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Jack's Winemaking Links

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The Winemaking Home Page

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

Terry Garey's
Joy of Home Winemaking

Marc Shapiro's
The Meadery, my favorite mead site

Forrest Cook's
The Mead Maker's Page

Dave Polaschek's
Mead Made Easy

Mathieu Bouville's
Mead Made Complicated

Mead Lover's
The Bees' Lees


Michiel Pesgen's
The Home Winemaking Page

Roger Simmonds'
Homemade Wine

Jordan Ross'
Going Wild: Wild Yeast in Wine Making

UC Davis'
Making Table Wine at Home

Viticultural Roundtable of SW Ontario

Winemaking Fundamentals

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Drink Focus'
All About Apple Cider

The Brewery's
Cider Recipes

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

Who is Jack Keller?
Jack Keller lives with his wife Donna in Pleasanton, Texas, just south of San Antone. Winemaking is his passion and for years he has been making wine from just about anything both fermentable and nontoxic.

Jack has developed scores of recipes and tends to gravitate to the exotic or unusual, having once won first place with jalapeno wine, second place with sandburr wine, and third with Bermuda grass clippings wine.

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

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Some Other Wine Blogs

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

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

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

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

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

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

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

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

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

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

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

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

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

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

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

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

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

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

Who is Jack Keller?
How to contact Jack Keller:

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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 5th, 2009

Yesterday was the 233rd birthday of the United States of America. I observed it with very mixed emotions. I had planned for 6-8 months to spend it with one set of friends and instead spent it with another. We were disappointed that our original plans were derailed, but the alternative turned out to be very enjoyable as we spent the day with great friends, met some new people, ate some fabulous barbeque and side dishes, and drank some wonderful wine.

Yesterday I also learned I lost a friend of nearly four decades - a medic from my days in Special Forces -- to liver failure. Geoff once caught my safety line when I fell while rock climbing in Colorado, sent me to the hospital when I tore a cartilage in my knee on a parachute landing fall, and diagnosed a ruptured disc in my back by feel which x-rays later confirmed. I owed him more than I repaid him, and the finality of the imbalance troubles me. We must do more to settle our accounts while we can. My faith assures me Geoff is in a better place and in better company and I trust my faith, but I grieve his passing anyway.

On another note of disappointment and sadness, we drove through several neighborhoods yesterday and all of us in the car remarked that we had never seen so few American flags flying at residences on the 4th of July. Why this is so I cannot say and will not speculate, but it does not suggest a healthy faith in the nation's future. This troubles me deeply.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Some of you know I have suffered two heart attacks. This morning I learned my immediate younger brother was hospitalized yesterday after suffering shortness of breath his asthma medications did not resolve. He had suffered a heart attack that will be more accurately diagnosed today. I am departing from my normal discussions of winemaking to share some concerns dealing with common symptoms of heart attack.

When I had my first heart attack I exhibited some of several classic symptoms but, through ignorance, thought I was experiencing something else. When I had my second heart attack I again experienced several classic symptoms, but they differed from the first episode and I went into denial for several days; I turned a multiple blockage into congestive heart failure. I should have known better. I am determined to do my part to help you know better.

Men and women can have several different symptoms of heart attack, but they share some common classics. There is ample literature out there for you to peruse and I have referenced some of it following today's blog entry, but if you ignore prudence at least look at the table below. The information therein could save your life.

Common Heart Attack Symptoms

Shortness of breath Panting for breath or struggling to take deep breaths; symptom may precede chest discomfort. During my first heart attack I tried repeatedly to take a deep breath without success.
Chest pain or discomfort Feeling a tight ache, pressure, fullness or squeezing in center of chest lasting more than a few minutes; may come, go or persist. May feel similar to rising heartburn. During my second heart attack I thought I had heartburn that persisted for 5 days.
Stomach pain Pain extending downward into abdominal area. May feel similar to sinking heartburn. During my second heart attack I was convinced my stomach was full of gas.
Sweating Sudden-onset of sweating with cold, clammy skin. During my first heart attack I sweated profusely and thought I was having heat stroke.
Lightheadedness Dizziness or feeling like you might pass out. During my first heart attack I passed out cold.
Upper body pain Chest pain or discomfort may spread to shoulders, arms, neck, back, jaw or teeth. Could have upper body pain without chest discomfort. During my first heart attack my shoulders began to ache.
Anxiety Feeling a sense of doom or having a panic attack for no apparent reason. I did not experience this.
Nausea and vomiting Feeling sick to your stomach and/or vomiting. I did not experience this.

The bottom line is if you experience any of the above, but especially several in concert, seek immediate emergency medical help. Do not try to diagnose the symptoms yourself. I did that twice with severe consequences. I encourage everyone to read more. Some of these symptoms are more likely to be experienced by women than men, but shortness of breath and chest pain are universal red flags. Read more and be prepared.

July 26th, 2009

I've been very busy and apologize for my absence. Life happens. Family comes first.

My brother went into surgery three weeks ago for a triple-bypass and came out with a quadruple. That means his doctors were following the problem instead of following the HMO-preapproved protocol. If you don't know what that means, you don't know what government-run healthcare means. If you're clued in, pray we don't follow the path to socialized medical mediocrity. My brother did very well after the surgery, surrounded by family, home after three days. Wow!

Like me, he is now on a long list of medications. Most will be taken for the rest of his life. To that list I recommend resveratrol. It comes in several forms and strengths. I prefer Cabernet Sauvignon, but also take a supplement. It can't hurt.

Thinking About Starch

A friend recently asked me to look at a sugar cane wine many, many months in secondary that still had a noticeable haze. He thought it was pectin and had added pectic enzyme (pectinase) in stages to no avail. Although sugar cane is quite fibrous, I could not imagine pectin being the problem. Also, having researched making sugar cane wine, I remember reading that one of the problems encountered when processing sugar cane juice to clarity is the presence of starch. Although I did not bookmark where I found this, I did bookmark an article on problems of starch hydrolysis.

The main problem with sugar cane is that there are some starches that contribute to total sugar content and some that don't and simply need to be removed. One teaspoon of amylase, a starch enzyme readily available to most winemakers, will aid in clarification of sugar cane wine by hydrolyzing starch. One tablespoon of Amylozyme 100 is an alternate treatment. Fining or filtration might be required to polish the wine.

Pomegranate-Elderberry Wine

I recently bottled a two-year old wine and shared some of it at a function of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild. The reviews were hugely positive, but my wife and a friend each said they thought it was "too young." It isn't the pomegranate in the wine that they consider immature; it's the elderberry.

This wine was made with diluted pomegranate juice to which I added one and one-half pounds of thawed elderberries that had been frozen several years and forgotten. Of course, sugar, nutrients, etc. were also added, but the maturity issue derives from the elderberry.

This wine began with a quart of pure pomegranate juice. This is about what I usually use for a gallon of pomegranate wine. I decided to add elderberries because I found the frozen berries in the bottom of my chest freezer and there wasn't enough for a gallon of elderberry wine. I normally use 3 to 3.5 pounds of elderberries per gallon of elderberry wine, but have used more. I thought the elderberries would add complexity to the pomegranate and there I was not wrong. The wine is delicious, but the bottles may be cellared for two more years. We shall see. Two bottles are screw- capped, so I can taste minute amounts of the wine from time to time

Pomegranate-Elderberry Wine

  • 1 qt pomegranate juice
  • 1.5 lbs frozen and thawed elderberries
  • 1.5 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 0.75 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1.25 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 2 finely crushed Campden tablets
  • 0.5 tsp potassium sorbate
  • water to 1 gallon
  • Lalvin RC212 yeast

Bring 1 quart water to boil and dissolve sugar in it. Wearing rubber gloves, inside your primary pour the thawed elderberries into a nylon straining bag, tie the bag closed and leave the bag in the primary. Crush the berries where they lie. Pour hot sugared water over berries and allow to steep 30 minutes. Add pomegranate juice, yeast nutrient and water to one gallon. Stir in pectic enzyme and cover the primary. Wait 8-10 hours and add activated yeast in a starter solution. Stir daily. After 5 days of vigorous fermentation, put on rubber gloves and remove the nylon straining bag, squeezing well. Discard spent elderberries, recover the primary and ferment until vigorous fermentation subsides. Transfer to secondary and attach airlock. After 45 days, rack into clean secondary into which one finely crushed Campden tablet was scattered. Attach airlock and set aside. Wait 45 days and rack again. Wait additional 45 days and rack again, dissolving potassium sorbate and second finely crushed Campden tablet into wine when topping up. Sweeten to taste if desired. Reattach airlock and bulk age two months before bottling. Cellar at least one year before tasting, but may require more time. [Author's own recipe]

August 1st, 2009

Last night was a truly memorable evening for me. I've been corresponding with a gentleman in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India for seven or eight years. Last night he and his wife were in San Antonio and we met for dinner and good talk. We had exquisite Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine at El Mirador and shared a genuinely enjoyable evening with their local hosts. Balaji, Tamara, Stacy and Dale, thank you for the fine fellowship, stimulating evening and enriching conversations. I cherish the memories.

Thank you one and all who have said prayers for my brother Larry following his quadruple by-pass. He is back in the hospital with cellulitis, an infection that in most cases is non-threatening and easily cured with. The danger is severe if it migrates subcutaneously to the fascial lining and goes systemic or turns necrotizing. There is no indication it will do that in my brother's case, but if you have the time and inclination please keep those prayers going just a little longer.

Extreme Foam

Some time back I visited a Texas winery and chatted with the winemaker about winemaking things. We got to talking about yeasts and I mentioned that I really miss the old packets of Epernay, sold today by Lalvin as DV10 but only in bulk. He had some and gave me a 20 mL vial of it. When I got home, I put it in the refrigerator with my other yeasts and sort of forgot about it for a while. I recently started three batches of wine and mead with it, including a one-gallon batch of pineapple- coconut juice mead. I was flabbergasted when I found two gallons of foam on top of the must.

I had made a yeast starter by hydrating a half-teaspoon of DV10 in 1/2 cup of warm water into which I had dissolved a pinch of yeast nutrient and a teaspoon of sugar. After a half-hour I added 1/2 cup of white grape juice, covered the container and let it "work" for about 8 hours. I added another 1/2 cup of grape juice over the next 8 hours and then added the starter to the must. The must was placed in a 3-gallon glass canister. I have used this primary many times and have a "one gallon" marker taped to it for reference. After 18 hours it showed clear signs of vigorous fermentation, with about 3/8 inch of foam floating atop the must.

Primary after 18 hours blank space  Primary after 23 hours
Primary after 18 hours and 23 hours of fermentation

The next morning I awoke to find about a gallon of foam above the must. While this worried me, I had chores to do and left the house for two hours. By then the foam had risen another couple of inches and I figured it had reached its apex. I left again and was gone about six hours. When I returned, the foam had overflowed the canister and made a mess on the countertop and floor. After I cleaned this up, I put the canister in my largest skillet and it continued to emit foam for three days. Then the foam started to subside. Now, a week later, the foam is back to around 3/8 inch and the fermentation is about done, which is very fast for a mead.

Primary after 25 hours blank space  Primary after 32 hours
Primary after 25 hours and 32 hours of fermentation

As I said before, DV10 is what we once called Epernay, named for a town in the Champagne region of France where it was isolated. In fact, it is the originally isolated Champagne yeast and one of the most widely used strains in Champagne. The reason for its long, long popularity is because it possesses several traits desirable in a wine yeast. It tolerates a wide range of temperatures (50-85 degrees F.), high SO2, low pH, low volatile acidity, and low H2S production. It has relatively low nitrogen demands and gives clean fermentations with roundness, volume, preserved varietal character, and low foam production. These qualities make it a favorite for premium still varietals, as well as fruit wines and meads. Finally, because it will tolerate up to 18% alcohol, it is a favorite for clean, crisp sparkling varietals as well.

Oh, did you notice the low foam production part? So what happened to my pineapple-coconut juice mead? None of the other three batches started with this yeast produced any noticeable foam at all. Actually, I have a theory.

Coconut juice is more commonly called coconut water. This is the thin, clear, non-fat liquid contained in immature coconuts. As the nuts mature, the liquid thickens, clouds and is absorbed into the gel that becomes the coconut meat. Fully mature nuts contain no liquid inside.

My mead is made from a blend of pineapple juice and coconut water. The coconut water was not thin and clear, but thicker than water and milky in color. I was careful NOT to buy coconut milk, as that is made from coconut meat and contains coconut oil. However, considering the color of the canned coconut juice I obtained, it perhaps was from coconuts that were too mature or had some coconut milk added for reasons I cannot imagine. But in either case, the juice contained a slight amount of coconut oil and it is the oil that facilitated the creation of a large amount of foam.

If anyone else has a better theory, please send it to me.

August 3rd, 2009

For those who prayed for my brother, thank you. He is home again and on a two-week, self- administered, IV antibiotic cocktail protocol. But he is already improved enough to be in his own bed. Again, thank you.

I'm finally making a wine from my pitiful harvest of Champanel and Cynthiana grapes. The Champanels, a T. V. Munson hybrid, ripened just as my parents arrived and we took off for family visits in East Texas and Louisiana. The birds had a feast while I was gone, but I picked what were left and froze them. The Cynthianas were reduced to one vine after a dog we had for six weeks chewed 13 vines of various varieties off at or near the ground. The Cynthianas ripen unevenly and the only way to beat the birds to them without netting is to either pick bunches before they are fully ripe or to pick individual berries as they ripen. Because I only had one vine, I did the latter and stored the daily pickings in the freezer. Still not having enough Champanels and Cynthianas to make a decent batch, I picked some of my Dog Ridge (a natural V. champinii variety) to make up the volume. I've done this before in different proportions, so this is not unknown territory. Wish me luck.

Another Great Wine Barbeque Sauce

Back in November 2008 a reader asked me to publish a few barbeque sauce recipes featuring wine as an ingredient. I posted one and asked readers to contribute, fully expecting the fellow who requested this topic to join in. He has not. I received an excellent recipe after Christmas from Georgia and in April of this year received a homemade sauce with attached recipe from Pennsylvania. That's it. I didn't think anyone else was interested in barbeque sauce until an email arrived last night with a new recipe. I have just made a batch for a rack of baby back ribs and I think it is a winner.

Randy's Wine Barbeque Sauce

  • 1 white onion, finely diced
  • 1 Tblsp butter
  • 1 Tblsp 6% acidity wine vinegar
  • 2 Tblsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tblsp dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tblsp orange marmalade
  • 1/2 cup ketsup
  • 1 1/2 Tblsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 cup garlic wine*
  • 1 Tblsp celery salt

*or onion, chile pepper or any other white wine

Brown ribs on rack in roasting pan in 350 degrees oven. While ribs are browning, make sauce (below). Drain roasting pan before basting ribs with sauce.

On low heat, melt butter in skillet, add onions and barely brown them. Add remaining ingredients and bring to simmer, stirring, until ribs are browned and ready for sauce. Baste ribs liberally until done.

Corn Squeezins

I received a pitiful phone call from a good ol' boy up near Shreveport who told a sad tale of losing his uncle. Of course he missed their afternoons fishing and conversations about women and politics and things, but what he really missed was his uncle's corn squeezins, a wine he made from the juice of corn stalks run through a crusher-wringer. He intended to obtain the crusher- wringer but the probaters seized it and sold it at auction. Did I know another way to make corn squeezins? Well shucks, I think I do - sort of.

This will not be the same thing because it doesn't use the squeezins from the corn stalks, but it is palatable wine and goes down cleanly after the first glass (or mason jar). There are two hard parts. The first is that you have to cook (boil) about 12 ears of corn, which means either cooking a meal for a sizable gathering, bringing corn on the cob to a pot luck affair, or cooking the corn and shaving the corn off the cobs with a good knife for subsequent meals. The second hard part if the corn was eaten off the cobs at a single sitting is that you need to retrieve the cobs and not think about who might have cleaned the corn off them. Admittedly, this could be the show stopper, but remember that alcohol kills most micro-bugs. Digging those cobs out of the trash could be embarrassing, but if you're into corn squeezins then maybe not.

One last thing. You can use more corn cobs if you want more flavor or plan on serving it at your cousin's wedding.

Corn Squeezins (Wine)

  • 12 ears of corn
  • 1 Tblsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin (powder)
  • 32 oz light corn syrup
  • water to one gallon
  • 1 Campden tablet, finely crushed
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • any general purpose wine yeast

Boil the corn, save the water used for the boiling, save the cobs after the corn is cleaned off them, cut the cobs into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces, toss them back into the water used to cook them, and barely bring them back to a boil and hold it for about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove and discard the pieces of cob with a slotted spoon, stir in the corn syrup, lemon juice, yeast nutrient, and grape tannin and stir until dissolved. Pour into primary, add cold water to bring volume to one gallon, cover the primary, and set aside to cool. When cool, stir in finely crushed Campden tablet, recover the primary, and let sit overnight. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and let nature do its thing. When vigorous fermentation subsides, pour water into secondary through a muslin-lined funnel. Attach airlock and let finish fermentation. When still, rack, top up and reattach airlock. Repeat every 30 days until wine clears. If not clear after third racking, add 1/4 teaspoon amylase. When clear, bottle (or jug) it and set aside a month. Mason jars are also acceptable. [Author's own recipe]

August 8th, 2009

I'm starting to get more emails (and twitter questions) than I can answer. Some questions, like for a recipe I haven't published, are fair game. Others, like why do we have to top up, are explained on my site already. You simply have to read more. Here's a hint: air space in a secondary is called ullage and contains oxygen, and oxygen causes wines to oxidize.

On the other hand, someone asked why my elderflower wine recipe has the wine ferment and clear for three months without racking - why? Fair question. The original recipe was developed by Steven A. Krause in his book Wines from the Wild and it works. Wines will not go bad sitting three months on their yeast lees, but could go bad sitting on gross lees containing bits of fruit pulp or other decomposing organic matter. Just why this is so would require a chapter in a book to explain, so just trust me on this.

Resveratrol Does It Again

Scientists at the University of Glasgow have discovered another health benefit of resveratrol and by extension its source, red wine. Researchers found that mice pre-treated with resveratrol were protected when exposed to a strong inflammatory agent. Mice not pre-treated developed a serious reaction similar to sepsis.

The study, published in the journal of the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB Journal), found that resveratrol blocks two major proteins that trigger inflammation. Resveratrol is a phytoalexin - a compound produced by plants to ward off fungal infection. That it can also protect human cells from various types of assault is our fortune.

But fortune appears to come with moderation. Two glasses of red wine with a meal is adequate for a health maintenance dose, we're told. More than that and the effects of alcohol can offset the health effects of resveratrol.

Personally, I have begun taking a daily dosage of resveratrol as a supplement. My cardiologist has approved this, but I think he is watching me to see what happens. The gel-caps I take contain 100 mg of red wine extract (24% polyphenols with 100-200 ppm resveratrol), 50 mg grapeseed extract (90% polyphenols), and 30 mg resveratrol (from Polygonum caspidatum root extract). I don't think it can hurt.

Champanel Grapes and Wine

I received a request for a Champanel wine recipe and am happy to oblige. First, however, a word about Champanel grapes for those not familiar with them. This is a T.V. Munson hybrid, a cross between V. champinii and a Worden seedling, that grows well in Texas and other Gulf Coast states due to its resistance to Pierce's Disease (it can carry the bacterium but will not succumb to it). It has excellent resistance to nematodes, tolerates the black-waxy alkaline soils of Texas and mild resistance to Phylloxera. It is vigorous to a fault, ripes with Concord, and the black-skinned berries make an excellent wine if allowed to fully ripen, which means netting against birds. It tolerates heat and drought better than 98-99% of the other grapes and grows so well on its own roots that it is often used as a rootstock in very alkaline soils.

If left unchecked, this vine will put out a dozen or more 12-20-foot shoots each year. Since grapes are only produced on the first 2-3 (rarely 4) nodes, 75-80% of that growth ends up shading the grapes of the adjoining vines. Yes, you need extra growth to support the vine and clusters, but Champanel can tolerate at least two summer prunings. And vigor does not equate to high yields. The clusters are not large, so 10-12 pounds per vine is about normal yield. This is barely at or just shy of a gallon of wine per vine. But the wine can be excellent if the berries are fully ripe. I cannot stress the latter enough.

The best Champanel wine I have ever tasted was Rob Overley's. It was a off-dry but not quite sweet and I hinted for a bottle but didn't get one. Instead, I obtained Champanel cuttings and started growing my own. This recipe is for one gallon. It is pretty much a standard recipe for making a grape wine, but the pectic enzyme used extracts much more color and polyphenols. Without using Rapidase Ex-Color, the wine will probably be a blush. Do the math to make larger batches.

Champanel Wine

  • 12-15 lbs Champanel grapes
  • possibly sugar to bring up to 22.5 degrees Brix (s.g. 1.095)
  • 1 tsp Fermaid
  • 1/4 tsp drops Rapidase Ex-Color pectic enzyme (and color extractor)
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet (or 1/16 tsp potassium metabisulfite)
  • red wine yeast

Crush and destem the grapes. Move to primary and sprinkle the finely crushed Campden or 1/16 tsp potassium metabisulfite over the grapes. Cover the primary and set aside 8-10 hours. Begin a yeast starter solution. Sprinkle the Rapidase Ex-Color over grapes and stir with wooden spoon. Recover and set aside 12 hours. Adjust Brix if required and stir in Fermaid. Pitch the yeast starter and cover primary as before. Stir daily to punch down the cap. When s.g. drops to 1.015 (5 degrees Brix), Strain must through Nylon straining bag into secondary and press pulp firmly. Discard pomace. Attach airlock to secondary. Rack two weeks after wine falls still. Top up, reattach airlock and allow to clear. Wait additional two weeks and rack again into clean secondary with finely crushed Campden tablet or 1/16 tsp potassium metabisulfite. Top up and reattach airlock. Wait additional 30 days. Use flashlight and illuminate bottom of secondary. If absolutely clear, bottle it. If even a fine dusting of dead yeast, rack, top up and reattach airlock for another 30 days, then bottle. Wait 3 months before tasting. Should improve with age for 2-3 years. [Author's own recipe]

August 10th, 2009

I bottled my latest rose petal wine last night -- a beautiful blush, finished just off-dry, made from our antique, deep red roses (variety unknown). The aroma is very nice, the color very good for rose petals and the flavor is slightly herbal but pleasant. I'm quite pleased with the result.

Having bottled two wines this week, I thought it only proper to start two new batches - one a mead and the other a wine. The mead is honeybush and the wine a remake of my classic sand burr concoction that won numerous awards.. I will talk more about these at a later date.

Why Things Are

I received an email from a cousin who had appended a file which looked like a Word document but wouldn't open. After numerous attempts employing various strategies, I finally threw in the towel and sent an email asking what kind of file it was. Three minutes later the phone rang. It was a Word 2007 file and I am still using Word 2000. No problem, as my cousin opened the file, saved it as a Word 2000 document and resent it. Problem solved -- sort of. The document copied the April 16, 2009 entry of Barbara Keck's blog, WineBizNews. In it was a critique of my blog's artistic layout and design.

I know there are an endless number of possible layouts and design features that would improve the appearance and readability of the WineBlog and The Winemaking Home Page. I get dozens of respectful emails every year pointing this out with varying degrees of tact or absence thereof.

Most are by people who make a living designing and possibly maintaining blogs for people who just want to write and not be bothered with the mechanics of the display. A few are from folks who offer to do this free, as a sort of payment for the years of benefit derived from my musings. The first group I delete - I cannot afford their services. The second group I try to thank for their offers, their willingness to redeem a perceived debt.

And some, a few, express another motive kin to the last. The following comment sums up this corollary fairly well: "...[A]nd while I greatly admire and even revere your writings, your web site is, in a word, boring. It is stuck in the mid-'90s in both design and layout and I am embarrassed for it. It needs a makeover badly."

So let me explain briefly why things are as they are. First, I don't write something and plug it into an online template or code generator as most bloggers do. I write the whole thing out, selecting and placing every tag where needed. I insert every image using the simplest format I know - admittedly from the mid-'90s - because I know how to do it and it usually works. Occasionally I make a boo-boo and I hear about it soon enough. Most I can and do fix as soon as I can. A rare few, like the seven lines of ">" (greater than signs?) in my February 28, 2009 entry immediately preceding the table of songs are total mysteries to me. Neither I nor two other programmers could find anything in the encoding that would produce them. But generally, doing it myself exerts the greatest and most absolute control over the content and its appearance.

Secondly, over the years I've fallen in love with innumerable websites and blogs and grown comfortable with their layout, look and feel. Then they change drastically, and old, familiar features disappear or get lost in a new hierarchy or schema that escapes my intuition. I generally don't like these changes and have resisted making them on my sites. I want my viewers to grow comfortable with it as it is. Things usually are where they were last week, last month, last year. There are areas I would like to improve, but I don't know how to enact the changes and do not currently have time to learn (a recurring theme).

Thirdly, I have a vision for a "makeover" and have tried several times over the past 5-6 years - experimentally, out of public view - to integrate CSS and a couple of HTML variants into the site. The initial learning curve is steep and I really don't have the time to see it through. I have abandoned each attempt after a couple of days. One day, after retirement, I will tackle it again. Until then, what you see today is what you will see tomorrow.

Finally, as much as I appreciate the several offers to do a "makeover" for me, each offer has included turning the admin privileges over to someone else, and in every case but one that someone was a total stranger. Sorry, but I cannot do that. To one fellow who wrote me at the exact moment I was trying to get a grasp on CSS and object spatial placement, I invited him to send me the code for his "makeover" of three pages I selected as being particularly resistant to my self-learning methods. He said he would do this if I gave him admin rights to my site. I said no, just send me the code. I never heard from him again. And so my site remains as it is and that is why things are as you see them.

Wild (Woodland) Strawberry Wine

Wild strawberries
Wild strawberries in the field (Photo courtesy Nami-Nami: A Food Blog)

I have received several emails from Sweden, Finland, Minnesota, and Idaho over the past three months about wild strawberries. I really should have posted something before now, as their season is past everywhere that I know of. Still, I feel compelled to write about them. They simply make the best strawberry wine imaginable and maybe you can plan a batch for next year.

My earliest memory of eating wild strawberries was as a Boy Scout at Camp Arataba in the San Bernardino mountains when we happened upon a patch while on a day hike. The Scoutmaster did not notice them, but I was surveying the areas adjacent to where we hiked for snakes and I spotted the small red berries just above the ground. I stepped out of formation and gathered perhaps 6 or 8 before being called to get back into the file. Only after I resumed my place did I taste one. Instantly I was sorry I had obeyed.

I found some on an Explorer Scout camping trip at Tuolemne Meadows in Yosemite National Park and that time I ate scores of them. Years later I encountered some on the lower slopes of Mount Rainier, in Washington State. These were larger than others I had encountered but not nearly as large as even the smallest commercial berries. But my fondest memories were the enormous patches my brother and I found on 22 acres I owned near Pikes Peak and other patches I happened upon while hiking north of the Flat Irons, above Boulder, Colorado and others near Estes Park. Years later I found them on the Presidio of San Francisco and on Mount Tamalpais north of there. Wherever I have found them, they are by far the tastiest and most aromatic strawberries there are.

In Europe, the wild (Woodland) strawberry is the Fragaria vesca. In North America it is Fragaria virginiana. The fruit ripens in late spring or early summer. Much smaller than commercial strawberries, they typically vary from the size of a pencil eraser to that of a woman's thumbnail. It takes a while to collect enough for a batch of wine and your back will ache unmercifully if you bend over for them, so squat or sit and pick all you can reach before moving. If it takes two hours to collect enough, it will be worth it. As one website said, "They're so good, they're the symbol of perfect excellence." I have to agree.

Technically, the strawberry is neither a berry nor a fruit, but a "false fruit" or "accessory fruit." This means the fleshy part we enjoy does not develop from the flower's ovary, but from the stem supporting the ovary. The seeds, called achenes, are actually the fruit. However, for the average Joe, the fleshy part is a "berry" or "fruit" and I too use that terminology when not being scholastic.

