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Improved Winemaking

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

Terry Garey's
Joy of Home Winemaking

Marc Shapiro's
The Meadery, my favorite mead site

Forrest Cook's
The Mead Maker's Page

Dave Polaschek's
Mead Made Easy

Mathieu Bouville's
Mead Made Complicated

Mead Lover's
The Bees' Lees


Michiel Pesgen's
The Home Winemaking Page

Roger Simmonds'
Homemade Wine

Jordan Ross'
Going Wild: Wild Yeast in Wine Making

UC Davis'
Making Table Wine at Home

Viticultural Roundtable of SW Ontario

Winemaking Fundamentals

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Drink Focus'
All About Apple Cider

The Brewery's
Cider Recipes

San Antonio Regional Wine Guild

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

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

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

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

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Some Other Wine Blogs

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

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

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

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

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

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

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

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

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

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

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

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

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

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

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

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

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

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

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

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

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

WineBlog Archives

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

July 3, 2003

The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG -- pronounced SAR-WIG) met on the last Saturday in June at the home of our two eastern-most members, Luke and Lynette Clark of Leesville, Louisiana. Luke and Lynette have been making the 850-mile round-trip to SARWG meetings in the San Antonio area for two years, so it was only fitting that the rest of us returned the favor and went to their home for a meeting. And what a meeting it was!

June is the month SARWG holds its annual General Meeting -- when we hold elections for our officers. Susie Higgins, our President for the past year, conducted the business part of the meeting while Luke and Lynette took care of refreshments, lunch and entertainment. Luke conducted tours of his winery and vineyard/berry farm. He has somewhere around 19-20 varieties of grapes growing on his property, plus blackberries, blueberries, mayhaws, kiwis, pears, and figs. He gave everyone who was inclined a bucket and turned them loose among his blueberries. I don't think anyone picked less than a gallon. Some of us (ahem) went home with six gallons. What generosity...!

Jake, LaVern and Heide Wise of the East Texas Home Brew and Wine Association (Jake is their President) joined us, as did two of the Clarks local friends. The East Texas bunch is centered around Tyler. Luke and Lynette are members of both clubs, plus at least one in California.


Luke grows at least three varieties of blueberry. I say "at least" because he thinks he has a single specimen of a fourth variety that sneaked in with the nursery stock, but he isn't quite sure. Planting several varieties assures a better pollination, insures you against single variety die-back, and offers flavor complexity when the berries are mixed.

Blueberries make a decent wine with only acid and sugar added, but also adding a body-enhancer can turn it into an excellent wine. Traditionally, raisins or grape concentrate is added for body-building, but several years ago I used dried bananas and was pleasantly surprised. Only two pounds of berries are required to achieve a decent flavor profile that is decidedly blueberry, but this can be greatly improved upon if you can leave Luke's place with six gallons of berries. And, it makes it so much easier to decide to make a blueberry port, which requires three times the amount of berries as does ordinary blueberry wine.

A Healthier White Wine

On the long drive to Luke and Lynette's place, my wonderful wife sat beside me reading a magazine called Woman's World. Suddenly she said, "Hey, here's one for you." She then read aloud an article about a white wine developed in France by a team at the University of Montpellier. Paradoxe Blanc, named for the French Paradox (see WineBlog of April 11th), is rich in polyphenols (antioxidants) which may help to prevent heart disease. Polyphenols are concentrated in the skin of grapes. Because red wine is made with an extended juice-to-skin contact period while white wine eliminates the juice-to-skin contact altogether, red wine has a higher polyphenol content than white wine. Also, red wine grapes are fermented warmer than are white wine grape juices. Not so with Paradoxe Blanc, a white with all the reported benefits of its red counterpart.

The researchers, led by Pierre-Louis Teissedre, chose white grapes that were rich in polyphenols and used a wine-making process similar to that for red wine, including steps such as heating up the mixture to a higher level than normal.

Polyphenols are antioxidants which destroy harmful substances called free radicals that can cause cancer and other health problems. They may also help to keep arteries clear and reduce heart disease. Paradoxe Blanc was originally developed for people with Type 1 diabetes whose bodies cannot destroy free radicals efficiently. Tests of the wine suggest a glass or two a day restores antioxidant levels in diabetics. But the wine's developers have yet to show that their wine keeps arteries clear of fat deposits and thus reduces the chances of heart attack or strokes. Even without this extended proof, the wine is sure to be a hit among health conscious white wine lovers.

Paradoxe Blanc, now available commercially in Europe, is just the first of a new generation of wines deliberately enriched with antioxidants. It is, incidentally, a Chardonnay. It is expected to arrive in America within the year.

July 9, 2003

There is nothing more frustrating than to have a batch simply quit on you. I get a few "stuck fermentation" letters every month and my replies are fairly standard.

Billy recently wrote me that 6-gallon batches of strawberry and peach wines simply stopped fermenting at around 1.060 specific gravity and all attempts to restart them have failed. He listed a number of things he had tried.

I wrote back and asked Billy what he had done to the wine that precipitated the change, as yeast don't simply stop all activity when there is that much sugar left. Something caused the inactivity.

Billy replied that he had racked both wines to carboys and attached airlocks after a week in primaries. And that is all I needed to know.

The Stuck Fermentation

There are many ways to look at yeast. You can classify them by species, by strains, by regions they were isolated from, by the alcohol tolerance levels they possess, by their optimum temperature preferences, or many, many other ways. You can also classify the by whether they prefer to live at the surface of a must, at the bottom in the lees, or free-floating everywhere.

Most winemakers prefer bottom dwelling yeast because if you rack carefully, you leave them behind in the lees. This is great when it comes time to bottle a wine, because you know you are less likely to be bottling yeast in with the wine. But, if you rack carefully but too soon -- before fermentation is complete -- you leave them behind and your fermentation stops cold. I would bet the farm that's what Billy did.

My advice to Billy was as follows. It will work for you, too, 99% of the time. First, make a yeast starter. Set aside a cup of warm water, into which you dissolve a tablespoon or two of sugar and a pinch (1/8 teaspoon) of yeast nutrient. Into that you should introduce your yeast. You should get confirmation of viability within 20 minutes to an hour, but wait two hours before drawing off 1/4 cup of must and adding it to the starter.If you haven't seen evidence of the yeast's viability by this time, add another packet of yeast and wait another two hours before adding the must.

The sulfite in the must has never impeded the reproduction of the cultured yeast I have used in the starter, as all wine yeasts I have used are very sulfite-tolerant. Two hours later, with a good viability again proven, add another 1/4 cup of must. The starter is now 1/3 must and 2/3 water. Two hours later add another 1/4 cup of must, and two hours after that add another 1/4 cup. The starter is now 1/2 must and 1/2 water.

You can pitch it anytime after it again reaches a very vigorous activity stage. If adding to a primary, hold a spoon on the surface of the must and gently pour the starter into it to break the fall of the pouring liquid. The idea is to keep the yeast right there on the surface of the must where they can get plenty of oxygen during the next day or two. Cover the primary, but do not stir the must or put it under airlock for 48 hours. If the must is already in a secondary, pour the starter in as gently as you can. Cover the secondary, but do not airlock it for 48 hours. It should take off.

While yeast are single-cell creatures, there is nothing simple about them. The more you learn about them, the more you'll appreciate what they do. Here are a few places to learn more:

July 15, 2003

All wines eventually oxidize. The only rescue from this fate is to drink the wine before oxidation sets in. The wine drank may or may not be at its peak of maturity, but hopefully it is. Knowing this and the ability of a particular wine to age, the consumer attains certain expectations. A particular red may display distinct potential for a 7-10-year cellar life, while a robust white may promise maturity in 3-5-years. It is therefore upsetting when one or two bottles of such a wine oxidize after 6-18 months in the bin while the remainder age on flawlessly.

