Blog entries are generally presented in reverse chronological order, with earlier entries at the bottom and recent ones at the top so the newer can be read first. An archive is more useful if the entries are presented chronologically. I have thus rearranged them as such.
January 22nd, 2005
Time flies very quickly when you are very busy. I've been very busy. After taking a
two-week holiday vacation, I returned to work and found 338 emails awaiting me. It took a
full day to scroll through them all, delete the ever-growing number of virus warnings (provided
by my antivirus software) and spam, and sort the remainder into folders, by subject, for later
attention. The next morning my computer would not boot. My IT manager came by and determined
the hard drive had failed.
As the Information Systems Security Officer at work, I frequently tell people to back-up
their data. I frequently back-up my own, but what I back-up are my documents, spreadsheets,
PowerPoint presentations, and database files. What I failed to back-up were my *.pst (email),
*.pab (address book), and *.html (favorites) files. These were all on my C drive, while the data
files I frequently backed-up are on my D drive. It was my C drive that failed.
I spend between six and seven hours a day on my computer -- most of that time in email or in
files sent and received by email. I had many, many folders packed with emails containing data
files as attachments. Suddenly, they were all gone. In an instant I discovered the vulnerability
in my filing and back-up systems. We decided the data lost was worth the cost of an attempted
data retrieval. We shipped my hard drive, with a new, identical drive, to a company that specializes
in recovering data from catastrophic failures. Two days later we got the bad news. The read-write
head had crashed against the internal disks as they attempted to spin-up and physically destroyed
their surfaces. There would be no data recovery.
I mention this to all of you to motivate you, hopefully, into a more serious back-up program
than I subscribed to. Back up your data -- all of it.
Internet Winemaking Forums
I belong to a number of internet-based discussion groups, forums, and use groups, as well as a
number of internet-based, email-delivered, group lists. For the former you must log-in at the site
to participate. For the latter the messages are delivered to your email in-box. You can reply or
not. While I belong to many, I really do not participate that much. I have very limited time and
just reading the messages is time-consuming. But recently I have spent a few hours at WinePress.
US' Wine Making and Grape Growing Forums. On one of the forums I came across an interesting case of
The Importance of Acid
A woman made a 6-gallon batch of marigold wine that finished fermenting to dryness (0.990 s.g.)
in early November. While she has not yet revealed all the ingredients she used, she did reveal
she put 2 teaspoons of acid blend in it. No other acid is mentioned (yet -- the thread is still
on-going). The wine has been sulfited but not sorbated. She commented, in a discussion about
degassing, that her wine has started actively bubbling again after being still for 2-1/2 months.
She thought perhaps it was gas (CO2) coming out of solution.
One participant thought it might be either bacterial action or a low-pressure weather cell
passing through. I too thought it might be bacterial -- perhaps a malolactic fermentation (MLF).
I suggested she (1) check sulfite level, correct to an aseptic level if needed, and wait 3 weeks.
(2) An MLF is unlikely unless you added malic to the must (as acid blend, perhaps), and then it
is possible (ML bacteria could have gotten in during atmospheric exposure while racking).
If you bring wine up to an aseptic SO2 level and it was MLF, it will stop
before the 3 weeks pass. If it doesn't stop, then degass the wine.
Six gallons, marigold wine
When she tested for sulfite, her reading was 20 ppm. She added 4 Campden tablets to the wine
to bring it up to about 50 ppm (her estimate). I asked if she had an acid test kit, a pH meter
or even narrow-range litmus strips. Unless I had missed something, her acidity has to be low and
the pH high. She simply didn't have enough acid in there from what had been revealed. I would have
initially used 9 tsp of acid blend for 6 gallons of flower wine -- and then tested the acidity to
see if and how much more I needed to add.
Low titratable acid (TA), high pH and a low level of SO2 are a dangerous
combination. For a white flower wine, I would want the TA up around 6.0 to 6.5 grams/liter and
the pH down between 3.5-3.2. SO2 needs should be calculated based on pH.
Here are the pH values in a white wine (first number) and unbound SO2
requirements (second number) to reach an aseptic level (i.e. where most bacteria can't live):
The actual amount needed is impossible to accurately calculate without knowing the pH of the
wine, but I would add 6 more crushed and dissolved Campden tablets to this wine and measure again.
I would not be concerned if I over-sulfited. When she added the 4 Campden tablets previously,
she mentioned that the wine foamed -- an indication it was saturated with CO2.
simply degassing the wine would blow off some of the SO2.
