What the heck is a Blog?


Jack Keller's WineBlog Archives

April-June 2003
July-December 2003
January-June 2004
July-December 2004
January-June 2005
July-December 2005
January-June 2006
July-December 2006
January-June 2007
July-December 2007
January-June 2008
July-December 2008
January-June 2009
July-December 2009
January-June 2010
July-December 2010
January-June 2011
July-December 2011
January-June 2012
July-December 2012
January-June 2013
July-December 2013

rss buttonblank spaceSubscribe to Jack Keller's WineBlog


[Valid RSS]

Twitter logo

Join us on Facebook logo

Jack's Winemaking Links

Jack Keller's
The Winemaking Home Page

Ben Rotter's
Improved Winemaking

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

Terry Garey's
Joy of Home Winemaking

Marc Shapiro's
The Meadery, my favorite mead site

Forrest Cook's
The Mead Maker's Page

Dave Polaschek's
Mead Made Easy

Mathieu Bouville's
Mead Made Complicated

Mead Lover's
The Bees' Lees

Talisman's
Mead

Michiel Pesgen's
The Home Winemaking Page

Roger Simmonds'
Homemade Wine

Jordan Ross'
Going Wild: Wild Yeast in Wine Making

UC Davis'
Making Table Wine at Home

Viticultural Roundtable of SW Ontario
Icewine

Vinovation's
Winemaking Fundamentals

Dina's
Wine Page

Drink Focus'
All About Apple Cider

The Brewery's
Cider Recipes

Members'
San Antonio Regional Wine Guild

WinePress.US
Discussion Forums

WV Mountaineer Jack's
WVMJ Elderberry Wine Making

Google's
rec.crafts.winemaking news group

Finevinewines.com
Fine Vine Wine's discussion groups

Twitter
Follow me on Twitter


horizontal divider


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.



Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner



Some Other Wine Blogs

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

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

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

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

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

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

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

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Erroll's
Washington Winemaker

Frugalwinemaker's
Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

Jennifer's
My Wines Direct

Jorray's
Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

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

Ken W.'s
AlaWine.com

Mal's
Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

Michelle's
My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

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

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

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

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

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

Thomas'
Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

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

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog







Who is Jack Keller?
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 7, 2004

Several writers have asked if they can (or mentioned their intent to) use 6-gallon carboys to make small batches of wine. The funny thing is that no one ever wrote to me about doing this until about a year or two ago. This got me to wondering what had changed.

Secondary Size Matters

The answer, of course, is that Homebrew/Winemaking Shops are now all selling "starter kits" of equipment. There is nothing wrong with this except they are selling 6-gallon carboys to push the customer into their higher end kit wines, most of which now make six gallons instead of five. I have even had people write me that there was 4-5 inches of air in their carboy above their kit wine, only to learn through questioning that they were sold a 6-gallon carboy with a 5-gallon kit. This is really irresponsible salesmanship.

When a newbie walks into a shop and says he or she needs some equipment to make some wine, the shop salesman needs to ask the customer what his or her intent is -- what size batch do they intend to make? This seems so obvious I never thought I'd have to say it, but apparently I was wrong. The sales staff needs to take a more professional attitude or earn a reputation formerly reserved for lawyers. ASK THEM WHAT THEY INTEND TO MAKE, for crying out loud! Sacrifice a couple of bucks profit and sell them what they need. They'll appreciate it and come back. Rob them and they will shop elsewhere. The internet is a BIG shopping mall.

And newbies, get this into your heads, please: unless you are making flor sherry, the secondary needs to be the same size as the batch you intend to make. You can buy 1-gallon jugs and 2.5-gallon, 2.8-gallon, 3-gallon, 5-gallon, 6-gallon, and 6.5-gallon carboys. If you buy a kit wine, you need a carboy the size of the kit's intended batch.

Racking Down or Topping Up

Everyone who has made wine once knows that when you leave the lees behind, you lose some wine. If you are making wine from raw ingredients, whether grapes or strawberries or peaches or oranges, you lose even more because you have "gross lees" as well as "fine lees." Gross lees are loose pulp, skins, pips (seeds), and membranes. Fine lees are dead yeast cells, bentonite or other fining matter, and really fine vegatable matter. Gross lees contain more wine than fine lees. I have made strawberry wine where the gross lees occupied a third of the gallon jug. You only have to do that once before realizing the value of a nylon straining bag.

When making a 3-gallon batch of fruit or berry wine, one can rack, top up and continue, or you can rack into a 2.8- or 2.5-gallon carboy and continue. The first method will produce a slightly diluted wine while the second will not. You decide which wine you'd rather drink.

But to be honest with you, most of my recipes anticipate you will top uo, and so they contain a bit more sugar than the wine actually needs. This will produce more alcohol, but after topping up the wine will be diluted to 12 to 12.5% alcohol by volume. If you rack down (into a smaller carboy), you need to be espacially careful when constituting the must -- measure the specific gravity and exactly calculate the sugar needed yourself.

Most of my recipes are for 1-gallon batches. In truth, they usually make slightly more than one gallon. You can begin with an Imperial gallon (4.5 liters) jug and rack down to a 4-liter or U.S. gallon jug, or you can start with a U.S. gallon and put the extra in a small wine bottle (375, 250, 187, or 175 mL) -- a #2 or #3 bung with airlock will fit these.

Alternatively, you can adjust the liquid (water) added so as to exactly fill a 1-gallon jug and rack into another 1-gallon jug. Then add sanitized glass marbles until the ullage (air space between wine and bung) is about 3/4 inch.

Finally, there is the practice of topping up with a similar wine. This does not dilute the new wine, as both alcohol and flavored water are being added.

These various techniques produce different results. Racking down, adding marbles or topping up with a similar wine or extra must all result in an undiluted wine. If the recipe calls for more than 2 pounds of sugar, it is expected that you will top up with water so adjust the sugar by measuring the specific gravity and calculating what is actually needed. Even with recipes you must plan ahead and perhaps make a measurement or two.





July 14, 2004

I was recently sent a bottle of black raspberry wine and asked how it could have been improved upon. The winemaker noted he had sweetened the wine to a healthy level after stabiling it, but the sweetness declined with each sip and was gone after the third sip.

Too Much Fruit, Again

This wine was made with 7+ pounds of very ripe black raspberries per gallon of wine (I recommend 3-4 pounds, max). Everything else looked right in his recipe. Upon taking the first sip, I knew what the problem was. The flavor of black raspberry was very, very pronounced. Indeed, it was too strong. Knowing in advance the final specific gravity helped me to diagnose the problem. The wine did not taste nearly as sweet as it should have.

