What the heck is a Blog?

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

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

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

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Some Other Wine Blogs

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

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

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

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

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

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

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

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

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

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

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

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

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

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

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

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

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

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

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

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

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

WineBlog Archives

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

January 13, 2004

I received many emails over the holidays, while I was in California, wishing me and my family a joyous season and prosperous new year. I appreciate those sentiments and echo them to all of you. The death of my wife's father took some of the joy out of the holidays, but a loving family and the company of good friends did much to alleviate what otherwise could have been a somber season. Again, thank you all.

Many, many winemaking emails also awaited my return. I apologize that I will not be able to respond to all of them. The next two months will be, as it is every year, the busiest of the year for me. Still, I answer what I can.

Unknown Grapes

A recent email explained that the writer had been given several gallons of steam-extracted grape juice with which to make wine. He did not know what kind of grapes the juice was from and did not know how to approach the task. However, he thought the grapes were a Concord-Beta 2 hybrid.

I too have received both juice and grapes of unknown origin. Making wine from them is not the difficult part. Knowing what to expect from the wine is the hard part. I have a 5-gallon carboy of "mystery wine" that is just over three years old and still too tannic to enjoy. I will bulk age it until the tannins soften just a bit and then bottle it. It may require and additional year (or a few) in the bottle before it "arrives," but I have no doubt it will be a good wine when it's ready.

Allowing for the unknowns, what follows in my advice on making wine from "mystery grapes."

Making Wine from Unknown Grapes

Take 4-1/2 gallons of the juice, measure the specific gravity, and bump it up to 1.088 with simple sugar syrup made with two parts sugar and one part boiling water. Assuming the grapes really are a Concord hybrid, this should increase the volume to just under five gallons.

Add five teaspoons of powdered pectic enzyme (if you have liquid pectic enzyme, follow its directions for treating five gallons). Transfer the juice to a six-gallon carboy and pitch an activated yeast starter. When vigorous fermentation peaks begins to slow, transfer the wine to a five-gallon carboy and slap on an airlock.

Wait two weeks, stir in 1/4 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite and top up the carboy. Wait another two weeks and rack. Wait another month and rack again. If wine is fairly clear at this time, stabilize with potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite. If not clear, wait another month and rack again, then stabilize. Sweeten wine to taste and keep under airlock another month. Rack again and if any lees were deposited set aside three months, rack, and bottle after additional month. If no lees were present, set aside two months and then rack into bottles.

Wait at least two months after bottling to taste, but longer aging might be necessary. The old saying -- "Serve no wine before its time" -- means just what it says.

The importance of holding newly bottled wine for two months before tasting cannot be understated. All wines undergo "bottle shock" after bottling and need time to recover their zest. A newly bottled wine will taste flat and lifeless, but will regain its vibrancy after a few weeks. I use two months as a rule of thumb because it is sufficient for perhaps 95% of all wines.

I have no doubt the above instructions will produce an adequate wine. One can "tweak" these instructions by also measuring both acidity and pH initially and adjusting the juice accordingly, but unless the grapes are wild natives they probably will not have and unacceptable TA or pH.

January 28, 2004

Achieving balance in a wine is what we all strive for. The flavor may not be as intense as we would like, the color might not be perfect, but if the wine is balanced it will speak for itself, even if a bit delicately or lightly.

Fixing a wine that is just not right is an essential challenge in winemaking, if for no other reason than wines do not always turn out the way we'd like them to when the wine clears.

If a wine's acidity is out of whack, it simply will not taste right. If the acid is too little, the wine will taste flat, lifeless and insipid. It can be enlivened by adding acid and hopefully brought into balance. But if it is too acidic, we have an altogether different problem. Intervention might be light or severe, depending on the severity of the problem.

Reducing Acidity

If the wine contains any considerate amount of both malic and tartaric acids, there are two easy things we can do. The first is to introduce a malolactic fermentation to convert some of the malic acid in the wine into less harsh lactic acid. The only way to be sure you have a malolactic fermentation is to inoculate the wine with a malolactic bacteria culture, available at most homebrew/winemaking supply shops. It is also essential that the wine not be heavily sulfited when the culture is introduced. A sulfur dioxide test kit should be used to ensure the wine has no more than 20 ppm of free (unbound) sulfur dioxide. If too much, one should aerate the wine just enough to reduce it. Sulfur dioxide is a gas, and as such can be forced to dissipate.

Malolactic fermentation typically will not reduce total acidity more than 0.05 to 0.08 percent, but it softens the overall harshness of the acidity considerably. But if the wine is still too acidic and contains tartaric acid--either because it is made from grapes or because we added acid blend to a non-grape base--we can chill the wine down to 35 degrees F. (2 degrees C.) for about two weeks. Excess potassium and tartaric acid will combine as potassium bitartrate crystals and precipitate to the bottom of the wine. We can speed this up by stirring into the wine about 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar per gallon of wine. After two weeks, the wine should be racked off the crystals.

We can also remove tartaric acid chemically by mixing calcium carbonate into the wine, which removes tartrate anions and leaves carbonic acid. The latter dissipates over time as carbon dioxide and water. Treat perhaps 1/4 of the wine and then stir the treated wine back into the batch. Allow the wine to set at least 48 hours before taste testing, as the carbon dioxide produced during treatment will greatly affect the taste.

Or, we can add potassium bicarbonate in a similar manner to the wine, which leaves potassium bitartrate, carbon dioxide and water. The wine is then chilled to precipitate the potassium bitartrate (as described above) and then degassed or set aside to dissipate the carbon dioxide naturally.

In extreme cases, we might have to do all of these things to correct a severe acidity problem. But there is one more thing we can do that doesn't involve bacterial or chemical intervention. We can blend the wine with an acid deficient wine (that flat, lifeless, insipid wine we mentioned earlier) to achieve better balance. Blending should always be done first with small samples to establish the desired ratio of the two (or more) wines to be blended.

February 2, 2004

I received an email similar to many others I've received in the past. It went somthing like this:

"I have been having trouble getting my wine fermentation started. I have a crock as a primary. I use one camden tablet, waited 12 hours and then pitched the yeast. Nothing happened. It's peach wine. After 3 more days I pitched it again and this time it worked."

About Wine Yeast

Yeast, even active dry yeast cultures, are living organisms. They live within certain temperature ranges. While in their dried state, they can tolerate cold better than heat.

