What the heck is a Blog?

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

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, and creator and author of The Winemaking Home Page. He grows a few grapes, still works for a living, and is slowly writing a book on -- what else? -- winemaking.

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 4th, 2008

Today is the day we celebrate the declaration of independence by the 13 British colonies in North America from the British crown. It is a day of parades, picnics, outings, NASCAR races, evening fireworks displays, and much, much more. HBO is re-broadcasting the entire seven episodes of the John Adams miniseries, a wonderfully portrayed and nearly flawlessly accurate look at a 50-year span during which a new nation was created and established. I have watched the entire series twice. It is compelling history, even for an historian.

There is a scene in the series, in Episode 2, when the delegates vote on the question of independence. This vote actually occurred on July 2nd. When the motion passed - 12 for, none opposed, New York abstaining - the delegates simply sat there in silence and pondered the momentous step they had just taken. While already engaged in battle with British forces, they would now feel the full fury of the British Empire. It was a sobering moment, one each American could benefit from by attempting to imagine the awesome consequences of courage these men displayed. July 4th is the date they voted to adopt Jefferson's document, the Declaration of Independence. The scene where they are reading the document to the public in front of Independence Hall actually occurred on July 8th, but history does not suffer from the omission of these details. They are, after all, in David McCullough's superb, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography.

A Pet Peeve

In my WineBlog entry of May 6th, 2008 I mentioned that "backsweeten" is not a word. A week ago I again corrected someone on a forum regarding that word and the following reply was posted:

"Jack, I always enjoy your knowledge and input here. But just for fun I did a search for 'Backsweeten'. It came up 690 times on sites like: northernbrewer.com, homebrewtalk.com, winemakingtalk.com, winepress.us, gotmead.com, winesathome.co.uk, moreflavor.com, thebrewingnetwork.com, tribes.tribe.net, free90free.com, derkeiler.com, beeradvocate.com and 678 others. You may be fighting a loosing battle on this one! It may make the dictionary one of these years. Personally I don't mind either way. Was just curious."

I replied with, "Just for the fun of it, I did a search for 'sweetening +wine' and it came up 238,000 times.

"Don't get me wrong. I know I'm fighting a losing battle, but I'm fighting it just the same because I have a lot of pride in the assimilated language called American English -- even moreso when it is used to communicate with precision. 'Backsweeten' is not nearly as offensive to me as 'the fact of the matter is' (correctly, 'the fact is'); why use the contraction of two words to say what one says with precision (or six words to say very poorly what three say precisely)? Both are a poor use of a rich language that is becoming poorer every day because people don't care. And when you don't care, you get exactly whatever the future delivers.

"As I said, it's just a pet peeve of mine...because I care."

I know I will not win this battle, but it is like any other battle fought for principle rather than defense or national interest or justice or honor. When something is wrong, even when the victim is merely one's sensibilities, one should oppose it even if the battle itself isn't "politically correct." We once insisted on doing right simply because it is right, but we have been browbeaten by lawyers and liberals into a nation of wimps. I will not become a fanatic over this, but I will continue to remind people that you "sweeten" a wine or must - you do not "foresweeten" or "backsweeten" it. If I don't do this, I very much fear what the future will deliver to us.

Last night I was sent an example of what you get when no one cares, when the citizenry is asleep at the wheel and lobbyists write legislation.

Texas Law

In 2007 the Texas legislature passes a law that few members probably read. They were probably handed a summary, written by the lobbyist who wrote the bill. Based on the one-sided argument in that summary, they voted to enact legislation they probably thought would protect the consumer but in fact did something very different. And my apologies, but it has nothing to do with wine.

According to Institute for Justice, the new law provides that if a computer repair technician without a government-issued private investigator's license takes any actions that the government deems to be an "investigation," they may be subject to criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, as well as civil penalties of up to $10,000. The definition of "investigation" is very broad and encompasses many common computer repair tasks.

To get a private investigator's license, owners of computer repair shops must either obtain a criminal justice degree or complete a three-year apprenticeship under a licensed private investigator.

Further, the repair shops are not the only ones at risk. The law also criminalizes consumers who knowingly use an unlicensed company to perform any repair that constitutes an investigation in the eyes of the government. Consumers are subject to the same harsh penalties as the repair shops utilized: criminal penalties of up to one year in jail, a $4,000 fine and civil penalties of up to $10,000 - just for having their computer repaired by an unlicensed technician.

Well, the light of day has now illuminated this law and it is hoped that the efforts of the Institute for Justice, in consort with outraged consumers, will force the state legislature to repeal this insult. But should they not succeed, I say the citizens received what citizens deserve when they care not for precision in language, for laws are prescribed by words.

Watermelon Wine and Sulfites

A reader wrote that his watermelon must was a deep pink color, but immediately after he added 5 crushed Campden tablets to his six gallons, "...began to pale, and you could see that fine sediment was settling to the bottom. Now, the must is much clearer, but it is no longer pink at all - more of a yellow. What color is the finished watermelon wine supposed to be?"

I wrote back that sulfite has a natural tendency to bleach color, but this is usually a temporary thing. However, my experience is that most watermelon wine is colorless to yellow; the mild pigments are not stable in alcohol and usually drop out. I recently (in April) won runner-up to Best of Show with a watermelon wine blended with 15% cranberry wine. The cranberry gave it both color and acidity and did not detract from the watermelon flavor preserved and boosted by sweetening with a cold-stabilized watermelon juice. This was a complicated wine and I probably will never publish the recipe, but it balanced well, finished after adding the juice at s.g. 1.012, and was only very slightly pink.

The precipitation after adding the Campden was probably un-dissolved Campden or dead yeast. I started adding " finely crushed and dissolved Campden" as a key phrase to my recipes about two years ago because hundreds of people wrote me constantly reporting essentially the same thing and I got tired of saying the obvious -- if you don't completely dissolve a powder before adding it to a wine it will fall to the bottom of the wine. Maybe this precipitation was something else, but if so I have no idea what that might be besides the normal dead yeast, which continue dying for several months and is why most wines require 3-4 rackings at 30-45 days intervals.

But do not rush it. Wines take time to become themselves.

July 19th, 2008

I received an email from a woman in Colorado who found a stand of wild strawberries on a gentle slope in the foothills above Boulder. "They were so small and yet their flavor so intense that it exploded in the mouth. I ate hundreds before I remembered a plastic bag in my day-pack and began collecting the rest until my back screamed 'enough.' I carried that bag down the mountain like a fragile treasure and was disappointed when I got home to discover they barely weighed two pounds. I had to buy commercial berries to have enough to try your strawberry recipe #4. They are finished fermenting now and twice racked. I haven't tasted it yet but the aroma is heavenly and the color intensely rose. Waiting is the hardest part of making wine."

This email was pretty amazing to me on several levels. First, the woman lives in Westminster, next door to Broomfield where I lived while attending the University of Colorado at Boulder. Second, I too went hiking in the hills above Boulder and found a wide spread of wild strawberries at the height of ripeness and about the size of pencil erasers. Third, I too ate dozens (if not hundreds) and finally remembered a nylon bag in my butt-pack and began collecting them for wine. I got less than she did, but froze them until the following week when I found more. Fourth, the color and aroma was many times more intense than for regular strawberries, and the wine turned out so well that I didn't share it with anyone. So, thank you Maggie for jogging my own memories with yours. And yes, waiting can indeed be hard to do.

Extended Instructions....

I received a "quick question" from a reader concerning the Extended Instructions for Making Wines from Kits posted on my site. The read noted where I say, "Next, withdraw 1 U.S. gallon of the must to a sealed glass jug and refrigerate it as a reserve for later addition to the main batch." He then asks, "What is the reason for withdrawing this gallon, and later adding it back?" Good question.

One of the problems of writing is that one never knows when something obvious to the writer will also be obvious to the reader. If one assumes it won't be, then the writer is obligated to explain the reasoning for moving from one step to the next. Doing so possibly will insult those who naturally follow the logical movement. So, one tries to strike a balance. Perhaps I misjudged here, for this is not the first time this question has been asked.

If you add yeast to 6 gallons of must in a 6-gallon carboy, it will almost certainly bubble or foam over and make a real mess. By removing a gallon initially, the remaining 5 gallons have plenty of room to undergo an active fermentation. When it begins to subside some 7-10 days later, the reserve gallon can be added to it and the vigorous fermentation can resume but will do so with less vigor and probably won't foam over.

I may have to add this explanation to the Extended Instructions....

Peach Wine Accident

Another reader was very concerned after a accident with a peach wine. After racking the wine early and while the wine was still fermenting, the table it was on collapsed and the carboy was badly jolted and lost its airlock and a little liquid. Thankfully, what could have been a disaster was only a mishap, but after the airlock was refitted he reported that after a week the wine has not resumed fermentation. "I would add yeast energizer but it was part of the original recipe so I am at a loss for what to do. Should I add yeast? The room is on an air conditioning unit because my house does not have air conditioning and I know it needs to stay below 85 degrees F. The problem is that I have the unit on a timer because I don't run it at night. This means that late at night the temperature may fluctuate a few degrees, which I have read is bad for wine." Oh boy...there is a lot of stress riding on this, his first fruit wine.

I had to ask the winemaker one question; "What is the specific gravity reading at this point? However unlikely it may seem, fermentations do sometimes complete in days instead of weeks, especially when yeast energizer was used." It is essential to know where the wine is when something like this happens. If the s.g. is 1.030, there is a problem; if it is 0.996, there isn't.

In a postscript, I added that I turn my air conditioner off at night too, but I have more wine than I can drink anyway so if a batch goes south I accept it; only one in several hundred batches ever do, so the odds are overwhelmingly in his favor.

He wrote back the next day that the s.g. was at or very near 0.995. "I tasted the bit I used for the hydrometer reading and it is definitely ok." I think I felt as relieved as he did.

The lessons to be taken away from this exchange. First of all, recipes are guidelines. They tell you how long each step took when the recipe author made the wine, and while you have every reasonable expectation of a similar experience, yours may differ. Second, yeast energizer is not a substitute for yeast nutrients and should only be used when called for. It will greatly change the fermentation profile, and not always for the better. I don't know whose recipe the winemaker used, but it wasn't any of mine; mine use yeast nutrients. Third, while I do not generally recommend measuring the wine's specific gravity during the fermentation window, whenever fermentation stops you should consider the window closed and get out the hydrometer. You need to know where the wine is before concluding you have a problem. And lastly, we can't always maintain a perfect ambient temperature for fermentation. For countless reasons, not least of which is an affordable electric bill, we may have to roll the dice and take a little chance. A few degrees fluctuation, while not ideal, will not usually spoil your winemaking experience.

Carbonic Maceration

The subject of carbonic maceration (CM) arose recently on one of the e-groups of which I am a member. I am not going to define this procedure here, but the link below will take you to an adequate explanation. Instead, I'm simply going to mention the context in which it was discussed.

Wines that have undergone CM usually are much smoother than wines that haven't. They have better mouthfeel because they generally have more natural glycerol, may have slightly more alcohol, will have less tannic bites, and should have a gentler acidic profile -- less malic but higher pH. Additional bonuses are fruitier flavor and volatile phenolics which build bouquet quickly. Add all of these features together and it looks like a win-win situation, but looks can be deceiving.

The most famous wines made with CM are the new Gamay wines from the Beaujolais region of France, called Nouveau Beaujolais ("new Beaujolais"). These wines are fermented quickly and released almost at once, thus earning them the "nouveau" label. They are consumed just as quickly because they do not last to the next harvest season.

The e-group discussion I opened this topic with focused on using the wine made with carbonic maceration as a blending stock to smooth out harsher but more structured wines. The gentleman who promoted the idea is both experienced and highly respected, so I have no doubt as to the validity of the method. I have not tried it, but intend to if I harvest grapes that might benefit from it. It is certainly something to consider.

July 26th, 2008

I'm waiting for the weather to settle down. We had a hurricane roll through 180 miles to the southwest, dump bucketfuls of water, and then slip-slide away without so much as a 'good day.' But in its wake it left my airlocks in a tizzy.

I know that 180 miles sounds like a long ways off, but if you are on the right side of the hurricane's track (in the northern hemisphere) those rotating bands of rain can reach out several hundred miles, depending on the size of the storm. Dolly was not a massive structure, so her "right arms" only extended about 250 miles out. In the aftermath of the rain she brought the grass is growing so fast you can practically see it rising. I would be out right now on the riding mower but it is temporarily out of commission and it is so hot and humid at present that I sought indoor alternatives. Writing seemed less strenuous of all, so here I am.

Field Trip

Last Sunday members of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild and Central Texas Wine Guild joined in visiting the Texas Pierce's Disease Research and Extension Program at Fredericksburg. We much appreciated the staff coming in on a Sunday to give us the tour and explain their work, but especially Dr. Isabelle Lauziere for her patience with us. Texas was blessed to beat out Colorado and California for this research center and we were privileged to be afforded a tour. There is so much going on there that I would only do an injustice to their work by trying to distill it into a few paragraphs. Instead, I will simply relate a couple of things that made a real impression on me.

Texas Pierce's Disease Research Center
SARWG and CTWG members at the PD research center

The research, of course, is centered on the vectors that transmit Pierce's Disease (PD) from one plant to another. The star in this saga - villain if you prefer - is the glassy winged sharpshooter (GWSS), but there are about a dozen others vectors - members of the sharpshooter (Cicadellidae) and spittlebug (Cercopidae) families - that play supporting roles. In the absence of the GWSS, any of them can migrate to center stage. And grape vines are simply one of many these vectors feed upon plants - over 700 others have been identified thus far - and thereby infect with the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa.

PD vectors
Various PD vectors; adult (upper l.) and adolescent (upper r.) GWSSs

Because of the vast number of plants attractive to the PD-spreading vectors, spraying to eradicate the insects is not a viable option. It may be possible to develop sprays that would make treated plants repulsive to the various PD-carriers, but it is doubtful any such application would permanently affect the treated plant. This means that when a chemical's efficacy as a repellant wore off, was washed off or otherwise degraded the plants would again be vulnerable to infection. While such a strategy would undoubtedly make the chemical companies ecstatic, it is totally impractical.

This is not my field of expertise, but a little common sense can be applied to the problem even by me. Since wholesale eradication is impractical to the nth degree, and since endowing a plant with permanent topical repellency against all known PD-carrying vectors is probably impossible, it would seen to me that biological control strategies ought to offer the most hope. This is not the direction that research monies are flowing, however. I don't know if this is a result of the influence of the chemical giants, who see no profit in finding a gnat-sized wasp that attacks GWSS eggs (as a hypothetical), or political considerations (or both), but I do know that "biological controls" is an unwelcome phrase to the entities controlling the awarding of research grants. With many agricultural crops threatened by PD - grapes, of course, but also avocados, legumes, ornamentals, and all manor of citrus crops, for starters - one would think those controlling the purse strings would focus on success probability rather than following any other agenda.

Natural Yeast on Mustang Grapes

I received an email from a beginning winemaker who will be using the Mustang Grape Wine (#6) recipe on my site, from George Ray McEachern, Texas Extension Horticulturist, for 5 gallons. This is an old Czech and is simplicity itself. It also uses the natural yeast that coat the grapes. The question in the email is, "After the primary fermentation, could I freeze the must in order to process it at a later date; or would this be detrimental to the natural yeasts?"

While I have never done this and so cannot say with absolute certainty, I would pretty much bet the farm that freezing the must will kill the yeast. I once killed a sourdough starter by freezing it; most wine yeast have a operating window down to about 60°, but even cold-fermentation yeast usually only ferment down to 50°. If you freeze the must, plan on pitching a commercial starter when you thaw it out, and when you do make sure it thaws all the way into the yeast operating range before pitching it.

Adding Sugar

I received the following email: "I am making wine from Vanessa grapes using your recipe for simple grape wine. I measured the SG of 1.081. Using your hydrometer chart, it shows 1 lb. 15.6oz of sugar in the juice. In the recipe it says to get a SG of 1.09 your need 2.0 lb of sugar per gallon. On the chart I think it shows you need 2 lb 4.6 oz per gallon. Which is correct?"

Before answering the question, let's look at an excerpt of the table in question.

in Gal.
to Gal.
Volume w/
Sugar Added
0 lb 1.7 oz
1 lb 9.8 oz
1 lb 11.5 oz
1 lb 14.0 oz
1 lb 15.6 oz
2 lb 1.3 oz
0 lb 2.1 oz
1 lb 14.0 oz
1 lb 15.6 oz
2 lb 2.2 oz
2 lb 4.6 oz
2 lb 7.2 oz
1 gal 0.7 oz
1 gal 17.6 oz
1 gal 18.4 oz
1 gal 20.0 oz
1 gal 21.6 oz
1 gal 22.4 oz

The critical things to note are the first three columns. The first is specific gravity, the second is the amount of sugar in a gallon at the specific gravity cited, and the third is the amount of sugar you add to a gallon of liquid to achieve the specific gravity cited. For some reason, the difference between columns two and three are difficult for some people to understand.

If you have a gallon of water, its specific gravity is 1.000 and it contains no sugar. If you want to raise the specific gravity to 1.080, you add 1 pound 15.6 ounces of sugar to the gallon of water and stir it until dissolved. When you do this, you increase the volume of liquid by a given amount because the sugar increases the volume, but while a gallon of that liquid will still have a specific gravity of 1.080, it will only contain 1 pound 11.5 ounces of sugar; the remaining 4.1 ounces are in the excess liquid.