As I said in my August 29, 2003 entry, some bases are not suited to over-use in winemaking. In that entry I used red raspberry as the prime example. Now I can positively report that black raspberry, too, can be overpowering in flavor. The problem is not that the flavor itself is unpleasant. It is instead rather wonderful. The problem is that the flavor is so strong that it clings to the tongue and overloads the taste buds. The next sip adds to the effect and overwhelms the taste buds responsible for detecting sugar. As a result, less and less sugar is tasted with each successive sip until the residual sugar in the wine is no longer detectable. At that point, the wine is harsh -- flavorful, to be sure, but harsh.

After contacting the winemaker with my verdict, he wrote back, "This puts the concentrated flavor debate to bed for me." If unfamiliar with this debate, please read my August 29, 2003 entry.

A Cooling Problem

A winemaker from Hedgesville, West Virginia asked me if he should air condition his winemaking area, as his fermentation temperatures were in the 77-82 degrees Fahrenheit range. This is a bit high, but not destructively so. Still, one can lower them to a more healthy range without air conditioning.

Some years back a winemaker from Zapata, Texas, down along the Texas-Mexico border, asked a similar question. His problem was that his house was not air conditioned and he suffered from 15-30 100-degree days (or higher) each and every summer. I suggested he place his carboys in plastic pans (the kind used to drain oil into under the car), fill the pan with water, and then wrap a towel around the carboy -- tied at the top -- so it hung in the water. The towel would wick up the water, which would then evaporate and cool the carboy. Cooling would be greater if a fan were directed onto the carboy. I did not know how much cooling could be obtained by this method, but did know that the ancient Persians made ice in the summer by filling shallow clay basins with water during the final hours of the day and the water turned to ice during the night while the air remained well above freezing.

Two years ago Giles Marion and Rob Bates published an article in WineMaker magazine entitled "Evaporative Cooling" that explained the technique better than I could. They also furnished a table that showed the effects of relative humidity on evaporative cooling, somthing I hadn't thought about. For example, they showed that at 80 degrees F. the cooling potential at 10% humidity is 27 degrees, for a carboy temperature of 53 degrees. At 50% relative humidity, this potential is reduced to about 14 degrees (carboy temperature of 66 degrees).

The winemaker in Zapata placed his carboys on a table in front of a window through which an afternoon and evening breeze flowed through the room and out another window. He claimed this also cooled the room, albeit slightly. But the real story was a near constant 68-72-degree fermentation temperature, even when the daily high topped 108 degrees.





August 6, 2004

A winemaker has asked for a recipe for an "ice style" blackeberry wine. My reply was that real ice wine is made from ripe grapes that get caught in an early freeze and typically are harvested at 2-3 a.m. (in any case must be harvested before the sun comes up and thaws them) and are being processed into wine before most of us have breakfast. You can't simply freeze grapes (or any other fruit) and make real ice wine, but that is exactly what a lot of wineries are doing to cash in on that $35-$50 per half-bottle price.

Now, having said that, if you simply want to make a sweet wine with about 15% alcohol from frozen blackberries, we can do that. In fact, the last 30 or so gallons of blackberry wine I have made have been from frozen berries.

Ice-Style Blackberry Wine

  • 8 lb frozen blackberries
  • 2 lb granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/2 gal water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin K1-V1116 wine yeast

The berries are washed, selected and frozen for several weeks and then thawed. Crush berries in primary and stir in pectic enzyme, acid blend and yeast nutrient. Cover primary and set aside. Bring 1/2 gallon water to boil. Dissolve sugar in water, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Pour into primary and allow to steep four hours. Add activated yeast, cover, and set aside, stirring daily. When fermentation slows (s.g. 1.010 or less), press berries in fruit press and transfer liquid to secondary. Fit airlock and set aside 2-3 months to finish fermentation. Rack and add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, and reattach airlock. Set aside until clear, but at least two months. Rack again and stabilize. Add 6 ounces finely granulated sugar to wine and stir with sanitized wooden dowel until sugar is completely dissolved (may take 10 minutes, so be patient). Check s.g. and add sugar if not at 1.015. Reattach airlock and set aside 30 days. Add another finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, stir well, and bottle. Age at least 6 months. [Author's own recipe]

The above recipe is based on the natural sugar in blackberries being about 8%. The addition of 2 pounds should bring the specific gravity of the must to 1.114 for a potential alcohol content of 15%. This is a very high s.g. to begin a fermentation, but Lalvin K1-V1116 should be up to the task. If you have any doubts, initially dissolve only 1 1/2 pounds of sugar in the primary and add the other 1/2 pound after the s.g. falls to 1.030 or lower.




August 13, 2004

My last installment, regarding making an "ice-style" wine with blackberry, generated several emails. The most common question by far was why the berries need to be frozen "on the vine" to make real ice wine. My reply is based on an explanation given me by a reknown botanist and extension agent.

First of all, remember that grapes destined to make ice wine are late-ripening grapes that ripen much closer to the first hard freeze than most varieties. But they are also grapes that hang well, meaning they do not drop when they have reached or passed optimum ripeness as many varieties do. That means they stand a much better chance of being on the vine when that first hard freeze occurs. Between the time they reach ripeness and the time the first hard freeze occurs, they tend to shrivel and start becoming raisins. If the freeze is very late and they have completely turned to raisin, their usefullness for making ice wine has passed. But if they have only partially turned, and by that I mean only shriveled slightly, their sugars have concentrated and they are prime candidates for ice wine.

But there is more to it than this. When a berry (blackberry or grape) is picked, within minutes it "dies" and undergoes a physical (chemical) change. Its cell walls become "hard" and when the berry is frozen many of those walls break due to the expansion of water when it becomes ice. When the berry is thawed and crushed, it releases juice easier -- which is why many winemakers like to freeze fruit and berries before making wine from them. When a living berry is frozen while still on the vine or cane or stem, the cell walls allow some of the water to pass through them just before freezing. This water is "respired" into the atmosphere or adjoining celluar material and the result is two-fold. First, the cell walls do not tend to rupture when the water in the cells freezes. Secondly, and more important for making ice wines, the loss of a small amount of water results in a further concentration of sugar within the berry -- the same amount of sugar that was there before is still there, but in a reduced amount of fluid. The result is a further concentration of sugar in a smaller volume. These are why you cannot make real ice wines by picking berries and then freezing them.