Years ago yeast were always shipped by refrigerated freight. This assured the person ordering the yeast that they would arrive alive and healthy. About 20 years ago that started to change. Stores began managing their inventories more tightly and this led to the practice of telephone ordering when inventories of certain items dropped too low. Today that is done increasingly by internet or email ordering, but the result is the same. Just enough of a product are ordered to satisfy the inventory needs of the merchant. Small parcels of yeast are mailed and arrive in a few days cheaply, whereas refrigerated shipments might take a week or more and are expensive in comparison. Customers usually don't know this and don't care, as long as the yeast is cheap.

The problem occurs in the summer, when small shipments are handled as mail instead of freight. Mail trucks are not refrigerated. The temperature in a metal truck can reach 120-140 degrees F. on hot summer days. A mail bag or shipping container sitting on the tarmac at an airport, waiting for a plane to carry it, can get super-heated from the asphalt and the sun and reach 110-120 degrees F. Most wine yeast strains die at around 104-108 degrees F.

Then there are folks who go in and buy yeast, throw the bag in the back seat or trunk, and make several other stops on the way home. The yeast sits in a sweltering car while the person does other things and the result is the same. The yeast cooks on the way home.

Most yeast that don't start right away are dead or at least a good portion of their population is dead. Heat is what kills most of them. Age kills another portion. Yeast do not live forever. Packets of yeast bought last year may have been sitting in the store another year before being purchased. A two-year old yeast colony is not necessarily weak, but it might be--especially if the yeast were shipped to the store in the summer. If 90% of the colony is dead, it will take a day for the colony to build up to what it should have been to begin with and another day or two to build up to what is actually needed to do the job you want it to do.

Using Wine Yeast

Store your yeast in the refrigerator until needed. When you know you are going to use a yeast, take it out and let it warm to room temperature before opening it. Then make a yeast starter several hours before you actually need to pitch it. With a starter, you will know within a half hour if the yeast you are using is still viable. You will also allow the yeast time to propagate--doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling in number--before pitching, thereby ensuing a faster start. I like to make a starter at least 6-8 hours before actually needing it.

When adding a starter, hold a spoon just above the surface of the must. Pour the starter into the spoon so it overflows into the must. The spoon breaks the fall of the yeast and deposits it onto the surface, where it gets plenty of oxygen. Do not stir it into the must. When the surface of the must shows clear evidence of fermentation (about 3-6 hours), stir the yeast in very shallowly--just an inch or so deep. After another 4-6 hours, stir it deeply. If there is a serious imbalance in the must itself, you will know it within a couple of hours instead of days.

February 10, 2004

A long-time corresponding winemaker from India recently made wine with Reliance grapes. He used a food processer to pulp the grapes and asked me why I don't recommend this method.

Reliance is a seedless variety brought out by the University of Arkansas. Its parents are Vitis Labrusca hybrid Ontario x Suffolk Red. It is arguably one of the finest quality seedless grapes anywhere and I was pleased to hear they are available in quantity in India. There is nothing wrong with using a food processor to puree seedless fruit like Reliance grapes. Using it with seeded grapes or fruit such as apples, pears, persimmons, pomegranate, etc. will produce very astringent wines because of the compounds in the seeds leaching into the wines. In some cases (apples and pears) the wine can even become slightly toxic from arsenic in the seeds.

Just be careful if you use a food processor, mixer or other electric appliance to pulp or puree fruit for wines. If there are seeds that can be broken up by the device, bite into one of the seeds yourself and taste the result. If unpleasant, think of it in your wine. If not, then you should still do a search to see if the seeds contain toxins. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Stopping Fermentation

Another winemaker wrote me that he wanted a sweeter wine than his yeast were leaving him, so when a muscadine's specific gravity dropped to 1.030 and had the taste he wanted, he plunged it in a pan of water and brought the water's temperature up to 115 degrees F. This killed the yeast and the wine cleared quickly thereafter, but many months later he tasted the wine and it seems to have changed taste. He said it was drier than he recalled it being -- the sweetness he was after was gone.

It is difficult to determine exactly what is wrong with a wine you didn't make and have never seen or tasted. Still, there are two probable causes for the taste described.

It is possible that the problem is one of balance. This is not unusual. There are several things that can contribute to this, but the main one is acid. By arresting the fermentation before it was finished, the alcohol level is considerably low -- okay for a delicate wine like rose petal or honeysuckle, but wrong for a grape wine like muscadine. This makes the acidity of the wine stand out -- there is very little alcohol to counter and compliment it. This throws the balance off considerably and the wine does not taste right. It may not "taste" overly acidic and probably isn't for a 12 or 13% alcohol wine, but this wine is probably less than 9% alcohol and the acid was probably right for 12-13%.

For the record, his method of stopping fermentation is a legitimate one, but one fraught with dangers. No commercial winery I know of does it that way, and for good reason. Heating the wine with that much residual sugar in it, even without an acidity imbalance, accelerates many chemical changes that occur in wine after it is bottled. The most notable of these is the tendency of the sugar to taste "cooked." This is the taste of sherry or Madeira and in both cases the residual sugar does not taste sweet even though it is there.

A better way to stop the fermentation is to chill the wine down to around 30 degrees F. for 2-3 weeks.

Whenever we intend to stop a fermentation prematurely, we need to make sure the alcohol is right for the wine being made. If our starting specific gravity is 1.090 (about perfect for making a 12% alcohol wine) and we stop it at 1.030, the actual alcohol level of the wine is only 8% -- dangerously low. In fact, such a wine might need to be refrigerated to prevent it from spoiling. In the case just reviewed, there were two ways to improve the alcohol imbalance. One is to add alcohol to the wine to ensure it is self-preserving. The other is to wait until the specific gravity is down to 1.030 and add 11 ounces of sugar per gallon of wine. When it ferments back down to 1.030, it will be a 12% alcohol wine with a lot of sugar left in it. A third option is to start the fermentation at a specific gravity of 1.120, but that is dangerously high and some yeasts simply will not start at that gravity.

As for me, when I want a sweet wine I start at a specific gravity of 1.090 to 1.095, ferment to absolute dryness, stabilize the wine, age it a couple of months, add sugar back (as simple syrup), and age it another month or two before bottling. That is the safe thing to do. It also allows the wine time to settle, degasse itself, and assimilate the sugar (it often does taste different after the sugar has been in there a month or two).

February 22, 2004

A reader noted conflicting instructions on different web sites and asked me three questions. I thought I'd share my answers with you.

Q1: For primary fermentation some sites say cover, cover with plastic wrap, or even cover and use an air trap. Are there major differences?

