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Jack's Winemaking Links

Jack Keller's
The Winemaking Home Page

Ben Rotter's
Improved Winemaking

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

Terry Garey's
Joy of Home Winemaking

Marc Shapiro's
The Meadery, my favorite mead site

Forrest Cook's
The Mead Maker's Page

Dave Polaschek's
Mead Made Easy

Mathieu Bouville's
Mead Made Complicated

Mead Lover's
The Bees' Lees

Talisman's
Mead

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
Icewine

Vinovation's
Winemaking Fundamentals

Dina's
Wine Page

Drink Focus'
All About Apple Cider

The Brewery's
Cider Recipes

Members'
San Antonio Regional Wine Guild

WinePress.US
Discussion Forums

WV Mountaineer Jack's
WVMJ Elderberry Wine Making

Google's
rec.crafts.winemaking news group

Finevinewines.com
Fine Vine Wine's discussion groups

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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 five times 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, now works at being retired, 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

Erroll's
Washington Winemaker

Frugalwinemaker's
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

Jennifer's
My Wines Direct

Jorray's
Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

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

Ken W.'s
AlaWine.com

Mal's
Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

Michelle's
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

Thomas'
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:

Remove the patriotic colors and replace the parenthetical items with their symbols.

jackredkellerwhitewine(at)gbluemail(dot)com

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.




February 13th, 2011

Vision

I woke up this morning and could see quite clearly compare to days past -- no cloudiness in the right eye -- so thought it was time to get back to writing.

To all of you who wrote, called or posted get well sentiments on various forums, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. To those just tuning in and unaware, my vision declined acutely in November-December as a result of a rapidly clouding cataract in the right eye compounded by a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) that failed to separate. This in turn pulled the retina out of its normal curvature and caused a warping of remaining vision and a large, very dark, central floater. At the same time, a PVD was beginning in my left eye but not interfering with my vision. After two delays in December due to health complications, last month I finally underwent cataract surgery.

Cataract surgery is performed under a condition of intense sedation but the patient is not completely unconscious. This is so that if the eyes begin to migrate during the procedure the surgeon can nudge the patient and ask him or her to look straight ahead. Of course there is no pain or physical sensation during the surgery and most of the time the patient is in a state of near sleep. This was the case with me.

For reasons unimportant to this narrative, my surgery took longer than normal. Suddenly (and I do mean suddenly), I was wide awake, looking up into a blur of light and moving dark forms, completely aware that the surgery was still going on. I said, "I think I am fully awake now." My ophthalmologist said my anesthesiologist's name and the latter replied, "I'm on it." Since I was awake, I addressed my ophthalmologist by name and asked him what he was doing at the moment. If he answered me at all it did not register, for the anesthesiologist was indeed "on it" and the next thing I was aware of was waking up in a recovery area and being very thirsty.

My stepson Scott came by shortly thereafter and retrieved me, and we went to lunch. I then slept most of the day and night in his apartment in San Antonio. I saw my ophthalmologist the next morning and was then allowed to reclaim my truck and drive myself home.

Most patients recover from cataract surgery very smoothly. They always do just one eye at a time and the unaffected eye then does double duty to compensate for any blurriness in the eye that was operated on. In my case recovery did not go smoothly. This is partly my fault and partly bad luck. I misunderstood my post-operative instructions and stopped applying the steroidal eye drops after three days. I was only supposed to cut back on their application but instead stopped. I therefore went four days without their benefit before I saw my ophthalmologist again and was soundly scolded. This simply slowed down the healing process. But a few days following the surgery, the PVD in my left eye underwent a slow separation and pulled on the retina I was most dependent on for clear vision. As a result, I suffered very warped vision in my good eye while vision through the right eye remained quite cloudy as the front of my natural lens grew over the inserted artificial lens.

It has take three weeks for the PVD in the left eye to separate, but it did so two days ago while I was making fudge. Suddenly, with the blink of an eye, the warped vision disappeared. I looked at the recipe and could read it from a normal distance. There was still a very slight cloudiness in my right eye but the left eye compensated beautifully. I knew I would recover quickly now.

Writing this much has been a strain. The right eye is tearing and I must take a break to rest it. But I just wrote more at one sitting than I have in months, so I feel very good about it.

I just took a 22-minute nap and feel much better. It amazes my wife that I can do that -- lay down and go instantly to sleep for short periods -- but it is something I learned to do in the Army and these past few weeks I have been doing it 10-12 times a day. When the eye feels strained I take a short nap.

I feel it is necessary to explain to some of you what a PVD is. The posterior segment of the eye is the cavity behind the lens. It is filled with a substance called vitreous humor. When we are young this substance is almost liquid, but as we age it turns progressively into a gelatinous substance. At my age (65) it is quite thick and possibly more solid than liquid. It naturally adheres to the retina of the eye, but every so often it begins to separate as a thin liquid film develops between it and the retina. The separation begins around the periphery of the eye and continues toward the macula, that small spot where all of our rods and cones are located and where light is focused by the lens to allow us to perceive images. The final detachment occurs there. This whole process is very, very natural and normal and occurs many time during a full-term life. But occasionally -- rarely, actually -- the complete detachment does not occur and the gelatinous mass of vitreous humor remains attached to the retina at or near the macula. When that occurs, the uniform curvature of the retinal surface gets pulled by the otherwise free-floating vitreous mass and that tugging distorts your vision. That happened to me, first in one eye and then the other.

In extreme situations the clinging vitreous can actually tear the outer layer of the retina away, resulting in a retinal hole. The PVD in my right eye has persisted and I will be evaluated in nine days to determine whether or not a retinal surgeon will go in and snip the thread by which the vitreous remains attached to my retina. The PVD in my left eye has finally detached and is no longer of any concern, so it is the right eye that remains a problem. But the PVD could separate at any time, just as the one in the left eye did two days ago.

I wear glasses. My pre-operation prescription for my right eye is useless to me now for two reasons. The first is because an artificial lens was implanted in the eye when the cataract was removed and it is not at all accommodated by this prescription. The second is that the incision the surgeon made in my cornea to remove the cataract has sort of flattened out the surface curvature, rendering the prescription worthless over the temporal hemisphere. As the incision heals the curvature will return, but it takes time. So, I cannot get a new prescription for a while and will continue to suffer blurry vision through the right lens of my glasses for perhaps two more months.

By now I am sure you are bored beyond belief, but I have but one more item to add. When this ordeal began and my vision deteriorated rapidly I purchased and installed a voice-to-text program so I could talk into a microphone and type would appear in a dialog box on the computer monitor. I could then move the text into Word documents or email messages. The program worked okay when I talked plainly, but when I tried talking computereeze it could not follow me. Trying to teach it hypertext markup language (HTML) so I could post something on my website or blog was impossible. I eventually gave up on trying to accommodate formatting with it.

But it is fine for dictating straight talk. It knows when you say, "I see what you mean," that the word is "see" and not "sea," but sometimes it doesn't know and just inserts a string of words that you later have to sort out. The sound "tu" in English can be the words to, too or two. If the program does not understand which one you mean, it will display "to/too/two" and let you select the correct one. If you reply to a question with a simple "No," the program will display "No/Know." It's not perfect, but you CAN teach it some things. I just couldn't see well enough to navigate the controls without help, and Scott now lives 48 miles away and my wife is in California. It will have to wait.

Enough about my eye problems. I promise to return to winemaking in my next posting, but I want to end this one with the recipe for the fudge I was making when the distortion in my left eye suddenly disappeared. It is my rendition of what originally was called Million Dollar Fudge.

Jack Keller's Million Dollar Fudge

  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 large can evaporated milk
  • 1/4 pound butter
  • 1/2 pound bar Dark Chocolate, broken
  • 1/2-pound bar Milk Chocolate, broken
  • 8-ounce package Bittersweet Chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 14-ounce jar marshmallow cream
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Combine sugar, butter and milk. Bring to boil and then maintain for 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and immediately add broken chocolate bars and chips. Stir until chocolate melts completely and fold in marshmallow cream. Add vanilla and nuts and stir until completely integrated. Pour into 9 X 13 buttered glass cake pan. When firm, cut into bars.

This fudge is very light and creamy but very rich. Without the nuts, nibbles of it will simply melt in the mouth. As for nuts, I have used pecan pieces, cashew halves, pinion nuts, walnut pieces, and chopped macadamia nuts. Each conveys its own flavor but the chocolate does dominate. I have long wanted to make this fudge using hickory nut pieces, but it has been years since I have seen them in the market.

You can make this fudge tonight, for your valentine, or any time.




March 13th, 2011

Where did the last month go? It began promisingly after I healed from cataract surgery, as I reported on February 13th. Then something changed and my vision underwent a warping, as if the retina were slightly tilted and rolling at the same time. Very difficult to describe. But my retinal specialist imaged me retina beautifully through optical coherence tomography and walked me through it. I was put on a fast track to surgery but will spare you the details of the condition and the fix. I will simply say that I see better today than I have in nearly five months.

I have pretty much ignored email throughout this long ordeal. When I could read it I tried to -- even answered a few -- but usually other priorities intruded, like bills, a legal issue and a problem with my military retirement pension disappearing. The latter two of these distractions remain unresolved, but I have managed to pay my bills on time. But, as for email, let me say the following. According to Outlook, I have 1173 unread and unfiltered emails sitting in my inbox and I simply haven't the time or desire to sort through them. If you wrote me in the past five months and have not received an answer, consider your email lost. I invite you to resend the email, but volume will dictate what I can manage. My vision is not fully restored and I am still at least six weeks away from obtaining a new prescription for glasses.


Sherry Reconsidered

My wife now lives in California. She somehow came across the February issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine and sent me an extracted article by Camper English entitled "Sherry Reconsidered". It is a good read for those not put off by Portuguese words whose pronunciation is, at best, a guess.

The article not only presents a layman's description of the production of sherry, which I found to be quite adequate to the article's purpose, but then goes into the use of sherry as a signature ingredient in a number of recently developed cocktails. Here is where the article grabbed my interest.

While the flavors imparted by some ingredients alluded me (Lillet Blanc, for example), others could well be imagined (St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, or Bittermens Xocolati Mole Bitters) and assembled in the mind into the cocktails described. But four of the cocktails each relied upon a homemade rather than commercial ingredient and I was struck by this.

How exactly does a cocktail developer determine that a specific, required ingredient has not yet been produced commercially and it is up to him or her to make some of whatever-it-is. One such unavailable product is required for Sherry Shrub, developed by Neyah White at Nopa in San Francisco. The cocktail's recipe is simple enough but unerringly precise.


Sherry Shrub

  • 3/4 ounce shrub syrup
  • 2 ounces Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzailla Sherry
  • Lemon twist for garnish

Combine the syrup and sherry, stir with cracked ice and strain into a small sherry glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.

Yes, you guessed it. The recipe is meaningless unless you know how to make the shrub syrup. Fortunately, Neyah White shared the secret.


Shrub Syrup

  • 1 quart fresh destemmed elderberries
  • 1 cup fresh huckleberries
  • 5 cups evaporated cane sugar
  • 1 quart cider vinegar
  • 1 ounce kosher salt
  • 5 brown cardamom pods
  • 1 ounce white peppercorns

In a large bowl gently press elderberries and huckleberries until every berry is at least bruised. In a mixing glass, muddle the spices until all pods are cracked and add to the berry mixture. Add the sugar, cover the bowl, and let stand 5 hours in a cool place (can you spell refrigerator?), by which time a syrup will have formed. Add the salt and vinegar and stir until the salt is dissolved. Cover and return to the refrigerator for at least a week. Strain through a chinois (finely meshed conical strainer) and then cheesecloth. Bottle, leaving 2-3 inches of air, and age at least another week before using. I have a feeling this will be enough shrub syrup to keep you in Sherry Shrub for a long, long time.

Okay, you may well be wondering what this has to do with wine. Aside from the fact that sherry is a fortified wine, nothing obvious. But as I thought about this and other recipes that cocktail developers have concocted I began to see a similarity in making wine and making an ingredient such as shrub syrup. Yes, the kosher salt and vinegar are foreign to winemaking, but without their preservative effects the syrup would quite possibly ferment.