Wild Strawberry Wine

  • 3.5 lbs wild strawberries
  • 8 oz Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
  • water to one gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • wine yeast (Champagne, Montrachet,

Bring quart of water to boil and dissolve sugar in it, stirring frequently and well. Put berries in nylon straining bag, tie and place in primary. Mash the berries with your hands. Pour boiling water over berries. Add grape concentrate, acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Add water to bring liquid to one gallon. Cover and set aside to cool, then begin making a yeast starter solution. When water is 85-90 degrees F., add finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, recover the primary and set aside additional 10-12 hours. Pitch activated yeast starter, recover primary and stir daily. When s.g. drops to 1.020 or lower, remove straining bag and drip drain over bowl to collect juice. Allow to drain without squeezing (1-2 hours). Pour all liquids into secondary, top up to one gallon, attach airlock, and set aside. Rack every 30 days until wine clears and goes 30 days without dropping dust on bottom (3-6 months). Bottle as dry wine. Allow to age at least 6 months, then drink within a year. [Author's own recipe]

August 16th, 2009

I'm happy to report that my pineapple-coconut juice mead (see WineBlog entry of August 1st) has just about completed its fermentation. After its extreme foam generation in primary, I transferred it to a 4-liter secondary only after the foam subsided to a thin head. Even with about 4 inches of headspace, it pushed foam into the airlock for about two days. After cleaning the airlock about 6 times, it finally calmed down and slowly finished fermenting over the past week. The pressure in the airlock is still positive, but specific gravity is just below 1.000 and I watched it for 12 minutes and it did not push a bubble. I think it is done or very close to it.

Now the waiting game. The must is very milky and I really do not know if it will clear. But I am patient and have a few tricks up my sleeve if it is stubborn. But, in the end, if it doesn't clear then I will have a milky mead. We shall see.

Moon and Stars Watermelon Wine

A friend gave me a 32-pound "Moon and Stars" watermelon, a dark green rind with small, bright yellow spots (the stars) scattered over it and a 4-inch circular yellow spot (the moon) atop it. The bottom is yellowish-green. I am feeding a yeast starter in orange juice before I cut it. When the starter is at least 24 hours old I will open the melon. The piece I ate (from another melon off the same vine) was very sweet and just on the pinkish side of brilliantly red. If this one tastes as good, there are two ways I could approach this.

The first is to press a gallon of juice, adjust gravity with simple syrup, stir in yeast nutrients and acid blend, and immediately inoculate with the starter. Both the starter and the juice will be room temperature and fermentation should take off very quickly. The goal would be to get the alcohol up to 10% quickly, and only then will I worry about sulfites and tannin (I like a little in all my wines). This melon certainly has much more than a gallon of juice in it, so I'll eat what is not required for a gallon-batch. If the melon is not quite as good as the one I tasted, I'll simply eat it all; it is a waste of time and effort to attempt making wine with less than perfect melons.

Moon & Stars Watermelon
Moon and Stars watermelon

For those who do not understand the reasons for the steps I am taking, I invite you to read the introduction to my watermelon recipes collection. Watermelon wine is terribly difficult to make because it spoils so quickly, but if a 10% alcohol level can be obtained fast enough it will prevent spoilage bacteria from ruining it.

The second method is more traditional. I would press the juice, then sulfite and refrigerate it for 12 hours before pitching a 24 hours old yeast starter solution. The sulfite would help combat the spoilage bacteria while the alcohol builds up. This method has a better chance for success if the yeast starter solution and the juice can be brought to the same temperature before joining. I'll be using Montrachet yeast. The low end of its fermentation is 59-60 degrees F., so I would have to allow the juice to sit outside the refrigerator for an hour or so to warm up from the 39 degrees the refrigerator is set at. During that hour I would also put the starter in the refrigerator for 10 minutes and then remove it for 5, then repeat this several times until the starter is slowly chilled to 60. The reason for playing these temperature games is to prevent the yeast from going into cold shock and shutting down for 24 hours.

If I follow the latter approach I'll add sugar to reach 1.085 s.g., 1 1/2 teaspoons of acid blend initially (probably will need to add a little more after fermentation), and one teaspoon of yeast nutrient. I have a measure that holds exactly 1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite. Wish me luck.

Rose Petal Soup

I mentioned on Twitter that my antique red roses bloomed again and then got pretty well deflowered by rain and wind. I didn't have nearly enough petals left for a batch of rose petal wine, but did have enough for two bowls of rose petal soup. That resulted in several request for the recipe. Okay, here it is.

This soup is an adaptation of one posted by Angela Harris (link following entry). Mine differs a bit and is for two 24-ounce bowls of soup. You need two large- or three medium-sized roses, preferably red or pink and with lots of fragrance. You cannot use hybrid roses; use antique (old garden, old fashioned, heritage, traditional) roses. Gently peel away the rose petals one at a time. Cut away the bottoms of the petals that have no color. Cut up a few of the rose petals (1/4-inch squares) to sprinkle on top of the soup just before serving.

Rose Petal Soup

  • 2 large or 3 medium antique roses
  • 32 oz (1 qt) cold water
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 2 pinches cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 2 16-oz cans of pitted sweet cherries
  • 16 oz dry white wine
  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 4 oz Cherry Schnapps or favorite (Heering?) cherry liqueur

Add water, sugar, and cinnamon in 2-quart pan and bring to a boil on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Drain the canned cherries, add to the pan and return to light boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Tabasco sauce. Next, add wine and rose petals. Let cool. Put in blender and mix on liquefy setting. Divide into two bowls and stir in the sour cream and Cherry Schnapps. Refrigerate until cold. When ready to serve, sprinkle the remainder of the rose petals on the soup. Sprinkle with cinnamon and by all means serve cold.

August 21st, 2009

One never knows what the mail will bring. I've been expecting some meds I ordered from my HMO's on-line pharmacy, so I was surprised when it appeared they had arrived packaged differently than in the past. Upon opening the large reinforced envelope, I discovered several containers of various herbs, plus a letter. A woman in Santa Barbara, California had sent me quantities of damiana leaf, angelica root, dandelion root, sarsaparilla leaf, and a blend of three kinds of anise. She said she hopes I can find a use for them. She makes tea, liqueur, and carbonated beverages from them but had never considered wine until she started exploring my website. She figures if anyone can make wine with any of them, it would be me. I'm flattered and will have to do some experimenting. Thank you, Angie.

In another large, stiffened envelope I was sent several pressed flowers identified as Sundial Lupine (Lupinus perennis) and asked if these were okay to make wine with. I have previously written about these and other Lupines (including the Texas Bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis but cannot find the passage so perhaps it was on a forum.

There are a few hundred species of the genus Lupinus. Only a few natives and a few cultivated hybrids are edible, although it is the beans, not the flowers, that are consumed. The overwhelming majority found in the wild are not. They contain two toxic alkaloids, lupinine and sparteine, which attack the nervous systems of humans and grazing livestock. At least three Mediterranean species contain only minute levels of the toxins and are grown for livestock and poultry feed. I am not familiar enough with the species that are edible to trust my health to chance, especially when the odds are against guessing correctly.

Updating Great Uncle Paul's Green Tomato Wine

An emailer wrote, "I got started making wine by discovering an old recipe for Green Tomato Wine from my great uncle Paul...and I was wondering if you could help me adjust uncle Paul's recipe so I can make it safely but keep its great flavor. Here is the old recipe verbatim:

  • 6 lbs green tomatoes
  • 6 lbs sugar
  • 2 lbs raisins
  • 2 large oranges
  • 1 gallon water
  • yeast"

The writer does a good job of analyzing the recipe, judging that it makes 2-3 gallons, the sugar is excessive, the raisins are for body, etc. "Basically I would like to modify this to a workable 1 gallon recipe and none of the green tomato recipes I have found seem to be sufficient. Any advice you could offer would be a great help."

I compared this one with C. J. J. Berry's recipe, which I adapted and posted on my site and the ingredients repeated here:

  • 3 lbs fresh green tomatoes
  • 1 qt balm leaves, including stalks
  • 1 lb raisins (or sultanas or currants)
  • 1 lb maize, barley or wheat
  • 2 1/2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 qts water
  • 2 lemons or oranges
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 pkg Champagne or Montrachet yeast

Berry did some very insightful things in this recipe, weaving flavors and body while finding balance in unlikely ways. It has more finesse than Great Uncle Paul's recipe, but I think Great Uncle Paul's recipe has great character as well as the obvious essential core ingredients. The question now is how to scale it to a gallon.

If we compare the two recipes, we can see that we need to cut the tomatoes and raisins by half. We can cut the sugar by a third and still make a potent wine as the raisins are 65% sugar, but we should keep the oranges. We will then bring the recipe "up to date." It should look like this:

  • 3 lbs green tomatoes
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 1 lbs raisins
  • 2 large oranges
  • 1 Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • water to make up 1 gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Champagne yeast"

Bring 1 quart water to boil and pour over raisins and let soak about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, chop tomatoes and thinly peel oranges (orange portion only, no pith). Drain and chop the raisins, then combine them, the chopped tomatoes and the orange peel in nylon straining bag. Tie and place in primary. Add sugar and 3 to 3 1/2 quarts boiling water and stir well to dissolve sugar. Cover and allow to cool. Add finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and juice of the two oranges. Wait 12 hours and add yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme, stirring to mix. Wait additional 12 hours and add activated yeast in a starter solution. Cover and gently squeeze bag 2-3 times a day. When vigorous fermentation subsides, remove bag and drip drain, then squeeze well but not too hard. Pour all liquid into secondary and top up with water if required to within 2 1/2 inches of airlock. Rack after 3 weeks, then again every month until wine clears and no additional deposits form during two-week period. Bottle and allow to age 6-9 months. [Adapted by author from Great Uncle Paul's Green Tomato Wine recipe]

How Much Wine Do My Recipes Make?

I am asked this question all the time, although it really baffles me sometimes. I mean, some recipes say to use a specific herb or flower, add sugar and other dry ingredients, and then add from 7 1/2 pints to a gallon of water. Since the herbs contain no juice or other liquid, it shouldn't be difficult to conclude that the recipe makes about a gallon of wine. I say about because sugar has a volume, some liquid is lost as sugar is converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide (a gas), and different yeast's lees compact differently -- meaning that you lose more wine with some lees than others when you rack. However, if you top up as instructed, you should always end up with a gallon.

So, as to the question of how much wine do my recipes make, unless they specifically cite another volume, all the recipes on my site are for one U.S. gallon batches. There are several reasons for this:

  • I am constantly experimenting with new wines or improving old ones, with approximately 22-30 batches going at all times. One-gallon jugs take far less room than larger carboys.
  • One-gallon batches are more economical to gamble with, especially when some of the ingredients have to be shipped refrigerated and are therefore quite expensive to me. No one pays me to do this, so if I decide to try cloudberry wine and have to import cloudberries from Finland, I have to suffer the cost. Devising a recipe is therefore a gamble (it might not work) and I try to keep the amount gambled at a minimum.
  • It is less painful to dump out a 1-gallon batch that didn't work out than a 5- or 6-gallon one, and I have dumped out a few.
  • When they do work out, most wines have to be aged for 6 months to a year, and 5 bottles take less room to store during aging than 25 or 30.
  • For people who want to make larger batches, all they have to do is multiply the ingredients (except yeast) by the number of gallons desired. This is far easier than trying to adjust a 5-gallon recipe to 3 gallons, for example.

So, if you wanted to make a 6-gallon batch of a particular wine, just multiply the ingredients by 6, except use two packets of yeast instead of one (each sachet of yeast is usually enough to start a batch of 1 to 5 gallons in volume).

Some recipes initially make a little more than a gallon (and I mean an American gallon or 3.7854 liters). I usually say to crush the fruit, add the sugar and other ingredients, and then add water to make one gallon. Many people mistakenly read this as adding one gallon of water. If you do this, you'll have a problem. Obviously, when juice is extracted from the fruit and sugar is dissolved, if you add a gallon of water you're going to end up with more than a U.S. gallon.

Sometimes I say to crush the fruit, extract the juice, add the sugar and perhaps a grape concentrate (for body), and then add a specific amount of water (e.g. 6 1/2 pints). I say this because that is what I did, but your fruit might be larger and contain more juice than mine, and when that occurs you end up with more than a gallon.

In either case, when you transfer from primary to secondary it would be nice if you had a jug that would take all of the liquid without overflowing and with exactly an inch of ullage (airspace between the top of the wine and the bottom of the bung) -- a 4-liter, 4.5-liter (British gallon), or 5-liter jug, for example, might work perfectly. It would behoove you to collect a few of these over-sized jugs for situations like this.

August 23rd, 2009

I want to thank all of you who are following me on Twitter. However, please understand that I do not visit the site every day, so tweeted questions may not get answered promptly if at all -- address it to me if you intend that I see it. My Twitter handle is jackkellerwine.

The "Moon and Stars" heirloom watermelon wine did not make it. I mentioned back on August 16th that there were two ways to approach making a wine if the melon's flavor were good enough. It was. I tried the first method, but the juice had spoiled by the third day and I dumped it. I did not use Montrachet yeast (which I usually do with melon wines) but should have. But there was melon left over to eat (about a quarter of it) and I also made watermelon rind pickles that are quite good.

Why Green Tomato Wine?

I've received some really strange communications regarding the Green Tomato Wine in my last WineBlog entry. Lisa, unless you have tasted it, "Yuck!" is an entirely tasteless (pun intended) response. To those who asked why even make it, I have two very good answers.

The first reason is taste. It just so happens it has a unique taste, and if the wine is well- made the taste is very, very enjoyable. Red tomato wine usually has an aroma of tomatoes and the taste usually suggest its origins, but green tomato wine is less obvious. And taste-wise, you would never know what it is unless it was made poorly. I received two emails claiming to have made it before with undrinkable consequences. I'm not saying this is a bulletproof wine, but mine was good.

The second reason, frankly, is to utilize what the Good Lord has provided us while minimizing waste. The first time I made green tomato wine was when I had a huge autumn crop on the plants and an early norther had dropped down from Canada and marched to within a couple hundred miles of us without slowing. Knowing all my tomatoes would be frozen by morning, I went out and harvested almost 90 pounds of green tomatoes. That night I started four 5-gallon batches of green tomato wine while my wife made a green tomato hash casserole for dinner and then we canned many jars of green tomato salsa, stewed green tomatoes, green tomato chow-chow, green tomato chutney, green tomato relish, and green tomato and onion pickles.

We canned all night, but if it weren't for a disc I had bought called Easy Chef's One Million Recipes that contained 308 green tomato recipes, we'd have made the four batches of wine (I only had 4 empty carboys at the time) and the remaining 28 pounds of tomatoes would have been largely wasted. I made two trips to our Super Wal-Mart during the night for cabbage, onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, pickling salt, pickling spices, etc., but it was well worth the time and effort. There is a lot you can do with green tomatoes if you embrace the motto "waste not, want not."

Hubbard Squash Wine

When a kind neighbor gave us several Hubbard squashes we were at first stymied. These suckers can be huge and a couple of them were. My wife made two pies when I told her they would be indistinguishable from pumpkin if she spiced them accordingly. She did and our guests thought they were pumpkin pies. She also baked some with brown sugar and spices like you would sweet potatoes, with marshmallows on top. Tasted close to sweet potatoes, but buttercup squash is a closer substitute. I have never seen a recipe specifically for Hubbard squash wine, but we had too many squashes and so I thought I should try it.

Both Leo Zanelli and Terry Garey have recipes for squash wines and I have made both pumpkin and sweet potato wines, so I sort of did a blending of them all. The trick to making a good pumpkin wine is to use small pie pumpkins, so I thought this might also work with the Hubbards. I selected the smallest survivors and peeled, cleaned and grated just over 5 pounds of yellow meat.

Hubbard Squash Wine

  • 5 lbs peeled and cleaned squash, grated
  • 2 lbs Demerara (or Turbinado) sugar
  • 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
  • zest and juice of 3 Valencia oranges
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • Water to one gallon
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Champagne wine yeast

Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, peel squash, remove seeds and grate with food processor. Put squash, sugar and juice of citrus fruit in primary. Combine zests and spices in jelly bag, tie closed, and place in primary. Pour water over ingredients in primary. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and allow to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, thaw grape concentrate. Then must is cool add grape concentrate, yeast nutrient and then stir briefly. Add activated yeast in starter solution and recover the primary. When fermentation is vigorous, ferment three days, stirring daily. Remove spices and strain liquid into secondary, fit airlock and ferment 30 days. Rack, top up and refit airlock. After 60 days, stabilize with 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, rack again, top up, and refit airlock. After additional 60 days, sweeten to taste if desired and rack into bottles. Allow to age one year; two is better. [Author's own recipe]

This was a marvelous golden-white wine that aged wonderfully. If you cannot get the smaller, more tender Hubbards, use what you have but combine half-and-half with the grated flesh of one or two small pie pumpkins.

August 29th, 2009

The media knows no restraint. There was WAAAAAY too much coverage of Michael Jackson's death, and now there is too much Ted Kennedy. The man served Massachusetts for the better part of five decades and he certainly suited his state's liberalism, but he, more than anyone, proved that if you are rich enough and have the right last name you can get away with manslaughter. I hold no esteem for a man who would swim to safety while leaving a woman to drown in his car. I do believe he lived his life thereafter trying to overcome this singularly profound failing in character, but my personal measure of honor required that he step down as Senator. If you strongly disapprove of my litmus test for honor and character, then we can either agree to disagree or you have my blessing to navigate elsewhere. I will not hold it against you.

If you're sticking around, I hope you enjoy today's WineBlog entry. The first topic is dear to my heart, literally. The second is an examination of possible ways to make a specific wine.

Chocolate and Red Wine for a Healthier Heart?

In an 8-year post incident study of 1169 non-diabetic heart attack patients, Swedish doctors have found that survivors who eat chocolate two or more times per week reduce their risk of dying from heart disease about threefold compared to those who never eat chocolate. Consuming chocolate less frequently confers less protection, but less is better than none.

Antioxidants in cocoa are thought to be responsible for these and other beneficial results of consuming chocolate, which include a reduction in blood pressure. Antioxidants are compounds that offer protection against free radicals, cumulative molecules believed to contribute to heart disease, cancers and aging.

With evidence mounting that both chocolate and red wine can contribute to a healthier and longer life, the golden years are looking decidedly brighter. While I am not suggesting that chocolate should replace tofu in your diet, I have to admit it appears that a healthy diet can allow a few indulgences previously discouraged. But you must remember one important thing; chocolate consumption and weight management are almost always in conflict. Perhaps a little longer exercise session after chocolate consumption would balance things out. I don't know. Ask your dietitian.

Cranberry-Raspberry Wine

I posted a tweet last night that I was drinking my last bottle of 2006 Cranberry-Raspberry Wine (with a tiny splash of Elderberry added for color), and noted it was a very good wine. In response I received two messages almost immediately requesting the recipe.

I have previously posted two recipes for cranberry-raspberry wines. The first was made with a commercial, frozen "cranraspberry" concentrate and the second, a social wine, was made with cranberry juice and raspberry mix syrup (see recipe links following this entry). This recipe mimics neither of those recipes, but rather uses whole raspberries and whole cranberries.

We are approaching the end of the red raspberry season, so get out there and pick some, cull and weigh them, and set aside a pound for the wine. Put these in a freezer-grade Ziploc bag and freeze them. I had to buy my fresh raspberries (I found a great bargain at Costco and had plenty to eat and enough to freeze). You can also buy the frozen berries in most supermarkets.

If you can still find elderberries, get out there and pick some. You won't need many for the wine - a quarter of a cup will do. Put these too in a freezer-grade Ziploc and store for future use (I put mine in a snack-sized Ziploc and put that inside the quart-sized bag of red raspberries. If you cannot get fresh elderberries you can use a tablespoon of dried elderberries, available in most homebrew shops.

Cranberries are another matter. If you are a purist in the Great North and are blessed to know of a stand of highbush cranberries, then go forth at the appropriate time (they DO taste better in late winter or early spring, even though the odds of them avoiding being eaten between October and March are slim) and harvest some. Taste them. Some have to be cooked to become enjoyably edible. If yours require that extra step, you're on your own as I have no experience cooking them before making wine.

Most of us do not live in wild cranberry country. We have several options, but three are most appropriate. (1) Look for commercial fresh cranberries around Thanksgiving and buy a few bags. (2) Look for frozen bags of cranberries at other times and get what you need. (3) Buy fresh cranberries over the internet and have them shipped to your home.

Why, you might ask, would anyone select the third option above? Certainly they are going to be super expensive, with shipping and all. The answer is two-fold. First, they are not all that expensive (certainly cheaper than a day at Sea World). Second, the best cranberries I've ever eaten and made wine with were purchased this way after an internet acquaintance swore the flavor of these berries were far superior to any he had tasted. Having said that, I cannot steer you to the place I bought mine. That was four years ago and I lost the address. But if you join rec.crafts.winemaking and ask about buying fabulous tasting cranberries, someone will steer you in the right direction.

Finally, you can get canned whole cranberries pack in water year-round in just about any supermarket. Read the label carefully before you buy them. You do not want to buy any containing potassium sorbate (or sorbic acid) or sodium benzoate (or benzoic acid). I have never made wine with canned cranberries but know people who have and it is not rocket science. As for how many cans to buy, if the can does not list the weight of the contents (don't confuse "oz. wt." with "fl. oz."), just drain and weigh them, but keep the water they are packed in to use in making the wine.

Some may wonder why I used a white grape juice frozen concentrate and then added elderberries for color when I could have used red grape frozen concentrate and cinched the color without the elderberries. There are three reasons. First, the white grape juice does not compete with the flavors of the cranberry and raspberries to the extent red grape concentrate would. Second, I wanted to add the elderberries anyway for their contributions in flavor complexity and (third) tannin.

So, you can see that there are many ways to assemble the must for this wine. I'm simply going to tell you how I did it. Use your own circumstances to your advantage and make adjustments as required.

  • 2 lbs 4 oz fresh (or thawed) whole cranberries
  • 1 lb fresh (or thawed) whole raspberries
  • 1/4 c fresh (or thawed) elderberries
  • 11 1/2-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb 12 oz finely granulated sugar
  • Water to achieve 1 fluid gallon
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet wine yeast (I used Pasteur Champagne)

Wash the cranberries and cull out unsound or unripe berries. Put the water on to boil. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the cranberries and put in primary with raspberries and elderberries. Use rubber-gloved hands to mash raspberries and elderberries. Pour sugar over fruit and boiling water over all. Cover with sanitized muslin cloth. When cooled to room temperature, add thawed grape concentrate, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Stir, re-cover and set aside for 12 hours. Add activated yeast in starter solution, re-cover and stir daily. After 10-14 days of fermentation, pour through a fine-mesh nylon straining bag, squeeze gently to extract all juices without exuding raspberry pulp, transfer to secondary, and fit airlock. Rack after 30 days, top up, refit airlock, and ferment to dryness. Rack again after 30 days, add 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and stir to integrate. After 30 days, may sweeten to s.g. 1.002-1.004. When wine is brilliantly clear, rack into bottles and age at least 9 months before sampling. [Author's own recipe]

September 1st, 2009

There are six deer in my back property as I write - two bucks, three does and a fawn - eating the grass where the sprinklers overshoot the fence. They are in the back acreage, not in the yard itself where my grapevines are planted. They used to jump the six-foot chain link fence and eat the grapes, but I now have mustang grapes growing on the fence and they don't jump over it anymore. An old-timer told me that one - deer won't jump a fence higher than themselves that they can't see through, so let some wild grapes grow on the fence and they'll stay out. It worked. They haven't jumped the fence in the three years since the mustangs filled out the fence.

I wonder if they would be so brave if they knew what was going on inside the house. Last night I took 3.8 pounds of precooked venison neck meat out of the freezer and am in the process of making venison chili. It smells wonderful, so I know it will taste great. The neck was heavily rubbed with Cajun spices, wrapped in foil and cooked in a roasting pan at 200 degrees F. overnight. What didn't fall off the bones was pulled off with a fork so it is mostly shredded, just the way I like it in my chili.

Hmmm, another doe and fawn have joined the herd. The doe jumped the back cattle fence out and the fawn sort of stepped through it. One of the bucks has ten points. The other has six. My dog is sleeping through it all but will be up half the night barking at things that like the dark. What a job...!

Sugar in Recipes

A winemaker recently complained in a forum that many recipes call for way too much sugar. He gave as an example a blueberry wine recipe that called for 2.5 lbs per gallon. He starting with 2 pounds, and when he checked his specific gravity it was 1.115! My reply really was a quick, off-the-cuff recitation of points I have made many times but new-comers fail to read because they don't search for past entries on a given subject. Because I penned a hasty reply, it was incomplete. Below is my reply. Please note that the writer was actually asking about elderberry wines and mentioned the blueberry experience to punctuate a point about too much sugar in recipes.

"The question of sugar amounts called for in recipes has been addressed many times. I cannot speak for others, but I usually top up with plain old water. If I rack a wine 3-4 times (average for wines made from fresh fruit), I'm going to lose anywhere from a cup to a pint per gallon the first racking (possibly more if the fruit totally disintegrates) and a half-cup to a cup each racking thereafter. Since most of my wines are intended to be table wines, I want to start at around 15-16% PA so that I end up with 12-13.5% alcohol after dilution from topping up.

But fruit do contribute sugar to the must. It just may not be as much as you thought. Blueberries are typically 7-7.5% natural sugar (although superior blueberries picked just right can go as high as 13%), so crushing 100 pounds of blueberries typically only provides about 7-7.5 pounds of sugar. Go to Sugars in Winemaking (see link below) and scroll down to the table, "Sugar Content of Selected Fruit and Fruit Juices, 100 Grams". I don't have the data on elderberries, but [another member] might."

What I failed to question was his s.g. reading of 1.115 for the blueberry must. It is roughly 0.010 points higher than it should have been. Assuming his hydrometer was correctly calibrated and temperature adjusted, either his blueberries were exceptionally sweet or his must had a lot of minute suspended pulp in it. The former is possible for home grown berries picked just as the firmness in the berry relaxes, while the latter is not at all unusual under any circumstances - but especially if the berries were frozen.

Many of my older, "adapted" recipes call for more sugar than even the above can justify ("adapted" recipes originated with another winemaker and was "tweaked" by me). There are several possible reasons for this. I cannot speak to the motives of other winemakers but can often infer a rule or inclination from the body of their work. I think many of the "old school" winemakers used 3 and even 4 pounds of sugar per gallon to ensure the wine was very sweet. This is both a matter of preference for sweet wines on the part of the original winemaker and recognition that sugar is a natural preservative. Then again some recipes are for Imperial gallons, which are roughly 1/5th larger than American gallons (while American gallons are about 1/6th smaller than Imperial gallons). I usually adjusted these amounts to allow for the difference, but sometimes I missed it. To adjust, add 20% to go from American to Imperial gallons and subtract 16.7% when down-sizing from Imperial to American gallons.

Brown Red Wines

A reader wrote to ask why a number of red wines would start browning prematurely. By prematurely, he meant in 2-3 years. These are French-American hybrids fermented with minimal sulfites and without cooling jackets, barrel aged for less than a year, and bottled without sparging with inert gas. Three possibilities come immediately to mind.

The first is obvious - oxidation. This would not be too surprising given the low sulfite additions and possible warm fermentation temperatures. Also, barrel aging can be a double-edged sword. The edge cuts as intended if sharp and used properly - in this case the barrels are properly maintained between usage and kept topped up when in use. If either one is lacking, the wine suffers. Finally, while not sparging your bottles is probably more common than using a gas, it is just one more thing that can contribute to excessive uptake of O2.

The second thought was that excessive phenolic compounds could contribute to premature browning. Red French-American hybrids can be rich in phenols, even richer if not destemmed during crushing and if fermented too long on the skins, pulp and seeds. Oak barrels also contribute phenolic compounds, but good barrel management should negate any deleterious effects. For example, wines are not held nearly as long in new barrels as they are the second or third times the barrels are used.

A third possibility is that a very acidic wine can brown if the acid is neutralized with a base rather than manipulated to remove excess acid as tartrate or malate.

There are other possibilities, but they were not suggested by the limited conditions mentioned by the writer. Also, certain possibilities exist for white wines that don't apply to reds; the reverse is also true. More information would be helpful and may be offered, but the above are the common reasons for browning of reds.

September 5th, 2009

I mentioned earlier (August 23rd) I had made watermelon rind pickles from a large "Moon and Stars" watermelon and that they were quite good. After prodding, I typed up the recipe for the pickles and sent it to those who asked for it as well as a few who didn't, including my uncle in Florida. He replied that he has never acquired a taste for watermelon rind pickles. My immediate reaction was (sorry Gordon) "Duh!"