A: The idea is to cover the wine so dust, germs and fruit flies can't get in, while at the same time allowing the must as much exposure to oxygen the first few (3-4) days as possible. Yeast need oxygen to reproduces, and that's exactly what you want them to do for the first day or two. After that, oxygen exposure is not desired. However, one by-product of fermentation is CO2 gas, and a blanket of CO2 will form that will keep out the oxygen except when you stir or knock down the cap. I cover mine with muslin cloth for 3-4 days so it can breathe, then with a plastic sheet or plastic lid.

Q2: Some sites say remove the fruit and rack after 5 days. Many sites say wait till the S.G. gets to 1.030 before you rack. Some even say wait "till completion", whatever that means. Are there major differences in outcome?

A: This is a matter of what you are comfortable with. The usual "strain fruit after 5-7 days" is a rule of thumb for people who make wine by recipes but really don't want to pay that much attention to what is going on. The "strain when S.G. drops to 1.010-1.030" is for people who are more involved in the process. "Wait 'til completion" is for people who really should be buying their wine, as they aren't involved in making it at all.

Q3: I've seen the 1.030 number mentioned on several sites. What is magical about 1.030?

A: Actually, there is nothing magic about 1.030 or 1.020, or 1.010 for that matter. This is simply the specific gravity range in which the vigorous fermentation begins to subside. From this point (vigor subsides) on, the wine will be vulnerable to oxygen exposure, so this is a good time to strain out the skin, pulp and pits and transfer the liquid to a carboy where it can be capped with an airlock. It is also a good time to sulfite the wine if you did not do so initially.

Pruning Time

For those of us growing our own grapes, this is -- or soon will be -- time to prune back the vines. Here in south Texas the buds on most varieties are already prominent, indicating the time is at hand.

For those who have never pruned before, cutting away 12-20 feet of growth per lateral and just leaving three buds per spur seems awfully severe. If you only get two or three clusters per new shoot, leaving additional buds could double the yield. Why not leave six or eight buds and get that many more clusters this year?

Some of my vines had 20-30 laterals last year. Through prunning, I have reduced those to three spurs on each cordon with two to three buds per spur. Experience indicates I will still have more growth than I want, so I will be pruning again from May through harvest time. If I don't, I'll be overrun with new growth. It would be far, far worse if I left all those extra buds on the spurs.

Prunning makes the vines more productive on a per cluster basis. If you have too many clusters, the vine may not be able to support them and they will set few berries, or the berries will ripen unevenly or not really ripen at all. Remove most of the buds and the vine only has to feed a fraction of the potential new growth. Chusters will be larger, berries will be better quality, and growth will not get out of hand as easily.

March 5, 2004

A number of readers have recently asked how much of a 5-gram sachet of wine yeast they need to use to get a good fermentation in a 1-gallon batch of must. The answer is all of it.

A good fermentation is one in which an adequate population of healthy yeast receives adequate nutrition at an appropriate pH and temperature to metabolize sugar until it is all consumed. It goes without saying that eliminating growth inhibitors is as important as providing optimum growth factors. To theses ends, there are several variables we can and should control.

Positive Yeast Growth Factors

According to George Clayton Cone of Lallemand, makers of the Lalvin line of wine yeast, the initial population of yeast should be large enough to quickly overwhelm any indigenous yeast and micro-organisms that may have incidentally found their way into the must. The mature population should be at least 15 million yeast sells per milliliter and should be attained within 48-72 hours of inoculation. To attain this density, rehydrate in a starter solution at the rate of one sachet of yeast per 1-3-gallon batch, two sachets per 4-6-gallon batch, regardless of what the instructions say.

Yeast need oxygen during the first 48-72 hours after rehydration (the growth phase) and fermentable nitrogen along with other nutrients thereafter. A wide-mouthed primary covered with muslin, coupled with must-stirring twice a day after fermentation is evident, will ensure an adequate amount of oxygen and keep the yeast in suspension. DAP, a major component of most yeast nutrient formulations, is a good source of fermentable nitrogen. Yeast nutrient should also contain vitamins, trace minerals, amino acids, and yeast "ghosts" (dead yeast cell walls). Fermaid® is currently my nutrient of choice.

One should try to maintain a pH as high above 3.1 as the wine style you are seeking will permit, but not higher than 3.6. While this seems like a narrow range, it really is not. If the pH is higher than 3.6, add sufficient acid to bring it to this number. If the pH is below 3.1, increase the amount of yeast initially rehydrated and added to the must. I would add an additional sachet for batches up to 14 gallons in volume, two sachets for batches of 15-29 gallons, and so on. Good wine yeast strains are inexpensive, so use enough to get the job done properly.

Yeast create carbon dioxide as a byproduct of alcohol fermentation. Most of that CO2 escapes the wine, but some of it dissolves into the wine itself, especially under airlock when the vigorous phase of fermentation is past. Make sure the must/wine has sufficient sulfite to protect it from absorbing oxygen and stir the wine with a wood, plastic or glass dowel sufficiently hard to cause cavitation. If the wine is saturated with CO2 it will release thousands of tiny bubbles. If it does, continue degassing the wine. Then measure the sulfur dioxide (SO2) level of the wine and add more if needed, as degassing releases both gases. On the other hand, if you stir the wine vigorously and thousands of tiny bubbles are not released, the wine is not overly saturated with CO2 and you can simply reattach the airlock.

If you cold settle your juice prior to fermentation, as one should for Blanc du Bois for example, you should increase the amount of yeast initially rehydrated and added to the must just as you would for excessively low pH -- an additional sachet for batches up to 14 gallons in volume, etc. If you will be conducting a cold fermentation, increase the amount of yeast similarly.

Yeast Growth Inhibitors

Both low pH and carbon dioxide saturation are yeast growth inhibitors already discussed. Temperature extremes also inhibit yeast growth, but the actual extremes vary among yeast strains. My website page on yeast strains identifies the temperature ranges for a number of the yeast listed.

Reconstituted grape or fruit concentrates can inhibit fermentation. The act of concentration removes assimilable nitrogen by as much as 90%, a deficiency which must be corrected. Concentrates used in winemaking kits do not usually experience this problem because the manufacturer usually adds fermentable nitrogen to the must, but if a kit must ferments sluggishly you may try adding DAP (2/3 teaspoon per gallon) or Fermaid® (3/4 teaspoon per gallon). For other grape, fruit or berry concentrates, add yeast nutrient or Fermaid® at 1 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.

