? Jack Keller's WineBlog

Read some of my interviews at:

WineMaking Talk, Legends in Winemaking: Jack Keller, January 19, 2015
WhoHub, Jack's WineBlog, undated
Reign of Terroir, Jack Keller on America's Indigenous Grape and Fruit Wines, July 18, 2010
Reign of Terroir, Jack Keller, the Net's First Wine Blogger, Part 1, October 3, 2008
Reign of Terroir, Jack Keller, the Net's First Wine Blogger, Part 2, October 6, 2008


A blog about making wine (and other things of interest to the author)

Contact Jack Keller

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

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

Jack has six times been elected the President of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, is a certified home wine judge, frequent contributor to WineMaker Magazine, creator and author of The Winemaking Home Page and of Jack Keller's WineBlog, the first wine blog on the internet, ever. He grows a few grapes, now works at being retired, and is slowly writing a book on -- what else? -- winemaking. He and Donna live separately but are still married.

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Some Other Wine Blogs

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

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

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

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

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

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

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

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

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

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

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

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

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

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

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

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

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

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

Jack Keller

May 23rd, 2019


If you happen to live anywhere in South-Central Texas and do not belong to a home winemaking club, please consider joining the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG---pronounced Sar-wig). Annual dues are just #15 a year for an individual and $20 for a couple. I'm the Treasurer, so contact me and I'll get a June Newsletter sent to you pronto. The fastest way to contact me is to get on Facebook and send me a private message or leave a chat message and I'll answer it when at the keyboard.

Not much to report. Answered too many emails and had another flat tire. Why do nails always end up in the firewall, where warranties do not tread (thought that a nice pun)? Another $245 unexpected expenditure. Everyone has these unexpecteds, but they bite the pocketbook when its already low.

Still working on the book (and will be for many months). I hate having to explain chemistry....

Mulberry Wine

mulberries (photo from honest-food.net
fair use doctrine for illustrative purposes)

I received a request for a mulberry wine recipe beyond what is published in my Requested Recipes section. The only mulberry wines I have made followed the recipes I published. I do not currently have ready access to mulberries so have not developed different recipes using more fruit.

I have about 300 books and also other resources for requests such as this. The mulberry recipes I found were, for the most part, similar to the ones I published. The major differences were not in the quantity of fruit but rather adding or not adding raisins as a body builder. Mulberry wine is, by itself, rather thin. A body builder is required if the wine is to have any weight in the mouth. For decades I used raisins or dates or occasionally malt extract or other ingredients, but eventually I leaned almost exclusively on frozen grape concentrates, which work very well and eliminate the raisiny taste that is so difficult to mask. Anyway, in my library I found a couple of departures from the normal recipes, although I did not check every single book.

The recipe I settled on is in Making Wine at Home by Annabelle Mclinay, a 1974 goodie. I have a few issues with this recipe and so am going to tweak it a bit. I'm adding acid (as lemon juice), frozen grape concentrate, tannin, sulfites, and pectic enzyme, in phases. I'm also reducing the amount of sugar by half.

The recipe calls for a large quantity of mulberries but gives no hint as to how much juice it delivers. It then tells you to add a gallon of water. As a minimum, it would take a 2-gallon carboy to contain the total volume, a very rare item, and it would then have a large head-space, not good for the wine. I am changing this to add water to make a gallon, but am guessing you will need at least a pint (if this is too much, please let me know---please). With that much juice, grape concentrate and reduced water, I expect this to be a very full-bodied and flavorful wine.

Mulberry Wine Recipe

  • 4 quarts of mulberries
  • 2 pounds very fine granulated sugar
  • 1 can Welch's frozen red grape concentrate, thawed
  • 1 pint water
  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1/2 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 tsp tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • any general purpose red wine yeast in a starter solution

Put 1 pint of water on stove to boil. Meanwhile, in a colander, wash the berries very quickly. Do not turn. Transfer berries to a large stock pot and crush and mash them. If using hands, wear rubber gloves. Mulberry stains are long lasting. Remove boiling water from stove and pour over mashed berries. Cover the pot and stir at least twice a day for three days. On second day stir in pectic enzyme. After third day, strain berries through a jelly bag or very fine meshed nylon straining bag into primary. Add sugar, yeast nutrient, tannin, thawed red grape concentrate, and juice of 1 large lemon. Stir well until sugar is completely dissolved---about 5-8 minutes. Add yeast as starter solution and stir again. Cover primary with clean linen or towel. Let ferment 11 days. Crush a Campden tablet into very fine powder and thoroughly dissolve in 1 cup of fermenting mulberry juice. Pour into 1-gallon secondary, then transfer mulberry juice into secondary (do not top up), seal with bung and airlock and let stand in dark place for 1 month. Rack, top up and return to dark place for 2 months. Wine should be clear. Into sanitized secondary, add 1 very finely crushed Campden tablet and 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate, then rack into this secondary. Affix airlock and return to dark place for 30 days. Bottle and cellar in a dark place. Should be drinkable in 2 months and consumed within a year.

To be honest, I don't know how long this wine will age. Possibly doubling the tannin would help stretch out its longevity. Certainly at 9 months you should be able to discern whether the wine is improving, holding its own or declining. If you make this wine and set a bottle aside to age 2 years, please let me know how it tasted at this age. I really do want to know.

April 24th, 2019


I've received many messages and emails asking whether my health was a contributor to my absence here and on Facebook. Here is my edited reply….

A year and three weeks ago I was hospitalized with kidney failure. It came out of the blue, with a cascade of symptoms over two days which I self-diagnosed and was very wrong. It reached a point where my speech was slurred, my balance nonexistent and I became delirious. My brother Larry (upon talking to me over the phone), my wife and stepson all realized something was seriously wrong and Scott drove me to a hospital in San Antonio where I was diagnosed with 10% kidney function.

A week in ICU and a lesser ward pulled me from the Gates of Saint Peter and got me to 60% kidney function, at which point I was discharged into the care of my new doctor, a nephrologist. He and my cardiologist worked together to eliminate some of my medications and add a couple of new ones.

A month later I was fly fishing in the Poconos. It was good therapy for me. Lots of trout and panfish….

I spent a very enjoyable Christmas at my mother's in California with sister Barbara and her husband Mick. Upon return, I was involved in two projects and even managed to get my taxes done six weeks earlier than usual despite it being very complicated this year (even with the new form 1040). But this early is a record for me.

From youngest to oldest, brothers Barry, Keith, Larry, me, and sister Barbara, family photo
From youngest to oldest, brothers Barry,
Keith, Larry, me, and sister Barbara

On March 13th I talked briefly to my mother by phone. About three hours later I was notified by my brother Larry that shortly after I talked to her she stopped breathing and 911 was called. Without going into detail, she passed away that evening. I flew to California the next day. It was the first time in a long time me and my siblings were together. Why couldn't we manage this while both parents were still with us?

My mother lived 94 years and 7 months. To me, she was a saint. How she managed 5 kids on as little as my father made the first 14 years of their marriage is a mystery she took to the grave. She was an involved mother, constantly active in PTA, Cub Scouts, Girl Scout Brownies, neighborhood youth recreational activities, Sunday School, and was always interested in what her children were doing.

I cannot ever remember when my mother was not there for me, even when I had gotten myself into mischief. In the latter cases, she dealt out tough love, something needed to shape my character. I never held it against her because I knew when I was wrong. You face the music and do so knowing when you got into trouble who was responsible. But even in those moments I knew she loved me and so I could not help but love her back.

She and my father were married 70 years, made of stuff that took their vows seriously and worked through every adversity. They both loved to travel, both within the United States and internationally. In their later years, they traveled almost exclusively by cruise lines.

Rosalie Wanda Keller, turning senior, family photo
Rosalie Wanda Keller, earlier this century

During my teenage years, when the calendar worked out for my father, he packed the 7 of us in the station wagon and took us on 1- or 2-night camping trips throughout Southern California. My mother always made and packed meals for the first day of driving and first night. Longer vacations were spent on the 1800-mile pre-freeway trip back to family in Louisiana, to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, the Seattle World's Fair, and places in-between. My mother always made them educational trips for us all, reading snippets of local history.

My mother lost the sight in her right eye years ago due to a stroke. Since then she developed a tumor in her left eye and eventually went completely blind. For the better part of the past two years she was bedridden, where her muscle mass entropied and she lost a lot of weight. Her memory suffered. It wasn't gone, but she had to think a while when recalling things. We all knew the end was near. That being said, knowing and being prepared are two different things. While I wasn't ready for her passing, I do take comfort that she is now reunited with my father, the love of her life. I am also comforted that the last words she ever heard over the phone were, "I love you, Mom."

Because I was named executor of my mother's estate, I spent a while in California. I will have to make at least two more trips out before the estate is settled. These will not be trips I will enjoy, as the last trip will be the closing on the only real home I had growing up.

A What?

I returned recently and have been playing catch-up on a book, Beginners Guide to Winemaking, I am under contract to finish this year. Yes, after all this time, I am finally writing a book on winemaking. When I say "Beginners Guide," that is what the publisher wanted. However, it is not what I really wanted to write. But I am grateful it worked out this way.