With few exceptions it is the pickling brine, not the thing being pickled, that imparts the taste. If you don't like dill pickles, try non-dill Kosher. If you don't like sour pickles, try sweet ones. I like dill pickles, but not those made with too much vinegar. The point is, it isn't the watermelon rind one acquires a taste for, but the type of brine used. My recipe makes semi-sweet pickles and they are quite good.

If these thoughts tie into my blog entry in any way it is that they illustrate faulty thinking. In this case it simply restricts my uncle's potential enjoyment of what I consider to be a very good pickle. In other cases, like the one I will discuss next, it can create anxiety where none is warranted.

Potassium Sorbate Shelf Life

Sorbic acid is used in conjunction with sulfite to render a sweet wine biologically stable so it does start fermenting again in the bottle, an event that could have explosive consequences. Sorbic acid is stored in a dry form called potassium sorbate that produces sorbic acid when added to wine. A forum reader asked about the shelf life of the acid. "If it does expire when dry, it should also expire in solution which makes me wonder if my sweetened wines are ticking timebombs for refermentation once the sorbate has expired." This worry was compounded when the reader discovered that 90% of sorbic acid in solution decomposes within a year. This was, I thought, a very good question, but one based on faulty understanding.

I replied that sorbic acid in wine effectively neuters any residual yeast, leaving them incapable of reproducing. Within a month or two, most will simply die of old age. Even if some of them somehow manage to outlive the half-life of the sorbic acid, they are physiologically incapable of reproducing and kindling a wholesale refermentation. If a winemaker uses appropriate doses of potassium sorbate in conjunction with potassium metabisulfite, the wine will become biologically stable and the winemaker can sleep well without worrying about ticking timebombs.

As for whether potassium sorbate has a shelf life, the answer is most decidedly yes. It is considered effective for up to three years from date of manufacture if immediately and properly stored. However, once the sealed vial, jar or container is opened, it has a shelf life of about six months - less if exposed long to high humidity.

If you are new to winemaking, you might wonder why I mentioned using sorbic acid in conjunction with sulfite. The reason is that if a wine that has been treated with sorbic acid later undergoes malolactic fermentation, it will produce a byproduct compound called 2-ethoxy-hexa-3,5-diene that produces an offensive odor reminiscent of geraniums; an aseptic dose of sulfite will kill any malolactic bacteria present and prevent the wine from undergoing malo-lactic fermentation in the bottle. Sulfites are added in the form of crushed Campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite.

Bitter Flower Wines

A reader made both elderflower and honeysuckle-rose petal wines. He claimed, "The bouquet of each is great, the color and mouthfeel good. Only one thing mars the taste...." He then describes an herbal bitterness that hasn't gone away after a year in storage. He said he was careful to remove all greenery beforehand and used boiling water poured over the flower petals as both an extraction means and a sanitizing agent. He naturally wondered if that could have been the source of the herbal bitterness and, if so, there might be a better technique for extracting color and aroma from flower petals?

I replied that I use the boiling water extraction method and do not get a bitterness. However, once I used about twice the recommended amount of elderflowers that resulted in a bitter wine. More is not always better. I asked if this might be his problem too? I then recounted that solved the problem by making a gallon of Niagara wine using Welch's white grape juice frozen concentrate and then blending the two wines. I did not simply mix them one to one, but actually did taste trials to see when the bitterness disappeared. This experience led me to devise the following recipe.

Elderflower Wine

The white or whitish-yellow flowers of all species and varieties of elder are pleasantly fragrant and impart a muscat flavor to wines, ciders and vinegars. They are also edible and can be fried in a fritter or beer batter, added to pancake or muffin batter, cooked into pies and tarts, and added fresh to salads or many other food dishes. Obviously, they can also be used to flavor wines.

Elderflower wine is an acquired taste and not appreciated by everyone. Too many flowers will yield a bitter, almost undrinkable wine, so do not exceed the amount specified below. I have made several batches of elderflower wine using different recipes, but the recipe below yields a fuller-bodied wine and is more drinkable to a wider population than others I've made because of the addition of the grape juice concentrate.

  • 1 pt fresh elderflowers
  • 12 oz can frozen white grape juice concentrate
  • 1 lb 12 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 2 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
  • 7 pts and 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Red Star Pasteur Champagne wine yeast

Thaw grape juice concentrate and then put water on to boil. While water rises to a boil, wash flower heads to remove insects and road dust and then separate flowers from stalks. Put flowers, sugar and grape juice concentrate in a primary container and pour boiling water over them. Stir well to dissolve sugar, cover with sterile cloth, and set aside several hours until cool. Add acid blend, one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and yeast nutrient, stirring briefly. Recover with cloth and set aside 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution. Ferment 5-6 days, strain off flowers, pour liquid into secondary, and attach an airlock. Rack when specific gravity is at or below 1.005, top up and refit airlock. Set aside additional three months, rack, stabilize with potassium sorbate and remaining finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, and sweeten to taste. Wait three weeks to ensure stillness and rack into bottles. Age six months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

September 7th, 2009

Today, the first Monday in September - not May 1st - is Labor Day in the United States, a holiday with origins in Canada and codified following the deadly Pullman Strike in 1894. This holiday is the last chance for a summer outing for many - especially families with school-age children - and commercially is the occasion for final "back to school" sales.

Labor Day formally honors the strength and spitit of trade and labor organizations. That is the serious and reflective side of the holiday. But in this country, it also marks the beginning of college and professional football seasons (and I am talking about American football, not rugby or soccer). And therein lies its hidden charm for millions of fans of the game. I don't wish to belabor (pun intended) this point or debase the seriousness of the holiday, but I do have my favorite college and professional teams.

Dragonfruit Wine

Several years ago I received three requests for a Dragonfruit Wine recipe. I posted one and since then have only received 8 emails referencing it, but 6 have come in the past two weeks from one gentleman. Some of his questions are about alternative ingredients because of his inability to find winemaking supplies in the Philippines, so if anyone knows of a source of supplies there please write to me so I can pass it on. Other questions cover basic steps and processes, which are well enumerated on my site. I don't know if he simply hasn't read them, they aren't clear or I have left aspects out, but I will repost the recipe here and explain it in detail. I simply cannot exchange 9 emails explaining each recipe, so perhaps if I do the job well here I can avoid similar exchanges. It isn't that I don't want to communicate with you, but I have very little free time to answer email and I do want you all to learn how to do this.

The dragonfruit, or dragon fruit if you prefer, is the name variously given to Hylocereus undatus and Selenicereus megalanthus. It is also known as the red piyata, thang loy, dragon pearl fruit, strawberry pear, cactus fruit, and, in the case of Selenicereus, yellow pitaya. They are a type of pipe-organ cactus, although their trunk and branch segments are not round. These cacti can form very dense thickets and are cultivated for barriers, for their large, white or yellowish-white, strongly scented flowers, and for their spineless, very tasty fruit.

Dragonfruit (<i>Hylocereus undatus</i>)
Dragonfruit (Hylocereus undatus)

The flesh of the Selenicereusmay be white or various shades of red whereas that of Selenicereus is white only, but their fruit are both sweeter and smaller. Numerous small seeds are embedded in the flesh and may be eaten. The fruit of Selenicereus has many fine spines which rub of upon ripening. Selenicereus fruits have many scales. They contain glucose, fructose, and sucrose sugars and are eaten raw, made into refreshing drinks, or dried for later use. Of course, they also make a very good wine, for which they may be washed and chopped with their outer skin intact or peeled to the white pulp and then chopped. Chopping the whole fruit produces a wine with a slightly pinkish tint. The recipe below makes one gallon of wine.

Dragonfruit Wine Recipe

  • 6 lbs ripe dragonfruit fruit
  • 2 lb sugar
  • 6 pts water
  • 2 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend (or juice of two lemons)
  • 1 tsp dry pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient (or DAP -- diammonium phosphate)
  • 1 pkt wine yeast (Red Star Pasteur Champagne works well)

Put the water on to boil. Meanwhile, carefully trim the greenery from the fruit, wash the fruit well, and chop it coarsely. Put chopped fruit, acid blend, sugar and yeast nutrient into a primary container. When the water boils, pour it into the primary and stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Cover the primary with a sanitized cloth (I use muslin, but a very clean towel will do) and set aside to cool.

When the water is at room temperature, add a finely crushed and dissolved (in 1/4 cup of water) Campden tablet (or 1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite) and stir; this will kill any spoilage bacteria in the must that survived the boiling water. Re-cover the primary and set aside for 6-8 hours. Add the pectic enzyme, stir, re-cover the primary, and set aside another 6-8 hours; this will help break down the fruit so the sugars, flavors and other constituents are more easily extracted by the yeast. Add the yeast, activated several hours earlier in a yeast starter solution. You can use baker's yeast, but it might stop fermenting before all the sugar has been converted into alcohol, leaving a sweeter wine than desired, and/or it might produce slightly yeasty off-flavors (although some people actually like this).

Stir the must at least twice daily for 7 days. The fruit will rise to the top, pushed there by the CO2 created by the yeast. You must stir the must at least twice a day to keep the fruit moist, the yeast working on all surfaces, and prevent the tops of the elevated fruit from drying out and sporting mold.

After 7 days, strain the must through a nylon straining bag and gently but with slightly increasing firmness squeeze the trapped juice out of fruit pulp. Homebrew shops sell nylon grain bags for brewing that winemakers use for straining, but any nylon bag will do - paint stores sell nylon mesh bags for straining paint, but the legs of ladies' pantyhose work just fine. Strain into another sanitized primary or into a large funnel directly into a sanitized secondary (gallon jug). If you strain into a primary, transfer all liquid immediately into the secondary. Top up with good water (distilled or boiled) if required and attach an airlock.

Wait a month and then rack, top up and refit the airlock every 30 days until the wine clears and no new sediments form during a 30-day period. Stabilize the wine with 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet [or 1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite] to prevent renewed fermentation later. These chemicals (and diammonium phosphate) can be obtained from any homebrew shop or good chemist and they really are essential if you are going to sweeten the wine. Sweeten the wine with simple syrup made with two parts sugar dissolved into one part of boiling water. Add two tablespoons at a time and stir until it suits your taste. Wait 3 weeks to make sure fermentation does not restart (the potassium sorbate might be old and not work) and then rack the wine into bottles and cork them. Like most wines, it should improve with age. [Author's own recipe]

September 9th, 2009

I just received the new Fourth Edition of Jon Iverson's Home Winemaking Step by Step. I'll be comparing it over the next few evenings with the July 2000 Third Edition to discern the changes - certainly there were some as this edition is notably larger than the last. Thank you, Jon.

I also received some SB, Gervin and Unican yeasts in the mail from England. It's getting expensive to order them this way. I do wish someone would import and distribute them in the United States.

Dried Cherry Wine

I picked up a pound of bulk dried cherries from Whole Foods. I recall how good the wine was the last time I used dried cherries - took a gold medal as I recall. I don't need another medal, but I sure would like a few bottles of the wine.

Dried Cherry Wine

  • 1 lb dried cherries (sweet)
  • 1 11-oz. can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
  • 1 lb 10 oz finely granulated sugar (to S.G. of 1.090)
  • 1 tsp acid blend acid
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 tsp tannin
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt Montrachet or Champagne wine yeast

Soak cherries in 2 quarts water for 24 hours. Bring water to a boil, lower heat and simmer 8 minutes. Strain, stir sugar in liquid until dissolved, cover and set aside to cool. Add remaining ingredients except yeast, stir and re-cover. After 12 hours, add activated yeast in a starter solution, re-cover, and stir daily until specific gravity drops to 1.010. Transfer to secondary, attach airlock and ferment to dryness. Rack when fermentation ceases, top up and reattach airlock, Rack, top up and refit airlock every 60 days for 6 months. Stabilize and sweeten to taste, wait additional 3 weeks and rack into bottles. Age another 6-12 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

Propagating Vines from Grape Seeds

Shortly after answering one email on propagating grapevines by use of cuttings (in which I discouraged propagation by use of seeds) I received a phone call on that very subject. A very excited novice (his word, not mine) had been given quantities of grapes sufficient to make a gallon of wine each from three different varieties. He wanted to know if he could simply save some of the seeds from each variety and plant these in the spring.

I said, "You can do this, but you probably will not get a vine that produces fruit anything like the grapes you got the seed from. This is because the seeds were almost certainly 'open pollinated,' meaning the inflorescence [grape flowers] that developed the grapes was pollinated by the wind and the pollen could have come from any flowering grapevine within a few feet to a mile away, depending on the wind."

Some years back I received two shipments of Vitis californica from two kindred souls who went to considerable trouble to collect the seeds. After reading the letters accompanying each batch of seeds, I selected one batch over the other because I could only plant so many seeds and this batch seemed more likely to have "true" seeds as the seeds came from vines in "deep woods" in the Russian River Valley.

I wintered the seeds in the refrigerator to simulate winter and in early spring I removed then and planted 30 seeds very carefully in a flat of vermiculite and sand. Eventually, 16 seedlings made it past the first leaf stage. The first leaves presented a variety, but I was more interested in the third and fourth leaves, as these would prove the seedlings sporting them were thriving and would also be closer to what the adult leaves would look like.

I wish I had photographs of those seedlings. There were at least eight different shapes of grape leaves on those seedlings. So much for the isolation of "deep woods," but I had identified three that most likely were closer to true V. californica than any of the others. Unfortunately, the seedlings all died when my wife and I went on a trip and the friend who looked after our plants while we were gone simply never saw them in their flat next to the garage and therefore never watered them.

Still, if you want to try your luck and see what grows, you can collect seeds from any wild or cultivated grape and plant them next year. Wild grape seeds are easier to germinate than V. vinifera or even French-American hybrids. Simply remove the seeds from the grapes you wish to grow and air dry them for a couple of weeks.

Place the dried grape seeds inside a moist paper towel and place the towel with seeds inside a Ziploc freezer bag (you can annotate the bag with the type of grape seeds) and seal it. Place the bag containing the seeds in the refrigerator until spring. This needs to be done because the seeds have to experience a "winter" so they know when it is time to germinate. But do NOT place the seeds in the freezer.

Consult the Farmers Almanac, your county extension agent or otherwise determine when the last frost occurs in your area. About a month before this date, remove the seeds from the refrigerator and plant them in a grid pattern in a nursery flat containing at least two inches of potting mixture. I place the seeds about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart and then add about 1/2 inch of potting soil to the whole flat, covering the seeds with that much soil. Use a hand mister or refillable spray bottle to slowly moisten the soil. If you have a watering can with a really fine-spray head, you can use it to moisten the soil but you risk digging up the seeds if the spray is not fine and gentle. The soil should be damp but not soggy all the way down and the flat has to drain evenly and without restriction. Place the flat in an area that gets natural sunlight most of the day or, if inside, is exposed to a grow light. The area should be approximately 70 degrees during the day and no cooler than 50 degrees at night. If placed outside, be sure to bring them in just before any cold spell arrives.

Seedling pushing second leaf blank space Seedling with second leaves
Seedlings pushing and sporting 2nd leaf set

The seeds should germinate in about 30 to 40 days, but don't expect them all to sprout. Half would be a good number. There are techniques you could employ to raise the percentage, but you can research this yourself.

Seedling in grow tube blank space  Seedlings growing out of grow tubes
Seedlings inside and growing out of grow tubes

When the seedlings have fully developed their second set of leaves, transplant each seedling into a separate pot. By the time they reach a height of 8 to 12 inches, all danger of a late frost should be past and you can plant them permanently in the prepared ground where you want them to grow. Give them at least a month to get established and then fertilize as needed to promote healthy growth. I place a 30- to 36-inch grow tube around each vine and leave it in place until each vine grows past the top.

Vines grown from seed tend to require an extra year or two to establish a healthy root system. Small doses of fertilizer will do them more good that twice-yearly larger doses. Also, after they have been in the ground about three months a quarter- to half-inch surface application of compost in a 12- to 18-inch radius around the vines will greatly assist them in developing winter roots. This, in turn, will help them make a vigorous start the following spring.

September 11th, 2009

It is hard to believe it has been eight years since the guy on the radio said, "Wow, this is weird. A plane has just crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York. No other details are known but we'll keep you posted as we learn them." Sweet Jesus, what a horrible day that turned into.

My friends, we have to remember it. And I mean remember it as it really unfolded, not the way Michael Moore and all the latter-day, Bush-hating revisionists want you to believe it was. Remember the reality, not their propaganda. It was real, a day of disbelief, of dawning realization, of fear and terror - totally surreal as every private and commercial aircraft over and inbound to the United States and Canada was landed and parked somewhere ill-prepared to receive them, their passengers and crews accommodated somehow, and nothing, absolutely nothing flew overhead but emergency and combat aircraft.

On a dime, the world changed. Remember it. Remember the 3,000 victims. Remember the first responders who went bravely into the twin towers and climbed those endless stairs into the arms of the Lord. Remember it vividly and emotionally so that in 50 or 60 years when some hate-mongerer in Tehran or some other backwater of civilization says it didn't happen you can look your great-grandkids in the eye and say with certainty, "Oh yes it did, and I remember it well!"

Keep it with you, securely preserved, as life goes on, as we turn to other, more ordinary things.

Propagating Vines from Grape Seeds, Part 2

My piece two days ago on propagating grape vines from seeds generated a lot of questions. Most revolved around my statement, "You can [plant seeds], but you probably will not get a vine that produces fruit anything like the grapes you got the seed from." There were other issues as well, and I promised I would address them in time, but this was the key topic.

As I explained two days ago, most grapes are "open pollinated," meaning the inflorescence [grape flowers] that developed the grapes was pollinated by what ever pollen was blowing in the wind which could have come from any flowering grapevines near or far away. People are insisting it's "good pollen" because the grapes are all Merlot or Syrah or whatever because they simply don't understand the role of pollen in producing fruit and then in producing seed. A mini biology tutorial is necessary.

Some grape flowers are strictly male or female while others contain both male and female parts. The latter can actually pollinate themselves and often do, but windblown pollen can also slip in there and "do the deed" before the flower's own pollen matures enough to release itself to the whims of gravity and the wind. The female part of the flower is ready to accept any viable grape pollen, and once it does it rapidly begins producing a berry containing one or more seeds (seedless grapes are beyond this discussion, so don't even ask).

The berry (grape), unless somehow mutated, will always be true to the genetic coding in the mother vine and will look, smell and taste like just about every other grape borne by that vine. The pollen that triggered the formation of the berry can be from any other type of grape without affecting the size, shape, color, aroma, or flavor of the newly forming grape in any way. It's legacy, if there is to be one, is strictly confined to the genetic coding of the seeds developing within the individual grape. Each grape's character is solely determined by the genes of the mother vine. The seeds within each grape are determined by the genetic union of the vine contributing the pollen and the vine contributing the ovary. If both come from the same vine, then the seeds will be true (within a natural range of variation) to the single parent.

If you understand the preceding two paragraphs, you should also understand that it is possible for every single grape in a cluster to be pollinated by a different vine. The vines may all be of the same variety or they can be from different varieties or even species. This is not likely, but it is possible, and if it were true then the seeds of each individual grape would contain different genetic coding. If all were extracted, dried, stratified (wintered), and planted and just one from each grape germinated and grew into a vine, each vine and its fruit would be uniquely different.

This is not to say that the fruit would not be good, although we might expect some not to be. It is just that if the mother vine were a Merlot and the pollen came from Merlot, Riesling, Muscat of Hamburg, V. labrusca cv. Concord, V. aestivalis var. lincecumii, and V. monticola vines, the resulting seedlings would be very different and only the Merlot X Merlot should be expected to yield vines with fruit resembling the original mother vine. All the others will be hybrids, some good and some less so.

That's a layman's explanation of a complex subject with a lot of qualifiers left unexplained, but I hope you at least get the general picture. If you do, then you should recognize that planting OP (open pollinated) grape seeds is like rolling dice. You might get some really good vines from your effort but you might get a few you'll want to cull. Don't be afraid to plant the seeds just because the odds of you getting 30 Merlot vines from those 60 Merlot seeds are slim to astronomical. You may get a vine or two that are in fact superior to the vine that gave you the original grapes. It is the crossing of genes by professional and amateur breeders alike that give us new varieties in the first place. So do it, and you have my permission to name any outstanding prodigy after me...or not

Watermelon Rind Pickle Recipe

Okay, okay, I give up. My mentioning of watermelon rind pickles has generated a number of requests for the recipe. It isn't a secret or anything, so I'll gladly share it. Let me just preface the recipe with a couple of remarks. First, don't attempt this if you do not have the canning jars, fresh lids and canning pot for the boiling water bath. Second, thick rinds make better pickles than thin ones, but thickness is relative.

Watermelon Pickles
Two pints of watermelon pickles

The pickles above were made with the "Moon & Stars Watermelon" I mentioned in earlier entries. I apologize for not wiping the outside of the jars clean after they were lifted and sat a few moments in the hot bath while I readied a cooling rack, but what's done is done and the slight film does not affect the taste. Every single person who has tasted these pickles has raved about them. They are really good semi-sweet pickles that utilize a huge portion of the melon we almost always throw away. My last melon made 9 1/2 pints; I am down to 6. The pickles are very attractive if a thin layer of pink flesh is left attached.


Slice melon rind into 1-inch wide strips and then cut away the hard, green, outter peel and discard. (I sliced with a chef's knife, laid the strips on their side and used a paring knife to separate the peel from the inner rind.) Cut strips into bite-sized pieces. The size depends on the thickness of the rind, but 2/3 to 3/4 inch pieces worked well for me.

I processed half the melon's rind at a time, a little over 2 quarts each batch. This will all depend on the size of your melon, how many bowls and saucepans you have, and how much refrigerator space you have free.

Watermelon Rind Pickles

Preparation Time: 3 days. For each quart of melon pieces you will need:

  • 1/4 cup pickling salt
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar, added in stages
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 medium lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, 3-4 inches long
  • 2 very thin strips fresh ginger root, 2 inches x 1/2-inch wide
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice berries

First Day:

  • Place rind pieces in large, non-reactive bowl. Dissolve salt in water and pour water over rind, cover and let stand for 4 hours. Drain off brine and rinse rind twice.
  • Place rind in large stainless steel or enamel pot. Cover rind with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to low boil, cover and boil gently for 8 -10 minutes -- until just tender and slightly translucent. Drain and return to large, non-reactive bowl.
  • Combine half the sugar (set other half aside in air-tight container), vinegar, lemon slices, cinnamon, ginger slices, cloves and allspice in non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Pour over rind. Insert a plate into bowl to weigh down rind and keep it submerged. Place in refrigerator for 24 hours.

Second Day:

  • Place half the remaining sugar into saucepan and drain liquid from rind over sugar. Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve sugar, then pour back over rind. Replace plate weight and return to refrigerator an additional 24 hours.

Third Day:

  • Before beginning next step, fill canning pot with water to level sufficient to cover jars being used. Place jars in water and put on high heat to bring to a boil. In small saucepan, cover ring caps and lids in water and bring to a boil.
  • Place remaining sugar in pot or large saucepan and drain liquid from rind over sugar. Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve sugar. Add the rind pieces to saucepan and return to a boil. Remove from heat.
  • Using tongs or jar grips, remove jars and ring caps and lids. Remove cinnamon sticks from rind liquid and stand one inside each jar; place one slice of ginger in each jar. Remove rind pieces and lemon rings with slotted spoon and pack into jars. Pour liquid over rind to within 1/2 inch of rim. Using wet paper towel, wipe rim clean. Using hot mitts, assemble ring caps and lids and tighten onto jars.
  • Place jars in hot bath and return to boil. Process 10 minutes for pint jars, 15 minutes for quart jars. Remove from water bath and place on cooling rack.
  • Refrigerate overnight before opening to crisp rinds; keep refrigerated after opening.

September 13th, 2009

Friday I had one of those magnificent Cajun meals that require you to loosen your belt halfway through. My dog knows enough to stop eating when she's full, but not me. I swear I gained 6 pounds. I've barely eaten since and still need to shed 4 pounds (my doctor says 14, my wife says 24).

For those who never thought about it, Smoked Burgundy pairs excellently with smoked barbeque pork. If you don't know what Smoked Burgundy is, read on. I won two blue ribbons with my 2001.

Smoked Burgundy Wine

Smoked Burgundy started out as a kit wine. I don't recall the brand (and that log is definitely boxed up in the garage) but it was still in a 5-gallon format, something I dearly wish they would return to. And it was, I'm quite sure, still called "Burgundy" rather than "Bourgeron," something else I wish they would return to but for treaty reasons will not. So, looking at the evidence, it might have been an older kit that was marked down for reasons I didn't really think about at the time. It had a mid-line label, a lower-line price, and I wanted to make a Burgundy.

Upon opening the box the kit came in, I scanned the instructions and tossed them out with the empty box. Those were the days when some wine kit manufacturers were still competing with beer kit manufacturers to see who could bottle their product first. Thank God those days are past. Anyway, I began making my wine.

I had made a decision that I would oak this wine. I dug around and found a gallon-baggie of small, untoasted oak cubes a fellow in Missouri (I think) sent me, made from barrel staves discarded by a cooperage for defects. My wife had recently bought me a small smoker and I laid down a layer of charcoal briquettes and let them reduce considerably in size before applying a layer of water-soaked mesquite chips to the coals. As huge amounts of smoke began engulfing me I set the grill in place, laid a piece of hardware screen on it, and then spread out a layer of the untoasted oak chips on the screen. I closed the lid, choked the damper and went inside to watch a football game.

As I recall, I turned the cubes every 30-45 minutes and added new mesquite about as often. After about 4 hours (there are 6 sides on each cube), I took my mesquite-smoked oak cubes, now well toasted on two sides and medium-to-mildly toasted on the others, tied them in a nylon straining bag with about 30 glass marbles (for weight), and patiently worked these into the carboy. I think I left them in the wine about 8 weeks. I made the wine my own way, in my own time, but pretty much used their ingredients (except yeast and the smoked oak). And now you know my secret. The flavor is unique and complex, and two bottles survive. But I doubt they will see Christmas.

Propagating Vines from Grape Seeds, Part 3

Well, I am surprised by how many of you are interested in this. Your questions, for the most part, have been good ones, but I want to correct an impression I may have left you with and expand upon selected other aspects of the subject.

If this and previous entries have left you scratching your head wondering what I'm talking about, you can turn to Google and Wikipedia. For those wanting deeper understanding, I highly recommend investing in The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture by Lon Rombough.

In my September 11th Part 2 entry on this subject I stated near the end that if your seeds came from a Merlot and your pollen came from several different cultivars and species, "the resulting seedlings would be very different and only the Merlot X Merlot should be expected to yield vines with fruit resembling the original mother vine. All the others will be hybrids, some good and some less so." This is only partially correct. There will be a great deal of variation even within the Merlot X Merlot seeds. This is because the Merlot grape is a variant created by crossing many previous variants of the parent species, V. vinifera. Each crossing resulted in unique gene encoding and each of those uniquely coded variations is stored in the DNA of the ovary and the pollen that combine to form a seed. Which variations will manifest themselves is anyone's guess.

Think of it another way. My father is 88 and still has a full head of hair. One of my brothers and myself have a growing bald spot while two others do not. Two have receeding hairlines while two do not. My father has black hair and my mother has brown. None of us, their offspring, have black hair. Yet any of us could have children with black hair because we carry our father's genes. However, if our spouses have no immediate history of black hair then the odds increase that our offspring will not. And yet, even several generations into the future, the possibility of a black-haired child is real because our father's genes will still be carried into the future and could become determinate.

Merlot is an ancient grape whose mother was a previously unknown cultivar from northern Brittany, cultivated in the late Middle Ages in at least four places in Charentes and now named Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, and whose father was Cabernet Franc. This parentage is deduced from inheritance at 55 nuclear and three chloroplast microsatellite loci and is fairly definitive. But we do not know the generational lineage of the grape, so do not know what latent characteristics are lurking in the DNA of Merlot. Also, there are many clonal variations of Merlot, meaning they possess the same genes but express them slightly differently just as my brothers and I express different genes for hair retention, height, eye color, skin hue, and even right-hand/left-hand dominance.

The preferred method of grapevine propagation that yields new vines identical to the mother is rooting cuttings from the mother herself. The new vines are, in fact, clones of the mother and express the same genes as her. However, over time ever so slight mutations can occur in buds that grow into fruiting wood from which cuttings are taken, resulting in "clonal drift". The easiest mutation to explain is when cuttings are taken from "sports." A sport is a somatic mutation in a new trunk, cane or lateral shoot of perennial fruits. The first navel orange, for example grew on a bud sport of a seeded Citrus sinensis, yet was itself seedless.

