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Jack's Winemaking Links

Jack Keller's
The Winemaking Home Page

Ben Rotter's
Improved Winemaking

Lum Eisenman's
The Home Winemaker’s Manual, and excellent book

Terry Garey's
Joy of Home Winemaking

Marc Shapiro's
The Meadery, my favorite mead site

Forrest Cook's
The Mead Maker's Page

Dave Polaschek's
Mead Made Easy

Mathieu Bouville's
Mead Made Complicated

Mead Lover's
The Bees' Lees


Michiel Pesgen's
The Home Winemaking Page

Roger Simmonds'
Homemade Wine

Jordan Ross'
Going Wild: Wild Yeast in Wine Making

UC Davis'
Making Table Wine at Home

Viticultural Roundtable of SW Ontario

Winemaking Fundamentals

Wine Page

Drink Focus'
All About Apple Cider

The Brewery's
Cider Recipes

San Antonio Regional Wine Guild

Discussion Forums

WV Mountaineer Jack's
WVMJ Elderberry Wine Making

rec.crafts.winemaking news group

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If our website has helped you in your wine or mead making endeavors, and you feel moved to contribute to help offset our expenses, you may...

Who is Jack Keller?
Jack Keller lives with his wife Donna 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.

Jack 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 sandburr wine, and third with Bermuda grass clippings wine.

Jack was twice the President of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, is a certified home wine judge, frequent contributor to WineMaker Magazine, creator and author of The Winemaking Home Page and of Jack Keller's WineBlog, the first wine blog on the internet, ever. He grows a few grapes, still works for a living, and is slowly writing a book on -- what else? -- winemaking.

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Some Other Wine Blogs

There are hundreds of wine blogs. According to Alder Yarrow (see below), none have been around as long as Jack Keller's WineBlog, but 99% of these newcomers are for wine consumers, not winemakers. They have anointed themselves the official "wine blogosphere." You can count on both hands those of us bloggers dedicated to actually making the stuff they write about, and yet our blogs are largely ignored by this elite. Still, they exist and are important. There are some who write for the buyer / consumer but still occasionally talk about the making of wine, even if they usually are talking about making it in 125,000-liter stainless steel tanks. Or they might talk about grape varieties, harvests in general, the cork-screwcap debate, stemware, or other subjects I think you might find interesting. They're worth reading even if you aren't interested in their tasting notes. Then again, that just might be your cup of tea. Here are a few of them I like, listed in a loose alphabetical order (by blogger):

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

Ben Evert's
Making Homemade Wine and Beer, about home winemaking

Ben Hardy's
Ben's Adventures in Wine Making, a very fun read from across the Atlantic

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

Chef Neil's
A Wine Making Fool's Blog, a lot of fun to read

Chris Nuber's
Texas Wine Blog, a good, unbiased read

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

Ken Payton's
Reign of Terrior, lots of good interviews

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

[no name]'s
Budget Vino...for the $10 and Under Crowd

[no name]'s
Two Bees Wine, about home winemaking

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

Sondra Barrett's
Wine, Sex and Beauty in the Bottle

Steve Bachmann's
The Wine Collector: Practical Wine Collecting Advice

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

Tim Vandergrift's
Tim's Blog, a humorous and enjoyable flow from Wine Expert's Tim V.

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

WineBlog Archives

Blog entries are generally presented in reverse chronological order, with earlier entries at the bottom and recent ones at the top so the newer can be read first. An archive is more useful if the entries are presented chronologically. I have thus rearranged them as such.

July 11th, 2007

I had my second stent put in, returned home, and a few days later went back to the hospital with new chest pains. I had another cardio-angiogram done and discovered one of those quirks of medicine -- they cannot tell me what caused the pain and near-unconsciousness, but can tell me what didn't cause it. At the very least, they ruled out further blockages or migrating clots. They are leaning in the direction of episodic arrhythmia, but can't say that with certainty. It's kind of scary not knowing, but each event brings me greater understanding of something and that helps.

It doesn't look like I will be weaned off of Plavix for a year or more, so my wine drinking days are over for a while. However, I can still taste wine if I limit the actual amount swallowed to a sip (10-15 mL). So, I am still making wine for the future. I started two wines within the past two weeks.

Happy Birthday, America

Seven days ago we celebrated the 231st birthday of the United States - if you date its birth with the vote to declare independence from England rather than General Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown. My wife and I went to Poteet Country Winery in the afternoon as they always throw a good party on the 4th of July. The real pleasure was seeing old friends and meeting new ones, but the highlight of the afternoon was tasting a "forgotten" mustang wine that had just turned seven.

It turns out that Bob Denson, winemaker at Poteet, had for one reason or another drawn off a 5-gallon carboy of the 2000 vintage, set it aside, and forgotten about it. It was recently "discovered," tasted, and bottled - all two cases of it. Well folks, this was a fortuitous accident of forgetfulness. It is one of the best mustang grape wines I have ever tasted, and I have tasted a lot of mustang. You don't know how it hurt to take a sip and no more....

Speaking of Mustang Grapes....

My wife and I recently drove up to Kerr County on a dual-purpose day trip. First and foremost, my wife was tired of being cooped up attending to me and needed to get out in the fresh air and eat up some scenery. There are lots of back roads in the Texas Hill Country, so I picked a couple we haven't traveled and set out. Secondly, I am working with Dr. Barry Comeaux on a project that maps the distribution of native grape species in Texas, and we had not yet collected a botanical specimen of Vitis mustangensis in Kerr County, where I was certain it resided. This looked like a good opportunity to take care of two needs at once, so we set off driving north.

We traveled northwest out of San Antonio on Interstate-10 until we came to Comfort, Texas, then took State Highway 27 west and crossed almost immediately from Kendall County into Kerr. Within a few hundred yards I spotted mustang grapes growing on a fence. I collected a few specimens of the vine, placed then in my plant press, and drove on. We quickly passed into Vitis monticola country. I collected a few specimens of that and possibly one of Vitis cinerea var. helleri (previously called Vitis berlandieri in error - I will confirm the identification later, when the specimens are removed from the press), than decided to head over to Real County and see what was there.

A poorly marked road out of Center Point took me in the wrong direction and we headed to Real through Bandera County, a decidedly circuitous route but one that took us through some beautiful country. However, out route ate up some serious time and we encountered severe rains shortly after entering Real County from Vanderpool. This was disappointing, as I wanted to collect in Real County real bad, but the rain was so strong I couldn't distinguish the various plants growing along the highway's edge. So, we headed home, stopping for dinner at a steakhouse and saloon in D'Hanis where live music capped the day. In all, the day was most enjoyable - our first day out in the countryside in weeks, and I proved the mustang grape in Kerr County. It will be a while before I take another such trip, as I now want to be much closer to a hospital than I was that day.

The day after our journey my wife and I picked seven gallons of mustang grapes. I destemmed and she crushed them, then I prepared the must and started some yeast. Primary fermentation was completed in eight days and the wine has already fallen clear in the secondary.

Back to Work

Yesterday my doctor lifted certain activity restrictions, so today I went back to work. I can't tell you how good it felt to slide back into the work station and start up the old computer. The downside was the 900+ emails that fell into my inbox. It may take me days to attend to the most obviously pressing ones and sort the remainder into priorities, but the winemaking queries necessarily take a back seat to work-related correspondence.

July 14th, 2007

I've now had three days to get back into the swing of things at work, but playing catch-up isn't my favorite game. My good intentions about staying an hour late each day to answer some of my email was a pipe dream. A lot has happened in five weeks and I have to get current. My apologies to all who are waiting answers from me, but I have to get caught up.

But a couple of emails did manage to catch my eye. One was an age-old plea for a walnut wine recipe. I get several of these a year. I always answer them the same: "I developed a walnut wine recipe many years ago, but misplaced it about five years ago and have never found another. Should I subsequently find one, I will post it on my site."

But this time, before I hit "Send," I decided to use a new search tool installed on my computer. I typed in one word - walnut - and hit "Search Entire System." This did not produce it, so I started searching old backup CDs from previous systems. A couple of minutes later I was looking at a document misfiled in a folder entitled "Receipts" - right next to the folder entitled "Recipes."

Walnut Wine

Pecans, hazelnuts, peanuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pistachio nuts, and most other nuts are inappropriate for making wine because their oils go rancid before the wine is finished, but almonds and walnuts can be used in making wine.

  • 2 oz walnuts
  • 12 oz raisins
  • 1 lb 12 oz. granulated sugar
  • Rind and juice of 1 lemon, 1 orange, 1 grapefruit
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet wine yeast

Chop the walnuts and raisins and add to 1 quart water with citrus rinds (no pith). Bring to simmer, cover and hold simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and discard solids and dissolve sugar in liquid. Allow to cool and pour into primary with remaining water. Add citrus juice, yeast nutrient and yeast as an activated starter. Cover with sanitized cloth or lid and set in warm place. Ferment to specific gravity of 1.020, transfer to secondary and fit airlock. Ferment to dryness, wait 2 weeks, rack and add one crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Reattach airlock and refrigerate or place in bucket of crushed ice until white beads of solidified oil form on surface. Gently strain through fine muslin cloth back into secondary to remove beads. Reattach airlock and age 6 months, racking every two months and adding crushed Campden at 4-month racking. Stabilize, sweeten slightly if desired, wait 30 days, and bottle. Age 2-3 additional months before tasting. Improves to two years. [Author's own recipe]

Sulfite Changes Color of Wine

An emailer explained that she started a must with 20 pounds of strawberries and it was a beautiful red color. The second she added Campden, the color leached out and it turned "...a pale, muddied, barely pink color."

I explained that this is normal. Her color should return after a few days to weeks. Two things are going on. First, metabisulfite (whether sodium or potassium) has a temporary bleaching effect. I have a detailed explanation of why, provided to me by a chemist, but the important thing is that it is both normal and temporary. Second, as yeast multiply they turn the must cloudy by their very numbers and by the microscopic bubbles of CO2 they expel regularly. After fermentation ceases, the yeast stop producing CO2 and also die out. The cloudiness falls away and the color returns. True, some color is lost because some of the pigments are solids and settle in the lees, but most remain in solution.

Plastic Primary and Boiling Water

Another emailer explained she was making plum wine. Most of the recipes said to pour boiling water over the fruit and she wondered if the plastic primary would stand the heat or if she should use a metal pan for this step.

I assured her almost every high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic would withstand the heat of boiling water, but if she ever needed to use a metal pan for the heating portion of a recipe to be sure to only use stainless steel. Aluminum, copper, iron, etc. can all taint the wine.

Measuring Acid in Fermenting or Finished Wine

At least three people during the past year have reported they have added too much acid to a finished wine. I got to thinking about this and finally wrote to two people who have reported this within the past six months and asked them the circumstances that caused them to add acid. In both cases they measured acidity while the wine was still fermenting, waited until it stopped, and corrected the acidity without retesting the wine.

All measurements taken of a fermenting wine are subject to be off by a significant amount, whether they be for TA, pH, SO2, or SG. Of these, the only one you should even attempt to measure is the last one - specific gravity - and in doing so you should spin the hydrometer sharply in a clockwise direction and take the reading as soon as the rotation slows enough to read the numbers. Then wipe the hydrometer dry and measure it again. Trust the number only if it agrees with the first reading. If it doesn't, measure it a third time and trust any two readings that agree.

A newly finished wine can also give inaccurate TA readings, but usually on the high side. The temptation then is to reduce the acidity by chilling the wine to drop potassium bitartrate crystals or by using potassium bicarbonate, calcium carbonate, or acidex. Before you do any of these, degas the wine thoroughly and measure the TA again. Dissolved CO2 produced carbonic acid, which throws off the TA reading. Degassing the wine in stages over a period of an hour allows the carbonic acid to split and for CO2 to be liberated. Wait at least an hour after degassing is finished before measuring TA again - waiting another day is even better.

July 28th, 2007

My wife and I recently visited some wineries northwest of Houston. Texas is now the fifth largest wine producing state in the United States, a fact few of the wine snobs whose tongues are stuck on the syllables "Na-pa" realize. But their ignorance is their loss, for Texas wines are as diverse as the state's vast landscapes and every bit as pleasing.

Texas Wines

Spanish missionaries brought the European grape, Vitis vinifera, to Mexico. There it was planted and grown in vineyards to make sacramental wine. But native grapes undoubtedly pollinated some of the vines, and over time a new grape - the "Mission Grape -- emerged from seed carried to outlying areas and new missions. One of those areas was Texas. The original grapes planted in the 1662 near El Paso and later in the coastal bend up to San Antonio are gone, although survivors exist to this day in California.

In 1883 Frank Qualia founded Val Verde Winery at Del Rio, Texas, which remains the oldest bonded winery still operating in the state. By 1900, there were 25 wineries operating in Texas. In 1919 Prohibition forced the closure of wineries throughout the United States, but few reopened in 1933 when Prohibition was repealed. The vast vineyards necessary to support the industry had been ripped out to plant crops that could actually be sold. Nonetheless, the wine industry began a slow rebirth. It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that vineyards began to be planted on a scale suggesting that the wine industry was really back in business in Texas. By 2005, 85 wineries were in operation in the state and 19 more were being built. Today, 138 wineries grace the Texas landscape.

Bernhardt Winery

One of them, Bernhardt Winery (located off State Highway 105 east of Plantersville, Texas), impressed me and my wife very much. The wines were good, the tastings well presented, and the winery itself was a thing of love. Winemaker Jerry Bernhardt, with wife, son and friends, built it by hand. Their production is still small, as one would expect from a start-up winery, and last Christmas they actually ran out of wines to sell - a nice thing for a winery if you have wines ready to bottle.

Running out of wine caused them to rush two or three wines into bottles. Those wines are sound, but should age a while longer under cork before being consumed. The rest of their fare is ready to drink and quite good. My wife's favorite was a blend called "Sarah," a meritage (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend). I just loved their "Aggie Blush," a delightfully fruity blend of Niagara and red muscadine.

They also have a Port - one of the wines rushed into bottles - that shows distinct promise. It displays what I call a "dark nose" -- ripe plum, blackberry, black raspberry, and black cherry. It has a deep indigo color, full body, a satisfying acidity, and a long, gentle finish. I know they would have liked to bulk age it a couple more years - at two it is simply too young to deliver what a port should - but when you run out of marketable product you make the best of what you have. But even as a youngster it is a nice "sitting wine."

How to Taste a Wine

When someone asks me how to taste a wine to fully appreciate its potential, I say it's a three step process. Jerry Bernhardt makes it a more involved process with additional steps.

The first step in tasting a wine is to look at it in a proper wine glass. When we look at a wine, we should be noting its color and clarity. While "brilliant clarity" is the American standard, it really isn't the world's standard. Younger wines are naturally more opaque than older wines - because they contain more tannins and anthrocyanins than older wines - but we tend to fine and filter our wines so as to make them unnaturally clear. A cloudy or hazy wine is quite undesirable, but a density in color simply indicates youthfulness and should not be faulted.

The wine should be swirled gently in the glass to release the bouquet, and this should be inhaled slowly and deeply to capture the nuances therein. A wine's bouquet may be simple or complex, and in either case should not be confused with the wine's aroma. The aroma is the natural smell of the base ingredient(s) the wine was made from, while it's bouquet is a combination of the volatile acids and esters developed as the wine matures and released as the wine breathes. The bouquet might be floral or fruity or earthy or spicy, or a really complex bouquet might possess all of these smells. After inhaling the bouquet, a subsequent sniff should reveal the wine's actual aroma.

The third step is the actual tasting of the wine. A small sip should be rolled around on the tongue, then aerated with a small, quick breath that mixes the wine with air. This allows the flavors to open up and allows you to both taste and smell the wine at the same time. Not all wines open up when thus aerated, but the more one does the more enjoyable it is to most people - assuming it opens up in an enjoyable way. The wine is then swallowed and the finish evaluated - the flavor lingers or passes quickly.

This is where my normal tasting routine ends. Not so for Jerry Bernhardt if the wine is chilled.

People say that white and blush wines should be served at 55 degrees F. and reds at 65. I don't know who these people are, but I have heard this most of my adult life. On the other hand, I have also heard that reds should be served at "room temperature." I don't think I know anyone who keeps their home at 65 degrees, and, well, this is Texas - it gets hot in the summer and room temperature could be warmer than you really want your wine. But with air conditioning, most homes are kept between 74 and 78 degrees F. I think Jerry keeps his tasting room at around 75-76.

After tasting a chilled wine, such as his Chardonnay, Jerry then warms the wine in the open palms of his hands for a minute or two and repeats the inhaling and tasting steps. This allows him to appreciate the effect temperature plays in the wine's presentation. He will then warm it again, bringing it as close to room temperature as he can, and repeat the inhaling and tasting steps once again. Not all wines improve with the successive warmings, but his 2005 Chardonnay certainly does.

August 11th, 2007

I've had a little time this past week to answer a few emails. It is difficult to explain to folks who don't read the WineBlog or the notices on the Home page why I am answering them late. Just saying, "I had a heart attack and answering email was low on my priority list" seems a bit impolite, so I've said "I was hospitalized" instead.

Some of my replies are arriving way too late to be of any use this year, but hopefully will have value in the future. Some of the questions, however, are timeless and worth visiting.