Random Oxidation

The phenomenon by which a small percentage of a batch turns brown, loses flavor and bouquet, and exhibits all the characteristics of oxidation only 6-18 months after bottling is called random oxidation. Among well-made wines, its incidence ranges from 1 to 4 percent. For wines of equal potential but made with less care, the incidence can rise to 10% of a batch.

The bottle closure is often blamed for random oxidation. Variations in cork quality, the argument goes, account for the incidence. An occasional cork that fails to seal as completely as expected allows for the simultaneous escape of antioxidants and entry of oxygen (O2) to the bottle. While this may well be true, it is not the whole story.

Sulfur Dioxide and Ascorbic Acid

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is typically added to wines to prevent oxidation. If the dosage is sufficient, the SO2 does several things beneficial to the wine. Among these are the prevention of the enzymatic activity responsible for browning and the occupation of intermolecular spaces. These spaces typically will be occupied by O2 unless SO2 is introduced first - usually at crush - and its concentration maintained by periodic additions up until bottling.

Another well-known antioxidant often used in conjunction with SO2 in winemaking is ascorbic acid. It is used to scavenge oxygen and enhance fruit quality. Nowhere has the use of ascorbic acid been embraced more whole-heartedly by commercial wineries than in Australia. Consequently, nowhere is more research done on the use of ascorbic acid in wine than in Australia.

Australian researchers have shown that while ascorbic acid itself possesses antioxidant qualities, it breaks down -- reduces -- into chemicals that can actually promote oxidation. When present in approximate quantities with SO2, the onset of oxidation is delayed but not stopped. Indeed, they found that for ascorbic acid to be effective as a long-term antioxidant, more SO2 is required than if no ascorbic acid were used at all.

Used incorrectly, ascorbic acid may actually contribute to the incidence of random oxidation. If used only to brighten fruit quality, it should be added at bottling time only and then with a sufficient quantity of SO2 to counteract its reductive potential to actually promote oxidation.

Whether used by itself or in conjunction with ascorbic acid, sulfur dioxide dissipates predictably. Under a closure it is theoretically trapped until the closure is removed. Thus, reliable closures are crucial to the cellaring potential of a wine. We will save for another day the debate as to which is the best wine bottle closure -- natural cork, synthetic cork, screw cap, or crimped cap.

July 21, 2003

My July 15th entry produced this email from India: "Your article about Sulfur Dioxide and Ascorbic Acid is really thought-provoking. But the linked article is not giving much information than to a very high level scientist. Hope you will work out some method to quantisize the amount of ascorbic acid to be added before bottling -- more or less in a layman's terms." My reply, in part, follows.

Ascorbic Acid

I have been following the ascorbic acid debate for about three years now. I have always been uneasy about it. New techniques, especially when they involve adding chemicals to wine, always meet resistance. Just look at the resistance to adding sulfites, as an example, and they were around long before Louis Pasteur explained just why they are effective.

But there is an elusive something about ascorbic acid that has bothered me from the start. It's use in winemaking came on like a fad, but the fad was centered in Australia and South Africa. These are both centers of innovation in winemaking and some really good techniques have arisen in both places. But in the United States, we look to our government to test and approve additives before we use them. Ascorbic acid is not exactly new. It has been around a long, long time as a color stabilizer and preservative and its safety was proven long ago. So it was not a human consumption safety issue, but something else. That something else was: show me the long-term effects on the wine before you try to sell me this stuff. Now, at last, I think we are beginning to see them, and the results are not exactly what was predicted.

Therefore, I still do not use ascorbic acid in my wines. I recently rejected a kit that included it. Perhaps I am being overly cautious. I may change positions tomorrow. But today I will err on the side of caution and continue reading reports for evidence that might sway me into the ascorbic camp. Until I see such evidence, I will stick to sulfites alone or in conjunction with sorbic acid as a stabilizer.

I do not wish to imply anywhere herein that I think those who use ascorbic acid in their wines are foolish or are rushing headlong into disaster. Certainly the data do not suggest that, unless, of course, they are using ascorbic acid without also using sulfites. But the data do not give me a warm fuzzy feeling about using it either, and so I don't.

Carbon Dioxide Eruption

Another writer wrote me about adding honey to an actively fermenting 5-gallong batch of wine. This caused an eruption of foam that caused quite a mess. Here is an explanantion of what happened.

When wine is at its fermentation peak, there are about 5-10 million yeast cells per drop of wine. Each one of these is trying to emit a tiny molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas as a byproduct of fermentation. Until those bubbles all reach the surface and dissipate, the wine is "dynamically carbonated," meaning there is a lot of CO2 both suspended and absorbed in it. After fermentation, the CO2 dissipates into the atmosphere and it becomes "still" wine.

When you add anything solid to a liquid containing a lot of carbonation, the solid particles of what was added fall through the liquid and create minute vortexes that "knock" the CO2 molecules together, where they join. Where it might take a single molecule several minutes to rise to the surface, two joined molecules rise faster. On the way they bump into and are joined with other molecules, their bubbles grow larger still, and in turn they rise even faster. The rising bubbles are like a reverse avalanche, picking up mass, numbers, force, and speed as they rise. They also create opposing vortexes and knock even more molecules together. The result is a cascade of fizz rising to a constricting passage with a resulting volcano-like eruption through the small mouth at the top of the carboy. To demonstrate a similar effect on a quieter scale, sprinkle a few grains of sugar or salt into a glass of 7-Up or beer.

August 8, 2003

In parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mexico (and, reportedly in Alabama but not Mississippi), the lowly mustang grape is approaching the end of its season. If you roam any of these parts and have not made mustang wine in 2003, get out there and find some grapes before they are all gone.

Mustang Grapes

wild mustang grapes
Wild mustang grapes of typical cluster size at
a friend's place in Fredericksburg, Texas

Vitis mustangensis has always been Vitis candicans to me, but it now looks as though they have officially changed its name to reflect its common nomenclature. Don't ask me who "they" are.

This is my most prolific local wild grape. I love this grape. Not because it tastes good. It doesn't. Not because it's beautiful. It isn't. But because it is simply the most hardy grape I've ever seen. If it can establish itself for two years, it is darned near impossible to kill. It survived summers (1998) with 62 triple-digit-temperature days (Fahrenheit, of course). It survives Phylloxera, Pierce's Disease and Downey Mildew. I don't know about cotton root rot or bitter rot, but I've never seen it with black rot or anthracnose. We don't get many freezes down here that last more than three days, but they survived them pretty well. And we have vines that are 8-10 inches in diameter at the base. Finally, and perhaps the best of all, very few birds really like them, so they ripen and survive long enough to be picked.

Mustangs don't hang real well, but they do hang long enough to become raisins often enough that Greg Howard of Tecumseh, Oklahoma can find enough mustang raisins to make another Best of Show wine whenever he feels like it. Others have had remarkable success with mustang. Marvin Nebgen of Fredricksburg, Texas made the best red mustang wine I've ever tasted. My white mustang won Best of Show several years ago. What truly is amazing is that a grape that tastes this bad can make such good wine. Of course, it can also make some pretty bad wine. You have to work at it to coax the good stuff into being. And in South Texas, making a good mustang wine is a sign that you've finally become a good winemaker.

Mustang Grape Wine

Vitis mustangensis is not very good at making natural sugars. On the other hand, it has perfected acid-making to the nth degree. You'd better wear rubber gloves when working with this grape or your hands can get pretty acid-burned. And, just to make the winemaker's chore that much more challenging, mustangs are loaded with tannin. If you make this wine you can cellar it for quite some time, so splurge and buy some really good corks. The following recipe makes one gallon. Do the math to make more....