I am faced with the same dilemma I've had every time in the past I started to put words into a manuscript, and that is reader education. Starting with a beginners guide means I can assume the reader knows nothing. So I asked myself, "What would I need to learn and to what depth would I need to understand it if I knew zero about winemaking and wanted to make wine from scratch?"

That question has dictated what and how I write the book. Yes, it will be a beginner's guide to winemaking, but it will also explain what we do and why we do it, and the latter makes it a book for any level of winemaking. I am having to dig deeper into my knowledge and organize it more rigorously than I anticipated. I learned the craft piecemeal over many years. This will be the book I wish I'd had when I was starting out.

The trips to California will cut into my writing time. I've canceled a week-long fly fishing trip to North Carolina for that reason. The manuscript is due in September. The book will be published sometime in 2019. I have no idea when, but when I find out I'll publish the date right here. Hopefully there are a few buyers for the book out there.

When to Add Sulfites
Potassium Metabisulfite, from the internet
Potassium Metabisulfite

A visitor recently wrote and asked when to add sulfites to his must/wine. Having examined many of my recipes, he deduced that it was generally every other racking, but not always. My reply must have been somewhat mystifying---probably because it was somewhat succinct, but I did tell him I would expand upon it here, so it goes.

When do you add sulfites to your must or developing wine? The short answer is when it needs it. The long answer can be very long, so I'll try to hit the highlights.

Almost all my recipes have you add sulfites right at the beginning, in the primary. This is because this is the most vulnerable time in the life of a must, when microorganisms are most likely to be present. The most vulnerable time in the life of a wine is when it is introduced to oak, but I get ahead of myself.

I am assuming one has a basic knowledge of sulfites. Sulfites are added to the must as either Campden tablets---always finely crushed and dissolved in some water or liquid from the must---or metabisulfite powder (the preferred way). When then added to the must, some of it binds with certain dissolved compounds (including oxygen) and suspended solids in the must, including microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria and wild yeast, and is known as bound sulfur. Wine yeasts are selected in part on their ability to resist bound sulfur, so they are not affected in the same way as wild yeast. The sulfur which is not bound is free sulfite and occurs in the form of sulfur dioxide gas (SO2). We say it is free because it is free to bind with oxygen and other things added to the must.

A wide-mouth primary is essential because yeast need oxygen to propagate. If the SO2 were to bind with all available oxygen the yeast would have none to promote their life cycle. The wide mouth allows oxygen into the must where the yeast absorb it. After a few days in the primary the must is processed---pressed or strained---and the resulting liquid is transferred to a secondary and capped with an airlock to prevent further intake of oxygen. The yeast then undergoes their anaerobic fermentation, during which propagation ceases and serious alcohol production begins.

Titrets package, from the internet
Titrets package, contains 10 titrets

It is entirely possible that upon first racking all the free SO2 has been used up, and if so this would be the proper time to add more sulfite. Racking is a process that adds oxygen to the must/wine, so this is possible. But how are we to know? The answer is to use a sulfite test kit (called Titrets) and measure the free SO2 . Each time you use such a kit you expend about $2. This cost should be worth it to protect your efforts and end up with a good wine. You should also be warned that due to chemical interference, Titrets are only accurate to +/- 30ppm of free sulfur in red wines. Accuvin makes a kit that has greater accuracy, but costs about $4 per test. Test kits capable of even greater accuracy are rather expensive.

Over the years I have spent hundreds of dollars testing musts/wines for free SO2 . The add points I cite for adding sulfites in my recipes are the result of that experience, but they are not chiseled in stone. They are based on my experience, not yours. You might treat your must differently than I treat mine. Every time you break the seal of the airlock to test specific gravity or taste the product you add oxygen to the must. If you have sufficient free SO2 in the must/wine there is no problem, but if you don't you promote early oxidation as well as re-propagation by the yeast. Both are bad. However, the amount of sulfite I add is slightly more than normal.

Adding sulfite, in my opinion, is best using potassium metabisulfite. This stuff is strong. Only 1/4 teaspoon is sufficient to add 50ppm of free SO2 to 5 gallons of must or wine. I usually make 1-gallon batches when I am experimenting or do not have enough base ingredient for a larger batch. Logically, this would mean I would have to divide that 1/4 teaspoon into 5 parts for 50ppm. However, it is far easier to divide it into 4 equal parts than 5. This gives me a higher amount of free SO2 (60ppm), which is why I can go longer without adding more, as reflected in my recipes.<'p>

The key times to add sulfites are:

  • When introducing the must to the primary
  • After removing the airlock and checking the wine a few times and then racking
  • When adding physical oak to the wine
  • In combination with potassium sorbate before bottling

One last word about adding sulfites to your product. Don't overdo it. You should never taste or smell sulfite when drinking a wine.

There is more to the free SO2 story than reflected here. For example, the pH of the must/wine influences how much is an optimal dose. While I will not cover this here, it will be spelled out for you in my upcoming book.

January 19th, 2018

I'm not sure how often I'll be posting going forward, but my intentions are to overcome some of the demands on my time (except for fly fishing). Anyway, it's good to be back so I can say hi.

Rambling Along

Medical Stuff (skip if not interested)

First of all, I feel obligated to share with you some (but not all) of the reasons for my lapses in writing. I've already covered the many months of technical issues with my wireless connectivity so will not repeat those. They're boring to read anyway. The other issue is health. I feel very healthy most; of the time, but issues have arisen to rob me of that last bit; and it haunts me. Health issues are also boring, so skip to the next segment if not interested.

I may or may not have mentioned I have had chronic bronchitis for years, sometimes as often as seven times in one year but usually five or six. This evolved into bronchial obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), requiring three daily intakes of two different inhalers. My daily walks were slowly reduced from 1.6 miles to less than a quarter-mile. Bummer.

Having experienced frequent bouts of imbalance and light-headedness, I then experienced three episodes of blackouts resulting in unconsciousness. A few days after the third one I had a routine appointment with my cardiologist and shared with him these developments and my fear of blacking out while driving. He ordered an MRI/MRA to look for signs of an oncoming stroke or a series of TIAs. The results indicated no such diagnosis. He then referred me to a neurologist who ordered a CT scan of the temporal lobes and inner ear canals. It turns out I have fluid in my inner ears, and this is causing the imbalance problems and could contribute to blackouts. He prescribed a medication for vertigo and the result was no more imbalance, dizziness nor any more episodes of blackout or a while. When the symptoms returned he upped the prescription and I am fine.

I also underwent cataract surgery that required a new prescription. The latter was a bit tricky because it seems that my left eye is slowly drifting outward, causing double vision. If you've never experienced this while sober, it can be disturbing while driving, especially when the car passing you on the left suddenly appears directly in front of you in your lane as well as in the left lane. It took two adjustments to my prescription to eliminate this.

Finally, my macular degeneration has advanced to a scotoma (blind spot) smack in the center of vision in my left eye. I get periodic injections in that eye, which helps reduce distortions but doesn't eliminate the scotoma.

There are other issues I won't go into, but having had two heart attacks, naturally I have regular visits with my cardiologist. Medical posts are boring, and I've bored you long enough.

Fly Fishing Update

I have always loved fly fishing for native trout. Except when camping and fishing for my meals, I release my catch. I'm not really there to decimate the native trout population. I'm there for the experience, the tranquility, the union with nature.

The results from my neurologist, ophthalmologist and two other doctors were satisfied enough to allow me to drive up to the Driftless Area of Wisconsin in 2016 for my annual fly fishing trip with four buddies. We usually go to a different state each year but during that trip we were caught in a flash flood that generalized into a "1,000-year flood" and cut our trip short. I almost drowned but that is another story. We returned in April 2017 to some fabulous fishing in the same area. I drove from Texas to Wisconsin both times without incident, except for a deserved speeding ticket in Iowa.

Our trip to the Colorado Rockies last September was cancelled due to circumstances beyond our control. Bummer. Two of us are heading for the trout streams in the Poconos when it warms up in the Spring, so all is not lost.

Flower Wines

It is my habit to create email folders and populate them with emails I receive by subject matter. Last year I was delving through several folders and noticed a few were about various flower wines. I then created a "flower Wines" folder and moved more than a few emails into it.

Several were questions about the suitability of specific flowers for wine and if I had a recipe for them. A few were recipes or variations of a recipe (see below for an outstanding example). For the former, I always refer them to my page Edible Flowers Suitable for use in Home Winemaking. If you've never seen this page, go to my Advanced Winemaking Basics and look at the 19 other subjects of interest listed at the bottom of the page

Plumeria Wine

Plumeria photo by Renesis, licensed under version 3.0 of the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license. From Wikipedia.

I received an email from Michael Goodwin in Bali, Indonesia that brought joy to my heart. It is a story of perseverance that defines an artisan winemaker as well as a perfectionist. It began with the recipe I published on this blog on May 11th, 2011 and is presented below.