If you have ever made elderberry syrup, eaten wild huckleberries, or made both elderberry and huckleberry wines and then just happened to blend them, which I have done, then you can possibly imagine what shrub syrup might taste like. Further, if you think about it long enough you might conclude that Neyah White is a closet winemaker. If not, he should be. The maceration process he used to make the shrub was syrup could well be adapted to winemaking. Many of us have used a similar process to make the foundation for homemade liqueurs.

Most of all, I was struck by the selection of ingredients. I lived in San Francisco for 12 years. While it is possible to find wild elderberries within an hour's drive of The City, wild huckleberries are not out there for the taking. Neyah White probably purchased the ingredients at San Francisco Produce Terminal Market at Hunter's Point, the most amazing produced market I have ever wandered into. On any given day the Bay Area's most celebrated chefs can be found there, selecting the ingredients for that day's fabulous meals. I once watched Wolfgang Puck look over some 80 varieties of mushrooms before selecting specimens of five or six.

Cocktails made with wine.... I like the idea and thank my wife for sending me the article.




March 20th, 2011

The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild met today at our home in Pleasanton, Texas. As I do every year, I slow cooked a brisket overnight on a bed of onion halves, which keeps the meat above the considerable oils rendered and other liquids extracted from the 8-pound slab. I made 3 cups of gravy with the drippings to smother the meat and top mashed potatoes one member brought. Other dishes served to complete the feast we all enjoyed with 18-20 wines offered up for our enjoyment.

Of interest to some was the fact that my Blanc du Bois grapes were in full leaf and already pushing flowers, as was one of Cliff Ambers' V. bicolor X Traminette crosses.. Other varieties were not so aggressive but we did see swollen buds on Champanel, Cynthiana, Jaeger 70, and Miss Blue. Lenoir, Favorite and my Mount Shasta V. californica were still asleep.

We did something today we will surely make a monthly feature. We asked members to vote on which wine on the tasting table was considered the best of the day. While most were homemade wines, some were commercial. Our only rule is that you cannot vote for the wine you brought, although you can abstain from voting. Today's clear winner was a Wimberley Valley Winery Plum Wine.


Plum Wine

The night after John Lennon was murdered my brother Barry and I sat on the steps of a beach cottage at Venice, California and drank two bottles of plum wine our sister Barbara had made. My sister was never proud of that wine but we liked it very much. Further, it served an unintended purpose that night and did so very well.

Chickasaw Plums

This will sound like bragging, but the best plum wine I have ever tasted just happens to be one I made. This was made from Texas wild plums (Prunus texana), a small, tart, early plum similar to other wild plums in North America. Most notable of these are the Alleghany Plum of the northeast, the wide-ranging American Wild Plum, the Chickasaw Plum of Arkansas and surrounding states, the Beach Plum, Mexican Plum, Creek Plum, Pacific Plum, Sand Plum, and several others. These all are small -- 3/8 to 1 inch in diameter is the norm, but the Pacific Plum can reach 1-1/2 inches -- often with more stone than fruit pulp, but their flavors are priceless when fermented.

This may not be the way Wimberley Valley Winery does it, but this is the way I made Texas Wild Plum Wine that won two Grand Champions, two first places and one second place.


Texas Wild Plum Wine

  • 6 lbs wild Texas Plums
  • 2/3 lb chopped or minced golden raisins
  • 2 lbs over-ripe bananas
  • 1-1/2 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 7-1/2 pints water
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Red Star Pasteur Champagne wine yeast

Wash the plums and remove any that show signs of insect infestation. Place them on paper towels to dry and leave them at least two hours. Put the plums in a bowl and place in refrigerator. In 1-2 weeks they will turn dark. Meanwhile, buy 2 lbs bananas and let them get ripe. If they turn slightly mushy, so much the better. The only parts to discard are sections of flesh that actually turn brown. When plums are ready, put water on to boil and chop or mince the raisins. Put the plums in a sterilized plastic pail and mash them with the end of a sterilized piece of hardwood (the thick end of a baseball bat works great), but do not crack the seeds. Just mash the plums up as best you can. Now peel the bananas and slice them thinly (1/2 inch maximum), adding them to the plums. Add the chopped or minced raisins and the sugar. Pour the boiling water over this, stir well with a wooden paddle to dissolve sugar, and cover with a clean dish towel. When cooled to 70-75 degrees F., stir in the crushed Campden tablet. Recover the pail and let sit 12 hours. Stir in the pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Recover and set aside another 12 hours. Add the yeast (if dry, sprinkle over the top and DO NOT STIR for 24 hours) and recover. When fermentation is strong (for dry yeast, about three days; for an already started yeast, the next day), begin punching down the cap of pulp twice daily. After 7 days of strong fermentation, drain off some liquid and measure specific gravity. When S.G. is 1.020 (may take up to 10 days), strain pulp through a nylon straining bag and squeeze to extract as much juice as possible. Discard pulp and return all juice to pail and ferment another two days. Siphon off stones and sediments into secondary and fit airlock. When ferment dies down to a steady bubbling, top up to within one inch of airlock. Rack into clean secondary after 60 days, top up and refit airlock. Repeat 60 days later. In another 60 days the wine should be clear, but if it isn't, rack again and allow another 60 days. If clear and all fermentation has stopped, rack into bottles. [Author's own recipe]

This wine must age for at least two years to reach its potential. Personally, I allow three years before touching it.





March 29th, 2011

I unapologetically ask you to consider clicking on the GrapeSeek logo above and vote for my website. Details are in the box above.

I go in today to have the inner edges of a small retinal hole seared with a laser. This is a walk-in/walk-out procedure and the hole is not near the macula, so there are no worries on my part.

Snake bit on left foot

I was bit last Friday by a small rattlesnake. I had come home and traded my boots for flip-flops in the name of comfort. I went out on the front porch to hand-water some potted plants. A small rattler was hidden among the overhanging growth of two healthy spider plants. It struck me on the inside of the left foot just above the arch. I though I had been stung by a bee, yellow jacket or wasp and instinctively raised my foot to slap the assaulter. I felt the weight as I looked down. It released its fangs and fell at my feet. With the left foot raised and the watering can in my right hand, I performed a one-legged leap backwards and only spilt half the water all over me.

I tried to squeeze the venom out but could not, so I changed and drove to the local hospital. I walked into the ER, slapped my insurance and ID cards down on the counter, and said as calmly as I could, "I am a congestive heart failure patient and was bitten by a rattlesnake about 20 minutes ago. I received an anti-venom shot and a steroid in the buttock. My blood pressure was very high so they had me lay on a gurney until it read normal about 45 minutes later.

The foot looked like a lemon was inside it, but by Saturday morning it was just swollen. All is well now. Only two reddish-black marks remain. I hunted for the snake later, but it made a clean get-away.


Mixed Dry Fruit Wine

Mixed Dry Fruit

Some time back I stopped by a health food supermarket and bought several pounds of mixed dry fruit. This is sold in bulk along with dozens of other goodies and I put a dent in my pocketbook at the check-out counter. The particular mix I bought had dried apples, peaches, plums, rhubarb, mangoes (2 varieties), strawberries, and blueberries. I bought some dried cherries, bananas, dates and apricots separately and added some to the mix. I later lamented that I had not also purchased some dried papaya, cranberries and pineapple. When it comes to mixed dried fruit, the more the merrier.

The key consideration when purchasing each of these was that the only preservatives used on the fruit were sulfur dioxide and ascorbic acid, neither of which will impede fermentation.

I weighed out 2 pounds of fruit and diced them on a chopping block to increase the surface area. This took longer than I anticipated and quite a bit of elbow grease. Had I thought it out beforehand, I would have used a large shredding blade and run them through my food processor.


Mixed Dry Fruit Wine Recipe

  • 2 pounds mixed dry fruit, diced or minced
  • 1 lb 12 ounces sugar
  • 1 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • 6 pints water
  • 1/8 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Champaign yeast in starter solution

Put water on to boil. Dice or mince the dried fruit and place in primary. Add sugar, grape tannin, yeast energizer and yeast nutrient.. When water boils, pour over contents of primary and stir with wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and set aside to cool. When approximately 100 degrees F., add pectic enzyme. Recover primary and set aside 12 hours. Add activated yeast in starter solution but do not stir. Wait 6-8 hours and stir must. Make a note of when active fermentation begins and set aside, covered, for 5 days. Strain fruit but do not discard. Transfer liquid to secondary and affix airlock without topping up. After additional 5 days, crush and dissolve 1 Campden tablet in 1/2 cup water and use this to top up secondary. Set aside for 3 weeks. Rack, top up and reaffix airlock. Repeat after 30 days and top up with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate dissolved in 1/4 cup water. Wait 45 days, rack and add 1 crushed and dissolved Campden tablet in 1/4 cup water. Let sit overnight and rack into bottles. Drinkable after 3 months but improves to 1 year. Do not allow it to age too long beyond it's bottling anniversary. {Author's own recipe]

Oh, as a progress report I will say that this wine is very, very good at one year.


Mixed Dry Fruit Jam

The strained fruit from the winemaking can be used in various ways. You can make a second wine, but it will not be as robust as the first. You can make small tarts using prepared crescent roll dough, or you can make jam. If you use the jam recipe below you will have some fruit left over. Try the tarts. Just lay out the individual pieces of crescent roll dough . Place a tablespoon of fruit in the center of each, sprinkle the fruit with 1 teaspoon of sugar and fold the crescent roll dough over the fruit. Crimp the edges sealed and bake at 350 degrees F. on a non-stick cookie sheet until lightly browned on top. Remove, carefully turn them over and return to oven for 4 more minutes.

  • 4 cups mixed fruit from wine must
  • 2 tblsp lemon juice
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tblsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cup water

Combine fruit, zest, lemon juice and water in stainless steel saucepan. Heat rapidly to a boil and reduce heat to just maintain the boil. Slowly stir in sugar and continue stirring until completely dissolved. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until mixture forms a gel -- about 25-30 minutes. Stir in cinnamon and ginger. Ladle onto hot jars, seal with new rings and lids and process in boiling bath for 10 minutes. [Author's own recipe]


Mixed Dry Fruit Pie

I had a lot more mixed dry fruit than I needed for wine, but this was by design. Okay, I could have made a larger batch, but I had other things on my mind. I wanted to try my hand at making a mixed dry fruit pie. The desire had been building since I first saw the bulk dried fruit at the market and after I had the wine fermenting the thought of the pie consumed me This time I used the food processor to coarsely grate 3 packed cups of dried fruit.

  • 3 cups mixed dry fruit diced, minced or coarsely shredded
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tblsp butter
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • package of 2 rolled pie crusts at room temperature

In large stainless steel saucepan, bring water and fruit to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until thick. Begin preheating oven to 350 degrees F. Stir sugar into fruit until dissolved. Stir in the butter and flour. Remove from heat and stir in chopped walnuts. Arrange one rolled-out pie crust as the bottom shell in a lightly buttered deep pie dish. Pour fruit mixture into pie shell. Arrange remaining pie crust over pie and crimp the edges to seal. Cut 3 radial slits in top crust and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. It is fabulous and sets up solid when cooled. Serve warm with the best vanilla ice cream you can afford. Rest 20 minutes and then go walk 2 miles. [Author's own recipe]





April 8th, 2011

I'm fine folks. It's amazing how much email a rattlesnake bite can generate. Thank you, but I'm fine. The puncture marks are still visible, quite dark now. Thin scabs peeled off when I was scrubbing with a lufah in the shower, but grew back. That's it. End of story.

The snakebite did ruin my appetite for about 12-16 hours, but then it returned with a vengeance. When it returned I craved fruit. I wrote last time about using mixed dried fruit for wine, jam and pie. There are many other snacks you can make with dried fruit. I had to go into San Antonio anyway, so I went back to Sun Harvest and bought dried apricots, peaches, mangos, apples and pears. I also bought pinion nuts, shelled pistachios, macadamia nuts, and walnuts. Last but not least, I bought brown rice flour. I had Medjool dates, dried cranberries, Calimyrna figs, cherries and golden raisins at home, so all together I had the fixings for many a treat and I had some specifics in mind, which I will only touch upon here.