Another person thought adding 10 Campden tablets (her 4 plus my recommended 6) was way to much
to add all at once. But my concern was that her problem was microbial -- a bacteria -- and her
wine's chemistry was perfect for a runaway infection. Let's just look at what else we know about
The only acid she initially mentioned is the 2 teaspoons of acid blend. If that is the only acid in
the wine, there are serious problems. Two teaspoons of acid blend weigh about 10.2 grams. In 6
gallons (22.7 liters), this equates to about 1/2 gram of acid per liter, a far cry from the
desired level of 6 to 6.5 grams per liter. There was also some acid locked in those marigold
petals used as base, but it really wasn't much. She later revealed she used 4 cans of Welch's white
grape juice in the must, so this improved her numbers considerably. But my estimations still say
her TA is low and her pH high. What the exact numbers are is anyone's guess. It has to be
measured to know, and for that one needs testing equipment kit -- which she doesn't have.
Our forum discussion continues and I have no doubt her wine will be fine in the long run, but
the discussion should make evident several things. First, the importance of acid in wine should
be carefully calculated or measured. Second, both pH and TA are important and you need to know
the approximate numbers. Third, a wine's SO2 requirement (dose) is
dependent upon the wine's pH, so use litmus paper if nothing else. Finally, even if you are
following a proven recipe for a wine, you still need the means to measure and monitor
SO2, TA and pH.
SO2 test kits are around $22 for the Titrets and Titrettor. Acid (TA)
test kits vary from $7 to $10. Low-cost pH meters are now available for around $40 and calibrating
solutions for less than $6. And if this busts your budget, you can still use the old-fashioned
litmus paper strips for wine -- with a narrow range of 2.8 to 4.4 -- for under $3 (all $ are US).
January 29th, 2005
Recently, a question was asked about transferring wine from primary to secondary to begin the
"secondary fermentation." Forget that a question was asked. Instead, consider for a moment, as
I did, the use of the term "secondary fermentation,"
I apologized up front for my response, but words mean things and if we are going to communicate
effectively we have to use them correctly. This may not concern you, but it should. Communication
is essential for developing and maintaining a society, but especially critical where a core of
specialized terms define processes -- as in winemaking. When I began constructing my web site,
The Winemaking Home Page, the very first page I built was "A Glossary of Winemaking Terms."
I consider the language we use in winemaking that important.
From the time you pitch the yeast until they all lay dead on the bottom of the carboy, it is
all the "primary fermentation."
A "secondary fermentation" is either, (1) a separate, second inoculation injected into bottles
of primed wine for making sparkling wine by the Champagne method, or (2) a second inoculation to
revive a stuck or sluggish fermentation, or (3) a malo-lactic fermentation.
I know it is easy to associate "primary fermentation" with the fermentation in the primary and
"secondary fermentation" with the fermentation in the secondary, but that is not what the terms
mean. If one wants to be understood by other winemakers, one should stop using these terms
incorrectly. Years ago we used to say "fermentation (in primary)" and "fermentation (in carboy)"
to denote the two, but today we usually say "vigorous fermentation" and "subdued fermentation" or
just "fermentation." When you say "secondary fermentation" to a real winemaker, he or she will
automatically think you mean one of the three accepted meanings of the term. It is a small point,
Aerobic and Anaerobic Fermentation
In a similar vein, another person wrote, "A long time ago, fermentations were explained to me
as aerobic, in a primary fermentor with lots of ullage, and anaerobic, topped up in a secondary
It still works that way, but a number of years ago some really eye-opening discoveries were
made by scientists that changed our understanding. But this is kind of involved, so please bear
In the days of aerobic and anaerobic consciousness, we fermented the must aerobically in primary
a few days and then transferred the must to secondary for the anaerobic phase. Stuck fermentations
were very common back then, and because the transferred musts were usually around 1.030 to 1.050
s.g., this was a serious problem. But the problem could be overcome by simply leaving the must in
aerobic conditions longer -- until the s.g. got low enough that a stuck fermentation would not be
catastrophic if it occurred.
In the commercial winemaking world, variable capacity tanks were invented with their "floating
tops." This made it possible for wineries to ferment their must aerobically in an open tank or a
vented one with large ullage, then drop the top down to the level of the must and airlock it for
anaerobic fermentation. By not moving the wine until the s.g. was down to 1.010 or lower, stuck
fermentations were greatly reduced and the wine did not really have to be moved until it was racked
-- unless style dictated otherwise.
But for the home winemaker, the variable capacity tank was impractically large and smaller sizes
were impractically expensive. So we solved the problem in one of several ways.