A Complex Wine

I have noted before that multi-fruit wines, when the juices or fruit are fermented together, are called "complex wines" as opposed to "blends." Blends are two or more finished wines that are combined into one. The two differ in several ways, but most notably taste. When fruits are combined prior to fermentation, their chemistries react and this often produces subtle changes that react differently to fermentation and affect taste. Certainly the chemistries of two finished wines that are blended together react as well, but the difference here is that the various enzymatic reactions that occur during fermentation have already occurred individually.

Because of the differences between complex wines and blends, some fruit combinations make better wine when fermented as complex creations than as blends, while the opposite is also true. My point here is not to evaluate and compare the almost endless combinations of complex or blended wines, but to point you to one complex wine that is very good and also easy to make because it comes pre-mixed. The finished wine tastes like neither base ingredient, yet is still suggestive of each.

White Grape-Cherry Wine

  • 2 64-oz bottles of Welch's 100% White Grape-Cherry Juice
  • 14 oz finely granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin RC 212 wine yeast

Pour one bottle of the juice into a 4-liter jug and then add the sugar, pectic enzyme, acid blend, tannin, and yeast nutrient. Stir the juice very well (6-8 minutes) until all sugar is dissolved, then add the second half-gallon of juice. The jug will not be full. Add the activated yeast and cover primary with a multi-layered paper napkin or towel secured by a rubber band. Set aside three days, then remove covering and seal with a bung-airlock. When all fermentation ceases and wine clears, rack into a 1-gallon jug, add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, and top up with cherry or white wine. Refit airlock and set aside 2 months. Rack, stabilize and sweeten to taste or bottle dry. If sweetened, allow another 2-3 weeks under airlock before bottling. Wine may be enjoyed after only two months in bottle. [Author's own recipe]

If you wish to compare this wine to a White Grape-Cherry Wine blend, the recipes for each is referenced below. I have no idea of the proportions of each in the Welch's juice used above, so you will have to experiment. However, I have blended these two before in a 60-40 White Wine/Cherry Wine ratio that was quite good but still quite different from the wine referenced above. I think the wine above is the better wine.




August 20, 2004

I received an email from a first time winemaker reporting a beginning specific gravity (s.g.) of 1.082 and a cessation of bubbles in the airlock at 0.996. She was afraid she had no alcohol in her wine because there is no potential alcohol (PA) on the PA scale at that s.g. She wanted to know if I could explain to her what was happening.

I told this person it was important to understand the processes involved and what the various things like bubbles in the airlock and specific gravity mean. I pointed her to my web site and suggested she read up on the processes a bit more. She then wrote back and it became obvious she did not understand the concept of specific gravity. She has Terry Garvey's excellent book, The Joy of Home Winemaking, and therein lies the problem.

I love Terry's book, but she really doesn't explain specific gravity worth a hoot. Her key hydrometer reading is the PA scale. Add sugar until the PA is 11 and then ferment until it is 0. Simple, yes. Explanatory, no. Once I understood what the writer's frame of reference was, I felt compelled to fill in where Terry neglected. So, here is what I replied to her.

Explaining Specific Gravity

The specific gravity (s.g.) of water is 1.000. When you add sugar, it rises. At 1.088, it theoretically has enough sugar to make 12% alcohol by volume (abv). But there are other things dissolved in must that raise the s.g. and do not ferment -- do not convert to alcohol -- such as yeast nutrients, acids, trace minerals from the water and fruit, tannin, pigments, etc. These make up less than 2% of the s.g. reading, so we largely ignore them and use the s.g. reading as a "potential alcohol" (PA) reading. As the s.g. drops from 1.088, every decrease represents abv added to the wine. When it gets back to 1.000, it is nearly done but not quite.

he s.g. of alcohol is far less than that of water (way down to 0.789). Thus, if ALL the material dissolved in the must were sugar and were converted to alcohol, the finished s.g. of a 12% abv wine would be 0.975 because 12% of it would be at 0.789 asnd the remaining 88% at 1.000. But, since about 2% of the must's s.g. is nonfermentable dissolved compounds, the actual "finished" mark is around (just less than) 0.994. If the original s.g. figure is higher than 1,088, the final s.g for a bone dry (no remaining sugar) wine would be even lower because more of it would be ethanol (alcohol) at the lower s.g. (I have had wines finish fermentation at 0-.986, and that is really dry). Conversely, if the original s.g. figure is lower than 1.088 (as was yours), the finished s.g. would be higher than 0.994 because there would be less sugar in the original must and a lower PA. Less sugar means less abv and a higher finished s.g.

So, when you say you started with an s.g of 1.082 and finished with an s.g. of 0.996, my conclusion is that your wine is finished. There may be a fraction of a gram of sugar left in it, but I would consider it done.




August 26, 2004

I receive many emails in which the writer alludes to sterilizing the must or wondering if adding sulfites (potassium metabisulfite or Campden tablets) to the must kills the yeast. I usually do not comment on these mistakes unless they are the central point of the email, but let me address these subjects now in hopes of clarifying a few misconceptions.

We don't really sterilize wine. We sanitize it. The difference is that in the first you kill all germs (bacteria, viruses and molds), while in the second you only kill the more pedestrian ones (not the ones that can live in steam vents at Yellowstone) with sulfites and the acidity and alcohol in the wine kill the rest later.

Sulfites don't kill yeast, but they do kill most bacteria and molds. All they do to yeasts is shock the wild varieties into inactivity for a period of hours, and during that time the cultured yeasts, which are largely sulfite tolerant, get a big growth head-start and dominate the must. The cultured ones crowd out the wild ones and don't allow them to gain more than a toe-hold. So, after sulfiting you do not want to wait too long before inoculating with cultured yeast or you lose the advantage the sulfites give them.

In older recipes a waiting period of 24 hours was often specified between sulfiting and inoculating with yeast, but as science clarified the role of sulfites that period was generally reduced to 10-12 hours. Personally, I almost never wait more than 6-8 hours between sulfiting and pitching the yeast, as the cultured yeasts seem to do just fine at that time -- especially if you start them outside the must in a starter solution and introduce a little must or juice to the solution at half-hour intervals so they get used to the new environment before being pitched into it wholesale.