Kit manufacturers have conditioned thousands of winemakers into adding Bentonite or kieselsol to musts before commencing fermentation. On its face this is generally a bad idea, as these agents remove both protein and assimilable nitrogen from the must. However, by adjusting (increasing) the nutrients added you can negate the harmful effects of adding these fining agents early.

I am fond of saying that the yeast do most of the work of making wine. While this is true, it is equally true that the yeast must be healthy to accomplish this miracle. Attend to your yeast properly, feed them well, and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

March 12, 2004

Two good questions reached me this week. One had to do with fermenting wine. The other had to do with grape cuttings.

Milky Must
milky must

The writer is making wine from canned peaches. He writes, "Fermentation has been going strong for about 3 weeks, now. I checked in on my carboy and found that it's still VERY milky. Pics from 2 weeks ago aren't any different from now."

My reply is short and succinct. The "milkiness" is from the yeast. All vigorous fermentations look like or similar to this. Both the density of the yeast and the tiny (microscopic) CO2 bubbles in the must make it appear opaque rather than transparent. When it stops fermenting and the yeast fall to the bottom and the CO2 all rises to the top, the wine will "fall clear" starting at the top. Be patient....

Cuttings From Wild Grape Vines

The second email asks if I could... "take time to offer your opinions how to use cuttings of select wild grapes."

One must decide what one wants the vines for. If for use of the grapes (for eating, jam and jelly or wine), then you need to carefully select the vines out there that produce the best fruit for your use. Look for vines producing larger clusters, larger berries, more clusters per lateral, sweeter berries, etc. and mark those vines. It is not good enough to mark the site. You have to mark the actual vines because when you take cuttings (in January or February) all the vines will be bare and you won't be able to tell which ones had the best fruit. Be sure to mark and take cuttings only from female plants, as the males will never bear fruit. If you want the vines as rootstock to graft V. Vinifera onto, select the most vigorous growers in soil like your own. Again, mark the vines, and either male or female will do. If you haven't done this, you'll have to wait another year to harvest cuttings.

Wild vines can put out more growth than new roots can support. Make your cuttings tight, with three nodes only. Snip the two lower buds off, cutting down through all layers of bark when you do so. Callus the cuttings for at least three weeks in moist (but not "wet" soil, sand, vermiculite, etc.) media when the soil has warmed to 72 degrees. It takes that long at that temperature to grow callus where you snipped off the buds. If a thick callus has not formed in three weeks, leave another week only. Dig up the cuttings from the callusing media and plant, leaving only one bud above ground. I water with a rooting promoter for the first week.

If the cuttings try to send out two laterals from the single node (bud), cut one off.

Do not expect much the first year, although if you get good growth so much the better but pinch off the growing tips at two feet. What you really want is good roots, not growth, but you will not be able to check this.

If the new growth tries to put out flowers the first year, snip them off. You do not, under any circumstances, want fruit the first year.

Callus in a callusing box or bin, but plant directly into the ground where you want the vines to be. If you only have room for 5-10 vines, put two cuttings 6 inches apart at each growing site. If both take, get rid of the weakest one. Also plant a few cuttings in pots or plant bands, as all of the cuttings will not take. In fact, some species (like V. Mustangensis) are extremely difficult to root from cuttings, but easy to propagate by layering (an altogether different process you can start this spring if you know which vines to work with). Leave potted plants in the pots until next winter just before spring arrives, then transplant into the ground.

You can use a heating pad or belt to warm up the callusing box or bin, but if you do make sure you can regulate the temperature at 72-75 degrees or use an in-ground thermometer to help regulate the heat.

March 30, 2004

Too much is going on these days to keep up with. It isn't made easier with my wife out of town, my home computer down, and problems with my phone line, but one must cope.

I hosted a meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild at our home recently. It was one of the best meetings we've had in a while -- not because it was at our house but because everyone was so darned nice. It must be the fine weather, the buds breaking in the vineyard, and the wildflowers in bloom (phlox, bluebonnets and Indian paint brush adorn my back acre). Our program at this meeting was about port wine. John Breitler of Adkins, Texas gave a presentation on the history and making of port, shared two really great ports with us, and his own recipe for making this delicious repast.

Making Port

There are essentially three ways to make port. The "classic way" (read "commercial") is to ferment a wine to a given point where 3-6% of the residual sugar remains unfermented and then stop the fermentation by adding a quantity of spirit sufficient to bring the alcohol level up to a desired endpoint -- 18-20%, for example. Brandy is the usual spirit of choice, but there is another option I will discuss later. The "traditional" way (read "mom and pop operation") is to use a high alcohol port yeast to actually ferment the wine to the target endpoint. Port yeasts are quite capable of fermenting up to 20%, even 22%, alcohol by volume. The fermented wine is then stabilized and sweetened as desired. The third way ("freezer assisted method") is to make a finished wine of, say, 14% alcohol, bring it down to 28-30° F., and remove ice as it forms until the remaining wine has the alcohol endpoint desired. Water will freeze at at temperature, but alcohol will not. As ice (frozen water) is removed, the alcohol remains and the percentage of alcohol by volume increases.

The variation of the "classic way" I mentioned is actually a variation of the freezer assisted method also mentioned. A must is fermented to 10% alcohol by volume. Half of it is then placed in open containers with sufficient headroom to allow for expansion caused by ice formation. The containers are placed in a freezer at 28-30° F. and closely monitored. Ice will form from the outside inward. Eventually, the water in the wine will pretty much all freeze, leaving a core of slushy alcohol and concentrated flavor in the middle of the container. At this point the container is removed, capped with a strainer, and turned upside down over a bowl. The concentrated alcohol and flavor drains out and the ice is discarded. The concentrate is then added to the remaining half of the wine, doubling its alcohol level from 10% to 20%. I think of this as freezer distilling.

In the United States, there are severe restrictions against fortifying wines at home. I am not familiar with the revelvant laws of most states, but I do know that in Texas homemade wine may not be distilled, fortified, or otherwise altered to increase its alcohol content. Be aware of the laws in your state before making port wine. Thus, the laws of Texas only allow one kind of port winemaking, and that is through fermentation -- start to finish. The English market many high alcohol and port wine yeast strains, but there are few strains widely available in the United States and Canada. Most notable of those available in the U.S. and Canada are Lalvin EC-1118 (Prise de Mousse), Lalvin K1-V1116 (Montpellier), Wyeast 3347 Eau de Vie - (Water of Life), and White Labs WLP740 (Merlot Red Wine).