Freezing Ingredients

I actually get asked this a lot -- only the ingredient changes. I was recently asked whether one can freeze rose petals until one has enough for a batch of wine. I was also asked by different requestors if they could freeze figs, muscadine grapes, quinces, and rose hips. The answer to all is yes, but rose petals should not be frozen more than 6-8 weeks because once they develop freezer burn they seem to deteriorate as winemaking ingredients.

If you have time to extract the juice of a suitable prospective base, it is a more economical use of space to freeze the juice instead of the fruits. Just remember that liquids expand when they freeze, so avoid freezing in glass jars or bottles. Use plastic containers or ice cube trays. I've also frozen juices in quart-sized ZipLoc freezer bags without incident.

Problems Fermenting Canned Blueberries

One writer had commenced making his very first wine using canned blueberries intended for winemaking. His method seemed appropriate and he made a yeast starter solution, but after adding it to his must his fermentation never attained vigor and stopped at a high specific gravity. He made another yeast starter and had a similar experience, with the fermentation stopping at an s.g. around 1.045. He naturally wanted to know many things, but his most immediate question was should he try again or toss the blueberry must out?

Blueberries canned for pie filling or uses other than winemaking might be expected to contain a preservative, but those intended for fermentation shouldn't contain anything that would inhibit healthy yeast activity. That reminded me of two things. The first is that blueberries are legendary for being difficult to ferment; the second is that bilberries, cranberries, gooseberries, lingonberries, crowberries, currants, and a few other berries contain benzoic acid in varying amounts and benzoic acid, like sorbic acid, renders yeast incapable of budding (reproducing). Similarly, unripe blueberries can also contain benzoic acid -- the farther north the range, the greater the amount that might be found.

I have no way of knowing if the producers of the canned blueberries included under-ripe berries in their product, but I can imagine all kinds of scenarios where that might occur. So, for the sake of argument, let's assume this is the problem. What do we know that might aid us? If you read my WineBlog entry of April 24th, 2007, you already know there is a way to overcome naturally occurring amounts of benzoic acid.

August 22nd, 2007

Many of you have written to inform me that part of the last WineBlog entry was "missing." One reader feared I had been hacked into and another feared my site had a virus. To each I had to explain that while writing my last WineBlog entry I was interrupted and had to post the entry without actually finishing it. I had typed in a sub-heading which declared I intended to revisit the making of wine from Welch's frozen red grape concentrate. At that point the doorbell rang and events transpired that precluded returning to the WineBlog, so I hastily posted the unfinished entry and life went on. That was 11 days ago. I have removed the unused sub-heading from the August 11th entry and appended it below to be dealt with now.

Welch's Frozen Red Grape Concentrate Wine Revisited

A reader named Chuck wrote to thank me for posting the Welch's recipe and to inform me that he"...bought a can of the concord grape concentrate and messed around with the water mix and found that 1 part (by volume) concentrate to 2 parts water yields a S.G. of 1.090." He then asked, "If fermented this way, rather than diluting it more with water and then adding sugar as in the recipe, would it make a more full bodied red wine?"

The answer, of course, is most definitely. I wrote Chuck and said so, but added that I wish I had thought of this myself. But I didn't, and that means I haven't made this wine this way -- yet. It will be many months before I do, so if any of you wish to try this, please let me know how it turns out. I'd really like to know.

Reducing Acid

Glenn in Cleveland, Ohio asked, "What is the best product to use to reduce my 2005 Cab Sauv’s high tartaric acid? I put too much tartaric acid in at fermentation. Potassium Bicarbonate? Calcium Carbonate? Acidex Super K" Under other circumstances I would have answered differently, but this one was easy.

For tartaric acid, I just chill the wine to near freezing and the tartaric acid precipitates out as potassium tartrate crystals. I have a spare refrigerator to use just for this. Otherwise, I'd use Acidex or potassium bicarbonate, in that order.

Rescuing a Bung

Matt, in Tacoma, Washington pushed a bung too far in a carboy and it fell into his wine. He wanted to know if this would ruin his wine and how he could get the bung out.

First of all, I've done that! The bung itself probably won't affect the wine, but it could transport airborne contaminates that settled on it's outer surface unless it was very recently sanitized. In any event, the wine needs to be transferred to another carboy so the bung can be extracted. When I did it, here's how I got the bung out. First, I used a straightened coat hanger to push a piece of monofilament fishing line through the hole in the bung as it lay on the bottom of the carboy. I then put a piece of chewing gum on the end of the coat hanger and used it to snag the end of the line, which I carefully pulled up and out (after about 20 tries). I then pulled the bung up and worked it until it was upside down against the neck of the carboy. I coated the inside of the carboy mouth with glycerin, for lubricity, and pulled the bung out. It took a half hour to do all this.

Sweetening Wines

I often am asked how to sweeten wines without getting further fermentation. I usually point the writer to the fifth of my five basic steps in winemaking, but then explain that there are actually four basic ways to do this.

  • Start with a high specific gravity (say with a potential alcohol (PA) yield of 16%) and use a yeast that will finish at a low alcohol (say 13%), leaving the excess s.g. to sweeten the wine.
  • Start with a PA you want to finish with (say 12%), ferment to dryness or near dryness, stabilize, and sweeten with sugar or honey to suit your taste or to a target s.g. (say 1.015).
  • Start with a PA you want to finish with, ferment to dryness or near dryness and use a non-fermentable sugar to sweeten the wine to taste or target.
  • Ferment to dryness or near dryness and sweeten with stevia or another natural non-fermentable sweetener.

For the record, I find it much safer to do the second....

August 26th, 2007

I have only started nine gallons of new wine since my June heart attack. This is the lowest number of gallons started during a three-month period since my first heart attack and bypass surgery ten tears ago, when I only started four gallons of new wine during a comparable period. It is obvious to me that recovery from stent emplacement is much quicker than recovery from from having your chest opened up.

Rescuing a Bung Revisited

My post four days ago on recovering a bung from inside a carboy generated several emails pointing to a method of extracting a cork from within a wine bottle. The method was not new to me, but I have never felt I could describe it well verbally, but a video clip showing how it is done is worth several thousand words, so I have linked to it at the end of this entry. My thanks to Dan Shields for quickly sending me the URL.

Here are a couple of pointers I discovered when I first tried this method, which was shown to me some time back by an acquaintance. As in the video clip, the acquaintance used a plastic bag from a grocery. The strength and size of the bag are not inconsequential. I have tried this method using a small trash bag that was extremely thin and lightweight and it tore apart when pulled. I have also tried this using a plastic grocery bay that was strong but not deep enough and it failed on three attempts to grab the cork sufficiently to permit extraction. Also, when I demonstrated this method to my wife I used a bag with a small tear in the bottom, which was only noted when I inflated the bag. This made no difference and the cork was extracted anyway. As long as the bag will inflate, it will suffice. It does not need to be air-tight to work.

I'll admit I have not tried this method to extract a bung from a carboy, but see no reason it would not work as long as the bag is large enough and strong enough. A medium-sized, heavy-duty trash bag should be sufficient.

Yeast Nutrient and Energizer

A reader recently wrote, "I have always gone a more traditional route and brewed my wines without the addition of yeast nutrient and yeast energizer. Under my traditional approach, the wine takes approximately 9-12 weeks to finish brewing then several more to settle. When I made my latest batch (plum) I decided to try out the yeast nutrient and energizer. Under this method, the brewing finished in a matter of only about 3.5 days." He worried that this was too fast.

First, terminology is important. Beer, ale and mead are "brewed." Traditionally, wine is "made." It can be "brewed," but usually is not. Brewing means the ingredients are brought to a boil before being fermented. When someone says they "brewed" a wine, I assume they cooked it. If they didn't, I will point out that they simply "made" their wine.

Secondly, I only use yeast energizer for certain recipes where it is needed or in certain situations where a fermentation gets sluggish. I do, however, consider yeast nutrient essential for the following reasons:

  • Yeast make the wine, so I want them to be as healthy as possible until fermentation is complete.
  • Only grapes possess all the nutrients yeast need for maximum health (especially for reproduction), so all other winemaking bases benefit from the addition of yeast nutrient.
  • Yeast nutrient is inexpensive and only adds about three cents per bottle to the cost of the wine.
  • Yeast nutrient won't do any harm to the wine or leave an off-taste if not actually consumed by the yeast (however, yeast energizer can leave an off taste if too much is used).

I think 3.5 days is pretty quick for a fermentation, although I've had many similar experiences. I prefer a slightly slower fermentation -- about 7-14 days. However, if a fermentation drags out for several weeks, it doesn't alarm me as long as the specific gravity is where I want it to be when the bubbles stop being pushed through the airlock.


The other night a neighbor dropped by to use our phone. She had locked herself out of her house needed to call her daughter, who had a spare. While waiting for the daughter to arrive, I opened a bottle of 2005 Clementine- French Vanilla Mocha Wine. My wife twice remarked how good a wine this was. It surprised me she hadn't tasted it before, but we finally established she was off visiting the sons and friends in California when I made it. Her visits typically last two months, so this is possible.

Usually sold in small cases or boxes, Clementines are a variety of medium-sized, sweet, Algerian tangerines with few seeds that make a really good wine all by themselves. They are usually available in the U.S. from October to December, but imported produce is sometimes available "off-season." While their varietal wine is excellent, they also combine well with certain other ingredients -- most notably chocolate. I invite you to work back through the earlier WineBlog entries for my discussion on making wines with powdered cocoa and adopt the technique to a clementine base.

Another good tangerine you might want to ferment alone or with powdered cocoa is the Satsuma Orange -- not to be confused with Dobashi-Beni, Kimbro, Neopolitana, Okitsu-Wase, or Owari Satsumas. The Satsuma Orange has tender, melting flesh and very rich flavor. A well-known, flavorful Mandarin, often grown in patio containers, is the Dancy; there is a seedless Dancy as well, but it lacks the intense flavor of the seeded parent.

The Honey Tangerine is one of several hybrids of King x Willowleaf -- the latter a Mandarin. Another seedling of this cross is Kinnow. The Honey has small fruit, very sweet, while Kinnow has medium-sized fruit with a rich, aromatic flavor. Both hybrids are better tasting than their parents.

When making wine with tangerines, peel the fruit first and then crush. Drain off enough juice to test (sugar, TA and pH), adjust as required, and ferment on the pulp for 3-5 days. Press and return the juice to primary if specific gravity is still above 1.020. Pay particular attention to acidity and add citric acid if needed.

Clementine-French Vanilla Mocha Wine

The name is misleading and has resulted in more than one email. When I typed the label, I decided on brevity and shortened Clementine-French Vanilla Cafe-Suisse Mocha Coffee Wine, but it is what it is. The recipe is simple and makes 3 gallons.

  • 15 lbs peeled Clementines
  • 5 Tblsp General Foods International French Vanilla Cafe
  • 3 Tblsp General Foods International Suisse Mocha
  • 3 11-oz cans frozen orange concentrate
  • Water to 3 gallons
  • Sugar to 1.088
  • Citric acid to at least 5.5 g/L TA, 3.5 pH (or lower)
  • 1-1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 3 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Champagne wine yeast strain

Peel the Clementines, place in nylon straining bag, tie closed, and set in primary. Crush Clementines by hand or with a wine bottle, piece of hardwood, or other sanitized and suitable object. Add all ingredients except yeast, stir well, and cover primary with cloth. Make a yeast starter and feed for 12 hours while pectic enzyme works. Add activated yeast starter, recover, and punch down straining bag twice daily. Ferment on pulp 3-5 days, removing bag when pulp completely breaks down; drain without squeezing and discard pulp. Check specific gravity. If higher than 1.020, continue fermentation in primary. If 1.020 or lower, transfer to secondary and affix airlock. Rack every 30 days until clear, then bulk age 6 months and rack into bottles. This should be a dry wine, but if one prefers to sweeten slightly, stabilize first and sweeten going into bulk aging period. [Author's own recipe]

August 31st, 2007

The WineBlog is not a political piece of web real estate, and I have no desire to turn it into one. But I do want to say something here that some might interpret as political. I consider it philosophical, but understand that many philosophical issues border on or overlap into the political.

What's In a Name?

In late July I received an email by a woman with an Italian surname who insisted I immediately remove a wine recipe from my website because its name "offended" her. I have since received an email from the National Italian American Foundation echoing her sentiments. Subsequently, the woman repeated her sentiments in my Guestbook on July 23rd and again on July 25th, 2007. Others have chimed in with Guestbook entries and now names are being called. This has to stop, as name-calling is quite juvenile and winemaking websites are for adults.

On August 4th I added an opening paragraph to the "offending" recipe in which I apologized in advance to anyone who is offended by the name of the wine, but that I have no intention of changing the name because someone is sensitive to one word. I do not intend the word as an ethnic slur and have nothing but the highest regards for most people with Italian heritage. I went on to say that if I posted a recipe for sauerkraut, I would not expect anyone to conclude I intended an ethnic slur against Germans -- it is just the name of the dish, and the particular word the woman takes exception to is just the name of a wine. If she cannot accept that in the spirit it was offered, then she has a problem and ought to stay away from my website.

I don't know about other countries, but in America you do not have the right to never be offended even though certain parties wish otherwise. This country's foundation is based on freedom, and that means freedom for everyone -- not just you or me! If someone is doing or saying something they have a right to do or say and it offends you, you may leave the room, turn the channel, express a different opinion, or - in this case - go to another website and get over it.

My sincerest wish is that this issue is in the past. I intend no offense to anyone but I did not invent the word in the name of the wine and use it with no disrespect intended. Since the name is widely used by Italian- Americans to describe their own homemade wines, I will not censor it. Having served 28 years in the United States Army, I think I have earned the right to exercise my first amendment constitutional rights in the country to which they apply. If your sensitivities conflict with words printed on my site, then please exercise your right to surf some other part of the web. Meanwhile, here we will move on to other subjects.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Oxygen (O2)

Reader Avrom Kohn wrote, "Throughout your site, you mention the necessity of CO2 and how it could be obtained with CO2 cartridges. Well, those who do not have access to CO2 cartridges can merely visit their local grocery or ice cream store and buy food grade dry ice. Just put a cup of hot water and the dry ice into the vessel that needs the CO2, literally watch it fill, and take it out."

Avrom's suggestion is surely welcome. While I have often thought of it myself, the truth is I have only mentioned it as an option once or twice.

But this brings up a discussion aired over a forum recently. A writer argued that trying to rid a primary, carboy or bottle of O2 by filling it with CO2 was an exercise in futility, as the law of diffusion would ensure that whatever oxygen remained in the volume would mix with the incoming CO2 homogeneously and, while the percentage of O2 would be reduced, it would always be there in some amount, or something like that. If you started out with atmospheric air, it would be approximately 21% O2. Adding an equal volume of CO2 to the container would not displace the atmospheric air, but rather would mix with it according to Graham's law of diffusion. You could keep adding more CO2, but this would simply dilute the amount of remaining O2 ad infinitum. The actual rate at which gases diffuse (Graham's Law of Diffusion) is inversely proportional to the square root of their densities

Atmospheric air has a density of 0.00128 g/mL and contains both O2 and CO2. O2 has a density of 0.001308 g/mL and CO2 is heavier at a density of 0.001977 g/mL, so both are actually heavier than air. I could get very mathematical at this point and lose many of you, so I won't. Let's just say that the goal is not the total elimination of O2, but rather a significant reduction. Would placing the dry ice in the hot water do the trick? Conduct the following experiment and see. Place a candle in a holder in a primary container and light the candle. Place the cup of hot water in the primary and place the dry ice in the water. As the primary fills with CO2, the candle will go out due to a significant reduction in the amount of O2 in the primary. Whatever O2 remains is negligible. Case closed.

Bottles and Corks

Dan, a frequent writer and site supporter, asked my opinion on certain issues pertaining to bottles and corks. I thought my reply might serve a wider audience than just he, so will share it here.

I sort my reused bottles by color, type, style, etc. before storing them, but it usually makes no difference to me if the bottles accept corks or screw-caps so long as the latter come with their own caps. After washing them and allowing them to drain a few minutes, I used to insert them upside down in wine cartons and store them in the garage. However, I now wish to know if the bottle has a screw-cap, so I insert it upright and plug those without a cap with a plug made of a piece of paper toweling. I give away a good deal of wine and don't usually get the bottles back, so occasionally I run out of a certain color and style of bottle and have to use what is available rather than what I really want to use. Something within me is irritated when I have to do this, but sometimes one must do what one can, not what one wants.

Not all dark wines degrade under light, but many do. If I have to bottle part of such a batch of red wine in clear bottles, I store them in cardboard wine cartons and that solves the light problem. And, I have found it is much easier to age a wine that is out of sight, as there is little to no temptation to drink what you don't see.

I have found that 99% of all wine bottles in America accept a #9 cork. Rare is the bottle that will not accept a #9 and requires a #8, but there are a few out there. I know that quite a few winemakers still use hand-corkers and it is much easier to insert a #8 cork in the average bottle than a #9. I have two things to say about this. First, it is exactly the tightness of the fit that protects the wine, so use the correct cork. Secondly, do yourself a huge favor and get a floor corker -- make it a birthday, Christmas, anniversary, or simply a payday gift to yourself. You will forever be grateful and will have no problem using the correctly sized cork.

