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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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 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
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
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.
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:
The Tiny URL service convered it to the following:
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.
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