When you use boiling water in the recipe, you do not need to sulfite right away because the boiling water does a fair job of killing bacteria and wild yeasts. But, you do need to wait until the water temperature drops below 100 degrees F. before pitching cultured wine yeast. I wait until the must is below 95 degrees F. (and prefer waiting until it returns to room temperature) before adding yeast. Most wine yeasts die (or at least stop metabolizing sugar or reproducing) at 104 degrees, so it is best to get well below that temperature before introducing them. Also, pectic enzymes do not work well in higher temperatures, so allowing the must to drop to room temperature is a good idea before adding the enzyme to your must.

You can take water bottles, empty out an inch or so of water, freeze them, and then drop two or more of these into the must about an hour after adding boiling water to get the temperature down quicker. Just mix up an amount of cold, 1% sulfite water first and submerge the frozen water bottles in it for two minutes to sanitize the outside before dropping them into the must. To make up a 1% sulfite solution, dissolve 10 grams of potassium metabisulfite in one liter of water. It can be saved to sanitize wine bottles, corks, or winemaking equipment.




September 11th, 2004

I was recently asked, "When is the best time to pick...plums and can I pick them slightly early and let them finish ripening after they are picked?" This is a good question, so I thought I'd share my answer.

Tree-Ripened Fruit

What is true for plums is generally true for other fruit as well, so use this discussion as a guide generally. Pears, paw-paws and persimmons are three fruit that generally do not follow this model, so deal with them as literature specific to them dictates.

The plums should not be picked early because they will not really "ripen" after being picked. Oh, they will continue to turn color and will eventually grow softer, but the amount of sugar in them will never increase after being picked. Sugar is created in the roots and brought up to the fruit in the sap, so once they are picked no additional sugar is delivered to the fruit. Since sugar affects flavor, leave them on the tree until perfectly ripe. When exactly they are ripe will be the tough part to determine. You will have to feel them for plumpness and a softening of their developmental hardness, and then taste several to assure yourself that they are good-tasting.

Commercial growers know the historic dates when ripeness occurs and the natural sugar -- measured as degrees of Brix -- the fruit reaches when ripe. As that date approached, they will go out in the orchard and test the juice of a few plums for Brix using a refractometer. Since the plums need to be processed and shipped -- sometimes to jobbers, then distribution centers, and finally to stores -- they are picked before they are ripe or they will arrive at your market half-rotten. The refractometer allows them to judge the right time to pick. That is not practical for most folks with one or two plum trees, so use your taste buds as a guide.

Tree-ripened plums should be several degrees of Brix sweeter than the same plums picked by commercial growers for grocery chains. The reason is contained in the above. They have to pick them several days before they are ripe so they will darken and soften in the few days it takes to process (sort and box), transport and display them for sale. The tree-ripened plums are picked at the peak of ripeness and therefore have more sugar and flavor.

Wild Plums

I am constantly amazed at how good a wine is made from wild plums. In the Americas, there are numerous wild plums. Here are a few, but by no means all, species native to the United States.

Prunus alleghaniensis (Alleghany or Allegheny Plum) is the common wild plum of the northeastern United States. Their fruit are dark purple with yellow flesh.

Prunus americana (American Plum, but also called American Red Plum, American Yellow Plum, Native Plum, Wild Plum, River Plum, August Plum, Goose Plum, Canadian Plum) is a wide-ranging species found almost everywhere in the United States except from the Texas panhandle up through the great plains. One-inch red, yellow or reddish-orange fruit with yellow flesh make excellent wine. This is the predominate wild plum of the eastern and central United States.

Prunus angustifolia (Chickasaw Plum, but also known as Hog Plum) is native to Arkansas and surrounding states. Their fruit are small (1/2 in.) and red and turn yellowish when ripe although some retain a reddish blush. The flesh is yellow.

Chickasaw Plum

Chickasaw Plum (P. angustifolia)


Prunus ilicifolia (Evergreen Cherry, Holly-Leaf Cherry, Islay) is native to California. It has spiny leathery leaves, showy white flowers and a very thin flesh that yields very little juice. The flowers make better wine than the fruit.

Prunus maritima (Beach Plum, Shore Plum) is native to the seacoast of the northeast, with small (1/2 to 1 in.) bluish-purple fruit, but red or yellow fruit are also known. Makes excellent wine.

Prunus mexicana (Mexican Plum, but also Fall Plum and Bigree Plum) is another native plum of Texas. It has a pinkish-purplish to reddish coloring, yellow flesh, and is very flavorful. Fruit average 1 inch diameter.

Prunus munsoniana (Munson Plum, Potawatamie Plum, Wild Goose Plum) ranges from Texas to Illinois to Kentucky, is yellow when ripe with yellow flesh, and is quite flavorful.

Prunus rivularis (Creek Plum and also Hog Plum) is native to Texas up to Colorado and Kansas. The small (3/8 in.) fruit ripen to a pinkish-purple with yellow flesh and are very flavorful.

Prunus subcordata (Pacific Plum, but also known as Klamath Plum and Sierra Plum) is native to northern California and up through the Pacific Northwest. It is large (up to 1-1/2 in.) for a wild plum, bright red at maturity, very tastey, and has spawned two cultivars. Some with yellow fruit are known, probably due to natural hybridization.

Prunus gracilis (Sour Plum, also Oklahoma Plum and Sand Plum) ranges from Texas to Kansas to Tennessee. It grows more as a shrub than a tree with red fruit when ripe. It is not considered a very good eating plum, but makes very decent wine.

Prunus Texana (Texas Plum, but also Sand Plum, Peach Bush)) is native to one small area of south-central Texas (over and around the Edwards Aquifer) and produces small (1/2 to 3/4 in.) yellowish-orange to orangish-red fruit with yellow flesh. Slightly tart, they make great wine.




October 8th, 2004

It is difficult to believe it has been nearly four weeks since I made an entry in the WineBlog. Time has literally flown by, with two competitions and a newspaper interview since I last wrote.

County Fairs

The county fair is a great place to enter wines in competition. You not only get great feedback, but get to meet some great people in the community. I entered some wines in the Medina County Fair at Hondo, Texas. I won three ribbons for my wines, but my real joy was witnessing my good friends Luke and Lynette Clark take five firsts. Luke took Best of Show (Grape) and Lynette earned an Honorable Mention (Grape). Peter Jacoby won Best of Show (Non-Grape) with a wild persimmon wine, the first time I have seen this lowly fruit take the grand prize.