A woman once called me and asked if I needed any Riesling bottles, as her husband had saved them for several years. He had recently passed away and she needed to get rid of them as she was selling the house. I went by to get them and discovered she had over 40 cases of identical bottles in her garage. Even with my pickup, I had to make two trips. It took me several weeks to get the labels off and clean out the bottles (he had not rinsed them before storing them, so most had residue from an ancient growth of mold on the bottom that proved time-consuming but not really difficult to clean). When I used them, I noticed that they were difficult to cork -- even with a floor corker -- and so I compared them with another bottle and judged they would accept a #8 cork, which I had none of in stock. So, I ordered some by phone from a shop in Akron, Ohio I favored for its reasonable prices, but even then I needed almost 500 corks. Of the several bottles already sealed with #9 corks, they proved terrifically difficult to open. One bottle's neck broke apart while trying to extract the cork. Another was shipped off to a distant competition; I received a letter in the mail informing me that no one could extract the cork and the wine was discarded without being judged. About a year later I discovered that these bottles actually used a #7 cork, but....

T-corks are meant to seal a bottle temporarily (for example, a bottle that is only partially consumed), not to be used as permanent closures.

Like Dan, I do not trust the tapered (wedge shaped) corks. They offer little side contact with the neck of the bottle and thus wine/air only has a narrow band of resistance to bypass it. Further, unless it is tapped all the way into the bottle's neck, it can be jarred loose easily by careless handling.

September 3rd, 2007

A reader asked for a recipe for honey apple wine, which is actually apple mead -- apple wine fermented with honey instead of sugar. It is also called cyser. Since I used to buy lots of apple cider to get the 1-gallon glass jugs, I know a little about making cyser.

Honey Apple Wine (Mead)

There are two approaches to making cyser -- use crushed apples or use cider. Unless you have apple trees or access to free apples, it is far more economical and less labor intensive to use cider. With rare exception, cider also has the advantage of being a blend of several apple varieties and brings together the merits of sweetness, tartness, aroma, flavor, acid, and tannin. No single variety possesses a fine balance of all of these qualities. I will assume you are using cider and will make a 5-gallon batch.

Even at the supermarkets in south Texas, we usually have several ciders to choose from. If you live in apple country where numerous cider mills exist, your choices are much greater. Choose a cider that offers strong aroma and flavor, for these must compete with and survive the influences of both the honey and alcohol. If you cannot find such a cider, obtain the best you can, but be absolutely certain the commercial cider you use does not contain sorbic or benzoic acid. If you have both an apple press and access to the correct apples, you can dress up an ordinary table cider for meadmaking purposes by adding to it the juice or crushed apples from two pounds each of Winesap or any of the Russett varieties for aroma and Northern Spy, Pitmason, Pineapple, or Russett for flavor. If available, toss in a pound of crabapples for acidity and tannin. If you can press these to juice you can add that to the table cider. Alternatively, you can crush them and add the fruit to your mead when it has finished its vigorous fermentation. Put the crushed fruit in a nylon straining bag set in a sanitized primary and transfer the mead to the fruit. Allow the yeast to work on the fruit for at least five days before pressing, but two weeks would be better.

To make cyser (5 gallons), 12-15 pounds of honey is required -- that's 4 to 5 quarts. Apple blossom honey would be the perfect choice but I have never actually seen it, so any good honey will do. By "good honey," I mean Grade A (Fancy) or Grade B (Choice). The complete list of starting ingredients you'll need are:

  • 12-15 lbs honey
  • 3-1/2 gallons cider + 1/2 gallon
  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 2-1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 sachet Lalvin 71B-1122 wine yeast

Later you will need potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate to stabilize the mead, and perhaps a little malic acid and grape tannin, but the latter must be determined by need.

Place the cider in your refrigerator at least 6 hours before you begin. Start by bringing the water to boil in a large stock pot. When at a rolling boil, remove from the heat and carefully add the honey to the water. Do not stir yet, but, while wearing insulated kitchen mitts, carefully ladle some of the water into the honey jars. Cap them and shake to dissolve the residual honey, then add the liquid to the stock pot. Add the yeast nutrient and energizer to the stock pot and stir until the honey and water are completely integrated. Transfer this to your primary and add 3-1/2 gallons of the refrigerated cider. Use a thermometer to derive the temperature of the must; if not 100 degrees F. or lower, cover and set aside until it drops to this level. Remove 2 cups of the must to a sanitized jar, cover, and place in the refrigerator, then add the activated yeast to the primary and cover it. When the must in the refrigerator cools to 60 degrees F., pour some in a hydrometer test jar and measure the specific gravity. Return this must to the primary to ferment.

Proceed as in making wine. If you add crushed apples as mentioned earlier, do so only when the vigorous fermentation subsides to prevent the aromas you want to capture from blowing off. Also, it is best to do this using a primary with a tight-fitting lid drilled for an airlock; if one is not available, stir 1/4 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite into the must before adding the apples.

Use the extra 1/2 gallon of cider to top off with. When you do, fermentation will reactivate, but the long fermentation captures the essence of the apples. When the mead is finished and clear (usually after three rackings a month or two apart), it should be stabilized with 2-1/2 tsp potassium sorbate and 1/4 tsp potassium metabisulfite. Depending on the taste of the finished mead, you may want to add malic acid and/or grape tannin. Also, be advised that mead, like wine, mellows, improves and tastes sweeter as it ages, but if it is just too dry, you can add one or more 16-oz cans of frozen apple concentrate to sweeten it. This will affect the clarity and will delay bottling, but often the improvement is well worth the wait. I have added as many as three cans, which reached the limits of my sweetness tolerance. After adding this, you must wait an additional 30 days to see if any surviving yeast reinitiates fermentation. If they do, wait another 90 days before carefully racking into bottles.[Author's own recipe]

Peach Wine Questions

Peaches are ripe and several people have written recently asking about peach wine recipes. The questions vary, but I will try to combine all my answers into this entry. It isn't all that long, but...well, just read on.

The first recipe tends to generate the same question every year - how can you make a gallon of wine with just three pounds of peaches and a quart of boiling water. These, in addition to the single large lemon, contain the only liquid in the list of ingredients. But in the method portion, it says, "Pour in the boiling water and stir to dissolve sugar. Cover primary with sterile cloth and set aside until reaching room temperature, then add cool water to equal one gallon." The devil is in the details, so please read the entire recipe before writing me with a question.

As to which recipe makes the best wine, I have to say it is neither. However, if we must be restricted to the three recipes on my peach wines page, then I would recommend combining the last two. Make the wine according to the third recipe, but incorporate two bananas sliced thin and boiled according to the second recipe.

You can add additional "peachy" flavor if you are freezing peach wedges to be used later in cobbler. Either peel the peaches fresh or hold each one in boiling water with tongs for about 10 seconds and then peel. Section the peaches into wedges and freeze, but save the peach peelings and add to your peach must. Ferment them at least three days but not longer than five, then discard. I have added as much as two pounds of peelings per gallon and can only say that the wine improves unbelievably.

September 20th, 2007

I am afraid I need to apologize. I have been having such a good time doing other things that I have not attended to the WineBlog. This has led three of you to write to me over the past two days and inquire about my health, figuring I had not written here because of continued health problems. Rest assured I am fine, and please accept my apologies for not writing here sooner.

Words Mean Things

Last Sunday I served as head judge at the Medina County Fair in Hondo, Texas. If you don’t know a thing about Hondo, please take a look at the first link below, as indicated, to learn all you need to know. It’s a terrific little town to visit, even if only to judge wines at the county fair.

I tasted some very good wines Sunday and a few that were not quite ready for prime time. I was talking to one of the winemakers after the competition about his beverage and he said, "I brewed this to use up the fruit." Gosh, I hope not.

One "brews" beer and mead. One "makes" wine and cider. If you say you "brewed" your wine, I can only assume one of two things -- (1) you don’t know the meaning of the word "brew," or (2) you do and you cooked your fruit to make your wine. Please use the correct term if you want to communicate accurately. If you’re not sure which term to use or what a term means, please visit my "Glossary of Winemaking Terms." This was actually the first page I ever posted on the internet and was the starting point of "The Winemaking Home Page." Please refer to it as often as you need to, and if there is a term you don’t find there, let me know.

A "Perfect Fermentation"

Yes, I’m playing with words. Ever since the book and movie "The Perfect Storm," we have become conditioned to expect a monster when something is described as "the perfect [whatever]."

A reader wrote to me saying, "I followed your recipe of strawberry/rhubarb right to the tee and in the sequence you recommended. It is now in the primary and WOW, I've never had such a great/violent yeast action in my young wine making career." He then inquires how this happened.

I replied, "Every now and then the right conditions converge to form the perfect must -- the chemistry (most important), the nutrients, the sugar, the temperature, the yeast, the barometric pressure, the phase of the moon, etc. -- and the fermentation explodes. I've had fermentations complete in two days -- I'd prefer they take longer, so the flavors and aromas get incorporated fully, but.... Just accept it. It happens. You can't predict it and can seldom repeat it, but it's fun when it happens."

I wrote that just three days ago. The night before, I started a batch of cranberry-raspberry wine at 1.092 s.g. It quickly developed a heavy foam. Last night I noticed the foam had diminished, so took a hydrometer reading. It was at 0.998 and still in the primary, so I transferred it to secondary and attached an airlock. Because I made slightly more must than a gallon, I had several ounces left in the secondary. I used it to start a mead.

I mixed 2 ¼ pounds of honey in a quart of water in a 3-quart pan and brought it to a low boil. Over a 20-25- minute period I skimmed off the surface scum that formed from the impurities in the honey and removed it from the heat when the scum ceased forming. I set this pan in an ice water bath to cool it down. Later, I measured the volume, added 32 ounces of white grape juice, the juice of 4 pomegranates, some additives, and transferred it to the secondary with the leftover cranberry-raspberry wine must. I brought the volume to a gallon and a cup with water, measured the s.g., and covered the primary. This morning the must was covered with a thick layer of foam.

I don’t expect this batch to ferment as quickly as its predecessor, but when it is time to transfer to secondary I have another mead I want to start with the little that will be left over. Heck, as long as this yeast is so darned happy with the musts I prepare for it, I’ll keep the fermentations going. I have lots of frozen fruit in our chest freezer.

Sweetening Watermelon Wine with Juice

Another reader began a batch of watermelon wine and saved some of the juice to sweeten the finished wine with, then decided to check to see if this was a good idea. I answered him as follows.

You can indeed sweeten with juice. Wait until the whole fermentation is finished, the wine has cleared, you've racked it a couple of times, and it is stabilized. Since that shouldn't be until day 70-80, the original watermelon juice will not last -- it will spoil long before then. When the time comes, buy and press another watermelon. If you fear there won’t be any melons around in two months, prepare the juice and freeze it.

When sweetening with a juice, you should sweeten the juice with sugar as needed and let it cold settle in the refrigerator. The majority of the juice will clear as the pulp settles to the bottom. Carefully rack the clear juice off the sediments and use it, discarding or drinking the portion with the pulp. Sweeten your stabilized wine with the clear portion -- thawed if previously frozen.

You also need to keep track of (1) your finished wine’s alcohol level (computed using the starting and finished specific gravity numbers) and (2) the amount of dilution you'll experience when adding the juice. You do not want the sweetened wine to dilute down lower than 10% alcohol. If you aren’t sure how to calculate this, go to my "Blending Wines" page and use the Pearson Square. Just read the article and you’ll figure it out.

September 22nd, 2007

Generally speaking, the aroma of mead fermenting in primary is much nicer than that of wine. I know this is not a truly fair statement, as it certainly depends on what exactly is fermenting, but all other parameters being even, a given base being fermented as mead is more enjoyable to the nose than the same base being fermented as a wine.


The thoughts expressed above came to me as I walked into the house yesterday afternoon. My nostrils were filled with the scent of pomegranate mead being fermented. There was no doubt that it smelled different than a pomegranate wine undergoing fermentation only a week and a half ago. Granted, I used more fruit in the wine, and they were a week and a half less ripe, I suppose, but it was clearly the honey component I was smelling and it made a difference. And that reminds me of a recent discussion.

The topic was crabapple wine. A website was mentioned with a crabapple wine recipe. The recipe called for chaptalization with sugar, fermentation, at least two rackings, and then the inclusion of 1/2 cup of honey to the nearly finished wine. The reader was assured that the honey would yield a quite different taste than if mere sugar was added at the end. And this is absolutely true.

I once did an experiment that I invite you to replicate. I made a gallon of blackberry wine using 4 1/2 pounds of blackberries and six ounces of Welch's red grape frozen concentrate, chaptalized to an s.g. of 1.085. I fermented this using a Burgundy yeast and racked it several times over as many months. At this point, the wine was both still and clear. Without stabilizing it, I divided it into two half-gallon jugs and sweetened each -- one with one-quarter cup of honey and the other with a quarter-cup of sugar. I was quite annoyed when both began fermenting again, although this seemed to finish fairly quickly. I stabilized them, reclarified them and tasted each. There was no doubt that the one I had added the small amount of honey to was a smoother wine with only a hint of greater sweetness.

I have repeated this experiment twice with similar results. Even a little honey makes a difference.

Sulfur Dioxide

How many times do I need to discuss sulfites? If my email is any guide, at least once more, evidently. A recent email said, "I don't care if my wines oxydize [sic], so I don't use sulfites." Okay. Do you care about bacteria? Vinegar? Brown wine?

In truth, sulfites have numerous benefits and almost no drawbacks to about 97% of the population. That small, 3% residual, consists of people with allergic reactions to sulfites. If you nearly stop breathing after eating a handful of raisins, you're allergic to sulfites. Otherwise, you probably aren't. Most people who say they're "sensitive" to sulfites aren't; it's all in their heads. But the real allergy is serious. Having difficulty breathing is bad enough, but rare symptoms similar to anaphylaxis can manifest -- flushing, fast heartbeat, wheezing, hives, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, collapse, tingling, or difficulty swallowing.

Winemakers can use commercial sulfur dioxide gas from a gas cylinder or use the salt, potassium metabisulfite. When dissolved in water or wine, the salt converts to a bisulfite ion that bonds or reacts with acetaldehyde and other compounds and becomes "fixed," or remains unfixed and becomes "free sulfur dioxide." It is the latter that assists the winemaker. It protects fruit, juice and wine from oxidation, retards bacterial growth, kills fungus, counters the enzymes that cause browning, reduces the smell of oxidation, helps dissolve red grape pigments and thereby improves the color of red wines, enhances the smell of wines by removing the smell of any oxidized acetaldehydes, inhibits malo-lactic fermentation, and at aseptic levels completely stops vinegar formation. At levels above 150 ppm (total SO2 concentrations of 350 ppm are permitted in commercial wines in the United States), it retards the growth of most wild yeast just long enough to allow cultured yeast to gain dominance in the fermentation. All in all, sulfites are the major difference between reliable winemaking in modern times and a toss of the dice in more ancient periods.

So, depending on how you count,I just listed 9, 10, or 11 reasons to use sulfites, any one of which should be sufficient as a reason to use them -- unless you are one of the rare ones who are genuinely allergic to them.

Carnation Wine

Three times in the last 18 months or so I've been asked for a recipe for carnation wine. Carnations have a spicy, peppery, clove-like flavor which can easily overcome a wine, so don't think "more will be better." Use only garden grown flowers, as florist's flowers may contain dyes, pesticides and fixatives that could endanger the wine. I have only made this with pink carnations, so cannot speak to wine color or flavor of other colors of the flower. The pink flowers make a white wine.

  • 1 lb carnation flowers
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

Wash the carnation flowers, remove husks, stems and heels. Soak in 1 quart boiling water. Simmer for 30 minutes then let soak for 12 hours. Strains off the liquid into primary and to it add remaining ingredients (except yeast) and stir until dissolved. Add an additional 5 pints of water to bring to one gallon. Add yeast, cover primary and set in warm place. Check specific gravity after 5th day and each day thereafter until it drops to 1.010. Transfer to secondary and fix airlock. If wine does not clear in 30 days, put one teaspoon pectic enzyme in clean secondary and rack wine into it. Reattach airlock and wait additional 30 days. Rack, add one crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate dissolved. Wait 10 days, sweeten to taste and set aside additional 30 days. Rack into bottles and age 3 months. [Author's own recipe]

September 29th, 2007

I received an email from a person -- the name could have been male or female -- who whined that he or she wanted very much to make wine but "...cannot accept the idea of using chemicals, enzymes and genetically engineered yeast in this endeavor." I don't really want to insult anyone, but some people need to be insulted. Anyone old enough to legally drink wine who is handicapped by such thoughts needs to be educated before they harm society in some way. Life is hard enough for those who use their brain....


Chemicals are specific collections of atoms or molecules such as H2O (water) or NaCl (salt) or C12H22O11 (sugar). There is no such thing as a chemical-free wine -- or food, or life-form. It is one thing to recognize that many harmful chemicals are finding their way into our bodies; it is altogether different (and idiotic) to generalize this into a crusade against all chemicals. Don't they teach logic in schools anymore? Don't they still teach students that generalizations are fallacious?