Plumeria Wine Recipe

  • 6 cups fragrant plumeria flower's petals
  • 8 fl oz 100% pure white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • general purpose wine yeast in starter solution

Pick the flowers just before starting the wine so they're fresh. Do not pick any that haven't fully opened yet. Boil 7 pints water and stir in sugar, acid blend, grape tannin, finely crushed Campden tablet, and yeast nutrient until dissolved, then pour over flowers in a primary, stirring gently to submerge flowers. Concurrently, activate yeast in starter solution and tend to it until needed. Cover the primary with clean cloth or plastic wrap and set in a warm place for about 24 hours. Add thawed grape concentrate, pectic enzyme and yeast starter solution and re-cover the primary. Set aside until vigorous fermentation subsides, stirring daily, but do not exceed 10 days. Strain liquid into secondary fermentation vessel and attach an airlock without topping up. When fermentation stops, top up. Rack after 30 days, then again after additional 30 days. Wait additional 30 days and stabilize wine with potassium sorbate and another finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Wait 2-4 weeks to prove stability but do not sweeten. Bottle when clear and store in dark, cool place. It will be fit to drink in about 4 months, but will improve enormously if allowed to mature a year. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Michael Goodwin's Tweaks

Michael made numerous batches and kept copious notes (his words). His initial problem was to know what size cup to use. I don't know what a cup is in Bali, but in the USA it is 8 dry ounces (Google knows). Anyway, his next problem was whether to pack the flowers in tight or what? Here Google would be no help and I failed to stipulate lightly packed---my bad.

Michael eventually decided to count the flowers. He made a 5-liter batch using 125 flowers. The wine did not have a pleasant taste. Michael found someone on another blog who used 88 flowers, so he tried that.

Using 88 flowers produced much better results than any of his other efforts, but he felt he could probably reduce the number again, so he tried 80 flowers. This wine was too light. So he soldiered on and found he could make a very pleasant plumeria wine using 85 flowers. Now that's perseverance and a great example of knowing what you're looking for and experimenting until you found it.

Way to go, Michael!

Headaches and Red Wine

Thanks to Jack Turan of the Rochester Home Wimemakers for sending me an article some time back from Waterhouse Lab of UC-Davis on sulfites and their real and mythical negative effects to consumers. The article is brief and linked at the end of today's entry. It begins….

Sulfites or sulfur dioxide is a fruit preservative widely used in dried fruits as well as wine. It is also produced by the human body at the level of about 1000 mg (milligrams) per day. Consumption of food preserved with sulfites is generally not a problem except for a few people who are deficient in the natural enzyme to break it down. For these people, the additional sulfites from food can be a problem. There are reports of severe and life threatening reactions when sulfites were added at erroneously and enormously high levels (100 times what was supposed to be used!) on salad bar vegetables.

Sulfites in wine average 80 mg/liter or about 10 mg per typical glass of wine. White wines contain slightly higher amounts of sulfites than do reds. As cited above, very, very few people react to extremely high levels of sulfite consumption.

When sulfites are increased to 300 mg/liter or 45 mg/glass only 4 of 24 extremely sensitive people experienced an asthmatic effect, while none experienced any effect at half that dose.

Cherry/Grape Wine

Langer's Organic 100% White Grape Tart Cherry Juice
Langer's Organic 100% White Grape Tart Cherry Juice

Too many months ago Ron Guidotti sent me the following recipe for Cherry/Grape Wine. I apologize for not addressing it sooner. This is another example of experimentation and perseverance I applaud. What follows should be in quotes, but for stylistic reasons is not. Just be aware that this is Ron Guidotti's post to me.

I've been experimenting with various wine recipes over the past two years and depended heavily on your blog and experience in this arena. I recently tried making cherry wine from juices rather than whole fruit. Here is a recipe that I came up with that worked pretty well for me using a grape/tart cherry juice that I bought at Costco.

Cherry/Grape Wine

  • 1 gal of Langer's organic white grape/tart cherry juice (try Costco or Trader Joe's)
  • 13 oz. sugar
  • 1/2 t acid blend
  • 1/2 t pectic enzyme
  • 1 t yeast nutrient (DAP)
  • 1/2 t yeast energizer
  • 1/2 t Go-Ferm
  • 1/2 t Sparkolloid
  • 1/2 m sorbate
  • Sugar syrup or agave nectar
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet (0.5 - 0.6 g potassium bisulflite (KHSO3)
  • 1 t Lalvin 71B-1122 yeast

Add the juice to the primary fermentation vessel and add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved. Add the pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient, and yeast energizer and stir well. The specific gravity at this point should be approximately 1.095 (~°Brix of 21.0). Take about 1 C of water and heat it to between 104o and 108oF. Add the Go-Ferm and yeast and stir well until dispersed and hydrated. Let the mixture stand for 15 min until signs of fermentation are shown. Add the yeast slurry to the primary fermenter and cover with a sterile cloth and store in a warm place to encourage fermentation.

After 4 or 5 days, the fermentation should have slowed. Cap the fermenter and attach an airlock until further signs of fermentation stop (up to another two weeks). The specific gravity at this time should be less than 1.000 (typically, 0.997) at this time. Rack the wine into another fermenter and add the potassium sorbate. Heat about 1/2 C of the wine with the Sparkolloid powder for several minutes and add to the wine. Cover the fermenter and add the airlock. Store until the wine has cleared (another two to four weeks).

When the wine has cleared, rack into another container and sparge with a paint stirrer to remove dissolved CO2. There should be little to moderate foaming at this time. Taste the wine to see if it has the desired dryness. If a somewhat sweeter wine is desired, incrementally add sugar syrup or agave nectar until the desired level sweetness is achieved. (I ended up adding 5/8 C of sugar syrup to mine, which gave me a final specific gravity of 1.010.) To prevent further fermentation if syrup was added, add 0.5 - 0.6 g of potassium bisulfite (basically, one crushed Campden tablet). (I personally prefer to add this in a powdered form, as it dissolves more readily. Inexpensive scales for weighing small amount of such powders are readily available from eBay; search under: "small digital pocket scale".)

If a stronger cherry flavor is desired, incrementally add small amounts (e.g., ¼ t at a time) to the wine and check after each addition, to avoid adding too much. This will be a matter of personal taste. (I ended up adding 1 t of extract per gallon.)

The final wine can be stored in the original plastic container in which the juice was container for bulk aging. Individual bottles can then be filled from this later. Or, simply fill the bottles after bisulfate and sugar syrup addition. I would age the wine at least 6 months and preferable a year for best results.

The beauty of making cherry wine from juice such as this is that one avoids all the hassle of de-pitting and de-stemming of whole cherries, which can be very time consuming and messy. It also makes scale-up to a 5-gallon batch very easy. [Ron Guidotti's recipe, with permission]

October 20th, 2016

An aside: It irks me that I pay for a program and then have to pay for technical support when it goes awry. I won't list the programs I'm referring to, but there are more than three. Other than that, things seem to be working smoothly again in my computer and on the web. My thanks to a little money for large blessings.

I'm waiting for a phone call to head for San Antonio for an MRI and MRA. I'm optimistic that the results will simply clarify some incidents that happened in the recent past and not reveal a larger issue. In the meantime, I'm going to try to post this entry. Hope I finish before the summons. Fingers crossed….>/p>

More Ramblings Through My Email

Several emails caught my attention as suitable for sharing. We'll start with passion fruit.

A Passion Fruit Dilemma

We are experienced home fruit wine makers, but since we have moved from the cold country to Southern CA, we find ourselves with an abundance of Passion Fruit--a very good, tart, flavorful variety called Fredrick. We have used your wine recipes in the past, but this time noticed that you state: "chop fruit coarsely" and wonder if you are referring to the whole fruit, shell and all. We scoop out the pulp to freeze our leftover Passion Fruit until we have time (on a raining winter day) to make our wine. Should we be using the fruit with the shell, or just the pulp?

Passion Fruit

I replied that I use the whole fruit but see no reason just using the pulp wouldn't work. I thought it just might be difficult to extract the pulp later and leave more lees than one wants. But I really didn't know since I've never made it that way. I recommended they try it and let me know what they did and how it works out. If there is another way to do it, I want the recipe.

They replied later that they used my recipe #1 (see link at end of entry) with the frozen passion fruit pulp. They said it just went into the carboys and is looking and smelling good. They used Cote des Blancs yeast. I never heard how it turned out but see no reason why it shouldn't have come out fine.

My passion fruit wine recipes make sweet wines unless you use a super yeast (one that ferments to 18% abv or above). To make a drier wine, use a non-super yeast and about 1/2 pound less sugar than the recipe calls for. By drier I mean an off-dry or slightly sweet one, as I never cared for a bone dry passion fruit wine (although you might).

Welch's 100% Grape Juice (Concord) frozen concentrate
3-Gallon Welch's Recipe

I get a lot of nuggets of gold in my emails. Noel Liechty, an avid winemaker, shared with me his recipe for 3 gallons of wine made from Welch's products---Concord, Niagara and Niagara-Raspberry. To be clear, each is a separate batch, each made from the same recipe.