Dried Apricot and Peach Wine

Apricots make wonderful wines, and recently I had tasted a dessert style apricot wine that got my imagination working. I didn't want to duplicate it, but I did want to harness that captivating apricot essence and tame it just a bit. Several years ago I had done just that with peaches and bananas. Here is what I did.

  • 1 1/2 lb chopped dried apricots
  • 2 lb chopped dried peaches
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1 lb 12 oz light brown sugar
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 large lemon
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • 6 pints to 1 gallon water
  • Sauterne wine yeast and nutrient

Slice bananas into thin discs, leaving skins on fruit. Put into a nylon straining bag, tie top, and place in 6 pints water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove grain-bag to bowl to catch drippings while adding chopped dried fruit to simmering water. When water returns to simmer add zest of oranges and lemon. Simmer 10 minutes, then pour through large strainer lined with cheese cloth. Press fruit to extract additional water and combine it, drippings from bananas and strained water in primary. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add juice from oranges and lemon. Add additional water to bring volume to 1 gallon. Cover and allow to cool. Stir in tannin, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient, recover primary and set aside 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast in starter solution, recover primary and set aside until vigorous fermentation subsides. Pour into secondary fermentation vessel and fit airlock. When wine is still top up if needed. Wait until wine falls clear and rack, stir in finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Set aside 60 days and rack carefully. Check clarity of wine with flashlight in dark room. If not perfectly clear top up, reattach airlock and set aside an additional month. Rack again and bottle. Allow one 6 month to a year for maturity. [Author's own recipe]

When I made it again recently, I eliminated the bananas and used a can of Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate for body the bananas supplied previously. The only reason I did this was because my bananas weren't ripe enough (skin will be covered with black spots) and I didn't want to wait another 5-7 days. You can make it either way. Since I still making this batch, I cannot say with certainty it will be better.


Fruit-Nut Bars

I have a very basic recipe that adapts well with any fruit and nut combination. It uses brown rice flour, which is both gluten-free and makes a perfect chewy bar. It binds with oatmeal, honey, maple syrup, a little nut oil, the fruit, nuts, and coconut flakes to make a delicious, moist and chewy bar.

There is no substitute for the brown rice flour. I once substituted soy flour and it was okay, but I learned a lesson I will not forget. There is no substitute for brown rice flour! I use coconut oil simply because I have it on hand, but you can use sunflower seed oil, macadamia nut oil, walnut oil, or even that plain old extra virgin olive oil. The extract you use is purely up to you. There are no bad choices among those I have listed.

  • 2 cups dried fruit
  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 cup quick oatmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped nuts
  • 1 tablespoon coconut flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond, hazelnut, coconut, or vanilla extract
  • white grape juice as needed

With the exception of dates and dried figs, all dried fruit should be placed in a bowl and just covered with boiling water for about 8-10 minutes. They are then drained in a colander, sprayed the with cold water and then pressed lightly by hand or a large serving spoon to expel water from the fruit. They are then chopped them and placed in a large bowl. To them add the flour, oats, coconut, chopped nuts and sea salt and mix them well with a large, sturdy spoon. In a separate, smaller bowl mix the oil, honey, maple syrup and extract with a whisk and pour this around the dry ingredients while turning them to mix. Very slowly, pour in the grape juice a little at a time (probably a cup to a cup and a half altogether) while mixing until the dryness disappears and it is uniformly just moist enough to bind together as a tacky mass. Butter a 6 X 9 glass cake pan and press the whole mess in it until it is evenly distributed. Precut the mass into squares or bars and then pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely before removing (they come right out).

Date-Cherry-Cranberry-Walnut bars

I sprinkled half with very fine (bakers) sugar mixed with ground cinnamon. You don't have to do this, but it adds something to it. You could also dust some barely browned sesame seeds with powdered sugar and sprinkle lightly over the top. Without the toppings they are just great. Would make a nice snack on a hike or anywhere else.

I made three batches using Medjool dates, cherries and cranberries with walnuts, apricots, peaches and mangos with pinion nuts, and apricots, golden raisins and Calimyrna figs with pistachio nuts. I have many other combinations to try and intend to add slivered almonds, sunflower kernels and dried blueberries to the mix. The options are almost endless.

The amount of fruit or nuts could be increased by 1/2 cup. Increasing the volume might necessitate increasing the flour by 2 tablespoons and the honey and maple syrup by a teaspoon each.





April 12th, 2011

Bad night sleeping. The mind was too active and would not rest. At 3:10 I got up and consumed two drams of 12-year old Bowmore Islay single malt Scotch with a plate of tremendously good, warmed up barbecue pork ribs. I hate to waste this Scotch as a sleeping tonic but it washed the ribs down nicely and then worked well enough to give me four hours of sleep.


The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que

The Salt Lick barbecue pit

Speaking of barbecue pork ribs, I would be remiss if I did not pay homage to the best barbecue pork ribs I have ever eaten. Sunday I drove to Austin to spend the day with my sister Barbara, who was in town from Eugene, Oregon to spend some time with her son Tim and grandson Mason, now a fully grown young man. When hunger seized us around mid-day, we piled into Tim's car and made the pilgrimage to the legendary Mecca of barbecue, The Salt Lick.

I thought I knew a few things about barbecue, but these folks have probably forgotten more than I ever knew on that subject. They have it down to a fine art, and I do mean fine. Those who have eaten there know what I mean. Those who have not cannot imagine. Their standard fare is beef brisket, pork and beef ribs, sausage, chicken and turkey. I can only speak for the first four. I cannot imagine wasting a trip to The Salt Lick on fowl, but I suppose if they were out of everything else and I had to eat the barbecued chicken or turkey or leave hungry, I would find that it too is the very best that can be had. Having tasted their other meats, I cannot imagine it being otherwise.

Sampler plate from The Salt Lick

Personally, I have always preferred dry rubbed barbecue to sauces. Nowadays it is because sauces get in my mustache and beard, but I preferred the dry rub long before I grew a beard. McBee's Barbecue in Pleasanton, Texas, which shared Texas Monthly's title of best barbecue in Texas some years back with The Salt Lick and four other legendary establishments, has perfected the dry rub style. In my humble opinion, The Salt Lick rules the roost for basted barbecue (they spell it Bar-B-Que, but this is Texas and you can do that).

What I absolutely love about their basting is that the sauce is basted frequently and almost (but not quite) dries to a thick, yummy glaze on the meat before being reapplied. One of the secrets, I learned, is no tomato in the sauce -- it turns bitter when glazed and ruins the whole experience.

The Salt Lick barbecued beef ribs

No photographs I can take can display the beauty of their ribs, and I mean both the pork and the beef. The beef ribs are covered with an almost black glaze you can look right into -- it has depth, both spatially and in flavor -- and they have to support a good half-pound of meat apiece. They are simply enormous and sinfully delicious. And how they remain so tender is a mystery I still ponder.

The brisket is the softest, most tender and succulent brisket I have ever enjoyed -- and loaded with flavor. Mason ordered an all you can eat deal and damned if he can't put it away! But he ordered a side dish of brisket burnt ends, and then another. These are the very epitome of sinfully delicious. They are both soft and creamy and crisp at the same time, chewy and melting, salty and sweet. They actually defy description, but they are heavenly and you just know they would make the best jerky in the whole wide world.

The Salt Lick's brisket done perfect

The sausage is indescribable. The flavors are intense and stay with you for quite some time, even if you chase them with pork ribs. And by all means try the pork ribs. These are incredibly tender, hardly require chewing, and are moist, delicious and exquisite -- the only word I can think of that comes fittingly close.

Two final thoughts. Forget their standard mashed (which are damned good!) and get the au gratin potatoes. These are to die for. They are thick, creamy, buttery, and cheesy beyond belief. If they were all that I knew about The Salt Lick, I would recommend the place for them alone. And then there is something as unassuming as a pickle. Tucked away on the table, hidden among the loaves of warm bread, bowls of really good (but not borracho) beans and steaming au gratin potatoes, saucers of cole slaw and mashed potatoes, and platters of different meats, was a small, unassuming dish of white onion pieces and bright green pickles. These were the crispest dill pickles I think I have ever eaten. They crunched with every bite and were tasty to boot -- not overly salty, not overly dill, but a perfect little accompaniment to a perfect meal.

A typical Salt Lick barbecue meal

The Salt Lick has three Austin area locations. Tim lives on the south side off Slaughter and is only 10 miles or so from the original Hill Country location in Driftwood, Texas. But it is a cash only, BYOB establishment and we were heavy with plastic and short on folding stuff, so we drove north to their Round Rock location next to Dell Diamond AAA Baseball Stadium. Not only could we use our eat-now-pay-later cards, but Round Rock is not in a dry county so we could flush our food down with tasty wet treats. Barbara loved their jalapeno bloody Mary (I had one sip and it was tremendous) and Tim and I had mugs of Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen from the tap, which was perfect with the meal. Mason had the real deal, root beer neat, which got me craving root beer and so we stopped later at Texadelphia near UT and got a round to go. The third Austin area Salt Lick is at the airport, very close to Tim's but...hey, it's at the airport.

Did I mention wine? This blog is about wine and winemaking.

When we got back to Tim's we drank a bottle of the Key Lime-A-Rita I made for my wife and snuck up to Austin. Tim and Mason, both of whom are glass blowers, then went out to their workshop and made me a unique wineglass, which took over an hour. I last saw it standing in their kiln, being tempered at 1,000 degrees F. They assured me I will receive it soon, in good shape. That is good because I am most anxious to christen it. More on wine next time, I promise.





April 23rd, 2011

For those of you who have voted for me on the GrapeSeek site mentioned above, thank you very much. If you haven't voted, please consider doing so. It just takes a few seconds and occurs in a separate window so you don't lose this page. Unfortunately, you can only vote once until next quarter.

Error Message

I received this "error message" from good friends in Victoria, Texas. Oh, if we only had one of Star Trek's famous Replicators, that magnificent machine that delivered any meal you wanted in seconds on voice command, and we received this message on the monitor. Which wine would you order? I mean, which would you order first? That is an interesting question to ponder, and I don't intend to post my own answer here and now. Maybe at a later date....

Selecting one when you know you can select more later is one thing. But what if you could only chose one, two or three of a thing, for all time. I am specifically thinking of the original (1960) movie, "The Time Machine," staring Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux and Alan Young. At the end of the movie Rod Taylor disappears, presumably forever, in his time machine. His closest friend notices that three books are missing from the otherwise full and impeccably neat home library shelves and asks, "Which three books would you have taken?" For some reason, I have been intrigued by that question ever since. Which three, indeed?" It's just something to ponder.


Rosewater Wine

A gentleman from Kansas City wrote of an interest in making rose petal wine, but he does not have ready access to rose petals. He did, however, find a bottle of pure, distilled rosewater at a local Middle Eastern market. He asked, "For your one gallon batch, how much rose water would be a good equivalent to the six cups of petals? I tasted the rosewater, it has an interesting taste to it, but the bouquet is amazing. I am assuming that I should use about 1.0 fl oz in place of each cup of rose petals or maybe even less than that."

This is the kind of question that rings my bell. It is different, the answer is not already posted on my blog or website, and it shows a genuine spirit of inventiveness and adventure. Furthermore, it suggests a wine I have never made before and that always peaks my interest.

I replied that I have never even considered using rosewater, but don't see why not. If you attempt this, please read the label very carefully to be sure your product is pure, natural and not synthetic or made from rose oil. Beyond that, I really cannot say how to adapt it to a wine recipe. At issue is how many rose petals are required to make a given quantity of rosewater and whether that compares with rose petals used for making wine.

I knew two elderly women who made rosewater frequently in their kitchen. They used it in their baths and dabbed it on their faces. It has an astringent quality that supposedly tightened the skin and reduced wrinkles. Whether or not it actually worked is not for me to say, but the women always smelled of roses and there was something comforting about that.