Blueberry-Elderberry Port
  • 6 lb. blueberries
  • 6 oz. dried elderberries
  • 1 cup red grape concentrate
  • 1/2 cup light dry malt
  • 3-1/2 lb. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 1-1/2 tsp. acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp. USP glycerin
  • 1/2 tsp. yeast nutrients
  • 1/4 tsp. yeast energizer
  • 4 pt. water
  • crushed Campden tablet
  • port wine yeast

Wash and crush blueberries in nylon straining bag and strain juice into primary. Add dried elderberries to bag, tie closed and place in primary. Stir in half the sugar and all other ingredients except yeast, glycerin, and red grape concentrate. Stir well to dissolve sugar, cover, and set aside for 12-14 hours. Add yeast, cover, and daily stir ingredients and press pulp in nylon bag to extract flavor. When specific gravity is 1.010 (about 7-8 days), strain juice from bag into primary but do not squeeze. Discard fruit pulp, transfer wine to secondary (leaving 3-4 inches of ullage (head space) and add 1/4 remaining sugar. Stir well to dissolve and attack an airlock. When s.g. again drops to 1.010, add 1/3 remaining sugar and again stir well to dissolve. Re-fit airlock and wait for s.g. to again drop to 1.010. Add half the remaining sugar, stir well, re-fit airlock, and wait for s.g. to drop to 1.010 one last time. Add remaining sugar, stir well, re-fit airlock, and let ferment to dryness or until fermentation arrests. Stabilize and rack in three weeks, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again in two months, leaving 3 inches of ullage before re-fitting airlock. When wine is clear and stable, add red grape concentrate and glycerin. Let wine rest 10 days, rack again and bottle. Allow at least a year to improve, but 3-5 years to truly mature. [Author's own recipe]

April 19, 2004

The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild held its spring home wine competition yesterday. Some really excellent wines were entered and many wines that did not place may well have placed on another day. There was consolation in knowing the competition was so tough.

A question arose among some of the judges, more of a curiosity than anything else. Several pear wines were entered in the Fruit Wines Dry and Fruit Wines Sweet categories. It turns out that all but one were made from Kieffer Pears (Pyrus communis x Pyrus pyrifolia). This is the pear that most people refer to as the canning pear. It has long, large, greenish-yellow to golden fruit with a crimson blush that have crisp, juicy, coarse textured, white flesh with a slightly musky aroma. The fruit generally drop after an early frost, while still hard, and can be stored in a cool place until ripe. Wines made from these pears were either straw blonde or light lavender (I jokingly called them "amethyst wines"). The discussions centered around the varience in color.

One theory advanced was that the lavender color derived from the crimson in the skin. When I have made this wine (we used to have two very productive trees) it always came out straw, regardless of the anount of color in the skins. A second theory is that the color derives from stems and seeds scattered throughout the must. I never noticed any similar color in my pear wines, and I often had stems and seeds in the must. The third theory discussed is that trace minerals in the soils or underlying rock are responsible for the lavender coloration. I don't know if this is true or not, but I do know the lavender color seems quite common. A fourth theory came to me as I recalled the beautiful lavender tint in my memory. Iron implements can impart a purplish tint to white wines. But it seems unlikely to me that three winemakers would all use iron implements in making a pear wine and not use such implements when making peach, apricot and citrus wines. If anyone has anything to add to this discussion, please feel free to send it my way.

My interests in the color variences are three-fold. First, I am simply curious to know the why of it. Mysteries should be solved and this is a mystery. Secondly, one needs to know the natural color range if one is to judge the wine fairly. I would hate to deny someone a point or two for an "off-color" when it appears to be a natural occurance. And thirdly, I am interested in similar off-colors and what might cause them. Just this morning, for example, I received an email describing an apple wine that started off yellow but then took on a reddish tint as it finished its fermentation. I do recall an apple wine once taking on a very slight pink, but then the wine stabilized and the color fell out with the lees. I attributed it to a yeast coloration. I've never known an apple wine to pick up color from the skins.

Making Pear Wine

The best pears for pear wine are Beurre Hardy (French Butter Pear, slightly astringent), Clara-Frijs (Danish, exceptionally sweet), Colette (aromatic, spicy), Doyenne Gris (spicy, buttery), Flemish Beauty (sweet, aromatic, musky), Garber (best for perry), Mericourt (sweet, buttery, sprightly flavor), Rousselet de Reims (extremely sweet, spicy or musky), Seckel (Honey Pear or Sugar Pear, spiocy, aromatic, rich flavor), Sucre de Montlucon (buttery, acidulous, delicately perfumed), Warren's Monterrey (spritely, tart flavor), and Winter Nelis (delicious, aromatic, sweet). But, if you have a Bartlett, Comice, Bell, Duchess, Highland, Kieffer, or Warren, you are not automatically assigned a seat in the back of the bus. They all make very good wine, although it can be somewhat herbaceous in flavor if the pears are not ripe enough.

Here is my favorite pear wine recipe:

Pear Wine
  • 4-6 lbs ripe Beurre Hardy (or other sweet) pears
  • 1/2 lb chopped golden raisins
  • 1-1/2 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 3 quarts water
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 2 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1/4 tep potassium sorbate
  • 1-1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet Champagne or Hock yeast

Boil the water and dissolve the sugar. Wash, destem and core the pears, being sure to remove all seeds. Chop roughly and put in nylon straining bag with chopped raisins. Tie bag and put in primary. Mash pears and pour boiling water over crushed pulp. Add one crushed Campden tablet, acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Wait 10 hours and add pectic enzyme. Wait another 10 hours and add yeast. Cover with sanitized muslin. Stir daily, squeezing nylon bag gently to extract flavor. After 7 days, remove bag and let drip drain one hour. Do not squeeze. Return drained juice to primary and allow to settle 24 hours. Siphon into glass secondary, fit airlock, and set aside. Rack after two weeks, top up, and refit airlock. Rack again every two months until wine clears. Rack again, stabilize with potassium sorbate and crushed Campden tablet, wait 3 weeks, and add 1/8 to 1/4 pound sugar (depending on your taste) dissolved in 1/8 cup water. Bottle and age 6-12 months before tasting. Serve chilled. [Author's own recipe]

April 23, 2004

A reader named Doug wrote and asked how I did in the SARWG Spring Competition (see entry for April 19, 2004). My wines placed 1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, no place, and no place. The placed wines are listed on SARWG's web site (see first link in this and previous entry). The two wines that did not place were a white Marula wine (entered in Fruit Sweet) and a red grape wine of undetermined identity (entered in Red Grape Dry).