Luke Clark, of Leesville, Louisiana, entered his first ever mustang wines (a sweet and a dry) and each beat all competitors (including my own). Luke made these wines from grapes I picked last June in Pleasanton, Texas and brought to him in Louisiana. There are mustang grapes in his area, but they are difficult to find and not in large quantity. Lynette's big win was with Clair Muscardine, a grape Luke isolated from the wild and propagated.

My own wines did better at the Atascosa County Fair in Poteet, Texas -- no doubt because Luke and Lynette were not there. My sweet blueberry was declared Grand Champion. It was made from blueberries grown by Luke Clark in Louisiana.

I encourage all home winemakers to enter their wines in their county fair. It is a great tradition and the fairs are there for you. If your fair does not have a home winemaking competition, start writing your Fair Board about starting one. Also, if you send me a copy of the rules for your fair, I'll do my best to publish them on my web site.

Wild Persimmons

The Texas Persimmon (Diospyros texana), also known as the Mexican Persimmon, Black Persimmon or Chapote, ranges from Oklahoma down into northeastern Mexico. It is often a multi-trunked evergreen bush growing to 10-12 feet in height, but can rise to a 20-40-foot tree after many years. It is often pruned to a single trunk as an ornamental. It has green fruit that are astringent, but they turn dark brown to black when ripe -- usually after a frost or freeze -- and are then quite sweet. The fruit are small, usually not over an inch in diameter, and are an important winter food for wildlife.

Texas Persimmon

Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana)


More widely distributed is Diospyros virginiana, or American Persimmon. It ranges from Florida to New England and west to Texas and Kansas. It is a decidious tree growing to 60 feet in height. It usually flowers in June, and the fruit ripen from October to November. The fruit are harsh and astringent until they ripen, usually after a frost or freeze. The fruit can also be ripened off-tree and eaten raw, cooked or dried. It is used in breads, cakes, cookies, pies, puddings, jellies, jams, and wine. The seeds can be roasted to make a coffee substitute or pressed to render a cooking oil. A tea rich in vitamin C can be made from the dried leaves, and molasses can be made from he fruit pulp. It's fruit ripen at a yellowish-orange and are about twice the size of the Texas Persimmon.

A cousin of the Texas Persimmon is the Black Sapote (Diospyros digyna), also known as Zapote Negro, Ebano, or Chocolate-Pudding Fruit. It is not a sapote (Pouteria sapota), but a persimmon. Immature fruit are bright-green and shiny, 2 to 5 inches in diameter, and look like a green tomato. When ripe, the smooth, thin skin becomes olive-green and then rather muddy-green. The pulp within is glossy brown to very dark-brown, almost black, somewhat jelly-like, soft, sweet and mild in flavor. It may have 1 to 10 flat, smooth, brown seeds, but the fruits are often seedless. It ranges on both coasts of Mexico and in the forested lowlands of Central America. It has been widely exported and can be found throughout the semi-tropical Pacific, Caribbean and southern Florida. In Mexico, the fruits are common in the markets from August to January. Most black sapotes in Florida ripen in December, January or February. Certain trees, especially the large-fruited types, regularly ripen from June to August. The trees are evergreen and grow to 80 feet in height, although cultivated trees are kept at about 25 feet.

Since the Texas and American Persimmons will be ripening soon, let's look at making them into wine.

Wild Persimmon Wine

  • 3 lbs of Texas Persimmons or 3-1/2 lbs American Persimmons
  • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp citric acid or 3/4 tsp acid blend
  • pinch or two powdered grape tannin, as needed
  • 1 Campden tablet, crushed and dissolved
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • water to one gallon (about 7 pints)
  • Red Star Champagne wine yeast

Crush the ripe fruit, skins and all, in nylon straining bag in primary. Dissolve sugar, yeast nutrient, acid, and crushed Campden tablet in water and add to primary. Cover primary and set aside for 8 hours. Add pectic enzyme, recover, and set aside another 8 hours. Add activated yeast and recover the primary. When vigorous fermentation begins to subside (5-7 days), squeeze pulp and discard. Wait 24 hours and transfer liquid to secondary. Attach airlock and set aside in dark place. When all signs of fermentation have passed (about two months), rack into clean secondary. Wait additional two months and check for lees. If lees, rack. If none, taste wine for tannin. Add pinch or two if needed. Wine made from Texas Persimmons will be oily black in color with greenish edges. Wine made from Americal persimmons will be straw to light blush. Once bottled, wine should be stored in deark place for uo to one year before tasting.

Although I have found numerous references to making liquors, liqueurs and wine from Black Sapote, I have never found a recipe for doing so. If you should have one, please consider sharing it with me so I can share it with others.




October 15th, 2004

Luke Clark wrote to me a few days ago to remind me it is sugar cane harvest time in Louisiana. He has a hankering to make sugar cane wine and wondered if I had a recipe. I thought I did, but after searching only found a reference to making wine from sugar cane -- no recipe. A Google search revealed ample evidence that wine is made throughout the tropic and temperate zones from sugar cane. It goes by a variety of names. After several search strategies, I finally found one recipe.

The following recipe is from "Recipes from Guyana and the Caribbean," a web site. I will first give the recipe as it is published, and then will enhance it a bit to yield a more balanced and (hopefully) better tasting wine.

Sugar Cane Wine (1)

  • 3 lbs of white sugar
  • 3 joints of sugar cane (about 3 lbs)
  • 4-6 pints of water
  • 1 tsp of yeast

Peel and cut the cane into very small pieces. Put all the ingredients into a clean jar and set aside for 9 weeks. Strain and bottle. Repeat this after 2 weeks.

This, to me, will not be a balanced wine. It contains no acidity or tannin to speak of, no antioxidant, no sulfite. Three pounds of sugar will produce too high an alcohol level or too sweet a wine. I think it can be improved upon as follows

Sugar Cane Wine (2)

  • 1 3/4 lbs of white sugar
  • 3 joints of sugar cane (about 3 lbs)
  • 6 pints of water
  • 1 3/4 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 Campden tablet, crushed and dissolved
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Red Star Premier Curvee yeast

Peel and cut the cane into very small pieces. Place in nylon straining bag and mash in primary as best you can. Add all ingredients except yeast and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover and wait 12 hours, then add activated yeast starter. Recover and ferment 9 days, stirring twice daily. Remove bag, drain well, discard pulp, and transfer liquid to one-gallon secondary. Attach airlock and set aside 3 days. Top up and refit airlock. When fermentation ceases, wait two weeks and rack. Wait until wine clears, then rack again, add another crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Dissolve 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate into 1/2 cup of wine, stir into secondary and refit airlock. Wait about 3 days, then taste wine and sweeten to taste. Refit airlock, wait 2-3 weeks, and bottle. Store in dark place for 9-12 months, then drink.