Rose petal wine label

The women used a fair amount of rose petals -- about 3 quarts -- to make a quart of rosewater. That is twice as many petals as required for a gallon of rose petal wine using my recipe, so half the rosewater produced (1 pint) would equal the petals required for the gallon of wine. That is 16 ounces, not 6 as the writer guessed. But there is no guarantee that his rosewater and the homemade stuff are the same strength. The ladies made it by boiling the rose petals in 1-1/2 quarts of water in a homemade still. If they allowed too much water to boil off, the rising steam carried oils from the petals and ruined the water. The commercial stuff was also made using a still, albeit a more efficient one.

My recipe for rose petal wine does not involve boiling the petals, but rather just pouring boiling water over them and letting them macerate. The resulting extraction is probably not nearly as strong as the two ladies' or the commercial rosewater, but judging the difference is all but impossible from where I sit right now.

So where does that leave us? The writer's guess of substituting 1 ounce of rosewater for each cup of petals may be correct or may be too much or too little. I am sure 16 ounces is too much, but exactly how much too much is anyone's guess.

I told the writer that if he had enough rosewater to make a gallon of wine using 6 ounces and another gallon using 12 ounces, I would do it. If one is too weak and the other too strong you can work out a blend, but if the 6 ounces is too much he will have to make a neutral wine to dilute it and the other batch with. If 6 ounces is correct he only needs to dilute the second batch, but in any case to me it's worth the effort.

I have used several recipes over the years to make rose petal wine. Rosewater wine will simply adapt one of these recipes. The recipe I recommend adapting is this one for Rose Petal Wine.


Rose Petal Wine

  • 6 cups fragrant rose petals
  • 2 fl oz (no more!) of pure white grape juice concentrate
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 2-1/4 lbs granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • Rhine wine yeast and nutrient

Pick the rose petals just before starting, so they're fresh. Boil 7-1/2 pints water and pour over all ingredients (except yeast and pectic enzyme) in a primary, stirring gently until sugar is dissolved. Concurrently, activate yeast in starter solution and husband it until needed. Cover the primary with cloth or plastic wrap and set in a warm place for about 24 hours. Add pectic enzyme and yeast and re-cover the primary. Set aside until vigorous fermentation subsides, stirring daily. Do not exceed 10 days. Strain liquid into secondary fermentation vessel, top up with water if required and attach an airlock. Rack after 30 days, then again after additional 30 days. Do not sweeten. Bottle when clear and store in dark, cool place. It will be fit to drink after 6 months, but will improve enormously after a year. [Author's own recipe]


Adapting to Rosewater Wine

Adapting this to rosewater is simple. Substitute the rosewater for the rose petals and eliminate the pectic enzyme. In a primary fermentation vessel, mix all ingredients except yeast and stir to dissolve sugar. Cover and wait 12 hours. Stir in yeast as a starter solution and re-cover the primary. When vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary and attach an airlock. Rack as needed but at least twice, 30 days apart. When you are certain it is clear and still, rack, stabilize and set aside an additional 45 days. Carefully rack into bottles and store in a dark, cool place. Let it age a while.






May 7th, 2011

This past week was filled with goodness. Sunday night I had to run to Wal-Mart for an over-the-counter allergy medication. The radio was on in the truck and within seconds I knew that Osama bin Laden had been killed. They were waiting for the President to officially announce it. The President started his address as I was arriving, so I waited in the parking lot until his speech was over. Because it was late, there were few shoppers and almost all the employees were stocking shelves. I stopped and told everyone I encountered that we had just killed Osama bin Laden. It was a good feeling to know that he was finally on his way to Hell and everyone I told seemed elated.

Celebrating someone's death runs counter to my upbringing and the teachings of my religion. But celebrate I did. Arriving back at home, I took two of the pills I had bought and then poured myself two drams of my prized 27-year old Laphroaig single malt Islay Scotch, the finest expression of whisky I have ever enjoyed. It seemed a fitting occasion.

Tuesday I picked up my new glasses. They work well and the fit is okay. The new frame looks good and I am pleased. I have noticed one thing that is different from other glasses I have worn. When I put them on there is an immediate feeling of spatial discord that passes within a minute. After wearing them for several hours, when I take them off there is the same feeling of spatial discord. It too passes quickly. It is just a strange thing, but it is great to see sharply once again after seven months of vision problems.

There are a good two dozen hummingbirds constantly visiting the three feeders I have out under the patio cover. My office, such as it is, looks directly out onto the patio and so I enjoy their antics whenever I look up. I have seen as many as 19 hovering around one feeder simultaneously, awaiting their turn to drink the sweet water. At this moment (6:48 a.m.) it is barely light outside, but I can clearly see (new glasses!) 4-6 visiting one feeder and 3-4 visiting another. I cannot see the third feeder from here as the patio is long.

You might wonder how I am doing in my long battle against the squirrels that raid my bird seed feeders. I think I am entering the 8th (perhaps 9th) campaign and have made some headway. The newest weapon in my arsenal is only semi-effective. It is a pump-action BB gun resting next to the back door. Three pumps will reach the two closest feeders with stinging accuracy, and that is all it does -- sting them. Four pumps reaches out with the same accuracy to the third feeder. Twelve pumps kills them, something I did once but have since avoided.

There are fewer and fewer of them visiting the feeders, so the punishment for doing so is working. But it requires a greater vigilance on my part and I do not enjoy being held hostage by my bird feeders. Still, the birds are getting the greater share of the seed for the first time in years.


Texas Style Burgundy

I think I have reported previously that a local winemaker makes kit wines. He only has 5-gallon carboys and most kits make 6 gallons, so he carefully calculates the amount of concentrate and specialty packet contents required for 5 gallons and calls me to go pick up the rest. These 1-gallon batches I make are wonderful changes for me, for they usually include grape varieties I would have to drive great distances to harvest (and they are free!). Late last year he called to say he had a Burgundy. I trotted over and picked it up.

Somewhat sheepishly, he admitted that he might have taken a wee bit more concentrate than he should have -- to improve the color and fruitiness. I didn't care. I was pleased to obtain the Pinot Noir and Gamay blend. Back home, I pulled a pint of Zinfandel concentrate from the freezer and set it out to thaw, but then noticed a small ZipLoc bag of Cynthiana grapes from my own vines. It isn't enough to do anything with alone so I put the Zin back in the freezer and thawed the Cyn. It was a good move.

Texas style Burgundy wine label

I crushed the Cynthiana and added the restored Pinot Noir/Gamay concentrate. With such a few grapes, getting out the press would have been more trouble than it was worth, so I simply strained everything through a nylon straining bag and hand pressed the Cynthiana. I only remembered latex gloves when my hands were already purple, so I soldiered on.

I had no idea how this wine would turn out. I figure the Cynthiana is around 10% at most by volume, the Gamay 5%. How an 85% Pinot Noir would stand up as a Burgundy was the question. I had an opportunity to open a 375 mL half when I treated myself to a thick rib eye steak two nights ago.

I wish I had 25 gallons of this stuff. It is deeply colored for a Burgundy with sound tannin, firm acidity, fresh fruit (most notably cherry) and various herbs I dare not attempt to identify. It is smooth, pleasing and very open. I do not taste the Cynthiana but I know something indefinable is there. This is not a typical Burgundy, and yet it most certainly is a Burgundy. I intend to win some medals with it this fall. I will only have 3 bottles to enter, so must select the competitions carefully. But I might break down and just drink it. It is very good.

I encourage you to experiment. This wine demonstrates what can be achieved. But most importantly, it demonstrates that blending a little American grape in with vinifera can create something extraordinary.

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    May 11th, 2011

    The first inkling I had that the new issue of WineMaker magazine was out was a phone call at 10:40 yesterday morning congratulating me on another good article. My own copy did not arrive until sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 yesterday afternoon.

    I suppose one would expect me to turn right to my article to check it's layout and perhaps the editing, but I did what I always do when I receive a new copy. I turned to page 15 to see what the Wine Wizard, Alison Crowe had to say this issue. I greatly admire her knowledge and advice and never fail to learn a great deal reading her column. After that, I then sought out my own article, "Non-Grape Bends."

    I had no doubt they would edit one small thing, which they did, but my real curiosity was how they would render the rather long table I prepared for the article. I was very pleased with their treatment. Very pleased indeed.

    Garden at Keoki's Paradise, Kaua'i

    This will be my last entry for at least 9 days, perhaps 10. Tomorrow my wife and I are returning to Kaua'i, to see and experience what we missed last time, although I doubt a mere 8 days will be time enough. I fear future visitations may be required.

    A long time resident of the Islands called me this morning about another matter and our talk turned to my coming journey. Having made 8 trips to Hawai'i, I felt I had a fair appreciation of the several isles in the chain, but nothing like this gentleman. However, we both arrived at the same conclusions, that Maui was the most touristy of the islands, worthy of a day or perhaps two if you arrive late.

    Before the great influx of population, Oahu was possibly unrivaled in beauty and natural splendor, but those days are past. There are just too many people for such a small piece of paradise. Molokai, beautiful and varied, as are all the islands, is magnificent but limited, as is Lanai.

    The big island of Hawai'i is the most diverse, dominated by the world's most massive mountain and the fiery womb of Kilauea, but Kaua'i is the last jewel. It is more wild than settled, about 90% uninhabited, housing the wettest spot on earth and hosting dozens of waterfalls and sea caves. It is a place where you can truly get away from it all. We intend to do just that.

    Plumeria Flower Wine

    Pink plumeria

    The Hawaiian lei is a necklace of flowers, usually made from various orchids, tuberose or plumeria blossoms. The latter are world renown for their fragrance and sometimes are referred to as frangipani. They are also edible. Being both edible and fragrant, they are perfectly suitable for making a unique wine.

    A word of caution. The flowers are perfectly safe for consumption, but the stems are toxic and must be avoided. A simple way to play it safe is to turn the flower over and cut it off where the flower meets the stem. Safer yet is to simply remove the petals and toss any doubt into the trash. As long as we are being cautious, these should be fresh-cut flowers, not ones obtained from a florist. The latter are very probably sprayed with one thing or another that is not good for the wine or for you.

    Yellow-White Plumeria
    Plumeria Wine

    • 6 cups fragrant plumeria flowers petals or 5 cups plumeria petals
    • 8 fl oz 100% pure white grape juice frozen concentrate
    • water to 1 gallon
    • 2 lbs granulated sugar
    • 2 tsp acid blend
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • general purpose wine yeast in starter solution

    Pick the flowers just before starting, so they're fresh. Do not pick any that haven't fully opened yet. Boil 7 pints water and stir in sugar, acid blend, grape tannin, finely crushed Campden tablet, and yeast nutrient until dissolved, then pour over flowers in a primary, stirring gently to submerge flowers. Concurrently, activate yeast in starter solution and tend to it until needed. Cover the primary with clean cloth or plastic wrap and set in a warm place for about 24 hours. Add thawed grape concentrate, pectic enzyme and yeast starter solution and re-cover the primary. Set aside until vigorous fermentation subsides, stirring daily, but do not exceed 10 days. Strain liquid into secondary fermentation vessel and attach an airlock without topping up. When fermentation stops, top up. Rack after 30 days, then again after additional 30 days. Wait additional 30 days and stabilize wine with potassium sorbate and finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Wait 2-4 weeks to prove stability but do not sweeten. Bottle when clear and store in dark, cool place. It will be fit to drink in about 4 months, but will improve enormously if allowed to mature a year. [Author's own recipe]





    May 21st, 2011

    Kalalau Valley, Na Pali Coast, from Kalalau Lookout, Kaua'i

    I returned home yesterday afternoon from Kaua'i and have been looking through hundreds of pictures taken on the trip. Most are straightforward and obvious, but the landscape photos can be challenging. Take, for example, the photo on the right. This is a shot taken of the Kalalau Valley on the Na Pali Coast from the Kalalau Lookout at the very top of the Waimea Canyon Road. The photo has been reduced to 7% of its original size to fit the blog space, but in it's original resolution one can zoom in all over this sucker and see what we really saw that day, which is at least 37 waterfalls on the facing valley wall.