One way was to continue as before, but ferment longer in primary and transfer to secondary when
the potential damage caused by a stuck fermentation is minimized. But once the vigorous phase of
fermentation passed, the CO2 blanket protecting it would blow off and the
wine was susceptible to premature oxidation. Sulfites helped, but they are not foolproof in the
hands of novices, and we were all novices once.
Another option was to use a primary with a rigid, sealable top. After 72 hours or so of aerobic
fermentation (with the top off, or at least not sealed), the top was fitted with an airlock and
otherwise sealed. The large ullage was still filled with CO2 and if the
top was removed the ullage could be flooded with CO2 from a cylinder as
the top was replaced. Then, at first racking, the wine could be transferred to a properly-sized
Still another way was to use a larger than necessary carboy for the primary and simply cap it
with an airlock after a few days of aerobic fermentation. The wine could be left there until the
first racking, with the ullage sparged with CO2 from a cylinder if required.
There were other methods as well, but all required an external source of CO2
(or an inert gas such as argon) to do them right.
Then scientists discovered that healthy yeast actually create a micro-anaerobic environment
around them when they transition from reproductive to fermentation mode. So, from the point of
view of the yeast, there no longer was any reason to create anaerobic conditions to trigger
fermentation. The need for anaerobic conditions continued, but now it was largely for the
benefit of the wine itself -- to prevent premature oxidation. For those who did not want CO2
or argon cylinders in the house, early sulfite applications became even more critical than ever,
but the methods described above still worked without the protective gas layer. There was simply
elevated risk to the wine.
So, where does that leave us today? Do we care about aerobic and anaerobic fermentations? Yes
we do, even though we realize they are not as critical as we once thought for the actual creation o
f alcohol. But the creation of aerobic and anaerobic conditions are still extremely
important to the prevention of premature oxidation.
February 21st, 2005
Yesterday was the February meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG). We
met at the country home of Lesley Lunt and Martin Benke near Hondo, Texas, and it was a
very worthwhile event for all who attended. The weather was perfect for an outdoor gathering,
the variety of wines on the tasting table was truly vast, and the food and company was top-
Speaking of the tasting table, there was something there for everyone's taste -- a Cherry/
Raisin blend, Strawberry, a Pear/Chardonnay blend, Blueberry, a Blackberry/Dewberry blend,
Vanilla Mead, Peach, Prickly Pear Cactus fruit, a Pineapple/Peach/Banana blend, Tangerine,
Chardonel, Norton, Syrah, Mustang, Concord, Pinot Grigio, and at least a dozen others. Ten
guests shared the afternoon with us and we picked up eight new members (four couples). I
have no doubt the tasting table was the best reason for joining the Guild.
Participation in a home winemaking club is the best and most enjoyable way to advance
one's skills and horizons in this wonderful hobby. Not only does one get an opportunity to
share their own wines and receive feedback on them, but one gets to taste a large variety of
different wines made in different styles and talk to the people when made them. Through
such discussions, one can solve nagging problems, gain insight into different approachs to
making the same wine, discover new yeast strains, additives and equipment, and generally tap
into a ready-made network of expertise in your own area. Even if the club's membership is
spread out across seven states, as is SARWG's, there are plenty of members within 20-30
miles of any but the most peripheral of the "locals," and that means numerous opportunities
for advice, assistance, collaboration, or sharing specialized equipment.
Yesterday the SARWG meeting had several program activities for the benefit of all members
and guests. Martin Benke demonstrated a method he developed for sweetening dry wines prior
to bottling. In the process, he also demonstrated a simple homemade siphon starter he made
-- not a new idea, but perhaps new to some attendees. I gave a short presentation on
evaluating and judging wine color, part of an ongoing training program to prepare the
membership for wine judge certification and elevate the skills of certified judges.
We then had our annual grape cuttings exchange, where members bring trimmed
cuttings from their vines and exchange them freely among the members. During that portion
of the program, Marvin Nebgen, SARWG President, gave an impromptu demonstration of how to
prepare cuttings for callousing. Members discussed historical dates for bud-break, soil pH
preferences for the various varieties being exchanged, disease resistence or tolerance of
the various grapes, spray and nutrient scheduling, pruning techniques, various trellising
systems, and all manner of subjects contributory to better viticulture.
Wherever you live, I encourage you to seek out and join a home winemaking club, guild or
circle. The rewards far outweigh the cost if you are just a little active, and since most
such groups publish a monthly newsletter, being active can consist of just a little reading
each month. Listed below are websites of a few such organizations. Visit the last link for
a larger listing of winemaking and wine appreciation clubs.