  • 8 lbs. very ripe black Mustang Grapes
  • 2 lbs. granulated sugar
  • 2 qts. water
  • 1 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • Montrachet yeast for dry wine or 71B-1122 yeast for sweet

Wearing gloves, remove the stems and wash the grapes. Bring one quart of water to boil and stir in sugar intil dissolved. Remove from heat. Crush the grapes in a crock or polyethyline bucket and pour the hot sugar-water over them. Add finely crushed Campden tablet and yeast nutrient. Add remaining water, stir and cover primary. After 12 hours, stir in pectic enzyme, stir again and recover. Afetr additional 12 hours, add activated yeast. The must will form a floating "cap" of skins and seeds which should be pushed under and stirred several times each day. On fourth day following inoculation, strain off solids and press. Combine pressed juice with strained and stir well, then transfer quickly into secondary, fit airlock and set aside -- there will be room for foaming. When vigorous fermentation subsides, top up with water, refit airlock, and let stand three weeks. Rack, top up and refit airlock. Repeat monthly until wine clears and no new lees are deposited, adding crushed Campden tablet after every other racking. Set aside three months, stabilize and sweeten to taste if desired. Bottle three weeks after stabilizing. Wait six months before tasting, but improves remarkably with age (3-4 years). [Author's own recipe.]

If you don't live in Mustang Grape Country, there are at least two Texas wineries that make the wine from pure mustang grape juice -- now there's a challenge! You'll find them listed in the links below.

August 20, 2003

Many readers make the transition every year from making wines from kits to making wines from fresh grapes. I am often asked what special steps are required to successfully make this transition. There are so many styles of wine that it would be impossible to cover a fraction of them in this format, so I will just say a few general things I believe apply across the board.

White Grapes

The old adage that "good wine is made in the vineyard" is especially true for whites. We can add sugar and adjust TA and pH, but we cannot add flavor to a grape that simply doesn't have any. Allowing a grape to hang on the vine to develop flavor when both Brix and acidity are favorable is chancey. Disease, insects, birds, and wildlife (deer, possums, raccoons, etc.) can all steal a harvest overnight. So can an early frost or a two-week rain pattern. But no amount of winemaking skill can rescue a poorly flavored grape. Either let them hang until they are ready for wine or pick them for the table. But remember, a grape not flavorful enough for a heavier, aged style wine may be perfectly suitable for a softer, lighter syle. Work with the grape you have.

A refractometer will give a more accurate sugar reading than will a hydrometer, but test fruit throughout the vineyard row. For each bunch tested, pick a berry from the top of the bunch and another from the bottom. Test for pectins when you crush. Pectic enzymes vary and should be used according to their indiviual instructions, but will yield more juice if allowed to work for 2-4 hours before pressing. Test acitity and if low add tartaric when you press. The wine will be better if its acids undergo fermentation than if added later. If you press directly after crushing or after allowing pectic enzymes to work on the grapes and then allow the juice to settle, be sure to add sulfur dioxide to control bacterias and molds and retard browning and oxidation. A common practice these days is to inoculate with a large yeast starter culture, ferment the juice to a Brix of 8-10, and then add sugar if needed.

Red Grapes

As with whites, good grapes make good wines. Underripe grapes will carry more acid and less sugar and flavor to the wine. It is bad from the start and can be improveded upon but not really corrected. With whites, grapes picked in the heat of the day might be cooled overnight so that fermentation does not start at too high a temperature. With reds, this is less of a problem but really hot grapes should be cooled to below 80 degrees F. so that fermentation temperatures do not reach 90.

The amount of sulfur dioxide to add at crush depends on the condition of the grapes and whether or not the wine is destined to undergo malolactic fermentation. Home winemakers who avoid sulfites for faddish health reasons rather than real ones (sulfite sensitivity -- very rare -- or asthma or emphysema) are simply being foolish. Some very bad bugs find grapes an ideal home, as do many strains of wild yeast. Sulfiting doesn't kill wild yeast, but does stunt their vigor enough that inoculations of cultured yeast rapidly gain domination over the batch.

Care should be given to the selection of yeast, as for any wine, and with the characteristics it can elicit from these particular grapes. But also consider the degree of control you have over the temperature and whether or not you will encourage malolactic fermentation. Then build a yeast starter and inoculate after crush and after any adjustments have been made for acidity and pectin.

When you have small amounts of different grapes, you may want to crush and ferment them together. This often results in smoother, more pleasing blends, but the winemaker actually has no control over the result except as to style. Making separate wines and then blending according to tastes assures control, but the blends will then need to age to incorporate the various individual characters into the whole.

With reds, fermentation usually precedes pressing because tannins and pigments from grape skins are usually more soluble with alcohol present. Fermentation on the skins is done to extract color, tannin and complexity. Flavor per se is not generally associated with skin contact except in a negative way. If the juice carries good color, skin contact can be reduced considerably and maintained just long enough to extract the desired tannins. If color must also be extracted, its rate of extraction should be carefully monitored to coincide with the extraction of tannin. Color is generally extracted faster at higher temperatures, while tannin is extracted at a given rate regardless of temperature. For example, if color extraction at 70 degrees F. is proceeding slowly and you fear tannin extraction might be excessive by the time the color is right, simply raise the temperature of the must to 80 degrees to extract color faster. The change in temperature will have no noticeable effect on the extraction of tannin. Similarly, if color is being extracted too quickly in relation to tannins, lower the temperature of the must to slow down color extraction.

August 29, 2003

I recently found another stand of late-hanging mustang grapes that were just beginning to shivel on the vine. Such grapes are prized here in south Texas because their acidity is lower than at any other time and their sugar is concentrating in the diminished juice. I picked 5 gallons of them in about 45 minutes and split the take with my wife. She makes some truly fabulous jelly from mustangs and I only wanted enough to make a gallon of white wine.

Making white wine from mustang grapes is difficult. This is a pitch black grape with a decidedly purple juice sac just under the skin. The pulp itself is colorless. My friends at Poteet Country Winery make white mustang wine by simply crushing and pressing in one consecutive operation. The juice still makes contact with the skins and color is picked up. Their white mustang is the color of white zinfandel. Truly, it is a blush rather than a white, but a name is only a name and their wine sure is good. I, on the other hand, make a white mustang the color of chardonnay. It takes a bit of work.

I do it the hard way. I manually destem the grapes one at a time. The mustang is a slipskin grape. If you squeeze it, its interior pops out the stem tear. So, as I remove each grape from its stem, I squeeze the grape over a bowl. Out shoots the pulp and a little purple juice. I do this until my thumb cramps up on me or until I have 1 1/2 quarts of pulp/juice that has never touched the outside of the grapeskin. This is sweetened, diluted with water, nutrified, and treated with 1/2 teaspoon of pectic enzyme. Ten to twelve hours later I pitch the yeast.

Interestingly, the color in the juice sac is not fast. It falls into the lees as fermentation ends, leaving a clear, colorless wine in its wake. It's a labor-intensive wine, but well worth the trouble.

Too Much Fruit

There is a debate that has been going on for longer than I have been around. It centers around the practice of diluting non-grape wines with water. In the past few years, Ben Rotter has raised the debate anew. Ben is a Scot. His website, "Improved Winemaking," is listed below and in the left-hand column of this page. Ben is a champion of what he calls a "concentration of flavor" that he insists is only achieved by making wines with little or no dilution. He, I and others have debated this for at least two -- probably three -- years on the rec.crafts.winemaking newsgroup. My position has always been that certain fruits are too acidic or simply have too much flavor to not dilute. Red Raspberry and elderberry are the examples I like to use. At the same time I have argued for dilution, I have also experimented with using more and more fruit in some of my wines. More about that another day.

The debate came home to me this week with two emails I received. A gentleman in Missouri wrote that he used 22 pounds of apricots to make a single gallon of wine. He crushed the fruit and fermented it on the pulp for a week, then pressed and continued fermentation until the wine was still. This was in 2001. The wine is still undrinkable. The other email came from Ohio and described a 100% pure red raspberry juice wine "...the color of a rare ruby. It's fragrance fills the room only seconds after being uncorked, but as inviting as it smells, it is vile to taste." Both gentlemen asked for my help in making their wine palatable. I suggested to each that he blend it with a nondescript white (for the apricot) or red (for the raspberry) wine until it is acceptable to the taste. Since one used eleven times the amount of apricots and the other used seven times the amount of raspberries I recommend, I suspect they will have to blend quite severely.