    It had rained the day before and the runoff had created countless falls which had already disappeared from the upper heights -- at least from this distance. Those that remained on this day were slowly diminishing themselves, but some would remain as permanent features. On our first visit to Kaua'i I had asked a Ranger how many waterfalls were on the island and he said it depends on when it rained and where. During a widespread rain there are tens of thousands, but 2-3 days later only 20% might remain. While even that is only a rough estimate, it is good to remember that it rains somewhere on Kaua'i every day. The highest elevation on the island receives an average of 460 inches of precipitation per year and is the wettest place on land on Earth.

    Blowup of portion of previous photo

    The photo on the left is a blowup of a small portion of the previous photo. In it one can clearly see one waterfall -- two or even three if you know where they are.

    The scale of these vistas is so grand that that tiny waterfall in the center of the photo is probably around 100-110 feet on the vertical, but I am just guessing. There is nothing over there to use as a measure of scale except trees, and not knowing their type or age makes it all guesswork. Using the trees around my vantage point is the best I can do. I could probably work it out fairly accurately with a good topographic map of the area but I do not have one. Still, it is a long falls and that is a very tall vertical face, so I think 100-110 is close but possibly short.

    Blowup of the previous blowup

    The photo on the right is a blowup of the previous blowup. The single falls that appeared so clearly previously is now very clearly accompanied by other falls. There are five in this photo.

    Look straight up from the largest, lower falls and you can see a very small falls, perhaps 10-12 feet in height, at the bottom of the dark shadow. Above the shadow is a large, light-leafed tree with a clearly defined falls above it and slightly to the right. To the far right of the large, light-leafed tree just mentioned is the third largest falls in this portion of the photo. The fifth falls is obvious at higher resolution but difficult to see here. If you look up from the falls above the large, light-leafed tree previously mentioned, you will see another light-leafed tree with an even smaller one immediately above it. The fifth falls is just to the right of the smaller light-leafed tree.

    At a higher resolution three more falls are clearly visible in the last photo, but they are very wispy and so barely visible at this resolution as to almost not be there. However, if you are curious two are in the dark shadows in the upper left portion of the photo and one is below them about halfway down.


    Okole Maluna -- Rum

    Okole maluna (Oh-ko-lay ma-lu-na) is Hawaiian for "bottom's up," or cheers! It just would not be a good week on Kaua'i without at least four stops at Koloa Rum Company at Kilohana Plantation in Puhi. The white rum is good but not special, but the gold is a step up and worth tasting. The Koloa Dark Hawaiian Rum is still one of the best dark rums I've ever tasted, with vanilla, caramel and toasted orange zest evident in the nose and taste. It finishes long and begs for another taste. It makes the best Mai Tai I have ever tasted (see link at the end of this entry). I have also concocted a drink with Koloa rums I call Kaua'i Sunrise. The recipe is further down in this entry.

    Koloa Rum has added a Spice Rum to its line-up, and this is a real winner. I do not consider it in the same league as the Dark, but it is a delicious treat nonetheless and well worth trying. You can taste it for free at the Koloa Rum Company's tasting room at Kilohana. Unlike the White, Gold and Dark, which can be purchased at a discount at the island's nearby Costco, their Spice Rum was only available directly from Koloa Rum Company during our visit.

    I have no idea what spices are in their Spice Rum, but the blend is near perfect. I think I could waste a lot of Koloa Gold Rum trying to approach what they have already perfected, and I'm sure I would fall short in the end. I wanted very much to try a real Mai Tai using Koloa Spice and Dark rums, but the best I could do is make the one-ounce swallow in their tasting room. That does not result in the best proportions for a good Mai Tai, but it at least gave me an idea of what to expect if and when I get a chance to do it right.

    I have to postscript the above by saying that my wife loved the Koloa Spice Rum, but still prefers Sailor Jerry's Spiced Rum. Since I cannot obtain the Koloa Rum anywhere in Texas but can get Sailor Jerry's almost everywhere, her preference will not hurt Koloa sales in Texas. However, I do keep asking my favorite liquor stores to order the Koloa Dark Hawaiian in hopes that their distributors will get the message. If they do, the Spice Rum will be next so I can try that spiced Mai Tai....

    We spent our last evening at Trees Lounge on Aleka in Kapa'a, a wonderful place to enjoy nightly live music, great pupus and whatever wets your whiskers. I drank Mai Tais with three drops of grenadine. I asked for Koloa Dark Rum but they carried that other Hawaiian rum, Whaler's, instead. Whalers claims to be the original dark rum, originally from Mau'i but now made on the mainland. They make several flavored rums, including a Spiced, but they may well be best known for their Vanillé Rum and their Rare Reserve Dark Rum. Trees Lounge carried the Dark, but not the Rare Reserve Dark. If they had, I'd have ordered a Whaler's Reserve Mai Tai, sinfully delicious but not a true Mai Tai ingredient-wise. Still, the recipe is worth recording in case you happen upon Whaler's Rare Reserve Dark Rum. If you can get Whaler's Vanillé Rum, you might try the second recipe.


    The Whaler's Reserve Mai Tai

    You can try making this with any other rum but it will not be the same, so don't waste good fruit juices on anything but the real deal.

    • 1 oz Whaler's Rare Reserve Dark Rum
    • 1 oz Whaler's Great White Rum
    • 1 oz passion fruit juice
    • 3 oz orange juice
    • 1/2 oz lime juice

    The Whaler's Reserve Mai Tai is not made sunrise style like today's Mai Tais, but is made in the shaker style Trader Vic first used in 1944. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add all ingredients and shake well. Pour into chilled hurricane glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry and an orange slice. My tweak is to add three drops of grenadine to the shaker.


    Whaler's Vanillé Sunrise

    You cannot make this with any other rum that I know of, but if you think you have found a very good vanilla rum then go ahead and try making it.

    • 1 oz Whaler's Vanillé Rum
    • 4 oz orange juice
    • 1 oz grenadine

    Fill a Collins glass with ice. Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker and mix. Pour over ice.


    Jack Keller's Kaua'i Sunrise

    • 1 oz Koloa Dark Hawaiian Rum
    • 1 oz Koloa Gold Hawaiian Rum
    • 1 oz orange juice
    • 1 oz passion fruit juice
    • juice from 1 lime wedge
    • 1 maraschino cherry without stem
    • 3 drops grenadine

    Into a cocktail glass center the maraschino cherry with grenadine and cover with 1 inch shaved ice. Into a cocktail shaker add lime juice, Gold Rum, orange juice and passion fruit juice and shake to mix. Pour gently over shaved ice. Tilt the glass to add the Dark Rum as a layer. Garnish with a slit slice of lime.


    Okole Maluna -- Mead

    Tucked away in Yasuda Center in the heart of Kapa'a is the Nani Moon Meadery and Tasting Room, Hawaii's only meadery. It offers distinctly unique meads I guarantee you will find nowhere else, and they pair perfectly with Hawaiian and Asian foods or as drinks on their own merit. Mountain apple, pineapple-guava, star fruit-passion fruit, ginger-spice, and cacao-vanilla (made with macadamia nut blossom honey) are the five flavorings Nani Moon Meadery offers.

    These are 10, 11 and 12% alcohol by volume meads, made dry (Cacao Moon is semi-sweet) and best served chilled. With names like Laka's Nectar (mountain apple), Pineapple Guava Sunset, Winter Sun (star fruit and passion fruit), Ginger Spice (with star fruit), and Cacao Moon (cacao-vanilla bean), these are unforgettable meads made from 100% Hawaiian honey and flavorings (fruit, roots, beans) without use of sulfites or preservatives.

    Their tasting room is open Tuesday thru Saturday from noon 'til 5 p.m. where they will tell you all about their "honey wines." But you'll have to visit their website to find out which one the locals call "the panty dropper."






    May 23rd, 2011

    A few weeks ago I was talking to a group of home winemakers and one of them asked about an interview I did 10 months ago on indigenous grape and non-grape wines. The winemaker thought it was a very fine interview and my memory agreed. Later, I wrote to Ken Payton, administrator of the blog Reign of Terrior, and asked if I might republish his interview with me as a serial after I returned from Hawai'i. He graciously gave his blessings to the project. Since I have returned from Hawai'i, this then is the first installment of a two-part series.

    Those who do not want to wait three days to read the second part might just bounce on over to Ken's blog and read the whole thing at one sitting. The link to do so immediately follows this entry.

    Jack Keller On America's Indigenous Grape And Fruit Wines (Part 1)
    reprinted with permission from Reign of Terrior


    Ken PaytonWould you say a bit about the historical eclipse of America's indigenous grape varieties by Vitis vinifera?

    Jack Keller Ken, from the earliest days, I think every generation of Europeans who came to America brought with them a memory of wine that was formed almost exclusively around their homeland's varieties of V. vinifera. It was and still is, after all, the overwhelmingly dominant grape on the western half of the Eurasian landmass and by import throughout North and South Africa, Australia, South America, and the Golden State. Sure, the more common among the immigrants possibly also had experience with elderberry, greengage, apple, blackberry and other homemade country wines, but there wasn't really anything in Europe equivalent to the vast numbers of American native grapes.

    With a V. vinifera memory, immigrants were of course disappointed in the very different flavors obtained from wild American grapes. However, the old expression "any port is welcome in a storm" also applies to wine. Oddly flavored wine was vastly preferred to no wine at all. Besides, for those who were born in American or came here very young, they had no memory of V. vinifera, American grapes made perfectly acceptable wine. Until, that is, the second half of the twentieth century, when Madison Avenue began to tell us what was and what wasn't acceptable.

    The wild grape of Europe, V. sylvestris, is somewhat analogous to American grapes in that both are dioecious, bearing male and female flowers on separate plants. If you walk through the forests of America where grapes grow, you see many vines that are male and devoid of fruit. V. vinifera, with hermaphroditic flowers, clearly would be favored in the garden or on the farm for that reason alone. But that is but a bonus. The real draw to V. vinifera is the generally superior flavors of the juice and it's fermented byproduct over any other grape species on the planet. Even an inferior V. vinifera variety is unquestionably superior to the best V. monticola, V. mustangensis, V. acerifolia, V. arizonica, V. girdiana, V. vulpina, V. cinerea, etc. While one can get used to wines from these grapes, they are certainly not the best of the American native species.

    The better American indigenous species, V. labrusca, V. aestivalis, V. riparia, and even V. rotundifolia have all produced some outstanding varieties. But, with the exception of V. rotundifolia (muscadine), the vast majority of the commercially successful "American" grapes all seem to have a little V. vinifera in their genes. Concord, Catawba, Alexander, Niagara, Delaware, Norton (or Cynthiana, if you prefer), and Ives are but a few that have had long lasting commercial success, and all but one of those had a European pollinator in its distant past. And then there are the muscadines - Scuppernong, Noble, Scarlett, Nesbitt, Summit, Carlos, Ison, Magnolia, Tara, and so on.

    Certainly you can say these wines have been eclipsed by V. vinifera wines, but they were never in the same league at all. Even so, they have their place. Personally, I would prefer a good Ives Noir to an average V. vinifera, and there are a lot of average V. vinifera wines out there.

    Ken PaytonTell us something of the quality of wines the home winemaker can achieve with both vinifera and native grapes, but also of various fruits.

    Jack Keller I have been judging home wine competitions for a long time. I distinctly remember the first homemade wine I ever scored a perfect 20 (out of 20 possible). It was a black raspberry with a little elderberry in it, and it was superb. The beauty of that wine was that had I not known I was drinking a black rasp with elder, I'd have thought I was drinking a very well made Zinfandel.

    The best wines I have personally ever made were almost all non-grape wines - dandelion, Marion blackberry, key lime, Loganberry, black currant, pomegranate, mangosteen, black raspberry, Boysenberry, cherry, and (you're not going to believe this…) beet. Oh, I've made more than a few unforgettable grape wines too, but I like to field blend indigenous grapes and produce something no one has ever tasted before. Probably my very best was a blend of V. mustangensis, V. cinerea var. helleri, V. monticola, and V. vulpina, and it was smooth but crisp and utterly delicious. I could never make it again because I just filled the press with what I had, but of course I'll try.

    Having said all of that, I am not the best home winemaker I know. I think I am pretty good, but I know people who make wines that put mine to shame. I consider it an achievement when I can steal a Best of Show or Grand Champion from them.