March 17th, 2005
I've been using my Carboy Lifter to rack my elderberry and it truly is a back-saver.
The Carboy Lifter is the invention of Martin Benke -- something I've needed for years.
Martin's invention was born as an idea at a meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine
Guild (SARWG) last year. Martin and I were talking about new gadgets for winemakers and I
said what I and many other winemakers need is a lift of some sort to lift our carboys.
After several severe lower back "events," all stemming from a ruptured disc when I was
still a young man, I finally decided I can't afford to lift a 6- or 6.5-gallon carboy any
longer. Heck, when I lift a 5-gallon carboy I risk several days of agony.
Martin took the idea home and a few months later told me at another SARWG meeting that
he had built a carboy lift. I wanted to see it. He went out to his vehicle, got it, and
demonstrated it to me. I wanted to buy it right then and there, but he wanted to test it
a while to make sure it stood up to prolonged use. Last month, after making several
modifications, he delivered the first ready-for-sale Lifter to me. I flat love it!
6.5-gallons of elderberry on Carboy Lifter
How Much Is Your Back Worth?
The last three times I suffered a lower back "event" (that's what my neurologist calls
them), I waited until the sciatic nerve pains pretty much encompassed my whole left leg
and I could no longer find a tolerable position in which to stand, sit or lay. By then I
was a basket case and deserved the frustration my doctor heaped upon me. But I gratefully
accepted his prescription for a powerful pain reliever and forced myself to walk next door
to the pharmacy for the medication. And every time I lift a big carboy, I risk going
through the same ordeal. When I asked Martin how much he wanted for the Lifter, he said
he had to get $150 just to make it worthwhile to build them. "Shucks," I said, "my back
is worth twice that."
The Carboy Lifter raises the carboy up to a height of just under 3 feet. It doesn't
quite reach my kitchen counter, but does lift it up onto my dining room table and set it
gently down. But it really doesn't need to be set on the table. The wine can be racked
directly from the carboy while it is on the Lifter.
The Carboy Lifter sits on 4 wheels for mobility and comes with two mini-pallets upon
which to set the carboys. Extra pallets are available. Two forklift-like prongs slip
into the pallets to hold and lift them. The forklift portion rides up a column, assisted
by bearings. The ratchetted winch works easily and quietly to lift or lower the load.
Winch section of Carboy Lifter
Martin says he can ship the Carboy Lifter anywhere in the contiguous 48 states for
under $30. While I don't usually promote products, I make an exception here. No one, no
matter how young and fit at the time, should lift a 6- or 6.5-gallon carboy of wine.
Wine kit manufacturers went from 5-gallon to 6-gallon batches, and put the back of every
customer who buys their product in jeopardy. Martin Benke has made it possible for even
my wife to manager a 6-gallon carboy, and that's worth promoting.
Martin Benke can be reached at L & M General Store, 7800 FM 471 South, Castroville,
Texas 78009, (210) 854-2178 or at home at (830) 538-6492.
April 2nd, 2005
My article, "Grape / Non-Grape Blends," in the April-May 2005 issue of WineMaker
magazine was severely edited. Still, they did a good job of making a homogeneous article
out of it, considering they cut about 30%. But, what they deleted was material I was
extremely proud of. I had thought about posting the deleted material here, but it just
doesn't stand alone very well.
There is one piece of it, however, that does deserve mention. The article makes a
somewhat off-handed mention of using the Pearson Square to calculate the ratio of spirit
to wine to use when fortifying a wine. This is not how I wrote it. The explanation of
the Peason Square was a somewhat major portion of the article.
Feature: Blend Like a Pro
The editor explained to me that they had recently published an article on the Peason
Square and were therefore cutting this section, but the previous piece did not really say
what my deleted section said. While I did indeed cover some of the same material, I went
on to say that that the Pearson Square could be used to calculate ratios for blends to
adjust for any measurable variable -- such as titratable acid (TA), pH, residual sugar, or
even SO2. I thought this would be a rather major revelation for most readers of the
Layout of the Peason Square
The Pearson Square is normally used in winemaking to calculate how much brandy or other
spirit we need to add to a wine to bring its alcohol level up to the range of Port. The
figure above shows the Pearson Square for calculating for alcohol. If Wine1 (A) is a 40%
alcohol by volume (abv) brandy, Wine2 (B) is a 10% abv Lenoir, and you wanted to blend
them to create an 18% abv Port (C), simple math will tell you how much of each to add to
the blend. Subtract the value of C from A to derive E, the amount of Wine1 you need.