For those who do not know what Marula is (there are probably a few of you), it is the fruit of a tree that grows in Africa. Fallen fruit begin fermenting quite rapidly and are especially prized by elephants and baboons. That this wine did not place was especially disappointing as it has a very good (although novel) flavor and is well balanced. But, as I said in my previous entry, there were some excellent wines entered and one cannot complain when beaten by superb wines. The red grape wine I entered was perhaps a different matter. It simply may not have been as good as I thought.

The mustang grape wine that won best of category for Native Grape Dry was made from a very late harvested grape. Greg Howard of Tecumseh, Oklahoma (formerly of Pleasanton, Texas) has told me for years that his Best of Show mustang wines were made from partially raisined grapes. Very few mustangs hang long enough to become raisins and I had never found enough to make even a gallon of wine.

Last year I harvested mustangs at the end of June, middle of July, end of July, and middle of August. By the end of August, very few grapes were left on the vines and I stopped looking. In early November my wife and I were driving the backroads and happened upon a fencerow overgrown with mustangs. To my surprise, there were many grapes still hanging. I returned and harvested them all, then spent the better part of the day looking for more. When all was said and done I had enough to make one gallon of wine. When I bottled this wine in February, it tasted so good I decided to enter it in April even though it was decidedly young. God bless you, Greg, for your advice, for thew late hangers do indeed make a much smoother wine.

I will not go into making the wine here because the next issue of WineMaker magazine will feature my article entitled Taming the Wild Mustang. If you don't yet subscribe to the magazine, go to my home page, scroll down just past the halfway mark and click on Wine maker's banner ad to subscribe to it. The upcoming (June-July) issue will focus on country wines, with articles on raspberry wine (by Alexis Hartung), fruit port (by Joe O'Niell) and root wine (by Sylvia Kent) planned. I assume all will come through. At the very least, my article on mustang grape wines will be there.

Measuring Sugar in Must

One distressed reader recently asked the best way to measure total sugar in a must. He rightly pointed out that adding two pounds of sugar to a must would, in itself, produce an ample alcohol content for a table wine. So, he asked, what about the natural sugar locked in the berries or fruit? How is this accounted for?

In truth there are natural sugars locked in most musts. Even flower wines benefit from a small amount of natural sugar in the flower petals. Before we get into accounting for this sugar, let me say that my recipes usually assume you will rack 3-4 times, losing some volume each time and then topping up with water to replace the lost volume. The wine lost in the lees, coupled with the water used to top up, will dilute the alcohol content to a 12-13% range. If you top up with a finished wine of the same or similar type, your finished wine could sport 15-16% alcohol. If you intend to do this, it is best to accurately measure the total natural sugar and reduce the amount you add so as to finish at an acceptable level of alcohol.

There is more sugar in fruit and berries than in most vegetables, roots, stems and flower petals. Exceptions abound -- sweet corn, sugar beets, sugar cane, and cactus flowers all come to mind. Let's ignore the exceptions here (their recipes will speak to them) and concentrate on the fruits and berries most country wines are made from. Wash, peel, destone, and cut up as required. Then mash the pulp, either freely or captured in a nylon straining bag. Take the total amount of water the recipe calls for and subtract from it one cup for each pound of sugar called for in the recipe. In other words, if the recipe calls for 7 pints of water and 2 pounds of sugar, subtract 2 cups of water (one cup for each pound of sugar) for an adjusted amount of 6 pints. Add that to the mashed fruit or berries in a primary and stir into it a crushed Campden tablet. Cover the primary and wait 8-10 hours. Then add the amount of pectic enzyme called for in the recipe and stir well. Cover the primary and wait 10-12 hours. Then stir the must or gently squeeze and resqueeze the nylon straining bag to get the extracted juices mixed thoroughly through the must. Strain enough liquid from the must to fill your hydrometer's test cylinder. Measure the specific gravity and, using a hydrometer table, calculate the amount of sugar you need to add to reach a desired level of alcohol. Remember, if you top up with water you need to add enough sugar to allow a 2-3% dilution. Add the remaining ingredients as called for.

I am aware that many recipes, including some of my own, list the water requirement as "Water to make up one gallon." Many fruit vary dramatically in size and juice. I think we have all bitten into a peach that sent a river of juice running down our chins, while other peaches were so firm as to be almost juiceless. It is difficult to judge the amount of water you might need when bases vary so much. Where possible, I try to measure the water exactly, but realize the fruit you use may vary considerably from mine.

May 14, 2004

My last blog entry prodded one fellow (Steve...) to write me six times begging for a copy of my upcoming WineMaker article on mustang grapes and wine. He'll just have to wait, like everyone else, but he did get me to send him an unpublished recipe for mustang grape wine.

I relented only because I have the recipe and wanted to share it, and because it is from Greg Howard (see blog entry of April 23rd), the best mustang wine-maker I know.

My wife asked me only yesterday when the mustangs would be ripening. She wants to make some jelly. In our area, the answer is the end of June, but most places it is later than that. For Greg's recipe, harvest them as late as you can. He actually recommends October.

Mustang Grape Wine
(makes 5 gallons)
by Greg Howard

  • 30-35 lbs destemmed grapes
  • 13 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 gal water
  • 4 Tblsp pectic enzyme
  • 5 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1-1/2 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1/4 tsp potassium metabisulfite
  • 1 packet Champaign yeast

Grapes are picked when fully ripe and shrivelling on the vine (October time-frame). Wash, destem and crush. I place the grapes in 1-gallon Zip-Loc freezer bags, in the freezer, for one month. This aids in the breakdown of the grapes from solids to liquids and I believe additional color is obtained by freezing.

Place grapes in fermentation bag in primary and add water, enzyme, nutrient, energizer, pot meta, and sugar. Use a hydrometer to fine-tune the amount of sugar required to attain a 12.5% alcohol finished wine.

After 24 hours, add your favorite yeast starter solution. Stir at least twice a day (the more the better). Check the specific gravity after a few days and, when down to 1.015 or lower remove the grapes. When specific gravity reaches 1.000, transfer all liquid to secondary.

Rack as required, allowing the pulp and yeast to drop out. (Greg: "I usually rack my wines 7 times before bottling.") Filters can be used to speed up the process, but I believe in aging the wine for one year before bottling. Also, you may add oak chips during the aging process or other additives for a different taste (orange peels, cloves). Add stabilizer to wine before bottling if you sweeten with sugar.

May 20, 2004

I have gotten good feedback on my article in WineMaker magazine, "Taming the Wild Mustang." I even was asked to autograph a few copies while visiting L & M General Store (a winemaking suppy shop) in Castroville, Texas.