October 22nd, 2004

A little over a month ago I entered a Mustang Rosé in the Medina County (Texas) Fair's Home Wine Competition. They did not have a "Rosé" category, so I entered it in the "Red Table Wine" category, the same category a Mustang Rosé had won Best of Show a few years back. My rosé received 0 points for color. Despite the label that said "Mustang Rosé," both judges faulted it for being too light. One judge wrote, "Wines of this type can only be deep red." This was nonsensical bias and completely ignored the style in which the wine had purposely been made (and so labeled).

Last Sunday I was Head Judge at the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's Autumn Competition. In my pre-judging briefing, I told the judges they had to leave their biases behind and respect the declared style of the winemaker. It was one heck of a competition, one I thoroughly enjoyed being part of. My White Mustang took a first place and my Mustang Rosé took a second. Both received maximum points for color appropriateness although neither was "deep red." That is how it should be when the color matches the labeled style.

To those who do not belong to a winemaking club, guild, circle, or society, all I can say is you are missing out on a great experience. Not only are you missing out of participating in the conduct of regional competitions, but you are missing out of the monthly interactions with other winemakers. Most importantly, you are missing out on tasting the variety of wines that appear at every gathering for everyone's enjoyment. And when you say, "Hey, this Sassafras Wine is pretty good. How was it made?" the winemaker will always beam and tell you whatever you need to know.

Many people write to me and ask what dandelion wine, fig wine, honeysuckle mead, mayhaw wine, or any number of others actually taste like. There is no way to answer these questions except to pour a glass of each and offer them a taste. You can do this every month if you belong to an organization that celebrates the making of wines in the home. If you don't, you can go a lifetime without ever being offered half of them. What a waste.

If there isn't a local winemaking group organized in your area, it might be time to organize one. I don't know what the best way to do this is, but the tried and true way is to talk to the owner of your local homebrew/winemaking shop and ask if he or she will allow you to post a flier announcing an organizing meeting. The shop owner may even offer their premises for the first meeting, or may be willing to place a flier in the bag of every customer who buys winemaking supplies. Some shop owners send out their own fliers or a newsletter to customers and might include your flier in their next mailing. Finally, some shops sponsor clubs because promoting the hobby is good for their business.

The first meeting can be at the shop, a neutral site (a restaurant) or at someone's home. Wherever it is, be sure you obtain permission well in advance to set up a "tasting table" of homemade wines for the enjoyment of attendees. And that should be the price of admission -- a bottle of homemade (or commercial) wine for the tasting table. The first meeting should be a discussion of the proposal to organize such a group and collect contact information from those interested in attending a second meeting. Set a standard time and date -- the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) meets the third Sunday of each month at 1:00 p.m. except on Father's Day (change to the 2nd or 4th Sunday) and November when the Executive Board (officers) meets. A holiday party in December is held earlier in the month for obvious reasons.

The second meeting should be the actual organizing meeting, when by-laws are drafted, acting officers selected until the first election, and ideas solicited for the programs for the next several meetings. SARWG rotates its meetings among members' homes, with an occasional meeting held at a local winery. Programs can be a discussion of closures, yeast strains, pressing techniques, grapevine propagation, grapevine pruning, or anything you agree on.

If you wish to explore this idea further, feel free to visit the SARWG web site for ideas.




November 7th, 2004

I get many emails about fermentations not starting. Despite having said it many times before, I'll say it again. The best way to ensure a yeast starts is to make a yeast starter a day or two in advance of needing it. This is especially true when making melon wines (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, etc.), as they spoil very rapidly and the only way to ensure they ferment quickly, before the juice sours, is to inoculate them with a very active, healthy starter. Most importantly for all other wines, a starter tells you very quickly if your yeast are still viable.

Making a Yeast Starter

The preferred method of adding an active dry yeast (ADY) culture to a must is to add a yeast starter, or activated culture, to the aseptic must. This simply means the yeast is introduced to a liquid medium favorable to rapid activation and propagation one to three days prior to adding to the must. The liquid with the activated culture is then added to the must as required, where the yeast culture very rapidly propagates to a desired density.

This method is preferable to adding the ADY culture directly to the must for several reasons. First and foremost, it results in a rapid fermentation. The flavors, aromas and nuances we want to capture from the must and impart into our wine are often very perishable and dissipate or change within days if not hours. The sooner the yeast can get to work capturing them, the better the resulting wine will be. Adding a starter, as opposed to adding the ADY culture directly from the foil packet, can save one to several days, depending on the yeast strain and the size of the batch of must.

Secondly, it ensures viability of the strain. Normally, when you purchase a sachet of yeast you have no idea how old the ADY culture inside the packet is. Given a constant and acceptable temperature, the culture can survive for years in the foil without detriment. But the foil packets could have been--and probably were--shipped without regard to temperature. The box in which they were shipped could have sat in the sun on the tarmac at Los Angeles International in 110 degrees heat for an hour before being loaded in the plane that took it to your regional airport hub or local point of entry. It was then taken by truck to a transshipment warehouse where it may have sat for days in similar heat before being trucked to your city and then to your supplier. If 90% of the culture baked in the process, it will take that much longer for the culture to build to a density conducive to your needs. If 100% of the culture baked, you could easily waste a week discovering that fact, and during that week your must deteriorates and possibly is ruined. By making a starter solution two days before needed, you would have discovered that the yeast was non-viable within a day and still had time to prepare another.

Thirdly, a starter properly made, using water, a small quantity of the must itself and some nutrients, will acclimate the yeast to its destined environment. When the starter is added to the primary, it will practically explode with activity and do what nature and selection programmed it to do and do it that much more efficiently.

The correct method of making a starter is to rehydrate the yeast, activate its life cycle, and add it to the must. The optimum way to rehydrate the yeast is to add it directly to 1/2 cup of 100-degree F. tap water (the harder the water the better; do not use distilled water). Stir gently, cover, allow to rehydrate for at least 30 minutes, attemperate to within 10 degrees F. of the must or juice, and then add to it 1/4 cup of pre-sweetened, reconstituted juice (not pure concentrate) or strained must. Re-cover the starter, set it in a warm place and leave it alone. Check on it 24 hours later to ensure it is viable and add it to the must the next day. For highly acidic (native grapes) or potentially troublesome musts or juices (like blueberry, peach, or Ribena blackcurrant juice), I add another 1/4 cup of strained must or juice every 4 to 12 hours until "pitched" into the primary to better acclimate the yeast to the conditions they will be living in. There are other methods of starting a culture and most are just as successful, but this method was recommended by George Clayton Cone of Lallemand, the makers of Lalvin wine yeasts, and that is good enough an endorsement for me.