In a previous post to this WineBlog (February 16th, 2008), I noted that if you add one pound of sugar to a gallon of water, you increase the total volume by 1-3/8 cups due to the displacement of the water by the added sugar, so two pounds of sugar added to a gallon of pure water will increase the volume by 2-3/4 cups.

August 3rd, 2008 (reposted)

I'm drinking a glass of Malbec that was a gift. The label says it is a kit wine and that got me to thinking. I have absolutely no access to fresh Malbec grapes, so if I wanted to make some Malbec I would turn to a kit as the better of the several options open to me. It makes sense. On the other hand, I can drive about 90 minutes and pick beautiful Cabernet Sauvignons from a friend's vineyard, so there would be no reason for me to buy a Cab kit.

But I do not understand several people I know who make only kit wines. As far as I know, not one of them has ever made a wine from scratch. One lives in an apartment and doesn't think he has room to make scratch wines, but he doesn't realize it takes the same amount of kitchen space to make a kit wine as it does to make a scratch wine. You just use the space differently and scratch wines are, admittedly, more work -- especially if you go get the ingredients.

To me, it is more fun to go pick wild blackberries than to buy a blackberry wine kit (yes, one of my friends bought a blackberry wine kit). Back up. I should have said it is usually more fun to go pick the wild blackberries. I have had an adventure or two, but that's more than my friend had....

Wine Labels

I mentioned above that I could tell the Malbec was a kit wine because of its label. It is kinda artsy, but I really don't want to see the name of the kit manufacturer on the label. I would rather see the name of the couple who turned the kit into wine even if it is a paint-by-numbers process. In other words, even though it doesn't at all detract from the wine itself, they should have lost the manufacturer's labels.

Making your own labels is not rocket science. If you want to be artsy, that is admirable. For years I made very simple labels because I was usually the only person who saw them. When I started giving wine to family and friends, my labels changed. Today, most of my labels reflect those changes. Here is the label for a wine I bottled two nights ago.

Aronia Berry Wine label

The date, you'll notice, is not a vintage but
rather there to assist me in cellaring the wine.

My page on wine labels ends with a request for you to share your labels with me. There are entire websites of homemade wine labels but mine is not one of them, so my invitation was not aimed at showing your work to the world but rather showing it to me. I am curious and like to see what ya'll are up to. I have been amazed over the years at some of the high quality label designs that were sent to me to admire.

Well, a little over a week ago I received an email from a charming young lady who runs a private label wine company and designs labels for her clients. Indeed, she lives in Glen Ellen, a name that rests on grapes and was once home to Jack London. It is a dozen miles or so north of a small town in California called Sonoma. Initially, she sent me a collage of her labels and I was very impressed. But it just gets better. She's a displaced Texan, to boot. We exchanged a few emails and she was most candid about her craft, techniques and materials, so I have simply got to share some of this with you. If you want to do it right, she has some pointers. But first, let's look at a few labels.

Island Tour wine label blank space Randy Red wine label

Two light-hearted labels for serious wines -- embracing simplicity with artfulness.

Ashleigh K. Graham wine label blank space Cabernet Sauvignon wine label

Two Cabernet labels, one elegant and refined and the other almost mystically native.

She wrote, "I like to use Neenah Text 70 - nice weight, beautiful and extraordinary quality. Both Neenah linen and smooth finish are fabulous. If the artwork is detailed or contains a photograph, I use smooth. But if the label artwork is simple and elegant, I will use a linen finish to add interest and depth. I use an xacto knife to cut out my labels - it keeps my options open on size and shape. I use a professional label cementer for label application, but I suppose spray adhesive or glue sticks could work. I am curious how it would hold up on labels for wines that would be put in an ice bucket?" The truth is the spray adhesive might, the glue stick certainly won't.

I had questions for her and was delighted when she answered promptly. "After exhaustive label research, seeking the highest quality for small runs, I felt defeated by the options. The quality of label that I desired could only be found with expensive flexography and very high set-up charges which I couldn't justify for my small runs. I found several companies who do small runs of labels (i.e. Vintage Labels, Lightening Labels) and I believe that most people would find their work satisfactory, but I did not. Then I found several digital label printers (Primera, QuickLabel, HP Indigo, VIPColor) and while the quality was okay, it didn't make the mark. These digital label printers range in price from $1,500 - $100,000. Further, I hate being restricted to specific label sizes. So I went to interview a large printing company in Sonoma who specializes in wine labels to discover what they use for small runs. This led me to finding Neenah Papers which I absolutely fell in love with. I use Neenah Classic Crest Text 70, both smooth and linen finish." Right then and there I had to Google Neenah Papers. Spent waaaay too much time there [see link following this entry]....

"Finally, I wasn't limited by size and any decent laser printer could create something magnificent on these papers. An ink-jet printer would work too, but I didn't want to spray treat the paper to prevent the ink from running if it got wet. I use an x-acto knife because many of my labels are not symmetrical or they have artwork extending outside of the frame. I suppose a guillotine-style cutter would work for most designs." Well sure; I was thinking the same thing (wink).

"Now that I had found my label material I had to find a way to attach them to the bottle. I do create labels for white wines which require refrigeration and are subject to icing which limited my options. I am fortunate to live and work in the wine country and I had a wonderful winemaker turn me onto his Schaefer MS-6 cementer. Even though most wineries in Northern California use self adhesive labels now, they generally have a cementer around. [Her link to Schaefer follows this entry.] They also sell adhesives but I like TCW Ice-proof label glue (p/n 4020SA05) which sells for ~$40 gallon [see link below]. TCW also sells the Schaefer cementer for ~$736." I don't know about you, but I think this is the real deal....

labeling rack

Labeling racks on work bench mounted on wine barrels;
vineyard just a few feet distant.

"Lastly, I use a wood holder for placing my labels on the bottle. This makes it easier to index and allows for even, consistent placement. Here is a picture [above] of two of them side-by-side during label application. (Each holds 7 bottles.) My friend made these but if anyone is interested, I could ask him what he would charge."

I rarely plug anyone or anything, but I'm really impressed by her work and candor, so if anyone is interested in your very own vineyard-designated, California private label wine, or perhaps just some assistance in transferring your vision to a label, she just might be able to assist you. Her name is Shawnda Jo Hansen and you can reach her at PO Box 220, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, ph: 707.280.9326. I hesitate to list her email addy because I really don't want it ending up on a spam list, but her website (Amedeo Cellars) is linked below and has an email address. Tell her Jack said hi from Texas.

August 23rd, 2008

Yes, I know it has been over three weeks since I last posted here. No need to write and remind me. Where have I been? Beijing. Not in person, but via satellite TV. Sorry. The Olympics simply are addictive to me. But I suffered for it. When I was younger, I only needed 4 hours sleep a night. Not so now. Staying up until 12:30 to 1:00 a.m. and then getting up at 6:00 for two weeks straight has taken its toll. As soon as I get home each afternoon / evening I have to take a nap. One day I started the nap before I got home. Thank God and the Texas Department of Transportation they have those grooves just outside the shoulder lines -- woke me right up and adrenaline kept me awake.

Like many of you, I saw the Nike commercial during the Olympics in which Marvin Gaye sang a portion of the American national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner", while the U.S. basketball team suited up and took the court. And, like many of you, I wished I could hear the entire Marvin Gaye performance. Well, I found it.

Watch, and be enchanted.


I can't imagine not liking that. Enough said. On to winemaking....

It Must Be Time for Rhubarb

I have received several emails about rhubarb within the past 2-3 weeks, which tells me the rhubarb stalks are ripening. Rhubarb is a perennial whose cultivation originated in Asia over 2,000 years ago for medicinal purposes. A close relative of garden sorrel, rhubarb is a vegetable; the edible portion is the long, thick petioles -- the stems (stalks) that support the leaves. The roots are large, fleshy rhizomes which impart purgative or laxative actions and are commonly prescribed in folk medicine for those qualities.

I have no idea how many species and varieties there are, but I know there are many -- from the small Rheum compactum averaging 19 inches high to the majestic Rheum palmatum, with 6-foot petioles of superior flavor and 10-foot flower stems. The Western garden varieties average 2-3 feet in height and are Rheum rhaponticum, Rheum x hybridum, Rheum rhabarbarum, and Rheum x cultorum. In the East (Asia), Rheum officinale, Rheum palmatum, Rheum ribes, and Rheum spiciforme prevail in the garden.

Rhubarb stalks, trimmed

Rhubarb stalks, trimmed of leaf

The average man on the street thinks rhubarb stalks have to be red or they aren't ripe or aren't sweet, but colors vary among species and varieties and color and sweetness are not necessarily related. Ripe petioles can be bright to deep red, pink, green, or speckled. Canada Red, Chipman, Cherry Red Crimson, Glaskin's, Holstein Bloodred, Macdonald, Mammoth Red, Tilden, and Valentine are all varieties that ripen red. German Wine, Riverside Giant and Victoria typically ripen green, sometimes with a pink base or pink speckles.

The leaves grow straight from the ground; there is no trunk or base, The leaves typically grow up to a foot or more in width and length and the plant may grow to a height of several feet. The green leaves of the plant are quite toxic -- even poisonous -- containing high concentrations of oxalic acid crystals which can cause the tongue and throat to swell and prevent breathing. The stalks, on the other hand, have little if any oxalic acid but what little they may have can easily be neutralized. To use the stalks, they are trimmed of all leafy material and cut into pieces.

Rhubarb stalks, cut

Rhubarb stalks, cut for use

There are basically four approaches to making wine from rhubarb, but all require cutting it into pieces first. (1) The pieces are then crushed and pressed to extract the juice, which is fermented; (2) the pieces are covered with sugar to draw out most of the juice as liquor, which is then separated from the pieces and fermented alone or fermented pieces and liquor together and pressed before transfer to secondary; (3) the pieces are frozen, thawed and then processed as (1); (4) the pieces are frozen, thawed and then processed as (2).

Here are four recipes using the four approaches. Two use precipitated chalk to buffer oxalic acid because the rhubarb used seem to require it, while two do not because the rhubarb used tasted fine. You have to use your own judgement regarding your own rhubarb.

Rhubarb Wine (1)

  • 6 lbs rhubarb
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 2 tsp citric acid
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 6-1/2 pts water
  • 1/2 oz precipitated chalk
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • Wine yeast (Montrachet or Champagne) in starter solution

Trim, wash and cut the rhubarb. Add 5 pints of the water into which is dissolved 1 finely crushed Campden tablet and the sugar. Cover and set aside for 3 days, stirring twice a day. Strain the rhubarb (save the water) and press it dry, then discard the pulp. Combine the sugared water and juice and add the chalk; when the fizzing subsides, add the remaining ingredients (except the reserved 1-1/2 pints water) and ferment in gallon jug covered with clean cloth until vigorous fermentation subsides. Add reserved water and attach airlock. Ferment to dryness, racking every 3-4 weeks until clear. Stabilize, sweeten to taste and age about 3 months. Rack if needed and bottle. Allow 8-12 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

Rhubarb Wine (2)

  • 4 lbs rhubarb
  • 1 cup white grape concentrate
  • 1 lb 13 ozs granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 qts boiling water
  • 1 tsp citric acid
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 2/3 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 2 qts cold water
  • 1 pkt Champagne wine yeast

Place cut rhubarb and sugar in primary and mix well. Cover primary for 24 hrs. Crush rhubarb with a piece of hardwood or the bottom of a non-punted wine bottle. Pour boiling water over the crushed rhubarb, stir vigorously and recover primary. When water cools, ladle or scoop rhubarb into a straining bag and squeeze as much of the juice out as possible. Discard pulp. Add the grape juice, citric acid, yeast nutrient, tannin, crushed Campden tablet, and cold water. Cover and wait 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme, recover and wait another 12 hours. Add activated yeast starter and ferment until vigor subsides. Transfer to secondary, ferment to dryness, rack every 3-4 weeks until clear. Bottle dry or stabilize and sweeten, age 3 more months, rack if needed, and bottle. Age 6-9 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

Rhubarb Wine (3)

  • 4 lbs rhubarb
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • juice of 2 large oranges
  • 2/3 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 6-1/2 pts lukewarm water
  • Red Star wine yeast

Wash and cut the rhubarb, then place in ZipLoc freezer bags and freeze at least a week. Dump in colander to thaw over primary. When thawed, squeeze out as much of the juice as you can. Stir in remaining ingredients except yeast. Cover and set aside 12 hours, then add activated yeast in starter solution and recover. Recover and ferment 3 days. Stir, pour through funnel into secondary and attach airlock. Ferment to dryness. Rack monthly until clear. Bottle dry or stabilize and sweeten, age 3 more months, rack if needed, and bottle. Age 6-9 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

Rhubarb Wine (4)

  • 4 lbs rhubarb
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 350 mL pineapple juice or 450 mL orange juice
  • 2/3 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
  • 1/2 oz precipitated chalk
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Water to 1 gal (about 6-1/2 pts)
  • Campagne wine yeast activated in starter solution 12-14 hours prior to use

Wash and cut the rhubarb, then place in ZipLoc freezer bags and freeze at least a week. Remove and place in primary to thaw. Sprinkle very finely crushed Campden tablet and then the sugar over rhubarb in even layer. Cover primary with lid or plastic sheet for 36 hours. Sprinkle pectic enzyme and precipitated chalk over mixture, stir well and recover the primary. Wait additional 36 hours and add all remaining ingredients. Ferment about 5 days, then strain out the rhubarb and press it. Combine pressed juice with fermenting liquor, transfer to secondary and affix airlock. Ferment to dryness. Rack monthly until clear. Bottle dry or stabilize and sweeten, age 3 more months, rack if needed, and bottle. Age 6-9 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

August 29th, 2008

A few weeks ago a guy came by to give me a bottle of wine. It was green. The label said it was cherry wine. "What kind of cherries were these?" He looked at me like I was mentally deficient. "Green cherries," he said. "You know, in those little jars. I used 10 jars in the wine." I should have known. It was a tad too sweet for my taste, but that's just me. He thought it was just right.

Different tastes. That's why we like our own wines, isn't it? And maybe the pride of making it. I kind of like making wines from unusual base ingredients. Most of the wines I make have few, if any, commercial counterparts. So I understood the green cherries. Any schmuck could make wine from red cherries. I raised my glass to him. "I wish I had thought of this." He beamed. I saw myself.

Simple Question

It is frustrating to have a simple question and not be able to find the answer when you know darned well thousands of people know the answer. This was the case recently, when a reader wrote with what he knew was a very elementary question but one he could not find the answer to. I've been there, so I know how he feels. I'm just glad I was here to answer it. In the pre-internet days, we sometimes went months to years to find someone who could answer such questions. Here is his question: "When making white wine, in my case muscadine wine, I want to keep the wine from picking up the color from the skins and know I need to separate the skins, but do I remove just the skins and leave the pulp or do I remove both the skins and the pulp. Simple as it may sound, I can't find the answer."

There are two answers. The most common way to approach the problem is to use a crusher that feeds directly into a basket or bladder press. The grapes are pressed as soon as the basket or bladder is full and the juice is separated from the skins, pulp and seeds.

The other way is labor intensive and therefore only used for small batches -- 1-3 gallons. The grapes are individually picked off the cluster and squeezed so as to expel the pulp and juice. The skin is then discarded. The pulp is treated with pectic enzyme to break it down and then it and the juice are fermented and later pressed. I made a Grand Champion Mustang Grape wine the first time I used this method.

New Grapes

New grapes are being bred all the time, but most are culled by the breeder because they don't possess some desired quality or characteristic. For every few hundreds that are culled, one might be deemed worthy of trial introduction. Many of these disappear after a while or end up as rarities in collections, conservatories or gardens. T. V. Munson grew thousands of crosses and introduced scores of new grapes, but many are lost. You actually have to make a few crosses to appreciate how rarely a quality new grape results. It is therefore quite exciting when a major breeding program announces the introduction of a new grape.

ThomCord Grapes

Thomcord, a sweet, seedless grape from ARS’s Parlier, California,
breeders, resulted from crossing a Thompson with a Concord.
Photo by Stephen Ausmus.

The USDA's Agricultural Research Service has many breeding programs spread across a wide spectrum of plants of commercial interest. Several such programs are dedicated to grapes. One such program is located at the ARS San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center at Parlier, California. Back in the 1980s research horticulturist David Ramming and technician Ronald Tarailo performed a laboratory experiment to hybridize a Thompson Seedless with a Concord in a new way to produce a superior seedless grape. Hundreds of new vines were grown and evaluated, and one, A29-67, showed promise. After 17 years of evaluation A29-67 was named Thomcord and is finally being released to growers.

Thomcord is a plump, juicy, blue-black grape with "...whitish bloom and bold flesh color of the Concord, plus a pleasing Concord-like flavor that's lightened by the sweet, mild taste of its Thompson parent. The fruit is slightly firmer than Concord." This is a table grape, but I enjoy eating good table grapes as much as I like drinking the fermented juice of good wine grapes. Look for Thoncord in your supermarket in a few years.

Wine to Vinegar

A reader wrote about a friend whose wines are turning to vinegar despite using clean vessels. He wonders, of course, what could be causing this reaction?