Enzymes are proteins that catalyze (i.e. accelerate) chemical reactions. In enzymatic reactions, specific molecules are converted into different molecules. Almost all processes that take place in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur at significant rates -- significant meaning within the lifetime of the cell. I don't really expect most people to know what enzymes do, but if a person is going to take a solid stand against a thing -- anything, really -- he or she ought to at least open a dictionary and find out what it is they are opposing. Since enzymes are essential for life as we know it and for wine to be made by yeast, to be opposed to their use is rather silly.

Genetically Engineered Yeast

Yeast cells were first genetically engineered by Benjamin Hall and Gustav Ammerer in 1981 to produce human interferon and later that year produced the surface antigen protein of the hepatitis B virus. This led directly to the world's first genetically engineered vaccine against a human disease, the first vaccine against a sexually transmitted disease, and the first vaccine against a virus that leads to human cancer -- a feat considered one of biotechnology's greatest triumphs. This, of course, has nothing to do with wine, but yeast have been genetically altered to produce more alcohol. I believe Nancy Ho of Purdue University was the first person to genetically engineer a yeast cell, in 1995, to effectively co-ferment both glucose and xylose from cellulosic biomass, a development which has made commercial biomass-to-ethanol technology possible. I know of no genetically engineered yeast involved in or even suitable for wine production, but in the event someone develops and produces them you can rest assured they will not be sold in little sachets in local homebrew shops. But beware of the wine you buy....

Another Look - the Carboy Lifter

I have received many emails over the past two-plus years thanking me for mentioning Martin Benke's Carboy Lifter in my WineBlog entry of March 17th, 2005. The Carboy Lifter is a winch-driven fork-lift that lifts a carboy to 3 feet in height, more than enough to rack or bottle the wine. Further, it regularly handles 6.5-gallon carboys, and Martin has made custom Carboy Lifters large enough to handle 17-gallon demijohns.

Carboy Lifter
Martin Benke's Carboy Lifter is a back saver

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.

Martin says he can ship the Carboy Lifter anywhere in the contiguous 48 states for about $30 but that was before $2.70-per-gallon gasoline so it may be more today.

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 manage a 6-gallon carboy, and that's worth promoting.

Martin Benke can be reached at home in Dunlay, Texas at (210) 854-2178.

October 2nd, 2007

As I stated in my August 31st WineBlog, this is not a political site. I will not turn it into one and will not allow petty intolerance to hijack the site and turn it into one. I have therefore had to insist that several recent entries to my guestbook be removed due to their inflammatory nature. I left the original protest entry in the guestbook, but those that stooped to name-calling were removed, whether they supported me or the protestor.

Before someone screams "censorship," consider for a moment that this is a private website with public viewing privileges granted by the site's owner -- me. If anyone wants to spend their own time and money and create their own site and rant against me, please feel free to do so. But I'm spending my time and my money on a winemaking site. I was hoping it would be visited by adults. If you qualify, please stay awhile.

Stopping Fermentation

A member of a forum I frequent inquired as to whether anyone tries to stop fermentation while the wine still has some residual sugar in it or do we all just ferment to dryness, stabilize and then back-sweeten? Another member guessed that most members ferment to dryness then back-sweeten. He pointed out that aside from the fact that it may be difficult to stop a fermentation mid-stream, back-sweetening can give one more precise control over sweetness, and stopping an active fermentation may leave one with less alcohol than desired, requiring an adjustment with some sort of spirit -- not to mention it is just plain difficult to get yeast to die without doing bad things to your wine.

I added that if you have the right yeast you can stop a fermentation shy of dryness and end up with a sweet or semi-sweet wine. Take Cote des Blancs yeast, for example. It ferments right up to 13% and then just dies. You might get 13.25% out of it, but don't shoot for 14%. So, if you sweeten a must to yield 15.5% potential alcohol (PA) and inoculate with Cote des Blancs, chances are excellent you will end up with a yeast-stable wine with 2.5% residual sweetness. But, in my estimation, it is a complete waste of time to take a 16% PA must inoculated with Lalvin BA11 or some other comparable alcohol-tolerant yeast and try to stop the fermentation at 12%. If you want a 12% sweet wine, sweeten the must to 16% and inoculate with Cote des Blancs -- or sweeten the must to 12% PA, ferment to dryness and then back-sweeten to taste.

I repeat this here because it is important to remember that the yeast is a tool. Even if you let the juice ferment "spontaneously" with wild yeast, you are still using the yeast to convert the sugar in the juice into alcohol and thus change the very nature of the beverage. As long as you're going to use tools, you might as well use the right one. In making wine, there are many yeast choices. No one can say that one strain is the best choice in a given situation above all others, but it sometimes is easy to say that a particular strain is the wrong one. Eliminate the wrong ones and select from what is left. There will still be many choices.

Fermentation Rate

An innovative winemaker experimented with staggered yeast nutrient additions. He begins with about half the nutrient he anticipates needing and adds the remainder at strategic points along the way to dryness. (He also added equal parts of yeast nutrient and energizer, but this is very wrong so let's ignore that for the rest of the discussion.) One thing he noticed was that his fermentation time grew shorter using this method, and he thought this was a good thing. Since this case was a forum entry too, others chimed in and expressed the belief that slower fermentations were better for the wine quality and hypothesized that fermentation at lower temperatures contributes more fruitiness and aroma to the wine and also slows the fermentation rate.

I pointed out that way back in 1884 Muller-Thurgau showed that lower temperatures result in slower fermentation, higher alcohol production, and better flavor and aroma integration. Over the years, many studies have refined and supplemented the data and quantified the various byproducts of fermentation as a consequence of temperature and fermentation rate, but the conclusion hasn't changed.

The optimum fermentation temperature for most wine yeast strains is 60 degrees F. (15.5 degrees C.). Lower alcohol production is obtained on either side of that optimum. In other words, you get less alcohol production by fermenting an average yeast at 55 or 65 degrees F. than you get at 60 degrees. Volatile acidity formation is lower at lower temperatures, but the right balance for table wine is obtained between 58-60 degrees F.

When you get into the various fermentation byproducts it gets rather complicated, but the bottom line is that lower temperature means slower fermentation rate which means more flavor and aroma integration. In other words, you do not want a fast fermentation if you can help it. But, if things just happen and your yeast just rip through a fermentation, don't lose any sleep over it. Just let it age a little longer than you otherwise would and it will probably be okay.

October 8th, 2007

Today is the celebration day of the American holiday, Columbus Day. The actual anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas is October 12th, but for some reason that makes sense only to lawmakers and bureaucrats in Washington, DC it is being celebrated today. Nothing is sacred any more, but especially not Columbus Day.

On the radio this morning I heard a complete ass vilify Columbus for causing the destruction of the natural paradise that existed in the Americas before his arrival. What drivel. Whatever Columbus was, he does not deserve blame for everything ugly that followed his discovery. He had no knowledge of microorganisms, immunity and epidemics, and was not responsible for the great conquistador campaigns that followed. Finally, the indigenous peoples themselves were doing a wonderful job of subjugating and exterminating each other long before Columbus happened upon the scene. I, frankly, am sick of the revisionist history being proselytized by people who wish the past were other than it actually was. End of rant....

Persimmon Wine

A forum member inquired about some difference he noted in persimmon wine recipes. Almost all of them say to use three pounds of ripe persimmons for a one gallon recipe. However some also say to deseed and mash and some recipes call for three pounds that have already been deseeded and mashed. He was confused by these differences, fearing three pounds of deseeded persimmons would be appreciably different from three pounds that were subsequently deseeded. While this is a small point, it is one I can appreciate. The devil, as they say, is often in the detail.

The persimmon recipe on my site is adapted from the legendary San Antonian Dorothy Alatorre. I used that recipe the first time I made persimmon wine, but never again. It is not intended to make a dry table wine, but rather a sweet wine of quite considerable alcohol. If made perfectly, the wine will balance and be a delight. If not, it will be...well...less than perfect. Except for a wine I made with wild Texas persimmons -- those small nuggets that ripen black and whose wine looks exactly like motor oil after staying in the crankcase twice as long as intended -- I use a completely different procedure for persimmon wine. You'll notice I did not say "recipe," and that's because there isn't one.

In answering the fellow on the forum, I opined that it really doesn't make all that much difference whether one measures the seeded or deseeded persimmons -- the differential will not be all that great. Indeed, the only reason I know of to remove the seeds is for aesthetic reasons -- the seeds themselves are edible. They will also yield some tannin, as they retain tannic acid long after it disappears from the flesh.

Persimmons (Diospyros kaki) are technically a berry -- as is the watermelon -- but most people think of it as a fruit. However you consider it, it is one of the sweetest fruits in the world when fully ripe. For this reason the Japanese consider it a divine food.

Most persimmons, especially the wild orange ones, do not ripen until after a frost but may drop from the tree prematurely. Persimmons in good condition will often then need to be ripened at home. Leave them out on the counter at room temperature or hasten the process by putting them in a paper bag with a banana or apple. The ethylene gas given off by the other fruit will help the persimmon ripen. A fully ripe persimmon will be slightly wrinkled or have a few brown spots. At this very soft stage, the pulp is almost like a firm jelly. It's then at the peak of perfection and should be eaten immediately or used in other ways, as in cooking, baking, jelly, or wine.

There are many different cultivated persimmons. I have long been familiar with the common wild orange persimmon of America (Diospyros virginiana) and later with the black Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), but the ones we buy at the market will probably be a cultivar from the Orient.

Cultivars Fuyu, Maru, and Hachiya are perhaps the best known. The shape of Fuyu fruit is round and somewhat flattened, Maru is more sphericallt round, and Hachiya is heart-shaped and pointed at its apex. Fuyu is the most widely planted cultivar in Japan and easily the most popular everywhere. It is most noted for its nonastringent fruit -- even when not yet ripe -- but also for its good yield, vigorous upright growth habit, and ease of training. Maru has more brittle branches, the fruit is astringent, and it matures about three weeks earlier than Fuyu. Hachiya fruit is also astringent before softening to ripeness. These and most other cultivars bear only functionally female flowers (with stamens present but sterile) that without fertilization produce seedless (parthenocarpic) fruit. In Japan, these flowers are sometimes hand-pollinated with pollen from varieties that bear male flowers. When I planted persimmon trees, my nurseryman suggested that I plant a minimum of three trees, with the more central one being a common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) or known male.

I quarter the fruit and scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Mash the pulp in a primary and sprinkle with powdered pectic enzyme (one teaspoon per three pounds of fruit). Stir the mashed pulp to mix in the pectic enzyme and let it sit about 30 minutes. I use a spay bottle to spray the strained juice of one lemon over the surface and then wait the 30 minutes. Then add about 6 pints of water and stir the pulp well to moisten it through and through. Cover the primary and wait 12 hours, stirring once or twice during that time. Strain off a sample of the liquid and test with a hydrometer. Based on this reading, now calculate the amount of sugar actually required to reach a desired yield.

Once the sugar is added, the following ingredients can be added.

  • 1 tblsp acid blend
  • 6 pts water
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1/2 to 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient

Allow the must to sit, covered, another 12 hours and then add a Montrachet, Pasteur Red or Champagne yeast starter. If you can get it, SB5 (Hock yeast), Gervin No. 5 (White Label) or Gervin Varietal B (Rhine) all work very well with persimmon. Ferment normally, strain after vigorous fermentation subsides and transfer to a secondary under airlock. I prefer persimmon wine more in the 11.5% to 12% abv range, fermented dry, stabilized and then sweetened to about 1.5% residual sugar (1.006). Your taste may differ. [Author's own recipe]

October 13th, 2007

I wanted to thank all of you who so generously have made financial contributions to support the continued operation of The Winemaking Home Page. I cannot tell you how grateful I am. The link to make such a contribution is at the end of each WineBlog entry.

The 2000 Bordeaux Vintage

The other day I read an article on Bordeaux's first growth 2000 vintage wines. I am unable to find it just now, but it was an eye opener and I did manage to commit some of it to memory. First off, it is one of the best vintage years in ages, and by best I mean for potential. All five of the Premier Crus were rated at 100 points on the 100-point scale, yet are wines that will not mellow enough to drink for 30-40 years (or more). Unable to locate the original (which I'm sure was delivered by email), I have searched the five Bordeaux first growths.

The Châteax Margaux 2000 Premier Grand Cru is selling for $980 a bottle if you can get it. Think that's high? The Château Haut-Brion 2000 Pessac Léognan is selling for $1,186 a bottle; Châteax Lafite-Rothschild at 1,814 a bottle; Châteax Latour at $1,730 a bottle; and Châteax Mouton Rothschild at a mere $1,134 a bottle. But, in truth, the prices are all over the board (and I consider the listings at Antique Wine Company to be very high).

What makes these wines so pricey? The answer, in short, is their perceived value over the next 30-80 years. And what creates that value? Well, if I knew the answer to that one I I would not need viewer contributions to keep this web site afloat. But one thing everyone agrees on is that these wines have layers and layers of tannins -- no, not just tannins, but the right tannins. Plus, of course, they have everything else a fine wine needs -- acidity, pH, flavor components, structure, body, and on and on and on. But they not only have these things in spades, they have them for the long haul -- they aren't going to peak in six years and turn brickish in eight.

I have only tasted one "great wine," although I have tasted a lot of great wines. By "great wine," I mean a wine approaching what the 2000 Bordeaux first growths are hyped to become. The wine I tasted was 30 years old exactly, had been recorked once, was the finest tasting and best finishing wine I have ever tasted, and was drank before its time. Yes, we drank it too young, but could not have known that until we tasted it. And that is why people who can afford these wines buy them by the case. Oh, but to dream....

Off-Topic Entries

Completely unrelated to wine, a friend sent me a URL and said to go there and type in my ZIP Code. I did and was surprised by wealth of information retrieved on my community. I then started comparing data between places I've lived, with places my siblings live, etc. The link is at the end of this WineBlog entry....

I don't know why, but I woke up wondering what happened on this date in history. If you want to know, check out the link at the end of this entry, which features a short video clip. There are many other sites that list the events that occurred on any given date, but I haven't really found one that I consider "the best." Indeed, on completely different sites I learned that on this day in 539 BC the Persian armies under Cyrus the Great captured Babylon; in Rome in 54 AD Emperor Claudius was poisoned by his wife Agrippina so her son Nero could take the throne; on this unlucky Friday the 13th in 1307 King Philip IV had all Knights Templar in France arrested for heresy; in 1792 President George Washington set the cornerstone of the executive mansion, later to be known as the White House; and in 1963 The Beatles performed for the first time on live television (at the London Palladium). Obviously, this is a sampling of what happened on this date, but my point is that no one site listed all of these events.

October 16th, 2007

My wife Donna is out in California attending to some real estate and medical affairs. Last weekend she and her friend Mary went up to Grass Valley to visit Mary's sister, Amy, who lives next door to a winery they had visited previously. What a blast they had. The winery was closed, but they joined Amy and her friends in a private visit -- not to taste wines, but to help bottle 50 cases of Barbera.

A Bottling Party at Sierra Knolls

I really can't say what happened, but my wife evidently had a good time. She said she sure does like the people, the locale and the wines of Sierra Knolls Winery. We've been to a lot of wineries, so if she thinks a place is special, it is. I'm going to have to get out there, see for myself, and find out how they got her to help them bottle their Barbera. I can't get her to help me bottle mine, but she does everything else to make our home a wonderful place to be so I can't complain. But what I really want to see is the cave where they age their wines in French and American oak barrels. Donna said it smelled wonderful....

Actually, I'm pretty sure she sampled their wares. She admits to dropping and breaking one bottle, something I've never known her to do. And she seemed awfully knowledgeable about their wines -- not your normal California offerings. Take the Barbera, for instance. This is the second most widely planted variety in Italy after Sangiovese, and is widely planted in California as well. And yet, most people are unfamiliar with it. That is because most Barbera grown in the vast Central Valley is beautifully colored and nicely bodied, but it has indistinct flavor and aroma. This makes it a perfect blending wine, and that is where most Barbera goes. But, in the Sierra foothills, Paso Robles, Sonoma and Santa Clara regions, the cooler nights allow this grape to come into its own -- exhibiting an attractive aroma of ripe blackberries, red fruit and currants that is enhanced by vanilla, smoke and toasted notes created by barrel aging. I'm looking forward to the bottle she picked up for me.

Other wines made at Sierra Knolls Winery are, again, not your usual fare. Among their white wines are Marsanne as a varietal and a Rhone blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne countering their more conventional Chardonnay. Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Barbera counter their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a late harvest Zinfandel rounding out the reds as a dessert offering. This is a solid and decidedly fruity stable.

And thinking about Barbera sent me to my wine logs to find the one I made. I doubt it holds a candle to Sierra Knolls' wine, but I do remember it as being wonderfully satisfying. I don't say that about many wines.

Barbera Grape Wine from Juice

If you can obtain high quality Barbera grapes from the right climate zone, by all means use them. I can't obtain such grapes, so I have to buy juice. Without fermenting on the skins, the wine is medium-bodied at best but still robust, dark and fruity (cherries, raspberries and currants). It loves oak and is suitable for long aging regimens.