The best method of adding the starter to the must (in a primary) is to hold a large spoon just above the surface of the must and pour the culture slowly into the spoon. It will splatter and overflow and the culture will spread across the surface of the must. That is where you want it, for the culture needs oxygen the first 48-72 hours in order to propagate rapidly and in good health. Cover the primary with a sanitized muslin cloth and leave it alone for 24 hours. It will be actively fermenting by then. Stir it shallowly, recover the primary, and give it another 24 hours. Then stir it deeply.

Lallemand's scientists found that some musts and juices contain sprays, toxins and excessive SO2 that can be detrimental to the activity of yeast. The dry yeast is like a sponge for the first few seconds in liquid and will absorb everything into the cell that it would normally reject in the rehydrated form. Many home winemakers add the ADY culture directly to the must or juice and get away with it. However, many times it is the beginning of a sluggish or stuck fermentation. There are over 150 billion yeast cells in a 5-gram packet of Lallemand yeast. If you kill off half of them by improper rehydration, you still have 75 billion cells to work with. This 75 billion will go on to do a good job most of the time, but whatever killed off the other 75 billion may have seriously affected the health of the survivors. Can you spell "stuck fermentation?" A little prudence is good insurance.

If you forget to make a starter or simply don't want to, then inoculate the must by sprinkling the ADY culture evenly over the top of the must and DON'T stir it in. Cover the primary and take a peek 12 hours later. If viable, there will be a prominent yeast colony across the surface and evidence in the form of a thin foam and/or a distinctly yeasty smell. Stir it shallowly into the must and 12 hours later stir it deeply. If there is no evidence of the yeast's viability, wait another 12 hours and check again. If still no evidence, inoculate again. Better yet, make a starter. Better late than sorry.





November 21st, 2004

I have often been asked about making pulque wine. I love this question, not because of what it asks (although it is a strange question), but because of who asks it. Most often it is asked by readers south of the border in Mexico, and it pleases me that they visit my web site and read this blog. The strange thing about the question is that pulque is not a wine but more like a cider or flat beer, so they are asking to go beyond pulque and make wine.

Pulque

For those unfamiliar with this drink, pulque is a fermented drink made from the sap of agaves, a hardy desert plant that supports an entire industry in Mexico. Pulque itself is a soured brew of 6-7% alcohol. Pulque and agave pulp are distilled to make mescal (also spelled Mezcal) and tequilla. The former can be slightly golden in tint, but the latter is almost always a clear, fiery drink. Pulque wine (actually, maguey or agave wine) will be a white wine, without the sour taste of pulque.

The maguey agave (Agave salminae) is the plant of choice for making pulque and mescal. The blue agave is favored for making tequilla, although other species (including magueys) can be used. Although often called the Century Plant, it is not. The true Century Plant is the Agave americana and can be used for making pulque. But the maguey yields the greatest amount of sap per plant, as much as 150 gallons before the plant dies. Yes, you must kill the plant to make these drinks.

Maguey agaves

Maguey agaves (Agave salminae)


Most magueys destined to be made into pulque, mescal and tequilla are grown in plantations. When the plants are about eight to ten years old, they begin to send up a quiote (stem or cane) as high as thirty feet, that bears flowers carrying between three to five thousand fertile seeds. But it is not allowed to do this. Instead, the heart of the plant (called a piñas) is cut out of it and a cavity excavated. This is covered with a loosely woven cloth, like cheese cloth, and the cavity fills with sap -- the agua miel (literally "honey water" -- liquid that accumulates in the cavity of the plant). It is regularly pumped dry and fills again and again for six to eight months until eventually the plant dies. The piñas are slow roasted in an earthen pit for several days under a covering of palm-fiber mats, maguey fibers, and soil. Then, after resting in the shade for a week, the piñas are ground to a mash by horse-driven stone mills. The mash is transferred to large wooden vats and the only other ingredient, water (about 5%), is added. This then ferments for a month and is twice distilled to make mescal.

Maguey or Agave Wine

One will need some sap from a maguey or other agave plant. I know of no commercial source for the sap, so one must sacrifice a maguey (or other agave) to make it. Do NOT attempt to harvest the sap of the aloe -- although an agave, it is unsuitable for this purpose.

  • 7 pints of maguey sap
  • 1-1/2 lbs sugar (to s.g. 1.090)
  • 3/4 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 Campden tablet, crushed and dissolved
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Red Star Montrachet yeast

Add one crushed and dissolved Campden tablet to the maguey sap in a primary. Cover and let sit for 12 hours. Add the acid blend, pectic enzyme, grape tannin, yeast nutrient, and sugar. Stir well to thoroughly dissolve the sugar. Recover the primary and set aside for another 12 hours. Add an activated yeast starter and recover the primary. The must should ferment quickly. Transfer to secondary when s.g. reaches 1.010, attach an airlock, and set aside to finish. When fermentation ceases, rack and top up the wine. Then degass it and stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate and another crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Refit the airlock and set aside again. Wait a full month and rack again, sweeten to taste and bottle. [Author's own recipe]





December 14th, 2004

A reader recently asked when he should perform his first racking -- he had heard at 1.040 specific gravity. But, while gravity should be consulted when performing the first racking, that alone is not the criteria I adhere to.

First Racking

Racking should be done when necessary, not at specific times or intervals. However, many recipes -- including some of my own --say to ferment in primary for n days and then transfer to secondary. It is easier to say that than explain the following, so just keep it all in perspective. The rule is, as long as there are fresh deposits on the bottom of the fermentation vessel after a regular interval (30 to 60 days), even if they are just a light dusting, the wine should be racked. Only when that interval passes and there are no fresh lees -- AND the specific gravity is 1.000 or lower -- is the wine ready to be prepared for bottling. But that begs the question of when to perform the first racking.