Noel started with my recipe and he tweaked it into his own. That's what experienced winemakers do. If I remade any of my hundreds of wines, I know I would tweak them into a new entity.

I bought the juice (Welch's 100% White Grape Juice concentrate, frozen, which is Niagara) to make a batch but the past year has been like negotiating a minefield and I haven't made it yet. Thus, I cannot personally attest to its actual greatness yet, but believe Noel and am sharing it anyway, with his permission. I can attest to the amount of freezer space 13 11.5-ounce cans of Welch's frozen concentrate occupies---way too much. That in itself is reason enough for me to try this soon.

3-Gallon Batch of Welch's Wine

The recipe is broken down into steps, which are as follows:

  • 11 11.5-oz cans Welch's Frozen Concentrate
  • 2 tsp bentonite
  • 2 tsp powdered pectic enzyme or 15 drops liquid
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 4 qts water

Mix well in primary and set aside loosely covered for 24-hours. Stir occasionally. Then stir in:

  • 1 lb sugar
  • 3 qts water
  • 1 tblsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt yeast (Noel used Lalvin 71B-1122)

Cover with clean, tightly-woven linen. Stir daily. When vigorous fermentation subsides, rack into secondary and attach airlock. Do not be concerned that it is not yet 3 gallons. When fermentation is complete, rack and stabilize with:

  • 1/4 tsp potassium metabisulfite
  • 1-1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
  • 1/2 tsp Sparkoloid

The Sparkoloid will help the wine clear. When wine clears, or is as clear as it can be after 30-45 days, add the following :

  • 2 11.5-oz cans Welch's frozen concentrate
  • 1 to 2 oz glycerin
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • water to bring to 3 gallons

The Welch's and glycerin add sweetness, flavor and mouthfeel to the wine. The pectic enzyme is to remove any pectin haze from the Welch's. Wait 30 days and rack from sediment. Bottle when your instincts say to do so. Wait a few weeks to taste. If acceptable, dig in. [Noel Liechty's recipe with reordering by Jack Keller]

I love it when people share their recipes with me. I've been sharing mine for over 2 decades.

Strawberry-Chocolate Wine Problem

A very patient Steve in Nashville wrote about his Strawberry Wine not clearing. He tried using a fining agent, which he said helped a lot. But the wine still had a haze and gel-like floaters. He thought it was a pectin problem. I agree and have added pectic enzyme to the recipe.

Haze is indicative of pectin, but the gel-like floaters are a dead giveaway. If the wine still has a haze after 60 days of bulk aging, add more pectic enzyme.

In hindsight, I do recall adding pectic enzyme to many of my Welch's wines while in the clearing stage. I thank Steve for bringing this to my attention and jogging my memory.

The GKCC Annual Wine Classic

Greater Kansas City Cellarmasters 18th Annual Wine Classic announcement
GKCC 18th Annual Wine
Classic announcement

A few years back, before MineMaker magazine's competition in Vermont got going big, the Greater Kansas City Cellarmasters Wine Classic was becoming one of the premier home wine competitions in the nation. It still has a stellar reputation and is one of the better competitions for entering both varietal and country wines.

If you are looking for a quality venue to compare your wines to similar ones in a competition setting, look no further. The 18th Annual (2017) Wine Classic is only several short months away, so go to its page (link below) and start planning now. It really isn't that far off if you have to ship your wines.

My time with the Cellarmasters was a treat. I met great people, sampled great wines, and came away with a better understanding of the organization. If you live within 50 miles of Kansas City and aren't a member, you're doing yourself a disservice. If you live anywhere, make home wines and don't enter their Wine Classic, you're missing one of the stellar competitions in the nation (and you won't have to take out a home loan to enter 10 wines).

Some wine competitions are really tasting competitions. The best tasting wines win. The Greater Kansas City Cellarmasters Wine Classic is not this kind of competition. Your wines are rigorously evaluated.

A wine competition should be about feedback regarding your wines. Yes, it is a competition to be sure, but that should be secondary to feedback. What did the judges think of your wine? Do their comments identify any specific deficiencies or otherwise help you to improve it in the future? This should be what competitions are about, with ribbons and medals secondary. But if it's the other way around, that's okay too.

October 15th, 2015

Rambling Through my Email

I have been slowly catching up on email, which I'll admit to being tardy on many. When you are overwhelmed with spam from many quarters, opening email is not my favorite pastime. I am slowly turning off the unsolicited newsletters and product promotions, but the political stuff is more difficult because it keeps surfacing from different sources. I can't wait for the elections to be in the read-view mirror.

I thought I'd share some of the more interesting and recent email concerning winemaking. I've selected three that are representative. One was a revelation, another concerns something we have all probably struggled with at one time, and the third is a good question

Watermelon Whiskey?

Michelle in eastern Washington state wrote:

In 2009 I made 3 gallons of watermelon wine by your recipe. Once it finished, I did not like it, but let it sit. Avoided the temptation to dump it several times. So glad. It has some sort of whiskey/tequila thing going on. My sister in law told me to quit my job and start a brewery. My whiskey drinking friends love it. When I sit down and have just a bit, I think about doing just that. Thanks for the recipe, and it was the note in your plum wine recipe that inspired me to wait and see... 7 years. Lots of happy folks here owe you thanks.

I replied, "I've had 3 wines turn into what I can only describe as whiskey in taste. All were long agers. But a 4th wine (Carrot) developed the flavor much quicker and I posted the recipe as Carrot Whiskey in my Requested Recipes. I have no explanation for the taste, but am glad you are enjoying it."

Calculating Sugar Additions

Alfrado wrote me of a problem most of us (or all) have experienced in the beginning. He bought a carboy and 5 gallons of Delaware juice. The directions said to add 8 pounds of sugar and it wouldn't fit in the carboy with the juice. He prepared two 1-gallon jugs and spent a lot of time mixing the sugar and juice. Somewhere along the way he called the supplier and discovered the juice had (or should have had) a specific gravity of 1.060.

Alfredo knew that a pound of sugar dissolved in water has a specific gravity of 1.046. He asked if there was a formula to calculate this. I assume he did not yet own a hydrometer when he wrote, because the numbers 8 X 1.046 + 1.060 created a haunting problem for him. My answer to him below (edited for this blog entry) was an attempt to lead him out of the wilderness. I hope it succeeded.

Adding sugar should always be done before adding to the carboy. You will probably end up with extra juice, which you should ferment separately and use for topping up the main carboy.

There is a formula but you are better off using my hydrometer table (at http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/hydrom.asp). The specific gravity indicated there is for any amount of juice. One gallon with a SG of 1.090 is exactly the same as 5 gallons with a SG of 1.090.

I know the table can be confusing. Sugar = SG was the most difficult part of my early winemaking experience I had to learn, and so I did all the calculations and created the table for my own use so I didn't have to calculate formulas every time I made wine. There are other tables out there, but at the time I created mine I hadn't found them yet (the internet didn't exist back then and my winemaking library was very small). There is a very small error in my numbers on my table (I will correct it when I have time), but it is so small that you can still use the table as is.

Now to your problem. Do your calculations using my table. To make it simple, pretend you started with 1 gallon instead of 5. If the SG of the juice was originally 1.060, it already contained 1 pound 5 ounces of sugar per gallon (see "Sugar in Gallon" column in the table). But if it had a SG of 1.000 you would have had to add 1 pound 6.5 ounces to get 1.060 (see "Sugar to Gallon" column). This is because the sugar increases the volume of the juice and you end up with 1 gallon 13.6 ounces of juice (see the "Volume w/Sugar Added" column).

To get to 1.090 (from 1.060), you'd have to add an additional 14.1 ounces of sugar (the difference between the sugar added to SG 1.000 to get to 1.060 and 1.090) and the volume would now be 1 gallon 26.1 ounces. However, you started with 1 gallon with 1.060 SG, so adding 14.1 ounces of sugar only increases the volume by 12.5 ounces at 1.090 SG. Multiply everything by 5 for 5 gallons and you'll see why you ended up with so much extra juice.

Yes, it can be mind-boggling at first, but take my word for it that the calculations are close enough to be right. To reach around 12% alcohol by volume, you only have to add enough sugar to raise the SG from 1.060 to 1.090, which is 14.1 ounces per gallon, or 4 pounds 4.5 ounces for 5 gallons. Using the table would have told you the instruction to add 8 pounds was wrong. But it will produce enough alcohol to give you a real kick.

Once you get your mind wrapped around using the table as intended, the next big hurdle is understanding and adjusting pH, but that is advance winemaking stuff so don't think about it now. Just get the sugar right.

Kieffer Pear Wine

Kieffer pear
Image from The Walder Effect

Kathy wrote, "I found the recipe for cooking-pear wine. I was gifted with a lot of Kieffer pears, which I turned into pear butter. In the cooking process (approximately 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 bushels pears), I used about 1 total cup water and in the end yielded approximately 1 gallon of absolutely divine juice (no sugar added).

"I understand your recipe for how to use whole fruit for the wine, but how do I go about using the juice? (It is quite sweet, but not cloying). I'm sure this is a very novice query, alas, this is how one learns!"

My reply was as follows.