Vinegar is produced by bacteria of the genus Acetobacter, with well over a dozen species, e.g. A. aceti, A. cerevisiae, A. cibinongensis, A. estunensis, A. indonesiensis, A. lovaniensis, A. malorum, A. nitrogenifigens, A. oeni, A. orientalis, A. orleanensis, A. pasteurianis, A. peroxydans, A. pomorum, A. syzygii, A. tropicalis, A. xylinus.

The old lore had it spread by a "vinegar fly," but there really isn't any such thing -- just fruit flies and gnats that may be carrying the bacteria, any of which can spread it. However, the more common way to get it is to have individual cells "blow in" and settle in the primary, carboy or wine while being transferred. In other words, clean equipment is important, but so is a clean environment. Once an area gets contaminated with the bacteria, it pretty much stays contaminated until appropriately cleansed. The bacteria can settle on a countertop, the side of a cabinet door, on a spice rack, or practically anywhere and get stirred up into the air by winemaking activities.

There are three approaches to combating Acetobacter: sanitize the work area, treat the must and resulting wine, and eliminate oxygen.

An infected work area is difficult to sanitize, but not impossible. Many years ago I started detecting acetic acid (vinegar) in a few of my wines. I treated them immediately with sulfites and killed the bacteria, then buffered the wines to get rid of the acid and introduced new acids to the wines. But new wines also developed the problem. So I took a three pronged approach. First, I sanitized the kitchen; then I treated the musts and wines and adjusted ullage.

I mixed up a 5% sulfite solution and used several old dish towels to swab down every surface in our kitchen, the area where I made my wines. That included the ceiling, the walls, the countertops, the floor, the cabinets, the inner cabinet doors, stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, coffeemaker, food processor, shelves, spice rack and containers, canisters, hanging utensils, paper towel rack, etc. Then I sanitized everything that couldn't be swabbed down. Inside each cabinet I set a quart jar of 10% sulfite solution and closed the door for 5 minutes, then opened the door and moved it to another shelf. In the drawers I set a soup bowl with the 10% sulfite solution. The sulfur dioxide fumes rising off the sulfite solution is actually what kills the bacteria. It took 11 hours to sanitize the entire kitchen, but when I was done I knew there were very few bacteria of any kind in there.

I never got another case of vinegar, but to be safe I always sulfite my musts and wines with potassium metabisulfite. It kills almost every bacteria and fungus known to man, and then it dissipates over time. My recipes will say Campden tablets because anyone can count one tablet per gallon and crush it, but in truth I never use them anymore. I have a very small spoon that measures 1/16th of a teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite, which is exactly the amount needed per gallon of must and the amount of active ingredient in a Campden tablet -- all the rest of the tablet is inert binder material that has to be crushed, ground up very fine and dissolved just to deliver that 1/16th teaspoon of K-meta.

The third approach to combating Acetobacter is to reduce the ullage (the air space in a carboy) as much as possible. I try to reduce it to 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Acetobacter converts ethanol into acetic acid in the presence of oxygen, so if you reduce the oxygen you reduce the amount of acetic acid it can produce if it happens to infect the wine when the dose of sulfite is dissipating into nothingness. It isn't very likely to happen because I add sulfites after every other racking, but it pays to be cautious.

If one just concentrates on the latter two approaches -- using sulfites and reducing the ullage -- one should be fine, but sanitizing the work environment is something everyone should constantly work on. An easy way to do it is to wait until you are going away for a weekend and then to mix up a gallon of 10% sulfite solution, pour it into several pie tins and cake pans dispersed around the kitchen or work area, open all the cabinet doors and drawers, and then leave. Upon returning, dump the sulfite solution down the drain and close up the cabinets and drawers. It won't do as thorough a job as what I did, but it will go a long way toward keeping all types of bacteria (and fungus) to a minimum.

September 6th, 2008

Disaster today. I was outside trying to impress upon a bunch of weeds that I was boss in this yard and they were not welcome. Having done so for a sufficient period of time to hear complaints from my back, I quit for the day and came inside to take a muscle relaxer and have a cold beer. As I opened the refrigerator, an unfamiliar noise in another part of the house caught my attention. I turned and saw water coming from the hall into the kitchen and the rest was a blur.

The flexible steel feeder pipe under the toilet had burst. The bathroom, hallway, three bedrooms, foyer, part of the living room, and my computer room/office were either flooded or the carpet was soaked and the water was spreading, like some ill-defined but spineless creature from a horror movie. As I write my feet are in water. So, you might ask, why am I writing instead of attending to the problem? Because I have done all I can do and am waiting on a company that either sucks water out of carpets or rips out the carpet itself to arrive (I've been waiting for over 5 hours). During the time I moved 27 boxes of "stuff" out of the back bedroom into the only dry spot in the house, the part of the living room just in front of the fireplace. If they don't show up soon, I'll have to move them all again -- out to the garage, I guess. Oh, the company I'm waiting on just called and said they will be here in about an hour. That's the third time they have called me and said they would be here in an hour. My faith is faltering....

Moving Wine

I think they will rip out the carpet. It has been wet way too long and is sloshy. Anticipating this, I moved all my carboys and gallon-jugs with airlocks into the three of the four areas with tile flooring (very small kitchen, dining room and front and back door entries after I mopped up about 8 gallons of water from the tile (with a towel). I hope this is not a mistake. I also emptied a 140-bottle wine rack sitting on carpet and stacked the cases on either side of the front door (tile, so not affected after water was mopped up). This would not have been possible if I did not have about 10 empty cases in a storage shed and another half dozen in the garage. My back is going to protest this activity later.

Must be Time for Pears

I have received more than a few emails and snail mails asking about pears. I remember when I had Bartlett trees, lost 7-8 years ago to blight, they would be loaded by late June, but wouldn't ripen until later August to early September. Still, seeing them loaded with fruit would get the itch started and I would impatiently await the slow and subtle ripening. When they started dropping, I got out the ladder and buckets. You don't really want your pears to ripen on the tree, but rather in a cool room. Then the trick is to catch them just right....

There are too many varieties of pears to keep track of (around 5,000, I'm told), but I am familiar with a few. I don't know if there is such a thing as "the noble dozen" in pears, but a long time ago my grandfather told me there was. I believed anything he told me, although he was known to pull my leg whenever he thought he could get away with it (he gave me a rock once and convinced me it was a petrified potato, and I took it to school for "show and tell" -- what fun the kids had at my expense!). Anyway, the "noble dozen" pear varieties my long departed grandfather had me memorize are the Bartlett, Bosc, Clapp, Comice, Concorde, d'Anjou, Delicious, Forelle, Hardy, Highland, Nellis, and Seckle. In truth, I think these are simply the only twelve variety names my grandfather knew, but that's okay. Over the years I had several opportunities to rattle them off and it always gives the impression I know more than I do.

My phone keeps ringing (insurance claims department, clean-up guys, insurance adjuster, wife, etc.) and I can see I'm not going to develop this topic the way I intended. I will list some pear wine recipes after this entry for those who are interested, but I will have to stop here as the clean-up guys called again and are finally entering Pleasanton (after a 7-hour wait). I'll have to post this later, as circumstances permit.

September 23th, 2008

I should have disconnected and moved my computer instead of writing the last entry. The clean-up guys did it instead, and then started emptying shelves and bookcases and work tables, building a small mountain of books and papers and other things around my carboys. The computer and all its components and peripherals completely disappeared. I won't go into the week-long ordeal but suffice it to say the house is dried out, an insurance check arrived, and carpet has arrived but cannot be installed until some major painting is finished. It will be weeks -- more likely months -- until the house is put back together.

But I couldn't stand being without a computer so I finally found enough of it to get a signal through my wireless antenna mast outside. I'll have to disconnect it again for painting and carpeting, but at least I get to post a WineBlog entry. I'm sure that's all that's important to you.


I was playing around and started searching to see who was linked to my site and discovered I didn't really want to know. The total number when I searched was 8,659 links, of which 2,307 are to my home page and 1,988 to this WineBlog. I was quite surprised to find that 326 linked to my dandelion wine recipes. And my heart was quite moved that six people chose to link to my dear departed Springer Spaniel's web page.

A Look Back at Maraschino-Chocolate Mead

Some of you may remember that back on January 13th, 2007 I wrote in the WineBlog about making a Maraschino-Chocolate Sweet Mead. I bottled it in May and finally entered it in competition last Sunday at the Medina County Fair, one of the better county fairs in Texas with a tough bunch of local winemakers to compete against. It won runner-up (Honorable Mention) to Best of Show for non-grape wines, which is not bad for a debut.

County Fair ribbons

Left to right, Best of Show judge Marlene
Nebgen helps Jack Keller display his ribbons
while the other Best of Show judge,
Larry Lothringer, looks dead serious.

In my Requested Recipes write-up of this mead, I mentioned that you have to read the label of the cherries you use. Some contain the preservative benzoic acid, which has the same affect on yeast as sorbic acid (potassium sorbate) -- it prevents reproduction.

By the way, I used pretty good honey, boiled it and skimmed off a decent amount of impurities as surface scum, so the fact that this mead dropped a fine dust for about a year indicates lingering yeast in the mead, not pollen in the honey. I could have fined it to drop the yeast out, but the long clearing process only helped it age well. It's a very nice dessert mead.

Elderberry Goo

A reader wrote, "This past week, for the first time, I decided to make a batch of wine from fresh elderberries.... After transferring the wine to the secondary I'm seeing a 4" wide brown ring of this substance that has a consistency somewhere between rubber and VERY tacky glue. My dad has made wild elderberry wine before and says this happens every time. I'm wondering if you've ever run into this and, if you did, how did you clean your primary out? I pressure washed a lot of it out, but it's REALLY stubborn. Any suggestions?"

I am well familiar with this residue. It is the famous "elderberry goo." Canola oil (or any good vegetable oil) will cut it effectively. The canola oil is then washed away with a degreaser (the degreaser will not cut the goo). Over a decade ago three of us systematically tried 46 different substances before one of the others discovered the vegetable oil cure.

September 26th, 2008

After my last WineBlog entry I received a phone call asking what I thought of the chocolate wines archive page on the blog, Washington Winemaker. This caught me a little off guard, as I had to think a moment to recall the blog while at the same time I was trying to sort out an obvious disguised voice. Then two faces came into my mind's eye -- a cheery face from Bellevue, Washington under an outdoorsman's hat and a dear old friend now residing in Missouri. Yes, I recalled an archive page on chocolate wine and mead discussions, but no mention of the recipes on my site. It's okay; Erroll has been linked to my blog for a long time and I only recently linked to his.

I recall an entry he made about whether cocoa powder is better than extract, and his recitation of the SCA chocolate mead recipe by Lord Rhys, which is quite credible and quite humorous if I recall correctly. So, once the recollections began to flow I asked the caller (a friend who was trying his best to pretend he was a stranger) if there was anything about the Bellevuer's discussions he wanted to point out in particular or question. Now he was caught off guard. After a pregnant pause, he said he liked the "Liquid Sex Mead" recipe -- the Lord Rhys recipe. I remarked that he should...that it's probably the only sex he's getting. He cracked up and dropped the attempt to disguise his voice and we caught up on family news. I am blessed to have such friends.

Using a Food Processor

I am frequently asked if a food processor can be used to prepare fruit for winemaking. The answer is "yes," but you really ought to open the fruit and remove the seeds first. A great many seeds contain alkaloids, cyanides or other compounds that will spoil a wine and potentially a life if cracked or chopped. Apple seeds, for example, contain small amounts of cyanide, but are perfectly safe if not cracked or chopped.

Fizzy Wine

A reader wrote to me that he had made many batches of wine over the years, but very simply. He had recently been given a hydrometer and when his next batch reached 1.000 he bottled it. When he tasted it later, it was fizzy, so he unbottled it and has it back under an airlock. Naturally, he wanted to know what went wrong.

I wrote him that fizzy wine means one of two things.

(1) The wine needs degassing. The gas that escapes through the airlock is CO2, and wine absorbs quite a bit of it. Normally, with several rackings and a few months of aging, the CO2 dissipates into the air. You can speed it up by degassing the wine. Read my "Basic Steps" and click on number 5.

(2) The wine is bottled before it finishes fermenting. In his case, the hydrometer reading of 1.000 did not mean the wine was finished, and even if it did you should let it bulk age a while. No commercial winery bottles a wine (except for Nouveaux Beaujolais) with less than 8 months aging. A wine with 1.000 specific gravity still has about 1% unfermented sugar in it. The best practice is to wait until the liquid in the airlock levels out and then take a gravity reading if you’re curious. A finished wine can have an s.g. of 1.000, but more than likely it will be at the lower end of between 1.000 and 0.990, and it still has to be degassed.

Lost Recipes

Over the years, many people have read where I lost 720 posted recipes when the server they were stored on was lost in a fire and I had foolishly reformatted the media that held my only backup. My heart is warmed when someone offers to help me restore the lost recipes with typing help, organizing them or whatever is required. I always turn them down with a personal letter, but I thought I would share my reasons here to discourage future offers -- not that I don’t appreciate them.

The time-consuming part was not organizing and arranging them alphabetically, but typing them in the first place and writing the method (instructions) for each in a consistent format and style. And to be honest, for many of them there were no instructions at all -- just a list of ingredients.

The recipes still exist, but they are in dozens of formats. About half are in the 200+ books I have on winemaking and the rest are in magazine articles, newspaper clippings, both typed and hand-written letters, 3 X 5 cards, notes or list of ingredients written on napkins or scraps of paper, very old family wine logs (in journal form), my own wine logs, etc. It took 5 months to locate, organize and write them the first time, and that was spending every waking hour on the project when I was not at work. I will never do that to my wife again, so I dig them out when someone requests one or I develop a particular desire to add one to a particular collection.

Please understand that I will never let this material out of my possession; it has taken 43 years to collect it. Besides, when a recipe consists of just a list of ingredients, as all of the ones (about 55-60) on the 3 X 5 cards do, then someone has to work out the method and do it in a reasoned manner written in a consistent style. It is just something I have to do it myself.

I very much appreciate the many kind offers. I hope you all understand.

October 5th, 2008

I was interviewed a little over a week ago by Ken Payton of the wine blog Reign of Terrior," which I am sure most of my readers will recognize as a clever play on words. I was supposed to send Ken some photo images to accompany the piece but as of yesterday morning had not done so and so I assumed the interview had not yet been posted. I spent over an hour searching many, many image collections on my computer but was unable to find one specific photo of my wife and I sitting on the porch at Poteet Country Winery. I fear I lost it to the computer crash of 4 years ago.

While searching, I received an email from a Georgia winemaker I have only met once congratulating me on the excellent interview and asking when the second installment would be published. Somewhat stunned, I clicked on Reign of Terrior in my Favorites and sure enough, there it was -- Part 1 of 2. I probably dismissed my informant a bit too abruptly and for that, Ron, I apologize. I quickly sent Ken four pix but in my haste neglected to ask when Part 2 would be posted. Later that day I noted a comment on his blog asking that very question and Ken replied it would be posted on Monday. So, if you are interested in the interview please follow the first link following this entry.

More on "Fizzy Wine"

The short piece in my last WineBlog about Fizzy Wine produced an almost instant email, which I was going to ignore because there are now over 90 winemaking-related email backed up awaiting answers and it isn't fair to them to answer one that just came in when some of them have been waiting so long. Well, I didn't answer it, but am addressing the question raised here. The question was, "In your blog you mentioned degassing a wine but didn't say how to do it. You referred [us] to a page on your website but didn't say where it was.

Folks, I try to be helpful. When I say, "Read my 'Basic Steps' and click on number 5," it should be obvious that "my 'Basic Steps'" is on my website. How much intelligence does it take to go to my website and look for something called "Basic Steps?" I'm not making fun of the person who wrote to me, but I am saying that one really does have to use some common sense. Words have meanings. Read them with that in mind.

I went back and added a link at the end of my previous blog entry to my "basic Steps" page.

Measuring Residual Sugar

Residual sugar is the sugar that remains after fermentation. Non-fermentable sugars are no problem, but fermentable sugars can ruin a non-stabilized wine if fermentation restarts after bottling. If you kept close track of the sugar in the base ingredient[s] and the sugar you added to the must, you should be able to calculate the exact amount remaining after fermentation ends using hydrometer reading and perhaps a refractometer. However, if you are just not quite sure, you can use Clinitest tablets to give you a reasonably accurate measure of residual sugar content when that amount is less than about 2 percent.

Clinitest tablets were developed to tell diabetics how much sugar was in their urine, but with more convenient testing methods available Clinitest tablets are getting more difficult to find. Still, they are sold in many large drugstores and some winemaking supply companies. You simply have to ask for them.

Clinitest tablets can be used to measure the sugar content of any wine with less that 2% residual sugar. If the amount of sugar is more, you can use either of two alternative methods, but the margin of error will increase. Residual sugar is determined by comparing the color of a treated wine sample with colors on a chart provided with the kit. Anthocyanins, the color pigments in red wines, may make an exact determination challenging, but do not seem to cause significant errors if your color vision is normal.

Clinitest Kit

Clinitest Kit as sold by Homebrew Heaven contains
packets of tablets, an eye dropper, a test tube,
and a color calibration chart with instructions.

The directions are simplicity itself. Just be sure to have a small bottle of distilled water on hand before you begin, something you probably will have anyway if you use a refractometer or use other testing kits. The steps below are for the 5-Drop Method.