I do my first racking only after the vigorous fermentation in primary has stopped. The wine is still fermenting, but not producing enough CO2 to blanket the wine and keep oxygen out. It makes no difference what the s.g. is when this happens, as long as it is below 1.040 and is still falling. If not below that, I tend to think the fermentation is stuck and begin making another yeast starter. Better to be safe than sorry.

Subsequent Racking

For subsequent rackings, it is not necessary that the interval between rackings be 30 days, 45 days or 60 days, but it should not be less than three weeks. It is perfectly okay to leave the wine on the lees for three months. Beyond that and the wine enters a danger zone caused by dead yeast cells breaking down -- rotting. While this can cause off-flavors and odors if allowed to go on too long, the bigger danger is the formation of hydrogen-sulfide gas, which smells like rotten eggs and can be the death of the wine. But if the lees are stirred every week or so, neither the off flavors, off odors nor hydrogen-sulfide gas form. Indeed, the wine is actually improved by extended contact with the lees as long as they are stirred frequently.

During this entire period, the sulfur dioxide gas released into the wine from crushed Campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite is slowly dissipated through the airlock and its protective qualities are lost. It is therefore necessary to replenish this protection by adding a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet per gallon (or an appropriate amount of potassium metabisulfite), and this is done at every other racking (or half a Campden tablet per gallon is added at every racking). The new sulfites are added to the receiving secondary and the wine racked into it.





December 30th, 2004

Today is my birthday, so I began a wine I have never made before. Indeed, I have never heard of a wine made from this base. The base is tamarindo (a.k.a. tamarind, tamarindi, tamarinde, tamarindy, tamarin). As for my birthday, I turned sixty today. I don't feel it. I'm not sure what age I feel, but it certainly isn't sixty.

Tamarindo

Tamarindo in Arabic is tamr hindi, which simply means "date of India." It looks nothing like a date if we think of dates as being the fruit of certain palm trees. But I am told that "date" is derived from Greek (daktylos) and means "finger." If so, the tamarindo's fruit looks more like a daktylos than the fruit of those palm trees.

tamarindo beans

Tamarindo pods (Tamarindus indica )


The fruit of the tamarindo tree (Tamarindus indica ) is actually in a bean-like pod containing several black beans encased in a thick, brown, paste-like pulp. It is this pulp that is of interest. Most of us have tasted tamarindo whether we know it or not. It is a major taste component of the original Worcestershire sauce and is an ingredient of many steak sauces, barbeque sauces, meat marinades, curries, and chutneys. The pulp is made into a soft drink known as refresco de tamarindo in Latin America and enjoyed here in Texas. Indeed, it was after I drank my first refresco de tamarindo several years ago that I resolved to try using it as a wine base. I have only now gotten around to attempting it.

The tamarindo tree can get 90 feet tall but is usually less than 50 feet. It has a short, stocky trunk, drooping branches and a domed umbrella shaped crown about as wide as the tree's height. It can produce as much as 500 pounds of pods a year. The pulp that surrounds the seeds is both sweet and extremely sour (acidic). Originally, the tree was from Africa, but now is grown throughout the tropics. It is hardy up into Zones 10-11.

According to one web site, being highly acidic, tamarindo is a refrigerant (cooling in the heat) and febrifuge (for fighting fevers). The Ananga Ranga suggests consuming tamarindo for enhancing a woman’s sexual enjoyment. This claim had no influence on my decision to attempt a tamarindo wine.

Refresco de Tamarindo

The tamarindo drink I enjoy (completely non-alcoholic) on hot summer days is homemade refresco de tamarindo. The pods are available in almost any large market that caters to Latinos. In South Texas, that means most of them. About 10 pods are required to make a quart of the drink. The pods are peeled and the fibrous veins are removed. Half the water is brought to a boil and the fruit dropped in. After about 15 minutes, the water is set aside to cool. When the pulp is cool enough to handle, remove the seeds from the pulp with your hands. Discard the seeds. Put the pulp, cooking water and 3/4 cup of sugar in a blender and then liquefy. Strain this mixture through several layers of cheesecloth into a pitcher and add the remaining water. Mix well and chill before serving.

Once you have tasted this beverage, you will see the potential for making a wine. Whether it can be done or not will be reported in the future. It has only been an hour since I pitched the yeast.





December 31st, 2004

Yesterday's blog was only posted a few hours before I received an email about it. I have now received three emails and a phone call from Seattle on some aspect of it and have decided to post an immediate correction.

Yes Roberto, 19 tamarindos to a quart of water would be undrinkable. I meant to type one-zero (ten) but hit the nine key instead of the zero. I have corrected the original post.

Thank you, Mark, for pointing out that tamarindo wine is made in Cuba. I just Googled the parameters and found a reference to it, but no recipe (see first link, below).

Thank you Kitch and Steve for reminding me that I did indeed try making this wine several years ago. No, I have not forgotten, although it was such a disaster I do try to forget it. For those unfamiliar with that attempt, In early 2000 I made a wine from a tamarind paste I bought at a gourmet shop in San Antonio (that was before I discovered the pods elsewhere -- today I can find them in any large South Texas market at a very reasonable price). I used the whole amount in the jar (8.5 ounces, according to my log), which was way too much. The wine was so sour it was undrinkable. I aged it for almost two years with no improvement and then blended 750-ml of it with 3 liters of Niagara. The rest was tossed. The blend was very nice, but was not a pure tamarindo wine. Therefore, I do not claim it as such.

Tiny URL

The first three URL's that follow this entry are from use groups. Each URL to the thread entry cited was 230 or more characters long. Even when the URL is buried in HTML code, that is simply too long a URL to work with. They would be even more difficult if I were pasting them into an email, as they would break over to many lines and the chances of such a long URL working at the other end of the email is problematic. So, I used a service called "Tiny URL" to reduce the long addresses into very short ones.

For example, the URL to the first link was as follows:

http://groups-beta.google.com/group/soc.culture.cuba/browse_
thread/thread/47dafabe28cc7ade/64fa80a2a53bb63e?q=tamarind+w
ine&_done=%2Fgroups%3Fq%3Dtamarind+wine%26start%3D0%26hl%3De
n%26&_doneTitle=Back+to+Search&&d#64fa80a2a53bb63e

The Tiny URL service convered it to the following:

http://tinyurl.com/628p8

Much easier to deal with, eh? The last link following this entry will take you to the Tiny URL site, where you can convert any long, unwieldly URL into a tiny one that can easily be emailed.





Jack's WineBlog, Copyright (©) 2003-2012 by Jack B. Keller, Jr. All Rights Reserved.