Last night I was thumbing through Betty Sampson's "The Art of Making Wine" and happened upon the following:

Most of the garden and country fruits used in winemaking have some natural sugars, but with high acid levels and pronounced flavours they need dilution with water in order to produce a drinkable wine within a reasonable maturing period. If sultanas [or raisins] are used to provide as much natural sugar and tartaric acid as possible, the level of garden or hedgerow fruits should not exceed more than two or three pounds per gallon (except in the case of apples and pears), otherwise the wine will contain an excessive amount of acid.

So, if you are out picking fuit, berries or other ingredients for wine and read in the recipe that only 2 1/2 pounds of fruit are needed, before you double or triple that amount ask yourself how long you are willing to let the wine age to drinkability. Few people are willing to wait more than four years.

September 4, 2003

I sometimes get inquiries about insufficient body or flavor of wines -- especially non-grape wines. A fellow named Lee once wrote, "The only concern that I have is that some of them (blueberry, blackberry, pear) seem to lack body or intense flavor." While this was partially addressed to me, it was posted on the rec.crafts.winemaking news group. It generated a thread of 32 messages. My reply was but one of them, but I often quote portions of it when addressing similar questions. Today I thought I'd share my entire answer to the quoted concern. Some editing was necessary.

Lee,...your concern, noted above, is actually two concerns.

Adding Body

The first is the absence of body in some of the wines. This is addressed in many places on my site, but the addressing is sometimes oblique rather than straight on. It boils down, however, to this. Many fruit produce thin wines unless supplemented with a body-building fruit such as grape (dried ones work very well, but so does juice from concentrate), banana, apricot, or date.

For years I used raisins, dates and bananas almost exclusively for body, but [several] years ago I began using one 11½-ounce can of Welch's 100% Grape Juice (White or Red) Frozen Concentrate per gallon of wine and found it much easier than forcing raisins through a mincer. Most of the recipes you'll find on my site that do not use a body enhancer are from other sources, although I have made quite a few wines myself from fruit alone so I must claim some of them.

A Question of Flavor

The second concern you raise has to do with flavor. You actually have two avenues you can follow to intensify the lacking flavor. First, as others have advised, you can add more fruit. If you do this, simply reduce the amount of supplemental sugar, acid and possibly tannin, while adding, when needed, a bit more pectic enzyme. The alternative is to simply get more flavorful fruit.

I don't know where you get your fruit, but let me give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you either grow your own or pick them fresh and absolutely at the peak of ripeness at a "U-pick-'em" farm. I would then suggest that you begin looking for a more flavorful variety.

Last year my wife and I picked strawberries at a friend's farm. After we had picked more than we could actually use, my friend came out to the field, looked at our flats of berries, and asked why we hadn't picked any of his Cheyenne berries. I replied that I hadn't even heard of Cheyenne strawberries and, besides, the ones we picked were fine. He then led us to several rows of ripe but unattractive berries -- unattractive only because of their very large, yellow seeds. He picked one and handed it to me. I bit into it and, well, it was a transforming moment. The flavor of the ones we picked was very, very good, but this was fantastic. He smiled and handed me an empty flat....

The point is, there is good flavor and there is fantastic flavor. Seek out the fantastic. The same goes for blackberries, pears, blueberries, peaches, plums, etc. -- and even grapes! (Who would have thought?) It goes without saying that if you buy your fruit from your grocer you are buying fruit that was probably picked a week (and possibly two) before it reached ripeness, so it will never taste fantastic.

That is pretty much my entire response. If you are interested in reading the whole thread, of which my reply is but one of many, the link below should work.

September 9, 2003

My August 29th entry about "Too Much Fruit" drew a few emails. All but one were from commercial wineries that make fruit wines. They informed me what I already knew -- that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms regulates the winemaking process in the United States and allows only enough amelioration with water to bring the acidity into an acceptable window. Thus, most fruit wines made in the United States are pure, or very close to pure, fruit wines, chaptalized, of course. Further, these wines, with rare exception, do not require four years of aging to be drinkable.

Folks, I am writing primarily for the amateur. I well know the body of regulation commercial wineries must comply with, and I admire all who produce outstanding fruit wines under such circumstances. There is a science to doing that, but also an art. The science is in complying with the BATF -- in weaving coherency from the scores of dos and do-nots while producing a balanced product. The art is in making exceptional wines. Last year I tasted six commercial cherry wines in southwestern Michigan. One was truly exceptional, two were outstanding, two were okay, and one was a huge disappointment. The previous year I tasted several blueberry wines in Pennsylvania and New York State and noted a similar distribution of good to bad.

What all of this is leading to is my mea culpa. Yes, you can make pure juice and high fruit content wines that mature within a reasonable time. But there you are guided not by recipes, but rather by science and craftsmanship. I pay homage to such craftsmen all over this country and the world. I try my best to taste their wines wherever I go, and I buy the ones that exemplify the art.

Fortifying a Wine

I was recently asked how to calculate the amount of brandy to add to a wine to raise its alcohol level a set amount. The procedure is the same as calculating the amount of brandy or Everclear to add to a low-alcohol wine to fortify it for Port.

The method for making Port this way is to stop the fermentation at a given point by adding sufficient alcohol to raise the alcohol by volume (ABV) content to 20-22% and then sweeten to balance. This method has many variations and I really don't have time today to go into them. However, the major issue for variations is whether you are going to add high- or low-proof spirits to your wine. If high-proof (Rum 151, for example, at 151-proof, or Everclear at 190-proof), you will need to add far less than if you add low-proof (80-proof brandy, for example). Anything you add will affect the taste, but that is a separate issue.

The question is one of quantity, and proof (actually, ABV) will determine how much of whatever spirit you choose and the total finished volume. One also needs to know the ABV of the wine being used to make the port from, or in the referenced case, simply to boost the alcohol. Since I do not know the variables involved, you will have to calculate the answers yourself.

The Pearson Square

The key to calculating this is the Pearson Square. If you know it, use it. If not, Michiel Pesgens has built a small program called WineCalc that incorporates the Pearson Square.

Go to the link above or below and download WineCalc. After downloading and opening the program, click on the tab called "Blending."

Enter "Value wine #1" and "Value wine #2" as percentages of ABV. Wine #1 is your wine. Wine #2 is the spirit you are adding (brandy, for example). Remember, 80-proof brandy is 40% ABV, 100-proof anything is 50% ABV, 151-proof rum is 75.5% ABV, and 190-proof Everclear is 95% ABV. Enter the ABV %, not proof. Enter the target value (% ABV) you want, such as 20%.

The 4th variable you need to supply is volume. The drop box has 3 choices, but choose the only one you know, "Volume wine #1." It makes no difference what unit you use -- just type in the number ("5" for 5 gallons, for example, or "19" for 19 liters). Your answer will be in the same unit, so you don't have to specify it.

Then click on the arrow and the answers will appear to the right.

September 17, 2003

A fellow wrote me that he had made jalapeño wine from the award-winning recipe on my website. He was happy with the wine, but the next wine he made in the same primary -- a white Concord -- tasted strongly of jalapeños, and he wasn't too happy about that.

I informed him that the hot stuff in jalapeños is capsaicin (or capsicin). It is an oil and is therefore oil-soluble. Water will not cut it. Thus, when you eat a too-hot chile pepper and want relief, a half-glass of whole milk will cut the heat but a whole bucket of water will not.

I advised him to buy a quart or two of whole milk and put it in the carboy. Hold the palm of your hand over the mouth of the carboy and lift the carboy sideways, so the mouth is to your right, the bottom to your left, and the milk is laying along the inner side. Now swirl the carboy in a circular motion so the milk swirls around inside and coats the entire interior of the carboy. Do this for about two minutes and set the carboy down and rest your arms. Wait a few minutes and repeat. Wait a few more minutes and repeat again. Now dump the milk and wash the carboy out thoroughly with a sanitizer such as B-Brite or potassium metabisulfite and a carboy brush. Rinse well.