In my article, I stated there are no mustang grape vineyards. An email received today informed me there is indeed a vineyard of mustang grapes -- in Cedar Park, Texas -- that also boasts a 200-year old mustang grape vine. This is one grapevine I want to see.

One interesting question asked about the article was, "Why do you always say to destem the grapes? I have whole-bunch crushed, fermented and pressed many grapes without undesirable effects." I have no doubt this lady is honestly relating her experience, but with these particular grapes you would not want to ferment the grapes on the stems. The reason has to do with balance in general and tannin in particular.

The Role of Tannin in Balance

Tannins are phenolic compounds with a bitter taste and astringent mouthfeel. In balance, tannins can help wines age and lend structure and texture to them, especially when they form complexes with anthocyanins (pigments). When we speak of a wine's balance, we should think of a balance scale with acids and tannins on one side and alcohols, sugars and glycerin on the other. Put another way, the sour and bitter tastes are on one side and the sweet tastes are on the other. The word "balance" implies a certain equalibrium should exist between these two opposing sides of the scale. Indeed, this is conceptually the case.

There is one type of tannin in all grape wines and at least two types in some. The one type common to all grape wines is condensed tannin, of which there are many. Condensed tannins are carbon-bonded compounds. The most notable of these in red wines are the leucoanthocyanins, the tannins derived from the skins, seeds and especially the stems of the grapes. The most notable other tannins found in some wines are pyrogallic tannins. These are derived from commercial tannins extracted from plants or from exposure to wood, such as oak. Thus, a red wine which has also been "oaked" will have more tannins present than the same wine not exposed to oak. Similarly, a wine fermented on the skins and stems will contain more tannins than the same wine fermented only on the skins. This is important because of one simple rule. When it comes to balance, strong tannin is acceptable only if acidity is weak.

Since mustang grapes are strong on acid to begin with, one should be careful about the tannic content of the must and resulting wine. There are far more tannins in the small stems of mustangs than there are in their rather large skins. Destemming mustang grapes is essential if you desire to drink the wine within a decade.

This discussion has spawned a couple of other thoughts about tannins. An overly tannic wine is clearly out of balance. It seems hard, harsh, rough. It has sting or bite. It is bitter, astringent. It feels confined or has narrow walls. Sweetness helps but does not hide these characteristics. The onset of bitterness is delayed by sugar, but not eliminated. Alcohol seems to prolong the disagreeable harshness of the wine's finish. An overly-tannic wine can be helped by fining with gelatin or egg white, or it can be aged. Aging polymerizes the tannin molecules, causing them to link together into long molecular chains. Over time, they gain mass and precipitate to the bottom, requiring that the wine be carefully decanted before serving. White wines can stand having more acid than reds because their tannic composition is usually so low, but in practice, they generally have less.

I recently tasted a red wine that was "big" by any standard used. The winemaker asked me what I would do with it if it were my wine. I said I would age it for five years and then see if it had mellowed any. The problem was merely one of tannin and a bit too much acid. Yes, it was a mustang wine.

Softer tannins may be encouraged in mustang by blending and even by co-fermentation with low-tannin varietals. There are many strategies for selective tannin extraction and management -- some are merely theoretical in my opinion -- and include yeast selection, cap management, fermentation temperature and duration, and fining practices. One can enhance tannin structure through micro-oxygenation, periodic macro-oxygenation and lees contact. These are not amateur winemaking techniques, however, and most are beyond my kitchen winery.

June 8, 2004

There is good news and bad news out of the University of Virginia Health System for red wine drinkers, and the old admonition, "all things in moderation," is again proving to hold more than a kernel of wisdom.

The Good News

The good news is the discovery of how resveratrol, a compound found in grape skins and therefore in most red wines, works as an anti-cancer agent. The bad news is that drinking more than an optimum amount of red wine could actually stop this affect and lead to a greater risk of cancer.

In an article in The EMBO Journal (May 2004; 10.1038) with the encrypted title of "Modulation of NF-B-dependent Transcription and Cell Survival by the SIRT1 Deacetylase," authors Fan Yeung et al. appear to solve the mystery. Scientists have known for a number of years that resveratrol acts as an anti-cancer agent, but exactly how it fights cancer has not been well understood. A University of Virginia team led by Assistant Professor of Biochemisty and Molecular Genetics Marty Mayo demonstrated that cancer cells treated with resveratrol died because they became sensitive to a compound called Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNFa). They found that resveratrol initiated a reaction in a protein, called nuclear factor- kappa B (NF-kB), that caused the cancer cells essentially to self-destruct in a process known as apoptosis.

NF-kB is found in the nucleus of all cells and activates genes responsible for cell survival. The researchers used physiologically-relevant doses of resveratrol and found "...dramatic effects on human cancer cells." While the use of NF-kB inhibitors like resveratrol has important implications for increasing the effectiveness of cancer therapy, Mayo warns that this in itself is not a cure. But it does bring medical science closer to developing one. Resveratrol has also shown to be helpful in controlling atherosclerosis, heart disease, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders. There is much more work to be done to understand it all.

The Bad News

According to the researchers, the resveratrol in one glass of wine three or four times a week is the right amount to block the protein from feeding cancer cells. As stated earlier, drinking much more than that could be counterproductive and actually lead to a greater risk of cancer. If this is correct, one or two glasses of wine with each evening meal is obviously excessive. When you make as much wine as I do, consuming wine with the evening meal is necessary just to prevent the wines from over-running the household. This could be very bad news indeed....

For those who refuse to drink wine but are taking resveratrol as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement (oh yes, it is available as such), it would appear you too are getting way too much for any anti-cancer benefit. You would be better off eating fresh grapes -- or a cup of mulberries, raspberries or peanuts (three other sources of resveratrol) -- 3-4 times a week. As for me, I intend to practice moderation, but stick to my wine.

June 16, 2004

The most requested recipe I can't provide is for chocolate wine. I really can't say how many people have asked me for this, but it has been several hundred.

I have tried fermenting chocolate shavings, chocolate syrup and chocolate drink powders. Only the powders came close to making something you might want to drink, but it sure wasn't wine.

I have been told one can ferment cocoa beans, but I don't have any and so have never done it. If someone sends me some, I will try it. Until then, I'm tired of throwing out chocolate concoctions and so I don't even try making it anymore.

People have told me they have tasted commercial chocolate wine. I have too, but the one I tasted was pretty bad. However, there is a Chocolate Orange Wine made by Shallon Winery in Astoria, Oregon that is simply out of this world, or so I've been told. If you want to pursue chocolate wine, see the first link, below.