There should be about 10.5 grams of natural sugar in 100 grams of raw pears, or 10.5% (1.040 SG or 10.4 Brix, see table at http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/sugar.asp). You must be aware of that before adding sugar. However, natural sugar varies from pear to pear so measure the SG of your juice. It could be much lower depending on many factors.

The raw juice presents a decision you must make.

You can make a pure pear juice wine. You can bring the Brix up to 21.4 (1.090 SG, or just above 12% alcohol) by adding 1 pound 3.6 ounces of sugar (assuming the natural SG is 1.040). Adjust this according to your actual SG or Brix. If 1.040 SG, this will increase the volume of juice to approximately 1 gallon 12.8 ounces. Ferment the extra separately in a wine bottle and use it to top up the gallon after each racking.

You can also dilute the juice with water to make either 3 or 5 gallons (I would do 3 gallons if taking this option). Obviously, the flavor will also be diluted, but will be closer to my posted recipe. Three gallons would still be more flavorful than my posted recipe.

Personally, I'd make it pure just to see the results. Be sure to adjust the acidity.

A Visit to Kansas City, Part 2

l-r: Jim Nicholson, Steve LeVine, Jack Keller at February 2016 GKCC meeting
l-r: Jim Nicholson, Steve LeVine,
Jack Keller at February GKCC

My trip to Kansas City was as the guest of the Greater Kansas City Cellarmasters, a wine-centric club founded in 1974 and host for 17 years of the Greater Kansas City Cellarmasters Wine Classic (more on this competition later). I socialized with some of them Friday evening at a residence.

I want to preface my comments by saying I tasted homemade wines at four venues. I intended to mention the ones I really liked and mention who made the wines, but I neglected to write them down and rediscovered later that wine and memory do not mix as well as predicted at the moment. I therefore can't say with certainty which wines I tasted where, but do want to mention the wines and winemakers I was able to verify. My apologies to the GKCC members who made and presented any wines not mentioned, but I am only human.

Having said that, I must say I tasted some very good wines. They were both country wines and traditional grape varietals. Country wines included Sal Coco's aged 2010 Apple/Pear, Kevin Johnson's 2014 Blueberry and Tom Augustin's 2015 Dandelion. Grape wines were Bill Frazier's 2013 Noiret, Kevin Johnson's 2015 Riesling and 2015 Viognier, and Jim Borth's 2013 Sevyal. What was impressive in these presentations was that some wines were obviously held back until they reached optimal maturity while others were young, fresh and excellent. I can only imagine how that Dandelion will taste next year and the year after.

Sal Coco and Jack Keller discussing Sal's Apple/Pear wine
Sal Coco and Jack Keller
discussing Sal's Apple/
Pear wine

The first wines I tasted were Friday night at a small social and dinner at a private residence with what I asummed were the senior members of the GKCC. It isn't often you meet a group of strangers and quickly feel absolutely at home with them. These folks were very cordial and hospitable and I sampled several of the wines mentioned above—both independently and with dinner—with a fine group of fellow winemakers.

When it came to wine tasting I won't play innocent. I was drawn to the non-grape wines like a magnet. I never pass up a chance to taste Dandelion or Blueberry, internalizing the experience in a deep database of experiences. Then there was the Apple/Pear, a difficult marriage to execute with excellence. I thought these thoughts as I poured myself a sample but also realized it would not be at this function if it could not hold its own weight. And it did—a sublime union of apple's acidity and pear's rich sweetness, with neither overcoming the other.

I honestly don't remember what I tasted next. Social interaction and food stole my attention and I remember scanning the grape wines and pouring myself some of the bottle that had been most heavily consumed. This is a sure sign it is well liked and probably very good. Whatever it was it didn't disappoint. Nor did the wines that followed it. It was a very good Friday night to be in Kansas City.

Greater Kansas City Cellarmasters' post-meeting discussions
Greater Kansas City Cellarmasters'
post-meeting discussions

Saturday night was Friday night on steroids. I was greeted by the Greater Kansas City Cellarmasters at their meeting at Brookdale 119th, a wonderful setting. I enjoyed their hospitality, which included good wine, food and conversation. I was honored to be invited to speak to them, share a few vignettes, respond to questions and then be made an honorary member of this fine club.

Awards were handed out for their Greater Kansas City 17th Wine Classic, one of the better home wine competitions in the nation open to all amateur winemakers. My host, Kevin Johnson, was named the Cellarmasters' Winemaker of the Year based on total placements in the competition. And who says home wines don't age? Sal Coco scored a Gold Medal with a 2006 Grenache/Mourvedre and a 2008 Norton took a Bronze. It was good to see that wide assortment of not only grape wines, but country wines too.

The final event they had scheduled for me was a visit to Amigoni Urban Winery. Through some miracle of bonding, we were able to bring wines into the tasting room and taste both Amigoni and GKCC wines. Finger foods were provided by both the winery and Cellarmasters and it was a great social---a mingling of club members and the general public.

Good friendly people willing to share their knowledge (and wines) and pick your brain for nuggets (we all have a few whether we know it or not)---what more could you ask for?

October 13th, 2016


A word about the long hiatus between my blog entries. If you don't want to read about the details jump to the next segment.

Readers of previous entries will know I had a mild stroke last October, contracted bronchitis which evolved into pneumonia, had several scans which found and characterized many spots in my lungs, underwent two biopsies, and finally was diagnosed with and am being treated for COPD. I recuperated through the Christmas holidays and into January, and in early February I ventured out and was head judge at a wine competition in Fredericksburg, Texas. It looked like life was returning to normal.

I spent two weeks researching and writing an article for WineMaker magazine (look in the June-July issue). In late February I flew to Kansas City to meet with the Greater Kansas City Cellarmasters (details in next segment), returned home and had little to no internet connectivity.

I swear, I've had more than enough computer and ISP problems. One drawback to living in a small, rural town is limited choices. I won't go into that, but take my word that I am stuck with my wireless connection. Except for the entire month of March I had little to none.

Typical tower, not mine. Photo: jerry0984. CC
Typical tower, not mine.
Photo: jerry0984. CC

When I say little, that means I could over time send and receive email because email is broken into small packets that can be sent/received in milliseconds and then reassembled by the receiver's computer. Images take longer, but can squeeze through over time. But large data packets time out, so blog entry uploads and internet connectivity is out of the question.

Once again, it was the equipment on the distant tower that is supposed to serve my wireless connection. It had degraded to a gasp and had to be replaced. We're talking about over 2,000 pounds of equipment. Not exactly a small feat to be sure, but not building the Ark either. I never, ever thought it would take half this long to accomplish. After all, in World War II we were launching a new capital warship a day! If you really want to do it, you can.

My regional service provider was recently (June 2015) absorbed by a company in Colorado. I don't know if they're strapped for cash after this and other acquisitions, they just don't care about a small cluster of users in rural Texas or some other incomprehensible reason, but when learning of a tower failure since at least February 28th, they decided they couldn't lease a crane to replace the equipment on the tower until April. Unbelievable. Even more unbelievable, April became May and May became June.

The problem was reportedly fixed on June 30th, but in fact was not. Oh, they replaced the worn-out equipment, but my service did not return. A service call helped restore some usability, but the technician also explained some critical information.

Other wireless ISPs in the area (whose towers I cannot access because of the trees) evidently raised their rates and many of their customers switched to my ISP. As a result, the bandwidth supported by my tower was and still is insufficient.

My tower is not the only tower in the area my ISP uses. Some of the other two are accessible to some customers while others are not. I have no way to verify this, but I think some were switched to the other towers which freed up a little bandwidth recently. However, my tower still has insufficient bandwidth to support its users during periods of high usage, like during a 2-hour period corresponding with staggered lunch breaks and after 4:30 when people get home from work or school.

During those periods I may or may not get connected and if I do get connected I often lose it for short to prolonged periods. Service after 1 a.m. is usually pretty good, which is why I often stay up until 3-4 a.m. That is not the best time for me to post anything on the web as I am tired and much more liable to make mistakes that can cause the post to display improperly or not at all.

But at last they've fixed the problem to the point where I can post an entry and I hope it remains reliable. This has been a long time-out during which life continued.

Mount Denali
Mount Denali
Crossing Off A Bucket-List Item

My wife and I struck one off our bucket list in late May and early June. We flew to Fairbanks, Alaska, took a land trip to Denali, saw the great mountain (Mount McKinley, unilaterally renamed Mount Denali by our President in 2015) from several sides (the highest mountain in North America), took a 5-hour scenic train ride from Denali village to Seward, Alaska, then made the Inland Passage cruise to Vancouver, Canada. We saw all manner of wildlife---two grizzly and several black bears, mountain goats, and other small mammals (beavers, foxes), dozens of eagles and other birds of prey, humpback whales (but no Orcas), and many dolphins. It couldn't have been better (except maybe seeing the Orcas). Well, almost….