  1. Draw a small amount of wine into the eye dropper.
  2. Place 5 drops of wine in the test tube.
  3. Rinse the eye dropper carefully (several times) with clean water.
  4. Draw a small amount of distilled water into the eye dropper.
  5. Place 10 drops of distilled water in the test tube.
  6. Place one Clinitest tablet in the test tube; the contents of the test tube will begin to boil. Do not shake test tube.
  7. When the boiling stops, wait 15 seconds, gently shake the test tube to mix the contents, and then read the sugar content by comparing the color of the liquid to the colors on the chart.
  8. Rinse the eye dropper and the test tube thoroughly with clean water before storage for next use.

If you are fairly sure the wine has more than 2% residual sugar but less than 5%, use the 2-Drop Method, which is the same as above except that 2 drops of wine are added to the test tube instead of 5 (step 2) and you use the color comparison chart for the 2-Drop Method.

Alternatively, you can separately mix an equal amount of wine and water, use the 2-Drop Method using 2 drops of that liquid, and at the end double the numeric value. For example, suppose you mixed 10 drops each of wine and water and used 2 drops of that mixture for the 2-Drop Method. Suppose your color corresponded to 3% on the 2-Drop Method color chart. Double the result and you wine has about 6% residual sugar. Just remember, this method does not yield as accurate a result as the other two methods do.

Sinking Hydrometer

Every once in a while someone writes to say their hydrometer sank in the finished wine and they cannot read the scale because it is entirely under the wine. It's happened to me before, too.

The average double- or triple-scale hydrometer measures density from a low of 0.990 to a high of 1.150 or 1.170. If your starting or original gravity (o.g.) is higher than 1.170, your yeast might not be able to expel the two byproducts of fermentation -- alcohol and CO2 -- in which case your yeast will float to the top and probably die. You may want to make a wine that is 22% alcohol, but at least add the sugar in stages and allow the yeast to actually make it.

Because ethyl alcohol has a specific gravity of about 0.787 and distilled water has a specific gravity of 1.000, every percent of alcohol in your wine will lower the finished gravity (f.g.) a little more below 1.000. When your wine exceeds the most liberal allowances for a table wine (14.5% ABV), it drops off the hydrometer scale made for normal people. That means the hydrometer sinks below 0.990 and you haven't a clue what to do. The answer is buy a "narrow range hydrometer," also known as a "finishing hydrometer." These cost quite a bit more than a regular wine and beer hydrometer, but they measure from 0.980 to 1.020. You can measure your 22% ABV wine and then sweeten it until you can stomach it and measure that, too.

You can get these at the better homebrew and winemaking shops. The one listed below carries them, and they charge about half of what I paid for mine.

October 12th, 2008

Ken Payton's intro to Part 2 of his interview with me at Reign of Terrior was a bit embarrassing. Overall, however, I thought the interview went well. I sure got a lot of email about it. Thank you one and all for your kind words.

Our house is just about ready to start it's transition to normality, although I image it will be months before that actually occurs. The whole interior has been painted and the new carpet is in. All I await is the final crew to come in and replace the baseboards and the painter to do a little touch-up work where the carpenters got a little wild. Then and only then can I move furniture back against the walls and start emptying the dozens of boxes in the garage into the cabinets, chests, closets, bookcases, desk drawers, etc. It will be so nice to have my references once again arranged to my way of thinking in the bookcases of my study.

A Useful Tool

Thanks to a wine forum post, I recently downloaded a cool utility, the HP Smart Web Printing. It allows you to build documents for printing from many different web sites. You grab a paragraph here, an image there, a table, a chart, some more paragraphs -- whatever you want. You can then rearrange them, resize them or organize it however you want. I find it handy to grab stuff for reference without having to grab navigation bars, web ads, or other extraneous material.

If this sounds like something you are at least curious about, click on the first link below this entry and then and click on the "Play" button to watch a demonstration. The utility is free to download.

What Kind of Tree is This?

I am often asked to identify a vine or bramble or shrub or tree based on a few words of description or a photo or two. A recent forum discussion focused on two photographs of fruit on a tree. There wasn't a scale of any sort to aid us. We didn't know if the fruit we were looking at were 1/4 inch or two inches in diameter. The leaves were not the object of the photos and so were not well presented. After several wild guesses by several people, I jumped in and gave reasons why none of the offered answers could be correct. The people were just not paying attention to detail. One guessed mountain ash. Another guessed currants. As poorly as the leaves were presented, they were visible as single, simple leaves. Mountain ash has a compound leaf. Currant leaves have clear lobes.

There are a number of "keys" out there that can help you in some cases to narrow the possibilities of what the mystery plant may be. For example, the second link following this entry is a "Key to Common Trees of Middle Tennessee." Go to it and it will first ask you if the tree are needle- or scale-like. If so, you go to a key of Gymnosperms (needle-leaf trees). If not, you go to the Angiosperms (broad-leaf trees) where you select whether the tree has compound (pinnate or palmate) or simple leaves. At each decision point, there are pictures to help you easily decide which one to choose. If you answer enough questions, you will identify the tree or eliminate all but a very few. That is the value of keys. They help to unlock the mystery.

Mystery Fruit 1 blank spaceMystery Fruit 2

The photos did not provide enough detail for the key to solve the mystery, but other clues in the written description helped narrow it down. In the end, we thought it was a flowering crabapple.

If you want to find a botanical key for your area, go to Google and explore. I found all of the ones listed below by searching for "key for trees and shrubs +identification". This produced 1,070,000 hits (most of which are not helpful), so you might want to narrow it down some more by expanding the search terms, for example: "key for trees and shrubs +identification +Texas" (that reduces it to 49,500 hits). But you get the idea....


Someone asked if he should have added tannin to a Welch's Concord. I replied that it really depends on his taste in wine. He may want to add a little bit (I do), but he should taste it and decide.

Welch's concentrate is made from the juice, not from the juice fermenting on the skins where a wine's tannin comes from. One might think it's okay as is while another might think it needs just a tad more "bite" than it has. One should let his or her taste buds be the guide.

If one decides that it does need a tannic boost, just remember that a very little bit goes a long way. Chances are that only 1/16th to 1/8th of a teaspoon per gallon will be enough to do the job. Sprinkle the tannin across the bottom of a small wide-mouthed glass or jar, pour a little wine in it, stir to mix, and add that to the main body of your wine. Give it a quick stir and put the airlock on. Resist the temptation to taste it for a few hours. Tannin needs a little time to integrate.

October 24th, 2008

I am very happy to report that my home office is once again functional, even though not even close to what I would call back to normal. But, the computer is 80% back together -- still missing my digital camera's docking station, memory card reader and video cam. I actually fround the latter, but not the cables to connect it to the CPU. The others are in one of dozens of boxes in the garage and back building. But essential functions such as email, internet connectivity (such as it is) and file transfer are now hard wired (I was breaking the system down periodically to make way for work crews to do their thing).

Just as important to me are my references. I am looking at six shelves of books and notebooks -- not perfectly arranged but getting there -- and I have six drawers of other material back where it belongs. If my elation over some sense of normalcy seems curious, I would point out that the house flooded on September 6th and the last of the repairs were completed about an hour ago when the Dish Network technician left after getting two televisions back on-line.

Jalapeño Problem

I received the following: "I just finished a 1 gallon batch of your Jalapeño Wine recipe and I have a question: How do I get the smell out of my primary fermenter? It's a 1 gallon plastic bucket and I've soaked it for a few days now but the smell of the jalapeños remains."

I replied that the essence in jalapeños is oil based, not water based. Get some fresh canola oil or other vegetable oil and swab down the inside of the bucket. Allow to stand a half hour or so -- the vegetable oil will absorb the jalapeño oil -- and then wash with hot water, a degreaser/detergent and more hot water. This should work and I assume it did because I did not hear news to the contrary.

Paper Chromatography

Another person wrote, "I looked up one of your recipes for Cabernet and it said to monitor MLF with chromatography. I am wondering how I go about this as I had not heard of it until I looked at the recipe. I looked up information on the internet but what I found didn't seem to be anything I could do without a biochemistry degree. I you could give me any information on how to perform this test I would greatly appreciate it."

One day I will write an essay on monitoring MLF using paper chromatography, but not today. An excellent, non-technical article by Charles Plant on this very subject is posted on the Vancouver Amateur Winemaker's Association website. Check the links at the end of this entry and refer to it. Another excellent description of the process is an appendix in Jon Iverson's book, Home Winemaking Step by Step.

Paper chromatography test kits can be obtained from the better wine and homebrew shops. I have listed one for you at the end of this entry, but feel free to try your own sources first. The kits are available for under $40. If that is too pricey for you, just inoculate with an MLF culture and wait the indicated period on the instructions of the culture.

Cherry Wine From Pure Juice

A third email caught my attention. "Just picked up from a orchard a 4-gal bucket of cherry juice. The owners make jam with the pulp but after the initial cleaning and depitting they freeze the cherries, then thaw and drain off the first juice released from the cherries and used the pulp and remaining juice for their jams (they say if they use all the juice the jam is just too watery and thin). So they had...20 4-gal buckets of frozen cherry juice. How would you approach this to make wine, as a concentrate?? as a straight juice and not dilute??? Just use your straight cherry wine recipes without the added water?? Just would hate to ruin this with a bad experiment. Any suggestions??"

Well, yes. I suggested he ship the juice to me and I would tell him later what I did. You see, I really have never made cherry wine from pure juice so I am just a bit reluctant to throw together a recipe for the occasion. Instead, I suggested he do what I would do -- test for sugar (with an hydrometer or refractometer) and acid (titration kit), correct as required, add a yeast nutrient and a yeast starter. If the acid is high, add just enough water to get it down below 6 g/L (5.5 to 6 range). Don't shoot for alcohol higher than 11%. It ought to be great.

I think if most of us had the juice, we would make most of our fruit wines as pure as we could. There are some obvious high-acid or intensely flavored fruits that simply would not work well without dilution with water, but most fruits would work with very little dilution. We dilute with water because we usually don't have enough fruit to get enough pure juice and even if we did we would probably press the fruit too hard to get every last drop and the wine wouldn't clear. So we have learned to use just enough fruit to give us the recognizable flavor we want. But the writer has hit the mother lode. Not only does he have pure juice to work with, but it is free run juice at that -- pure and clear. He should be able to produce a wine with a strong "concentration of flavor" (to use the phrase Ben Rotter is so fond of using). If you are not familiar with Ben, you owe it to yourself to visit his website -- it's listed in the left-hand column of this page and the relevant page is referenced below. Unfortunately, it does not appear that Ben has made a cherry wine from pure juice, but then neither have I.

I asked the writer for feedback. I'm sure I'm not the only person who is interested in his finished wine.

October 31st, 2008

Tonight I went looking for a reference I buried in one of my WineBlog entries -- probably in August of this year -- and discovered a total bummer of a development. My entries between July 26th and August 23rd are gone. I checked the server's files and whatever was there is gone. I have no idea how they came to be deleted, but I unknowingly did it.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I don't know how many entries are missing; it could be two, it could be three -- the only one I specifically remember is one featuring a lovely woman near Napa who makes private wine labels and was good enough to share her sources and some techniques. Because I listed the link to her website at the end of that particular entry (as well as links to various papers and inks she uses), I deleted her emails to me that contained the same information. I have no backup file because I simply add the next post to the existing include file and FTP the update over the old one. Somehow, I unwittingly deleted at least one entry -- possibly more -- on my include file and overwrote the posted one when I uploaded it.

If anyone out there happened to print a copy of any WineBlog entry between July 26th and August 23rd 2008 -- even if not that exact one -- I would really appreciate a holler. I can recreate the posting[s] if someone has it, but I really, really, really need a copy of what is missing to do it. If you can rescue me from this nightmare, please email me.

Oh, and I already checked the Internet Archives Wayback Machine. The latest archive they have of my WineBlog, as of this date, is February 4th, 2008. They are about as behind in posting their updates as I am in answering email. Many of you say it to me so I am now saying it to you -- HELP!

No Idea What to Do Next

A new winemaker wrote, "My story begins 3 weeks ago when my wife's uncle who makes his own wine convinced me to try it myself. He showed me where to buy the juice....that's about it. Since then, I have poured my 12 gallons of cabernet, 12 gallons of syrah, 12 gallons of pinot noir and 6 gallons of savignon blanc into fermentation vessels. All were juice, not pressed grapes. Based on the bubblers, the fermentation appears to have stopped. I believe my next step is to rack it, but once I rack it, I don't know what to do next! I would also like to add tannins and oak chips to heighten the taste, but am very hesitant not knowing the particulars. Do you mind providing a little guidance as to what to do next?" Wow! That's 42 gallons of wine sitting there!

I will not make fun of anyone for leaping before they look, especially when an in-law is pressuring you to start a project your knowledge is ill-prepared for. I've done something similar myself in the distant past, so I have some idea where this poor lad is coming from. Unfortunately, I cannot possibly answer his concerns in an email -- it would take a mighty long time to write. So I did the next best thing and wrote, "Please take 20-30 minutes and carefully read the five step-links at The Basic Steps. In there you will see that you rack, wait, rack, wait, and rack again -- as many times as is necessary to get a brilliantly clear wine. When you rack the first time, add potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite in prescribed amounts (1/2 teaspoon per gallon and 1/4 teaspoon per 5 gallons, respectively). I suggest waiting 30-45 days between first and second racking. Most of the yeast will fall out as lees during that period and the wine should be quite clear -- not brilliant, but clear. After the second racking, wait a full 45 days. You will probably have a light dusting of dead yeast on the bottom. Rack and wait 30 days. Check the bottom with a flashlight. If another dusting is evident, wait the full 45 days and rack again. Usually three rackings are enough, but I've often racked as many as five times. You rack as long as the wine throws lees.

"You can add tannin anytime. Place a small amount of powdered grape tannin (1/4 teaspoon per gallon) and a pinch of potassium metabisulfite in a mason jar and siphon a half-cup of wine into it. Put on the lid on tight and shake to fully integrate. Add wine to the bulk and stir with a plastic rod or wooden dowel (sanitized, of course). Wait an hour and taste, then decide if it needs more. If it does, I would add no more than 1/8 teaspoon per gallon. When it has enough, every grain above that amount will be too much and will be tasted. Proceed gradually.

"You can add oak dust, oak beans or cubes, or oak essence (liquid). Put the solids in nylon knee-high ladies' stockings with a few sanitized glass marbles, tie it closed and work it carefully into the narrow neck of the carboy. I tie it with quilting thread and leave a long piece attached, which hangs outside the carboy when I replace the bung/airlock. It makes it easier to get it out. Oaking takes a while, so you might want to wait until the racking is over so you can leave the oak in 2-4 months (depends on what you like taste-wise) without having to disturb it. Just let it age a while on the oak, remove the oak, and let it age some more. If you use the liquid essence, you only need to age it."

Wow -- 42 gallons. That's a nice problem to have.

Another First-Timer

Another email asked the "What next?" question. "My husband and I have decided to try our hand at winemaking since we love drinking it so much. He is a lieutenant in the Air Force and has to travel quite often so we wanted a hobby we could enjoy doing together when he is home. I came across your website while researching home winemaking methods. Do you have any suggestions of what type of wine would be best to make this time of year? Its good to see that you are a Texas winemaker. We were both born and raised in Texas and my aunt and uncle actually live in Pleasanton." What a small world.

I wrote, "You ask a difficult question because you haven't told me where you are right now, whether you wanted to try a fruit wine or grape wine first, whether you have any winemaking equipment right now or not, etc. So, let me just throw out some suggestions and if these do not suit your situation or desires you can simply reject them, but at least offer me some feedback so I can narrow my focus. Right now the possibilities are from almond wine to zucchini wine, with everything else in between.

"More than likely you were thinking grape wine, but a lot of winter fruit are being made into wines right now (persimmon, apple, pumpkin, cranberry, etc.). With few exceptions, grapes have been harvested by now, but you can obtain frozen crushed grapes or grape juice in 5-gallon buckets from specialty suppliers or grape wine kits from any homebrew shop in the country. You can also buy canned grape concentrate and even frozen grape concentrates at the supermarket. I have several friends who only make wine from Welch's 100% Frozen Grape Concentrate -- and they win blue ribbons with it. So you have to decide what you want to do. If you choose a kit wine (go to any shop listed at Winemaking and Homebrew Shops..." and look at what they have, but DO find the one closest to you while you're at it), let me just say you get what you pay for. A $39 or $49 kit will make 5 or 6 gallons of jug wine; a $79 or $89 kit will make a very good wine, and a $119 (on up) will make an excellent wine if you can read and follow instructions.

"I prefer that people learn to make wine from scratch, but that neither suits everyone's temperament nor fits everyone's conditions -- kits are more practical if you live in an apartment.

"But even with a kit, you need to make an investment in a minimal amount of equipment. The most expensive thing will be the carboy -- either 3, 5 or 6 gallons, depending on the kit you select. My first carboy cost $6; today they are 4 to 6 times that amount.