As for the white Concord, I suggested that perhaps he could make some holiday wine, adding cinnamon sticks, ginger roots and cloves. I recommended the recipe for Spiced Apple Wine on my site as a model for the amount of spices per gallon, and the heat from the jalapeños should blend in well with them. This winter, I'm sure family and friends will be delighted to warm a little Holiday Wine and enjoy it in front of the fireplace.

Spiced Wine and Vermouth

Apple makes a good spiced wine, but the Big Kahuna of spiced wines is Vermouth. I have noted several times that the recipes I have for vermouth are quite tedious, involving small amounts of up to 28 spices. One day I received an email from a reader that was really a discussion on how to make vermouth.

Since vermouth is really just a bitterly spiced wine, to make it you start with a fairly uninteresting red wine and sweeten it (for the Italian style) or get a dry white (for the French style). Once you have done that, go to a homebrew / winemaking shop. They usually have a bunch of flavor essences for making liqueurs -- Vermouth included. Just follow the essence's directions. For the true do-it-yourselfer, just grab the spice rack!

The fellow's instructions for making vermouth are so simple that I have made it twice. The link to these instructions is below. He mentions a number of herbs that work well in vermouth, but I suggest you pick up Ken Schramm's The Compleat Meadmaker and check out his chapter on "Spices and Metheglin." Here he discusses 51 spices and herbs that work well in mead and can be used in vermouth or other spiced wines.

My favorite spices and herbs for spiking my wines are anise, basil, bay leaves, chamomile, cherry blossoms, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger, hops, juniper berries, lemon blossoms, lemon grass, marjoram, orange peel, peppercorns, raspberry leaves, rosemary, rose petals, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme, and turmeric. But you should work on your own list.

October 1, 2003

Time does fly when you're busy. This seems to be especially true when you have more to do than time allows.

I've been watching a stand of wild Vitis berlandieri for several months. This is a late-ripening grape, as evidenced by two of its common names -- the "fall grape" and "winter grape." At least three other North American native grapes share the name "winter grape" -- V. bicolor, V. cordifolia (properly, V. vulpina), and V. cinerea. V. cordifolia/vulpina rightfully owns the name. But the point is that the name hints at a very late ripening for all four species, so when I tasted several last Friday and they all tasted sweet, I should have looked before I leaped. Instead, I got an ever-present bucket out of the truck and picked three gallons of them. But in fact, they weren't ripe. I discovered this when I got home and my wife tasted a couple.

Well, I destemmed and crushed them anyway, and they are fermenting along at a very vigorous pace as I write. I'm not sure what I will do with them, but they are well on their way to becoming an embarrassment. I haven't measured the acidity yet, but know I can deal with that later. It's the greenish taste under all that deep red color that will probably cause the most trouble, but I plan on attempting to deal with it if I can. I'll probably have more to say about it later. Meanwhile, I'll continue watch the stand of Vitis berlandieri, for there are plenty of grapes left to harvest when they finally reach ripeness.

More Fun with Jalapeños

If you were to check my "Requested Recipes" section on my website, you would find the featured request is for a Capsicumel (or Capsimel) recipe. Capsicumel/Capsimel is a metheglin, a spiced mead made with chiles (not chili, and not peppers). I provided him three recipes. One is made using jalapeños. It is a particularly good mead, so I thought I would share it with you.

Making this requires a balancing act -- between the heat, the flavor of the honey, the flavor of the jalapeño chiles themselves, the alcohol, and the residual sweetness of the mead. Conventional wisdom says the mead must be sweet to balance the heat, but not so sweet that the flavor of the base honey and chiles are masked. I cannot tell you how to achieve that, since every batch will differ slightly or greatly depending on the variety and number of chiles used. Achieving balance is a winemaker's art, and capsicumel is one beverage where it must be practiced.

I do, however, offer some basic hints at how to achieve that in the recipe itself. Some fine-tuning will undoubtedly be necessary, but that is up to you. Also, some mead-makers boil their honey and skim the scum off the top and some do not heat their honey at all. I leave that decision up to you, but my recipe calls for boiling. The recipe below uses more honey than the one on my website. Both will work fine, but this one is for more of a sack.

Capsicumel (Jalapeño Mead)

  • 16 medium-sized jalapeños (for less heat, use 8 jalapeños)
  • 1 lb golden raisins chopped or minced
  • 3 lbs light honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 6 1/2 pts water
  • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Pasteur Champagne Yeast

Mix honey into 5 1/2 pints water and bring to boil. Boil 20 minutes, skimming off any scum that forms. Meanwhile, wearing rubber gloves, wash jalapeños and cut off stems. Slice length-ways and remove seeds. Place chiles in blender or food chopper with 2 cups water and chop coarsely. Separately, chop or mince raisins. Put raisins in nylon straining bag and, over primary, pour chopped jalapeños in with raisins. Tie bag and leave in primary. Add acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Pour honey-water over ingredients and stir. Cover primary and set aside until room temperature. Add pectic enzyme, recover and set aside 12 hours. Add yeast and recover. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides (7-10 days). Wearing rubber gloves, squeeze nylon bag over primary, then discard contents of bag. Transfer liquid to secondary, top up and fit airlock. Ferment to absolute dryness (60-90 days). Rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack twice more, 45 days apart. Stabilize with potassium sorbate and crushed Campden tablet (stirred well), wait 14 days, then add 1/2 cup light, clear honey and stir well to dissolve. Taste. If heat is too strong, add 1/4 cup honey and stir well. Taste again. Add additional honey if required. Wait final 30 days and rack into bottles. Age at least 6 months. Will improve to 2 years. [Author's own recipe]

October 16, 2003

The East Texas Homebrew Association held its annual amateur wine competition last weekend. My wife and I made the 6-hour drive from Pleasanton to Tyler, Texas on Friday and returned Sunday. It was a trip well worth the drive in more ways than one. Jake Wise, President of the ETHA, hosted Donna and I. Jake, his wife Lavern, and 14-going-on-20 daughter Heide made us feel more welcome than family.

The competition was Saturday, with a morning set-up and registration, afternoon judging, and evening awards dinner. Since I know I will not correctly remember or spell everyone's names, I'll forego the many thanks and acknowledgements and simply say they had a great, hard-working crew. It probably went a lot smoother for us judges than it did for the stewards and auditors, but if there was any panic or friction it went undetected by me.

As is often the case with such events, the need for judges and the desire to allow people to compete were weighed equally. One could enter and judge, but naturally could not judge categories in which you were entered. Judging was blind using a nothing-like-UC-Davis 20-point system. The awarding of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals was based on the Danish system. All entries were available for tasting (and integration into the meal) at the awards dinner. Luke Clark's superb Best of Show white muscadine blend was the first to disappear. His sparkling gooseberry took longer, but that's because we hid it at our table and selfishly did not share it very widely. But the wine I want to talk about today is one of my own. I mention it because I was twice asked for the recipe and promised to share it here.

Sand Burr Wine?

I have been known to make wines from strange ingredients. Sand burr is not the strangest, but it comes in second by only a hair's width.

sand burr

The common sand burr (Cenchrus echinatus)

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

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

Sand Burr Wine

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

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

October 31, 2003

Life has been full lately. That's another way of saying I have been extremely busy. I still have almost two dozen mail and email requests to answer but they will have to wait a little longer. My wife expects me home soon to help greet the trick-or-treaters. I apologize to those waiting, but there is only so much time.

But I was able to retire several email questions and respond to one recipe request today. I selected it simply because it was so interesting. It was a request for a recipe for a green onion wine.

Green Onion Cooking Wine?

I have never made a wine from green onions, nor could I find a recipe from another source. Still, I felt green onions would make a good cooking wine and knew instinctively how I would go about making it. My assumptions were that sugar and body could be had from potatoes and white grape concentrate, but even then I would need to add acid, nutrients, and...well, here's what I came up with.