Fruit Cocktail

Some time back I was asked if I had a recipe for fruit cocktail wine. I did not, but suggested going to my "Requested Recipes" section and adapting the recipe for Peach or Pear (Canned) Wine (see second link, below), cutting back the sugar to 1-1/2 pounds per gallon, and adjusting the water according to the amount of juice in the fruit cocktail. That's what I would do.

Indeed, that's what I did. Well, almost. I had to tweak it a bit. It turns out you can buy fruit cocktail (canned, mixed fruit) in water or in light or heavy syrup. Obviously the heavy syrup products have more sugar in them then the other two, Any sugar in the one with water is in the fruit and, if using it, I would add 2 pounds of sugar per gallon. Finally, read the label carefully. If it lists potassium sorbate, sorbate, sorbic acid, or benzoate as a preservative, keep looking. It won't ferment with any of them in the can. For fruit cocktail in heavy syrup, here's the recipe.

Fruit Cocktail Wine

  • 32 oz canned fruit cocktail in heavy syrup
  • 1-1/2 lbs granulated sugar (approximate)
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 3 qts water
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Champagne, Hock or Sauternes wine yeast

Bring water to a boil. Over a primary fermentation vessel, pour fruit into nylon straining bag. Tie bag and put in primary. Add orange juice. When water boils, remove from heat and add liquid from canned fruit. Stir in 1 lb. sugar and stir until dissolved. Pour over fruit, cover primary and allow to fully cool. Strain enough liquid to float a hydrometer and measure specific gravity. Calculate how much additional sugar to add to raise the specific gravity to 1.088-1.090. Add acid blend, tannin, yeast nutrient, and crushed Campden tablet and stir. Cover with cloth, wait 12 hours, then add pectic enzyme. Recover, wait additional 12 hours, then add activated yeast (starter). When fermentation is very active (1-2 days later), stir and push bag of fruit under. Don't worry if it floats back up. Ferment 5 days, stirring daily and pushing bag under liquid several times. Drip drain (don't squeeze) the bag and return drained juices to primary. Discard fruit. Allow liquid to settle, then rack into sanitized secondary and fit air lock. Rack after two months and again after additional two months, topping up each time. Wait one more month, add stabilizer, sweeten to taste, and wait additional month. Bottle the wine. Allow 3 months aging before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

Fruit cocktail wine is not strongly flavored. Indeed, it is quite neutral. You can add any fresh or canned fruit to it for added flavor and adjust the ingredients accordingly. You can also add banana or apricots to it for added body.

June 28, 2004

I received a request that I simply could not ignore. The requester, from Mount Vernon, Washington, writes, "My Goumi plant is full of berries this year and I thought I would make some wine. Have you made wine from these berries and do you have a recipe? I am pretty sure I could come up with something drinkable but am not sure if I will need a lot of nutrient, pectin enzyme, etc.. The goumi has some taste of alum before it is fully ripe so making sure each little berry is ripe may be important...."

Goumi (also spelled "gumi," botanically Elaeagnus multiflora) is a deciduous shrub native to Japan and China. It is a handsome landscape plant with clusters of tiny, very fragrant, fuchsia-like flowers in spring that are silvery-yellow and followed by fruit that is cherry-like in appearance (although elongated), but covered in small silver-white dots (thus the common name "Cherry Silverberry"). The fruit is pleasantly acid and juicy, though it is astringent until fully ripe, usually in July. Cooked, it makes excellent pies, tarts, jellies, etc. I have long thought it would make an excellent wine and so answered the request somewhat as follows.

Although I know the berry well (I have an aunt who has a bush), it is not available to me. Without berries to experiment with, I hesitate to even offer suggestions as to how one might make wine from them. However, I do recall the taste of the berries when ripe (yum) and unripe (ugh) and therefore will jump in anyway.

I do know that ripeness will be the key to avoid the alum taste noted earlier. I would suggest waiting until they are indeed ripe and try making a wine from them. If it were me, I would try making three batches -- one batch using 2 pounds of berries, one batch using 3 pounds, and one batch using 4 pounds.

Making Goumi Wine

Sort through and clean the berries. I don't think de-seeding is necessary, since I believe the seeds are edible but fibrous. Just cut the berries lengthwise in half (yes, this will take some time but you have to open the pulp up so the yeast can get to it), place them in a nylon straining bag, tie it closed, and place it in a primary.

For the 2-lb batch, boil 7 pints of water. Pour 2 pounds of sugar in the primary and then the boiling water. Stir to dissolve. Add 1-1/4 tsp yeast nutrient, stir again, and cover until room temperature. Then add 1 tsp pectic enzyme, stir and set aside covered for 10-12 hours. If you have an acid test kit, measure the acid and correct upward to 6 grams per liter. If you don't have a kit, taste the liquid and use your tongue as a guide. You may have to add 3/4 to 1 tsp of acid blend. I think the skins will provide enough tannin, but be prepared to add 1/4 tsp if you can't taste the tannin. Pitch an activated wine yeast and push the bag down twice a day for 5-7 days after vigorous fermentation starts. When specific gravity drops to 1.010, squeeze the bag and transfer liquid to a secondary, lees and all. Crush, dissolve and add one Campden tablet now and at the second racking (do not count this transfer as a racking). Discard fruit and top up if required with water. Ferment to dryness and rack every 30 days until clear and no longer dropping any lees. Rack again, stabilize with potassium sorbate and one Campden tablet (finely crushed and thoroughly dissolved). Wait 2 weeks, sweeten to taste, wait another 2 weeks (to see if fermentation restarts, and rack into bottles. I would imagine it should rest in the bottle 3-6 months, but if it still tastes young then leave another 6 months.

For the 3-lb batch, use 6-1/2 pints water and 1-3/4 lbs sugar. Add 1 tsp yeast nutrient and perhaps only 3/4 tsp acid blend. Tannin should be stronger, but may still need to be added. All other procedures apply.

For the 4-lb batch, use 6 pints water and 1-1/2 lbs sugar. Add 7/8 tsp yeast nutrient and perhaps only 2/3 tsp acid blend. Tannin should be stronger, but may still need to be added (1/8 tsp?). All other procedures apply.

Age all batches the same and taste side-by-side to evaluate which recipe works best. Further experimentation (next year?) can refine the recipe. In cases like this, I bottle the gallon in three 750-mL bottles and four 375-mL bottles. This allows me to open the wine at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and one year without wasting a full 750 mL bottle each time.

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