"When you walk into a homebrew / winemaking shop and say you want to start making wine, they are going to do their best to sell you everything but the kitchen sink. Don't fall for it. Buy only what you need and that will vary greatly depending on the kind of wine you are going to make. Kits contain all the ingredients but none of the equipment. Many shops package equipment into "starter kits" that contain all the supplies and equipment you will need (and a lot you won't) but none of the ingredients. Buy only what you need when you need it. For example, if you are making a 6-gallon kit wine you will need at least an 8-gallon primary (a food-grade plastic bucket with or without lid [you can cover it with a very clean towel or two sheets of plastic wrap]), a 6-gallon carboy (could cost up to $40 -- just shop the web for pricing competition), a 6-foot length of 3/8-inch clear plastic tubing to rack (siphon) the wine with, an ounce of potassium metabisulfite (meh-tuh-by-sul-fyte) to sanitize everything with (a little goes a long ways), a bung (rubber stopper with a hole drilled in it) to fit the carboy, and airlock (specify a "bubbler" style airlock) to force into the bung, and a wine kit with all the ingredients. A little later, you will need 30 wine bottles, 30 corks and a corker, but that's later -- and, if you talk to the manager of a good steak house you can get the wine bottles free (just soak and scrape the labels off and sanitize them before using).

"On the other hand, if you have a couple of glass 1-gallon apple cider jugs laying around, you can go to the supermarket and buy some frozen blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, etc. and make a 1-gallon batch of fruit wine (I have over 400 1-gallon recipes on my site). It isn't rocket science. Hell, the Sumerians did it, so you certainly can too. Let it be an adventure, but have fun doing it."

When I write something like this, I always fear it will come off as sounding condescending, but she read it in the spirit in which it was actually written -- even provided me contact information on the aunt and uncle here in Pleasanton. I like to help people get started, but there is so little time in each day and so many emails I fear I will never get to....

Milky Wine, Bleached Wine

I frequently get frantic pleas for help because a perfectly clear juice turned milky a couple of days after adding yeast, or a dark wine lost its color after adding Campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite.

If you are not aware of this, you need to be -- the number of yeast cells in that little sachet of dry wine yeast will multiply several hundreds of times. Indeed, the density of yeast in a vigorously fermenting must can reach 150,000,000 (that's 150 million) cells per mL of liquid. They alone will change the opacity of the liquid, but when each of them periodically emits a microscopic molecule of CO2 possessing near- refractive qualities while submerged, the hue itself shifts toward white and looks "milky." This condition will disappear when the yeast die-off wholesale.

As for the "bleaching" caused by the addition of sulfur dioxide to the must, this is a perfectly normal and well understood phenomenon, although a tiny bit of uncertainty may linger as to which cation or ion is actually affected in which exact way. But that is a nice-to-know -- not a must-know -- technicality when all you want to do is make good wine. We don't really need to understand the electromagnetic spectrum to operate a television set, so we can similarly make wine without knowing every involved chemical reaction. But it is useful to know that the effect is more pronounced on low acid wine and less pronounced as acidity increases and/or pH decreases. The explanation is purely chemical and beyond my layman's true understanding, but any good book on wine chemistry will acknowledge (if not completely explain) it should you feel a need to know more. It is the anthocyanins that are affected by the SO2. The decoloration slowly reverses, but some intensity may be lost in the process. That is one reason I tend to make my reds a bit more acidic than the widely held standard of 5.0 to 5.5 grams of titratable acid per liter.

And with that I shall call it a night. Happy Halloween, y'all.

November 3rd, 2008

My announcement on Halloween night that I had lost any blog entries I made between July 26th and August 23rd and asking anyone who had copied them to email me paid off.

I want to thank the gentleman who sent me the lost entry, and yes, there was only the one I was looking for. I want very much to reveal who it is, but have to wait to hear from him first. I have revealed names in the past and upset people. Anyway, if you had not previously read the entry of the woman near Napa who makes private labels, please take a look at the entry for August 3rd, 2008.

Potassium Metabisulfite vs. Potassium Bisulfite

I have received the following type of email many times and usually give a rather short answer because the long one just requires too much thought. This time I went ahead and gave it a few paragraphs, but realized I really don't trust myself to give the long answer. Here's the incoming: "As far as sanitizing goes, is there a functional difference between potassium metabisulfite and potassium bisulfite? I was sold 'metabisulfite' but the bag was labeled "bisulfite" and the contents did not reek of the typical sulfur dioxide. It was a weak sulfur dioxide. Should I return it?"

My reply: "Unless you did well in chemistry, you might not follow this.

"Potassium metabisulfite (K2S2O5) is the pyro form of potassium sulfite and used to be called potassium pyrosulfite. Looked at another way, the ortho or aqueous form of the salt is potassium bisulfite, also known as potassium hydrogen bisulfite (KHSO3). When the H2O is driven from the latter by heating, the salt changes molecularly into potassium metabisulfite.

"But it really is difficult to detect one from the other when in solution. In fact, potassium metabisulfite in solution essentially is potassium bisulfite and exerts a strong reducing effect.

"The H2O in the ortho or aqueous form (potassium bisulfite) is not the water used in hydration, but an actual molecular bonding of hydrogen and oxygen that results in a different molecular formula, name and compound. So, in their pure, dry forms, potassium metabisulfite is a distinctly different chemical from potassium bisulfite, with distinctly different properties and formula and molecular structure. The pyro (or meta) form has more of the ortho acid anion than the original ortho acid form does.

"But, again, once they are put into water and are allowed to rehydrate, they are back to the original starting ortho acids or their corresponding anions and are indistinguishable. And if that be the case (you might ask), should you prefer one over the other? I think the answer is yes. The major difference between the two is that you get more sulfite per gram with metabisulfite than with bisulfite, and that is reason enough for me.

"As for the weak sulfur dioxide you experienced, both dry forms each has a shelf life once opened to the air, and while you have no way to know when it was originally opened for repackaging I would return it to the vender for a refund just the same -- if for no other reason than that you bought one compound and were delivered another. No matter how close they are, in dry form they are not the same thing"...and any vender worth his salt will not sell you one and deliver the other.

The Carboy Lifter

I have twice mentioned Martin Benke's Carboy Lifter on previous blog entries and receive emails from many who have purchased them. Thus I was not surprised when Martin's name appeared in the subject line of an email. The message said, "After displaying my carboy lifter at my LHBC meeting, I was asked where to buy one. Martin's e-mail address came back undeliverable. How can he be contacted?"

Martin can be somewhat difficult to reach these days, but not impossible. One of the problems is that he and Lesley recently purchased a "get-away" home on Lake Corpus Christi and are in the process of "renovating" it, but fishing keeps interfering with good intentions. I can identify with that. Be that as it may be, he can be reached. Try "martinbenke[at]yahoo[dot]com" or call (210) 535-7105 and be prepared to leave a message and practice patience.

If you are not familiar with the Carboy Lifter, navigate to the September 29th, 2007 entry in the WineBlog archives. If you make 6-gallon batches the Carboy Lifter will save your back, and if your back is in the same shape as mine that may well apply to 5-gallon carboys too.

November 8th, 2008

I spent over an hour on this entry, only to lose it to a 1-second power loss that also required that I reset six clocks, one answering machine, one digital thermostat, and turn off one television set and two touch-lamps that always come on with a power surge. Scariest development of all is that it appears that the surge protector for the computer and peripherals will no longer protect my equipment. I think I have replaced this protection at least six times so far in 2008. I really can't rely on Reliant Energy, my electrical provider, but I have a contract that guarantees my rate....

Surge protectors are actually cheap insurance when you think about what they actually protect. But there are at least four other cheap insurance policies you all should have for your computer. The first three can be and often are bundled together -- a computer firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software. The fourth -- anti-spam software -- is an absolute Godsend if it does what it is supposed to do and mine does. Heck, I looked in my Spam folder at 6:15 this morning and I had just received two emails from myself and one from my wife. All three had a male enhancement solution for me. Well, you know you have a problem when your wife is trying to sell you this kind of stuff....

I'm not pushing any product, but I've used a free security suite for years and a commercial anti-spam product for several months -- I think it cost less than $40 -- that almost never misses, and if it does I click on the email, identify it as spam, and I never see the likes of it again. If you don't have an anti-virus program, you will get a virus. It's only a matter of time. Get smart, get protected and set the automatic update for the program's virus definition files to daily. If you don't update it, you're going to get a virus....

Campden Tablets

I get an occasional inquiry about Campden tablets and usually send a short, standardized answer explaining what they are and what they do. If someone needs more than this, I send them to Ben Rotter's excellent essay, while warning them of a lot of misinformation floating around on the web.

Campden tablets have been around a long time and were originally formulated to deliver a uniform dosage by weight of sodium metabisulfite to an Imperial gallon of wort or must. When the tablet is crushed and dissolved in an acidic liquid (like wine), a predictable amount of the sulfur binds with carbonyls, ketonic acids, sugars, anthocyanins, and other compounds. That which does not bind is free (unbound) sulfur dioxide, a dissolved gas with distinct anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, some anti-yeast, and anti-oxidative qualities. The tablets deliver a stronger dose to the smaller American gallon than to the 4.5-liter Imperial gallon. About the time smaller does were offered for the American market, the U.S. government banned the use of sodium metabisulfite in commercial wines and many home winemakers followed suit and moved away from Campden tablets. They were then offered tablets with potassium metabisulfite as the active ingredient. Because equal amounts of sodium metabisulfite and potassium metabisulfite delivered about 67% and 57% SO2 respectively, there were several doses of sulfites available at the same time and they were neither obvious nor marked to distinguish one from the other. You could be adding anywhere from 45 to 75 ppm of free SO2.

Most local homebrew shops buy Campden tablets in bulk and repackage them in small 25- to 100-tablet lots. They may simply identify them as "Campden Tablets" or may go so far as to actually say which of the salts is the active ingredient, sodium or potassium metabisulfite. What you really want to know is how much free SO2 each tablet delivers at a given pH. I prefer to know the dose at 3.6 pH, although I try to make every one of my wines more acidic than that. If they don't tell you a value, make them call their supplier and find out before you buy the tablets. You have a right to know what you are buying and they have an obligation to tell you. In some states they are required to place that information on the label.

You can use pure potassium metabisulfite instead of the Campden tablets, which are mostly inert binding material. I've discussed this before -- many times, really. Take a look in my archives for the entry of May 5th, 2007; the link is after this entry.

Secondary Roles of Yeast

We all know the primary role we assign to wine yeast is to take a very perishable beverage -- grape or fruit juice -- and rapidly convert it into something much more lasting and stable -- wine. But we know that we can coax the yeast into producing secondary metabolites that affect the organoleptic, or sensory, qualities of wine. I am often asked about these qualities and which yeasts produce them.

The structure and smoothness of a wine in the mouth can be enhanced in several ways, most notable of which is high glycerol production. Several yeast strains excel in this, and if those readers not living in North American will forgive me I am going to talk only of Lalvin yeasts, as Lalvin has introduced a wider selection than any other producer.

  • Lalvin S6Uis unusual in that it is a Saccharomyces uvarum strain, but it also produces 1 to 2 grams per liter more glycerol than other strains.
  • Lalvin Syrah is a Côte du Rhône strain that is a high glycerol producer with good aroma development.
  • Lalvin T73 is a Spanish high glycerol producer that "opens up" warm climate red grapes that might otherwise be considered lacking.
  • Lalvin W15 is a Swiss strain best limited to dry whites and rosés that produces higher levels of glycerol and succinic acid.

Aroma enhancement is always desired, but some yeasts can modify aromas during fermentation by producing higher alcohols, ethyl esters of certain acids and alcohol acetates.

  • Lalvin BA11 is a Portugese isolate that promotes ester formation to intensify aromatic, varietal characteristics and lingering flavors in whites and rosé styles.
  • Lalvin K1-V1116 is well-known for its fresh fruit expression among certain whites due to high ester and acetate production.
  • Lalvin M1 is another high esters producer at higher temperatures for white wines.
  • Lalvin R2 is a Sauternes strain, which says white wines, with good ester production.

Other favorable characteristics, such as color extraction and retention or high malic acic metabolization, can be discovered among the many isolates. One only has to look.

November 11th, 2008

Ninety years ago today, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns fell silent and ended The Great War, the War to End All Wars, World War I. The annual remembrance of this day was and still is celebrated by the countries then involved as Armistice Dar, Remembrance Day, and the Day of Peace. In 1954 President Dwight David Eisenhower signed a law that changed the holiday in the United States from Armistice Day to Veteran's Day in honor of all who served in the uniformed services of the nation. This holiday differs from Memorial Day, which honors those who perished in the service of our country.

In the last few days I received many emails of tribute to the men and women honored by Veterans' Day. Some bore internal expressions and some contained links to posted expressions, but all of the expressions themselves were poignantly written. One I particularly like is posted on a website, linked to below, and was written by a United States Marine Corps chaplain. The man who sent it to me also posted it on a winemaking forum I frequent. I am extremely saddened that a moderator removed it and other moderators agreed with this decision, not for the reasons I originally thought, but for reasons I disagree with nonetheless. I have been reminded that the forum in question has an international membership. Draw your own conclusions. I think a large number of nations can look back and find cause to thank the veterans of this nation, but even if they can't i doubt they would resent us from honoring those who served. The link so removed ended with the oft-quoted verse:

"It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier,
Who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protestor to burn the flag."

As far as I am concerned, that moderator burned the flag. While he or she possesses the right to do so, I have the right to protest that decision and did so vehemently. Having served 28 years in the Army of my country I have earned the right to do this. But what you are reading now is an edited entry. The tribute has been restored on the forum, in the same sub-forum created for both on- and off-topic posts it was originally posted in. I am okay with the outcome.

RSS Feed

I am now providing an rss feed of the WineBlog's contents to those who wish to receive it. There are two ways to do so. First, you can click on the link in the left-hand column, just before Jack's Winemaking Links, that says "Subscribe to Jack Keller's WineBlog"; second, you can scroll down past the left-hand description "Who is Jack Keller?" and enter your email address in the dialog box and then click "Subscribe." A third way is to past http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/rss.xml into your rss reader according to it's own instructions for adding a feed.

Because I just added this feature, I do not have any subscribers yet. Be the first....

Now, on to winemaking.

Pumpkin Wine

Everyone seems to be making pumpkin wine these days and I always get questions for clarification on the pumpkin wine recipe posted on my site. I clarified some issues a little over 3 years ago, but now and done so again. The modified recipe and discussion follow. Just remember, you make this wine now to drink a year from now. I don't want to get any emails four to six months from now saying it tastes bad.

This essentially is Leo Zanelli's recipe and he swears by it. The sugar is high and will produce either an 18% alcohol dry wine or a lower alcohol sweet wine, depending on what yeast you use. If you want the high alcohol, use a high alcohol yeast such as Lalvin K1V-1116 (Montpellier) or Wyeast 3347 (Eau de Vie), both of which can handle the extreme sugar. If you want moderate alcohol but sweet wine, use Red Star Côte des Blancs for 13% alcohol with 5% residual sugar. For slightly less sweet, use Lalvin 71B-1122 (Narbonne), ICV-D47 (Côtes-du-Rhône), Lalvin Simi-White, or White Labs WLP730 Chardonnay White Wine for 14% alcohol and 4% residual sugar, or Lalvin AMH (Assmanshausen), Lalvin BGY (Burgundy), Lalvin CY3079, Lalvin ICV-D80 (Côte Rôtie), or White Labs WLP720 Sweet Mead/Wine for 15% alcohol and 3% residual sugar. Read the yeast descriptors on my site for correct nutrient and temperature requirements for the strain you select. Begin this recipe in the morning so you have time to complete the tasks without having to awaken in the middle of the night.

Pumpkin Wine

  • 5 lbs grated pumpkin flesh
  • 3-1/4 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 oz citric acid
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 6-1/2 pts water
  • wine yeast (see above)

Grate the pumpkin flesh mechanically (recommended) or by hand and set aside. Do NOT place chunks in a blender and attempt to chop them. Bring the water to a boil and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat. Place grated pumpkin flesh in primary and pour boiling water over pumpkin. Allow to cool to room temperature and add finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Cover primary and allow to sit 8-10 hours. Add pectic enzyme and allow to sit overnight. Next morning add citric acid, yeast nutrient, energizer and activated yeast. Cover primary and stir twice daily for three days, submerging "cap" as necessary to keep moist. Pour through a nylon straining bag and let pumpkin drip drain. Transfer to secondary and fit airlock. If you did not recover a full gallon of liquid, wait 5 days and top up as necessary. Rack after two weeks and again after additional 30 days, topping up and refitting airlock each time. Set aside for 3 months and then rack, stabilize, sweeten if desired (unlikely you will need to but...), wait 3 weeks for dead yeast to fall out, and rack into bottles. Set aside to drink next year at Thanksgiving or Christmas. [Adapted from Leo Zanelli's Home Winemaking from A to Z with major modifications by Jack Keller]

30-Day Wine

A reader wrote, "Love your 30-day wine but when I bottle and cork it, I keep blowing corks off. Any ideas?" Well, yes. For starters, use a faster yeast, like Montrachet. Second, you might want to stabilize the wine at the end of the third week. Just put 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate and one finely ground-up Campden tablet in a cup and siphon about 1/2 cup of the wine to it. Stir until completely dissolved and add to the batch. Third, you might want to make this a 45-day wine instead of 30-day. Just wait the extra 15 days before bottling. Personally, I recommend all three. Here's the original recipe, but modify it as just described.