Subtract the value of B from C to derive D, the amount of Wine2 required. The figure
below shows these calculated values. You would blend 8 parts (D) of the 10% wine (B)
with 22 parts (E) of the 40% brandy (A) to derive an 18% Port (C).
Using the Pearson Square
But you can just as easily calculate the ratio of wines to blend together to correct
known variables -- pH, for example. Just make A the pH of Wine1, B the pH of Wine2, and
C the desired pH of the blend. Simple math will yield D (the parts of Wine2) and E (the
parts of Wine1) -- the number of units (pints, liters, gallons, etc.) to blend together
to achieve the desired pH (C).
It is recommended that you blend an intermediate sample according to the calculated
formula and let it rest for 2-3 weeks to allow the two wines to harmonize or integrate
their individualities. Then taste the sample to determine if the calculations yielded
the desired taste results. If not, you can play with small variations of the calculated
formula, mix these, and let them rest as before to see if any of the results are more
satisfying. The sample blends can be in any volumes that fit whatever small wine bottles
you have on hand. For example, the author has screw-cap wine bottles in 125-ml, 175-ml,
187-ml, and 250-ml sizes for this and other purposes.
Because using the Pearson Square to solve for TA or pH involves math with decimals, I
for you. The second link below takes you to it..
April 15th, 2005
Well, it's tax day, I sent our return to the IRS this morning, and now I'm relaxing
with a glass of semi-sweet Orange Wine. It's an outstanding wine, if I do say so myself.
It took a 1st place in Fruit Wines Dry last Sunday at the Spring Competition of the San
Antonio Regional Wine Guild. What a tough competition this has become.
In the Guild, the word Regional is interpreted broadly. Best of Show (Grape
Wine) was won handily by Rob Overley of La Coste, Teaxs with an excellent home-grown
Champanel, but Best of Show (Non-Grape Wine) was captured by Vernon Speer of Jefferson
City, Missouri. Vernon joined the Guild about two weeks before the competition and sent
four wines to get a "reality check" on how his skills were developing. Pretty well, I'd
say -- all four placed, and he took the Big Kahuna to boot. According to the BOS judges,
his Cranberry (Dry) narrowly beat my Hazelnut Mead for top honors, but beat it he did.
The winemaker with the most placings was Luke Clark of Leesville, Louisiana, who went
home with 12 (I counted them) ribbons.
I've been asked to publish the recipe for the Hazelnut Mead, one of six wines I entered.
All six placed, but the Mead was special. It's been aging for two years and has mellowed
out really well.
An Evolving Mead
My intention was to make a varietal mead with a white clover honey I purchased from
Homebrew Adventures. About the time the honey arrived, I bought a bag of hazelnuts at Sun
Harvest, a health food supermarket, in San Antone. I mixed five gallons of must and began
fermentation in a primary, as I always do. The initial specific gravity was 1.090. This
was transferred to secondary on the 8th day. I did not record the yeast I used, but believe
it was Côte des Blancs; in any case it was a very low foamer. A few days later I
purchased some absolutely beautiful vanilla beans and decided to draw off a gallon of the mead
for fermentation with the beans. This would leave me with four gallons in a 5-gallon carboy
-- disaster waiting to happen -- and that's when I thought of the hazelnuts.
I warmed the oven to 200 degrees F. and placed the shelled nuts in a pie tin in the
oven. After 45 minutes, I removed them and let them cool. Then I cracked the nut kernels
and put them back in the oven for 15 minutes. I rubbed them with paper towels to absorb
the oil that beaded on the kernels. I placed the cracked kernels (about 20 ounces) in a
one-gallon jug and the vanilla beans (chopped) in another one-gallon jug and siphoned a
gallon of must into each. The remainder of the must went into a 3-gallon carboy. Dividing
my initial ingredients by five, the recipe would look something like this:
- 20 oz cracked, dried hazelnut kernels
- 2.4 lbs clover honey
- water to make one gallon
- 3 tsp acid blend
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1 crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
- Red Star Côte des Blancs yeast
Bring water to boil and add honey, stirring. When water returns to a boil, reduce heat
to hold a simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Spoon off any scum that rises to
the surface. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, make a yeast starter with a couple of
tablespoons of the honey-water, a pinch of yeast nutrient and 1/2 cup of warm (not hot)
water. When honey-water cools to 110 degrees F., transfer to primary and add all
ingredients except yeast starter and hazelnuts. Stir to dissolve and cover with sanitized
cloth for 6-8 hours. Add yeast starter and recover primary. On 8th day, put hazelnuts in
secondary, stir the must to suspend any fallen yeast, and transfer must to secondary until
surface is 4 inches below mouth. Attach airlock to secondary. Transfer remaining must to
375-mL bottle and attach airlock (in #3 bung). Ferment two months and check s.g. If below
1.020, strain off hazelnuts and combine musts. Allow sediments to settle and rack into
sanitized secondary. Rack as required (I did it every two months) until mead clears,
adding crushed and dissolved Campden tablet every other racking. Thereafter, rack every
two months for six months. Sweeten with honey-syrup (2 parts honey dissolved in 1 part
water) until s.g. is 1.006. Wait 30 days to ensure fermentation does not restart, add
Campden if required, and bottle. Age in bottles for two years.