I suffered several minor medical incidents. Two involved uncontrollable shakes for several hours that reminded me of my malaria shakes in 1970, lasting into the night but gone by morning, another involved a total body collapse upon leaving the train at Seward (my wife caught me after my knees hit the ground but before I fell face forward into the asphalt), and the fourth involved the inability to breathe sufficiently after about 50-60 steps in the airport at Seattle on our return home. The collapse at Seward was probably caused by having mistakenly placing two blood pressure medications in my pill case for each day. I took out the extra pills and had no further problems with fainting. The last was also my own fault, as I had miscounted the number of inhalant doses I would need and ran out three days before the return flight. As soon as I returned home and resumed taking the missing inhalants my breathing improved to normal for my COPD.

Despite these minor incidents, my wife and I both consider this one of the best land/cruise excursions we ever experienced. The scenery was breathtaking and Mount Denali was in clear view under clear skies from the ground and train and was breathtaking in majesty. We took way too many pictures of it.

We also had three port calls along the way that were both instructional and fun (shopping in port cities always is) and docked in Vancouver, where we spent extra days because we were there and could. I highly recommend this vacation package.

Annual Adventure Becomes A Misadventure

I recently drove to Wisconsin's Driftless Area (Southeast of La Crosse) for my annual flyfishing trip with friends. The area is called "Driftless" because it is the only part of Wisconsin that wasn't covered in glaciers during the last Ice Age and therefore has no glacial drift (moraine) that resculptures the landscape and causes lakes to be formed by damming up valleys. The streams are perfect for trout and flyfishing. While I generally had a great time, I suffered several mishaps.

One, I was completely submerged in deep water at one point, wearing waders that filled with water and prevented me from reaching the surface without a struggle. I barely got out alive but did with help from Charlie Gallagher. Thanks Charlie. During that incident I consumed a lot of creek water and caught a very bad intestinal bug. I already had an intestinal problem and this exacerbated it and is only now clearing up.

Second, I had what I believe was a TIA, a neurological event that had me confused and unaware of my environment. I evidently was talking incoherently, saying things totally unrelated to anything others were saying. This spanned about 2-3 hours, most of which was spent sleeping, but I have only a brief memory of the waking portion and that memory is of a dream. I won't go into details, but it is added to my medical history.

Third, we got caught in a flash flood situation that ceased all fishing activities, trapped us in our lodge for a day and cut our stay short by a day or two. No need for details here, but it was an adventure.

Way back in early May I wrote a blog entry entirely on my trip to Kansas City. I think it would be odd to post it now, so will post portions of it in this and the next two blog entries.

A Visit to Kansas City, Part 1

Staff, customers and hosts at Bacchus & Barleycorn, with Jack Keller talking about winemaking
Staff, customers and hosts listen
to Jack Keller

I flew to Kansas City on February 27 for a meeting of the Greater Kansas City Cellermasters (GKCC) the following evening. I was met by Kevin Johnson, president of GKCC and my host. He gave me a nice tour of Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri and dropped my gear in my room at his place. We had an informal social that evening with some of the GKCC members.

Saturday afternoon he took me by Bacchus & Barleycorn. If you've followed winemaking on the web, you've undoubtedly seen their ads. They've been around since 1968 and are one of what I consider the anchor homebrew shops of America.

Proprietors Alberta and Jackie Ranger have been in it for the long haul. Bacchus & Barleycorn is packed with almost anything one needs for making homebrews or wine. If a specialty item is not in stock they can recommend a suitable substitution. Each member of the staff is a wealth of knowledge and they are the go-to people in the greater KC area for tips, tricks, methodology, and supplies..

l-r: Kevin Johnson, Jackie Ranger, Jack Keller at Bacchus & Barleycorn
l-r: Kevin Johnson, Jackie
Ranger, Jack Keller at
Bacchus & Barleycorn

My arrival was expected and they had a nice table of finger food set up for guests. They both made me feel at home. We chatted with customers and had a great time of it. Although I seemed to be the guest of honor I felt a bit odd and want to tell you why.

Many years ago while researching some aspect of yeast (I don't recall the specifics) I found myself at their website looking at a long list of articles, mostly about brewing beer but some about wine and many about yeast. I bookmarked that page and visited it several times but one year my computer crashed and my backup of bookmarks (I was using Netscape then) was old and I lost many valuable links.

Yahoo was becoming the big search engine then (I hadn't even heard of Google) and got me back to the Bacchus & Barleycorn website. I spent a lot of time looking for that list of articles.

I'll save you some time. If you look in the upper right corner of every page there are several links. Click on that inconspicuous "Learn More." It will take you to the list. I think I've read them all. For the winemaker, even the brewing articles offer nuggets worth digesting.

So there I was, playing guest at Bacchus & Barleycorn and enjoying every minute of it. My thanks to Jackie and Alberta Ranger for their hospitality and to the GKCC for arranging the visit. It was fun and relaxing.

Finally, my apologies for the very late posting of this enjoyable visit.

Smokiness in Wine

Colgin Brand Liquid Smoke

I was sent a bottle of Norton wine by a fan with a request for my evaluation. I have more than enough wine to drink and set it aside on the kitchen counter—to pair with an appropriate meal. Some weeks later I made a pork and beef meatloaf and opened the Norton. As I poured the wine I admired its color, and upon finishing the pour I stuck my nose in the glass and inhaled deeply. This allowed me to capture the wine's bouquet, which is fleeting—the underlying aroma of the grape would remain, but the bouquet can usually be resurrected by swirling the wine in the glass. I was surprised by a subtle but unmistakable hint of smokiness, as well as other earthy ethers I never really try to isolate unless they are unpleasant. I emailed him with my evaluation and asked about the smokiness I detected.

He confided that this was a secret he didn't wish to share.

I bugged him repeatedly, pointing out that I've shared all my secrets so folks like him could broaden their winemaking experience.

He finally relented and said he had added 3 drops per gallon of wine of Liquid Smoke. He said there is a danger in doing this if the wine is not made from pure juice. He said he ruined 3 batches of wine before getting the dosage right. He told me, "All but 1 of your recipes only require 1 drop. Any more will be overpowering, but I have a sensitive palate so more might work for you."

In amateur winemaking (non-commercial) we should all be willing to share our pioneering discoveries. That allows everyone to experiment from a new baseline, and that makes it interesting for all of us.

I had thought of doing this but never did. I'm glad someone tried it as I'm sure I would have added too much Liquid Smoke. My thanks to Charles in Topeka, Kansas for sharing.

November 23rd, 2015

It finally got down to freezing last night but is warming up fast. For those experiencing all that white stuff, my jealousy and sympathy at the same time. I loved living in Colorado and Washington states, but I do not miss scraping ice off of windshields, putting chains on tires or shoveling snow. But I do miss making snowballs.

Every song you really like should have a memory or a host of memories. If it doesn't you need a life.

About two weeks ago I was playing some of my 800-plus albums and reliving many moments of my life. One of them was the American Graffiti soundtrack. Forty-one classics from the late '50s and some of the greatest hits I grew up with. They've been recycling through my head ever since, along with some of the other songs from other albums.

This morning an anomaly popped into my head and I cannot explain it, but it sent me searching YouTube. I knew with certainty it was by Bonnie Tyler and I knew with certainty it was "Total Eclipse of the Heart", but finding the right version was a very long excursion. It is called "Total Eclipse of the Heart (Literal Video Version)" and is nothing like all the other versions out there by the same artist. I've linked it below. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it. If you've already seen it I know you'll play it again. For me, no memories associated with it except big smiles and a Chianti. Go figure.

Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart (Literal Video Version)"

Literal video versions are redubs of original music videos in which the lyrics are rewritten to parody the illogic, disconnection or visuals in the original video itself. The concept was originated by Dustin McLean and associates with the first example uploaded to YouTube in October 2008. On May 25, 2009 David A. Scott uploaded his sixth literal video--- Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart", which received 1,009,331 views in its first ten days and more than 2,000,000 views in three weeks. The voice-over is by Persephone Maewyn and it is considered one of the best literal videos to date.

2009 was the year in which literal videos hit their high before fears over copyright battles brought their production to a crawl but not their accolades. Over 100 were uploaded to YouTube before most were taken down by YouTube itself upon notification of copyright disputes, but many have been restored. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" received nearly 11,000,000 views before Sony had YouTube take it down worldwide in 2011. The video was unblocked in 2014 and copies of the original, like the one linked to above, began to appear. The longevity of the current unblockage is uncertain, so if you haven't seen it do so quickly before it disappears again. If it disappears, you can search YouTube for it and there may be another instance of it posted that hasn't yet been taken down.

Calculating Sugar in a Two-Stage Recipe

Japanese persimmons, cultivar kaki, photo by Jon Richfield, CC by SA 3.0

Some recipes ask you to add your sugar in two stages---half at the beginning and half a little later. This can confuse people who have never done it that way. For example, a winemaker in Huntsville, Alabama wrote:

I'm trying the persimmon wine recipe, and am wondering how to get an accurate OG if I'm waiting until after fermentation has been going on before I add all of the sugar.

I answered him thusly:

First you make the must with the mashed persimmons and other ingredients (without the yeast) and let it sit a while (covered) so the natural sugar in the persimmons permeates the whole. Now measure the specific gravity, which we'll call the raw s.g. Remember that recipes are guidelines and not carved in stone. They work when you view them as such and make allowances for fruit quality and the variables in the fruit and recipe.