30-Day Wine

"Here is a simple recipe for 30 day wine. Many old hillbillies here in Tennessee still use this one, and wouldn't have it any other way. They don't want any Cabernet, Merlot or Champagne; this is Tennessee, not France. Back during my teens I used to make this, but now grow my own grapes and pick fruits in the wild." SouthernWine

  • 24 oz Welch's frozen concentrated grape juice, thawed
  • 3 cups sugar
  • water to make up one gallon
  • ¼ tsp dry yeast
  • 1 1-gallon glass jug.

Mix all ingredients together well with water filling jug to about an inch below the shoulders. Cover with a clean rag secured with rubber band. Keep in a dark place about 70 degrees. About 2 weeks later replace rag with a good thick piece of plastic wrap. After 30 days from starting date, siphon wine off from sediment in bottom and drink. For a good old "Mad Dog 20/20" type wine, add a pint of cheap blackberry brandy to the mix before drinking. [Recipe by SouthernWine, from rec.crafts.winemaking newsgroup]

Remember, the recipe as published does not incorporate the three suggestions I made at the beginning of this topic, so you would need to integrate them yourself.

November 14th, 2008

I have been criticized for my "outburst" against whatever forum moderator removed the link I mentioned in my last posting. On the other hand, I have received more support than criticism. Thank you all for expressing an opinion either way. Opinions matter, and whether we agree with an opinion or not each person has the right to express one. That is but one of the things our veterans served to guarantee. Censorship is not the expression of opinion, but rather the silencing of opinion. We should resist any and all attempts to silence voices we disagree with lest our own voices fall out of favor and become those they with power would silence.

At the risk of sounding "political," I say, Be not afraid of voices heard in dissent for you can choose to simply stop listening to them, but do be afraid if ever no dissent is heard, for then you will know the free state you once enjoyed has ceased to exist.

And now, on to winemaking....

Pumpkin Wine and Yeast Starter

In my Veterans' Day entry I mentioned much email about pumpkin wine. One of these conveyed a problem I did not share with you, but it concerned a weak, sluggish or stuck fermentation. I wrote back recommending the future use of a yeast starter solution for all the reasons I've listed so many times before, but foremost among them being that you can quickly determine the viability of the yeast you are using. The winemaker then replied that he was sure the yeast were viable as he had started several other successful fermentations using yeast purchased at the same time. And so I replied again that it really would be smart in the future to get in the habit of making a yeast starter solution for each batch of wine. It takes about 3 minutes to prepare one and it accomplishes three things:

(1) You learn real fast if the yeast are viable or not;

(2) By adding a little must to the starter every few hours, you get the yeast conditioned to readily accept the environment you are going to dump them into;

(3) You increase the size of the culture exponentially -- it doubles every two hours -- and so by the time you are ready to add the yeast to the must you have a few hundred to a few thousand times as many yeast cells as when you started and fermentation will kick in fast and furious.

One packet of yeast cells grows approximately like this:

02 hours = 2 packets
04 hours = 4 packets
06 hours = 8 packets
08 hours = 16 packets
10 hours = 32 packets
12 hours = 64 packets
14 hours = 128 packets
16 hours = 256 packets
18 hours = 512 packets
20 hours = 1024 packets
22 hours = 2048 packets
24 hours = 4096 packets

You can see where this is going. It's just a good idea.

Some Problems with Sulfur

Two winemakers have contacted me recently with complaints of the odor of burnt rubber in their wines. The two contacts were very different. One knew nothing related to winemaking that would explain this except perhaps contamination from the new bung. The second did a fine job of diagnosing the problem and analyzing the probable causes. Indeed, his only questions were did he miss anything and can the wine be salvaged? The gulf of difference in knowledge between the two is stark, but I do remember when I first smelled cooked cabbage in a wine -- a symptom quite different from (but nonetheless related to) burnt rubber -- and I headed to the library to see what I could find out about it.

The problem for both writers stems from sulfur. Sulfur can be both friend and foe. Sulfur dioxide and metabisulfite protect our wine. When sulfur is reduced -- left to chemically react with other elements in the absence of oxygen -- it can create volatile and often foul-smelling compounds ruinous to wine. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which can exude the stench of rotten eggs, is often mentioned as the reduction villain of sulfur, but it is but one of many and by no means the worse.

Let me share with you something I did not realize until a lab technician brought it to my attention one day. "Where oxygen often creates a compound we desire," he began, "if you replace the oxygen with sulfur you get something quite odorous. For example, water is H2O. Replace the oxygen with sulfur and you have H2S or hydrogen sulfide. If you take methanol, which is CH 3OH, and replace the oxygen with sulfur, you get methyl mercaptan (also known as methanethiol) or CH3SH. This is rank stuff and can smell like stagnant ditch water, rotten cabbage, burnt rubber, garlic, or onion. It's intentionally added to propane and natural gas so you can smell them.

"Similarly, if you take ethanol -- C2H5OH -- and replace the oxygen with sulfur you get ethyl mercaptan (also known as ethanethiol) or C2H5SH. Ethyl mercaptan can smell like burnt matches, burnt rubber, garlic or onion." He said much more than this, but this is all I know I can cite accurately.

In truth, not all mercaptans are foul-smelling. Different ones convey smells like blackcurrant, roasted coffee, passion fruit, gooseberry, and grapefruit.

In addition to hydrogen sulfide and the various mercaptans, there are also sulfides and disulfides. Like mercaptans, these can contribute both desirable and ruinous aromas to wines. The odyssey of the formation and evolution of the various mercaptans, sulfides and disulfides is far too complex (and boring) to examine here, but there are many good, albeit long, discussions on the internet. I have referenced three in the links following this entry (the first three) and another on the removal of H2S from wine.

We will revisit this subject and explore it further at a later time. But at the moment the hour is very late and I need some sleep.

November 17th, 2008

Today I was reminded of two things. The first was the following quote from the opening paragraph of my last WineBlog entry: "Opinions matter, and whether we agree with an opinion or not each person has the right to express one. That is but one of the things our veterans served to guarantee. Censorship is not the expression of opinion, but rather the silencing of opinion. We should resist any and all attempts to silence voices we disagree with lest our own voices fall out of favor and become those they with power would silence." The second thing I was reminded of is my entry of October 2nd, 2007 that began: "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." The writer then asked, "So is it okay to censor your own site but not okay for others to censor their own?"

First, I think there is a huge difference between removing hateful name-calling and removing a tribute to veterans. If someone cannot see this, then that person has a problem. Second, the entry in Ocober 2007 went on to say, "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." I think that is pretty clear.

Third, the forum that removed the link to the tribute to veterans is also privately owned, but the knowledge and opinions of the owner are not at all what that site is about whereas they are what my site is about. The forum survives on the comments of many members, while my guestbook is but a minor part of my site and receives very little readership. The forum has rules and guidelines for forum participation. One of those rules is: "...we will not tolerate rudeness, insulting posts, personal attacks, derogatory comments, racial or religious slurs or purposeless inflammatory posts. Be respectful of others at all times." That pretty much agrees with my own sense of civil communication. Another rule of the forum is: "Due to their volatile nature, discussion involving political, religious, or other sensitive topics not related to wine making will be locked and/or deleted. This is done to keep tempers in check and everyone civil. The moderator team will not delete a topic without discussion among themselves." The owner of that forum contacted me to ask if it was his forum I spoke of because he had no knowledge of such a post being deleted. I can only infer that one of his moderators acted outside his stated rules -- meaning the owner did not censor his own site -- but that isn't my point. My point is that a tribute to those who served to guarantee one the freedom to be a forum moderator should not be deleted because the moderator doesn't appreciate their service.

My deletion of intentionally inflammatory language is not at all analogous to what I protested. If you think it is, you need to take a semester of Logic. Now, I very much wish to leave this topic and move on to winemaking....

Campden with a Capital "C"

Somewhere I read or heard that the Campden in Campden tablets is always capitalized because it represents the name of the chemist who formulated them. I believe I repeated that claim in writing, but cannot find where I did so. Several months ago I read an alternative claim to the origin of the name and have been trying to confirm it ever since. I have finally received some authoritative information.

Campden Fruit Preserving Solution brouchure Last week I received a communiqué with three attachments from the librarian of Campden Brewing Research International, an affiliate of Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, UK. Campden tablets began as Campden Fruit Preserving Solution somewhere around 1921-1923. Initial work was administered by the Department of Agriculture and Horticulture, University of Bristol, at the Fruit and Vegetable Preservation Research Station at Chipping Campden. The goal was a method to preserve fresh fruit as an alternative to the more usual method of heat treatment. Campden Solution was the answer and was later made more widely available and therefore more widely known in the form of Campden tablets, which delivered a consistent and predictable dose of sodium or potassium metabisulfite.

The authors of the Campden Fruit Preserving Solution pamphlet do, of course, give precise instructions for its use, including cooking the preserved fruit before use. Thus, the normal use would be in jams , pies or fruit-filled pastries. As many winemakers already know, "The fruit will lose colour, but this will in a large measure return during the cooking process." The Campden Solution preserves the whole fruit. "The only fruits which have so far yielded less satisfactory results have been gooseberries and black and red currants."

I am still seeking information on the inert binding material that composes most of the bulk of a Campden tablet and will report on that when discovered.

Potassium Sorbate

An astute reader noticed that somewhere I mentioned adding potassium sorbate as a contributor to wine's organic stability -- the other contributor being potassium metabisulfite -- and then mentioned that the active inhibitor in the first compound is sorbic acid. He than asked if it would be better to simply add sorbic acid directly and forget the potassium sorbate. The simple answer is no; use the potassium sorbate because it is much more soluble in wine than is sorbic acid, and yet once in solution it is nearly 74% sorbic acid. But, as in most things having to do with wine, the whole picture is far more complicated than that...and far more interesting, too.

Sorbic acid was isolated in 1859, but its antimicrobial and antifungal properties were not recognized until the 1940s. Soon thereafter it was accepted in the food industry as a preservative. France allowed it in wine in the 1950s, but it was not until 1970 that it and its potassium salt were allowed in wine in the United States. The maximum amount allowed by regulation far exceeds any amount actually required by cultured wine yeasts, but it has been established that it has a selective efficacy against wild yeast species and strains. In other words, if you permit a natural fermentation and wish to bottle a sweet wine, you will have to find some method other than "K2 stabilization" (potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite) to ensure your corks do not pop or, worse, your bottles explode. In fairness, you may not have a problem, but then again....

Sorbic acid's antimicrobial efficacy increases in its undissociated form. It has a pKa of 4.75, meaning it dissociates/undissociates 50% at pH 4.75; undissociation increases as the pH of the wine decreases. At pH 3.50 it is 95% undissociated and at pH 3.00 it is 98%. The efficacy also increases with increased ethanol. According to Emile Peynaud (Knowing and Making Wine, English translation, 1984), the alcoholic content is more important than the pH because wine will always be acidic enough to ensure adequate efficacy. He recommends the dose of sorbic acid be based on the alcoholic content of clarified wine, with 150 mg/L in a 10% alcohol by volume (abv) wine, 100 mg/L in 12% abv wine and 50 mg/L in 14% abv wine. While I am confident these numbers are correct, I continue to use 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate per gallon of wine regardless of pH or abv. If I were making tens of thousands of gallons of wine per year, I have no doubt I would calculate a more precise number and then add a fudge-factor for insurance.

The dose I use, in conjunction with an aseptic dose of potassium metabisulfite, will not produce off-odors. I point this out because too much potassium sorbate can result in the formation of ethyl sorbate, which is unpleasant. Also, the sulfite dose ensures that lactic acid bacteria cannot survive to contaminate the wine with 2-ethoxyhexa-3,5 diene, which imparts a noticeable and offensive geranium odor.

It is also important to know that potassium sorbate's solubility declines with temperature. In other words, if you are going to cold stabilize a wine, add the potassium sorbate to the wine before placing it in the chiller. Because cold stabilization usually lasts at least two weeks, this accomplishes two things. First, it gets the sorbic acid in the wine at least two weeks sooner than if added after cold stabilization. Second, the potassium released from the sorbate salt can react with excess tartaric acid and precipitate out in the chiller as potassium tartrate crystals.

Potassium sorbate can be purchased as a fine powder or in prilled form -- small, elongated granules. Only once in 40 years have I encountered the powdered form, and that was when I ordered it from a scientific supply catalog. I believe the only kind you will purchase from homebrew shops is the prilled form, and it dissolves more easily if reduced back to a powder. To accomplish this, I measure the total amount I need to add and place it and the appropriate amount of potassium metabisulfite I need in a small mortar and then use a pestle to easily grind it into a powder. Just lay the pestle on the granules and roll the tip over them -- do not strike them with an up-and-down striking action or you will scatter them all over your work area. I then add 2-3 tablespoons of hot water from the tap to the mortar and stir until the powder is dissolved. I then wipe a glass rod with a folded paper towel saturated with 10% sulfite solution, insert the rod into the carboy, and slowly stir while adding the K2 solution. The powder dissolves more easily than the prilled sorbate, the hot tap water dissolves the powder more easily than cold water or wine would, and stirring while I add it to the wine helps integrate it quickly before I place the carboy in the chiller.

Before I conclude the subject, I should at least offer you the formula for calculating how much potassium sorbate to use should you decide to follow Peynard's assertion that alcohol is the prime determinate as to how much one actually needs to add. It is up to you to measure the very precise numbers involved. Because potassium sorbate contains about 74% sorbic acid (73.97% to be exact), we can build in a tiny insurance factor by equating the desired amount of sorbic acid in milligrams per liter (mg/L) to that amount of potassium sorbate x (times) 1.35. In other words, if we have a 12% wine and want to add 100 mg/L of sorbic acid (see above), we would need 100 mg/L x 1.35 or 135 mg/L of potassium sorbate. For a gallon of wine, multiply 135 mg/L x 3.785 L (1 gallon) and you will need 511 mg of potassium sorbate. That is slightly less than 1/4 teaspoon of potassium sorbate, but because Peynaud dismisses pH as less significant I am not altogether sure this is enough. I will continue to add my 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.

And that is probably more than you wanted to know about sorbic acid....

November 22nd, 2008

I don't usually plug commercial sites -- mainly because I don't want to set a precedent. However, I received a nice email from Pauline at Primrose Products and she said all the right things -- including offering my readers a 10% discount just by entering wine07lol as the coupon code at checkout should they decide to buy anything. I will not be renumerated in any way if you buy anything. I swear. The site is called Fun Wine Gifts and the link to it follows today's entry -- just look below. And if you have a commercial site, this is not a precedent.

I have to admit I have played the Winerd Wine Tasting Game and Wine-opoly, and I have The Wine Deck. What I don't have is an Albert Wine Stein T-Shirt (hint, hint -- size L). Check it out and have fun. Christmas is only...GOOD HEAVENS! I've got to go shopping!

Setting Things Right (I Hope)

In about a week I am going to fall off the face of the earth for a little more than a month as far as email and this blog is concerned. I will be spending time with my wife, who has been in California restoring a house for the past 14 months, so forgive me if I choose to spend my time with her rather than the computer. I hope to get one or two more WineBlog entries in before then, but before I drop out, I very much want to put a controversial episode behind me.

I went back and edited my November 11th entry. I had three reasons for doing it but not necessarily in the order listed. Firstly, it was pointed out that I had certain guestbook entries removed from my site because they contained inflammatory name-calling, and yet my original November 11th entry contained a name-calling rant. I am ashamed to admit that it did. I have since cleaned it up. Secondly, a chain of events and reasoning was explained to me by one of the moderators who participated in them and, although I disagree, I understand them. Thirdly, a thread honoring veterans was subsequently allowed on that same sub-forum; whether it is the same one that was removed I cannot say, but I am hopeful this sequence will not be repeated next year. I could be wrong, but if so I will fight the battle again.

I sincerely hope this episode is behind us. There are very good, very dedicated, very honorable men and women out there serving their countries. It makes no difference to me what country it might be. If they serve with honor, for an honorable cause, and with due diligence exercised to spare innocent non-combatants unnecessary suffering, I am one who can honor their service. I would hope you could too.

Reducing Acidity

I get the occasional email about an overly acidic must -- usually involving wild grapes, pineapple, certain plums, or certain citric fruit. Rarely, someone adds an acid and overdoes it. In either case, acid reduction is usually necessary. If excessively high TA or excessively low pH is measured in a fruit juice, one can simply dilute the juice with water until corrected. That is the main reason we dilute certain musts, although economy also is high on the list of reasons. But if you have a good reason for not wanting to dilute your must, then you have to do it another way. In most situations, that means adding potassium bicarbonate to the must.

The normal dose for lowering acidity using potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3) by 0.1% (1 g/L) is to add 0.9 g/L or 3.4 grams per U.S. gallon (4 grams per Imperial gallon). If the acid is tartaric, the result of this addition can become an entry in a junior high school science fair. The KHCO 3 reacts with the tartaric acid to form three new substances -- potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar), carbon dioxide gas, and plain water. The potassium bitartrate will eventually precipitate as crystals and the wine can be racked off it, but the CO2 manifests itself immediately as an excess of foam-forming bubbles that can produce a volcanic eruption if confined in a carboy. For that reason I recommend performing this addition in a larger than required primary or in a carboy with plenty of ullage -- remove a gallon of must and treat the remainder, then slowly add the removed gallon. I also perform this addition with the primary or carboy in the sink or bathtub just in case. And if you were keeping track of the above, you might be wondering about the water created in the reaction. Not to worry; we are only speaking of less than a drop of water in a 5-gallon carboy.