May 17th, 2005
I received a very nice email back on May 2nd from a reader who pointed out an error in
the "Extended Instructions for Making Wines from Kits" published here on December 18th,
2003. He was not the first to point out the error, but for one reason or another I
always neglected to correct it until now.
For the curious, the error was in referring to the quantity of wine made by most kits
as 5 gallons when in fact it is 6 gallons. This is not a huge error, but it was an error
The fact that I just read, answered and acted upon the gentleman's email today, when it
was sent on the 2nd, speaks volumes for my schedule. Frequent trips, a backlog of work at
home and at my day-job, and a strong desire to spend some time with my wife in the evenings
add up to a huge backlog of email. I answered 106 emails over the past four days and still
have over 150 waiting to be answered. Please don't write me unless absolutely necessary,
and even then be prepared to wait a while for a reply.
Tamarind Wine Revisited
Another reader, recalling my blog last December about Tamarind Wine, wanted to point me
to a published recipe. I appreciate this gesture immensely. She found the recipe on the
About Mead website's posting of Mead Lover's Digest #779, which contained the
recipe. Here it is:
- 6 oz. tamarind pulp
- 2 lb. sugar
- 1 tsp. pectic enzyme
- 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
- wine yeast
Simmer the tamarind in 1/2 gallon of water for five or ten minutes, strain. Into the
liquid, stir the sugar and nutrient. Cool and add the pectic enzyme and yeast. Top up
with water to make one gallon. (From Worldwide Winemaking Recipes).
My own Tamarindo WIne is still mellowing and I am not prepared to report on it yet.
Let me just say the recipes are similar but not the same. Stay tuned....
June 6th, 2005
I received two emails in two days asking where my new Blogs are. My apologies to all who
look for them and only find the old ones. Life has been busy, and time has been in short
supply. But I'll try to get back into writing for you.
I received an email this morning from a grape grower "up north" who was complaining that
his vines are not flowering as much this year as last. I had to think about that a moment.
His grapes are just now in flower. Wow! My bunch grapes have fully grown bunches that will
undergo verasion in 6-8 weeks. My mustang grapes will ripen around the end of this month
and will start dropping grapes in about 6 weeks. By the end of August, I will have a hard
time finding a grape still hanging. Such is the difference between South Texas and "up north."
I am blessed.
A fellow Texas wrote and asked about making wine from mimosa flowers. According to wikipedia, "Mimosa
is a genus of 400 to 450 species of herbs and shrubs, in the subfamily Mimosoideae of the legume family
Fabaceae. The most curious plant in the genus is Mimosa pudica because of the way it folds its leaves
when touched or exposed to heat; many others also fold their leaves in the evening. It is native to southern
Mexico, Central and South America but is widely cultivated elsewhere for its curiosity value, both as an indoor
plant in temperate areas, and outdoors in the tropics. Outdoor cultivation has led to weedy invasion in some areas,
notably Hawaii." It has naturalized throughout much of the eastern half of the United States. It's popular name
is "sensitize plant" or "sensitive tree."
The two "false mimosa" species most often still called mimosa are the (Albizia julibrissin (the infamous
"Silk Tree") and Acacia dealbata (Silver Wattle), the first native to Asia, from Iran to China, and the
second native to Eurasia, from Italy up into Russia.
The various species range in growth from mature trees averaging 15-25 feet in height (Mimosa scabrella can
achieve 45 feet in height in only 3 years) with 25-35 feet in spread and often with a flattened crown, to 3-inch
high ground covers that can spread over a considerable area relative to their height. The trees are low branching
with open, spreading foliage with delicate, fern-like leaves that in most species close when touched. The pink,
silky flowers are globular, pompom-like, very fragrant, and attractants of butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.