  • 5 gallons Barbera grape juice
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons yeast nutrient
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite
  • 3 tablespoons Oak-Mor [Optional]
  • 1 sachet Wyeast chianti wine yeast or Red Star Pasteur Red

In a 6-gallon carboy as primary, stir the potassium metsbisulfite into the juice, cover, and wait 12 hours. Add the pectic enzyme and at the same time begin a yeast starter solution. Cover the juice and wait another 12 hours. To the juice, stir in the yeast nutrient, Oak-Mor and yeast starter solution. Cover and watch for active fermentation to start. Wait two days and attach airlock. When vigorous fermentation subsides, wait 7 days, rack into 5-gallon carboy and attach airlock. Allow wine to clear, wait additional 1-2 weeks, rack, stabilize, and sweeten if desired. If sweetened, allow additional 30 days and rack into bottles. If not sweetened, bottle. Now here's the difficult part. Age 12 months before you even think of tasting, and even then don't expect the wine to be ready. Instead, make detailed tasting notes and pretend you like the wine. Wait another 6 months and taste again. While doing this, re-read your tasting notes from 6 months earlier. The wine will be much better and should continue to improve over the next 6-9 months, but at some point you will know it is ready. Throw a party. Invite me. [Author's own recipe]

Off-Topic Entries

Some of you undoubtedly already know about NationStates. NationStates is a...what? Game? Not really. Simulation? Sort of. Role play? It can be. Whatever it is, it is played on the internet. It was created in 2002 by Max Barry, loosely based on his novel Jennifer Government. The following is from the Wikipedia entry for NationStates:

"In the game, a player has charge of a "nation". At the time a nation is created, the player chooses a few basic characteristics such as name, currency and style of government. The nation's population starts at 5 million people and increases automatically with play.

"Gameplay hinges on deciding government policies: the player is presented with automatically assigned "issues" and chooses a response from a list of options. Players can also dismiss (ignore) issues: this has no effect on the nation. The frequency with which new issues arise is set by the player (from 5 to 14 issues per week).... All issues have a peculiar characteristic. No option is the "correct" one. Each usually has a positive and a negative aspect, although the latter is usually highlighted and both are always exaggerated. Many issues are posed in terms of radical or extremist beliefs, and the accompanying opinions are rarely well-founded. This is for both humorous and didactic reasons: many opinions are extremely funny or ridiculous, and the player learns that there are no perfect ideas which will work in every case.

"The player's decisions affect the nation's status in the areas of Political Freedoms (how democratic the nation is), Civil Rights (how much freedom the citizens have), and Economy (how strong the nation's economy is), as well as other variables, such as crime rate, industry size and public sector spending.

"Based on the nation's personal, economic, and political freedoms, they are assigned to one of 27 "UN Categories", from Scandinavian Liberal Paradise and Capitalist Paradise to Corporate Police State and Psychotic Dictatorship. The "other variables" are used to compile the game's daily UN reports, which lists every nation in the game in order of their rank in that day's chosen variable.

"Finally, the nation's main page briefly describes the population, government, economy and latest policy decisions resulting from the player's choices.

"Players may choose to join the NationStates United Nations, or NSUN, making their nations automatically affected by the decisions of that body, although various players role-play disobedience. Discussions on proposed resolutions take place on the forums, often home to all manner of political debate. A dedicated team of volunteers moderates the forums; most of them also moderate the game to keep it free from vandalism."

Needless to say, I have started a nation -- the Republic of Wyneries. My nation is only three days old and I have no idea whether or not I will continue playing more than a few weeks, but it has promise and only takes a few minutes a day after the initial learning curve. One thing I like about it is that the game does not allow warfare. You can talk war all you want, but you have no way to actually attack another nation. And considering how many of the nations have unbelievably belligerent names, that's probably a good thing.

November 3rd, 2007

When the years begin to accumulate and aches, pains and ailments visit the body with increasing frequency, we tend to think of life as fragile. In truth, it is anything but fragile, as evidenced by the tenacity of the common yeast cell. I will be devoting most of this entry to yeast, but first I want to say how blessed I am in so many ways.

Thanks to the body of knowledge, practice, procedures and technologies we tend to lump together into the term medical science, I am still with you. That may be of small consequence to you, but it is of critical significance to me. My recovery is well advanced and I thank each of you for your kind thoughts, communications and prayers. I am also blessed to have a strong, beautiful and wonderfully caring wife who has been enormously short-changed by the bargain of our union; I can never repay her for what she has endured for me, but I am trying. And I am blessed to still have with me in this world two wonderful and loving parents. My mother very recently had a stroke and is recovering quite well at home after a period of hospitalization. It was while thinking of my mother, now recuperating at age 83, that my thoughts turned to the fragility of life, but it was a question by an old winemaking acquaintance (thank you, Carl) that turned my thoughts to yeast and the tenacity they (and we) have for life.

Culturing Yeast

Carl Goldin asked me yesterday if it's possible to culture one's own wine yeast rather than purchasing it. Carl, the answer is emphatically "yes." Now, two things come to mind when discussing this topic. One is the growing and storage of cultured "slants" of yeast -- jars of very pure and concentrated yeast cultures which are used to inoculate a yeast starter solution prior to making wine. The second is the maintenance of a yeast starter solution from which you inoculate your musts. I will discuss the first option here and the second option later.

First, a little terminology is in order:

  • A "slant" has a specific meaning in bio-culturing labs -- a sterile, enclosed tube lain on its side in which a cell culture is grown. As used here, the meaning is the same except we will not be using petri dishes or culture tubes for this purpose, but rather will use 125 mL (1/2 cup) vacuum-sealable jars -- baby food jars.
  • "Agar" is the shortened version of "agar agar," a gelatinous substance obtained from certain seaweeds, and an essential ingredient to this process.
  • The "culture media" is that which we will grow our yeast in and can be made in various ways. I have selected one for you -- make it exactly as specified.
  • "Sterile" here means just that. In general winemaking, the word sterile is often used when "sanitized" is actually meant, but here we mean "sterile" when we say it. That means being immersed in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes or sterilized in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes (see below). If your water is hard (contains a lot of minerals), add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to each 1/2 gallon of water to prevent carbonates from adhering to surfaces.

Your culture jars should be absolutely clean. I use a dishwashing detergent and scouring pad and then rinse in very hot water followed by a 5-minute dip in 5% sulfite solution. Let the tops and jars soak, then set aside to dry. After drying, discard any lids that retained a smell or show black growth (bacterial infection) inside the lid. Cover them with a clean towel while drying upside down until ready for use.

Make a culture media in which to grow your yeast. Two "musts" are listed below. Make one of them and add enough agar to turn the "must" to a gel. You can pay an extravagant amount for agar at a scientific supply house or buy it relatively cheaply at a Chinese grocery. Make a quart of "must" from the list below and heat slowly in a stainless steel pot or pan. The Chinese agar comes in thin strings (like spaghetti); cut 12-15 of these into 1-inch pieces and stir these into the "must" as it comes to a slow boil. The agar will take a while to dissolve, so keep stirring until completely integrated into the "must." Dip out 1/4 cup and pour that into a shallow platter and wait for it to cool (I place it in the refrigerator to speed up the process). It should cool into a gelatin-like layer. If it does not, cut up 3-5 more strings and stir until dissolved into the "must." Repeat the platter test. You want a jello-like layer. This is now your "culture media."

Make a "must" from one of these two formulas:

  • 1/4 cup malt, 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient, 1 quart water
  • 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient, 1 quart water

Line up all but one of the culture jars and pour just enough culture media in them to cover the bottom to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Cap immediately, firmly but not real tight (my wife says to tighten until "finger- tight" -- as tight as you can turn them using just the first joints of your fingers). The excess media can be placed in a sanitized quart mason jar with lid to be used for future cultures. Place the quart jar and the baby food jars in a canning immersion bath for 25 minutes or in a pressure cooker and bring to 15 psi for at least 15 minutes. You should add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the water in the pressure cooker to prevent carbonates from clouding the surfaces. When finished, remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature. The quart jar will go directly into the refrigerator when cool. The baby food jars are ready for yeast.

Take the one baby food jar set aside and to it add 1/4 cup of distilled water warmed to 95-100 degrees F. To that add the contents of a sachet of active dry yeast you want to culture. Tighten the lid on the jar and shake it gently to immerse the yeast. Every 2-3 minutes for the next 15-20 minutes pick up the jar and shake it gently. At the end, you want all the little beads of yeast to be broken up and suspended in the water to form a cloudy mixture. This is about 55 mL of culture. Count your jars and do the math. If you have 27 jars, you can add 2 mL (about 1/4 teaspoon) to each. If you have 12 jars, you can double that amount. In truth, this is enough yeast culture to easily inoculate 500-550 jars, so the large amounts you will use (2 mL or 4 mL) is actually overkill, but each will make a stronger starter much faster when actually used.

The most sterile method for inoculating the jars of culture media is described in Yeast Culture for Dummies (see links below). It involves using a sterile hypodermic needle, 70% alcohol, and maintaining very sterile working conditions. The jars are wiped with a paper towel soaked in 70% alcohol, opened one by one and immediately covered with the alcohol-soaked paper towel, and the hypodermic needle inserted through the towel and into the culture media before injecting. This is not only super sterile (and smart), but the needle can be used to measure the amount delivered (he only uses 0.1 cc, or 1/10th of one mL per jar) and moved through the gel to disburse the cultures. Intellectually, I must recommend this method. In practice, when I was growing cultures, I did not know of it and so used another, less sterile method.

I opened a jar and used a sterilized knife blade to quickly cut a few slashes through the media one way, then cut a few more at a right angle to the first. This simply allowed the yeast access into the media. Then I poured 1/4 teaspoon of yeast culture into the jar and immediately tightened its lid. Rocking the jar back and forth a few seconds moved the yeast around to coat the surface and allowed it to find the several cuts I had made.

When the jars are all inoculated (by whichever method you use, put them in a dark cupboard in a warmer room of the house (the kitchen usually qualifies). After 24 hours pick up each jar and rock it gently to redistribute the culture over the surface of the media and return it to the cupboard. After 48 hours, crack each jar's lid slightly to allow built-up CO2 to escape, then tighten again immediately. Repeat this 48 hours later and instead of returning to the cupboard place the jars in a bin of the refrigerator that has previously been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. Since refrigerators harbor all manner of bacteria and fungus, you can even place the jars in ZipLoc bags before placing them in the refrigerator. Store them there until needed.

The day before needed, take out a jar and wipe the outside with an alcohol-soaked paper towel. Set it and a small amount of unpreserved grape, apple or orange juice aside to rise to room temperature (two hours). When at room temperature, shake the fruit juice for a minute or two to aerate it, open the yeast culture jar, fill 2/3 full with the fruit juice, and replace the lid. After 12 hours remove the lid and cover the top with aluminum foil folded over the sides and flattened. This will allow the building CO2 to escape, and the positive pressure will keep any nasties out. After 24-36 hours, the starter can be added to your wine must.

Maintaining a Starter Solution

In a small (2-gallon) primary, add three 11-ounce cans of Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate and five quarts of water. Add one teaspoon of yeast nutrient and enough sugar to raise the specific gravity to 1.090. Finely crush one Campden tablet and dissolve it completely in one cup of the must just made. Add to bulk and stir. Pour one quart into sterilized 1-quart mason jar and put this in coldest part of your refrigerator (do NOT put in freezer). Label this "sterile must".

Now inoculate the must in the primary. After three days pour one quart of this into a sterilized 2-quart mason jar. Label this "yeast starter" and place it in the refrigerator. Every 14 days remove both jars and let them warm naturally to room temperature. When thus achieved, add 1/2 cup of the sterile must to the yeast starter, return the sterile must to the refrigerator immediately, but let the starter sit out for four hours before returning it to the refrigerator.

Adding 1/2 cup of sterile must every 14 days will provide the yeast starter enough fermentable sugars and nutrients on a regular, controlled basis to extend the life of your yeast for years, assuming you start a new batch of wine at least every four months, use half of the starter when you do, and make an extra quart of must which you draw off and refrigerate before you inoculate it. This is similar to keeping a "sourdough starter" alive -- feeding it every two weeks and using half when using it at all. You can use less -- a third or a fourth of it if you start a new batch every few weeks. Flexibility is allowed. The point is, the low temperature in the refrigerator keeps the yeast alive but slows its metabolism greatly.

Off-Topic Entries

Take a look at the fourth link below. This is without doubt the most impressive example of art morphing I have ever seen! If you have a dial-up connection, allow it a minute or two to load before clicking "Play." Oh yes -- it also has sound....

November 8th, 2007

My buddy Carl wrote me twice about my last entry, seemingly having problems with the part on "Maintaining a Starter Solution." One problem had to do with my math -- my mistake -- so I edited the entry to correct it. The other problems were about details. Look, I have re-read the entry several times now and don't think it is at all confusing. But, I did just now add a few words to it to help it along. I don't want to leave anyone confused, but if it just doesn't click for you then please follow the two links I posted under the entry where you can do further reading. Google is also an option. I'm not trying to be snide, but I wrote what I wrote as clearly as I could. I'm not a microbiologist.

But Carl isn't the only person to write to me about my last entry. Another reader wrote, "I realized that one could create his/her personalized yeast strain for wine making, propagating the subcultures that would give specific flavors that the winemaker enjoys. My guess is that the commercial yeasts have gone through some degree of manipulation but I have not been able to find specific details as to how they do this. In the lab, my first step would be to treat it with a mutagen and then isolate ones that give me the desired phenotype. It seems that at home it may not be the best way to go. Would you know of a good reference (book/internet) that would help me through this?"

Right up front I have to say I don't know the answer to these specific questions. I have read quite a bit about commercial wine yeasts, but can't say that I've read about any strains we are using in winemaking that were genetically manipulated. The sum total of the knowledge I have about genetically engineered yeast is contained in my September 29th entry of this year. Please scroll to it and read. And, while I could list a number of very expensive books on genetics and even more expensive books on yeast, I haven't read them so cannot say if any of them would satisfy the question asked. But I can offer a few thoughts about how wine yeasts were selected in the past.

Selective Culturing

Modern wine yeast cultures were undoubtedly isolated in the laboratory, but before that they were subjected to hundreds of years of selection in the vineyards of Europe, but especially France. It is long been the practice to take the pomace from the wine press and return it to the vineyard where it is spread under the vines as a mulch. There, it slowly decomposes and enriches the vineyard, but it is also laden with the yeast that produced the last batch of wine. This yeast is now right under the vines, so when new grapes are produced the bloom that forms on them will contain more of the yeast beneath them than any other airborne yeast.

Let us imagine four neighboring vineyards planted at the same time. New grapes appear for the first time and wild yeasts carried by the wind adhere to them and grown into colonies on the grape skins called "bloom." Each vineyard is planted with a different grape, and when the four different grapes are crushed and the wild yeasts begin feeding on the juices, each must tends to favor one of the many wild yeasts in the bloom more than the others. That is because this one strain of yeast adapts better to the particular acidity of this particular grape variety, or processes its sugars more efficiently, or copes with its unique abundance (or scarcity) of tannins or anthrocyanins or thiols or whatever, or tolerate the alcohol produced. The point is that one strain will rise to dominate the fermentation, and for each of the four grape varieties the dominate strain of yeast will probably differ. And, if the pomaces are returned to the vineyards year after year after year, the dominate yeast strain of each vineyard will become more and more concentrated.

But suppose you have one large area planted with the same grape variety but broken into many separate vineyards belonging to many small wineries. Would not they all end up with the same dominate yeast strain? Possibly, but not necessarily. The vineyards along the valley floor where the air is stiller, the soil more clay-laden and the vines better watered will certainly produce a grape with a different chemistry than those grown on the sunnier, breezier, more rocky, slightly drier, north-facing slope. That different chemistry will invariably favor a slightly different yeast.

And so it was in both types of areas that yeast were collected and taken to various laboratories. There, they were activated, diluted and smeared across sterile culturing media in petri dishes. Tiny circles of growth spotted the media, were compared, and the most common of them among any sample were assumed to be the dominate strain for the vineyard where collected and were easily isolated. Hundreds of these strains were thus isolated and preserved on "slants." The different strains from any one area were then cultured and utilized in making wine in the sulfited juices of many different grapes - the sulfites necessary to retard the yeasts riding in on the skins of the various grapes.

At the end of fermentation, new smears were made from the wines of each batch. From these smears grew tiny new cultures - these were the yeast that survived the sulfites, the high acidity, the low pH, the high levels of alcohol, and the fermentation temperatures. In other words, the yeast still living at the end of fermentation were the yeast that had survived to finish the actual fermenting. These were the yeast with greatest commercial potential.

The wines themselves were then carefully evaluated and the results catalogued and matched to the yeast that were responsible for the results. After conducting many, many such vinification trials, the results could be compared and a specific strain selected as the very best from the many collected from a particular area. Of the many strains collected from the vineyards surrounding the village of Montrachet, for example, culture 522 was selected by the University of California at Davis as the best -- we know it today simply as Red Star Montrachet. We know UCD 595 as Pasteur Champagne, but other favorable Champagne strains are 505 and EC1118.