Green Onion Cooking Wine

  • 1 lb green onions
  • ½ lb potatoes
  • 1 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
  • 1 lb finely granulated sugar
  • 6½ pts water
  • 2 tsp citric acid or acid blend
  • ½ tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1½ tsp yeast nutrient
  • Champagne Yeast

Use lower portion of onions--white and into light green leaves--avoiding darkly colored leaf. Thinly slice onions and potatoes in 1 quart of water. Put on heat and bring to a simmer, holding simmer for 45 minutes. Put sugar, citric acid, concentrate, and yeast nutrient in primary. Strain simmering water into primary, discarding onions and carrots. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved, then add remaining water. Cover with clean cloth and set aside to cool. When at room temperature, add crushed Campden tablet and stir. Recover primary and set aside for 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme, stir, recover primary, and set aside another 12 hours. Add activated yeast. Stir daily until s.g. drops to 1.020. Rack liquid into secondary, top up if required and fit airlock. Rack, top up and refit airlock every 30 days until wine clears and no new sediments form during a 30-day period. Stabilize, sweeten to taste, wait 10 days, and rack into bottles. Allow to age 6 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

November 14, 2003

Two nights ago I was interviewed over the phone by a reporter writing a story on home winemaking. He began by explaining the thrust of his story, naming others he had interviewed, and asking me what one thing I might say to assure people who had never made wine before that they could do it. I replied, "If the Sumerians could do it, you probably can too."

I get emails all the time from people who want to know how to start, what equipment they need to purchase, and asking for a recipe that "can't fail." What they are really asking for is assurance they won't spend a lot of money and end up with vinegar or worse.

For that first, simple, "can't fail" recipe, I always recommend my recipe for Welch's Frozen Grape Juice Wine. It only makes a gallon, so they don't have to buy a carboy. It uses concentrate, so they don't need a grape press. It always clears on its own so they don't need fining agents or a filter. And it always makes a very decent, drinkable wine. Indeed, this wine is so good that in the last three competitions of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, a Welch's wine has taken two Best of Shows.

The only equipment you need is a primary (a 1.5-gallon crock pot will do), a one-gallon secondary, bung, airlock, and racking tubing. The only "winemaking supplies" (additives) you need are acid blend, pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient, and wine yeast. You can make a red wine (Concord) or white (Niagara).

Welch's Frozen Grape Juice Wine

The amount of sugar called for in this recipe is an approximation. The sugar content of Welch's 100% grape juice concentrates does vary slightly because the grapes vary slightly in their ability to make sugar from year to year and vineyard to vineyard. I do recommend you use a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the reconstituted grape juice and calculate the amount of sugar needed to yield a starting gravity of 1.088 to 1.095 (no higher). However, if you don't have a hydrometer and this is your first batch, the amount indicated below will do fine.

Welch's Frozen Grape Juice Wine

  • 2 cans (11.5 oz) Welch's 100% frozen grape concentrate
  • 1-1/4 lbs granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 6-3/4 pints water
  • wine yeast (Red Star Premier Curvee or Montrachet will work for either red or white concentrate)

Bring 1 quart water to boil and dissolve the sugar in the water. Remove from heat and add frozen concentrate. Add additional water to make one gallon and pour into primary. Cover with sanitized cloth and allow to cool to room temperature. Add remaining ingredients except yeast. Recover and set aside 8 hours. Add activated wine yeast and recover the primary. A vigorous fermentation will be evident the next day. When vigorous fermentation slows down (about 5 days), transfer to secondary and fit airlock. When clear (about 30 days), rack, top up and refit airlock. After additional 30 days, stabilize, sweeten if desired and rack into bottles. If you do not wish to stabilize and sweeten, rack the wine again and let it sit an additional 30 days before bottling. [Author's own recipe]

November 18, 2003

I received three emails in two days concerning the use of Campden tablets. It is obvious to me that not everyone knows the best way to use them.

Campden Tablets

Campden tablets are a blend of either potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite with an inert filler material that bonds it all together in tablet form. One Campden tablet delivers around 50 parts per million (ppm) of free (unbound) sulfur as sulfur dioxide (SO2) to the wine. I have read claims that the dose is as low as 45 ppm and as high as 75 ppm. Both are possible, as well as everything in between, because Campden tablets can contain either of the two mentioned salts, which might affect dosage, and the tablets can come in different sizes. Campden tablets manufactured for Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth countries are made for Imperial gallons, which are close to 3/4 liter larger than U.S. gallons. If you use those Campden tablets in smaller U.S. gallons, the dose will be larger. When you buy a fresh supply of Campden tablets, you might want to crush and dissolve one in a gallon of white grape juice and then measure the free sulfur using an SO2 test kit. The last three batches of 100 tablets I purchased measured around 50 ppm.

The name "Campden" is always capitalized because it is the name of the chemist who devised (and patented) the formula for the tablet. Most tablets today use potassium metabisulfite rather than sodium. There are several possible reasons for this. Sodium ions, I am told, may leave an unpleasant aftertaste in your wine. Potassium Metabisulfite is somewhat healthier and better for diabetics. Potassium metabisulfite stays fresher longer and doesn't develop an off-smell (akin to lye) like the sodium salt can when exposed to air. Potassium Metabisulfite also has a slightly higher sulphur content. But the number one reason for me is because the United States government has prohibited the addition of sodium metabisulfite to commercial wines or their musts, and that's good enough reason for me. The government does get overly protective at times, but in matters of health it pays to err on the side of caution.

Campden has to be crushed very fine before adding to wine or it won't dissolve completely. I use a glass mortar and pestle and can reduce a tablet to a powdered sugar fineness in about 45 seconds (it's all in the wrist). After reducing to a flour-like powder, pour it in a glass and add 1/2 cup of water, wine, or liquid strained from the must. I use a small whisk to mix the powder into solution, but a fork with long tines works well too. It takes about 2 minutes to completely dissolve all the ingredients in Campden. It takes only a few seconds to dissolve pure potassium metabisulfite. So why use the tablets?

Most of us who use Campden tablets do so because it is diffucult at best to measure the exact amount of potassium metabisulfite required for a gallon of must or wine. Only 1/4 teaspoon of the salt is required to deliver the proper dose to 5 gallons of wine, so a single gallon needs 1/5 of 1/4 teaspoon -- not very much at all. It is very difficult to divide 1/4 teaspoon of powder into 5 equal lots, but one can get it close dividing the 1/4 teaspoon on a mirror with a razor blade. It just isn't convenient or completely accurate. But the tablet -- well, one tablet is easy to count.

Vitis Berlandieri Revisited

Back on October 1st I wrote about harvesting some Vitis berlandieri too early. This native Texas grape had undergone verasion two months earlier and the ones I tasted seemed ripe enough, so I assumed they had ripened about a month early and picked a 5-gallon bucket full. Well, they weren't at all ripe -- only the ones I taste-tested.

I revisited the stand about a week ago and taste-tested many before picking again. This time they were nice and sweet -- all of them. I manually destemmed and crushed them, chaptalized (sweetened) them slightly to get the specific gravity up to 1.088, and they fermented to 1.010 in about 5 days. They're in secondary now, pushing bubbles. I have high hopes for this batch. Not so for the earlier one, but I will try to salvage it if I can.

If you're interested in the recipe or just want to see what these grapes look like, visit them at my "Requested Recipes" section on my web site. Use the third link below.

December 8, 2003

I keep getting requests for easy wine. What, exactly, is that? If someone would tell me I'd pass it on. To me, most wines made from grapes are fairly easy compared to making wines from non-grape ingredients. But, upon reflection, I guess making wine from grape concentrate or a kit has to be the easiest.