Compare that number (raw s.g. of the must) with the hydrometer chart at Using Your Hydrometer. Suppose the s.g. is 1.030. The must already has 10 oz. of sugar in it according to the chart. The recipe says to add 1 lb. 12 oz. of sugar. If you add 1 lb. 12 oz. to 10 oz. you have 2 lb. 6 oz. of sugar, which could produce a 14.8% alcohol wine---a bit high. For persimmon, shoot for 12.5% alcohol, or a total s.g. of 1.095. If the goal is 12.5% alcohol, the must requires 2 lb. 1.3 oz. of sugar. Let's round that down to 2 lb. 1 oz. Since there is already 10 oz. in the must, you only have to add 23 oz. of sugar, or 1 lb. 7 oz., not 1 lb 12 oz. as the recipe calls for. Adding 23 oz. in roughly halves, you should add 12 oz. initially and 11 oz. later.

If the raw s.g. number is higher, you add less sugar. It's in your hands….

There are numerous types of persimmons growing in the United States--both wild and domestic--but the two most common native types are the common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) and Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana). The first is found from Connecticut and southeastern New York westward to southeastern Iowa, and south from eastern Texas to the Atlantic. The second is found in Texas and the Gulf states of Mexico. Of the various domesticated persimmons (cultivars), the Oriental Persimmon is the most common and many fine varieties have been bred---many of which are nearly seedless and non-astringent.

Persimmon trees grow from 25 to 50 feet high and are distinctly male or female in gender. Their fruit is typically globular and small, from 1 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Domestic persimmons can reach 4 inches or more. They have 4 woody calyx lobes at the base which often can bepulled from the fruit when very ripe. Wild (and many cultivars) are quite astringent until ripening around October through December, and then are very sweet and juicy. They ripen to an orange to orange-purple (some cultivars turn red) and persist on the trees until absolutely ripe, which may not occur until early winter or after the first freeze. After ripening, the fruit drop or can be shaken from the tree, but if very ripe they can split when they hit the ground (still safe to use if harvested right away).

Persimmons make a fine, slightly fruity wine, but it will be ruined if any unripened fruit are utilized. The large, red domesticated Oriental persimmons make the best wine with a delicate, amber color, but the wild natives also make a good-tasting, although somewhat unsightly brown wine. Texas wild persimmons make a brown to black wine, very tasty even though it might look like motor oil.

Persimmon Wine Recipe

  • 3-4 lbs ripe persimmons
  • 1-3/4 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 1 tblsp acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 6-1/2 to 7 pts water
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1/2 to 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet Montrachet, Pasteur Red or Champagne yeast

Wash the persimmons, cut into quarters and scoop out the pulp from the skin. If the persimmons are very ripe (which is preferred), you won't be able to cut them into quarters, but you'll figure it out. Mash the seeds out with your hands. Mash the pulp well, put into primary, and add half the sugar, the acid blend, yeast nutrient and crushed Campden tablet. Add water to total one gallon. Stir well to dissolve sugar, cover the primary, and set aside. After 12 hours add pectic enzyme and recover. After another 12 hours, add yeast as a yeast starter solution. Ferment 5-7 days, stirring daily. Strain through nylon sieve. Do not be concerned if a lot of fine pulp gets through; it will precipitate out. Add remaining sugar, stir very well to dissolve it completely, then transfer to secondary while leaving about three inches headroom. Fit air lock and set aside. Rack every 30 days until wine clears and no additional lees are laid down (4-6 months). Stabilize only if you feel the need to sweeten the wine before bottling. This wine should age in the bottle a year in a dark place. [Recipe adapted by Jack Keller from Dorothy Alatorre's Home Wines of North America]

To stabilize, dissolve 1 finely crushed Campden tablet and ½ teaspoon potassium sorbate in 2/3 cup of the wine. Stir until completely dissolved. I crush the potassium sorbate in my mortar and pestle to aid it in dissolving. The time spent crushing the K sorbate is about equal to the extra time required to completely dissolve the uncrushed prilled form of the product. The advantage of crushing is that you don't see a lot of undissolved floaters that can take a while to dissolve.

After the ingredients are dissolved, stir into the wine, attach airlock, and let the wine sit a while (I wait about 3-4 weeks). Then sweeten and let the wine sit another month to make sure it doesn't referment (it shouldn't, but there are no certainties in winemaking and I've had corks blow from bottling too soon after sweetening). Stabilizing doesn't kill the remaining yeast, but rather renders them incapable of reproducing. Whatever live cells are still in the wine will die of old age eventually, but could get another lease on life from sweetening the wine. Just watch the airlock and rack off any dead yeast before (or during) bottling.

Those Problems With Sugar and Fruitiness

Strawberry and fructose (photo credit BBC News))

Another winemaker wrote that someone told her that you should only add enough sugar to bring initial specific gravity to between 1.070 and 1.080. This is by no means a rule.

Indeed, some fruit wines are best when made at 10-11% alcohol by volume (abv) and become unpleasant when made at higher alcohol levels even when balanced. Others can tolerate 14,15 or even 16% abv as long as the wines are brought into balance to account for the higher alcohol. However, 80-85% of all fruit (and berry) wines can easily be balanced at 12-13% abv and are most enjoyable in that range.

Most fruit wine recipes (on my site) will yield more than 12-13% abv unless you use Montrachet yeast, which tends to die off at that alcohol range and leaves a residual sweetness that helps to balance the wine. That does not mean it is the optimal alcohol range for that particular fruit or berry, but is what I used and is reflected in the recipe. If the wine did well in competition, that is a general indicator that the recipe is "in the ballpark" for that fruit wine. However, most other wine yeasts will yield higher abv levels and require more intervention by the winemaker to balance the wine.

As I say in many places on my site, the fruit I use will almost certainly not be identical to the fruit you use (if you haven't read that, you really need to read my Basic Steps and other writings---the archives in my blog, for example). Let us take fig wine, for example. As far back as 1993 I counted 77 fig cultivars offered by nurseries. I tend to make fig wine from three cultivars that are very common in this area as they tolerate our severe heat, low rainfall and alkaline soils. These three are not the dominate yard figs in East Texas where greater rainfall, humidity and more acidic soils influence what grows best in that area. This example can be applied to any fruit and any geographic area you wish to name.

Because the figs I use may not be the same as the ones you use, one has to expect that our wines will differ. Recipes are just guides. If you follow them as one would a cookbook recipe, you will generally produce a good wine. If you tweak them as an experienced cook or chef might tweak a recipe, they might be greatly improved upon (or they might not). Knowing how to tweak a wine is something you just naturally learn as you make more and more batches of wine. I hope this reply helps.

The writer referred to above also noted that most wines made by my recipes are very dry, lovely wines with very soft fruit undertones. They do not, however, taste like the fruit from which they were made, so she asked if adding more fruit might help.

Many, many times I've stated that most wines will not taste like the base they were made from, but rather like wine made from that base. There are dozens of wine grapes which, if eaten along side of the wine made from them, will astound most people in the dissimilarity. But, having said that, I'll admit that adding more fruit will yield a fruitier flavor.

My winemaking guru was the late, legendary C.J.J. Berry, the British authority on homemade wine who wrote prolifically. It took me a long time to realize that Berry's recipes reflected two things.

First, his recipes were for Imperial gallons, which are considerably larger than U.S. gallons for reasons dating back to England's trading policies with her pre-revolutionary American colonies.

Second, they reflect the economic realities established by seven years of World War II rationing and conservation of food that was continued for a post-war decade (it took that long to obtain sufficient stocks to allow people to "splurge"). Berry established his recipes during that crucial period and his books were what I cut my teeth on. Thus, his frugality became my frugality, and since I won hundreds of ribbons, medals and top awards I saw no reason to change them.

Over the past dozen or so years I have added more and more fruit to my own wines but have not gone back and changed the recipes already posted, which I had adapted or developed early on. Still, I often use the published amount of fruit because I have grown fond of the wines made with those amounts. So I say unto you, if you are dissatisfied with the taste of any wine made using my recipes, add more fruit next time and see if that is more satistying.

October 24th, 2015

I have not written anything here in a long time. I will not go into all the episodes of Murphy's Law I have encountered, but suffice it to say they were numerous and often severe. Most recently, my health took a turn for the worse and a full diagnosis is still pending.

However, I promised someone that I would post my recipe for Black Raspberry Chocolate Port the next time I posted anything, so that is the main event of this entry, followed by a reprint of an earlier piece on Dutched Cocoa Powder, an essential ingredient in the recipe.

Black Raspberry-Chocolate Port

Black raspberries and Dutched chocolate make a great port

Black raspberries and Dutched chocolate make a great combination for a special port wine. I have long kept this recipe a secret-not because I didn't want to share, but because I wanted something that was "just mine" and when I tasted this I knew it was the one. Over the years I have had so many requests for this recipe after I inadvertently mentioned it in a blog post that I had finally decided to share it in a future TidBitt entry, mainly to entice more people to subscribe to that now defunct enterprise. I suppose the time has come. At 18.5% alcolol, it slips up on you whether you serve it by itself, on the table or after a meal.