If you want to select your own personalized strain of wine yeast, crush your grapes (or blackberries, or apples) and allow the must to "spontaneously" begin fermenting. This simply means the wild, indigenous yeast found on the fruit propagated. Because a grape bloom can contain dozens of different species and strains of yeast, you can be sure that within the must itself many battles are being fought for domination. Some strains simply will not like the acidity. Others will not mind the TA but will not like the pH. But it will be alcohol toxicity and sulfite tolerance that will separate the potential winners from the also ran.

The strain that dominates the must early on is not necessarily the last strain standing. Alcohol wipes out one strain after another until the airlock liquid flattens out and the final die-off begins. It is here that you want to dip a fine wire loop into the wine and then run the wire over a fresh culturing media in a petri dish. It is amazing how many individual yeast cells will be smeared across that agar-based media from far less than a drop of wine. You will see them in a few days as hundreds of tiny dots grow larger. Now examine them carefully. The ones that most resemble each other in color and growth pattern are probably the same and are the yeast you are looking for. Take the tip of a sterilized piece of fine wire and drag it through one of the preferred dots of culture. Wipe that tip across the surface of agar in a slant. Just to be sure you got it, prepare a dozen or two slants and grow them out as in my previous entry.

Isolating several strains this way and then evaluating the quality and attributes of the wines they make is the only way I know how to isolate a strain that yields the particular taste characteristics you might be seeking, but it occurs to me that this could take more than a few years. But then, it a hobby, right?

Off-Topic Entries

Last night a pretty incredible photograph was brought to my attention. I spent a hour tracking it down to its source and posted it on my site on a page called "courage." I invite you to view it. It's at the link immediately following....

November 11th, 2007

Today is Veterans Day in America. Originally, it was Armistice Day, which it still is in many countries, honoring the silencing of the guns of the first World War at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. In 1954 President Eisenhower signed a proclamation changing the name here, "...in order that a grateful Nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars." I think it was a most fitting change. I am frequently amazed at the naivety of some who display such a thorough and intense anti-military fervor that it is obvious they somehow believe that their nation, their way of life, their very freedom to protest, just happened because they were good ideas rather than that they were secured by the sacrifices of so many in uniform over the ages. Please join me in honoring them this day.

I switch now to another kind of veteran -- one who has brought many wines into the world. It is very rare indeed that I hear from one of them because a new wine tastes "tart" or "bitter" or "nothing like I expected." And that is because the veteran winemaker knows that the taste of all wines evolves with time. Harsh wines mellow, hard wines soften, and in the end no wine tastes exactly like the fruit from which it was made. But the new winemaker, well, he or she reads this, says "okay," and then tastes their first wine as they are bottling it and they forget what they have read and panic. It is a very frequent theme of email I receive.

High Alcohol and Wine Flavor

A young lady wrote to me to say she had made a gallon of wine using my Welch's White Grape and Peach recipe, except she used a can of peach and a can of raspberry concentrate. Now, two months later, the wine "...is VERY dry and tart. Has no sweetness to it whatsoever. There is a hint of berry and a very distant and late blooming hint of peach but mostly an alcohol taste. ...[S]hould I let it age longer? Will aging bring out more of the flavor?"

I was in a bit of a hurry when I replied to her and failed to mention that raspberry and peach is not a good idea. Peach -- even pure peach wine -- is a delicate flavor. Raspberry -- even diluted raspberry -- is a very strong and domineering flavor. I'm surprised she tasted any peach at all. But now...to deal with it.

High alcohol masks other flavors. I think it's one of the laws of the universe or something. Aging does mellow out the alcohol some and let the other flavors bleed through, but it is difficult even for me to know if a given wine will recover its flavor to the degree I had hoped. When you have 8 cases of wine stored away and 250 bottles in various wine racks, it is easy to let a batch age for 6, 8 or even 12 months. But when it is your first or second or third batch, it is mighty difficult. Six months is forever and 12 seems impossible. So, that's when I recommend adding a little C12H22O 11 (sugar).

First, stabilize the wine. It requires BOTH potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite to stabilize a wine. Go to "The Basic Steps" on my site and click on the link to "Step 5."

After you stabilize it, make up a simple syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water) and add 4 tablespoons to the gallon. Stir and taste. Unless you like really sweet wine, you only want to sweeten to the point where you take the edge off the tartness. Take a hydrometer reading so you know what that taste is associated with. Reattach the airlock.

The next step is the most difficult. Exercise patience and wait another month. Taste again. If you think it needs it, add another tablespoon of syrup. If this improves it sufficiently, rack and bottle it. Do NOT over-sweeten it. The reason why you don't want to do that is because wines taste sweeter over time as the alcohol mellows.

A Final Breath of Fresh Air

From a previous writer, I received this. "On a different note, I was at a wine tasting recently and we were talking about how wines tend to "open up" if you decant them. When I asked what this meant, I got an answer about how alcohol softens allowing the fruit flavors come out. So thinking on a molecular basis, I asked how the alcohol could soften. The answer was: "It's chemistry". I decided that I would not get the answer I was looking for and thought that maybe you would be able to help. So why do the nose and flavor of a wine tend to improve once the bottle is open (at least for the first few hours)? Are esters being oxidized? Is the alcohol evaporating?"

I won't tread on the "softening" part, but will offer a few words about why a wine's nose and flavor improve after a short decanting. A true decanting is a very careful transfer of the wine from the bottle to a decanter. Think of it as a sort of hand-held racking operation.

Racking is quite beneficial to wines undergoing or recently completing fermentation, but of little consequence to a young wine in the bottle for a year or two. But for a wine that has spent a few years in a bottle, decanting is likely to accomplish quite a bit.

One thing we all notice is that many wines develop bottle sediments. These tend to result from oxidized tannins and pigments which are eventually converted to insoluble compounds that precipitate. Tannins also link together to form long molecular chains which readily succumb to gravity. So, decanting separates the wine from the sediment.

If the wine has been stored in cellar conditions, it might also have some potassium or calcium tartrate crystals or even deposits from casse. As the wine adjusts to warmer room temperatures, those deposits tend to redissolve into the wine and spoil it, so decanting removes this possible tainting.

Decanting aerates the wine one last time -- gives it a final breath -- before it is poured. This allows it to dissolve 2-3 mL/L of oxygen in a very short time. Because the wine will be consumed before it can cause deleterious effects through oxidation, it "rejuvenates" and "invigorates" the wine, if only for a short while. This is known as "opening up" the wine, and it does indeed usually enhance both its nose and its taste.

Finally, decanting releases volatile aroma and bouquet components that are locked in the wine - both by agitating them and by promoting evaporation.

Off-Topic Entries

Last night I watched (again) the incredible Mel Gibson movie, "We Were Soldiers." Based on the poignantly moving book by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, it is a movie I never turn away from. I have watched it five times now and read the book twice. Why? you might ask. Because of all the books and articles I have read involving Vietnam, this one is by far the very best written "you are there" account -- and it was obviously written with unshamed love and respect for both living and dead. It is important that we understand and balance the valors and vulgarities of war so that we not rush to embrace one without being certain we must also embrace its brutal reflection. I endured several instances of terrifying and -- dare I say it? -- invigorating combat in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, but these episodes combined did not equal a day in the Ia Drang. I need to be reminded now an then of the sheer brutal intensity of battle lest my memory become too selective with age.

November 16th, 2007

Tonight I received six bottles of wine and mead in the mail from a very generous couple in Sharps Chapel, Tennessee, who previously taught me how to successfully make chocolate wines and meads (see my entries of January 13th, 17th and 29th, 2007). The selection is most inviting and I look forward to enjoying these and sending them my impressions. That, however, will have to wait until I return from California in a week and a half.

Yes, I am going out west to spend Thanksgiving with my family -- my wife, parents, siblings, nephew, and hopefully my stepson Scott. And I have much to be thankful for -- especially on the health front. I'll leave it at that.

Bottle Sickness

A reader who asks very good questions asked, "[W]hile I understand how aging can improve a wine, I do not understand the concept of bottle sickness/bottle shock. What is it about bottling the wine that makes it taste funny for the first month or so after bottling?" Great question....

The chemistry of wine is complex and I am not a chemist, but there are aspects of it I understand enough to talk about. This, I think, is one of them.

All kinds of chemical compounds are formed, transformed and disappear during the life cycle of wine. One of them is a carbonyl compound called acetaldehyde, a intermediate in the production of alcohol that is reduced to ethanol during fermentation. In water, it is detectable to smell a extremely low concentrations - as low as 1.5 ppm. However, when sulfur dioxide is present it can reach concentrations as high as 100 ppm before being detected. Thus, its detection depends on both its concentration and the presence of sulfur dioxide.

Sulfur dioxide, when dissolved in water, reacts with acetaldehyde to remove the unpleasant odor associated with the latter which is why the threshold for detection rises so high in sulfited wines. Apart from that, when small amounts of oxygen combine with wine, they are absorbed by metallic ions in a process known as oxidation. This starts a chain of reactions in which acids, tannins, pigments, and even sulfur dioxide itself are slowly and successively oxidized, but this process can take years.

When we bottle a wine two things usually occur. (1) The wine is agitated and (2) exposed to too much oxygen too quickly.

When the wine is agitated, as during bottling, sulfur dioxide is volatilized and its bond with acetaldehyde is broken. The acetaldehyde is detectable as an unpleasant "flat" or "faded" odor, but theis disappears after a few weeks.

At the same time, more oxygen is introduced to the wine than the metallic ions can absorb. The excess oxygen combines with the alcohols in the wine to form aldehydes, one of which is acetaldehyde. Again, the unpleasant odor associated with this recedes within a few weeks if the oxidation has not been too severe.

Thus, bottle sickness following bottling is primarily an odorous detection of acetaldehyde, but we all know that odors influence taste. If it smells bad, the chances are good it will also taste bad.

But there is a flip side to this coin. As bottle sickness subsides, some of the excess oxygen reacts with certain higher alcohols to oxidize to acids. These can, in turn, form esters with ethanol and other lower alcohols and contribute to bouquet, which is a volatile component of wine formed almost exclusively in the bottle. So, you bottle a wine and it suffers bottle sickness. As it recovers, the wine develops bouquet. All that was lost in the exchange is as few weeks. Not a bad trade in my book.

Off-Topic Entries

Have you ever called your bank, insurance company, mortgage company, airline, rent-a-car company, credit card company, government agency, computer manufacturer, internet service provider, cellular phone service provider, cable or satellite provider, pharmacy, department store, hotel/motel chain, or utilities and gotten an automated voice menu? Of course you have. When the gods smile upon you, you might reach a sub-menu within a mere 10-12 minutes that ends in, "To speak to a service representative, press 0." On the other hand, you might spend 40 minutes navigating one sub-menu after another and never hear those magical words. But what if, at the very beginning of the call, you could press a secret series of numbers and go right to that representative? Wouldn't that be nice?

Paul English thought so. He created gethuman 500 database, a list of 500 big named companies that would rather put you and me through the endless menu routine than talk to us. He not only names them, he tells you how to bypass the menus and go straight to that representative. It might be as simple as "Press 0," "Press 3 at prompt," "Press * at each prompt," or as complicated as "Press 33; at prompt press 1; hold through prompts for representative." The difference is knowing which to do with which company, and Paul tells us at the first link below.

November 18th, 2007

I'm leaving in the morning for California for two weeks to be with my family...as mentioned in my last WineBlog entry. PLEASE do not send me any email. I will NOT log on remotely and I do NOT want to come home to 150-200 emails. I'm asking politely. I'll be home in December....

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. If this is not a holiday in your country, then just give thanks to the God of your choice for all the blessings that life has bestowed upon you. We don't do this often enough, so every excuse to do so makes us better people.

An Oil Seal

John in Chicago wrote, "My uncle has a small vineyard on his property where he makes about 100 gallons of wine a year. He stores his wine in large stainless steel vats. Once his wine has completed fermentation he pours his wine into the vats then covers them with oil so the wine doesn't oxidize. The vats have a valve at the bottom to release wine as needed.... What are your thoughts about 'covering' your wine with oil?" Good question.

I told John that the Greeks, Romans, Cretans, Corinthians, etc. all used olive oil for protecting their wine. The only down-side I can see is cleaning the oil out of the vessels later. As long as the wine isn't moving, it's okay to use oil. When it has to be moved, a corked cask or bottle is better.

Allowing O2 in the Primary

Jim in British Columbia wrote, "You advise that covering the primary with Muslin is fine. In the line after that, you state that a solid cover, with any bung hole stuffed with cotton, would also be OK. How does the solid cover allow any oxygenation to take place? I will use the Muslin, but thought I would tell you that the information about using a solid cover is ( to me ) somewhat confusing.

"I'm not even sure how air in the room enters the top of the primary when all the CO2 is being produced. I would think that the space between the must and the muslin would quickly fill with CO2. I am cursed, ( or blessed ) with always wanting to know the picky details."

Well, I think Jim is blessed. Satisfying our curiosity is the best way to learn things. Anyway, I used to wonder the same thing Jim is wondering -- especially in a carboy where you can actually measure the volumetric drop in the wine as fermentation goes from start to finish due to the CO2 being expelled. And the answer is, I don't really know. However, I suspect that two things combine to provide the answer. (1) There should be sufficient O2 in the ullage (airspace) in the primary to provide enough for the yeast early on. After 3-4 days, we don't really want them getting more. (2) We do tend to stir the must and play a bit with it while it is in primary, and that activity "breaks the blanket" of CO2 and allows O2 in.

Remember, the solid lid on the primary should not be "snapped on" tight unless drilled for a bung, and even then I see no reason to ever put an airlock on a primary (and so I use cotton to stuff the hole while allowing an escape for the CO2).

Blackberry Wine -- Lessons Learned

A reader named James wrote from a dry county in East Texas about blackberry wine. East Texas, like many parts of the country, is home to an awful lot of wild blackberries. James seems to have a perpetual freezer full of them, so when he found my recipes for blackberry wine he was grateful. He wanted to share a few things he has learned with the rest of us, and I am happy to relay them. Here they are:

"The flavor/taste/aroma of the wine is determined by the yeast used. The color of the wine is determined by the yeast and the pulp. Juice alone makes a rose', the pulp a more full bodied and red wine.

"Aging definitely affects the wine, but I'm not sure if it is always for the good.

"So far, blackberry wine settles (clarifies) very nicely using Eau de Vie, EC1118, and RC212 yeast. The Eau de Vie and RC212 went to bone dry in a month. The EC1118 remained slightly sweet after fermentation had stopped after about 2 1/2 months, but I don't think it was stuck as it clarified while still on the lees.

"Deep freezing the blackberries for a couple of weeks before use kills all (undesirable) bacteria and yeast. This is good since washing the berries doesn't do the job. I have also learned that the berries should be mashed up before fermenting. A blender should not be used for this as it shreds the seeds. You're making wine here, not beer. Another advantage of freezing is the berries stay cool while you add the sugar syrup and prepare the yeast for pitching.

"I keep the secondaries and racked wines in an old refrigerator that I was able to set at 70 degrees F. I keep the bottled wine in another refrigerator set at 55 degrees F. This seems to be doing the job.

"I never realized how easy it is to make GOOD wine. I've now made 28 liters of good table wine at a cost of less than $4 a litter (including cost of start-up equipment and supplies)...."

Thanks, James.

Off-Topic Entries

Ever wonder if the airline flight you are booked on is habitually late? Take a look at the links below and click appropriately....

A month ago I mentioned here that I had created a player country in the online game (not an accurate term) NationStates. I finally created a website for my fictional country, the Republic of Wyneries (guess what their main export is). Well, it's mostly created. A few pages are still being fleshed out or are outright "under construction." See the link below....

November 29th, 2007

Well, I'm back home and just in time. I have over a dozen wines ready to rack and a couple I need to bottle. On top of this, a good friend called and is bringing me figs, persimmons and tabasco chilis this weekend. When it rains it pours, but I seldom complain about getting rain.

Before I get to the topic I planned for today's entry, I want to say a few words about the Thanksgiving feast I enjoyed with my family. It was one of the most satisfying meals I've ever eaten, washed down with three wines, and post scripted with a pie, a cake, a cobbler, a pudding, and coffee. We need to be thankful more often....

Key Limes

I made a key lime wine two years ago and put it away to age. My wife discovered it this summer and now it is history and I have been tasked with making more -- much more.

Key limes (Citrus aurantifolia), also known as Mexican and West Indian limes, are believed to be the true native lime, probably originating in Indonesia or Malaysia. They migrated westward to the Mediterranean with the Arabs, and to southwestern Europe with returning Crusaders. Columbus brought citrus fruits to the West Indies on his second voyage and today they are grown throughout the tropics around the world. Limes are closely related to lemons. Key limes are small, yellow-green in color, seedy, sour, and grow on thorny, cold sensitive trees.