    I think some of the best wines and worse wines I have ever tasted were made from the same fruit or berries. You can make an absolutely delightful wine from peaches, for example, but if your method is inappropriate or you use under-ripe fruit or simply not enough fruit it can be worse than bad. The best eating plums you can find might make pitiful wine, but a bucket full of small, tart, wild sand plums can be transformed into the most delicious wine you have tasted. The same can be said of grapes. The best table grapes generally make poor wine. Have you ever eaten a bunch of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes? Not very appealing, but oh, what wine!

    Native grapes present similar challenges. Many have unusual aromas or flavors associated with their species. These are not necessarily disagreeable, although they might be, but they certainly are unusual. Every winemaker knows that the wine almost certainly will not taste like the fruit from which it was made, but it will carry certain characteristics of the fruit into the wine. Learning what will and what will not be carried into the wine is one of the skills that separate really good winemakers from the rest. Put another way, knowing what the ingredients will taste like when combined and then baked or cooked is what separates chefs from mere cooks.

    V. vinifera varieties present the same problem, but we have tens of thousands of examples of finished product from which to learn. With most native grapes and a lot of different fruit, you have to make the wines to learn what is possible and what is not. Learning how to manipulate what nature offers so as to bring out desirables while shedding, masking or neutralizing undesirables is what turns the average chef into the master craftsman.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that the potential quality of native grape wines is really dependent on the winemaker's skills. The same can be said of V. vinifera wines, but most viniferas are much more forgiving than are the natives. You have to be a pretty bad winemaker to screw up a batch of Merlot, but you have to be a pretty good winemaker to coax a good wine out of V. mustangensis or V. rupestris.

    Country wines present different challenges, but these are basically challenges of ingredient selection and chemistry, solved by a combination of knowledge and good winemaking techniques. Just as tart plums make better wine than most table plum cultivars, tart cider apples make far superior wine than do sweet eating apples. You have to select the right ingredients and then work with the chemistry that comes with them. The results can be both surprising and delightful.

    If you've ever eaten raw cranberries, the idea of making wine from them might seem like a waste of time and effort. But the truth is that cranberry wine served in a blind tasting will be mistaken for grape wine - usually White Zinfandel - almost every time. Few other fruit or berry wines will do this, but the beauty is what each actually tastes like once fermented. Banana wine will not taste like banana unless the winemaker adds banana extract, in which case it will taste like adulterated banana wine.

    The things to remember with country wines is that they are not grape wines, should never be compared to grape wines, and should be judged by what they present - not what you expect. My wife and I were in a little winery outside of Kalamazoo and we were luxuriating in the enjoyment of one of the best cherry wines we'd ever tasted when a woman complained in a very loud, shrill voice, "This doesn't taste like any wine I'VE ever tasted!" You can go through life complaining and being unhappy or you can just relax and enjoy the moment.

    What I love about home winemakers is that they experiment. It doesn't always work out for the better, and folks with good manners will never let their failures cross the lips of a guest. But those successes, those are where the next greatest thing might be found. My wife's favorite wine is a wine I learned how to make from Martin Benke called Key Lime-A-Rita, which is basically fermented Key Limeade and Triple Sec, and yes, it tastes more like a Margarita than a wine. Some winemaker down in Florida is going to read my blog one day, give Key Lime-A-Rita a try, and sell a thousand cases.

    The conclusion will be published here on Wednesday, May 25, 2011.






    May 25th, 2011

    What follows is part two of my republication of an interview with me ten months ago by Ken Payton for his blog, Reign of Terroir. Part 1 was republished here on May 23rd, 2011. The original article was published on July 18th, 2010. See link following this entry.

    Jack Keller On America's Indigenous Grape And Fruit Wines (Part 2)
    reprinted with permission from Reign of Terrior


    Ken PaytonWhat are the indigenous varieties which show the greatest promise for commercial success?

    Jack Keller Down here in Texas we have a native grape called mustang that is probably the worst tasting grape you'd never want to try, but good winemakers have been making some terrific wines from that sucker for generations. Mustang is a real challenge, but if you can make good wines from that grape you can probably make exceptional wines out of anything else. I'm not saying mustang has great commercial promise, but at least two wineries in Texas sell an awful lot of it.

    The reason I mentioned mustang first off is to make clear that a good winemaker can make good wine out of any grape. The problem with many indigenous grapes is that they bear too little fruit to be commercially viable or are too vigorous to be controlled in a vineyard setting. Those that bear well and can be managed on the trellis have largely been exploited in breeding programs or in niche markets.

    There are a lot of old grapes - heirloom varieties, if you will - that were once popular but would now be extinct if not for a few breeders, memorial vineyards, enthusiasts, and the clonal germplasm repositories at Geneva, NY and Davis, CA. The ones I am referring to are mostly hybrids of the native species, but some do indeed have at least some V. vinifera genes. From this vast storehouse are some exceptional grapes that make exceptional wines, but would you plant a few acres of Herbemont, Lenoir, Hidalgo, Ives, Brilliant, Lindley, Elvira, Blondin, Clinton, Elvicand, Valhallah, Hopkins, Bailey, Husmann, Munson, or XLNTA when customers are still asking for Merlot? It would take a gutsy person to do so, but there are some such folks out there. I have tasted commercial wines of most of these grapes (still looking for Elvicand and Hopkins). Most of these grapes will grow fine down here in the Pierces Disease belt (PD), where V. vinifera bears two crops before dying.

    The oldest continuously operated winery in Texas is Val Verde Winery in Del Rio. Their flagship grape is Lenoir, a.k.a. Black Spanish, and they make a darned good table wine and a highly respected (and a bit pricey) port from this grape. They also make a half-dozen V. vinifera wines, but I would bet my soul that they buy that juice from some place where those grapes will grow. And that's okay. They have to compete, and even though Robert Parker is never going to mention Val Verde Winery (they grow that Lenoir grape!), he does seem to mention all the other wines they sell and that works in their favor.

    The truth is that I don't really know which indigenous species or varieties show the greatest promise for commercialization, but there is some good potential out there. I prefer the blends to the varietals in both vinifera and indigenous wines, so I am only limited by what I can find out there.

    Ken PaytonI believe the time is ripe for the expansion of fruit wines into the market, still and sparkling. As with crafted beers, there is a commercial niche high quality fruit wines can create. Your thoughts?

    Jack Keller Ken, I think the expansion is well under way. In certain portions of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, every other winery offers a stable of fruit and berry wines, both still and sparkling. I was amazed how good sparkling cherry and raspberry can be. It had simply never occurred to me to make these wines.

    Throughout the South you will find many, many commercial wineries offering wines from every fruit grown regionally, including pawpaw, mayhaw, huckleberry, blueberry, elderberry, all varieties of blackberry, currants, star fruit, Clementines, and so on.

    Just recently a friend of mine living in the Sierras above Oroville commented on a winery in Chico that makes blackberry, cherry, cranberry, and elderberry wines, as well as a dry mead he likes.

    When I lived in San Francisco, on my jaunts down home to San Bernardino I always stopped at a place in Pacheco Valley called Casa de Fruta and picked up a few bottles of pomegranate, raspberry and apricot wines. When down your way, I always tried to stop at Chaucer's Winery in Soquel, CA, and pick up a bottle of Olallieberry wine, arguably the best blackberry that ever grew, and a bottle of raspberry mead.

    I think the wines have been here for a long time. What has happened, though, is that the commercial wine world, especially in California, is 99.9% invested in V. vinifera and that is what rules the roost. Wine writers perpetuate the "If it isn't vinifera, it isn't wine" mantra by completely ignoring non-vinifera and non-grape wines. In the PD belt of the South, where V. vinifera vines only survive for 3-5 years, non-vinifera grapes are widely grown and their wines widely consumed. Indeed, muscadine is the grape of the South, and people who drink muscadine have no problem with fruit wines.

    Ken PaytonWhat are the cultural, practical and gustatory obstacles to the commercial success of fruit and non-vinifera wines?

    Jack Keller I think there are few gustatory obstacles. Yes, cherry wines will never taste like any wine that rude woman in Kalamazoo has ever drank, but every good cherry wines tastes, well, good. And if truth be told, I have never met a person that didn't like blackberry wine. But, if you don't like fruit, well, then you might want to stick to beer.

    On a practical level, the shelf life of fruit wines is comparatively short. If they don't sell quickly, they probably won't sell. But fruit wines are almost always shoved into the corner with the lowest traffic in the store because the big money controls the high traffic areas. You have to go looking for fruit wines to even find them, and you won't go looking if you don't know they are there. When is the last time you saw an ad or commercial - or just a mention in a movie or TV series - for a fruit or berry wine?

    So that brings us to the cultural obstacles. I think most of the above is relevant here, from Robert Parker and all the Parker-wannabes, to the farmer who isn't going to take a chance on a vine that will grow but which almost no one still living has ever heard of. The truth is that it is a V. vinifera wine world and in America it is all influenced by two or three small valleys in northern California.

    I talked to a grower 12-14 years ago who was losing all his vines to Pierces Disease. He asked the agricultural extension agent, who was there at that moment, when was someone going to put some real money into solving the PD problem. The agent said, "When PD reaches California the money will flow." He was right. PD has reached California and there are big bucks flowing into PD research. But that too is part of the cultural obstacle. PD wasn't a problem as long as it was just wiping out mom and pop vineyards in the South. But when it threatens Big Wine's vineyards, then it becomes worthy of notice.

    Now, it may just turn out that there isn't a solution to PD. If that comes to past (and I sincerely hope that it doesn't), then all those native hybrids I mentioned earlier will start looking really good because many of them are PD tolerant and some are outright resistant. Andy Walker and many others at UC-Davis and elsewhere are looking into that resistance and the genes that may be responsible for it. Until the actual genes responsible are identified and spliced, the next best approach is to cross-breed resistance from the natives into V. vinifera. Once you do that, you then cross back to vinifera repeatedly until you have just enough residual resistance to protect the vinifera without messing up the flavor too much with that pesky American muck. It's a perfectly understandable approach. Another approach would be to simply plant Lenoir, or Herbemont, or Bailey, or….

    Having spent megatons of money convincing Americans that they are mere commoners if they don't drink toasted oaked Chardonnay, it would be, well, insincere - would it not? - to retrain the palate to like something less noble. God forbid we should stoop to anything so low as Carlos muscadine, persimmon wine or - dare I say it? - Key Lime-A-Rita.

    Ken PaytonSo, bottom line, my interest is in the clear-headed promotion of commercial alternatives to Vitis vinifera. I have enjoyed a number of pear and apple-based wines recently, and was blown away by the quality. It seems to me that the success of off-dry Rieslings, for example, the dumbing down, the homogenization of vinifera wines, especially at lower price points (the Two Buck Chuck Effect!), combined with new marketing niches now possible because of the revolution of crafted beers, all dovetail into new opportunities for non-vinifera expressions.

    Jack Keller Ken, I couldn't agree more with your last opinion. Despite the best efforts of Big Wine to dictate what we should like, the truth is that not all people are sheep. You can burn out on any taste after a while. The success of all those soft drinks on the cola aisle is based on the fact that people get tired of Coke or Pepsi or 7-Up all the time. The same is true of wines. But I fear Big Wine is trying to control that desire for diversity.

    Take, for example, Arbor Mist's fruit flavored vinifera wines. I counted 11 different flavors the other day at the market, and their success validates your instincts. There is a niche out there for fruit wines and Arbor Mist is jumping in to fill it. But why not sell the real fruit wine? Why flavor Merlot with blackberry when you could sell blackberry wine? The truth probably has something to do with a glut of grapes on the market. Merlot is cheap. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be a Two-Buck Chuck Merlot.

    Now, I do understand why there is at least some grape in most fruit wines. Having made the real McCoy of every wine Arbor Mist offers, I will be the first to point out that most fruit wines are light in body. I myself usually add about 12-20% grape juice by volume to my fruit musts to thicken that lightness. But the difference between adding fruit flavors to vinifera wines or vinifera to fruit wines actually is significant. Arbor Mist Peach Chardonnay tastes too peachy, like that banana wine adulterated with banana extract. The consumer who tastes it and then tastes an excellent, real peach wine may well be disappointed in the real thing. Arbor Mist is tricking the consumer into tasting what he or she expects peach wine to taste like rather than presenting the real flavor of peach wine. This, in the long run, may well work against the real fruit wine producers.