The point here is that just as you get great variety from seedlings, you are not guaranteed of getting an exact clone of the mother vine even if you root cuttings. The latter, however, is still thousands of times more likely to produce vines "true" to the mother vine.

Do not shy away from growing seeds from the grapes you like simply because you probably won't grow an identical grape. Plant the seeds, transplant the seedlings, grow the vines, evaluate the results. If you aren't satisfied, plant some more seeds. Once upon a time someone did that and the result was V. vinifera cv. Merlot. Who knows what you might grow?

September 15th, 2009

I went to the supermarket to buy some fruit and saw a "bargain bin" set up filled with mesh bags containing 20 key limes each for $.80 a bag. Why the bargain? Because the limes had all turned yellow, the exact color they become when ripe. There were eight bags in the bin. I wanted three, but spotted the produce manager on another aisle. I wheeled my cart around to him and offered him $.50 a bag for all of them. He said to wait and disappeared into the back room where records and stock are stored. After a few minutes he came out and said he would sell them for $.62 a bag. I said okay and he grabbed a pricing gun, set it for $.62 and changed the price on each bag.

What a deal! People don't realize that yellow limes are riper than green ones. I hope that produce manager doesn't read my blog.

Honeybush Mead

About six months ago I visited a health food supermarket in San Antonio and came across bulk honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) tea leaves. Later, on the tea aisle, I ran across TAZO brand Honeybush tea. Having made wine before with Tazo Passion Tea, an idea formed and I went back to the bulk tea. Not really knowing how much I might need, bought 4 ounces (which was a lot). The aroma of the leaves was slightly herbaceous, but reminiscent of spun honey. I decided to make a mead with it and picked up a 3-pound jar of honey.

When I checked my notes on the Passion Tea Wine, I saw that I only used 1.7 ounces. I brewed a cup of honeybush tea with a teaspoon of leaves and savored it. The flavor was very nice - creamy, vanilla-like, honeyish, yet almost fruity. I decided to use 2 ounces in the mead. A little on-line referencing and I noted that honeybush contains no caffeine and very little tannin.

Flowering Honeybush
Honeybush in full flower in the wild

Honeybush Mead Recipe

  • 2 oz honeybush tea, loose, or 29 Tazo Honeybush tea bags
  • 3 lbs honey
  • 11 oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate (optional, for body)
  • juice of 2 small lemons
  • water to make 1 gallon
  • 1/4 tsp dried grape tannin
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet Lalvin DV10 wine yeast*

Pour the honey into a pot with a 1-gallon gradient line on the side and add water to that mark (NOTE: if you are going to add grape concentrate for body, mark must be 11 ounces shy of a gallon). Put honey-water on to boil while carefully measuring 2 ounces of crushed leaves; tie these in a very fine-meshed infusion bag with two glass marbles for weight. Stir the water intermittently until it comes to a high-boil, add lemon juice, then reduce heat to maintain a low boil for 15 minutes, skimming off the scum from the honey as it rises. Take pan off the heat, submerge the infusion bag (or add tea bags) and cover the pan. About four hours later remove the infusion bag, squeeze it well, and transfer the must to a primary. Add thawed grape concentrate if desired (I did not use it). Stir in tannin, yeast nutrient and activated yeast in a starter solution. Cover primary and set aside. When vigorous fermentation subsides (about 8-10 days), transfer to secondary and attach an airlock. Ferment to dryness and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait 45 days and rack into sanitized secondary containing 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Carefully rack into bottles 30 days later. Allow to age 6 months before consuming. [Author's own recipe]

*If you wish a sweet mead, use Red Star Montrachet yeast. Do not sweeten after fermentation stops, but trust residual sweetness. Adding the grape concentrate will increase the residual sweetness.

September 18th, 2009

Today is the 222nd birthday of the United States Constitution. Although I think the framers of that enduring document would be quite pleased with how infrequently it has been tampered with on paper, I am absolutely certain they would all be appalled at the way the Supreme Court has found meaning in it totally absent from its words. Their intent, so clearly expounded in "The Federalist Papers," was to create a small federal government whose primary duty is the defense and protection of its citizens and thereafter the negotiation of affairs of trade and state with other nations. And they granted it power to create and regulate a national infrastructure, recognizing its essentiality in promoting the free movement of people and commerce.

The architects of the U.S. Constitution specifically vested a greater degree of governance of the people and their affairs in the individual states than in the federal government. We learned this in 7th and 8th grade civics classes - when they still had 7th and 8th grade civics classes. Thus, I am equally certain those architects would be astounded at how enormous the federal government has become, by how much power it has usurped from the states and how liberally it assumes jurisdiction over matters not enumerated to it in the document whose birth we celebrate today.

We forget at our own peril that Benjamin Franklin, upon leaving the Constitutional Convention on September 18th, 1787, was asked by a woman whether they had crafted a republic or a monarchy. He responded, "A republic, if you can keep it." I have bookmarked the reminder that Franklin could have simply said, "A republic", but he added the five words, "if you can keep it." In so doing (I shall quote from my bookmark), "Franklin was suggesting that a republic is not something that can be expected to survive without nurturing and constant attention. Much like an infant, a republic requires the supervision and disciplinary hand of a watchful guardian. If that guardian takes his responsibility lightly, it can be expected that the republic will stray from all that is good and pure and will grow into an unrecognizable monster that knows not how to function properly, defiant and thirsty for self-gratification." Please look around and note a defiant Congress, thirsty for self-gratification. I think Doctor Franklin would simply say, "You were warned."

A Substitute for Yeast Nutrient

I am often asked if one can substitute something else for one or another winemaking ingredient. The answer in most instances is simply of course you can. But you should only do so with the understanding that you are changing the outcome of the process. You will still end up with wine, but it almost certainly will not be what it could have been if substitutions were not made. A dozen or so years ago a couple wrote to me from Senegal, asking what could be used as a substitute for yeast nutrient. I am going to repeat here my advice then, for I think I answered exactly as I should have.

There are numerous authorities that cite different ingredients and proportions. Proprietary yeast nutrients usually contain DAP (diammonium phosphate), which supplies nitrogen and phosphorus; urea, which supplies nitrogen; citric (and perhaps other) acid; trace amounts of biotin; and yeast hulls. The formulations of these nutrients are not generally public knowledge.

Less secret are the formulations of yesteryear. Pre-World War II recipes used malt extract and lemon juice as nutrient, while many post-war recipes used to use ammonium sulphate, magnesium sulphate, potassium phosphate, and citric acid for yeast nutrient. Both, I am told, worked well enough, but not as well as today's formulations. I would suspect that it would be easier to order a packaged nutrient from an out-of-country supplier and pay shipping than to find DAP and the other constituents locally and experiment with proportions. Still, a chemist (or druggist) might be able to mix the following nutrient for you without problem:

  • ammonium sulphate...........130 grains
  • magnesium sulphate........... 20 grains
  • potassium phosphate.......... 70 grains
  • citric acid .......................... 260 grains

This makes an ounce of nutrient, enough to make four gallons of non-grape wine or two gallons of mead. While not as good as commercial formulations, it still should work well enough. The absolute against-the-wall substitute is malt extract and citric acid (lemon juice) mixed half-and-half. By "against the wall" I mean "last resort" -- if you absolutely cannot find DAP at a garden supply store or a chemist to mix the above, but somehow can obtain malt extract.

A Substitute for Pectic Enzyme

Many years ago I was asked if there is a substitute for pectic enzyme. Technically, yes there is, but if you cannot obtain a simple, inexpensive powder (or liquid) available at any homebrew shop, you almost certainly will not have the means to hydrolyze pectin molecules. However, there is a substitute for commercial pectic enzyme.

Years ago I was asked this and replied that the best substitute for pectic enzyme is papaya peel. The layer of green immediately under the skin of the papaya contains natural pectic enzyme.

At that time I was familiar with a rather small papaya imported from Mexico that was seasonally available at a local market. Basing my experience on that size papaya, I advised that one could "... use the peeling from half a papaya as a substitute for one teaspoon of pectic enzyme, noting you can freeze the other half in a ZipLoc bag for later use. Just put the peeling in the primary and ferment it along with the other ingredients. It would be best, however, to order some pectic enzyme from a winemaking supplier over the internet."

Small Papaya blank space Large Papaya
Small and large (but not very large) varieties of papaya

Since that time the availability and variety of papaya in my local markets have dramatically increased. Very large papayas are now more common than the smaller ones I had in mind when I originally wrote the above advice, and every now an then some really huge ones appear. I am just guessing, but I would estimate only an eighth of the peeling from a very large papaya would be sufficient, but using more will not harm the wine.

A final reminder: the peeling needs to be thinly removed so the green layer is visible, not the gold or orange or reddish color of the papaya pulp.

September 23rd, 2009

I cannot believe the U.S. Senate Finance Committee today voted 12-11 along party lines NOT to post the whole health care bill online, thereby denying every citizen even the right to see what their senators are voting on. One Democrat voted with the 10 Republicans, but 12 Democrats voted against the public's right to know the details of the laws that are being proposed. What a low moment this is in United States history!

It is difficult to think about wine after that revelation, but I shall try.

I judged a couple of wine competitions this weekend and endured a few bad wines in order to experience some really fabulous ones. The punishment was minor when compared against the rewards. I do like the perks of wine judging....

Explaining Balance

I had the pleasure of being paired with a novice judge during one event. To be honest, he isn't a certified judge at all but makes wine, enjoys wine and was recruited as a "judge in training." That was fine with me. It required that I mentor him through the process and that forced me to think harder and judge better. While certain aspects are fairly easy to explain, understand and judge (aroma, bouquet, color, clarity), balance is just a little more complex and difficult for some to grasp.

Balance, harmony and equilibrium are closely synonomous. In judging balance, we look at body, sugar, acid, alcohol, and tannin both individually and in relation to one another. Each should be detectable, but none should be pronounced or deficient. In other words, each element should be present but in harmony with the others. At the same time, the variety, type and style of wine also delineates detection parameters for some elements. For example, a white wine is not expected to possess pronounced tannin, but if the tannin content is too low the wine is without "bite" and tastes lifeless and demur. Big reds, on the other hand, require tannic fullness to accompany their bold and rich flavors.

Alcohol contributes to sweetness subtly, but also provides an underlying heat that should never be so distinct as to dominate the flavor profile. Such wines are derisively referred to as "rocket fuel", while a wine with alcohol in balance will be smooth along the back edges of the tongue but just lively enough to be noticed.

One should remember that residual sugar, glycerine and alcohol all contribute to sweetness, which is as distinct a taste as is sourness, saltiness, and bitterness -- and for those trained to detect it, the fifth taste, umami (savory).

The most common balance problem we experienced, and is evident in most wine competitions, is excessive acidity. A wine with a slight acid edge is not unappealing unless the acid itself is out of place. Excessive malic acid, for example, denotes at least some underripe grapes went into the wine and often delivers an impression of "greenness."

Balance is a fickle mistress. I have tasted wines that barely but perceptibly lacked balance but, during the time I was evaluating them, they warmed up just enough to "slide" into perfect balance. This probably is not as rare an occurrence as it seems, but if the wine is not tasted a second or third time the "slide" will be missed. I cannot prove this, but when I have experienced it I realized how serendipitous the experience actually was and each time I wondered how many wines were just a degree or two away from being in perfect balance. This will remain an unknown.

Heather Wine

A Guest Book entry asked if I had a recipe for a heather wine. Most certainly I do. However, I suffer a great misfortune in that only cultivated heather is grown in this locale, not the common wild heather of the Rockies I enjoyed in Colorado or that the Irish, Scots, Scandinavians and even Russians enjoy in magnificent abundance.

According to Biology-Online, Calluna vulgaris is the only species of heather, despite the fact that it practically circles the globe in the northern third of the Northern Hemisphere. While well over a thousand cultivars have been bred from this single species, none are as hardy as the original in the wild. Nor are any as prolific as the wild heather, with one bush capable of producing 150,000 seeds.

Wild heather in bloom blank space Close-up of blooms
Wild heather thicket and close-up of blooms

Heather flowers and new leaves each exude different but distinct fragrances with varied uses. For example, the new growth is cut, dried and placed on burning peat to create dense smoke that both dries and flavors the malt in certain Scotch whisky production. Quite apart, heather honey is distinctly flavorful and highly prized in making a varietal mead. But for making heather wine, it is the flowers that are needed, either alone or in conjunction with the small leaves.

Heather Wine Recipe

  • 1 1/2 lbs Heather tips (in full bloom, woody stem removed)
  • 1 lb 12 oz finely granulated sugar
  • 2 small lemons, juice only
  • 2 small sour oranges, juice only
  • 2 thin slices of ginger root, 1 X 2 inches
  • 11-oz can 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 6 1/2 pts water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 tsp dried wine yeast

Cover heather with 2 quarts water, place on high heat and bring to a boil; hold at low boil for 50 minutes, add ginger slices and remove from heat after additional 10 minutes. Strain off solids and retain liquid only in primary and add grape concentrate, citrus juice and sugar. Stir until completely dissolved, cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to room temperature, stir in yeast nutrient and then activated yeast as a starter solution. Re-cover, set aside and leave for 14 days. Transfer to secondary, affix airlock, and wait until all evidence of fermentation ceases. Rack, top up, reattach airlock, and set aside for 60 days. Rack again, stabilize, top up, reattach airlock, and wait 30 days. If no new lees have formed, rack into bottles. If even a fine dusting appears, wait additional 30 days and very carefully rack into bottles. Age at least six months. [Author's own recipe]

September 26th, 2009

There are people out there watching out for me and I appreciate them. I posted my September 23rd entry late at night and then headed for the shower. I didn't visually confirm the page, which I usually do. Too bad. It wasn't there. In fact, nothing was. I had edited a minor #include file and uploaded it to the wrong directory. When the page tried to load it couldn't find the #include and the whole thing failed. I was unaware until I woke up and turned on my email. Whoa! Lots of people looking out for me! Thank you one and all!

It's easy to forget - well, not exactly forget, but not be thinking about - that just because it is midnight here it does not mean it is midnight everywhere. Thankfully, people on the West Coast, in Hawaii, the Philippines, Australia, etc. are still up, even if some are in a different day (think about it), and some of them read my blog. Thank you all for your emails, and everyone else who wrote that there was something wrong with my alignment of the heather images. There certainly was. HTML 101: whenever you open a feature with an opening tag, you have to close that feature with an ending tag. Duh!

Thanks again, all. I appreciate the concern (or annoyance, or whatever motivates you to tell me something is wrong).


I received phone call last night from an old acquaintance in California who asked if I could help him make a pluot wine. Pluots, a complex hybrid crossing of plum and apricot, were an oddity just 15 years ago but now are widely grown and marketed, with fruit readily available from late May through October. Pluots are typically larger than plums and sweeter than either ancestor. They make an excellent wine, but first a word about pluots themselves.

Pluots should not be confused with plumcots (simple plum X apricot crosses) or apriums (3/4 apricot, 1/4 plum). Plumcots were developed by the legendary Luther Burbank over a century ago; they lack the intense sweetness and flavors of pluots. Apriums are about as sweet as pluots but have a completely different flavor profile. They, too, make a wonderful wine. Pluots range from being 60% to 75% plum, and everyone I know who has tasted pluot wine prefers it to plum wine any day.

Dapple Dandy Pluot blank space Flavor Queen Pluot blank space Raspberry Jewel Pluot
Pluot varieties Dapple Dandy (l), Flavor Queen (c) and Raspberry Jewel (r)

Pluots vary in color, both outwardly and in the flesh. Their skin tends to be mottled, speckled, dappled or non-specific multicolored in a wide range of colors. Their flesh can vary from almost cream to green to yellow to orange to pink to red to purple to anywhere in between. Pluot varieties include (only a partial list):

  • Crimson Sweet: Sweet flavor, medium-sized, Crimson skin with pinkish flesh. Available in June.
  • Dapple Dandy: Large size with mottled pale green to yellow, red-spotted skin, red or pink juicy flesh. Available July through August and easily shipped (due to the firm nature of the flesh).
  • Early Dapple: Good flavor, medium-sized, mottled green over red skin with pink flesh. Available mid June.
  • Flavor Delight: Medium-sized, fuchsia-honey colored skin with pink flesh. Available in June.
  • Flavor Fall: Large size, average flavor, Red skin with yellow flesh. Available the end of September and the first of October
  • Flavor Grenade: Large size, oblong shape with red blush on green background, yellow juicy flesh. Available the end of July through August.
  • Flavor Heart: very large, black with a heart shape, and yellow flesh.
  • Flavor Jewel: Sweet flavor, heart shaped, red over yellow skin with yellow flesh.
  • Flavor King: Fruit punch flavor, medium size, with burgundy skin and red super sweet juicy flesh. Available end of August first of September. Flesh of this is hard until fully ripe which takes time to complete.
  • Flavor Prince: large round and purple, with red flesh.
  • Flavor Queen: Medium to large size, very juicy flesh. Taste is very sweet and when fully ripe (golden yellow colour). Available the end of June to mid August.
  • Flavor Rich: medium-sweet, large black round fruit with orange flesh.
  • Flavor Royal: very sweet, medium-sized, dark purple with crimson flesh. Available end of May through first weeks of June.
  • Flavor Supreme: medium or large, greenish purple skin, juicy red flesh.
  • Flavorosa: very sweet , medium-sized, flat round dark-purple fruit with red flesh. Available end of May through first weeks of June.
  • Raspberry Jewel: medium, dark red skin, brilliant red honey-sweet flesh.[6]
  • Red Ray: medium, bright red with dense, sweet orange flesh
  • Splash: Small to medium sized red-orange colored fruit, with very sweet orange flesh. Available mid July.
  • Sweet Treat: Super sweet with hints of thompson grape flavor, green golden skin with yellow juicy flesh. Available end of June and first of July.
  • Tropical Plumana: Tropical punch flavor, medium-sized, red over greenish yellow background with yellow flesh. Available middle of June.

Ripe pluots are firm, yet juicy within. Those that are slightly soft are at the tail-end of ripeness and those that are yielding to the touch are over-ripe. The latter might make excellent wine but I have only used them for jelly, and it was wonderful!

Pluot Wine

You could make this wine with a mixture of pluot varieties, but I would not. Each variety posses its own unique flavor and I have always tried to capture that as purely as I can. I have made this wine using Dapple Dandy, Flavor Queen and Red Ray varieties. I had to ask the grocer to check his paperwork to get the name of the third, but he did so willingly. The first two are easily recognizable after you've studied the fruit a while.

  • 6 lbs pluots
  • 1 lb 6 oz finely granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 tsp tannin
  • 1 tsp nutrient
  • Red Star Montrachet yeast

Put water on to boil. Wash the fruit, cut in halves to remove the seeds, then chop fruit and put in nylon straining bag in primary. Pour boiling water over fruit. Add the sugar and stir well to dissolve. Cover and allow to cool to 70 degrees F. Add acid blend, pectic enzyme, tannin, and nutrient, recover primary, and wait 12 hours before adding yeast. Allow to ferment until vigor subsides (about 5-7 days), stirring twice daily. Strain, transfer to secondary, and fit airlock. Rack after 30 days, top up, refit airlock and repeat every 30 days until wine clears and drops no more lees. Wait two additional weeks, rack again, stabilize wine, sweeten to taste, and allow to rest a final 30 days before bottling. This wine can be sampled after only 4 months. If not up to expectations, let age another 6 months and taste again. Semi- to slightly sweet (1.004-1.008 SG), this wine will delight you even if you prefer dry wines. [Author's own recipe]

September 30th, 2009

Last Sunday I drove to Victoria, Texas to judge the Czech Heritage Home Wine Competition. This has always been a fine event with a wide variety of entries and this year was no different. Best of Show was taken by a wonderfully fruity table wine made from a hybrid grape known as Favorite. Runner-up was a blueberry port. I have often written about blueberry-elderberry port, but only once have mentioned blueberry alone. I will correct that today.

There are several highway routes from Pleasanton, Texas to Victoria, but for speed and ease I usually take Interstate 37 south to U.S. 59, then take 59 northeastward through Beeville and Goliad to Victoria. It is not the shortest route, but it is certainly the quickest. It offers a bonus. There is a stretch of U.S. 59 bordered with hundreds if not thousands of acres of wild Texas sage, and if it has rained within the previous two weeks the sage is adorned with a profusion of purple flowers.

Wine from the Texas Purple Sage

Due to recent rains, as I drove through sage country last Sunday I was greeted with a show of millions of purple flowers. Since my arrival at the wine competition could not be delayed, I drove past the showy display and promised to stop on the trip home, which I did. It took me about 25 minutes to pick two quarts of flowers. An hour later I was at home and prepared to make a wine.

Purple Sage in bloom blank space Close-up of blooms
Wild Texas purple sage brush and close-up of blooms after rains

Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) has several other names, with Texas Ranger and Silverleaf Sage being the two most common. After observing it in bloom, many people mistakenly call it Purple Sage. True Purple Sage has leaves with a purplish upper surface, which this does not have. I will combine the names and call it Texas Purple Sage for popularity's sake, not for strict correctness. I beg the botanists to forgive me.

Purple Sage Blossoms blank space Close-up of blossoms
Mixing bowl with two quarts of Texas purple sage blossoms

When I picked the flowers I purposely tried not to pick the leaves, knowing this was a futile effort. I actually did want some leaves in there for flavor, just not too many, and trying to avoid them turned out to be the right strategy. The ones I accidently picked with the blossoms turned out to be just about the right number. I measured the flowers and had slightly more than two quarts, not packed. Since I have never made this wine before and had no recipe to guide me, two quarts would do fine.

Texas Purple Sage Wine Recipe

  • 2 qts Texas Sage flowers
  • 1 lb 12 oz finely granulated sugar
  • 11-oz can 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 tsp dried wine yeast

Bring water to boil in large pot and stir in sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in flowers and grape juice concentrate. Cover the pot and set aside to cool. When under 90 degrees F., transfer to primary and stir in remaining ingredients less yeast. Cover the primary and set aside 8-10 hours. Add activated yeast as a starter solution. Re-cover, set aside and stir daily. After three days strain out flowers but leave must to ferment in primary. When vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary, affix airlock and wait until all evidence of fermentation ceases. Rack, top up, reattach airlock, and set aside for 30 days. If clear, rack again, stabilize, sweeten to taste if desired, top up, reattach airlock, and wait final 30 days. If not clear, rack and wait additional 30 days before racking, stabilizing, sweetening, and waiting final 30 days. If no new lees form during this final 30 days, rack into bottles. If even a fine dusting appears, wait an additional 30 days and very carefully rack into bottles. Taste at three months but be prepared to wait longer if needed. [Author's own recipe]

Blueberry Port

The Best of Show wine at the Home Wine Competition last Sunday in Victoria, Texas was a blueberry port. I do not know what recipe, if any, the winemaker used, but I know the recipe below makes an excellent blueberry port. This recipe differs slightly from another recipe appearing elsewhere on my site. This recipe calls for 6-8 pounds of blueberries. I have made it with both weights and can honestly say that the port does not suffer using the lesser amount. As for the red grape concentrate, I used Welch's frozen concentrate (Concord) one time and a Zinfandel concentrate the other time. They were both excellent.

Blueberry Port Recipe

  • 6-8 lbs blueberries
  • 1/2 pt red grape concentrate
  • 1/2 c light dry malt
  • 1 3/4 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 4 pts water
  • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/2 tsp yeast energizer
  • dried wine yeast

Wash and crush blueberries in nylon straining bag in primary fermentation vessel. Stir in all other ingredients except potassium sorbate, yeast and red grape concentrate. Stir well to dissolve sugar, cover primary, and set aside for 24 hours. Add yeast, cover, and daily stir ingredients and press pulp in nylon bag to extract flavor. When specific gravity is 1.030 or less (about 5 days), strain juice from bag and siphon liquor off sediments into glass secondary fermentation vessel. Volume may be low, which is okay at this time. Attach airlock. Rack in three weeks, top up and reattach airlock. Wait two months and rack into clean secondary containing finely crushed and dissolved (1/4 cup water) Campden tablet and potassium sorbate. When wine is clear and stable, rack into larger secondary or primary and add red grape concentrate and 3/4 cup 100 proof vodka or brandy. Stir gently to mix and integrate and then bottle. Allow a year to mature. [Author's own recipe]

October 2nd, 2009

I spent the last six nights watching Ken Burns' magnificent 12-hour series, "The National Parks," on my PBS channel. I am so glad I did. Not only did I learn much of the incredible history of the parks, I was utterly overwhelmed by the shear beauty of the ideas expressed, the poetic prose used to express them, the music that assisted so very well in the telling, and of course the breathtaking photography.

I was fortunate enough to have visited many of the western parks with my family as a youngster and on my own as the Army moved me to Texas, California, Washington, Virginia, and Colorado - all richly blessed with their own caches of unrivalled beauty.

The series stirred many memories and awakened within a yearning to return to familiar valleys, vistas and heights, and then go on to see the many national treasures I have missed. You don't know what this country is until you have seen the awe-inspiring wonders our predecessors were wise enough to preserve for us and the generations yet unborn. That each and every step of this preservation was bitterly fought by selfish interests makes the whole that much more astounding. That anyone could stand on the floor of Yosemite Valley or on the rim of the Grand Canyon or in the reflection of the Grand Tetons and not naturally think of preserving them unspoiled is beyond my comprehension. I sincerely hope it is beyond yours, too.

And now, let's talk about wine.

Mixed Fruit and Berry Wine

A wonderful couple in Tennessee who has been so generous to me by sharing their wines, recipes and secrets have sent me a number of wines and meads made from mixed berries and fruit. While drinking one of these, I became inspired and rummaged through my freezer for hidden treasures. I found a few worthy ingredients and one I questioned but used anyway. I am truly glad I did.

I found some Kiowa blackberries, a gift from a fellow who traded them for a white mustang rooted cutting. They would form the backbone of my wine. I then dug out some freezer-burned mission figs, some chokecherries a friend brought me from San Juan, Colorado, about a cup and a half of blueberries I didn't know we still had (or they would have gone into pancakes long ago), and an unrecognizable mass I had to thaw to identify as oriental persimmons. As I weighed and contemplated my finds, my eyes kept returning to those pathetic looking mission figs. I almost didn't use them, but they made the total weigh 4 pounds 5 ounces - 69 ounces - and the number seduced me. The figs were in.

I bottled the wine tonight. Do not question magical numbers. They are magical for a reason. I drank the 3 1/2 ounces left over from the bottling and I am so glad I used the figs. I could not specifically taste them, but I am certain they counter-balanced the chokecherries and contributed significantly to the heavy fruitiness. I added the grape concentrate as an afterthought when I needed to top up. That, too, worked out well, so I am writing it up as I did it. Neither you nor I will ever have the ingredients required to duplicate this wine, so use it as a guide and be your own chef.

Mixed Fruit and Berry Wine Recipe

  • 1 lb 6 oz frozen Kiowa blackberries
  • 1 lb 3 oz frozen Mission Figs
  • 13 oz frozen chokecherries
  • 10 oz frozen Oriental persimmon pulp
  • 5 oz frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup Welch's frozen Red Grape Concentrate
  • 1 lb 5 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 3 quarts + 1 cup water
  • 2 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablets
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin RC212 wine yeast

Thaw the fruit and berries thoroughly. Chop the figs and crush the chokecherries and anything else needing it. Inside a primary, pour the fruit and berries together in a nylon straining bag and tie closed. Add sugar, acid blend and yeast nutrient, then add water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and cover the primary. Stir and punch down the bag twice a day until s.g. drops below 1.020. Drip drain bag about one-half hour but do not squeeze. Discard pulp. Transfer to secondary and add 1 cup thawed grape concentrate. Attach airlock and set aside 6 weeks in dark place. Rack, top up, reattach airlock, and set aside additional 6 weeks in dark place. Rack again, add 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, affix airlock, and set in dark place for six months. Add second finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, reattach airlock, allow Campden to integrate for a week, then carefully bottle. I will age it for 6 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

Grams, Useful for Precision

Long ago I made a decision to write for the beginner as well as the advanced winemaker. The beginner uses teaspoons, cups, pints, pounds, ounces, et cetera, and their fractions. The advanced winemaker uses grams, kilograms, milliliters and liters. The primary difference between the two genres of measure is precision, and when measuring non-base ingredients (chemicals, enzymes, etc.) to be added to wine, you really do want to be precise. Asked what instrument I would recommend a winemaker obtain after a hydrometer, without hesitation I say an accurate, reliable gram scale.

