruits. To achieve a balanced flavor, add some form of the non-dominate acid (i.e. lemon juice for citric acid or apple juice for malic acid) or an acid blend purchased from a wine store or online wine-supply shop. For wine made from herbs or flowers, you’ll need a mixture of tartaric, malic and citric acid.
4. Add Yeast
Yeasts convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, which produces the bubbles. Conveniently, they also occur naturally inside raw honey or on the outside of fruit. So if you haven’t washed your fruit and/or you are using raw honey, you don’t necessarily have to add yeast. However, wild yeast can sometimes render off-flavored wines, so if you feel more comfortable using cultivated yeasts, purchase them at a beer or wine supply store and use according to package instructions.
5. Add Tannins
That dry feeling your mouth gets when you drink red wine is called tannin, and all wines have tannins to a certain extent—some more than others. Certain fruits, such as melons or passion fruit, are low in tannins, so consider adding one to two packages black tea per gallon or packaged tannin according to package instructions.
Now that you’ve collected all the ingredients, it’s time to let nature get to work.
Place all ingredients into a non-reactive container, such as a large crock or glass jar, leaving a few inches headspace for overflow. I usually chop my fruit, but some wine makers prefer not to. Add your yeast if you’re not naturally fermenting, and stir vigorously. Keep the container covered tightly with cheesecloth to keep bugs out. Stir at least twice per day to prevent mold spores from developing and to enliven the yeast. Once bubbling slows down, strain the liquid and funnel into a carboy with airlock.
Once the wine enters the carboy it should be placed in a cool, dark place—55 to 65 degrees F—for at least a month. After a month, siphon the liquid into another carboy to filter out the solids (called racking), to make a clearer wine. Taste the wine every month or so to see how it’s doing. If you feel it’s in a good spot, bottle it. If not, let it ferment longer. If you notice it’s turned to vinegar, it probably wasn’t covered well enough or the airlock failed, but don’t throw it out––you’ve just made homemade vinegar, which is certainly not a loss.
You can reuse clean bottles for your newly made wine, but not the corks. The corkscrew holes allow too much oxygen to enter and can oxidize your wine, so you’ll need to purchase new corks. Siphon the wine from the carboy into the bottles, leaving at least 1/4 inch between the cork and the liquid. Then cork the bottle and store in a cool, dark place.
Wine takes work and some trial and error. Work in small batches until you get a recipe you like, or start off with someone else’s recipe using the fruits you want to use, such as my blackberry wine recipe, and go from there. As you refer to other recipes, see if any patterns emerge, such as cooking or peeling the fruit before fermentation. Some people prefer to add chemicals and stabilizers, such as camden tablets, while others prefer making all-natural wine—it’s entirely up to the maker. Truthfully, wine-making is easy because wine happens naturally and basically makes itself. Give it a proper venue and your fruit will reward you with a tasty tipple to enjoy with dinner.
Try these other fermentation projects on Our Site:
- How to Ferment Everything
- Ferment Your Own Vinegar
- Ferment and Use Black Garlic
- How to Make Sauerkraut
- Recipe: Simple Kimchi