    You mentioned the Two-Buck Chuck Effect on pricing; let's call this the Arbor Mist Effect on flavor expectations. The former has been positive for the consumer. The latter is just deception. Deception may be profitable and it may taste good, but it's still deception. It is important to remember that whenever deception is practiced, someone gets hurt. In this case, it is probably the real fruit winemakers who suffer. The niche they belong in is being largely filled by Big Wine (Arbor Mist is owned by Constellation Brands, the largest wine company in the world) and manipulated so that many consumers will reject real fruit wines as "lacking flavor."

    I'd love to be wrong. I don't think Arbor Mist will steal established customers away from fruit wine producers unless it is on the pricing level, but it probably will absorb the bulk of new customers turning to - what did you call it? - "non-vinifera expressions"? But of course they satisfy the change with more vinifera. The fruit wine producers may not lose customers, but they certainly won't gain the many new customers they might have.

    I really don't know where all of this is going, but it worries me. If there were suddenly a demand for Norton, would Big Wine plant Norton, buy established wineries producing Norton, or follow the Arbor Mist model and sell Merlot with Norton flavoring added? It's anyone's guess.

    Ken PaytonGreat thanks for your reflections on what promises to be a lively cultural conversation in the coming years.






    May 31st, 2011

    I hope you all enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend. This is not a universal holiday but is shared by many countries on various dates. May 30th is Memorial Day in the United States. Unlike Veterans Day, which honors all who served or are serving, Memorial Day honors those who gave their lives in the uniformed services of their nation. In that regard it is a much more solemn occasion. But for many it was just a day to get out the barbecue grill and cook up some hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, chops, chicken quarters, sausages or other gustatory delights. I have no objection to this (I grilled some chops), but I do hope those who forgot to honor the fallen who made their barbecue possible pay them tribute another time. It is the very least a citizen should do.

    Dandelion Mead

    Bee on dandelion (courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net)

    Back in early 2003 Paul Bruin, of Nijmegen, The Netherlands, wrote that he wanted to make a dandelion mead using dandelion honey and the flower petals. I replied in my Requested Recipes section, "I have seen enough bees pollinating dandelions to know they will do their best. I just don't know if one will ever get a true 'dandelion honey.'" To this day I have not seen a honey labeled "Dandelion" and really had no idea why.

    I received an email yesterday that answered the long lingering question, why not dandelion honey? The email stated, in part, "I am writing (as a beekeeper) to answer your question about dandelion honey. Better than the wine you can make from their flowers, the best thing about dandelions is that they contribute pollen for bees as they are emerging from winter -- desperately hungry. However, bees get almost no nectar from dandelions. Thus, there is no dandelion honey."

    Well, in an existential sense he is probably right about, "...the best thing about dandelions is that they contribute pollen for bees as they are emerging from winter -- desperately hungry." Whether that is "better than the wine you can make from their flowers" is quite debatable in my mind and would depend upon the quality of the wine (or mead), but I will just concede the point to Ralph Knapp and thank him for the enlightenment.

    What is so interesting is that last year I actually found a mead recipe that called for Dandelion Honey. I never wrote to the author to seek the source of this honey simply because I thought it would weigh too much to be shipped economically, but now I have a genuine curiosity and may do so.

    To be absolutely sure of Ralph's claim, I found the following posted on the website Chowhound which makes me doubt the recipe calling for dandelion honey. "To clarify, bees forage on flowers, collecting nectar and pollen; they don't actually eat flowers. The likelihood of finding honey from just dandelions is pretty slim, as bees gather dandelion pollen, which is a source of protein for the bees, and the dandelion nectar, which is not very abundant and will not produce honey above and beyond what the bees use for themselves, but is a boost for the health of the hive." I'm sold.


    Dandelion Mead Recipe

    This is the recipe I developed in 1999 and published in 2003. It is a proven recipe and therefore I have no hesitation in publishing it again. But, for the record, I have another recipe awaiting evaluation -- by that I mean it is aging and will be tasted next spring.

    • 2 qts loosely packed dandelion petals
    • 3/4 lb chopped white raisins (or sultanas)
    • 2-1/2 lbs honey
    • juice and zest of 1 lemon
    • juice and zest of 1 orange
    • 1 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
    • 1 tsp acid blend
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
    • 1 crushed Campden tablet
    • water to one gallon
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • mead or white wine yeast

    Boil two quarts water and stir honey into it. Continue boiling 20 minutes, skimming off any foam that may appear. Set aside covered to cool. Meanwhile, chop raisins and prepare zest of lemon and orange. Combine dandelion petals, chopped raisins and zests in fine mesh nylon straining bag. When honey-water cools, bring volume up to 1 gallon. Combine all ingredients except yeast in primary, stir, cover, and set aside 12 hours. Add activated yeast and cover primary. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides (about 7-10 days). Drip-drain straining bag (do not squeeze). Pour liquid into secondary and attach airlock. Rack after 30 days, topping up with water, mead or dandelion wine. Refit airlock and set aside. Rack every 45-60 days until mead clears and no longer deposits sediment. Rack, stabilize and bulk age 6 months. Sweeten to taste and rack into bottles. Bottle age another 3-6 months before tasting. Improves with age. [Author's own recipe]


    Dandelion Jelly

    Dandelion wine is, I believe, the best thing you can do with dandelions, but dandelion mead is among the top three. What else shares the triple crown? Only the unknowing will laugh, but it is dandelion jelly. It tastes so much like honey that upon tasting you will pause for a reality check.

    The jelly is easier to make than the wine or the mead, but like them, you will have to pick a lot of dandelions to secure the richness of flavor. I have made this jelly with 2 cups of petals and with 3 cups of petals. The latter is infinitely superior and is used here.

    • 3 cups of dandelion petals (you will need to start with 5-6 cups of whole flowers)
    • 2 lemons, juiced and rinds grated for zest (filter juice thru coffee filter)
    • 5 1/2 cups sugar
    • 3 oz liquid pectin (1 pack of Certa)
    • Water

    Pluck or cut or pinch petals from flower heads, saving only the yellow petals. You get the most usable material by grasping the green base of the flower head with one hand and pulling the petals upward into a compact bunch, then wiggling both the base and the petals until they separate. You only have to do it a few times to get the hang of it. Another way is to carefully grasp the sepals (the green casing at the base of the flower) on opposing sides of the flower and pull outward and down. The petals will spread out into a sort of sphere and are easily removed. This method is easier if you have three hands. You can place the plucked petals in a colander and spray wash them if you like. They undoubtedly will have some dust an other matter on them.

    Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a large stainless steel pot and add the flower petals. Boil for 10 minutes and then remove from heat, cover and simply let the petals steep in the water overnight. Pour carefully through a strainer, reserving liquid. Press petals gently if needed; you will need 3 cups of the liquid.

    Pour the measured liquid in a tall stock pot. To the liquid, add the lemon juice, zest and pectin. Bring to a rolling boil and add the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon or paddle. Stir quickly to dissolve sugar thoroughly as it returns to a boil. Boil hard for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until liquid sheets off of wooden spoon. Turn off heat and skim any scum off liquid. Carefully ladle into sterilized jelly jars to within 1/4 inch of the rim. Wipe rim if necessary and, using insulated kitchen mittens, screw sterilized lids and rings snugly onto jars.

    Process in boiling bath for 10 minutes, more if at altitude (15 minutes if higher than Denver's 1-mile elevation).

    This, like mesquite bean jelly, is incredibly honey-like in taste and simply luxurious to enjoy. It needs no dressing up, but if you make successive batches and want variations you can stir in 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or almond extract just before ladling into the jars (but not both into one batch). Using an eyedropper, I added 4 drops of orange extract into a batch and it was more than the hint I was after. If I ever do that again, I will use 3 drops.





    June 14th, 2011

    Double tree splits as north half fell

    Changes can occur gradually or abruptly. I have always preferred gradual change.

    A week and a half ago I awoke at six, fixed a fresh pot of coffee, poured a cup, and went out on the front porch to watch the light change through the trees in our front yard. We live in a neighborhood of Pleasanton called Oak Forest and we have many giant live oaks (live oak is the species) on our property. As I sat and enjoyed the first sip of Kaua'i coffee, something looked wrong off to my right. There was sky where there should have been the canopy of a large double oak -- two trees that had grown up so close that they merged long ago into a single base with two trunks. One trunk leaned south toward the street while the other leaned north-by-northeast toward my garage. There was too much sky where there should have been the latter.

    Stepping out onto the sidewalk, I saw the reason even in the dim light of dawn. The photo to the right was taken about a half-hour later. The trunk of the tree to the right measured 3 feet 8 inches in diameter.

    My truck is under there somewhere

    Walking around to the driveway, with great sadness I saw the full extent of the loss. Indeed, the damage looked far worse than it was. Just right of center in the picture to the left is the upright trunk of a mesquite tree, snapped off about 8 feet from the ground. An ornamental light, with 5 globes, stands to the right of the mesquite trunk. But the massive canopy had engulfed my truck, which would be clearly visible where the dark mass in the photo is if the canopy not hidden it. The canopy looks like it is laying on my garage, but in fact the upper reaches of the tree fell 2 feet short of my garage structure on two sides. Miraculously, when the canopy was removed, my truck was unscathed, the cement drive uncracked, the ornamental light undamaged, and the garage untouched. Visible in the next photo is about one-quarter of the fallen tree, which fell to the left of this frame.

    large branch

    This single branch measured 22 inches in diameter at the base and about 82 feet in length. To save the tree that remained upright, which now leans toward the south without any root support to the north, I had three large branches similar to this one removed to reduce the weight pulling it to the south. At best, this is a temporary measure. Sooner or later it will fall.

    You would think a tree fall such as this would be quite loud and easily heard in the house. It was not. I had no idea it had happened until I went outside the next morning. But I do know when it happened. I had a case of cream soda sitting sideways in my utility room with one end opened but the cardboard tucked in to keep the soda inside. At 11:10 p.m. four cans rolled out of the case onto the tiled floor and sounded like a small caliber handgun discharging four times. I was on the computer at the time and it startled me enough that I armed myself before investigating. I assumed at the time that the weight of the cans pushed the tucked in closure loose, but now I realize the cans fell from the vibration caused by the falling tree. I might have felt the vibrations had the cans not startled me so much.


    Sweetening a Finished Dry Wine

    Glasses of white and red wine

    It is a fairly common practice to ferment a batch of wine, red or white, to bone dryness and then sweeten it to taste, whether to off-dryness, semi-sweetness or downright sweet. The reasons for doing this are several, but bone dryness is often too dry for even seasoned connoisseurs. Prior to sweetening the wine is given a dose of sulfur dioxide of approzimately 30-50 ppm strength and stabilized with potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite to ensure biological stability keeps the wine still by helping the yeast cease fermentation if it had not already done so. I am often asked about sweetening dry wines, so I thought I would discuss the aspects I am most often asked about.

    It all boils down to adding sweetness to the wine. Sweetness is usually some form of sugar in liquid form, but need not be sugar or liquid.

    Purists will sweeten a Riesling, for example, with a "sweet reserve" of preserved juice from very ripe Riesling grapes. The juice is preserved with about 200 ppm of sulfur dioxide, stored in a filled container with minimal ullage and refrigerated until needed. One can also use grape (Riesling in this example) concentrate or a very sweet finished (Riesling) wine. Whatever one uses, the blending or sweetening is done after the wine is both clear and stable. The sweetened wine should then be observed for 30 days to allow for discovery of any potential problems before bottling, like refermentation.

    By stable, I mean biologically stable -- without a viable yeast population. Such wines can be refrigerated, fined and racked, then either sterile filtered or stabilized with potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite. The method is up to the winemaker, but true sterile filtration is usually beyond the means of the home winemaker.