The gram was originally defined as "the absolute weight of a volume of pure water equal to the cube of the hundredth part of a metre, and at the temperature of melting ice." Today it is easier to think of it simply as one one-thousandth of a kilogram.

As long as we are discussing precision, we should also talk about correctness. Just as one can be precise by using exact measures, so too can one be correct by using accepted conventions. Together, precision and correctness leave nothing to interpretation. There is a difference between gravity and specific gravity. Do not say one and mean the other. There is also a correctness in abbreviations for measures. I have seen people abbreviate gram/grams as gr, gm, grm, gms, and grms, but correctly it is simply g whether singular or plural. It should always be separated from the numeric value by a space, so 17 g is correct and 17g is incorrect. When recording sub-decimal numbers, they should be preceded by a number or a zero, so 0.44 g is correct and .44 g is incorrect. The same rule applies to specific gravity; 0.994 is correct, but .994 is incorrect.

Incidentally, gr means grain, which is 64.7989 milligrams (mg), so if you write "add 1.5 gr" but mean "add 1.5 g", your instruction is to add 97.198 mg when you actually mean 1500 mg.

Here are some useful conversions from "spoons" to grams:

Chemical ¼ Tsp 1 Tsp 1 Tblsp
Acid blend, powder
Ascorbic acid, powder
Bentonite, agglomerated
Calcium carbonate, powder
Citric acid, powder
Diammonium phosphate, powder
Fermaid Yeast Nutrient, powder
Fumaric acid, powder
Gelatin, powder
Grape tannin, powder
Isinglass, powder
Malic acid, powder
Oak-Mor, special and premium
Oak-Mor, toasted
Polyclar V, powder
Polyclar VT, powder
Potassium bicabonate, powder
Potassium bitartrate, powder
Potassium caseinate, powder
Potassium metabisulfite, powder
Potassium sorbate, prilled
Sparkolloid, powder
Tartaric acid, powder
Yeast hulls, powder
Yeastex 61, powder

1.2 grams
0.9 grams
0.8 grams
0.5 grams
1.1 grams
1.2 grams
1.0 grams
1.3 grams
0.8 grams
0.6 grams
1.1 grams
0.7 grams
0.8 grams
0.7 grams
1.4 grams
0.6 grams
1.3 grams
0.6 grams
0.8 grams

5.1 grams
4.6 grams
3.4 grams
2.6 grams
4.9 grams
4.9 grams
4.6 grams
5.3 grams
3.2 grams
2.8 grams
2.4 grams
4.5 grams
1.2 grams
1.4 grams
1.3 grams
1.2 grams
3.3 grams
3.8 grams
3.0 grams
6.2 grams
2.5 grams
1.0 grams
5.0 grams
2.8 grams
3.3 grams

14.4 grams
13.8 grams
11.1 grams
06.7 grams
14.4 grams
14.7 grams
14.7 grams
16.0 grams
09.6 grams
07.8 grams
07.2 grams
13.2 grams
03.6 grams
04.2 grams
04.3 grams
03.9 grams
10.6 grams
10.2 grams
09.0 grams
20.0 grams
03.6 grams
07.5 grams
15.2 grams
08.7 grams
09.6 grams

You can actually get by with a gram scale that only measures down to a tenth of a gram - I used a small balance scale for years that did just that and now use a digital scale that does the same - but there are specific additives that require measurement to the hundredth of a gram to achieve accuracy. For example, if you use potassium benzoate instead of potassium sorbate to stabilize your wine before sweetening, the correct dose is 0.44 g per US gallon, not 0.4 or 0.5. Such scales are available in a wide variety of prices. As with most products, you get the quality you pay for.

October 4th, 2009

Bottling a mead this morning sent me to the keyboard to discuss varietal meads. I wanted to provide the recipe I used, but also wanted to discuss making dry, semi-sweet and sweet varietal meads. The method does not vary, so I was able to do this in an abbreviated format. I hope it is as understandable to you as it is to me.

Then my day was interrupted by a nap, lunch and a trip over to the county fairgrounds to see how my entries did. I entered 5 wines, a jar of Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Jelly, a jar of Black Cherry, Orange and Walnut Marmalade, and a pint of pickled 'Moon and Stars' Watermelon Rind pieces. Everything entered won at least a first place, plus I picked up Grand Champion with the marmalade and a Lemon Wine and Reserve Grand Champion with a Strawberry Wine. On the way home, I decided to share the Lemon Wine recipe. So today's entry contains four recipes, an unusual occurrence.

Varietal (Show) Meads

I woke up at 4:43, too early to think about breakfast, and so I bottled a varietal mead. Varietals are traditional or show meads, made with honey and water and prudent additives, but no additional flavorings. The difference between a common, generic show mead and a varietal is the latter is made with a single-source or varietal honey and assumes the source's name. My mead was made with mesquite honey originating from the Uvalde, Texas area and therefore is a mesquite mead, but there are many varieties available.

My first varietal mead was orange blossom, then clover, columbine, sage, and wildflower. I went through a long period without making any mead at all, but at a shop on a day-trip my wife and I tasted a number of Texas honeys and I bought several. Our favorite was the lightly colored huajillo, a native thorned brush of the Legume family with mimosa-like flowers, but we also bought some mesquite, bluebonnet and huisache. I only made mead with the huajillo, as the other honeys were bought in insufficient quantities for this purpose.

I have bought a number of honeys since then in 25-pound cans from Homebrew Adventures and other sources. Among my favorites for mead were raspberry, tupelo, blueberry, firewood, and heather. But a couple of years ago at a county fair I met a honey producer who had lost most of his bees due to the honey bee die-off and was liquidating his inventory and retiring. As the fair was closing up, I met with him and got a good deal on 15 pounds of mesquite honey, which I used to make the third mead below.

These recipes are, I believe, the best for varietal meads. Different honeys, however, may require adjustments. The method is the same for each recipe and each makes one gallon. For more, do the math.

Varietal Mead, Dry

  • 2-2 1/2 lbs quality varietal honey
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1-3/8 tsp citric acid
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • Water to make up 1 gal (about 3 liters
  • 1 sachet Montrachet 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. Stir in citric acid, yeast energizer 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 until fermentation ends - about 2 weeks. Transfer mead to secondary and attach airlock. 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. [Author's own recipe]

Varietal Mead, Semi-Sweet

  • 2 1/2 - 3 lbs quality varietal honey
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 1/2 tsp citric acid
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • Water to make up 1 gal (about 3 liters
  • 1 sachet Montrachet yeast

Method: Same as for Varietal Mead, Dry. [Author's own recipe]

Varietal Mead, Sweet

  • 3 - 3 3/4 lbs quality varietal honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 5/8 tsp citric acid
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • Water to make up 1 gal (about 3 liters)
  • 1 sachet Montrachet yeast

Method: Same as for Varietal Mead, Dry. [Author's own recipe]

Grand Champion Lemon Wine

Lemon wine surprises people. They expect an alcoholic lemonade and instead get a full-bodied wine with thirst-quenching, lemony taste. It is best as an off-dry wine, but I have made it semi-sweet for competitions and it just claimed Grand Champion. Easy to make, it does require bulk and bottle aging to come into its own.

There are basically six medium-sized, tart, juicy, commercial 'real' lemons most of us are familiar with. 'Eureka' originated in California and forms an open, spreading tree, with virtually thornless branches and twigs and is the most widely available variety. 'Lisbon' originated in Australia and is characterized by a rather dense tree having numerous upright, thorny branches. Most lemons in the supermarket will be one or the other of these two varieties. But you might also fine 'Armstrong' or 'Femminello Ovale,' both of which grow on thornless trees, or 'Genoa' (very thorny) or 'Villa Franca' (moderately thorny). All are very tart. Rarely encountered in the U.S., 'Dorshapo' is a true lemon from Brazil that closely resembles 'Eureka' in fruit and tree characteristics, but is a sweet lemon of very low acidity.

Then there are hybrids. The 'Meyer' has almost completely been replaced with the 'Improved Meyer,' which is mildly tart, thin-skinned, yellow-orange skin and flesh, medium-sized fruit highly prized for eating. 'Monachello' is similarly sized and mildly tart, but not very juicy. 'Rough' and 'Sungold' are moderately tart and medium sized; 'Rough' has a rough-textured skin and 'Sungold' has yellow skin with greenish stripes. 'Perrine' is a lemon-lime hybrid with some lime flavor. 'Ponderosa' is a very tart, juicy, very thick-skinned lemon of grapefruit size. 'Millsweet' is another lemon-lime hybrid of medium size, with yellow-orange, bumpy skin and pale yellow, low-acid interior with few seeds.

I used two specific lemon varieties - 'Implroved Meyer' and 'Millsweet' - you may or may not be able to acquire. Both were gifts from friends who have trees and I used four fruit of each type. You will note above that these possess mildly tart and low acid character, which muted the intensity of the flavor. Do not expect the same results if you cannot obtain one or the other of these varieties (both would be hoping for too much), but if you cannot obtain lemons with mild or moderate tartness, then use only six lemons and two sweet, juicy 'Valencia' oranges.

Grand Champion Lemon Wine Recipe

  • 4 'Improved Meyer' lemons, juice, plus zest from two
  • 4 'Millsweet' lemons, juice only
  • 11.5 oz. can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 2 finely crushed Campden tablets
  • 1/2 tsp. potassium sorbate
  • 200 mL Finest Call Premium Triple Sec Syrup
  • Water to make up 1 gal (about 3 liters)
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet Montrachet yeast

Boil water and dissolve sugar in it. Grate the zest from 2 lemons into primary. Juice all lemons and add juice to primary. Add grape juice to primary and add sugar water. Cover primary and set aside to cool to room temperature. Add yeast nutrient and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. After 12 hours, add yeast. Ferment until specific gravity drops to 1.010 (6-8 days). Rack into secondary, top up if required and fit airlock. In 6 weeks, rack, add potassium sorbate and second finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up and refit airlock. Age 6 months, checking water in airlock periodically. Add Triple Sec Syrup, refit airlock and wait two weeks. Rack into bottles and age additional 6 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

October 10th, 2009

I found a bottle of 2005 tomato wine I didn't know I still had. I opened it with the fervent expectation I would dump it down the drain, so much so that I opened it in the sink! But, because you never know, I gave it a tentative sniff, then just tilted the bottle up and took a sip, ready to grab a glass and rinse. No need, It was terriffic -- much better than when it was just a year old. Had I known it was this good, I'd have saved it for the competition on the 18th.

Changing subjects, I use the word "fad" in my first subject title below. Maybe "fad" is the wrong word for some of you and I apologize if it is. "Compelling awareness" is far more accurate for some people I know, but "fad" still fits most. However, if your dietary supplement choices are guided by balanced, credible research and weighted decision-making, then by all means exclude yourself from the faddish majority. As for me, I'm somewhere in between the two extremes.

Açai Berries or Juice and the Super Antioxidant Fad

Several times in the past two months the subject of açai (pronounced ah-sah-ee) berry wine has come up, which is unusual, and that kindled a desire in me to write about it. I have in fact made two wines with açai juice, but as I sat down to write about it little nagging issues crept into my consciousness and could not be ignored. These had to do with where did this interest in açai come from? I think it arose from several quarters, but three have registered in my memory - appearance in markets, an avalanche of printed references, and Oprah reportedly said she loves it. I'm not sure if the appearance preceded the avalanche but that is how I noted it, and for the record I do not watch Oprah - I just see her mentioned in ads. The question, to me at least, then becomes, so what? Why should I buy this super-expensive juice, let alone consider making wine from it?

Marketing it as a "newly discovered wonder fruit" does not work with me. I have a built-in resistance to things I've never heard of before suddenly becoming the health supplement fad du jour. Gogi (a.k.a. goji), noni, wolfberries, xango, mangosteen, açai, and jaboticaba are all just fruit or berries from foreign lands that had limited export potential to the United States until their antioxidant values were hyped and marketed. We have fruit and berries here in the States with high antioxidant levels -- aronia, black raspberry, prune, bilberry, pomegranate, raisin, red raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry are all high in antioxidant value as measured by oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay. Oh, but comparatively the foreign stuff has "super antioxidant" levels. That has to be better, right?

ORAC scores are just numbers. What is important is which phytochemicals that produce the scores are in the source and whether these compounds are metabolized extensively or absorbed effectively so that the antioxidants get used beneficially by our bodies. If you're marketing this stuff on the internet (and tens of thousands of people are), you're not interested in telling the whole story - just throwing out numbers you hope will drive up sales. I don't know for sure, but I think it probably works.

I'm sorry, but when it comes to health foods and dietary supplements I think the average American is a very poor shopper - some of you are excellent, I know, but I'm talking average. On average, we have no idea what antioxidants and free radicals are, just that they are good for you and the more the better. But that isn't necessarily true.

Let us suppose that you understand that effectively metabolized antioxidants scavenge free radicals and this is good for you, and that the United States Department of Agriculture recommends we consume 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units of antioxidants daily to optimize our health and mitigate unhealthy risk factors. According to the USDA, just 0.7 ounces of açai berry or wolfberry will deliver 5,000 ORAC units, so just get this stuff, take a full ounce "just to be sure," and go out for a bacon-double-cheeseburger, right? Of course not, and it isn't just because you forgot to put avocado on that bacon-double-cheeseburger.

There are several rules of life you ought to memorize and follow. Three of them apply here. First, with rare exceptions, simple solutions to complex problems are always inadequate. Second, with even rarer exceptions, one size does not fit all. Third, also with rare exceptions, more than the optimum is wasteful.

Because all antioxidants and free radicals are not the same, we need to consume a variety of types of antioxidants to do the most good. Although açai and wolfberry may indeed be extremely high in antioxidants, we still need to eat garlic, spinach, yellow squash, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, ground cloves (really high), vitamins C and E, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, red onions, avocado (just without the bacon-double-cheeseburger), and all those healthy foods many of us eased out of our diet once we were on our own.

Many berries get their high ORAC scores from anthocyanins in the pigments that produce the blue, purple and red colors, but anthocyanins are not terribly stable and a great deal of it does not get absorbed into our bodies. And, unfortunately, our bodies normally absorb only so many antioxidants, so exceeding that amount is simply wasteful. Knowing that amount may require consulting a dietician, but they are educated in these matters and most of us are not.

Açai Berries or Juice and Wine

Açai juice has been appearing in more and more supermarkets in small, rather costly bottles, usually displayed with other refrigerated "super juices" adjacent to or near the produce department. It has become one of those juices you never heard of before but suddenly it is mentioned everywhere healthy diets or supplements are discussed. Third, everyone peddling this stuff as dietary supplements feels compelled to mention that Oprah loves it or some such meaningless attribution. Okay. She's a billionaire and can afford to fill her swimming pool with açai juice if the itch strikes her, but what about the rest of us? Does the stuff make such an outstanding wine that you should suffer the expense to try it?

Acai berries
Açai berries: the wine may not be worth the price

I have tried and have not yet been able to obtain açai berries here in Texas, although one gourmet store said they would try to get some (I fear the price and have not returned). I have had no problem finding the juice, which is also quite expensive but different brands differ greatly on that. I've done side-by-side label comparisons and it appears the ones claiming to be pure juice are just that and cost the most. I don't trust the less expensive ones that are "reconstituted from concentrate (filtered water, concentrate)" as they could easily over-dilute the concentrate by 20% and, not knowing what the full flavor is, I would never know. Anyway, I have made two rather expensive batches of açai wine.

The first batch was mixed with blueberry juice before fermentation and I think this was a mistake. The wine came out nice I think, but possessed a minor fault. The mistake was in combining the two juices before fermentation. I had no idea what the fermented açai should taste like and could not judge whether a slightly sharp fruitiness experienced along the back sides of the tongue was natural, an off-taste due to a minor winemaking fault or the result of the two juices possessing a minor incompatibility. I added sugar to the finished wine in an attempt to mask the annoying imperfection and in the process the wine became sweeter than either my wife or I care for. Other people liked it, but at $11 a bottle I really wanted something I liked.

My second batch was even more expensive as I used just açai juice and additives but did dilute it by half. However, my purpose was to do some blending trials and see what worked and what didn't. I drew off several 500 mL samples and blended these with Niagara, Concord, blackberry, pomegranate, cherry, and blueberry. Interestingly, I never found a blending ratio with pomegranate or cherry that I liked at ratios of 80/20, 60/40, 40/60, and 20/80. Blackberry came close to blending well, but lacked something I could not identify. Blueberry blended well, but as a minor (30%) component; heavier than that and I began to notice that sharpness I noted in the first batch. It blended well with both grapes and in various ratios, but I think the Niagara allowed the açai to shine better than did the Concord.

In retrospect, I wish I had had some apple wine to try blending, but I didn't. That might be a better choice than Niagara, as might rhubarb and possibly even banana. It also occurred to me that there are two muscadine wines that might blend well with açai -- Tara and Southern Home. Magnolia is a potential third and Nobel a fourth. It might also blend well with white mustang, but probably not the red -- the mustang flavor would surely overwhelm the açai.

As you can see, I would like to play with this berry some more, but I'll have to wait until the price comes down to where the rest of the economy resides. Açai juice is good, but I don't think its flavor (or its "super antioxidant" value) warrants the current price.

If someone wins the lottery and wants to try this, I would I would suggest you consider fermenting straight açai juice (you probably wouldn't want to dilute it if you won the lottery) and do blending trials as I did. That way if you get it wrong you are only getting a small sample wrong, and once you find the best ratio you can even correct the one(s) that went wrong.

Finally, I only blended dry wines. I well know the results could differ significantly if blending sweet wines, or a dry and a sweet, or two drys and a sweet, etc. The only compound blend I did was I added some Niagara to the açai -pomegranate in an attempt to rescue it, but I really needed more açai wine to explore that avenue adequately. I was shy because I drank the remaining 780 mL of açai wine. It was good, but not fantastic -- not as good as jaboticaba or aronia are as straight wines.

Flavoring Extracts

On a popular winemaking forum someone asked about flavoring extracts he saw on a winemaking supplier's website. I read the various replies and was surprised at how readily some of the respondents embraced a practice I consider to be on the line between what is and is not acceptable in winemaking. I then expressed that opinion and stirred up a controversy that is still drawing comments. There is much to discuss on this subject, and I wanted to revisit and flesh it out here.

I take pride in taking base ingredients and making wine from them. Well, not always. I've dumped a few batches I was not proud of. But when the flavor is not what I want, I work with it -- tweak it if I can -- before rushing to the drain. By tweak I mean any of several things.

  • The desired tweak is adding a little of the unfermented juice of the base, if I have it; this is called adding a "sweet reserve" whether the juice is sweet or not (if not, I usually add a little sugar, as sugar usually does bring out flavor).
  • If I don't have any unfermented juice, I might just try adding a little sugar. Often it just takes a little to rescue a "thin" flavor. By the same token, adding a little acid will also often rescue a wine -- add the dominant acid of the fruit or acid blend.
  • I will add frozen concentrate if I have it (I have about 12 varieties in my chest freezer). This requires drawing off a sample and playing with it to find the optimum amount to add lest you add to much. Once you add too much to the whole batch, you've flawed it.
  • If I do not have the same flavor to add (as a reserve or concentrate), then I add a flavor that will complement the base. Adding cranberry, grape, chokecherry, aronia, serviceberry or any number of things to a weak cherry will almost always work; it changes the wine, but rarely for the worse and usually for the better. Think about it and you will come up with many complements for other wines as well.
  • You can also blend wines to rescue a weak wine, but do trials first lest you simply create a larger batch of weak wine. You have to have a strong blender or you are spinning your wheels, but even if you don't have one you can make one. The weak wine will wait.
  • There are flavored fruit syrups - all kinds. These can be added to a must prior to fermentation and fermented with the base. They increase the flavor and add some fermentable sugars to the must - some add a significant amount, so add them before you add sugar so your specific gravity is correct. But be very careful with fruit syrups. Many contain sorbic acid or benzoic acid to prevent the syrups from fermenting, so obviously you do not want to add these to your must.

One thing you did not see in the list above is reaching for an artificial flavoring extract. Color me old fashioned, but I was taught to take pride in my work, work out any problems honorably, and don't "fudge" and pretend you didn't. Those flavorings may be fine for you, but to me they are artificial and don't belong in wines made from scratch. However, if you do use them, they should be listed on the label. When I say label, I am specifically speaking of the bottle tag or label used to list essential information for wines entered in competition. What you put on the label of bottles you drink or give away is your affair, but competitions have rules and all flavored ingredients are routinely required to be listed. That means you don't list yeast nutrient or Campden tablets, but do list oak essence ("oak" is usually sufficient), fruit syrups and candies added for flavor (Jolly Ranchers, mints, etc.).

A question was asked about Island Mist Premium Fruit Flavored Wine Kits, which use an "F-Pack" of fruit flavoring to create such wonders as Peach Apricot Chardonnay, Black Raspberry Merlot, Blackberry Cabernet, Green Apple Riesling, Blueberry Pinot Noir, etc. Island Mist claims the "F-Packs" contain "natural fruit flavoring and concentrate" which sounds natural to me, but the L.D. Carlson Fruit Flavors for Wine and Beer sold by local homebrew shops do not use natural fruit flavors and concentrate. Regardless of flavor, they are decidedly clear and colorless. The writer of that comment was not insinuating there was equivalency between the Island Mist "F-Pack" and the L.D. Carlson flavorings, but rather he equated natural flavored syrups to "F-Packs," something even I did that in my list up above.

Someone else commented on McCormick extracts, available in almost every supermarket in America. I went in the kitchen and looked at my wife's collection of extracts. We have a mix of three brands - McCormick, Watkins and Adams. Every single McCormick extract we have (we have seven) begins with the word "Imitation." Every single Watkins extract we have (we have six) contains the word "Artificial" on the front label. We only have two Adams extracts, and both claim to be a "blend of propylene glycol, water, alcohol, and oil of [almond or anise]." However, I know Adams also makes imitation fruit extracts

People, especially new winemakers, want their strawberry wine to taste like fresh strawberries, their blackberry wine to taste like fresh blackberries, and so on. I don't know why it takes time to learn this, but the process of fermentation changes the flavor profile of the base significantly. Grape wines do not taste like grape juice, so why would one expect a peach wine to taste like fresh peaches or a cherry wine to taste like fresh cherries? I think it is the disappointment of not tasting what one unrealistically expected to taste that leads people to doctor their wines with flavorings. Well, if you do that and don't say so, expect to be embarrassed. Any experienced winemaker will know the flavor is too fruity, more like fruit juice than wine. But they will often taste an off-flavor as well because extracts have a certain off-ness to them. It doesn't show in cookies or cake or jelly - maybe the oven or stovetop heat drives it off -- but it sure steps forward in wines.

My wife and I visited a number of area wineries while attending a Pierce-Arrow annual meet in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There were lots of fruit wines to sample, but we absolutely loved the cherry wines. They did not, of course, taste like fresh cherries, but they did taste like very good cherry wines. While in a tasting room, we heard a member of the winery staff tell a young lady, "You just haven't developed your wine buds yet, those taste buds that taste the fermented juice - the wine -- and still recognize the essential flavor of the unfermented juice."

I've thought about that comment many times. I'm not sure I totally accept what she said, but quite often I taste a wine and somewhere up in my brain a profound connection is made with some essential quality of commonality between the flavor of the wine and the flavor of the unfermented fruit. This isn't just recognition, but something deeper. Maybe it's my "wine buds," but more than likely it is something else, something cognitive. Whatever it is, I like it and don't want it ruined with artificial flavorings.

October 14th, 2009

I just bottled a ginger mead that was so good that I didn't even cork the last bottle, but started at once to empty it. In fact, I am enjoying a glass right now. If I were to critique it, I would say it has a tad too much alcohol. It delivers a slight "thump" at the back of the throat as it goes down, but the finish is otherwise smooth and enjoyable and the ginger and honey meld well. I haven't thought about food pairings yet, but it goes well with blog writing.

I am honored that Joel Sommer, founder and guiding light of WinePress.us, included me among previews of a DVD WinePress will be releasing soon. Joel Sommer's "Introduction to Winemaking" is exactly what the title claims and is aimed at introducing and guiding the beginner through the essential techniques of making wine at home. He begins with the basic equipment and additives used by winemakers -- often a dazzling array of non-intuitive or technical names like racking cane, wine thief, hydrometer, and potassium metabisulfite -- and explains or demonstrates them so their roles become clear. He then guides the viewer through the various steps in making wine from commercial kits, from fresh or frozen fruit, and wraps it up with making wine from fresh Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. At every turn, Joel guides the viewer through the essential steps, explains how and why things are done, and opens the path to more advanced techniques. Thanks, Joel.

Speaking of WinePress.us, the first subject below is a rework of entries I made to a discussion on that forum. It occurred to me as I wrote my original comments that a greater discussion might be useful.

Clarity of Country Wines

A writer noted he had made apple, almond, and banana wines, all of which required pouring boiling water over the base ingredients prior to pitching the yeast. He found all three were very stubborn to clear. He added amylase to the banana wine and SuperKleer to the apple wine with relatively good results. He then questioned the practice of adding boiling water to fruit bases because he had heard that this causes the fruit to "set."

I have a lot of recipes, both adapted and original, that call for pouring boiling water in the primary, mostly to dissolve the sugar but also to kill wild yeast, bacteria and fungi that ride in on the skins of the fruit used to make good wine from. When one pours boiling water over the fruit and sugar, you can usually get away without adding sulfites to the must until later, to preclude browning and oxidation, but prudence says to play it safe because Murphy's Law says it can always go wrong. Luc Volders even reminded me of 30 liters of dandelion must that went south when sulfites would have saved it. Play it safe even if logic says you don't have to.

Because boiling water is poured over cold (or at least room temperature) fruit, the water quickly cools down from boiling to just very hot (perhaps even scalding). It does not "cook" the fruit, but it sure does things to the skin and pulp that is exposed to the heat. It softens tough skin so the yeast can get into it and work on the pigments, tannins and other phenols beneficial to wine. It also assists is dissolving sugars and flavorings from any pulp directly exposed to the hot water.

This brings me to the use of the word "set." The writer seems to use it as if it were a bad thing, but to experienced country wine makers "set" has a specific meaning that is not undesirable. Some pigments (mostly anthocyanins) are suspended in the juice and then the wine, while others are totally dissolved. Anyone who has made blackberry wine may have emptied a bottle and discovered the inside was coated with deposits of pigment -- anthocyanins -- that are no fun to remove. If you pour boiling water over the crushed blackberries the heat helps to change the anthocyanins so that more of them actually integrate into the must and become part of it. We say that the heat "sets" the fruit in that it "sets" the pigments so that more of them do not cling to the sides of the bottle but rather cling to the wine.

Does this heat "cook" the wine? What effect would it have on pectins in the fruit? First, water boils at 214 degrees F. (at sea level) and, if winemaking instructions involving boiling are followed, it is then removed from the heat and poured over the fruit. The much cooler fruit begin to absorb the heat from the water and reduces the temperature rapidly. Does it cook it?

If you've ever wanted to freeze a bushel of peaches you might do some reading and discover that people have been doing this for a long time. The best way to do it is to boil some water, drop a peach into it for 30 seconds, then remove it and under cold water scrape or pull the skin off the peach. The peach can then be cut into wedges, packed into containers and then frozen. Did the boiling water "cook" the peaches? Nyet! It simply cooked the skin and allowed it to detach from the peach easily.

What about pectin? At sea level, pectins begin to "set" or jell at 220 degrees F. and at 222 degrees F. they are all "set" (there are different pectins, so different temperatures come to play). If one removes the water when it comes to a boil (most instructions say something like, "Bring water to boil and pour over sugar and fruit in primary") it will never reach 220-222 degrees. Still, pectin may be there (most fruit have it) and prudence dictates that pectic enzyme be added at some point to negate it. Adding SuperKleer will clear an apple wine, but so will simple pectic enzyme.

To the originator of the thread I said bananas contain starch so adding amylase, a starch enzyme, is prudent. Bananas are actually 75% water, 23% carbohydrates, 1% protein, and 1% everything else. Only about 5% to 5.5% is starch, but it is starch locked in soft tissues and easily released by fruit breakdown and yeast activity. Pectins are found in trace amounts only. Thus, clarity problems with banana wines are almost always related to starches first and proteins second. Amylase neutralizes starch and dying yeast, excess tannins, bentonite, and Kieselsol all attract protein. With so little of the latter present, protein should not be a problem.