Wine from Grape Concentrate

There are grape concentrates and there are wine grape concentrates. Both can be made into wine. I have already covered making wine from the best-known grape concentrate -- Welch's. See my entry for November 14th, below. So I'll say a few words here about making wine from wine grape concentrates. These usually are varietals, such as Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel (both red and white), etc. But there are also well known blends, such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, Meritage, and Chianti. Unlike Welch's, these concentrates invariably come with instructions printed on the can or bottle, so I will not try to second-guess them here. Just assemble the necessary ingredients and follow the instructions. One will normally need the concentrate, sugar (some need it, some don't), water, and a few additives like Campden tablets, potassium sorbate (or premixed stabilizer or "wine conditioner"), and an optional fining agent. You might want some oak chips, powder or essence, but it isn't required.

I have tasted some very good wines made from concentrates. I think I've made a few myself. But the old adage, "The finest wine is made in the vineyard," applies to wine from grape concentrate too. The thing to remember about concentrates is you really do get what you pay for. Inexpensive concentrate can only be made from inexpensive grapes. More than likely these are grapes that no one else wanted for one reason or another. Quality concentrates are made from quality grapes and, like the grapes themselves, demand a quality price.

But in all fairness, those lowly cans of Welch's frozen grape concentrate make pretty good wine if the winemaker is up to the task. As I've said before, I've seen several Best of Show rosettes go to wines made from Welch's. More than anything, this speaks volumes for the quality control of the Welch's company.

Kit Wines

Most kits contain grape concentrate, but some contain pasteurized grape juice. A few contain packages of grape skins or other reduced material for adding color and tannin to the wine. This might even be provided as a extract, paste or powdered additive. Whatever is needed for the wine will be in the kit. One need only follow the instructions carefully to make a decent wine. With premium kits, you can make some very good wines.

If you deviate from the manufacturer's instructions, be sure to write down what you did. I can pretty much guarantee you that by the time the wine has aged sufficiently for its type and style you will not remember what you did. And yes, kit wines should be aged according to the type and style of wine being made. In any event, even a wine that is "instantly drinkable" should be allowed to lay for two months before consuming to allow it to recover from bottling shock (a.k.a. bottle sickness), the flatness many wines temporarily suffer after bottling.

My biggest complaint with wine kits is that they rush you through the winemaking process. Wine is not meant to be made fast, yet we have 28-day kits, 21-day kits 14-days kits, and now even faster ones than that. This isn't beer. It's wine. Wine takes time, but the kit manufacturers have understandably seccumbed to the consumers' desire for instant gratification. In my next WineBlog, I will tell you how to extend a 28-day kit over a reasonable period to make an even better wine. In the meantime, if you care to read my pros and cons of grape concentrates, the link is below.

December 18, 2003

I promised last time (see WineBlog for December 8th) I would tell you how to extend a 28-day kit over a reasonable period to make an even better wine. The instructions below were originally devised by Ed Goist on the rec.crafts.winemaking use group on March 31st, 2000. While I have modified Ed's original to better fit my own belief system for making wines, I must give Ed the credit for the bulk of what follows. If you want to read his original posting, visit the third link at the end of this entry.

These instructions are for kits that make 6 U.S. gallons (23 liters) of wine.

Extended Instructions for Making Wines from Kits

DAY 1:
  • Rehydrate your must to the full 6 U.S. gallons in a 6-gallon carboy, stirring well. If your tap water is good, use it. Otherwise use bottled spring water. Distilled water contains no trace minerals, which yeast need, and should be avoided.
  • Many styles of full-bodied red wine kits benefit from the addition of grape tannin to the must before fermentation. Therefore, one may wish to add 1 to 1-1/2 level teaspoons of grape tannin as follows: Before rehydrating the must, thoroughly dissolve selected amount of grape tannin in about 1 quart of boiling water. Once dissolved, add the tannin solution to the must as part of its rehydration.
  • Use a hydrometer to check the specific gravity of the must. A starting s.g. of 1.088 is perfect if you have a finished dry wine of similar type and style to top up with. If you intend to top up with water, raise the s.g. to 1.095 by adding 1 pound 4 ounces of sugar to 6 U.S. gallons of must.
  • Next, withdraw 1 U.S. gallon of the must to a sealed glass jug and refrigerate it as a reserve for later addition to the main batch.
  • If your kit has oak powder, add it now as instructed. If not and an oak fermentation is desired, add 1.4 ounce (39 grams) of untoasted Oak-Mor American White Oak Powder or 1.5 ounce (43 grams) of toasted to the carboy. The 5 gallons will get the oak. The reserved gallon will not until added back later.
  • Now, properly rehydrate the enclosed yeast. For detailed instructions on how to rehydrate your yeast, please go to the first link following this entry (3 Easy Steps...) when you are finished here. Also, please note the additional link at the bottom of that page (second link below).
  • Add 1/3 cup of must to your yeast slurry to make it easier to pour and pour the mixture into the carboy. Do not attach your airlock for the first 48 hours of fermentation. Yeast need oxygen to propagate and you want them to do that. Instead, cover the mouth of the carboy with a sanitized piece of muslin secured with a rubber band.
  • Place your carboy in an area where the temperature remains at about 70 degrees F. (20 degrees C.).
DAY 2:
  • On the second day of fermentation, lightly stir the must to keep the yeast in suspension.
  • At the end of the second day (after 48 hours), attach the airlock.
DAYS 3 - 5:
  • Stir the must once a day on days 3 and 4. Stir on day 5 as well if the fermentation is not obviously vigorous.
  • Always reattach the airlock after stirring.
DAY 7 - 9:
  • Watch for the vigorous fermentation to subside (this will be on about day 7 or 8, but possibly 9 or 10).
  • When the vigorous fermentation has subsided, slowly add the reserve 1 U.S. gallon of juice back to the main batch. If the juice is still cold from refrigeration, add 1 pint every 15 minutes and then stir the must for 15-20 seconds. If the reserve is at room temperature, add 1 quart every 15 minutes and again stir.
  • Reattach the airlock and keep the must at around 70 degrees F. (20C) for the next three weeks.
DAY 28:
  • Using a sanitized hydrometer, check the specific gravity of the must. Note the specific gravity and reattach the airlock.
  • The specific gravity of the must should be under 0.995 for most kits (and under 1.000 for some kits for big reds).
DAY 29:
  • If making a white wine, prepare your bentonite as follows:
    • Place 1 quart of boiling water in a blender and turn the blender on to medium.
    • Slowly add 1 level tablespoon of bentonite to the blender.
    • The final slurry should have the consistency of pea soup. If required, add a small amount of additional water to make the slurry the proper consistency.
    • Once the proper consistency is achieved, blend the bentonite on high for 2 minutes.
  • Cover the bentonite slurry and set aside.
DAY 30:
  • Using a sanitized hydrometer, again check the specific gravity of the must. Note the specific gravity. If the value has not dropped since Day 28, move on to stabilization.
  • If the specific gravity has dropped since Day 28, reattach the airlock and allow further fermentation. Check the gravity on a daily basis until it remains unchanged for 2 consecutive days.
  • Stabilization and Fining:
    • Add the contents of the bag marked potassium metabisulfite to an empty, sanitized, 6-gallon carboy.
    • Rack the wine from its original carboy into the new carboy, leaving the lees behind.
    • Degass the wine by stirring it vigorously for 3 minutes. Wait 15 minutes and stir it again, vigorously, for 3 minutes.
    • If making a white wine, add the bentonite slurry which you prepared on Day 29. If possible, mix the slurry in your blender for about 2 minutes on high just before adding.
    • If making a red wine, add the packet marked Kieselsol from a Wine Art Claro K-C red wine finings package (may not be included).
    • Stir vigorously for 4 minutes.
    • Top up with a similar, dry wine and reattach your airlock.
DAY 31:
  • Using a wine thief, withdraw about 200ml of wine and set aside.
  • If making a white wine, add the packet marked Finings which came in your kit to the carboy. Alternatively, you can add the packet marked Clarifier which comes in a packet of Wine Art Claro K-C white wine finings.
  • If making a red wine, add the packet marked Clarifier from a Wine Art Claro K-C red wine finings package to the carboy.
  • Stir vigorously for 4 minutes. Wait 15 minutes and again stir vigorously for 4 minutes.
  • Top-up with the 200ml of wine withdrawn earlier. Reattach airlock.
  • Place wine in a very cool location. Alternatively, the carboy can be stoppered with a cork and placed in a refrigerator.
DAY 45:
  • Carefully rack the wine into a sanitized carboy. Avoid splashing.
  • If making a red wine or a Chardonnay and you did not add oak powder earlier (on Day 1), you may add some now using either of the following two alternatives:
    • Add Medium toast, French Allier white oak chips (from World Cooperage). "Heat sanitize" 4 oz (115g) of chips for 30 minutes by placing them on a piece of aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 250 degrees F. Allow the chips to cool and add to wine.
    • Add medium toast French StaVin (http://www.stavin.com/homewinemaker.htm) oak cubes at a rate of 3.5 oz (100g) per 6-gallon carboy. No preparation of the cubes is necessary. Simply add to carboy.
  • Top-up carboy to the very top with a similar, dry wine. If wine was refrigerated, allow about 2.5 inches of ullage below the bung for expansion of the wine as it warms up.
  • Place wine in a cool dark place. Over the next 35 days, check to be sure that your airlock remains filled with fluid to the indicated level.
DAY 80:
  • Rack wine off of its light lees into a sanitized carboy.
  • If using the oak chips, discard the used chips.
  • If using the Sta-Vin cubes, rinse and return them to the fresh carboy.
  • Top-up the carboy with a similar, dry wine.
  • Check fluid level in airlock and reattach to carboy.
  • Place wine in a cool dark place. Over the next 60 days, check to be sure that your airlock remains filled with fluid to the indicated level.
DAY 140:
  • Your wine should now be crystal clear.
  • Degass the wine as follows:
    • Stir it vigorously with a sanitized plastic or wooden dowel. You must cause the wine to cavitate (stir vigorously enough that an air cavity forms behind the dowel as it moves). Foam will be released,
    • Be careful at first to not create so much foam that it rises out of the carboy and overflows.
    • Stir for 2-3 minutes, then let the wine rest 10-15 minutes under airlock.
    • Repeat until foam stops rising.
  • Check your wine for residual CO2 as follows:
    • Use a wine thief to place about 200ml of wine in a 375ml clear wine bottle.
    • Cover the mouth of the bottle with your thumb and shake vigorously.
    • If the wine foams substantially, further degassing is warranted.
  • Rack the wine into a sanitized carboy into which 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite has been added.
  • If using the StaVin cubes, and further oak character is desired, the cubes can be rinsed and returned to the fresh carboy.
  • If the wine needs further degassing (as determined above), stir vigorously for 4 minutes. Wait 15 minutes and stir vigorously for 4 more minutes.
  • If the wine does not seem to need further degassing, stir lightly.
  • Taste test the wine.
  • Top-up with wine in 375ml degassing test bottle and additional dry wine if necessary.
  • Check fluid level in airlock and reattach to carboy.
DAY 170:
  • Reds which are still in contact with the StaVin cubes and which are going to be filtered can be racked into a sanitized carboy. Top-up with a dry wine. Cubes should be discarded.
  • Taste test the wine.
  • If wine tastes balanced, is free of defects, and free of excess CO2, bottle at leisure or filter for bottling on Day 180.
DAY 180:
  • Taste test the wine.
  • Bottle wines filtered on Day 170.