    If not sweetening with a sweet reserve, concentrate or finished sweet wine, a simple syrup is commonly used. Simple syrup is 2 parts sugar dissolved in 1 part water. Common sucrose (table sugar) is usually used and is cane sugar, but corn sugar or beet sugar can also be used. Beet sugar, however, has been known to cause a slight haze that is difficult to get rid of. A simple syrup with invert sugar is preferable to one with sucrose, but it is essential to make one that is exact and with which you can reliably calculate exact results.

    Such an invert simple syrup is easily made. Dissolve 47.5 grams (1.67 ounces) sucrose and 1 gram of citric acid in enough water to total 100 mL. Heat the mixture until just about to boil and reduce heat to maintain a "just about boiling" state. Maintain this for 30 minutes and set aside to cool. When cooled, measure again and top up to 100 mL. This syrup will contain 0.5 grams of invert sugar (glucose/fructose) per mL.

    One can, of course, sweeten with honey, with agave nectar, or with maple syrup. There are many other sweeteners, but one must know what one is dealing with. Corn syrup, for example, is not a good substitute for corn sugar unless you know exactly how much corn sugar is in the syrup. I find it best to deal with the invert simple syrup, and I prefer cane sugar.

    There are many artificial sweeteners. There is only one I have used that does not leave an artificial taste, and that is powdered stevia (Stevia rebaudiana). I have used it occasionally over the past 16-18 years. While I am told that high concentrations of stevia do impart an aftertaste, I use such small amounts I have never noticed anything unpleasant.

    The question I can never answer is how much sweetener should one add. The correct answer is, "just enough to suit your taste." People want numbers, and the numbers are unknown until the person sweetens the wine to his or her own particular taste. A small but exact sample -- say, 50 mL -- of the wine should be drawn off and used as a test bed. This sample is sweetened with a small, measured amount of sweetener, stirred well to thoroughly mix in the addition, and then allowed to sit a few minutes to allow the added sweetness to integrate into the flavor profile of the wine. Notes are taken of the sample size and the amount of sweetener added. After 10-15 minutes, the sample is then tasted. If not to your satisfaction, another sample the same size is drawn and a slightly larger but measured amount of sweetener is added, stirred and set aside before tasting.

    When the sample tastes right, you have a decision to make. It is the nature of wine with any residual sugar to taste sweeter after aging 9-12 months. The sample that tastes just right now may taste too sweet in a year. If the wine is going to be consumed quickly, go with the sample that tasted best. But if the wine is destined to be aged and cellared, you may want to go with the last measures that didn't taste quite sweet enough and allow aging to complete the blend.

    Finally, a word about "table adjustments." These are adjustments made to the wine at the time it is consumed. Permit me a short vignette to illustrate. When Thomas Jefferson was the U.S. Ambassador to France, he toured France's wine districts and purchased wines for himself, George Washington and one or two other friends. Jefferson had a skilled palate and selected only the finest wines, which then had to be bottled, corked, labeled, packed in crates, and shipped from the winery to America, with customs houses on both sides of the Atlantic negotiated. Buying fine wine for his President was no simple affair. When Jefferson returned to America and dined with Washington, he was horrified to discover that the President spooned a small quantity of sugar in the glass before pouring the wine, and then stirred it for several minutes before tasting it. Washington was making a "table adjustment," and if was good enough for the first President of the United States it should be allowed to anyone. But courtesy requires that you taste the wine first and then make the adjustment.

    For more information on sugars (there are dozens), see the third link below. For other aspects of dealing with a finished wine, see the fourth link below. To read more on blending in general, see the fifth link below.




    June 17th, 2011

    I lost all but three of this year's planted grape cuttings while in Hawaii. I suppose I forgot to remind my neighbor to water them along with the patio plants. It's okay. I'm not a serious grower anyway. I planted my vines for the experience, so I could identify with the growers when I wrote about them. Of course, having a source of grapes was a consideration, but I have access to enough if I never harvest another of my own. I have wonderful friends.

    Growing your own is more work than you can imagine unless you've done it. but it is hugely satisfying to drink a wine that you both grew and made. I recommend it if you have time and don't mind a little sweat. If that isn't you, don't bother. Both you and your vines will suffer.

    I have a friend with four Cabernet Sauvignon vines in large terra cotta pots, each with a redwood trellis. It amazes me how much wine he makes from these four vines, but he works hard at it. I don't and it shows.

    Down here in Texas we badly need some of that rain the midwest and heartland have received. Those folks are in my prayers and should be in yours. If you have never been in a flood you have no idea how devastating it is. Imagine everything in your house, from your mattress on down, being under water. Even the clothes in your closet wick up the water and grow mildew. You end up replacing most of what you own. I know times are bad, but if you can afford to help those folks in some way, please do. If not, then pray for their deliverance and count your many blessings.


    Natural Sweeteners

    My last WineBlog entry focused on sweetening dry wines and mentioned several strategies using various means. It elicited a phone call and two emails asking for more information about stevia in general and one email asking about "other natural sweeteners." Since there are several categories of sweeteners that might be considered "natural" by some but not by others, a discussion is justified. This entry is my response to that interest.

    First, we must define our terms. What you consider "natural" and what I consider "natural" may very well be two entirely different things. If one contends that the absence of human intervention is required to produce a "natural" sweetener, I will contend that there are no natural sweeteners suitable for wine or mead sweetening. Even honey is "gathered" by man from the hives and then clarified to remove animal, plant and other particulates before it is brought to market. Human intervention is required to some degree. The amount of intervention is where we should be quibbling.

    In actuality, the first natural sweetener I mentioned in my last entry was a "sweet reserve" of grape juice. This is filtered juice from very ripe grapes of the variety the wine is made from, or juice from a similar or complimentary variety. The natural sweetener is the natural sugars in the juice, present in sufficient amounts for pulling a wine off bone dryness and even raising it to technical sweetness (2% sugar), but not for converting it into a dessert wine. Still, it should be the winemaker's first choice for low level sweetening.

    A second choice might be a grape concentrate of the same or a similar, complimentary variety. Some people balk at this, claiming that concentrates are "processed" and therefore not natural. While it is true that grape juice is processed in order to become concentrated, the only thing removed is water and nothing is added if the concentrate is frozen or pasteurized. Further, both concentrates and sweet reserves are typically "processed" by filtering. The sweetener in the concentrate, as in the sweet reserve, is the natural sugars present in the grapes.

    Other juices besides grape are concentrated for use as sweeteners in baking and fruit products. These are apple, pear and pineapple, but other fruit juices can be so used. These are typically deacidified and deionized, but there is no doubt the sweetness they provide is from natural sugars. Even concentrated juice from sweet potatoes is used for sweetening in the baking industry.

    When you say "natural sweetener" the first product most people think of is honey. Honey is an excellent sweetener, not only of meads but of wines too. A honey-sweetened wine will taste different than one sweetened with grape juice, concentrate or sugar, but the taste of honey may or may not be evident. It depends primarily on the quality of the honey and the amount used, but in certain circumstances it will depend on the grape or fruit variety used.

    I mentioned in passing agave nectar (pronounced ah-GAH-vay), which is 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sucrose and also sweeter than honey but less dense. It dissolves far easier and faster than honey. Agave nectar can be produced from several of the 100 or so species of agave but is usually produced from the Blue Agave (Agave tequilana), Green Agave (Agave salmiana), Gray Agave (Agave applanata), and a couple of others. There are several ways to extract the nectar, but all of them destroy the plant. The nectar is essentially the sap of the plant stored in its enormous core, which is a sort of spherical trunk weighing up to 150 pounds once the leaves are cut away. The extraction involves cutting or crushing the core, then gently steaming or roasting it at low temperature for some time to convert the carbohydrates into sugars (mostly fructose and some glucose), pressing to extract the sweetened sap, filtering it, then using enzymes to convert the milky juice into the light, amber or dark syrup we call agave nectar. This hardly seems "natural," but it is considered as such. It is also known as agave syrup, azul, honey water, aguamiel, and several variations of these.

    Natural syrups can be concentrated by slow cooking from the sap of maple and birch trees. Maple sap contains sucrose. It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup through evaporation. Birch sap contains fructose, a sweeter sugar, but requires 100 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of birch syrup through evaporation. I will not go into the production of these syrups as I think that is well known. If you intend to use these syrups for sweetening wine, you may be disappointed. Their flavors are unique and will permeate the wine. While I have never used birch syrup to sweeten a wine, I have used maple -- once.

    Two natural sweeteners I know quite a bit about are stevia and mogrosides. Stevia as a sugar substitute gets its name from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, the leaves of which have 30-45 times the sweetness of sucrose. The glycosides that give stevia its sweet taste are stevioside and rebaudioside and are 250-300 times as sweet as sucrose and are heat stable, pH stable and non-fermentable, which makes them perfect for sweetening wine. Stevia sugar substitutes are widely available under many names.

    Mogrosides are any of 10 specific glycoside compounds found in certain plants. The only mogroside-containing plant I know anything about is luo han guo (Siraitia grosvenorii), also known as monk fruit or Buddha fruit. An extract from the plant, which is a small, round gourd, is 300 times as sweet as sucrose, while purified mogroside-5 can be 400 times as sweet. Unfortunately, the Chinese have a near-monopoly on the vine which produces the fruit, but some products are appearing in the West in beverages, teas, cereals and other products. A Japanese company manufactures a sugar substitute called Lakanto which contains mogrosides in a luo han guo extract along with erythriol. I haven't seen it yet in the States but it's only a matter of time. I have only encountered mogroside-5 in a laboratory setting and was not able to obtain any myself but it was very sweet.

    I strongly believe we will be introduced to other natural sweeteners in the near future, both to serve the healthy foods crowd and the medically mandated sugar-free crowd. There are also those who simply like to try the unusual and exotic. Strangely, I find myself being among the latter.


    Another Mixed Fruit Wine

    Back in January I was digging through a chest freezer, looking for some venison shoulder we cooked, shredded and froze some time back. I had a casserole in mind. I found the venison, but I also found some Montmorency cherries a friend in Michigan sent me, some elderberries from Louisiana that were badly freezer burned (sorry Luke), and some pomegranate juice in a ZipLoc bag that came from my parents' trees. I made the casserole, which was delicious, and started a wine. Five months later I can report that the wine is going to be fantastic after additional aging. It's already in the bronze to silver medal window, and I expect it to age into gold medal contention.


    Mixed Fruit Wine Recipe

    • 2 3/4 lbs Montmorency (or any sour) cherries
    • 1/4 pound elderberies
    • 14 fl oz pure pomegranate juice
    • 1 cup Welch's frozen Red Grape Concentrate
    • 1 lb 2 oz finely granulated sugar
    • 1 1/4 tsp acid blend
    • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
    • 2 qts water
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1 sachet Red Star Montrachet wine yeast

    The fruit, juice and concentrate were defrosted. The cherries had not been pitted and did not require pitting after defrosting as no crushing was necessary. In the primary fermentation vessel pour cherries and elderberries into nylon straining bag and tie closed. Add sugar, acid blend, yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme to primary. Add pomegranate juice, grape concentrate and water. Stir to dissolve sugar completely. Cover primary and set aside for 12 hours. Stir in finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and stir to integrate. Recover primary and set aside another 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a yeast starter solution. Cover primary and set aside in warm place. Stir daily, punching down the nylon bag. When fermentation loses its vigor, put on clean rubber gloves and remove the nylon straining bag, squeezing to expel juice into primary. Cover and allow one more day. Transfer liquid to secondary, attach airlock and set aside one week. Top up, reattach airlock and set aside for 30 days. Rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wine should fall clear. Let sit additional 30 days and carefully rack into clean secondary. Stabilize, attach airlock and set aside 30 days. Bottle and age. Allow at least 6 months before tasting. This is a dry wine. Sweeten after stabilizing if that is your taste. [Author's own recipe]

    This wine is aging and should be ready to enjoy around Christmas. I may open a bottle or two in November and add some mulling spices for holiday evening cheer. The sour cherry and pomegranate meld together well. I purposely added only a small amount of elderberry and grape concentrate. The resulting wine is dry with medium body. You can tweak the recipe to increase the body (grape concentrate) and sweeten after stabilizing. If you sweeten, hold the wine 45 instead of 30 days before bottling -- longer if you see fine bubbles or renewed cloudiness.




    For earlier entries, see archives (left column)




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