The large, green, mostly seedless limes found in your supermarket are Persian limes (Citrus latifolia), a hybrid developed about a hundred years ago. Their fruit is larger than key limes, more disease resistant, and is protected by a thicker rind. Their tree is thornless and therefore more commercially desirable, but the fruit are actually less aromatic and flavorful than key limes. They are picked slightly immature, while still green in color, and are usually consumed in that state because people think the lime color is the color of their ripeness. In truth,they turn yellow when fully ripe and can be visually confused with lemons. Both key and Persian limes have a higher sugar and citric acid content than lemons, with key limes being more acidic than the Persian hybrid. Other limes include the Mandarin lime (Citrus limonia), the Kaffir, makrut, or magrood lime (Citrus hystrix), sweet lime (Citrus limetta), Palestinian sweet lime (Citrus limettioides ), and various Australian, Spanish and other limes.

Key Lime Wine

I've made wine with at least four different kinds of lime, but the key lime, in my opinion, makes the best. It takes 14-16 key limes to make a pound of raw fruit. Each lime is about 40% juice. I usually buy them in 2-pound mesh bags for $2 a bag, but the price can be more or less. This recipe makes one gallon of wine.

  • zest from 10 key limes
  • juice from 1 pound of key limes
  • 1 pound ripe bananas
  • 2 1/2 pounds sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pectic enzyme
  • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered grape tannin
  • 3 1/2 quarts water
  • wine yeast

Collect the zest from 10 key limes and then juice the entire pound. Put zest, juice and sugar in primary. Cut the bananas into 1/2 inch pieces and bring to a boil in 1 quart of water. Hold the boil for 25 minutes. Skim off any scum on the surface and drain the liquid into the primary over the sugar. Discard the pulp without squeezing. Add 2 1/2 quarts additional water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Keep primary covered with sanitized cloth. When wine cools to lukewarm, add remaining ingredients (except yeast) and stir until integrated. When cooled to room temperature, add activated yeast and stir daily until vigorous fermentation starts. Ferment until vigorous fermentation subsides and transfer to secondary. Top up to within 3 inches of mouth of secondary and attach airlock. After one week, top up to within 3/4 inch of bung. Wait 3 weeks and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Repeat every 30 days until wine is clear and no new sediments are deposited. Add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and let bulk age 3 months. Stabilize and sweeten to taste if desired. Bottle and set aside to age. Do NOT taste this wine for at least 1 year -- 2 years if you have real willpower. It will be worth the wait, but you will hate yourself if you don't make 5 gallons initially. [Author's own recipe]

December 3rd, 2007

The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild held its Christmas party yesterday at the historic Landmark Inn in Castroville, TX. For reasons of political correctness (translated to mean "don't say anything that might somehow offend someone even if the overwhelming majority is in favor of saying it"), several years ago some members started calling it the "holiday party." When you start compromising your beliefs to avoid offending someone else's beliefs (or lack thereof), you hold theirs higher than your own. This is a slippery slope to not having any core beliefs at all. So, allow me to say that I enjoyed the Christmas Party immensely. We tasted some marvelous wines, ate a wonderful feast, exchanged gifts of wine, and enjoyed each other's company. It was the latter that I enjoyed the most. Good friends, some of whom we see rarely, were brought together for fellowship and celebration. Life is rich.

Friends from Louisiana brought me figs and persimmons for eating or winemaking. I suspect some will be used for each. Other friends from Crystal City, Texas brought us grapefruit and lemons. Each of these citrus, like the key limes I highlighted in my last entry, make excellent wine. And this leads me to a point for today's WineBlog entry -- requests for a "regular lime" wine recipe. In the language I used last entry, these would be "Persian limes." They also are called Tahitian limes and there are several names cultivars.

Persian Limes

The fruit of the Persian lime is about 4-6 cm in diameter and 5-7.5 cm long, often with slightly nippled ends, and, as mentioned in the last entry, is usually sold quite green but yellows as it reaches full ripeness. It is larger, thicker-skinned, and less acidic, flavorful and aromatic than the key lime, but the key lime has a wider agricultural distribution worldwide. The commercial advantages of the Persian lime over the key lime are the larger size, absence of seeds, better cold hardiness, absence of thorns on the trees, and longer fruit shelf life. They don't have the bitterness that contributes to the key lime's unique flavor. They are seedless because their flowers have no viable pollen.

Persian Lime Wine

As I said before, I've made wine with at least four different kinds of lime, but the key lime, in my opinion, makes the best. The Persian lime makes the next best wine. Before I get to the recipe, I need to say that I do not know how many limes it took to make this wine. I recorded the number, but seem to have lost the log entry for this wine. However, an email I sent out last January contains the information below. This recipe makes one gallon of wine.

  • zest from several limes
  • 1 7/8 cups lime juice
  • 1 can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 pounds sugar
  • 2/3 teaspoon pectic enzyme
  • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered grape tannin
  • 3 quarts water
  • wine yeast

I found out that freezing the limes made it much easier to obtain the zest. When the limes thawed, the juiced easily. Put zest, juice, sugar, and grape concentrate in primary. Bring 3 cups water to boil and add to primary, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add remaining water and cover primary with sanitized cloth until temperature is about 90 degrees F., then stir in pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient and grape tannin. Make a yeast starter solution and wait 8 hours. Add activated yeast and stir every 6-8 hours until vigorous fermentation starts. Ferment until vigorous fermentation subsides and transfer to secondary. Top up to within 3 inches of mouth of secondary and attach airlock. After one week, top up to within 3/4 inch of bung. Wait 3 weeks and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Repeat every 30 days until wine is clear and no new sediments form. Add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and let bulk age 3 months. Stabilize and sweeten to taste if desired. Wait 30 days, bottle and set aside to age. Age at least one year in bottles. [Author's own recipe]

December 5th, 2007

A viewer from Skokie, IL named Chris wrote with a frantic plea for help. The refrigeration unit on his wine cellar went out and he didn't notice it until he went to get a wine. It could have been out a day or the entire week since he last visited it. He placed a thermometer inside the bottle he opened and the wine was 72 degrees F. He wants to know how much damage might have been done to his wine.

First of all, the frantic plea for help should have been to the manufacturer of the unit to check the warranty and get it fixed. One should assume they have a certain amount of data supporting the temperature and humidity settings they made on their equipment. But after that I would turn to a wine chemist, which I have repeatedly said I am not. I seriously doubt I am the right person to write to for this answer. Having said that, all I can do is tell you what I believe. It may or may not be correct, but it is at least founded on thousands of hours of reading and observation.

Temperature and Wine

In my WineBlog entry of October 2nd, 2007 I discussed the optimum fermentation temperature. Elsewhere I have echoed the conventional wisdom that the optimum storage range for wine is 50-60 degrees F., with the "golden temperature" at 55 degrees F. (13 degrees C.). With the universal acceptance of this number, you would think it is based on a great deal of research. It isn't. It was accepted because wine storage in France is typically in limestone caves and the natural underground temperature is around 55 degrees F. with a fluctuation of plus or minus one degree. The last people in the world to want any definitive research along these lines are the owners of those caves. As long as we accept 55 degrees F. as the optimum, they are doing it as right as right can be. On the other hand, they just might BE right.

Some sources cite lower optimal storage temperatures for white wines (40-52 degrees F.) than red (52-60 degrees F.). I have not seen any scientific basis for this, but accept it as possible. It would not be out there if not based on something. But I have searched for actual research to back all of this up and have not found any. Well, that isn't entirely true. There is research showing that the same wine stored at different (higher) temperatures will age (and deteriorate) faster as the temperature increases, but I haven't found any that compares wine aging and maturation at different temperatures within the accepted range to determine if one is better than another.

Perhaps the best article you'll find on the effects of temperature on wine aging is one cited below by Alexander Pandell. There are shortcomings to it, I think, but at least it is out there. Pandell accepts the 55 degrees F. figure, but only because there isn't another widely accepted number to hang your hat on. The whole crux of his article hinges upon, "Bottle aging of fine wine is a result of many chemical changes (reactions) taking place over time. Each of these reactions occurs at a certain speed or rate, and each reaction is affected differently by temperature changes because each has a unique energy factor or natural energy barrier, the "hurdle" that must be overcome ("jumped over") for the reaction to occur." The then does something I wish he hadn't done but certainly understand why he did it. He says, "Using well founded and accepted chemical principles that will not be discussed here, one can estimate...." I do wish he had gone ahead and written a book and discussed them. (I work with scientists and read scientific articles almost every day. This sentence would never pass peer review.) So, we non-chemistry types are left to imagine the foundations upon which the rest of the article is pinned to. If we can get past the disappointment, our eyes will be opened.

Pandell creates three temperature ranges for wine storage: 55-59 degrees F., 55-73 degrees F., and 55-91 degrees F. He doesn't explain why he selected these particular zones, but goes on to show quite clearly that higher temperatures most certainly accelerate wine aging quite dramatically. A wine stored at 59 degrees will age 1.5 times as fast (that's 50% faster) as one stored at 55 degrees. A wine stored at 73 degrees will age 8 times faster than one stored at 55 degrees, and one stored at 91 degrees will age over 56 times faster! In other words, one month of aging at 91 degrees F. can allow chemical reactions to occur that would otherwise take 18 years of aging at 55 degrees F. Now, if you think you've just discovered a quick way to age that bottle of Châteax Margaux 2000 Premier Grand Cru you just paid $980 for, think again. Faster aging may well speed up the desirable chemical reactions that would mature the wine, but it also allows many undesirable reactions that would never occur at 55 degrees, producing "compounds with foul odors and off tastes."

Now, to return to the plea that started this entry, we have a wine that went from 55 degrees F. to 72 degrees F. within a period of zero to seven days. Unless Chris had his central heatin thermostat set at 95 degrees, it is unlikely that the wine went to 72 degrees inside an insulated enclosure in less than two -- probably three -- days. So, if the unit quit immediately after his last visit to it, then the wine could have been at 72 degrees for as long as four days or as little as a half day. During that period it aged 7 times faster than at 55 degrees, so it was as if it had been at 55 degrees for up to 28 days. I don't think I would lose any sleep over this, especially since that wine may never have been stored at 55 degrees until it was placed in Chris' wine cellar unit.

Think about it. Most wine consumers go to a not too chilly store to buy their wine. They then put it in their car and take it home. Some have their wines shipped to them -- in June, July, August and September. It's delivered to the tarmac in time for the airplane, which may or may not be on time. If it's 90 degrees outside, that tarmac will be 8-12 degrees hotter. Today, planes are late more often than not, but maybe it's going Fed- Ex and has a better chance of not getting super-heated while waiting. Even then, once it gets to it's terminal city it goes by truck to a facility to be transshipped or sorted and routed. I've been in one of these facilities and no one was wearing long sleeves. It wasn't hot inside, but it wasn't 55 degrees either. Then it's packed into a non-air conditioned truck and taken on a circuitous route with many stops to where the package will be delivered. It is then unpacked and the wine is lovingly placed in a chilled storage unit. In my book, this is like closing the barn door after the horses have gotten out.

Now, I understand that if you are a wine collector, you aren't going to entrust your bottle of Châteax Margaux 2000 Premier Grand Cru to common carrier status. You'll pay for a temperature controlled shipment. I may have short-changed Chris. He may be a collector and could have many thousands of dollars resting in his wine cellar. But the odds are 50-50 that his wine only reached 72 degrees a few hours before he discovered it, so I doubt any serious damage was done.

The Optimum Temperature for Wine

I stated earlier that I haven't found any research that compares wine aging and maturation at different temperatures within the accepted range to determine if one is better than another. In other words, might 48, 50 or 52 be better than 55? Maybe I'm not searching correctly. Or, maybe there really isn't any research like that to report. If not, why not?

Pandell contemplated a lower optimal temperature and said it quite plainly: "Since the harmonious aging of wine is due to many different chemical reactions occurring in a naturally orchestrated manner, the lower temperature may slow down some reactions to the point where they become non-contributors to desirable flavors, and, therefore, the wine's evolution is thrown out of sync. It would be interesting to carry out research on this, but the time line required is beyond that of most humans."

If that be the case, then I doubt it will be done. Who would finance a study that exceeded their own life expectancy? And so we are left to wonder, and let the French be right....

December 7th, 2007

I was reading Tom Wark's blog, Fermentation, last night and discovered something odd. Tom's blog has been around since 2005 and he thinks that is a long time. This blog has been around since 2003 and I don't consider that a long time at all. Now, the major difference may well be that Tom has written 1.3 blog entries a day since he started and I have struggled to write on average one a week during 2007 and far less than that in previous years. Maybe when I retire I'll have more time to sit here and type....

The thing is, I admire Tom and the other bloggers who can whip out fresh material endlessly. Of course, many of them simply repackage material from other sources. They aren't out picking hackberries or lemon blossoms or mesquite beans in an effort to create new wine flavors, aren't spending hours in the kitchen cooking tamarind pulp at different temperatures and for different periods and then fermenting four different results alongside uncooked pulp in an effort to discover the optimum. In fact, most of them aren't making wine at all. That gives them plenty of time to drink it and pontificate. In some cases the pontifical anointment is bestowed by the outside world out of earned respect and recognized authority, but in others it is self-bestowed. Well, everything is relative....

What's my point? There are plenty of wine blogs out there -- well over 400, in fact. Some of them are very good and some are, in my opinion, unworthy of readership at this point in time. Most, as you would expect, fall in between. Almost all of them are about tasting notes, vintages, wineries, wine and food pairings, the industry, etc. You can count on one hand those that are about making wine at home (okay, I may have missed a couple and trust someone will write me if I did). I daresay you can read wine blogs for the next month and you will not find another like the one you are reading right now. But you be the judge.

I have added some wine blogs that ended up in my "Favorites" to the bottom of the left column of this page. The very first one has pages "100 Top Wine Blogs," "The Random Wine Blogs Page," "Wine Blogs Rankings," etc. You'll find many more there, and in the left column at Vinography.

A Discussion about pH Meter

I've had a prolonged communication with a reader about some unreal readings he made with a pH meter. I don't have the initial exchanges here at home so can't refer to the original numbers, but if any of you had them you'd seek help too. He had a real problem.

After my first reply, he wrote back, "I ordered some fresh 4 and 7 pH meter control solutions. While waiting for the order, I soaked the electrode in water (one week). The meter responded to both solutions when they arrived. I calibrated the meter for the 4 pH control solution (since that is closest to the pH I expected). I presently have tested both 5-gallon carboys with the two wines in them. The "blue seedless" (unknown variety) pH is 4.9, SG 1.008. Fermentation is pretty much over, it seems. The same applies to the second batch, a Cabernet Sauvignon grape. pH is 6.9 (!), SG 1.008." I almost fell over when I read this.

I am going to publish my response to the above with very minor editing. In no sense am I belittling or talking down to the writer. It just seems to me that perhaps he hasn't mastered the pH meter's operating concept fully. When I bought mine, I took it into work and got one of the chemists to explain it to me and show me how to use it correctly. Yes, it came with instructions, but I could question the chemist and he used plain English in his replies.

"I have to say I can't know exactly what the problem is, but since Cabernet Sauvignon cannot be 6.9 pH, there can be no doubt there really is a problem. But, based on what you wrote, I at least have a few ideas.

"I have to assume you stored your pH meter correctly. This means that the electrode was stored "wet". It might have a bulbous cover that is filled with potassium chloride and slipped over the end to keep it wet, or it might have a tubular jar (of potassium chloride) with a cap with a hole drilled in it for the electrode to be inserted into to keep it wet, but it should be stored wet. If it wasn't, the electrode itself could be bad. We replace ours every year or two.

"Next, you said you calibrated the meter using the pH 4 solution because it was closest to your field of regard. I take it by this statement that you did not also calibrate it using the 7 pH solution. This could be the problem.

"When you calibrate a meter, you put the electrode in the 4 pH solution and when the meter settles down you calibrate the reading to 4.0. That's fine as far as it goes, but you need to calibrate to a second point (where I work we calibrate to three points -- pH 4, 7 and 10). The reason for this is you need to give the meter another reference so it has something to compare the 4.0 reading to. If you don't do that, it doesn't know if a 3.3 pH acid is actually more acidic than 4.0 or more alkaline. But, when you first calibrate at 4.0 and then calibrate using the 7 pH buffer, it now can draw a line between the electrical charge it perceived at 4.0 and the one it now perceives at 7.0 (and extrapolate both ways beyond those points) and give you an accurate reading. With only one calibration point, its like a compass in an iron-lined room. It doesn't know where north is -- it knows where IT is, but north could be in any direction."

If anyone out there thinks I have explained this badly or incorrectly, please write to me. I hope you all know that, like you, I am still learning. I've just been learning longer than many of you.

Two Excellent Wine Books

When someone starts talking enthusiastically about a wine book, I listen. Several months back at a San Antonio Regional Wine Guild gathering, one of our members from Victoria, Texas did just that. She mentioned she and her husband had just finished reading Wine and War (Broadway Books, 2002) by Don and Petie Kladstrup. The book is subtitled "The French, the Nazis and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure." I found it online and ordered it. On a recent trip to California, I took it on the plane to fill the time. Upon landing in Ontario, I did not mark my page for later reference until the people in the seat immediately in front of me started moving toward the exit -- much to the consternation of the two people sitting next to me (I had the blocking aisle seat).