I offer you a word about potassium bicarbonate. You can buy it quite cheaply if you shop for potassium bicarbonate. Some venders package it as "acid reduction crystals" or some such thing and charge twice what it should cost. I don't harbor any ill-feeling toward these vendors for trying to increase their profits, but I feel it my duty to warm you of this practice. If you are ordering on-line, the amount saved by ordering generic potassium bicarbonate will probably pay the shipping costs. Shop around. Prices differ widely. Explore the listing of winemaking/homebrew shops following today's entry.

Winterberries, Bearberries and Other Strange Beasts

I still get a fair number of requests for wine recipes using winterberries, crowberries, bearberries, pokeberries, beautyberries, etc., and I was even sent a photo of some "unidentified berries" that clearly were attached to poison ivy. If you know the berry well enough to identify it by name when you see it and you know my site well enough to have found my email address, then you know enough to use the search engine on my site or Google on the web to see if a wine recipe exists or if the berry is even edible. If I haven't published a recipe for it by now, there is probably a reason.

Many of you have a pink to maroon pamphlet named Winemaker's Recipe Handbook by Raymond Massaccesi (his name is on the inside of the front cover). At the very back of the pamphlet is a list of fruit and berries he identifies as "other common winemaking materials and fruits." This list is cited often when I am asked for certain recipes. If I had them, I would have posted them (except for winterberry, which my research indicates may be slightly toxic to poisonous, depending on the species or variety). I still hope to make bearberry (kinnikinnik) and beauty berry (French mulberry) wines one day, but do not have access to the first and don't get enough of the second from my one plant for wine. I was shipped some crowberries, but they arrives in very bad shape; of the few I salvaged, I was not impressed by their flavor.

There are so many berries out there that are easily identifiable and clearly edible that I see no real reason to fool with obscure or questionable ones. However, if you know a berry or fruit to be edible and safe, then please go to my page on Making Wines from Wild Plants. It contains a section on adapting known recipes to fruit or berries you can't fins a recipe for. Just be sure the fruit ore berry is safe first.

November 25th, 2008

I received an email from a reader who was genuinely concerned that in my last WineBlog entry I warned against using a berry which I elsewhere posted a recipe for a wine from the same berry. This would be disconcerting if it were true, but fortunately it isn't.

The berry I warned against in my last entry was the winterberry (botanical name: Ilex verticillata), while the berry I posted a recipe for is wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), also known as teaberry. My mistake was not identifying the winterberry by both its common name and its botanical name, which would have made it clearer that the two are unrelated. But I very much appreciate the reader's concern that I might have made a mistake that could cause someone injury. Toxins should not be ignored unless you have good reason to, as I will point out later in this entry.

Jalapeño Wine Barbeque Sauce

A reader confessed he shared a few of my passions, plus developing his own barbeque sauces. I replied that I've made a few sauces too, and in fact make several wines as bases for them. One thing led to another and I agreed to discuss barbeque every once in a while if there is a wider interest. Let's face it, wine and barbeque go well together.

I do not consider myself a barbeque sauce chef by any means, but I do like to experiment. The reader admitted he does too, playing with such ingredients as whole seed and various other mustards, smoked paprika, fresh coffee grounds, finely shaved cocoa, shaved nutmeg, a shot of Jack Daniels, etc. I have not gone in several of those directions, but have used instant coffee, shaved nutmeg and Jack Daniels in sauces before. Anyway, here is one of my concoctions using jalapeno wine, which I used to baste pork baby back ribs.

Jalapeño-Orange Barbeque Sauce

  • 1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 c. molasses
  • 1/4 c. coconut oil
  • 1/2 c. jalapeno wine
  • 1/4 c. wine vinegar
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. finely minced sweet onion
  • 1 tbsp. lemon seasoned salt
  • 1 tbsp. dry Chinese mustard
  • 1 tbsp. orange marmalade
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. finely grated orange peel
  • 1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. finely ground dried chipotle
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Combine all ingredients except wine in a covered bowl and refrigerate 4-6 hours. Move to saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer. Cook about 20 minutes, uncovered. Stir in wine and use immediately. Store any unused sauce in the refrigerator, covered.

If anyone is interested in this subject, please let me know (an entry in the guestbook on my home page would suffice). If you have an original barbeque sauce or rub recipe you want to share, send it to me (but not before mid-January) and I promise I will eventually read it. If it catches my fancy I might include it here on the WineBlog. It will probably stand a better chance if it contains a homemade wine, but I won't discriminate.

Alfalfa, Barberries and Holly

I have to admit I was somewhat surprised when asked about the suitability of alfalfa flowers for wine, as I've never really thought of them as a potential base. I was also asked about barberry and holly berries. I actually had to hit the books on two of these, but while I was at it I went ahead a looked into the third and learned something.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is widely grown worldwide as forage for cattle, and alfalfa sprouts are a popular green served fresh, steamed or stir-fried. Alfalfa tablets, powders and tea are also consumed. Edwin Belt, in his book "Plants Unsafe for Winemaking," warns that all parts of the alfalfa plant contains a mild poison. In fact, the substance is a saponin, a potentially harmful substance that attacks red blood cells but is poorly absorbed by the human body. Belt observes it is better to be safe than sorry. Personally, I will pass on making wine from alfalfa flowers, but because their toxin is unlikely to cause one harm in doses typical to winemaking one could use them.

There are dozens of species of barberry (genus Berberis) and closely related mahonia (genus Mahonia). Belt considers them "doubtful" because of their acidity, but I have tried three species and found them okay - not fantastic, but okay. On the other hand, I have tasted a couple of superb wines from these berries, so any failing was undoubtedly mine. Just be mindful of their acidity.

All species of holly (genus Ilex) produce toxic berries. It is well documented that they can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stupor. In my last WineBlog entry I mentioned a member of the holly family (winterberry -- Ilex verticillata) as being toxic enough not to recommend it for winemaking. Another species, commonly called Yaupon Holly (a fine specimen of which is growing in my front yard), sports the official name (Ilex vomitoria). Need I say more?

A good website for checking out plants for edibility is "Plants for a Future." Remember, if you can identify the plant it is helpful to refer to it by both its common and its botanical name. This helps eliminate any confusion, since several plants often share the same common name in different regions.

November 27th, 2008

This is the fourth Thursday in November, the day we in the United States celebrate our national holiday of Thanksgiving. In Canada, a similar holiday is celebrated on the second Monday in October. Despite the financial crisis that has affected all of us in one way or another and spread throughout the world, I am sure that most of us are thankful for the satisfaction of our needs. But the day is certainly marred by the tragedy playing out in Mumbai, India. I am sure that millions of people join me in praying for the safety and welfare of the innocent victims of that seemingly senseless situation.

Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate a bountiful harvest and give thanks to our maker for sufficient staples to make it through the coming winter. The politically correct insist it is a "secular holiday with religious origins." Technically, that is correct, but the vast majority of us do not give thanks to the state for our bounty but rather to God. You may deny Him if you wish, but please do not insist that I surrender my faith so that you can feel better about your absence of belief.

Let us leave it at that and move on to winemaking....

Making A Concentrate

A reader wrote about "...reducing wild berries to increase the sugar content. A friend gave me a bottle of Aronia berry concentrate which claims to be a 11 x reduction with a BRIX of 65. The concentrate was not intended for wine making.... However, I started thinking about the idea of a reduction of similar berries like blackberry. Could I press the fruit two or three times, then reduce the juice down to a BRIX level similar to grapes?" Great question.

The reader recognized that "The negatives are the amount of fruit used and the tannins will be concentrated as well." While this is true, there is a greater negative. The problem with concentrating blackberries, raspberries, black cherries, pomegranates, strawberries, etc. is acidity, which is why you always have to dilute the concentrates back to or close to normal. You can dilute to stronger than normal to intensify flavor, but only so far and then you have an acid problem.

There is another problem as well, and that is the method used to concentrate the juice. There are two practical ways to do this. The first is to heat the juice and reduce the water content through evaporation. Unless this is done in a precise, controlled way (using equipment you are unlikely to possess) the natural sugars will caramelize and other constituents will cook and alter the taste of the concentrate beyond acceptability. The second is to freeze the juice in a manner that creates frozen sheets of fairly pure water that can be separated from the concentrating remainder. While this avoids the "stewed" taste that heat concentration can impart, it does result in the loss of some essential elements that give the juice its unique character.

Concentrates certainly have their use and value in modern winemaking, but you are much better off obtaining commercial concentrates. Just read the ingredients list carefully to ensure you are not attempting to ferment a concentrate that has been treated to prevent fermentation (specifically potassium sorbate or sorbic acid, or sodium benzoate or benzoic acid). Besides, sugar is cheap in comparison with fruit, which might be obtained cheaply (or freely) but only contain 2-14% natural sugar. See my chart listing sugar levels in selected fruit.

Non-White Sugars

I have written about sugars on my basic site, but I still get questions about them. A reader asked me, "Which is darker, dark brown sugar, muscavado or raw sugar?" To answer this question, I have assembled a series of images of ten non-white sugars and will let you answer the question. I have included maltose in a non-solid form.

dark brown sugar demerara sugar light brown sugar maltose

Dark Brown Sugar, Demerara Sugar, Light Brown Sugar, Maltose, Maple Sugar

muscovado sugar palm sugar piloncillo sugar sucanat turbinado sugar

Muscovado Sugar, Palm Sugar, Piloncillo Sugar, Sucanat (Raw) Sugar, Turbinado Sugar

Notes: Brown sugar can be dark or light or golden based on the amount of molasses in them. Maltose can be sold in crystalline or non-solid (paste or thick liquid) form. Muscovado sugar is also known as Barbados sugar. Palm sugar is also known as Jaggery; while usually sold as blocks or cakes, it will crumble when broken up. Sucanat is raw (unrefined) sugar.

November 30th, 2008

I am trying to squeeze in another entry before disappearing for a month. I was actually trying to write a couple of entries in advance so I could post them while on vacation if the opportunity presented itself, but I don't think I will actually be able to do this. We shall see.

A long-time reader in Australia sent me a moving poem and a reminder that April 25th is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. This day celebrates the 1915 landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli, Turkey and is a deeply significant holiday in those two countries. Yes, other nations have their veterans' commemorations and let us not forget the sacrifices of so many.

Hazy Peach Wine

A fellow up in North Bay, Ontario wrote that he had moved there from England and continued his winemaking. His problem was with peach and nectarine wines, which cleared fine in England but refuse to clear in Canada. He says, "Everything in the process in exactly the same -- ingredients, method, etc. I have tried adding extra pectin enzymes before and after to no avail, and tried Bentonite to no avail. Do you have any other ideas to offer, please?"

My first reaction is to say to read my page called Finishing Your Wine and scroll down to the section called "Clarifying Wine". But then I got to thinking about it and realized that this fellow doesn't live next to a homebrew supply source, and if that be the case then I have to change my recommendation to trying Super-Kleer KC.

My reasoning is because I don't really know why his peach and nectarine wines are not clearing, but unless he has a metal casse haze, which will not respond to fining agents, then he has a problem that almost certainly is caused by a suspended particles in wine possessing either a positive (+) or a negative (-) electrical charge while in a low pH, colloidal state. He can precipitate these particles by introducing materials having an opposite electrical charge, which are attracted to and combine with the oppositely charged particles already in the wine. The result is precipitation of the particles causing the haze.

Now, if you don't know the cause of the problem, you don't know which electrical charge is involved. Super-Kleer KC contains Kieselsol, which contains a negative charge, and Casein, which contains a positive charge. Between the two, you cover most bases, and when you don't know which to use, use them both by using Super-Kleer KC. It can be obtained from most online homebrew/winemaking shops.

Why the Nylon Straining Bag?

I was asked a simple question. Do some of my recipes call for placing the fruit or other base ingredient in a nylon straining bag before fermenting them simply to make them easier to remove from the wine later or is there another reason? Let me say that it is both the former and the latter.

Many berries, chopped fruit, flower petals, and similar small base ingredients are most easily removed when already collected, as in a nylon straining bag. Other fruit, such as strawberries, kiwi and most aggregate berries have a strong tendency to disintegrate while fermenting, and it is much easier to reduce the amount of gross lees they will deposit if they are contained. For fruit or berries such as these it is best to use a very fine-mesh bag.

The bag also makes it easy to drain the base of any wine or fermentable juice retained by it. If a formal pressing is to be done to extract more than what will drip-drain, then the bag keeps the pressed fruit from making a mess.

December 7th, 2008

Today is Pearl Harbor Day in the United States, a day we remember the surprise attack by 390 aircraft of the Imperial Navy of Japan on the U.S. Pacific Fleet and bases at Oahu, Hawaii on this day in 1941.

The attack sank four U.S. battleships (two of which were raised and returned to service late in the war) and damaged four more. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, and one minelayer, destroyed 188 aircraft and damaged 155, and caused personnel losses of 2,402 killed and 1,282 wounded. The Japanes lost 29 aircraft in the raid. We remember this day so as to not be so hopelessly vulnerable again.

Cocklebur Wine Correction

An entry in my Home Page Guestbook asks if it is true that I once made a cocklebur wine and if so would I share the recipe? The truth is that I made a wine from what I thought were cockleburs, only to discover that my base was really sand burrs, and that cockleburs contain a toxin and are unsuitable for winemaking. My sand burr wine was entered in four competitions and won three first places and a second.

The seeds of both the common cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) and spiny cocklebur (X. spinosum) contain a toxic glycoside that is probably poisonous, although it reportedly can be boiled successively in clean water to rid it of the toxin. I would not chance it when there are so many other things that are safe to make wine from - like sand burrs

Common Sand Burrs

Sand Burrs

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

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

Sand Burr Wine

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

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

Another Correction

Friday I received a case of homemade wines from a winemaker in Lake Placid, Florida. I was expected some wine from him, but my expectations were for something more like 2-4 half bottles. I was blown away by the generosity. Thank you, Rick.

I brought five bottles of wine yesterday to the annual Christmas party of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild and included one of the Florida wines - a Blueberry-Elderberry Port. It was very well received and, in fact, disappeared. I happen to know this wine was made from my recipe, so thought I would revisit it. It contained a mistake as posted and Rick reminded me I had not yet posted the correction, so I will do so now.

Blueberry-Elderberry Port

  • 6 lb. blueberries
  • 6 oz. dried elderberries
  • 1 cup red grape concentrate
  • 1/2 cup light dry malt
  • 1-3/4 lb. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 1-1/2 tsp. acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp. USP glycerin
  • 1/2 tsp. yeast energizer
  • 4 pt. water
  • 63 ml brandy
  • 2 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablets
  • port wine yeast

Wash and crush blueberries in nylon straining bag and strain juice into primary fermentation vessel. Add dried elderberries to bag, tie closed and place in primary. Stir in dry malt, sugar, acid blend, yeast energizer, water, and one of the Campden tablets. Stir well to dissolve sugar and other solids. The starting s.g. should be 1.118 to yield 16% abv. Cover the primary, set aside for 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme and cover for another 12 hours. Add yeast, cover again, and daily stir ingredients and press pulp in nylon bag to extract flavor. When specific gravity is 1.030 (about 5-7 days days), strain juice from bag and rack liquor off sediments into glass secondary. Fit fermentation trap and ferment to dryness. Rack in three weeks and again in two months. When wine is clear and stable, add red grape concentrate, brandy, the second Campden tablet, and glycerin. Let wine rest another two months, rack again and bottle. Allow a year to mature. [Author's own recipe]

December 13th, 2008

This is the season for visits with good friends, evenings spent before the hearth and a well-stacked fire, and mulled wine, cider or mead. Pumpkin pies and apple cobblers seem so very appropriate, and remembering a quart bag of blackberries, blueberries or currants in the freezer offers treats of out-of-season tarts or cobbler. If the shopping is done and the schedule permits, it is a perfect time to just relax and enjoy life's bounties - a second, prolonged thanksgiving.

It has been such with us and the next few weeks promise more of the same even while the problems of life insist on visiting. But even these will yield blessings when solved, so it promises to be a wonderful season.

An Excellent Barbera

Last year I wrote that my wife had attended a bottling party at Sierra Knolls Vineyards and Winery near Grass Valley, California and helped bottle their 2005 Barbera. She sent me a bottle of it and I have been waiting for the right moment to drink it. That moment arrived two days ago and I am glad I waited. Not only did we get to share it with cherished friends, but the wine had matured into an excellent (I am tempted to say exceptional) varietal offering and the four of us enjoyed it immensely.

If you've read many of my notes on wine tastings, you'll know I am not one to use many obscure and subjective aromatic or flavor descriptors - such as "notes of blackcurrant, tobacco, black cherry, plum, and truffles." Wine notes filled with language such as this actually turns me off, as rarely do I taste a wine and have images of such specifics suggested by the nose or taste. I might be reminded of "dark fruit" (take your pick, as there are many) or an "earthy nose" (well-matured Cabernet Sauvignons tend to evoke this association in me, which I like very much), but I can't say I have ever smelled asparagus or leather in a wine. I've played with the Aroma Wheel and read many tasting books, but my taste buds simply do not detect many of these popular wine- writer descriptors in wine. I suspect this is true for many folks, but offer no proof of this suspicion. But this Barbera, at least for me, was different.