Almonds probably have a different problem, as their primary constituents are water, fat, crude protein, sugar, and ash (see Some chemical contents of selected almond (Prunus amygdalus Batsch) types). There is nothing in there that cannot be dealt with. If any oils (fats) managed to get micro-suspended in solution, they can be removed in several ways, but SuperKleer should do it. Certainly half-micron filtration will. But the SuperKleer will also remove protein, so that is probably your best bet.

I have made almond wines many times. They all cleared over time (I may have filtered one -- I don't really remember), but I bulk age most wines 9-15 months before bottleing. Most people don't, then get different results and wonder what went wrong. You don't compare an under-aged thing with an aged one. Sixteen-year old single-grain scotch cannot be compared to a 5- or 7- or even 12-year old.

The use of boiling water is not as cut and dried as I made it out to be. There are areas of controversy, but generally not over the statements I made regarding pyrophysiology. The biggest controversy is whether the heat destroys aroma and delicate flavor constituents in the must, especially in flower and certain fruit wines. I think the heat is fine. My opinion is empirically derived -- I make wonderful wines using this method. Others disagree based on some deductive belief that heat destroys.

The beauty of making wine for you own enjoyment is that it is okay to do it your way…as long as it works and as long as you don't misrepresent it to others. If cold maceration yields better aroma to you than hot, then by all means omit the heat.

I like to remind readers that with wine having been made for 8,000-10,000 years and under intense scientific scrutiny during the last 100-plus years, the things that work tend to be reflected in the thousands of recipes floating around while the things that don't are generally not mentioned. People don't write books about winemaking screw-ups.

On the other hand, there are bad books out there. I have a collection of winemaking books that encompass the epitome of bad winemaking practices. I have seen some of those recipes posted on popular forums, so they still circulate. Just because it is in print does not mean it is wise, worthy or true.

Study the methods and see if they make sense in light of what you know or what appears to be common practice. If something really sounds off-the-wall, it probably is. On the other hand, if it simply does something slightly different or in a different sequence than usual, it might (or might not) have merit. You will be better equipped to determine what is plausible and what is just way out there if you understand the underlying chemistry, physics or whatever science is at work. But if you have no interest in understanding the underlying sciences then just follow the best methods you can find, and if one appeals to you more than another then embrace it. Over time, successes and failures will dictate your choices.

Financial Values and Winemaking?

Today I listened to a financial planner talk about instilling attitudes and habits in your children that translate into sound financial values. These are not at all overtly obvious, like "put some money into savings each payday," or "always let interest work for you" or other traditional advice. No, these lessons include:

Develop a sense of gratitude.
Children who are grateful for what they have are less likely to grow up chasing status symbols or keeping up appearances. This skill of comparing value and cost serves them well when investing as they compare the price of an investment to its intrinsic value.
Build strong relationships.
Children who build a community of friends and loved ones are less likely to spend an entire weekend in malls and restaurants simply to be near other people. Calling up friends is a low-cost form of social entertainment.
Prepare simple, nutritious meals.
Teach your kids to scan the pantry and refrigerator, decide on an entrée and side accompaniments, get out the cookbook, and make a meal. Even a second- grader can learn how to throw together a quick breakfast or lunch, which arms them with skills necessary to avoid one of the single-most deterrents to adequate regular savings -- eating out.
Develop a low-cost hobby.
Hobbies force people to stop rushing around, focus their attention and developed discipline, whether making something by hand or sitting patiently. It also encourages "Get It Right" and "Try It Again" attitudes.

Upon hearing this last lesson I naturally though of winemaking as an excellent hobby. True, one can get caught up in buying kits and the latest and greatest winemaking gadget, but that's where a well-developed sense of gratitude acts as a balance. If you are genuinely grateful for the bounty you are blessed with, you won't need to get caught up in consumerism. I think this especially applies to foraged ingredients.

Some of my greatest wines were from foraged bases -- wild strawberries, blackberries, dewberries, huckleberries, blueberries, elderberries, mustang and other wild grapes, persimmons, plums, paw paws, dandelions, and on and on and on.... Going out into the country and collecting wild ingredients is part of the whole experience. Admittedly foraging doesn't fit everyone's lifestyle, location, circumstances, or desires but it is a lot of fun if it does and you manage to collect an ice chest of winemaking goodies while avoiding poison ivy, stinging nettles and chiggers.

It's something to think about.

October 17th, 2009

An email woke me up. The writer conveyed that he secretly made a mandarin-chocolate wine for his girlfriend from a recipe I posted here and they were drinking it when he proposed and she accepted. It is now "their wine" and he makes it twice a year. He was thanking me, but he should be thanking the couple I got the recipe from. Allan and Nedra, thank you and take a bow.

I just opened a 2007 Cranberry-Raspberry wine, semi-sweet, so good I just might drink it all tonight! I keep telling people that cranberry is one of the unheralded heroes of fermentation and so many things blend well with it that one could make a career discovering them all. How fortunate we are to have this under-appreciated little berry.

Zingimel: Ginger Mead

I recently mentioned that I had bottled a ginger mead and that very night received the first of several requests for the recipe. One writer asked, "Exactly what kind of mead is ginger? Is it a type of hippocras?" No. Although many call hippocras a mead (I do simply because it could be a mead), it usually is a spiced wine sweetened with honey. Ginger is but one of the several spices used to make it. Another spiced mead is metheglyn, but this too generally has several spices but can have but one. Since I know of no name for a mead flavored with just ginger, I have coined one based on the botanical name for the plant, Zingiber officinale; I will call it zingimel. If anyone knows of an earlier designation I will concede to it, and if you object to zingimel then go ahead and call it a metheglyn. And with that out of the way, lets discuss ginger and the recipe.

Up to 3% of fresh ginger root's weight is a mixture of zingerone, shogaols and gingerols, volatile oils responsible for its characteristic flavor and odor. Multiple laboratory studies have shown gingerols increase movement in the gastrointestinal tract with favorable results and can kill ovarian cancer cells. Ginger oil effectively prevented skin cancer in mice and has been proven to kill salmonella and other harmful bacteria. Ginger and citrus tea, often sweetened with honey, is popular for medicinal as well as flavor reasons, and fresh, pickled, dried and ground ginger is popular are widely used in baking, cooking and beverages such as ginger ale and ginger beer. It just begs to be used in mead.

I think most people know - or should -- that mead was traditionally brewed to remove impurities from the honey. With centrifugal processors, it is possible today to obtain honey with near optical clarity, so brewing is not always necessary. Indeed, some would say brewing is undesirable as it compromises certain compounds that contribute to aroma, flavor and perhaps mouthfeel.

Even when making mead with lesser grades of honey, one can make it without brewing; it just takes longer for the impurities to fall out and even then brilliance might not be obtained without fining or filtration. I used a fancy grade of clover honey and so I didn't boil it. However, I did warm one quart of water to help dissolve and integrate the honey. This may have been unnecessary, but it worked. I also decided to make an infusion with the ginger to avoid leaving the root in the must too long. Finally, I decided to acidify the must with one orange, reasoning that citric acid would meld better with ginger's flavor than would malic, tartaric, succinic or lactic acids and if one orange was insufficient I could add citric acid later (I did not need to).

Zingimel Recipe

  • 2 1/2 lbs clover honey (you can use any honey)
  • 1/2 oz ginger root, peeled and sliced crosswise
  • juice of one large orange
  • water to 1 gal
  • 1 Campden tablet
  • 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 sachet Lalvin 71B-1122 (or Red Star Pasteur Champagne) wine yeast

Heat 1 quart water to perhaps 120 degrees F. and stir in the honey. Cover and remove from heat. Meanwhile, brought a separate 2 cups water with the ginger root slices to a gentle boil. When ginger slices begin to turn translucent carefully strain water into honey-water, discarding the root or saving for a mild tea. In primary, combine two quarts cold water, orange juice, yeast nutrient and energizer, and combined honey- and ginger-waters. Bring volume up to one gallon, cover and allow to cool to about 80 degrees F. Pitch activated yeast and recover primary. After 2 days stir daily until s.g. drops to 1.010 (mine did this on day 9), then transfer to secondary and attach airlock. Ferment 30 days and rack, add a finely ground and dissolved Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Wait 60 days and rack again, then repeat after additional 60 days. After third 60-day period, inspect bottom of secondary for sediment. It should be clean, in which case you can bottle the mead, but if a very light dusting is visible rack once again and bottle after a few days. Bottle age at least 3 months and serve chilled. [Author's own recipe]

For some reason I was distracted when I pitched the yeast and did not take a starting specific gravity reading so I didn't know how much alcohol this mead had. Because it fermented dry (0.998), I used a vinometer and measured about 10.5% alcohol. At bottling time, this mead tasted marvelous. An ounce or so I chilled tasted even better.

Show Mead

A mead enthusiast wrote me to object to my definition of show mead. Well, my definition came from popular books on mead, but that doesn't mean the definition hasn't evolved - especially in the world of competitions, where it counts. He wrote, "The definition of a show mead according to current BJCP style guidelines (and many mead makers in general) is one composed of honey, yeast and water without other additives. Adding nutrients, acids, oak, or other additives produces what is generally called a 'traditional mead.' A show mead can be made with a single varietal honey or a blend of more than one type." I am grateful for the correction.

The writer continued, "As you can imagine, making a mead using no nutrient supplements can be quite challenging, but with proper yeast selection, honey choice, and management it can be done successfully (and consistently). I think reserving the term 'show mead' for those meads made with this minimalist approach is certainly warranted." I not only agree, but have already edited my glossary to reflect these points.

October 24th, 2009

I am going to offer some advice. I hope I am not out of line for doing so, but I think it necessary. Consider it a public service announcement. Do not drink two very generous low sodium V8 Bloody Marys and then decide to mow the lawn on the riding lawn mower when you have 48 very sizeable trees scattered around the property. Avoiding the trees is difficult enough without a wee bit of impairment, but remembering to duck under the low-hanging oak branches the size of my leg is a task too many. It wasn't really a bad scrape, but because I am on Plavix it took a while to get the bleeding stopped. Lesson learned.

This naturally brings up the question, what time did I consume the two very generous low sodium V8 Bloody Marys? Okay, I admit it was early, but V8 is so very "morning" that it seemed right, and the generosity of the pour was strictly dictated by my desire to finish the bottle of 100-proof vodka and be done with that large, mostly empty bottle. Surely you understand....

Sugar Beet Wine

The first time I encountered sugar beets I was driving near Fort Collins, Colorado when I encountered a bunch of grapefruit-sized, conical, whitish-gray things on the highway I thought were huge parsnips that obviously had fallen off a truck. I stopped and picked up one, examined it and had no idea what it was. I collected perhaps a dozen, maybe 15, and tossed them in the very small trunk well of my Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta (oh, what fond memories!). When I next stopped for gas I showed the attendant one (they still pumped your gas and cleaned your windows for you back then) and he identified it - was even a little amused I didn't know what it was. All of this came back to me when I read a recent Guest Book entry requesting a sugar beet wine recipe.

Sugar Beets
Sugar beets

The sugar beet is large, weighing from 2 to 4 1/2 pounds. It need not be peeled, but must be scrubbed with a stiff brush and rinsed well to remove soil trapped in its irregular surface. Each beet contains up to 20% sugar. My first sugar beet wine was just that, a wine made with sugar beets and little else. I used 10 pounds of beets to extract 2 pounds of sugar and the result was disappointing. The flavor was between bland and herbaceous and I figured that was the end of that. Several years later I tasted two very good sugar beet wines and developed the recipe below from discussions with the two winemakers.

I have not made this wine as I no longer live in sugar beet country, but I believe it will produce very good wines similar to those I sampled. The ginger gives it something that beet alone sorely lacks. I can think of other herbs that might work as well, but cannot experiment without the sugar beets. You can grate the beets by hand, but if you have a food processor with a rotary grating blade then do the smart thing and use it.

Sugar Beet Wine Recipe

  • 5 lbs grated sugar beet (about 2 beets)
  • 1 1/4 lbs granulated sugar
  • 3 Valencia oranges, juiced
  • 2/3 oz ginger root thinly sliced
  • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • 1 gal water
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

Scrub beets well and grate. Pack into a nylon straining bag with ginger and tie closed. Place bag in pot and cover with water. Bring to hard boil, reduce heat and hold low boil for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place sugar, orange juice, tannin and yeast nutrient in primary. Remove bag from pot and drip drain in colander over primary about 20 minutes, at which time it will have cooled enough to handle. Apply light, gentle pressure to bag to extract last of free liquid, but do not squeeze or mash or wine will not clear. Discard beet pulp, cover primary and allow it to cool to room temperature. When cool, stir in Campden and recover Primary. Set aside 10-12 hours and add activated yeast in starter solution. Recover primary and allow to ferment through vigorous stage. When vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary, affix airlock and ferment to dryness. When wine is still (or in 30 days) rack, top up and reaffix airlock. Wine should clear in three rackings 30 days apart, but if not then treat with amylase and wait it out. This is a dry wine, but if you want a sweeter wine stabilize it and sweeten to taste. Bottle and age 2-3 months. [Author's own recipe]

Wine Corks

A few weeks ago at a competition the steward told me he could not open a particular bottle. I looked at it and it was a 4-year old wine sealed with an agglomerated cork. These are corks that are made from granulated cork that is bound together with food-grade glue and either molded or extruded to the appropriate size. According to APCOR, the Portuguese Cork Association, "Agglomerated corks are an economical solution in assuring good sealing for a period that should not, in general, exceed 12 months."

Corks are tools used to accomplish a given task, and in the wine business the task is sealing the bottle for a given period of time. A better solution for the wine in question would have been a colmated cork. Colmated corks are natural corks with their pores (lenticels) sealed with natural cork dust coated with FDA approved natural resin and rubber glues. Colmation improves the visual aspect of the cork closure, and it improves its performance. A heavily pored cork can be made to look like a quality closure, but it is rated for only 4 years use.

Agglomerated Cork blank space Colmated Cork blank space Technical Cork 1+1 blank space  Technical Cork 2+0 blank space  Technical Cork 2+2 blank space Natural Cork

Agglomerated, Colmated, Tech 1+1, Tech 2+0, Tech 2+2, and Natural Corks

In between agglomerated and colmated are technical corks, also called composites, end capped, 1+1s, and other names. Technical corks were created for bottled wines which are consumed within a period of two to three years. They consist of a very dense agglomerate cork body with natural cork disks glued on one or both ends. Technical corks with a disk on both ends are 1+1 technical corks. With two natural cork disks at each end, they are known as 2+2 technical corks. Those with two disks on one end are called 2+0 technical corks. An FDA-approved food contact glue is used to bond the disks to the agglomerated cylindrical body.

Natural corks are excellent seals when compressed into the necks of glass bottles. Over time, natural cork promotes wine maturation and allows noble ageing through the innumerable chemical and physical processes that occur between its components and the internal bottle environment.

With a quality cork of the appropriate diameter and length, we can expect a perfect seal for at least 20 years. This period may be extended to dozens of years if the cork is of a high quality and is kept in ideal wine storage conditions -- adequate temperature, pressure, humidity, and with minimal thermal variation throughout the years. Factors contributing to the quality of corks include the amount and size of pores (lenticels), bark, belly and cracks found on a cork's surface; its compressibility and elasticity; it's moisture content (between 3 and 5%); its surface treatment or coating (paraffin or silicone) if any; its extraction force rating; and the sampling size and standard. A cork should not compress more than 6mm from natural size to sealant size - 2mm is standard.

Agglomerated, colmated and technical corks are quality graded A, B or C, or I, II, or III, with A or I being the best and C or III being the lowest grade. Natural corks are graded according to visual criteria as "Superior," "Extra," "Flor," 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in declining order, but some manufacturers have created their own unique grades. If you are not sure of what the relative grade is that is assigned, ask. Also ask how long the cork is rated as a closure. I buy 7-year corks for most wines, but 12- or 20-year corks for certain types of wine with a judged potential to age that long.

October 31st, 2009

Today is Halloween. I have great memories of this holiday when I was young, but the incomprehensible meanness of a few mentally sick members of the populace have taken the fun out of "trick or treating" for many years now. If this year is like the previous 25-30 years, in subsequent days I will eat most of the candy bars I bought for the youngsters I hoped would knock on my door.

But at least I attended one Halloween party - yesterday at work. There was a scavenger hunt, games, plenty of food, and even a costume contest (I did not enter). One gal wore a tee shirt printed with the words "Go Ceilings." I didn't get it until someone told me she was a "ceiling fan." She didn't win, but she was very cute. Because the party was on a military base where political correctness has long reigned, there were no adult beverages served. In the old Army it wouldn't have been a party without them, but - as with trick or treating -- the world has changed. But we won't let that affect this blog. It is still about wine - and mead.

A Very Good Metheglin

Yes, another mead! I normally make no more than two meads a year, but over the past three years I have made quite a few. I did so because I considered them a distinct challenge to be mastered. I think I have gotten it (except for Show Mead as redefined in my October 17th, 2009 entry). Anyway, here is a metheglin I made loosely based on a recipe I found somewhere. This calls for the five traditional Asian spices and a Celestial Seasonings herbal blend containing Chamomile, orange peel, natural honey and vanilla flavors with licorice, roasted chicory and West Indian lemongrass. This is so good I'd like to patent it but copyright will have to do.

I did not boil the honey, but did boil the water so I could infuse the flavors. Therefore, this is not a brewed mead but a honey wine, although I doubt many of you even care about such distinctions.

The recipe makes three gallons of mead. Starting specific gravity is 1.100 and it took 7.25 pounds of the honey I used to obtain that. Your honey may be more or less sweet, so start with 6.5 pounds and add quarter-pounds until you get the s.g. right. Since you will be dealing with hot water, dissolve the honey, draw off a cup, place that in your freezer about 15 minutes, then pour into a hydrometer test cylinder and measure it. Be sure to put a thermometer in the sample immediately before inserting the hydrometer and make any temperature adjustments to your reading required. Most hydrometers are calibrated to give correct readings at 59-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures thin the liquid slightly and result in lower readings than you'd get at the correct temperature. At 70 degrees F., the reading will be 0.001 low. To correct it, add 0.001 to the reading. At 77 degrees F., add 0.002. At 84 degrees F., add 0.003. At 95 degrees F., add 0.005.

Jack Keller's Metheglin

  • 5 lbs fancy clover honey
  • 2 1/4 lbs fancy orange blossom honey
  • 15 teabags Celestial Seasonings Honey Vanilla Chamomile herbal tea
  • 2 1/2 gallons water
  • 2 tsps ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 2 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 2 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 sachet, mead or any Champagne yeast

Boil water. Meanwhile, tie teabags together and drop in water. Tie spices in a closely woven jelly bag (or in 6-inch square of finely woven muslin) and add to water. When water boils, remove from heat and stir in honey (you can boil the honey in the water, skimming off the surface scum as it forms, but I did not do this). Transfer to primary, stir in yeast nutrients and energizer, cover, and set aside overnight to cool. Meanwhile, prepare a yeast starter solution (1 cup water, 1 tablespoon honey, pinch of yeast energizer, sachet of wine yeast). When must is cooled, remove teabags and spices and add yeast starter solution to must. Cover and stir daily for about 10 days. Skim off any scum that rises from the must and transfer to secondary. Do not top up yet, but do affix an airlock. Rack, add finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablets, top up and reattach airlock after 30 days. Repeat racking (without adding additional Campden) 2-3 more times at 30-day intervals until no new sediment is dropped. Bulk age 4-6 months, bottle, and age an additional 6 months. {Author's own recipe]

Measures of Dry and Liquid Volume

I have exchanged several emails over two months with a gentleman in Indonesia who asked for a conversion chart for volume measurements, both dry and liquid, so that he might better use my recipes. At first I simply pointed him to my conversions page, but he wrote back saying it did not cover all the measurements some of my recipes used and also he did not own a computer. He used one in a shop where you can rent computer time and maintain an email account, and he desired one or two charts he could print. After several exchanges, each a week or two apart, I understood his needs and circumstances and tested the waters with the following chart that he loved. Thank you, Hamzah, for your patience.

Dry Volume

American Standard Metric
1/8 teaspoon 0.5 mL
1/4 teaspoon 1 mL
1/2 teaspoon 2 mL
3/4 teaspoon 4 mL
1 teaspoon 5 mL
1 tablespoon 15 mL
1/4 cup 59 mL
1/3 cup 79 mL
1/2 cup 118 mL
2/3 cup 158 mL
3/4 cup 177 mL
1 cup 237 mL
1 pint 474 mL
3 cups 711 mL
1 quart 946 mL
1/2 gallon 1.89 liters
1 gallon 3.79 liters

This was followed with a chart for liquids - not as long but containing an extra column to equate common American standard units with ounces and then metrics.

Liquid Volume

American Standard American Ounces Metric
2 tablespoons 1 fl. oz. 30 mL
1/4 cup 2 fl. oz. 60 mL
1/2 cup 4 fl. oz. 125 mL
1 cup 8 fl. oz. 250 mL
1 1/2 cups 12 fl. oz. 375 mL
1 pint 16 fl. oz. 500 mL
1 quart 32 fl. oz. 946 mL
1/2 gallon 64 fl. oz. 1.89 liters
1 gallon 128 fl. oz. 3.79 liters

It is easy for us, wherever we are in the world, to think of our units of measure as universal. None are, although metric units are universally understood within the contexts of science and engineering. Even in countries sharing a common language such as English, standard units of measure can (and do) differ. We have to strive to remember that an Imperial gallon is approximately 750 mL larger than an American gallon and sometimes the only clue is the use of the word flavour in the discussion, as opposed the the Americanized spelling flavor.

November 7th, 2009

An off-topic preface is called for. The senseless wounding and loss of life two days ago at Fort Hood, Texas, where I served back during the late '70s with a unit called "Red Thrust," sliced through the military establishment like a hot knife through soft butter. They are calling it a massacre. By definition, the word fits. It was also the scene of some very selfless comradery, heroic confrontation and exemplary improvised first aid. All in the previous sentence is expected of our well-trained and highly motivated soldiers. What they were reacting to was neither expected nor should it have been allowed to occur. Still, I am not sure it could have been prevented in a free society.

In retrospect, there were ample signs the perpetrator harbored feelings and beliefs counter to the duties his employer - the United States Army -- might demand of him at any time. Obviously, he should have been dealt with before he personified the extremes his religion allows. Exactly how he should have been dealt with will be debated in the upper echelons of the Army for some time to come. Let us hope that we stop tip- toeing around the issues of religious extremism in the name of political correctness and protect ourselves from the few, the bad, the jihadists. But few Muslims become jihadists, so let us not overreact and tread upon the protections inherent within our Constitution. Therein lies the challenge

Here in the United States we still insist upon the innocence of every person until they are caught acting criminally or are proven guilty of an offense. We do not persecute people for expressing ideas or beliefs counter to our own, and I pray we not change course by going down that very dangerous path. You cannot undermine any pillar supporting the temple of freedom without jeopardizing the whole edifice. Proceed cautiously and debate thoroughly. We may have to accept the risk of a Fort Hood massacre to preserve the freedoms we inherited.

Those of us who took the oath of a commissioned officer swore to honor, uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. That is the essence of conservatism - honor, uphold and defend. Radicals would rewrite the rules and usher in rapid, drastic change, preserving little that restrains them from imposing their will. The French Revolution is the paradigm of radical rule, and it quickly became executive rule by terror. Radicalism is extreme liberalism. Liberalism has fallen from self-identified favor, so overnight liberals agreed to call themselves progressives. A rose by any other name is still a rose, so beware all attempts to deceive by renaming. And please remember that the ideal standard is still to honor, uphold and defend. Your continued freedom depends on it.

The Wild Winter Grape

The wild Fall Grape, Winter Grape, Little Mountain Grape, Spanish Grape, and Uña Cimarrona - different names for the same grape - is known by old-timers as Vitis berlandieri but correctly as Vitis cinerea var. helleri. It is currently ripe and ready to be made into wine. It is acidic until it ripens and then is sweet and quite delicious but too small for convenient eating and not quite sweet enough to make a decent wine without a little sugar being added. It is small (1/5 to 1/3 inch) with 30 to 70 berries per cluster. The clusters are loose and open, the pedicels (stems) long. The skin is thin, the pulp juicy when ripe, usually with one or two seeds of a coffee color. Ripe berries retain enough acid to make a balanced wine. Their small size makes crushing difficult but not at all impossible, so freezing/thawing and pectic enzyme will help extract the juice. Destemming by hand takes a while, but is necessary due to the astringent tannins in the stems.

I have made wonderful wines with this grape although many people consider it too small and difficult to destem by hand (6-8 pounds takes an hour) to bother with. I have also used this grape as the major ingredient in a field blend including any two or three of the following: Vitis monticola, Vitis cordifolia (correctly, Vitis vulpina), Vitis champinii (correctly, Vitis X champinii, a.k.a. "Dogridge"), and Vitis riparia.

I have a recipe posted elsewhere on my site (see link following entry) for this grape, but this one differs slightly in that it contains a slight amount of water to dilute excess malic acid usually present from a few not-fully-ripe grapes that find their way into the must. If you are sure of the ripeness of all grapes used, eliminate the water and add another pound-and-a-half of grapes.

Winter Grape Wine

  • 13 to 15 lbs ripe winter grapes
  • 1/3 to 2/3 lb finely granulated sugar
  • 1 pt water
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 pkg Lalvin 71B-1122 yeast

Destem and crush the grapes and place in nylon straining bag. Tie bag closed and place in primary. Squeeze bag to extract enough juice to float a hydrometer in its test jar. Calculate sugar required to raise specific gravity to 1.088. Add sugar and stir well to dissolve it completely. Dissolve finely crushed Campden tablet in 1 pint of water and add to primary, stirring well. Cover primary with sanitized muslin and set aside 10 hours. Add pectic enzyme and stir well. Recover primary and set aside additional 10 hours. Add activated yeast, recover primary, and squeeze bag twice daily until active fermentation dies down (5-7 days). Remove nylon straining bag and drain, then press to extract all juice. Transfer juice to secondary, top up if required and fit airlock. Ferment 30 days, rack into clean secondary, top up, and refit airlock. Rack again every 30 days until wine is perfectly clear and stabilize wine. Sweeten to taste if desired and set aside 30 days, or forego sweetening, set aside 10-14 days, and rack into bottles. Age three to six months. [Author's own recipe]

Medicinal Odors - Causes and Treatment

The single word "medicinal" is often used to describe a variety of individual smells, each of which is more specific and offers clues as to what may be the cause. Knowing the cause does not mean the offensive smell can be removed or prevented, but often it does. Any number of other, more specific terms might be used synonomously with "medicinal," and include iodine, band-aids, isopropyl alcohol, ethyl acetate, ethyl phenol, cork taint, ether, nail polish remover, peroxide, mouthwash, a doctor's office, a dentist's office, menthol, and anesthesia.

By far the major causes of many of the "medicinal" smells in wine are a number of compounds created by the yeast Brettanomyces bruxellensis (simply "Brett" in most conversations) and its anamorph relative Dekkera bruxellensis. According to Richard Gawel, the three most important aroma compounds are 4-ethyl phenol, which has been variously described as having the aromas of band-aids, antiseptic and horse stable, 4-ethyl guaiacol, which has a rather pleasant aroma of smoked bacon, spice or cloves, and isovaleric acid which has an unpleasant smell of sweaty animals, cheese and rancid oils. These compounds never exist alone as there are hundreds of constituents of wine, so there are rarely simple, single step solutions. A 1999 study indicated that what is considered Brett aroma in wine "is a complex mixture of odor-active compounds, including acids, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, esters and phenolics."

My experience with home wines is that three things may help if the odor is not too strong. The obvious first step is to raise the sulfur dioxide (potassium metabisulfite) level of the wine to an aseptic level to arrest the growth of Brett, treat with activated charcoal for 3 to 8 weeks, and sterile filter (0.45 microns or less) to remove residual yeast cells. If the Brett infection is strong, the drain is the answer.

There are treatments available to commercial wineries to treat wines for Brett infestation and odors. These treatments are impractical for home winemakers due to their cost, but if you continue making wine after hitting the lottery and happen to get a Brett infection, the link is down below....