Its light, dappled shade and tropical effect make it popular as a deck or patio tree. It can withstand drought and
strong winds and grows well in the American South. The flowers vary from light pink or mauve to strongly pigmented
hues of the same colors or close variants. Some are bicolor and some are yellow. Some species, especially M.
pigra and M. nuttallii, have recurved thorns and thus are avoided by herbivores that might otherwise
control them; other species are prickly rather than thorny, but both types repulse grazing animals and are therefore
become a noxious, invasive weed outside their natural range. Inasmuch as over 3,000 plants have been labeled as
mimosas and only some 400 -450 species truly are, there is much confusion among the common populace almost
everywhere outside their natural habitat as to which plants genuinely are and which are not true mimosas. However,
almost every botanical garden sports specimens of true mimosa and it is found in most plant guides.
Its leaves and flowers are used for tea. The flowers can be cooked as a vegetable. While
I have never seen a recipe for mimosa wine, I have developed one that makes a very nice,
light wine that is best served chilled. The recipe makes a 10-11% alcohol wine -- any
stronger and you may have a balance problem.
Mimosa Flower Wine
- 2 quarts loosely packed mimosa flowers
- 1 11-oz can 100% white grape juice concentrate, frozen
- 1 lb 3 oz granulated sugar (to s.g. 1.076)
- 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
- 1/8 tsp grape tannin
- 6-1/2 pints water
- 1 crushed Campden tablet
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1 pkt Hock or Champagne wine yeast
Wash the flowers and put in nylon straining bag with a dozen marbles for weight, tie bag,
and place in primary. Heat 1 quart water and dissolve sugar. Cool with frozen grape juice
concentrate and remaining water and add to primary. Add remaining ingredients except yeast
and stir well. Cover primary and wait 10-12 hours before adding activated yeast. Recover
primary, move to a warm place and stir daily. When specific gravity drops to 1.015 or below,
drip-drain bag and transfer wine to secondary. Affix airlock and move to cooler (but not
cold) place. Rack after 30 days and again after another 30 days, topping up and refitting
airlock each time. If fermentation has finished, wine should be clear or begin to clear,
although pollen will continue to settle for another 2-3 months. Rack again 90 days after
wine has cleared, top up and reattach airlock. Set aside another 90 days to bulk age.
Stabilize, sweeten to taste (excellent at 1.010) and rack into bottles. May taste after 6
months in bottle. [Author's own recipe]
June 11th, 2005
Well, mustang grapes, they ain't too sweet
But that mustang wine just can't be beat
(lyrics of "Mustang Wine" by Steve Earle)
I have been watching the WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition ever
since its inception and have never seen a mustang grape wine place in the Native American
Wines categories. This year I thought I would at least introduce the judges to this
wonderful Texas staple, even if it didn't place. I was quite surprised to receive a Gold
Medal in the mail, along with the judging sheets for my single entry. The only comment
among the three judges -- at least the only one conveyed to me -- was, "Much better taste
Yes, grapes of the Vitis mustangensis species do have an unusual aroma that
takes a little getting used to if you are unfamiliar with it. In this regard, it is
similar to the Vitis labrusca species in that it has an unusual aroma, but the aroma
of the mustang is nothing like that of the labruscas. They are quite different
and unique, yet signatures unto themselves.
The WineMaker International judging sheets, like every judging sheet I have ever
seen, allows the evaluation of both aroma and bouquet. This competition allows up to 6
points for this most important characteristic, for we all know that smell and taste are
the two features of a wine that allow the most enjoyment where it counts -- in the
consumption. The WineMaker International sheet allows for the following awarding
- Exceptional -- Wonderful characteristic aroma of grape variety or wine type.
Outstanding and complex bouquet. Exceptional balance of aroma and bouquet. (6 points)
- Excellent -- Strong characteristic aroma of grape variety or wine type.