Now when you get that wine kit for Christmas, you'll have a solid plan for bottling in late June and shocking your friends on Labor Day (September 6th, 2004) with a wine tasting party....

December 29, 2003

Some of you probably know I'm on vacation in California. Writing a Blog, even one as fun as this one, is more work than I want to do on vacation. So, I'm taking the lazy way out and am throwing together some material sent to readers who asked my opinion on the subjects below.

Getting the Most Out of Fruit Wines

Good fruit wines are made with good fruit. With few exceptions, most fruit peak in flavor when the fruit are at the peak of ripeness. Harvesting your own is the way to go because if you pick any under-ripe fruit you can only blame yourself. Commercial (supermarket) fruit are notoriously under-ripe when harvested because their cycle is timed to allow the fruit to "turn" during transit and on the shelf. The proof of this is to taste a deep red strawberry purchased at the supermarket and then taste a vine-ripened strawberry from your garden. You wouldn't even know they are the same species!

But you need to be clear about one thing. Fruit wines do not taste like the fruit they are made from any more than grape wine tastes like the grapes they are made from. But if they are made well, from fruit at the peak of their ripeness, they will taste like wine from that fruit is supposed to taste. You will know what it is because your nose and palate will recognize the fruit character in the base. Sweetening a dry fruit wine a little will bring out some of the flavors the alcohol masks. So will bulk aging it (usually). Some fruit need six months of aging, some need a year, and some need two or more years. Read the recipe carefully and if says something like, "Wait a year before tasting," that is writer's code for "It needs to age a year before you drink it." If you aren't willing to wait, don't make the wine.

By "made well" I mean they are balanced. Alcohol is a major component of balance (the other major components being sugar, tannin and acidity--both TA and pH). If the alcohol is too high for the fruit type, you will never achieve balance without major intervention. Newbies make high alcohol wine because they don't understand balance. Some of the best fruit wines I have ever enjoyed (and I sure didn't make them all) were 10.5 to 11.5% abv. I even tasted an outstanding kiwi wine that was only 9.25% abv. It had an s.g. of 1.002, but it tasted like it was 1.006 at least because the alcohol did not compete with it. The kiwi flavor jumped out at you because it was a very well-balanced wine--TA was around 5.5 g/L and pH a bit high at 3.6 to 3.7 (two measurements--same meter--gave two readings). She (the winemaker) had fermented on the skins and then added just a smidgen of tannin from tea leaves.

Shelf Life of Certain Chemicals

A guy complained that he stabilized his wine, sweetened it, and it fermented in the bottle anyway. "What gives?" he asked. Well, I asked, how long have you had your postassium sorbate? "About six years," he said. Bingo!

Potassium sorbate has a reasonably short shelf life (6-8 months) and after a year is about half-strength. I only discovered this myself when I stabilized a couple of wines one year, sweetened them, and they began a very active fermentation just as I was going to bottle them. I called the company who made the stuff and found out the story. As long as it is vacuum sealed in a bottle, it is potent. As soon as you open the jar it starts declining. Most people don't buy sorbate in a jar, but rather buy a 1 or 2-ounce supply in a little ZipLoc bag. The shop owner bought it in a jar and opened it to fill those little bags. You have no idea when he did that because he didn't (and won't) date the bag. It might be four months old when it's sold.

I buy my sorbate in jars. The smallest amount I can buy in a jar is 55 grams. I buy 4-6 jars at a time. I never open one unless I have several carboys and several gallon jugs of wine to treat--the reason should be obvious. I date the jar when I break the seal and I throw it out 3/4 full six months later. If I don't do this, I won't be stabilizing my wine. I've tried using more to make up for the deterioration, but there is a level at which you can taste it and wish you couldn't.

Potassium metabisulfite and Campden tablets should optimally be replaced every year, but every other year is probably safe if you measure your free SO2 and compensate for the lower numbers. They do lose potency, but not as badly as K sorbate. But, if you got a good deal on Campden in 1992, bought a bottle of 1000 and still have 920 left, forget it. The stuff is cheap. Buy a new suppy every year or two.

I have both liquid and powdered pectic enzyme. Between the two, I personally think the liquid does a faster, better job of what I am using it for. But, and this is important, it costs significantly more than powdered and loses 20% of its strength each year at room temperature. Stored in a refrigerator, it still declines 5% a year. So, I tend to use the powdered enzyme more, and when I publish a new wine recipe that calls for pectic enzyme, I almost always refer to the powdered form.

If you use Exberry Grape Skin Extract to add color to your reds, just be aware that it should be stored at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees C.). It has a shelf life of about a year when so stored, but that declines rapidly the warmer it is stored.

  • Getting Started, some hints for winemakers and how to use winemaking recipes

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