November 11th, 2009

We used to call it Armistice Day, but since 1954 it has been called Veterans Day in the United States. Many nations still observe it by its former name or as Remembrance Day. In its former name it commemorated the armistice that ended the slaughterhouse also known as The Great War, the War to End All Wars, the War to Make the World Safe for Democracy, and later, World War I. Even today most people around the world officially celebrate this day by some name by observing a moment or two of silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, that moment the guns fell silent in 1919 and ended the greatest casualty-producing war in history. As Armistice Day it would now honor only the dead - the last known American World War I veteran passed away on January 21, 2007. Veterans Day honors millions of both living and dead.

Joseph Ambrose
My favorite Veterans Day photograph, of Joseph Ambrose,
an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attending the dedication
parade of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, clasping
the flag that draped the casket of his son who had been killed
in Korea. May God's Grace be with each and every veteran.

Many fellow veterans send me the Terry Kelly video, "A Pittance of Time," each year about this time. I guess I have watched it between 20 and 30 times because, out of respect for the subject matter, I watch it every time I receive it. If you haven't seen it, I've linked to it following this entry. I could show it here, but instead have chosen to show the following newscast, from last year, about an unbelievably respectful phenomenon in Canada.

Please celebrate this day as you should, by remembering with reverence those who serve[d]. If you meet a veteran today, thank him or her for their service. They serve[d] for you....

Blueberry Melomel

It is not easy to transition from reflections on Veterans Day to winemaking, but I will try. Last week I got to thinking that I wanted to start a wine on Veterans Day to drink the following year. I wanted something that was uniquely American but could think of none. In the end, I decided upon a blueberry mead. I purchased two 64-ounce bottles of R.W. Knudsen unsweetened "Just Blueberries" and began the yeast starter solution yesterday morning before going to work. Last night I mixed the juice and other constituents in the primary, including sulfites. I woke up at 5:34 is morning and pitched the yeast. Two hours later I can see evidence that the yeast like the must, which is how it should be.

I like Knudsen juices because they contain only reconstituted juice from concentrate. Knudsen claims 4 pounds of blueberries are used to make each half-gallon bottle. Nothing is added -- especially preservatives. You know they will ferment.

So why, then, you might ask, did I add sulfites? As Bob Dylan said, the answer is blowing in the wind. There are so many organisms floating in the air in the average American kitchen that it is impossible not to pick up a few simply when the juice is poured and the must constituted. Just to be safe, I add sulfites. You may do as you like.

Blueberry Melomel Recipe

  • 2 1/2 lbs clover honey (you can use any honey)
  • 1 gallon Knudsen's Just Blueberries unsweetened juice
  • 1 Campden tablet
  • 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 tsp Red Star Assmannshausen wine yeast

On the morning before, add the yeast to a starter solution. That night, crush the Campden tablet very fine and stir it and all other ingredients into the must except the yeast starter solution and cover the primary. The next morning, pitch the yeast starter solution and recover primary. Stir daily until s.g. drops to 1.010, then transfer to secondary and attach airlock. Ferment 30 days and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait 30-45 days and rack again, then repeat after additional 30-45 days. After third 30-45-day period, inspect bottom of secondary for sediment. It should be clean, in which case you can bottle the mead, but if a very light dusting is visible rack once again and bottle after a few days. Bottle age at least 3 months, but longer aging is encouraged. [Author's own recipe]

Sur Lie Aging and Bâtonnage

Sur lie aging is aging the wine on the fine - not the gross - lees. It is necessarity accompanied by lees stirring, an activity known as bâtonnage in French. As yeast cells die and break down, they gradually release a host of compounds into the wine that otherwise would be absent. These offer several physiological as well as sensory benefits to a wine but do so at a small risk. Risk, however, can be managed and greatly minimalized, but not eliminated altogether.

Some of the benefits a wine might accrue through these techniques are:

  • Increased roundness, creaminess and viscous feel to the palate caused by the release of polysaccharides;
  • Increased mouthfeel length due to delayed release of certain volatile compounds;
  • Enhanced flavor and aroma release at the end of the palate and lapsing into finish;
  • Release of fatty acid esters associated with sweet/spicy and fruity aromas;
  • A slight sweetness associated with the binding of amino and nucleic acids with oak phenols;
  • Decreased astringency due to mannoprotein-anthocyanin/tannin binding;
  • Released nutrients beneficial to malolactic bacteria;
  • Protects certain fruit aroma compounds from oxidation through buffering actions;
  • Improves protein stability by preventing polymerization of tannins, pigments and volatile compounds;
  • Reduces diacetyl retention during malolactic fermentation by allowing the bacteria to convert the diacetyl to less egregious acetoin and 2,3-butanediol;
  • Inhibits potassium bitartrate crystal formation.

On the other hand, some of the risks you will endure using these techniques are:

  • Each time you stir the lees, you exchange protective CO2 and SO2 for oxidative O2;
  • Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is much more likely to form on aging lees than on racked wine;
  • Mercaptans, H2S on steroids, are also more likely to form on aging lees.

As for the first risk, some oxygen uptake is desired or the wine will become reductive. The trick is not to overdo it. Stirring the wine every 5-7 days for 4-6 months may make you uncomfortable, but if you can stir every other time without removing the bung/airlock then you might feel better about it. I happen to have a stir table, a small platform that contains a hidden magnetic arm that spins and causes a plastic or ceramic enclosed stirring magnet to spin inside the carboy and stir the lees. Before I bought that (used, on Craig's List) I used several large glass marbles that could easily be swirled around the bottom of the carboy and stir the lees. The prime consideration in using marbles that the marbles crush some of the dead yeast cells and cause yeast autolysis, which is fine for feeding leve yeast but not desired when all yeast are dead. However, when using marbles I seldom left the wine on the lees more than 3 months and experienced no off odors or flavors as a result.

Hydrogen sulfide is controlled by avoidance of elemental sulfur on grapes or fruit and by yeast selection. There are excellent strains that rarely produce H2S, so use them. These same avoidance strategies also apply to mercaptans. Finally, if the winemaker is observant and smells the wine each time the bung/airlock is removed, corrective action can be taken as soon as the slightest hint of H2S is detected.

While the results can be severe if something goes wrong, avoidance is fairly straightforward and the benefits considerable. But remember, as in all things pertaining to winemaking one size does not fit all. Not all wines are suited to sur lie aging and bâtonnage. Certainly white wines are more suited than red, dry wines more suited than sweet, but type and style are determinants. I have tried it with such diverse wines as white Mustang, Blanc du bois, Himrod, Traminette, mimosa flower, kiwi, pear, mangosteen, and cranberry.

November 14th, 2009

I was going through things I hadn't looked at in nearly 20 years and happened upon a photograph taken in September 1971. It brought back bitter/sweet memories.

In September of 1970 I settled in at Colorado Springs after two consecutive years in Vietnam. After buying the obligatory Rolex at the PX, precious stones and gold while on R&R to Bangkok, and cameras (still and Super-8) and stereo components while on R&R to Hong Kong, there really wasn't a whole lot for a bachelor officer to spend his money on over there, so I had a "nest egg" in the bank.

I had left a year-old VW Beetle at my folks' house and this is what I drove to Colorado, on to Fort Benning for Airborne School, and then back to Colorado Springs and Fort Carson. After 6 months of settling in, sight-seeing in the Rocky Mountains in the VW was getting tiresome. I yearned for something with a little more power so I didn't create a traffic jam at every uphill grade. I found it at a used car lot specializing in exotic cars - Bentleys, Mercedes-Benz's of all classes, Jaguars, Aston- Martins, MGs, Triumphs, a Lotus, a Jensen, a Morgan, a DeTomaso, several others I don't specifically recall, and a Maserati.

Once I discovered this particular car lot I lived there, being educated on each car and test driving anything they allowed me to. The lot's owner had one salesperson, a tall, shapely beauty who wore leathers when she rode her BMW motorcycle to and from work but then changed. Without coaxing from her, I finally decided to buy the Maserati and we were in her office negotiating the deal. She went into another room to get some papers and I saw her leathers hanging from a coat-rack. I was holding up her leather pants when she returned. Momentarily embarrassed to be caught looking at her pants, I inadequately explained, "I was just wondering if I could get into your pants." Without skipping a beat she replied, "Not until you sign these papers." It was a wonderful nudge to close the deal, but neither necessary nor a promise fulfilled.

1966 Maserati 3500 GTi

Probably the only surviving picture of my 1966 Maserati 3500 GTi, September 1971

I only owned the car 7 months. A month after the above picture was taken I was doing 110 miles per hour into the glare of a setting sun when I ran out of Garden of the Gods Road and drove the car through a rock barrier. I am ashamed to have destroyed a work of art such as that car was.

Oh, and yes, the photo above was Photoshopped (by Andre Akers of San Antonio) to subdue the background and highlight the car.

Assmannshausen Active Dry Yeast

Since writing about açai berries and juice a month ago (October 10, 2009), I was given a gallon of açai juice by a merchant who asked not to be identified. I bought some bulk honey from him and used the juice and honey to start a memomel. For this particular mead I selected Red Star Assmannshausen active dry yeast, of which I had a vial obtained from a commercial winery in the Texas Hill Country. Shortly after transferring the açai melomel to a secondary, I used the same glass primary to start a gallon of blueberry melomel, also using pure juice and Red Star Assmannshausen active dry yeast. I wrote about this in my last entry (November 11, 2009), but did not say anything about the yeast.

On my page about wine yeast strains, I say the following about this yeast: "Assmannshausen is a German yeast strain. Germany leads the world in yeast isolation and production. Assmannshausen is best suited for red wines. It intensifies the color and adds a spicy aroma. It first was only meant for Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, but now Cabernet Sauvignon takes advantage of this strain. The only drawback is its ineffectiveness in a high solid content." I'll admit that is a rather sorry and unhelpful entry. I'll have to work on it.

Assmannshausen is a German isolate (Geisenheim Research Institute). It is a slow reproducer and fermentor, but once started chugs along steadily. It tolerates temperatures down to 50 degrees F. and as high as 90, but 68-86 degrees is its comfort zone. Its attenuation is reported by brewers as 80%, which seems to me to be terribly low for a wine yeast and which I therefore question, flocculation is low, and alcohol tolerance is 15%. It is known for producing fruity, spicy aromas. What surprised me is that it appears to be a surface colonizer, which I have not seen reported in any of the articles, blog or forum entries I've read.

Assmannshausen yeast in açai juice blank space Assmannshausen yeast in açai juice
Assmannshausen yeast in açai juice, day 3 and day 5

I did not build a yeast starter solution with this yeast despite my normal fanaticism for doing so, but instead sprinkled the yeast on the surface. Within 10 minutes it had disappeared beneath the dark surface of the juice. The next day BB size spots appeared on the surface. These grew as more and more colonies of yeast rose from the depths, probably to enjoy the surface/atmosphere oxygen boundary, but here I am guessing. By day 3 the surface was amply seeded and by the morning of day 5 the surface was 85-90% covered. When I returned home from work that evening, the entire cap of yeast had sunk and a new observer would never have known the yeast had risen and then sunk.

Assmannshausen yeast in blueberry juice blank space Assmannshausen yeast in blueberry juice
Assmannshausen yeast in blueberry juice, day 2 and day 3

When I constituted the blueberry must, I was curious about the surface antics of the Assmannshausen yeast in the açai so I selected it again and again sprinkled it on top, despite what my recipe says. On day 2 (which is not the day after pitching the yeast, but the second full day after pitching) the yeast had greatly out-colonized the previous batch. The entire surface was covered with thick yeast colonies and foam, with splotches of very fine pulp and pigment particulates lifted onto the top of the foam. The next day (which is today), the surface colonies and particulates had settled and a blanket of foam about 3/8 inch thick covered the must.

The açai must foamed initially after transferring it to secondary, but the foam settled down and disappeared after the airlock started bubbling. Both batches have strong aromas of their fruit origins, but it is too early to tell if these will persist as reported elsewhere. I suspect they will, which is why I obtained the yeast, but will report more at a time when more is known for sure.

Agave Nectar

I was planning on writing an article for WineMaker magazine on sugars, but my concept was to do a photo essay and they wouldn't pay for my photographer so I didn't do it. I understand budgets so I'm not villanizing them for it, but it would have been a valuable and memorable article. But while I was planning it I collected 33 different kinds of sugar or natural sweetner and four different liquid sweetners. One of the liquid sweetners I collected and have used is agave nectar.

Agave (uh-GAH-vay) nectar is made from any number of agave plants. The Blue Agave is the highest regarded, then probably the Maguey Agave, Agave Americana (augustifolia) and Agave Mapisaga, but I believe that all or almost all of the 150 or so species or varieties of agave yield a sweet nectar. The agave nectar I use most is made from Salmiana Agaves. The plants are succulents similar to the Aloe Vera. Slow growing, they form a gradually enlarging core called a pina from which the leaves grow.

Blue Agave pinas
Blue Agave pinas, trimmed and ready for pressing

When 8-12 years old, the leaves are cut away revealing the pina. The pina is tapped with a tool and its sap is typically siphoned twice a day until the pina yields no more. When the pina yields no more sap, the pina is harvested, wrapped in a mesh cloth, smashed and pressed for any sap that remains. The harvested pina weighs from 50 to 150 pounds. The sap is filtered and heated at low temperature (118 degrees F.), where enzymes break down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. Some producers, however, exceed this temperature and heat their product to as high as 170 degrees F.

The juice of the agave contains a great deal of inulin - fructooligosaccharides. Agave nectar is processed so an enzymatic process converts the complex fructose chain into simple monosaccharides -- fructose and dextrose (plant glucose). Agave Nectar varies from 70-90% fructose sugars and 30-10% dextrose/glucose sugars. Because fructose is perceptively sweeter to the human palate than granulated sugar, less is needed to achieve the same level of sweetness.

I have used agave nectar several times to sweeten dry, stabilized wines. It cuts the sharp dryness and adds a smoothness to the finish without the lingering aftertaste of honey. I have never used it for any other purpose related to winemaking.

Numerous Mexicans have told me that fermented agave nectar is quite good. They make a drink "back home" called pulque, which is only 5-8% alcohol. It can be consumed earlier than that, at 3-4% alcohol, as a drink called agua miel (honey water), or it can be made much stronger but takes longer to ferment and is not as refreshing a drink. But if you just want the kick, then distilled pulque is the drink for you. Mezcal or tequila, anyone?

Several people have sent me simple recipes for an agave nectar wine. Having never made it, I cannot say anything about the finished product, including it's strength. Most recipes use 20-25% agave nectar, a lemon or two, some nutrients, and any wine yeast. It takes 7-9 months to ferment, is then stabilized and allowed to rest for three months, racked, sweetened to taste with more agave nectar, and bottled. If you make this wine, please let me know what you think of it.

November 21st, 2009

A few days ago a friend in Australia sent me a notice that Jackie Wong Sue, distinguished World War II hero, passed away in Perth. Mr. Sue was a veteran of the Z Special Unit, a reconnaissance and commando unit which operated behind enemy lines in South-East Asia. Z Special Unit was the predecessor of the current Special Air Service Regiment and played a vital role in the long war against Japanese imperialism. The highly decorated Sue was officially cited for displaying "leadership, gallantry and cold blooded courage of the highest order." They don't write citations like that any more.

WW II Hero Jack Sue

WW II Hero Jack Sue, dead at age 84

Why do I mention the passing of one man? Well, for starters he was a friend of my friend and that made him special. But he was also a member of a passing generation that all of us on the winning side of World War II owe so very much to, regardless of where we live or what ethnicity resides in our blood. It is easy to overlook one passing, but it takes only a little effort to recognize it, pay our respects and acknowledge our debt. With all my heart I believe Jack Sue would have done the same for you or me. We are all connected. Rest in peace, Sergeant Sue, and may God's Grace embrace you.

Malay Apple Wine

Last month I was asked for a recipe for Malay Apple Wine. While I do not have an actual recipe, I do have some excerpts from some old emails regarding such a wine. I was trying to develop a recipe because someone promised to ship me some Malay Apples from the Dominican Republic but never did. I now know the fruit would probably never have made it to Texas as it spoils very quickly. Nonetheless, I think I have enough information to make a wine, although the chemistry of the actual must would be required to fine-tune an actual recipe.

The fruit the writer referred to as Malay Apple is botanically Syzygium malaccense and variously known as Mountain Apple, Rose Apple, Otaheite Apple, Tambis, Makopa / Makupa, Fekika Kai, Ke'ika / Ka'ika, plus many other language-dependent names. The tree and fruit are similar to Syzygium aqueum and Syzygium samarangense, although these each have white flowers and fruit and the Syzygium malaccense has red. There are several variants of the Malay Apple, most notable in fruit size and color - red fruit is usual but variegated varieties and a rare albino exist.

Bell-shaped malay apples blank space Pear-shaped malay apples

Two size and shape varieties of Malay Apples

The fruit vary from pear- to bell-shape and 5-10 cm in length depending on variety. They must be picked as soon as they are fully colored because they fall almost as soon as fully ripe, bruise badly and spoil quickly. After picking they are immersed in boiling water for one minute to destroy surface microorganisms, then halved and deseeded. The whole halves are then pureed, the resulting pulp and juice weighed, and twice the weight in water added to the must in a primary. Because the fruit are not overly sweet, granulated sugar is added in the amount of 1 1/2 pounds per gallon of must. Also, 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient and the juice of two lemons per gallon are added. I would also add one finely ground Campden tablet per gallon to protect the investment in time and resources and stir the must until all sugar is dissolved - this could take 8-10 minutes for a cold must. Cover the primary and set aside 10-12 hours, then pitch your choice of wine yeast.

Normal winemaking methodology is employed to ferment, clarify and age the wine. I'm told the gross lees will be substantial and should be strained without squeezing through ladies' nylons to salvage as much wine as possible. The wine will fall clear naturally after 3-4 spaced rackings over a 6-8 month period. After the second racking the wine should be sulfited again. After the third racking, pectic enzyme can be added to aid in clearing if it appears this is needed. The resulting wine will be a light rosé. For a white wine, peel the fruit before pureeing and add 1/8 teaspoon of powdered grape tannin to the must.

Japanese-American Plums, Part 1

John Culverson has an excellent memory to recall that many years ago I posted a list of plum varieties on a use group. Now he says he cannot find the list in the archives and thinks it might have been lost. All he is interested in are the Japanese-American hybrids. Well, it so happens I am researching plums and other stone fruit for an article for WineMaker magazine, so I can comment on a few varieties. There are actually hundreds of plum cultivars, so I have concentrated on what I consider to be better or more interesting ones. Because there are so many, even after drastic culling I have a considerable list, so I will post them in two entries.

ALDERMAN: Large, bright red to burgundy fruit with soft, yellow, clingstone flesh, late August ripening. Excellent quality. Winter hardy to -50 degrees F. Very productive and attractive in the landscape with profuse, large white flowers. From Minnesota. Requires a pollinator.

BURBANK: Very large, purplish-red plum with amber-to-yellow flesh. Excellent flavor, sweet, meaty, clingstone, best when picked before fully ripe for eating, when fully ripe for wine.

BURGUNDY: Medium size, cherry-red fruit with sweet, mellow, burgundy flesh. Makes a decent wine.

CATALINA: Large, black plum ideal for home planting - vigorous, productive, self- fruitful.

CRIMSON: Skin and flesh deep crimson. Excellent quality, round, clingstone, very productive.

CRIMSON BEAUTY: A great, new red-skinned and red-fleshed plum. Excellent quality, considered the best flavored of any red-fleshed variety. Good for South.

DUARTE & DUARTE IMPROVED: Large, heart-shaped, deep red fruit with blood-red, meaty flesh. Excellent quality. Semi-self-fruitful, but better production with pollinator.

EARLY GOLDEN: Earliest Japanese plum in north U.S.A.. Yellow skin with reddish blush, medium size round fruit, good quality, freestone.

ELEPHANT HEART: Large, heart-shaped, thick greenish-bronze skin that turns reddish- purple when completely ripe, with blood-red, juicy, freestone flesh. Rich, distinctive flavor makes good wine. Vigorous and self-fruitful, but best production with a pollinator.

FORMOSA: Large, oval, greenish-yellow fruit with reddish blush. Sweet, juicy, firm but melting, pale yellow flesh, excellent flavor, almost freestone but not quite. Prolific tree, but tends to skip fruitful years.

FORTUNE: Very large, bright red skin on yellow background, firm-fleshed, clingstone. Perhaps the very best tasting Japanese plum.

FRIAR: Large, round, dark purple turning black when fully ripe. Firm, sweet, amber flesh, freestone, good quality. Heavy bearer, self-fruitful, but better with a pollinator.

GAVIOTA: Very large, yellowskin overlaid ewith dark red. Firm, richly flavored, yellow flesh, small stone.

HOWARD MIRACLE: Large, yellow fruit with red blush, yellow flesh, tart pineapple flavor. Requires a pollinator.

LARODA: Dark red, almost black covered with small light dots. Pale, violet-red flesh, yellowing toward the stone. Rich flavor, excellent for wine. Requires a pollinator.

METHLEY: Medium to large, reddish-purple fruit. Juicy, sweet, yellow flesh with mild, distinctive flavor. Best for fresh eating or jelly. Best for wine when combined with other varieties. Self-fruitful, heavy producer and a great pollinator for other trees.

November 26th, 2009

Today, the fourth Thursday in November, is the American holiday of Thanksgiving. It is celebrated on the second Monday in October in Canada. In both cases, it is based upon the harvest and is traditionally a feast of thanks for the bounty that will sustain us through the winter.

I have lost all respect for Wikipedia, which has joined the absurdity of political correctness in claiming, "While perhaps religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday." I think not! I have never been to a Thanksgiving dinner in which the thanks expressed were not directed to God. Do the authors of Wikipedia's entry think the majority of people now express thanks to the almighty state for the bounty they enjoy? Nyet! I will file a protest to that entry, but not today. Today I will enjoy the holiday, and some cranberry wine....

Japanese-American Plums, Part 2

Continuing the list I started last weekend, here are some more Japanese-American hybrid plums. I have only indicated which cultivars make the best pollinator for which in a few instances, but obviously pollen donors have to bloom the same time the pollen recipients are blooming. Also, pollen recipients are pollen donors to their pollinators. It's a closed cycle and very efficient if well planned. For the home, certain trees are very attractive and can be sited in the landscape to show them off. Others are less showy and might be grouped to make pollination more efficient. The usual practice is to plant at least a pair of early bloomers, mid-season bloomers and late season bloomers.

MORRIS: Medium to large, red to purple fruit, red flesh. Excellent quality. Needs pollinator.

NUBIANA: Large, reddish-purple fruit with firm, light yellow flesh. Good pollinator for Laroda, substantially self-fruitful.

OBLINAJA: Large, dark red skin, almost black when fully ripe. Spicy flavor, crisp texture.

OZARK PREMIER: Burbank x Methley. Rather large; reddish-purple fruit. Juicy, mildly tart, yellow flesh; clingstone, small pit. Late summer. Fruits hang well for extended harvest, consistently productive. Good variety for South.

QUEEN ANN: Large, purple, semifreestone with amber flesh streaked red. Supurb flavor, fine dessert plum. Small tree needs pollinator.

RED HEART: Medium to large, semifreestone with dark-red skin, firm, juicy, blood- red flesh. Vigorous, hardy, productive with right pollinator; good pollinator for others. Good wine plum for the South.

ROMEO: Large, red fruit with very aromatic, yellow flesh. Vigorous.

ROYSUM: Medium to large, reddish-blue fruit with juicy, aromatic, very flavorful, light yellow flesh. Vigorous, spreading, late ripening, requires pollinator.

RUBY SWEET: Medium-large, bronze-red fruit with firm, bright to dark red flesh. Good quality.

SANTA ROSA: Very large, round to oval, purplish-red fruit covered with light dots and thin bloom. Fragrant, finely textured, clingstone flesh, purplish near skin turning pink-streaked yellow near pit. Excellent quality fruit, large, vigorous, prolific tree. Partially self-fruitful, excellent producer with pollinator.

SATSUMA: Medium to large, almost round, dark red fruit, small pit, firm, juicy, red flesh. Sweet, excellent flavor for wine. Upright tree, partially self-fruitful, pollinate with other Japanese plum.

SHIRO: Medium to large, golden yellow with pink blush, very attractive fruit. Juicy, sweet, translucent, yellow, clingstone flesh. Good, all around quality. Consistent producer, excellent reciprocal pollinator for early varieties. Excellent tree for the homestead in the South.

SIMKA: Large, purplish-red fruit with firm, sweet, yellowish-white flesh.

SUPERIOR: Very large, golden fruit, becoming pink with deep red blush. Skin slightly astringent but peels easily. Firm, finr-textured, clingstone. Fast grower, very early bearing, good pollinator.

TECUMSEH: Japanese x wild American, medium size, dark red with bluish cast. Firm, juicy, sweet, distinctive flavored, yellow, clingstone flesh. Excellent quality for wine. Vigorous, consistent producer, wide ranging tree.

TOKA: Wild American x Chinese plum, medium to large, tapered, reddish-bronze fruit with bluish bloom. Firm, yellow, rich, sweet, spicy, aromatic, freestone flesh, excellent for eating or wine. Moderately vigorous, heavy bearer, exceptional pollinator for Japanese, American and their hybrid plums, hardy to -50 degrees.

VANIER: Medium-small to medium size, bright red fruit, yellow flesh, clingstone. Excellent flavor. Vigorous, productive, requires pollenizer.

WANETA: Largest of all hybrids, yellow skin washed with dark red, small pit, juicy, deep yellow, clingstone flesh. Good quality, highly fertile, early bearing, heavy producer. Pollinate with Toka, hardy to -50 degrees.

WICKSON: Large, heart-shaped, greenish-yellow, firm fruit with very sweet, translucent flesh. Self-fruitful, but heavy cropper with a pollinator.

Japanese-American Hybrid Plum Mead

The 35 plum varieties I've described are but a fraction of what are available, but all I have listed are suitable for making wine or mead. Some are better suited than others, but all can work well in field blends. Sugar content varies from 7 to 13% with 15% possible but rare, tannin is decent, and acid is generally a bit low and malic. The recipe I've selected is tried and true, but the final product's character is determined both by the plum[s] and the yeast used.

Adding more or less plums to the must is perfectly acceptable but changes the chemistry. Even without altering the recipe, I encourage you to measure acidity initially and calculate your additions accordingly. Also, remember that using Lalvin 71B-1122 (Narbonne) yeast will result in lower post-fermentation acidity.

A word about destoning is in order. More plums are clingstone than freestone, which means a lot more work to destone them. I have left stones in many times, but you have to know the variety if you do this. Certain varieties are notorious for pits that split or separate upon ripening and these must be destoned to avoid tainting your mead with cyanogenic glycosides (can you spell cyanide?). I halve each and every plum whether I'm going to destone it or not. Halving them allows the yeast instant access to the juicy flesh, but also allows me to inspect the stone to determine if I want to remove it. I usually remove a couple - sometimes none - but every once in awhile I destone as many as one in five. It isn't difficult, just time consuming.

A word about freezing the fruit is also in order. Freezing ripe plums and thawing them out before fermenting them releases more juice more quickly. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to do this. The right way is to halve the plums, destone any requiring that precaution, placing them in gallon-sized ZipLoc freezer bags, and then freezing them. They should remain frozen at least three weeks, but six is better. To thaw them, allow a full 24 hours so they thaw through and through and at least come close to assuming room temperature. Set the bags on an oven rack set over a utility sink or on the patio. Setting the bags directly in a sink will retard thawing by many hours. If you freeze them in a pail or other bulk storage container, it could take two full days the thaw them thoroughly. Do NOT defrost them in a microwave or sink filled with hot water.

Two final pieces of advice are offered. I sprinkle 1/16th teaspoon (measure a quarter- teaspoon and then divide it into quarters) of potassium metabisulfite into each 10 pounds of halved plums, stir them with a wooden spoon, then transfer them to ZipLocs and freeze them. This protects them from spoilage bacteria when they thaw. Also, after the plums thaw pour then directly into fine-meshed nylon straining bags (or nylon knee-high stockings) in the primary. They are going to completely disintegrate during fermentation, so failure to bag them would be a colossal error a result in great waste of mead later.

The recipe below makes one gallon of mead, is easily scaled to 3 or 5 or 6 gallons (do the math), and requires little (but some) tweaking. Starting specific gravity should be at least 1.080 but no higher than 1.090. Initial water addition is usually sufficient but may require slight topping up in secondary. When bubbling stops, check s.g. It isn't done until it is at least 0.998 - lower is better. It is very good dry, but stabilize it and add 0.25 to 0.75 cup (start low, add more if needed) of honey to bring out subtle flavors of the plums. If sweetened, let age additional month, rack it, and then give it another month to see if it needs another racking. I usually make 3 gallons.