Not since The Heartbreak Grape (HarperCollinsWest, 1984) by Marq De Villiers have I enjoyed a book about wine so much. The two books are completely different in every regard, and yet they both conveyed a great respect and appreciation for wine in general and certain rare wines in particular. If you thought Sideways was one man's search for the perfect Pinot Noir, you don't know what searching is until you read The Heartbreak Grape.

Besides being a good read and good anectdotal history lesson, Wine and War contains some great quotes on wine and also is a testiment to the brutality and inhumanity of the Nazis. Because of my age and education as an historian, I have always recoilled from the swastika. Wine and War simply reaffirms that this is the appropriately deserved reaction. I'll probably write more on it in the future....

December 9th, 2007

I'm sipping an agarita wine I made 5 years ago. For those not familiar with it, the wine is made from the Berberis trifoliolata, called algerita in Spanish and agarita in Texas. It is also called the Texas Currant and Chaparral Berry. Until recently, I was under the mistaken belief that this was the Berberis haematocarpa, or Western Barberry. I know I read this somewhere, but.... Now I've discovered it is not. Doesn't change the taste of the wine, thought.

The red berries are very acidic and cluster along upright but spreading, rigid branches between gray- green to bluish-gray trifoliate, holly-like leaves with very sharp tips. The berries are just a tad smaller than cranberries and are a favorite of birds and wildlife. They do not sweeten appreciably when ripe but do shed a lot of their tannin, which otherwise combines with their high acidity to make an unpleasant eating experience for humans. Despite retaining their acidity when ripe, with sufficient sugar the berries make an excellent jelly and decent wine. The former is universally enjoyed. The latter is an acquired taste.

agarita branch
Agarita berries

The wine made from the berries is high in acidity even though the juice is heavily diluted. If I needed to drink this wine within a year or two, I would adjust the acid, but I don't so I don't. I made this wine by crushing about 4 pounds of ripe berries per gallon of wine and fermenting on the pulp for a week and then pressing, but I have also made it by bringing the berries to a simmer until they burst, then draining the juice with only minimal pressure. After the juice cools, you must add 1 2/3 teaspoon of powdered pectic enzyme per gallon of must or you could have pectin problems later.

This wine is really best made sweet with 15-16% alcohol to bring it into balance. The wine I'm drinking right now was only sweetened to an off-dryness. It remains too dry. I sweetened it slightly in the glass after pouring. If this practice seems crude, I'll simply point out that President George Washington, much to the chagrin of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, sweetened his wine this way.


Here are a series of questions I've been asked recently that deserved answers, albeit brief.

Applesauce: "Can you make wine from applesauce?" You can, but you must use a fine-meshed nylon straining bag or you'll regret the effort. Check the label. Rarely are preservatives used in applesauce because it is pasteurized, but you never know when someone will over-protect a product. Use the apple sauce, by weight, as you would chopped apples. All other ingredients are standard, but quantities must be determined by measured analysis of the must.

Pure Elderberry Juice: "I have two gallons of undiluted elderberry juice in the freezer and was wondering if wine made from it straight would ever be drinkable?" According to several people I've been in contact with over the years, the answer is yes. On my "Visitor-Submitted Recipes" page, Ben Lebeaux of Lake City, Florida provides a recipe for a wine he said matured in seven years. Others have reported a longer maturation period and still others a shorter. I personally have never made a full-strength elderberry wine, but do have a 65% strength elderberry port in its 5th year of bulk aging.

Powdered Sugar: "Is there any reason I can't sweeten my finished wines with powdered sugar? It dissolves so much easier than granulated sugar." Manufacturers mix corn starch in with powdered sugar to prevent the particles from sticking together and clumping. Corn starch is, well, starch. It will most assuredly cause a starch haze and prevent the wine from clearing. If you have a really good, high-speed food processor / blender, you can use regular granulated sugar to make your own powdered sugar as long as you use it right away. It only clumps after settling during storage.

Hominy: "I know this is going to sound strange. Have you ever made wine with hominy?" No, I haven't, but it might be possible to do so. In The Native Way Cookbook, a Cherokee hominy soup recipe says, "Put grits left over from sieving parched cornmeal into boiling water. Cook briskly until soft, then pour into a storage vessel. Drink fresh, hot or cold, or wait for it to ferment." Sorry, but the rest is up to you.

Snowcone Syrup: "Can you make wine with sno-cone sirup?" I don't know. Read the label carefully and give up on the idea if you see sorbic acid or benzoic acid listed as ingredients -- or some vague "contains preservatives."

Chocolate Covered Cherries: "Your recipe for chocolate covered cherry wine required 8 1-pound boxes. All I can find are 1/2 pound boxes." Then I guess you can't make it. Too bad. -- You know I'm kidding, don't you? Use twice the number of boxes. Wait until they go on sale just after Christmas.

Wine Yeast: "The packet of yeast says it will make up to 5 gallons of wine. Do I have to use the whole packet when just making a single gallon?" No, but be sure to reseal the packet (scotch tape) and store it in the refrigerator between uses. Once opened, even if resealed, it should be used fairly quickly. I would not try to stretch it out to five one-gallon batches. You simply get a weaker fermentation that way. Most people use the whole packet in a gallon batch because it "kick-starts" the fermentation with a greater yeast density.

December 14th, 2007

As I mentioned in my December 7th WineBlog entry, there are a number of very good wine blogs out there. One of the more distinguished ones is Alder Yarrow's Vinography. Alser lists hundreds of other blogs in the left-most column on his site, but neither he nor any other blog I have found lists my site. So, I wrote Alder and simply informed him, "Jack Keller's WineBlog at http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/wineblognew.asp has been around since April 2003. It serves the home winemaking crowd." My hope was that he would list my site. He did.

He also wrote back to me, "This is the first I've heard of your blog, but congratulations -- your start date makes you the first wine blogger on the internet. Ever." Well, this was something I've always suspected, but it's nice to have someone else confirm it.

Kosher Wine

I received a nice letter from Eric in Israel, who explained, "I have taken up small scale wine making and have a question. In order for wine to be completely Kosher, it needs to be heated up to 82 degrees C and I am wondering as to the best time in the process to heat it up. My idea is to crush the grapes and spill the whole thing in a big stainless steal barrel and heat it up to 82 C. Then after it cools down, check the brix and acid, and then add sugar, bisulfite, tartaric acid, and after some delay - yeast. Accordingly. I would like to inquire if you agree to this sequence."

I do not know the requirements for making Kosher wine and told this to Eric. I have a friend who is a winemaker and, unless I am serious mistaken, simply uses Kosher ingredients and makes his wine in the usual way. He and I recently had an exchange on preserving Kosher yeast by self-culturing it (this led to my November 3rd and 8th entries on the subject of yeast culturing) because Lalvin was discontinuing Kosher wine yeast strains unless purchased in bulk amounts greatly exceeding his needs.

Indeed, my understanding was that a wine may be accepted as Kosher if it is certified by rabbinical authority. I don't know what all that entails, but if I want to give a Jewish friend a bottle of wine I make sure it has an "OU" or "OK" seal on it to signify it as Kosher.

My understanding of Kosher wine was that if I give a certified Kosher wine to a friend and he then opens it and sets the bottle down and I pick it up and pour him a glass, the wine is no longer Kosher. But if I want to be safe, I can give him a mevushal wine -- one that has been heated to near boiling -- and, while not Kosher, it is still fit to pass the lips of a Jew if a non-Jew handles the opened wine. I may be mistaken on these points, but they have guided me for about 38 years. I know that Weinstock, Gan Eden and both Baron Herzog and Herzog are four US winemakers that make both Kosher and mevushal wines. If I bring a Jewish friend a bottle as a gift, I bring Kosher and he will invariably put it away. If I bring him a bottle to share, as with a shared meal, I bring mevushal and it is always shared without any prodding.

But, to be honest, I cannot advise you from experience on the timing of the heating. However, another friend makes only strawberry wine from his 3/4 acre of strawberry plants, and he puts the crushed berries in a large cooking vat with an impeller that slowly stirs them while the heat is gradually increased to a magic number (he never told me what it is, but I assumed it to be 162 degrees F or 72 degrees C -- the temperature attained for Pasteurization). Based on his timing method, I concurred with Eric's sequence.

A look the Pasteurization entry at Wikipedia was instructive. Of the several products listed there that can be pasteurized, "juice" is listed but "wine" is not. This convinces me the correct action is as discussed above -- heat the grapes, not the wine. Sugar can be added before heating, but additives should be held back until the juice cools.

Persimmon Wine

My friend Luke brought me a bunch of persimmons, which have been slowly ripening in the garage. These are a seedless, non-astringent, Japanese variety. As they ripened, I peeled and cut them into fairly fine pieces, bagged them, and put them in the refrigerator. A few nights ago I started weighing the ZipLoc bags and had 24 pounds of persimmon pulp. This is more than my old recipe required, so a new recipe was developed on the spot for 5 gallons of persimmon wine.

  • 24 lbs ripe persimmons
  • 8 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 4 tblsp acid blend
  • 3 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 4 gallons water
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 3 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet Unican Hock yeast

Wash, peel and chop the persimmons. Place in 2 or 3 nylon mesh straining bags, tie bags closed and place in primary. Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil and dissolve sugar. Pour over persimmons and add remaining water. Add acid blend and yeast nutrient, cover primary and let cool to room temperature. Stir in pectic enzyme and recover primary. After 8-10 hours, stir in finely crushed Campden tablet, recover the primary and wait another 8 -10 hours. Add activated yeast starter solution. Ferment 5-7 days, punching down bags daily. Drip drain bags of pulp, transfer to secondary and attach airlock without topping up. When fermentation ceases, top up and set aside 3 weeks. Rack, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again every 30 days until wine is clear and no new sediments form on bottom. Stabilize and sweeten if desired. Wait additional 30 days and bottle. This wine should age in the bottle a year. [Author's own recipe]

December 16th, 2007

I was recently asked to share the most profound insight I had on making wine. I didn't hesitate; "Thank God the yeast know how to do it." Can I get an "amen" to that?

I got a very glowing email from a winemaking husband-and-wife team north of Fairbanks who had a few critical things to say about the "tasting notes" form of wine blog versus what they called "the profundity of Jack's WineBlog." I thanked them for their very kind sentiments, but pointed out that (1) there are far more wine drinkers than wine makers, so they have an almost unlimited readership potential while mine is much, much smaller, and (2) I don't think I have ever written anything profound in this WineBlog but promised to do so (please refer to today's opening paragraph). Still, it warms my heart to receive such email.

Light Color

Another reader, Chris, wrote me about making her first wines from grapes -- Cabernet Sauvignon, Primitivo, old vine Zinfandel, and Merlot. "Things have gone quite well. I am totally in love with the grape, the process, and everything about making wine at home!...Anyway, it's all good with my wines except that the color is extremely light." She added, "All batches were on the skins for between 8 and 16 days. They all started around 25 or 26 brix."

You're never sure you're standing on firm ground when trying to diagnose a problem like this without benefit of having some of the grapes used, witnessing the process or having a sample of the finished wine. All one can do is try, and that I will do.

There is a saying among certain old winemakers that I don't wholly subscribe to, but year after year I see it validated here and there and so I have to respect it as being more true than not. It goes like this. "All the color that's going to be extracted is extracted in the first three days of fermentation. After that, you actually start losing color." The crux of the argument is "the first three days of fermentation." This does not mean the first three days after crush or the first three days after the yeast is pitched, but rather the first three days after the unmistakable appearance of fermentation bubbles. They usually arise 24-72 hours after the yeast is pitched, depending on the size and strength of the starter solution.

Does this mean you should drain and press the cap after three days regardless of where the specific gravity (s.g.) is? That is the decision only the winemaker there at the scene evaluating his/her batch can resolve. If the s.g. is 1.042 and the fermentation vigorous, one might wait another 12-24 hours for it to drop further. If it's 1.028 and the must is practically boiling, do it. There's no danger of that fermentation sticking.

I have a bad habit of waiting just a tad too long, trying to get the s.g. between 1.020 and 1.010. If the vigor of the fermentation were waning, then this might be justified based on the fear that the fermentation could stick if the yeast were disturbed greatly at this point. But usually the fermentation is running full- steam toward dryness at this point, so this fear is unjustified.

Why would the color start getting lighter after a few days? I recall having once read the answer, but could not recall what it was, so I had to go back and dig through some of the heavier books I have on wine chemistry. Unfortunately, I am preparing to leave town on my holiday vacation and had to halt my research without finding reference to this exact phenomenon, but I did find something else that may have bearing on this problem.

Red wine color is almost exclusively dependent on the presence of anthocyanins and tannins. For the most part, these are extracted from the skins. Additional tannins and different pigments are extracted from the seeds. The former are desired, while those from the seeds are best avoided for reasons other than color. There are a number of anthocyanins responsible for the red, purple and blue colors in wine. Several chemical properties influence their structure and therefore their coloration. The red oxonium form of anthocyanin can possess two equilibriums -- a highly colored (red) form under low pH (highly acidic) conditions and a more or less colorless form under high pH (lowly acidic) conditions. Pascal Ribereau-Gayon, working at the Institut d'Oenologie, Universite de Bordeaux, discovered many years ago that a solution of anthocyanins is six times more colored at the 510 nm wavelength at pH 2.9 than at pH 3.9.

But there are other factors that contribute to color stability. I have poured a two-year old blackberry wine and found a lot of the color left on the inside of the bottle as a coating; I have also poured a three-year old blackberry that left no coating on the glass at all. The only difference between the two wines I could recall was that the second wine was made by pouring boiling water over the blackberries. The whys and hows of heat- induced color stability is veering away from where I want to go with this, but maybe I'll visit that subject in the future.

Scott Labs makes a product called Color Pro. This is a specialized pectinase with protease activitators. The latter help breakdown the cell walls of red grape skins to extract more anthocyanins, polymeric phenols and tannins. The resulting wines are simply better -- rounder in mouthfeel, bigger in structure and with greater color stability.

Another Scott Labs product is Color X. This is a unique pectinase with cellulase auxiliary actions. These actions also help release anthocyanins, polymeric phenols and tannins, but do so differently than Color Pro. In particular, tannin extraction is coarser with Color X than with Color Pro. Color X is best used when heavier tannic extraction is desired for longer aging.

Both enzymes produce similar results when it comes to color extraction, but neither has any effect on overall color if the grapes themselves are deficient in the components responsible for color, such as anthocyanins, tannins, cofactors, etc.

I have used Color Pro but not Color X. Because I needed so little of it (about 6-7 mL per 5-gallon batch), I could not justify purchasing it. I did, however, find a winery that used it and begged a sample from the winemaker.

Remember also that potassium metabisulfite can temporarily bleach out color from a wine, but this truly is temporary and the color will return.

None of this actually explains why Chris' wines were color deficient, but I thought these comments might be of some interest and possible value.


A North Carolinian wrote me about Viognier. He purchased some juice straight from a grower's press and described to me his odyssey of turning it into wine. He had a number of hiccups I'll not go into, but in the end he was satisfied with his wine and simply wanted to know if he had done it right and if the strong grapefruit flavor would "mellow" with age.

This far south (south Texas), Viognier does not do well and I have no personal experience with it. However, I grow Blanc du Bois and have been told by several commercial winemakers that the grapes have very similar characteristics. There are some differences, but many similarities as well.

The grapefruit character of Viognier, as the writer noted, is well associated with the grape. Blanc du Bois has a similar flavoring, especially in the finish, but it is also a flavor I can taste when eating the grapes so I know it is natural. Some years it is stronger than others, but I really haven't tried equating that to any climatic, fertilizer or watering variables.

Again, because I have no experience with this grape (except drinking its wine), I really can't say what to expect from aging. I would expect it to "mellow" somewhat and would be disappointed if it didn't, but I don't really know. Having said that, let me reaffirm a personal belief I have stated before several times. Until a couple or three decades ago, America was about the only place that made almost exclusively varietal wines. Now just about everyone does it because they want to sell their wines in America, but this is a very new phenomenon for most of the world. The truth is, the very best wines are almost always blends. Even winemakers in Napa know this, but they have spent so much time, money and effort convincing the American consumer that varietals are the only wines to buy that blends can be a marketing problem for them. But they can legally blend up to 25% with other varieties and still call it whatever the 75% majority happens to be. And they do. And the consumer is largely ignorant of this fact. I'm not being critical of these practices, but rather am just reporting what I observe and pointing out that blending can "mellow" that strong grapefruit finish right now.

I blend much of my Blanc du Bois every year -- with Golden Muscat, White Mustang, Sauvignon Blanc, and once with Symphony because it was available. The blends always do better in competitions than the pure Blanc du Bois. At least they have so far.

A winemaker up in the Hill Country of Central Texas grows Viognier -- he blends it with Chardonnay but labels it as Viognier. I like it.

Unless one likes the distinctiveness of Viognier, one might want to consider blending this wine with another white to "soften" it. But then again, I like grapefruit....

Holiday Absence

This is my 53rd and final WineBlog entry of 2007. I'm off to join my wife and family in California for the holidays and our anniversary. I wish each and every one of you the very best in health and happiness in this most festive of seasons. Please be safety-minded, don't drink and drive, and watch out for the person talking on the cell phone instead of looking out for you. I want to count each of you among my readers next year. Until then, I wish you a joyous Chanukah, merry Christmas and happy new year.

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