I warn you now that I am going to bore you with a detailed dissection of the wonderful flavors conveyed to me by this wine, but let me assure you these were pronounced. Raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and other fresh fruit burst forward to delight the whole front half of the mouth while tannins added vibrancy to the roof and sides. I thought for an instant that I tasted strawberries, but cannot swear to it. The body was magnificent - not heavy and chewy but full and yet balanced and supple. It carried the fruitiness back toward the throat where it surrendered its vibrancy in a wonderful wash that became something else I could not quite nail down, but bold and reaching even as it subsided to yield the vanilla and a long, satisfying finish. It was a pure delight to drink and the lone bottle was insufficient. My mind ran through the hundreds of bottles I have cellared and I could think of nothing that could follow this wine without breaking its spell, and so we just sat back and enjoyed the memory. My deep regret is that even Sierra Knolls is out of this wine, so it now lives only in memory. Ahhh, but what a memory it is...!

A Cranberry Went South

Twenty-three months ago a friend lamented he had 15 or so bags of whole cranberries in his freezer but due to travel plans didn't have the time to turn them into wine. I've made many award winning wines from cranberries, so I volunteered to make the wine for him. I took the berries and allowed them to thaw, then chopped them for a few seconds in the food processor and bagged them in nylon. Total weight of the berries was a hair over 21 pounds which would make a strong 5-gallon batch. My tried and true recipe calls for 3 pounds of chopped cranberries per gallon of wine and this would be a skosh over 4 pounds. With some fruit more is better but with others more is bad. I really didn't know with cranberries, but went for it.

I made a strong starter solution and the fermentation took off vigorously within 2-3 hours. I left the berries in for three days and then used all of those berries to make a single gallon of a second wine. The second wine actually finished before the first and was fabulous. I even used the post-fermented berries to make a spiced cranberry jam. I posted the recipes for these wines previously (see links following this entry) so won't go there again, but that was only part of the tale. I have kept my friend's wine in carboy for almost two years now waiting for him to get around to bottling it. We actually scheduled to do this twice and I developed a health issue the first time and he had a death in his family the second time, so fate was conspiring against us.

He came by this week to bottle it and I saw at once that the wine had gone from a brilliant ruby to a cloudy brick-red. Not a good sign at all. I filled a tasting glass and sniffed. There really wasn't any unpleasantness, but there wasn't any aroma of cranberry either. Under the circumstances, a neutral odor is an off-odor. It was time to taste. I didn't want to, but did. He watched, a questioning expression revealing his concern. I swallowed to register the full experience. The finish was fine, but the problem was evident long before the swallow. Silently, I poured him a glass. He sniffed, examined the edge and took a sip. He swallowed, nodded, and we offered our wives a sip. Cruel, perhaps, because we knew, but we wanted unanimity. We got it.

Without a lab I cannot be certain what happened, but I have a pretty good idea. I relate it here because there is at least one lesson to be learned.

This wine was stabilized with potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite in mid-2007 when brilliantly clear. The free sulfur dioxide level was approximately 40 ppm after stabilization. The wine was racked about 45 days after stabilizing and then sat under an airlock for approximately 16 months. The airlock was removed twice to remove samples for tasting. The wine was dry and delicious. However, SO2 does not remain in the wine forever. As it dissipated into the ullage, it either escaped through the airlock or escaped when I removed the bung to take the two samples. Probably during one of those bung-removals a wild bacteria of some sort entered the carboy and, because the SO2 level had diminished to an insufficient level to continue protecting the wine, established itself.

I have no idea how many bacteria species can tolerate 13% alcohol, but certainly some can -- Acetobacter immediately comes to mind. Whatever bacteria it was, it increased to a density sufficient to cause cloudiness. It also changed the chemistry of the wine by converting some of the alcohol to an acid as the wine's acidity was greatly increased. The increase was not notably acetic, although some small percentage may have been. The wine had simply soured perceptibly. There was no notable vinegar smell or taste. Interestingly , the taste of cranberry was still strong enough to enjoy. In fact, the wine is still drinkable. It simply has too much acid to really enjoy and the cloudiness indicates it will only get worse.

We bottled half of it for cooking and marinating purposes. The acidity was not so strong as to preclude its use for those purposes, but its life is limited. It is a shame it has spoiled because it was a beautiful, very flavorful wine. But this experience illustrates how important it is to maintain an aseptic level of SO2.

December 22nd, 2008

To many, many people in the world, this is a joyous season. I sincerely hope it is for you. I am blessed many times over today and full of joy. I am with my wife, who has been taking care of personal and family affairs in California for the past 15-plus months, we have a new dog which we rescued from a shelter, my wife is finally undergoing what hints at being viable treatment for the peripheral neuropathy which has afflicted her for over four years, and I have undergone the first of two oral surgeries to restore my mouth to good health. Only the first of these things were actually planned, so the plans we had made for the holidays were drastically changed. We have dear but distant friends we had hoped to visit and will not, but we have closer friends we can enjoy in their stead. We hope all of you are as fortunate.

An more than any other, this seems to be the season for wine. We have shared a great many bottles, opened a couple of special favorites we were saving for special occasions, and gifted dozens of bottles to family and friends. There simply comes a time when you know you are making more than you can healthfully consume.

Pomegranate Sherry

Several weeks ago I found 15 bottles of Pomegranate Sherry I made in 1999. I shared a bottle at the time to determine if further aging were warranted. Although that might be the case, I decided it was so darned good that it would be one of my "special" gifts this year. Whatever was not given as gifts might survive another 11 months to celebrate a decade of existence. It looks like some will do so. And since it is heavily on my mind and my records back in order, I dug up my wine log and will share the recipe.

This recipe is my own. I have made several sherries by the method I will describe and all but one thus far have been very good. The exception was too acidic to start with and the acid has left its mark, even after 6 years, 4.5% residual sugar and 18.75% alcohol by volume. What was balanced as a wine did not remain so as a sherry.

If you make this wine as I did, the 15 pomegranates per gallon were about 4 inches in diameter and fully ripe. If you make this from juice or reconstituted concentrate, you will need 1/2 gallon of pure juice per gallon and work from there, determining your own sugar and other requirements. Sorry, but I cannot know what your requirements might be - only what mine were. The recipe below makes three gallons.

Pomegranate Sherry Recipe
(Makes Three Gallons)

  • 45 ripe pomegranates
  • 1-1/2 lb. barley
  • 7 lb. granulated sugar
  • 3 lemons, juiced
  • 2 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • water to make 3 gallons of must
  • 3 tsp. wine nutrient
  • 1-1/2 tsp. potassium sorbate
  • 2 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablets
  • 1 packet port or high alcohol wine yeast

Peel the fruit and remove the seed-juice sacs from the bitter white membrane dividers. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 gallon water to rolling boil with the barley in it. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, return to rolling boil, and immediate strain boiling water onto the pomegranate seeds, 5 pounds of the sugar, and lemon juice in the primary fermentation vessel. Stir well. When cool (70-75 degrees F.), add 3 quarts room-temperature water, the pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Cover and set aside for 10-12 hours. Meanwhile, begin a yeast starter solution and husband it for at least 10 hours. Add yeast starter solution and allow to ferment vigorously five days. Make a simple syrup with 1 quart water and 2 pounds sugar, completely dissolved. Ferment two days longer and strain into secondary fermentation jar (3-gallon carboy). Discard seeds and fit secondary with airlock. When fermentation stops completely, rack and cover with paper towel secured with rubber band for one hour (set a timer to remind you). After one hour, replace airlock and set aside. When wine clears, wait two additional weeks and rack again. Again cover carboy mouth with paper towel secured by rubber band for one hour, then reattach airlock. Set aside for three months, rack again and stabilize (1-1/2 teaspoons potassium sorbate and three finely crushed and thoroughly dissolved Campden tablets). Again cover carboy mouth with paper towel secured by rubber band for one hour, then replace paper towel with airlock. Set aside two months, sweeten to taste, reset airlock, and set aside final month. Bottle and cellar for as long as you can stand it. If you skip all the periods of covering with paper towel and seal directly with airlock, the wine will develop into port, although you may want to fortify with and additional 2% alcohol by volume. [Author's own recipe]

This recipe, like all recipes, assumes certain things. First and foremost, it assumes your pomegranates will yield the same quantity and quality of juice as my homegrown pomegranates did. Second, it assumes your wine, like mine, fermented to dryness and required sweetening. Third, it assumes the three 1-hour periods of exposure to the air (when covered only with a paper towel secured with a rubber band) are sufficient to begin the oxidation required to make sherry. However, this takes time. I waited nine years and the sherry was near perfect. I recommend bottling at least 1.5 liters in half-bottles (four 375 mL bottles) or bottles of smaller size so you can sample it every year or so. I did not do this and took a big chance that it had not aged too long.

Finally, a comment about the Campden tablets added. Campden tablets provide sulfites in the form of unbound or free SO2. There are many benefits to maintaining a septic level of free SO2 in your wine. One of those is to postpone the onset of oxidation, the death sentence of all wines. Sherry, however, is purposely oxidized in one of several ways to produce a specific taste. The way I outlined above is but one way. The Campden tablets added here are to stabilize the wine for sweetening and prevent it from ever undergoing malolactic fermentation, not to postpone oxidation. However, it will have a postponing effect. It is the point where I introduce the Campden (or pure potassium metabisulfite, if you prefer) that is important, as oxygen has already purposely been introduced on three occasions to start the oxidation process. Still, once the Campden is added it may slow the process down. That is okay. This is not a fast wine and if that is what you want then you should not make this one. However, if you do make it and drink it at the right time, it is exquisite beyond belief.

Wine for Diabetics

Every now and then I am asked about diabetes and wine. I do not have diabetes and do not consider myself expert enough to advise anyone on the subject. However, as recent inquiry got me searching and I found an excellent entry by another blogger -- Dr. Stephen Reiss -- who has diabetes, is a PhD, a wine taster, and author. I feel his discussion is highly reasonable and informed. I will cover what I consider the most important points, but have referenced his entry after my own so you can read the whole if so inclined.

Whenever he tries something new in his diet, he follows this with a personal testing of his blood sugar numbers to monitor the effect of the new intake. What he has found is that dry red wines have little or no effect on his glycemic index, while white wines more often than not do. Because white wines are generally sweeter than reds, this makes perfect sense.

He then says, "Diabetics are trying to ensure their future. Rarely do we really have to worry about day to day effects of diabetes (unless you go way too low, or way too high). It is all about reducing the risk of complications, especially cardiac complications, that might pop up years from now.

"Considering the health benefits of red wine, many diabetics, myself included, consider that a moderate amount of red wine is down right good for us. Most of the expert sources reluctantly agree. If you test, and red wine does not seem to be effecting your GI, than a glass or two with a meal may be for you."

Dr. Reiss concludes, "If you or a loved one are a diabetic and a wine drinker, there is hope. After checking with your doctor, nutritionists, and making sure you attorneys don't hold me liable, you may be able to continue enjoying your red wine (and occasional sweet or white wines) without a qualm."

In an update, he points out that a study by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences at Shanghai suggests that red wine may actually be good for diabetics by treating insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Resveratrol in red wine has been given credit for many health benefits, and now has been found to curb insulin resistance in mice. This is by no means a green light, as mice and humans are very different animals. However, as Dr. Reiss points out, "...this certainly doesn't hurt the rationalization for diabetics enjoying a little red wine in moderation."

December 29th, 2008

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine?

If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?
When I'm Sixty-Four, The Beatles

Tomorrow I turn 64. My wife is still with me. I am so blessed. As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of a new, let us concentrate on our blessings. So many people have spent the last few months - or years - focusing on adverse times or things not to their liking. In doing so, they ignored the multitude of blessings they enjoyed in spite of the negatives. They are unhappy people when they should be filled with gratitude for all the advantages and opportunities they possess. They are angry that that they cannot afford a BMW instead of being happy that they do not have to walk everywhere. They lament the corporate reorganization that eliminated their cushy stock options instead of being overjoyed they did not get a pink slip. Yes, I too lost a chunk of my IRA only a year away from retirement, but my life is so filled with blessings that I really don't even think about the loss -- much. All bad moments pass if you but wait. Meanwhile, accentuate the positive things in life and don't allow the negatives to dominate. You'll be a much more enjoying and enjoyable person for doing so. Then maybe that special person in your life will still need you, still feed you, when you're 64.

Hibiscus Flower Mead from Down Under

A long-time friend in Australia asked me some 34 months ago about a hibiscus flower mead recipe he had developed and asked if I saw anything missing in it. To be honest, I don't know if I ever answered him because I cleaned out my "Sent" folder twice since then, but I did make the mead with three slight adjustments in the recipe to use commercially dried rather than fresh flowers, increase the acidity a tad and to make a U.S. rather than an Imperial gallon. After aging two years, this dry mead is quite good. With thanks to Brian Ryan, the originator, I call it hibiscomel, or hibiscus mead. This same mead could be made with roselles, the bracts of the very same hibiscus (roselles are usually yellow, but my dried ones are purple). If made with roselles, it would be rosellomel (pronounced row-zel-oh-mel).

Hibiscomel (Hibiscus Mead) Recipe

  • 1.5 oz dried hibiscus flowers
  • 2 lbs premium grade honey
  • 3 liters water
  • 1.75 tsp citric acid
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet Champagne or mead yeast

Boil the honey in half the water, stirring occasionally until the honey is dissolved. Reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes, skimming all scum off top as it forms. Tie flowers in nylon straining bag and place in primary. Pour the hot honey-water over flowers and stir in citric acid and yeast nutrient. Cover primary and set aside until it assumes room temperature. Add activated yeast as a starter solution and recover the primary to keep dust and insects out. Stir daily and punch down nylon bag until vigorous fermentation subsides. Remove straining bag and transfer mead to secondary fermentation vessel. Attach airlock and top up with water when fermentation ceases. Retain in secondary for 60 days from transfer date. Rack to a sanitized secondary, top up and reattach airlock. Set aside undisturbed for 60 days and rack again. If brilliantly clear, wait 30 days to see if light dusting develops on bottom. If so, wait additional 30 days and rack, top up and reattach airlock for another 30 days. If not brilliantly clear, wait full 60 days and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Then follow previous instructions when mead is brilliantly clear. Sulfite with one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, bottle and set aside to age one year minimum. [Recipe adapted by author from creation by Brian Ryan, Western Australian]

Brian made his mead with 3+ ounces of fresh hibiscus flowers. I do not know how it turned out flavor-wise, but I suspect his alcohol was around 8% because of the amount of honey used and the increased volume to an Imperial gallon. Different sources report different figures, but I have always gone along with the conventional wisdom that you use 1.25 pounds of honey as an equal to one pound of sugar. To produce a 12% alcohol dry mead, one would then use 2.5 pounds of honey per U.S. gallon or 3 pounds per Imperial gallon. Of course, mead is not wine and there is no requirement for either that it be 12% alcohol. I went ahead and used the 2 pounds of honey and produced a dry mead at about 9.75% alcohol. When the mead was finished and ready to bottle, I added a quarter-teaspoon of citric acid to it to give it just a little more perk.

Barbeque, Georgia Style

I said previously if you wanted to see more coverage of barbeque sauces here to drop a comment in my Home Page guest book. Recently my guest book provider crashed again, so I haven't received any comments. A persistent reader finally contacted me via another route and insisted I haven't tasted barbeque sauce until I've tasted his take on Talmadge Farm's sauce, known throughout the South as one of the great sauces of all time.

"I used to regard their sauce as a sort of religion. It's that good. Then my Aunt Constance gave me a cookbook that had the Talmadge Farm recipe! I couldn't believe it! I've tried over the years to improve upon it and only two modifications have ever drawn applause. One was the addition of some Wild Turkey, which pleased the men folk in the family but not our opposite numbers. The other, which pleased everyone but my wife's sister, was swapping out some of the red wine vinegar for the real stuff. My red wine of choice is blackberry made with 10 pounds of berries per gallon. Very fruity. Here's my recipe."

Talmadge Farm Barbeque Sauce Recipe

  • 0.5 cup red wine vinegar (6% acidity)
  • 0.5 cup backberry wine (13-14% alcohol)
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons dry mustard
  • 5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1.25 cups your favorite ketchup
  • 2 average or 1 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced without seeds
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • salt to taste
  • lemon juice to taste

"In a stainless steel saucepan combine the red wine vinegar, red wine, grated ginger, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, brown sugar, and lemon slices and stir with a wooden spoon while bringing to a boil. Drop to a simmer and heat an additional 15 minutes. Stir in the butter and simmer an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the salt and lemon juice. Cover, set aside to cool, then store overnight in refrigerator. Warm just enough to restore liquidity and strain into a mason jar. Cap with lid and ring and store in refrigerator up to three weeks or use after straining. Never freeze it. Fabulous on parbroiled pork spareribs finished over a brisk fire. Baste and fire each side twice, not letting sauce char." Frank Baker, Macon, Georgia

Thank you, Frank, for getting into the spirit of it all and for your persistence. I have all the ingredients including the ribs, so I'll have to try this one.

Hope you all have a happy and healthy New Year. And remember, when you drink and have to drive, do both responsibly.

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