Japanese Plum Mead

  • 8-10 lbs plums, halved and at room temperature
  • 1.5 to 1.75 lbs orange blossom honey
  • 0.5 gallon water
  • 0.75 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
  • acid blend to 0.60 TA
  • 0.75 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 0.25 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 sachet Champagne wine yeast

Begin a yeast starter solution the day before mixing the must. In primary, combine honey, water and yeast nutrient/energizer and stir well to thoroughly dissolve honey. If plums were previously sulfited (see above), skip this, but if not stir in one finely ground and dissolved Camden tablet or 1/16th teaspoon potassium metabisulfite. Add plums in nylon straining bags, cover and set aside 8-10 hours. Add pectic enzyme, re-cover and set aside 8-10 hours. Use acid test kit to measure acid and adjust to 0.60 TA. Stir in yeast starter solution and re-cover primary. Punch down bag[s] of plums twice daily. After 5 days push bag[s] aside and float hydrometer; repeat daily if necessary. When s.g. is approximately 1.015, drip drain plums (do NOT squeeze bag) about 10 minutes; discard pulp and transfer must to secondary. Affix airlock and ferment additional week. Top up, reattach airlock, and rack after additional 30 days. Let maturate three weeks, remove 1/2 cup of mead, and then very slowly stir in Bentonite slurry (add a teaspoon and watch for volcano effect; degas if needed; stir in remaining slurry) and reattach airlock. Wait 10-14 days and rack again, stabilizing in new secondary. Bulk age three months. Check bottom with flashlight. If even a fine dusting of sediment, rack again. Sweeten if desired, filter if desired, bottle when ready. [Author's own recipe]

November 28th, 2009

To all you RSS-feed subscribers, I apologize about my last feed. It seems I had the links pointed to the wrong entries. I've done it before and promised myself it would be the last time. I should not try to type and watch a football game at the same time.

But football season is in full swing and I have my favorite teams, both college and professional. (For you readers outside the United States and Canada, the sport I am referring to is American football -- not Association Football or Soccer. There is absolutely no similarity between the two games) But I shall try not to let football interfere again in the presentation of the WineBlog.

Elderberry Goo

The subject of elderberry goo seems to crop up just about every time elderberry winemaking is discussed. If you do not know what elderberry goo is, consider yourself lucky. But if you are thinking of making elderberry wine from fresh wild berries, it is a subject you'd better at least be acquainted with. You may or may not encounter it, but if you do, being forewarned is being prepared.

Elderberry goo is a slime that sometimes appears during fermentation of some but not all fresh elderberries in the primary. It adheres to the sides of the primary and for years defied easy removal. Then a small cadre of us on a use group began experimenting with cleaners, solvents and soaps in an attempt to find something that would cut this nuisance. Things that did not work: isoproyly alcohol, methyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol, acetone, Dawn dishwashing detergent, lye soap, turpentine, shellac thinner, hot water, CLR, TSP, nail polish remover without acetone, Cutex nail polish remover with acetone, window cleaner with ammonia, chlorine bleach, Easy Off oven cleaner, a waterless handcleaner, BLC, BTF Iodophor Sanitizer, ammonia, PBW, Sal Soda, Star San, WLC, Porcelain and Enamel Cleaner, Glass and Ceramic Stovetop Cleaner, Lysol Kitchen Cleaner, Quick n Brite, Comet Cleanser with Chlorinol.

Different people reported success with: soaking overnight in TSP solution, soak everything in strong solution of water and Lemon Joy and let sit a week in the sun and then rinse, Goo-Gone, WD-40, and De-Solve-It. But the least expense solution was when someone - Ed Goist, Shawn Gibbs, Greg Cook or someone else - discovered that vegetable oil would cut right through it. Just cut it, wipe it away and then use a degreaser to remove the vegetable oil. What a marvelous discovery - now common knowledge.

The real questions have always been what is this stuff and where does it come from? It doesn't come from dried elderberries, and European Black Elder (Sambucus nigra) appear not to exude it at all, while the American Elder (Sambucus canadensis) seems infamous for it. I do not know which of the many other elder species exude the goo; perhaps readers with personal knowledge will write me with goo or no goo experiences. My email is jackredkellerwhitewine@gbluemail.com (remove the patriotic colors from the address).

My original theory was that the waxy bloom on some of the elderberries was responsible for the goo, but this was proven false when non-waxy elderberries from Oklahoma emitted the goo. My next theory, which is still widely popular, was that the goo was a resinous sap that came from the stems during fermentation. This has pretty much been proven false by many who have meticulously cleaned every stem from the elderberries before fermenting them and still gotten the goo.

Elderberry  fruit head

Elderberry fruit head [photo by Pollinator, from Wikipedia]

The last time I picked elderberries (two years ago) was when driving back from Lake Charles, Louisiana and I stopped near Orange, Texas to look for wild persimmons. Ripe elderberries were thick along a railroad track, so I just picked whole sprays of berries and tossed them in a garbage bag to destem later at home. What a tangled mess that was.

At the time I had just read about the bang-the-bucket method of destemming the berries and so at home I untangled each spray with considerable difficulty and whacked it against the inside of a 5-gallon pail. The berries that came off by banging-the- bucket became one batch and the remaining berries were hand-picked and went into another batch. I think I spent about two hours separating berries from stems. The first batch was smaller than the hand-picked batch, but the berries were much riper than the hand-picked ones.

Both batches went into ZipLocs, were frozen and eventually defrosted thoroughly before being transferred to nylon straining bags, crushed by gloved hands, and then fermented. The berries were drip-drained and only barely squeezed. The whacked batch yielded a very small trace of elderberry goo but the second batch had a lot. Since both batches were very clean in terms of stems, I think the goo is coming from the underripe berries.

I combined the two batches of fermented berries and made a second wine with their combined volume. I left them in the primary 10 days, squeezing the nylon straining bags twice daily to help extract more of the juices. After a few days I noticed the rubber gloves I wore were sticky with the goo and so I stopped squeezing the bags. The stuff certainly appeared to me as if it were coming out of the berries. Unfortunately, elderberries do not grow wild in my area and I pulled out my cultivated ones when they began spreading beyond the area I reserved for them. Thus, I am unable to do the experiments necessary to confirm this suspicion. I do wish there were some scientific research focused on this substance, its origin and its composition, but perhaps a few viewers live in elderberry country and can investigate.

Salmonberry Wine

A generous soul sent me two bottles of Salmonberry Wine from Washington state just in time to be enjoyed with my Thanksgiving feast. I first opened a cranberry wine, which was good and paired well, but the Salmonberry was sitting on the buffet taunting me and so I opened a bottle. The bouquet hit my nose in seconds and then spread throughout the dining room. Boy, am I glad I opened that bottle. Dry but deliciously fruity. Thanks, Bob!

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) is a caning bramble native to the West Coast of North America from California to Alaska. The plant differs from other caning Rubus species in that it produces perennial woody stems, not biennial as do other species. The 5-petal purple flower produces a a large (1 1/2 to 2 cm) yellow to orangish-red berry with many drupelets -- like a raspberry. The berries ripen from early summer in the Pacific Northwest to early autumn farther north. In Kodiak, Alaska orange salmonberries are often referred to as Russian berries. They are often mistaken for raspberries by persons unfamiliar with them.

Harvested salmonberries

Harvested salmonberries [photo courtesy Langdon Cook]

My recipe for salmonberry wine came from an Oregon winemaker who has passed on. I knew him only as Fred G. but his last name was Gibson and he hailed from somewhere near Gresham. He read on my site that I didn't have a recipe for salmonberry wine and sent me his. He left out a couple of steps, so I have tweaked it some.

Salmonberry Wine Recipe

  • 4 1/2 to 5 lbs ripe salmonberries
  • 1 1/2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 3 qts water
  • 2 Campden tablets
  • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate (optional)
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet Montrachet wine yeast

Wash salmonberries and tie in fine-mesh nylon straining bag. Place in primary and crush berries with hands. Bring 1 quart water to boil and dissolve sugar and yeast nutrient. Pour over crushed salmonberries. Add remaining water, cover with cloth, allow to cool. Aside, begin a yeast starter solution. To primary, stir in one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, recover primary and set aside 10-12 hours. Stir in pectic enzyme, recover primary and set aside another 10-12 hours. Stir in activated yeast starter solution and recover primary. Punch down nylon straining bag twice a day for five days. Remove bag and squeeze or press to extract juice. Discard pulp and cover primary. When vigorous fermentation subsides transfer to secondary and seal with airlock. Set aside until airlock says it is finished. Wait one additional week and rack, top up and reattach airlock. When wine is clear, wait two additional weeks, rack, add second finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. If you intend to sweeten wine, withdraw 1/2 cup of wine and into it dissolve 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate; pour sorbated sample back into secondary and reattach airlock. Set aside two weeks and sweeten to taste. Wait 30 days and carefully rack into bottles. [Adapted from recipe by Fred Gibson]

December 5th, 2009

During the past two months I opened a couple of wines that were past prime. One was a 5-year old blackberry and the other was a 4-year old strawberry. Both were badly oxidized. Rather than dump them, I used each in various cooking recipes in lieu of water. Both worked very well in this new role and the oxidation passed unnoticed in marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, roux for sausage and chicken gumbo, and venison chili. The strawberry was noticed in a casserole, but was more out of place as a flavor than unpleasant. My point here is that even wines kept too long can be consumed, but be selective. I had a 5-year old dry plum last year that produced off-flavors in two dishes I tried it in. Not everything works.

A predicted snowfall as far south as Pleasanton, Texas did not materialize unless it arrived last night and melted by daybreak. This I doubt, as the outside temperature was 28 degrees F. on my patio at 5:50 a.m., cold enough to preserve snow had it fallen. I suspect it simply exhausted itself on the way south. That is good news for the insurance companies down here, but bad for the automotive body shops that could have used the inevitable business that would have arrived with the snow. Oh well, winter still lies before us but snow down here is a distinct rarity.

Dead Links at Geocities

Luc Volders notified me from The Netherlands that one of my winemaking links was dead as the link was hosted on the defunct Geocities. While correcting the entry, I went ahead and searched my internet references page and made note of 20 sites linked to Geocities before I stopped searching. I have now run Google searches on each of these sites and found only two were resurrected at a new URL. This means some really great web sites have disappeared, or some might have resurrected under different names.

If you hosted a winemaking or non-commercial winemaking or wine appreciation club through Geocities and now host it elsewhere, or know of one, please contact me with the name and new URL. My email is jackredkellerwhitewine@gbluemail.com (remove the patriotic colors from the address).

I am somewhat partial to Geocities beginnings, as I began posting my first web pages on Geocities when the internet was still young. In those days people were creating "Home Pages" for just about every subject, with "Home Page" insinuating the site already was or was destined to become the definitive website for that particular subject. I thought I could build such a site for winemaking, and so I named the collection of pages I had posted The Winemaking Home Page and set to work building a site that would live up to the name.

I stayed on Geocities until I filled up the free space allocated and even then my bandwidth consistently exceeded what they allowed and I was billed a fee. I decided if I was going to pay for bandwidth, I may as well get my own domain and find a better deal than Geocities. While I was glad to leave the pioneering Geocities, I retained a soft spot for people starting sites there. I'm sorry to see it gone and hope the websites that were there will resurface and contact me so I can relist them on my links page.

Persimmon Melomel

I have twice before posted methods for making persimmon wines here on the WineBlog , but it is persimmon season again and I was asked for a "sure-fire, one-gallon recipe for a persimmon melomel." Well shucks, you don't have to ask me twice for this one.

As I have stated before, persimmons (Diospyros kaki) are technically a berry -- as is the watermelon -- but most people think of it as a fruit. However you consider it, it is one of the sweetest fruits in the world when fully ripe. For this reason the Japanese consider it a divine food. Even the seeds are edible.

Most persimmons, especially the wild orange ones native to the United States and Canada, do not ripen until after a frost but may drop from the tree prematurely. Persimmons in good condition will often then need to be ripened at home. You can leave them out on the counter at room temperature or hasten the process by putting them in a paper bag with a banana or apple. The ethylene gas given off by the other fruit will help the persimmon ripen. A fully ripe persimmon will be slightly wrinkled and may have a few brown or black spots on the skin. These are like the dark spots that form on banana peels as they ripen and simply mean the pulp inside is growing soft. Indeed, handle very ripe persimmons carefully as it is easy to tear the skin and end up with a mess in your hand. At this very soft stage, the pulp is almost like a firm to soft jelly. It's then at the peak of perfection and should be eaten immediately or used in other ways, as in cooking, baking, jelly, or wine.

Most of the large-chain supermarkets offer oriental persimmons. Cultivars Fuyu, Maru, and Hachiya are perhaps the best known. The shape of Fuyu fruit is round and somewhat flattened, Maru is more spherically round, and Hachiya is heart-shaped and pointed at its apex. Fuyu is the most widely planted cultivar in Japan and easily the most popular everywhere. It is most noted for its nonastringent fruit -- even when not yet ripe -- but also for its good yield, vigorous upright growth habit, and ease of training. Maru has more brittle branches, the fruit is astringent, and it matures about three weeks earlier than Fuyu. Hachiya fruit is also astringent before softening to ripeness. When fully ripe, all three are wonderfully sweet and perfect for wine or mead.

The biggest complaint with making persimmon wine is the amount of gross lees one must contend with. Fully ripe persimmon pulp is like jelly and there is no way to avoid its disintegration during fermentation. However, I have found a way to minimize the gross lees. First, scoop out the pulp from halved persimmons and dump it directly into a sanitized lady's knee-high nylon that has been placed inside a fine-mesh nylon straining bag or homebrewer's grain bag. The reason for the double bagging is because the weight of the pulp will cause the lady's nylon to stretch when lifted and the very fine pulp will ooze out, but the outer bag will prevent this stretching and allow you to later remove the pulp from the primary without defeating the purpose of the containment.

Persimmon Melomel Recipe

  • 4 1/2 lbs persimmons
  • 2 lbs premium grade honey
  • 3/4 tsp acid blend
  • 2/3 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
  • 5 pts water
  • 2 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
  • 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 sachet Champagne wine yeast

Bring water to boil. Meanwhile, wash, halve and scoop persimmon pulp into nylon stocking resting inside fine-mesh nylon straining bag in primary; tie both bags closed. Take water off heat and dissolve honey thoroughly into it. Pour honey-water over bags of persimmon pulp. Stir in acid blend and cover primary. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Make a yeast starter solution, hydrate yeast in it and set aside to incubate yeast culture. Dissolve 1 finely crushed Campden tablet and stir into primary. Recover primary and set aside for 10-12 hours. Stir in pectic enzyme, recover primary and set aside another 10-12 hours. Stir in yeast nutrient, yeast energizer and yeast starter solution. Recover primary and gently submerge persimmon pulp twice a day. When specific gravity drops below 1.020, gently ease bag into sanitized colander and allow to drip drain 20 minutes into primary. Discard pulp, recover primary, and continue fermenting until s.g drops below 1.010. Transfer to secondary, top up and seal with airlock. Ferment to dryness but at least 30 days, rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait 45 days, rack, stir in finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Wait 45 days and rack again, dissolve and stir in potassium sorbate, top up and reattach airlock. Mead should be clear, light lees may be present. Bulk age 60-90 days and carefully rack again. Sweeten to taste with clearest honey, let rest two weeks, then carefully rack into bottles. [Author's own recipe]

December 12th, 2009

As the year counts down a pending holiday vacation looms before me with much more to do before I depart than time seems to permit. My writing has already suffered and undoubtedly will cease in the near future until sometime in January. I guarantee you I will not post anything while on vacation. But that brings up the purpose of the vacation I'll be taking.

Spending Christmas with family is more important to me each year. Time seems to fly by faster each year and there are only so many Christmas seasons left. Because my family and my wife's family are spread out over many states, family gatherings are rare. I intend to enjoy this time to its fullest potential. I hope each of you finds meaning in the season and gets to spend time with someone you love.

Sand Burr Wine

Back in August I mentioned that I started another batch of an old classic I invented about 8 or 9 years ago that won three golds and a silver - sand burr wine. I said in August I would say more about it later. A reader named Jeff reminded me that I have not yet done so. I'll correct that now.

Sand burrs blank spaceHarvested sand burrs

Sand burrs before and after harvesting, ready to be made into wine

The common grass burr (Cenchrus incertus) and sand burr (Cenchrus echinatus ) are a major nuisance to humans and animals wherever they grow. The half-dozen to a dozen sharp spikelets on each seed stalk grab whatever passes by. There are numerous strategies for getting rid of this unwanted weed-grass. Years ago I devised another... make wine of their spiked seeds. This didn't actually get rid of them, but it reduced future populations to a degree. For several years they completely disappeared from my yard when my St. Augustine grass grew thick enough to crowd them out, but then an infestation of some kind thinned out the lawn and this year they came back with a vengeance. So I put on my cowhide gloves, grabbed a bucket and began the harvest.

I picked the seed stems while the seeds were still green and tossed them into the bucket. When my back ached sufficiently, I went inside and cut 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 bowl for a photo and then in a 2-quart pan to which I added a quart of water. I stirred to dampen them, then put on the lid and brought them to a boil. Twenty minutes later I strained them out and saved the dark green water. I knew sufficient tannin was present, but no sugar or acids. The recipe developed from those assumptions. The finished wine is light straw in color, without any hint of green. The wine is very good sweetened from total dryness to 1.002, but your mileage may vary.

Sand Burr Wine Recipe

  • 1 qt sand burr spikelets
  • 1 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
  • 1 1/4 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 tsp acid blend
  • 6 1/2 pts water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/8 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
  • 2 finely crushed Campden tablets
  • Pasteur Champagne Yeast

Bring the sand burrs to boil in 1 qt water and hold for 20 minutes. Strain and discard the burrs but retain the water. Add sugar, acid blend, yeast nutrient, and yeast energizer and stir well to dissolve. Add grape concentrate and the remaining water. Cover and set aside to cool. When at room temperature, add activated yeast in a starter solution and recover the primary. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides (about 7 days if starter solution was 12-plus hours old when added). Transfer to secondary, stir in one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, and attach an airlock. Ferment to absolute dryness (30-45 days). Rack into a clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack one or two more times, 30 days apart, until wine is brilliantly clear. Stabilize with potassium sorbate and finely crushed Campden tablet (stirred well), then sweeten to taste. It is very good just off-dry, but your taste may vary. Wait 30 days and rack into bottles. This wine is very drinkable after two months but absolutely heavenly after a year. [Author's own recipe]

Why Things Are, Revisited

Several months ago (August 10th, 2009) I posted an entry on why my site remains the way it is in terms of layout and design. I'm not going to repeat that entry. If you missed it and are at all interested, you can navigate to it and read the original posting. But in it I stated that my web sites and blog retain their look because I don't use templates or automatic code generators, but rather create everything, including the code to place things where they are and as they are, myself. A while after posting that entry, something changed on the WineBlog. Some of you noticed it but most probably did not.

A reader, whose name shall remain anonymous because I did not ask permission to use it, decided to offer me a touch of assistance unasked. He sent me a new header graphic for this blog, I loved it immediately, and I have been using it ever since. Some of you noticed. Randy G. said, "I thought you weren't going to change things. You did. It took me a while to figure it out. You changed your banner." Close enough, Randy. Kathy M. wrote, "I don't know what you did to your layout, but I like it." Chase L. quipped, "The new look is very clean." I agree, Chase.

old header image

The old header is above. The new is below. Draw your own conclusions, but I really like it. Thank you, Mark.

new header image

He also "cleaned up" a few other images, and I deeply appreciate them all. So, things may change slowly at jackkeller.net, but they do change.

December 15th, 2009

I am hoping to post one additional blog entry before I leave for the Left Coast, but if I don't get around to it I want to wish each and every one of you a very merry Christmas, Hanukkah or holiday of your choice. I would be remiss if I did not also wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. By prosperous, I mean that you have sufficient resources to feed, clothe and house yourself, plus have enough left over to save something for a rainy day, a vacation or a luxury purchase. If you have more than that, you'll have more than over half the population of the earth. Be thankful.

As you gather with family, friends or just your pet dog or cat to celebrate your special meaning (I celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ), please pause and wish well the troops and sailors deployed to foreign lands and waters who do the bidding of their respective governments for causes important enough to place them in harm's way. Whether you agree or disagree with the policies that deployed them, they sacrifice for you and me. My first entry below brings home the reality of the ultimate sacrifices made for you and me.


Christmas wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery

One man's gift of honor and respect at Arlington National Cemetery

blank spaceRest easily and sleep in peace my brothers.
blank spaceYour job is done, the line you left has held,
blank spaceyour places quickly taken up by others
blank spacewho filled the spaces fast where you were felled.

blank spaceWe who live on will evermore remember
blank spaceas we pursue the fight for Freedom's dream,
blank spacethose victims from eleventh of September
blank spaceand you, who made the sacrifice supreme.
blank space[Requiescant, by Hugh Wyles]

Fellow Texas winemaker, veteran and friend Fred Williams informed me of something I simply missed in the news. Readers may be interested to know that the wreaths in the photograph -- some 5,000 -- were donated by the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine. The owner, Merrill Worcester, not only provides the wreaths, but for years covered the trucking expense as well. A wonderful guy, he's done this since 1992.

Today, contributions, volunteers and a 501-c3 organization called Wreaths Across America have expanded the project. By 2008 over 300 locations held wreath laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries. Over 100,000 wreaths were placed on veterans graves. Over 60,000 volunteers participated. Making this even more remarkable is the fact that Harrington, Maine, where this all started, is in one the poorest parts of the state.

Morrill Worcester explains, "I started Worcester Wreath Co. in 1971. That first year I sold 500 wreaths. Over the past 37 years with the help from my family, our business has grown to sales of over 500,000 wreaths.

"I happen to think this incredible growth could only be accomplished in America because of the freedoms we all enjoy.

"Of course, our freedoms did not come without a tremendous cost and sacrifice. Over the past 231 years, nearly 1,000,000 Americans, men and women, have given the ultimate sacrifice for all of us. Millions more gave years of their lives in the military services and were lucky enough to come home safely.

"I know our wreaths placed on the veteran's graves each year is a very small gesture. I only wish we could do more."

Mr. Worcester, you shame me. I sent Wreaths Across America a check two days ago. I urge my readers to do the same. I only wish I could do more.

blank spaceWreaths Across America
blank spacePO Box 256
blank spaceHarrington, ME 04643

Mulled (Spiced) Wines, Peaches and Wine-Toddy

'Tis the season and recipes for mulled wine have been appearing in blogs all over the place, but most use a commercial blend of mulling spices. You can save time and possibly money by purchasing such a blend, but if you have a well-stocked kitchen you probably have the ingredients to make your own, and it's both fun to do and leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. I've gone through our recipe files (my wife has a wonderful collection from family members, friends and probably hundreds of printed sources) and selected three very different mulled wine and one spiced-wine peaches recipes. I'll start with the peaches first.

Spiced-Wine Peaches

  • 4 lg cans peach halves (24 to 28 peach halves)
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 c wine vinegar
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • Whole strawberries (equal to number of peach halves)
  • 1 1/2 c syrup from peaches
  • 6 whole cloves
  • Zest or very thin peeling from 1 lemon
  • 1 c dry pale sherry (commercial or your own)

Combine all ingredients, except fruit (I like to use white peach halves) and sherry. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat to simmer and hold for 15 minutes. Add sherry. Pour mixture over peaches and store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Flavor is best if made 2 to 3 days ahead. To Serve: Drain liquid from peaches. Place each peach in a clear glass dessert server, small coffee cup saucer or grouped in a large serving dish. Place whole strawberry in seed depression of each peach half and dribble 1 tblsp liquid over each strawberry. I like to warm the liquid and the peaches (but not the strawberries) 15 seconds in the microwave before serving. [Author's tweaking of traditional recipe]

Simple Mulled Wine

  • 32 oz apple cider
  • 2 750-mL bottles Chablis
  • 1 orange, very thinly sliced
  • 6 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • Sugar to taste

Mix all ingredients in large crock pot. Start on high and reduce to low after 20 minutes, then simmer 2 to 3 hours and serve. Perfect for Christmas parties. [Author's wife's recipe]

Hot Mulled Wine

  • 46-oz can pineapple-grapefruit or orange-pineapple juice
  • 6 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 18 cloves
  • 1 lb clover honey
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 bottles vin rosé

Mix cinnamon, cloves, honey, lemon juice and 1 cup fruit juice and boil 5 - 6 minutes. Add remaining fruit juice drink. Boil 3 - 4 minutes more. Remove from heat and add vin rosé. Each glass can be thinly topped with sweet whipped cream and a dash of freshly but finely grated nutmeg. [Family recipe]

Mulled Wine Toddy

  • 3 750-mL bottles dry wine (Chablis or rosé)
  • 1/2 c RealLemon juice
  • 1 c bourbon (or Scotch or brandy)
  • 1 c. honey
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 10 whole allspice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

In a large saucepan combine wine, lemon juice, honey and butter. Stir until honey is dissolved. Add cloves, allspice and cinnamon sticks. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until heated through, about 20 minutes. Strain out spices, stir in bourbon and serve piping hot. Do not drink this and drive. [Author's own recipe, inspired by a dream]

December 19th, 2009

This will be the last WineBlog entry of 2009. My suitcase is packed and I am ready to head out to spend the holidays with family and friends. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and happy new year. I said it better in my last blog entry - or did I? An email accused me of being politically correct. Sigh....

Batwing Blood (A Mead)

Somewhere I acquired a recipe for a blood red melomel called "Batwing Blood." I'm sure some of you are thinking this posting would have fit the calendar better around Halloween, but if you start it now it should be aged and ready to serve at your next Halloween party.

I have tweaked the original recipe a bit. It called for a tablespoon of gypsum, but this ingredient is usually used to either adjust the pH of an overly acidic must or to harden a soft water - either conditioned or distilled. If you feel your water needs the addition of gypsum, add it, but my water is hard enough as it flows from the tap. The recipe also calls for Irish Moss, an ingredient I have retained. If you are unfamiliar with this product, it is an old fining agent that can still be purchased at most well-stocked homebrew shops. See the entry below this one for more on this ingredient.

This recipe makes 3 gallons of mead.

Batwing Blood

  • 10 lbs light amber honey
  • 4 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp Irish moss
  • 1 1/2 lbs corn sugar
  • 12 oz bag mixed frozen strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry
  • 1 lb blackberries
  • 1 lb strawberries
  • 2 gallons 1 pint water
  • 3 finely crushed Campden tablets
  • 1 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
  • 2 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/2 tsp yeast energizer
  • sachet Red Star Pasteur Champagne wine yeast

Tie the berries in nylon straining bag and crush in a large glass bowl. Combine honey, acid blend, Irish moss and corn sugar in a pan and boil 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the sides. Remove pan from heat, add nylon straining bag and juice from berries and allow to steep for 20 minutes. Stir while adding water and allow to cool to room temperature. Add yeast nutrient, energizer and activated yeast in a starter solution. Ferment 10 days, transfer to secondary and attach airlock. Set in dark place for 3 months. Rack into a sanitized secondary into which you have added the finely crushed Campden tablets and potassium sorbate dissolved into 1 cup of warm water. Reattach airlock and return to dark place for an additional 3 months. Carefully rack into bottles and store in dark place until Halloween. [Author's adaptation of original recipe by Powderhound]

Irish Moss

Irish moss is a fining agent made from an Atlantic seaweed called Chondrus crispus, known under the common name Irish moss, or carrageen moss (in Irish, carraigín means "little rock"). The active fining ingredient in Irish moss is k-carrageenan, a polymer of β-D-galactose-4-sulphate-3,6-anhydro-a-D-galactose. It is negatively charged and therefore attractive to proteins in suspension.

Irish moss is a relatively small (20 cm long) red alga growing from an anchorous footing into a multi-branching, dichotomous, fan-like structure. The branches are small, firm in texture, reddish-brown in color, sun-drying to a yellowish translucence. The seaweed is washed in fresh water, dried and powdered for use as a fining agent.

Because it must be boiled to become active, Irish moss has a greater use in brewing than in winemaking. But even in the latter it has a long history of use. It is added to a boiling must, or water that will be added to the must, during the last 15 minutes of boil. As it cools, it attracts proteins in the must and they settle together.

For earlier entries, see archives (left column)

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