Complex bouquet. Good balance of aroma and bouquet. (5 points)
- Good -- Good characteristic aroma of grape variety or wine type. Admirable
bouquet. (4 points)
- Pleasant -- Good characteristic aroma of grape variety or wine type. Pleasant
bouquet. (3 points)
- Acceptable -- No perceptable aroma or bouquet or with slight off odors. (2 points)
- Needs Improvement -- Off odors very detectable. (1 point)
- Objectionable -- Offensive odors. (0 points)
When I entered this wine, I also set aside a bottle to enter in the San Antonio
Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) 2005 Spring Competition, as this would yield a true test
of how good a mustang wine it actually was. SARWG's judges are very familiar with the
mustang grape and most of them make it's wine. The wine placed 1st Place in the SARWG
competition and was judged for (but did not win) Best of Show. In evaluating its aroma
and bouquet, it earned the highest points allowable. The three WineMaker International
judges found the aroma and bouquet to be Excellent (5 points), Acceptable (2 points),
and Good (4 points). In other words, they did not know what mustang wine is supposed to
smell like. But that is okay. They at least appreciated its taste, appearance and
aftertaste, and it did very well in "overall impression."
For an introductory evaluation, it wasn't bad at all. I only hope that others will
enter mustang wines in this competition in future years. It is an important Texas grape,
yet is virtually unknown outside this region of the country. It's time it "got around."
June 21st, 2005
A reader wrote, "I made about 25 gallons of pear wine last year. The wine is a light
yellow color and has a weird kerosene smell to it. What is up with that?" The problem I
have is that I would really like to have some of the wine to smell and taste. What you
call "kerosene" may register differently to me. Nonetheless, I tried to answer as best I
A Matter of Smell
There is one wine that is more frequently identified with a kerosene smell than any
other, and it is Niagara grape wine. I do not really know the reason for this, but have
been told it has to do with skin-juice contact -- that pressing the grapes immediately after
crushing them will eliminate it. Riesling, it has been pointed out, will develop a slight
kerosene bouquet in about three years. No one really seems to know why. However, the
reader was speaking of pear wine, not Niagara or Riesling.
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), I've been told, is often added to wine to shift disulfide
odors to mercaptans, which can then be removed with copper. Wines with disulfides smell
like rubber, vegetables, kerosene, cat urine, or just vaguely dirty. According to my source,
ascorbic acid interferes with iodine SO2 tests, giving a false high result. The source does
not recommend using ascorbic acid in grape juice immediately after crush (or press for white
grapes) as an antioxidant because it scavenges oxygen needed by yeasts during their growth
stage. I cannot confirm these claims.
Another source told me that Rieslings get the smell of kerosene from a chemical called
1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene (TDN for short). The uninformed consider these wines
to be a poorly made, but this is normal for Riesling. Again, I cannot confirm this as being
The above explanations have been reviewed by a very good chemist who says they are
"reasonable," but cannot confirm they are true in the context to which they were inserted,
but that is good enough for me at this time. I'm trying to be helpful, not authoritative.
Could it Be the Pears?
The problem, of course, is that these do not necessarily explain the smell in the pear
wine. I have made and tasted a great deal of pear wine. Most of my pear wine was from
hard, cooking pears (Keiffer, Carnes, or Pineapple pears), but some was from softer, sweeter
eating pears. I have learned over the years that neither of these are not the best pears
for perry or wine, but they are what I had at hand. But I do not know what kind of
pears the reader with the problem used. It might (or might not) make a difference.
A rather lengthy web search produced the following classification of pears, from Grafton
and Cunningham's Perry Pear Varieties web page (second link, below):
- Sweet pears have low acidity; around 0.2% (w/v) (calculated as malic acid), and
fairly low tannin content; below 0.15%(w/v).
- Medium Sharp pears have an acidity of between 0.2% and 0.6% (w/v) and a tannin
content of below 0.15% (w/v).
- Bittersweet pears have an acidity of below 0.45% (w/v) and a tannin content of above
0.2% (w/v). Very few pear varieties fall into this category.
- Bittersharp (Astringent-sharp) pears have an acidity of greater than 0.45% (w/v) and
a tannin content of greater than 0.2% (w/v). These pears have a penetrating flavour which
is very striking since the tannin is astringent rather than bitter. This category of pear
is unsuitable for eating (due to the harsh flavour) but makes the best perries.
Despite following many internal and external links, I could find nothing on the pears
themselves that would account for the smell of kerosene (with over 3,000 varieties worldwide,
the referenced site lists only a few dozen and so is not inclusive by any means). But
elsewhere, I discovered something interesting....
In the care and maintenance of the pear orchard, as with grape vineyards and gardens in
general, trees are treated variously for disease and insect pests. One of the treatments
for pear trees is "kerosene emulsion." As the name implies, it is made with kerosene itself
(as well as several other ingredients). The directions I found said to spray on foliage 10
or even 15 times in the season. And so I wonder if the reader's problem could have been
more direct. Could the pears simply not have been washed well enough...?
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