I have made it several ways, the easiest being using farm squeezed and filtered black raspberry juice. For me, it is also the most expensive since I have to buy the juice from afar and have it shipped to me. The recipe here is my first attempt using frozen black raspberries purchased as a rare find at a local supermarket. I bought the last five remaining 2-pound bags and made a wine and a port side by side using 5 pounds of berries in each.

The frozen berries were tied into fine-mesh nylon straining bags and left to thaw overnight and half of the next day in sealed primaries. Each bag was then slowly pressed in a basket press that I guess extracted about 90% of the juice. The juice went directly into the respective primaries and was sulfited using 1/16th teaspoon potassium metabisulfite. The bags of pulp were also returned to the primaries and the primaries were again sealed. After about 8 hours I untied each bag, sprinkled 1 teaspoon pectic enzyme into the pulp while stirring and turning the pulp with a long-handled spoon. The bags were retied, left in the primaries and again sealed. The next morning I began making the wine and port. I won't mention the wine again so as not to confuse anyone. But it is at this point that the recipe begins. None of the above will be restated below, so you must include this as prelude to the recipe.

Black Raspberry Chocolate Port

  • 5 lbs black raspberries, pressed, pulp confined
  • 4 oz Dutched cocoa powder
  • 11.5-oz can Welch's 100% Red Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 1/4 lb finely granulated sugar (may vary, so shoot for s.g. 1.090)
  • 1 1/4 tsp acid blend
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • 4 1/4 cups water (may vary depending on final juice extracted
  • 1 pkt activated Gervin Wine Yeast Varietal B, or Lalvin 71B-1122, in a starter solution

Bring 5 1/2 pints water (11 cups) to boil, remove from heat and set aside. While water comes to a boil, place the pressed raspberry pulp in a fine-mesh nylon straining bag or one knee-high ladies nylon stocking tied closed and black raspberry juice in primary.

Measure the Dutched cocoa powder (see item following this entry for background on Dutch cocoa powder) in dry ounces and add to one pint of warm water in a blender until thoroughly mixed. Add tannin, acid blend and yeast nutrient and pulse in blender to ensure all are well mixed and then set aside. Pour the sugar in the hot water and stir very well to dissolve sugar. Pour over bag of black raspberry pulp. Add the thawed grape concentrate and stir again to integrate. Finally, add the cocoa water while stirring and continue stirring for a full minute. Cover the primary and set aside to cool to room temperature.

When cooled, add activated yeast in starter solution and cover primary with sanitized, high-count muslin. Punch down the bag of raspberries several times a day, checking their condition after several days. When they start looking thoroughly ravaged by the yeast (about 4-5 days), remove the bag and hang to drip-drain (do NOT squeeze) to extract readily available liquid (I hang the bag from a kitchen cabinet door handle with a bowl underneath for about 20 minutes). Add dripped liquid back to primary and cover primary. Discard raspberry pulp.

When vigorous fermentation slows, transfer to secondary and attach an airlock without topping up. Allow fermentation to finish and rack. If a slow fermentation lingers rack it anyway. At this point add the fortifying brandy in the amount dictated by the first calculator (Blending to Adjust Alcohol) at Blending Wines. Enter your desired alcohol (to greatly simplify the math, I suggest 18%), the base alcohol (assume 12% if you did not measure the specific gravity before adding the yeast), the % alcohol of the fortifier (80-proof brandy is 40% abv, 100-proof is 50% abv). When you press the Submit button it will tell you how many parts of the base and fortifier are required to achieve 18.5% abv.

Since the answer is in parts, you're going to have to do some math to figure out how many ounces of each to use. For example, using the input numbers 18, 12 and 40, you get 22 parts base and 6 parts brandy. Use a handheld calculator to divide the number of ounces of base by 22. For example, if you have 13 ounces of black raspberry base, dividing by 22 will give you 0.59 ounces (let's call it 0.6). To that base, you will add 6 x 0.6 ounces of brandy, or 3.6 ounces.

I once added a blackberry flavored brandy (couldn't find black raspberry) and the result was good but not outstanding. The blackberry flavoring they used did not compliment the black raspberry. I recommend using plain brandy.

Once the port is blended, set aside in a dark place for 90 days. Personally, I let it bulk age 6 months, but if you are in a hurry 3 months will work. Some cocoa powder will almost certainly precipitate out as a fine dusting on the bottom. You can carefully rack the port off the dusting and then bottle it or you can very carefully bottle without racking. Age an additional 3-6 months in the bottle before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

The resulting port is full-bodied and heavenly tasting. To retain color, this port is best bottled in dark glass and cellared in darkness or very low light.

I have never oaked this port as I feel it doesn't need it. If you wish to do so, you're on your own. I will offer no advicve on that.

Dutched Cocoa Powder

Valrhona Cocoa Powder

The following is a reprint of a February 5, 2012 entry. I have not attempted to update it.

If you have shopped for cocoa powder in any sizeable supermarket, you probably know there are choices. But if your choices are between Baker's, Hershey's and Nestle's, you might consider looking for a larger supermarket. Even then, your choices may be limited but could open up a couple more brands. Why is this important? Because all cocoa powder is not the same, and if you are making a base-chocolate wine, you want the right kind.

At the most basic level, there are essentially two kinds of cocoa -- natural and "Dutched." Dutch-process cocoa powder is made from cocoa (actually, cacao) beans that have been washed with a alkaline solution to neutralize their acidity. Natural cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that are simply roasted, pressed to extract at least half the cocoa butter and then pulverized into a fine powder.

Natural cocoa powder and chocolate contain more antioxidants because the "Dutching" process removes some; "heavy Dutching" removes as much as 90%. However, experts tell us that cocoa is so rich in antioxidants that removing 90% still leaves it in the "super-antioxidant" class of foods.

Natural cocoa powder has a richer, more acrid aroma, but accordingly has a more acidic and bitter taste. Contrary to intuition, natural cocoa powder is lighter in color and more difficult to dissolve in water. Dutch-processed cocoa has less acidity, a smoother flavor and darker, redder color, and it is also more soluble, which is really important when making wine. .

So, which kind is best for integrating into wine. If you are used to making base-chocolate wines from natural cocoa powder and know how to adjust the amount to balance the acidity, then natural cocoa is probably your best choice except with more delicately flavored base ingredients like strawberry, kiwi, mint, nectarine, and peach. These bases can easily be overwhelmed by a rich, natural cocoa flavor and leave you wondering what the base actually was.

The first time I made strawberry-chocolate wine the strawberries were frozen slices and very flavorful, but I only used 2 1/2 pounds and a rich natural cocoa. Only the aroma hinted at what was under the chocolate. Still, the aroma was so intense that everyone "tasted" strawberries when in reality they didn't. This was proven when we all pinched closed our noses while drinking the wine and all but one admitted not being able to discern the strawberries.

When it comes to baking with cocoa powder, the type you use is dependent on the recipe. If it calls for natural cocoa powder, you must use it or risk having a flat or dry product. Natural cocoa, you'll remember, is more acidic. As a result it reacts with baking soda and causes a leavening (rising) action within the batter and finished baked goods. If the recipe isn't clear on which type to use but calls for baking soda, use natural unsweetened cocoa powder. If the recipe leaves out baking soda but includes baking powder, use a Dutch-processed cocoa powder. It's all in understanding what various ingredients do for a recipe. The same applies to winemaking recipes.

The following are some of the Dutch-processed cocoa powders I've identified, although most will never cross your path in a supermarket. I have only found the Hershey's, Ghiridelli, Lindt, and Penzeys. I am told the U.S. military commissaries occasionally carry Pernigotti and Van Houten but I honestly have never looked for them when I shop there. However, you can buy any of them (and a lot more) online. As I said, these are some:

  • Bensdorp Cocoa Powder "Royal Dutch"
  • Callebaut Belgian Chocolate "Belgian Cocoa Powder"
  • Droste Cocoa Powder
  • Ghiridelli Chocolate Dutch Process Cocoa Powder "Superior"
  • Ghiridelli Chocolate Dutch Process Cocoa Powder "Sunrise"
  • Guittard Cocoa Powder, Full Dutched Process "Jersey Cocoa"
  • Guittard Cocoa Powder, Full Dutched Process "Perfection Cocoa"
  • Hershey's Special Dark Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
  • Lindt Dutch Process Cocoa
  • Michel Cluizel French Chocolate Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
  • Penzeys Dutch Process Cocoa
  • Pernigotti Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
  • Poulain Dutch Cocoa Powder
  • Rademaker Dutch Processed Cocoa
  • Ramstadt-Breda Medium Dark Cocoa (France)
  • Ramstadt-Breda Rich Dark Cocoa (Holland)
  • Valrhona Pure Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • Van Houten Premium Dutch Cocoa

There are also some non-branded, generic Dutched cocoa powders that reportedly are high quality. Most notable of these are Pier 1 Imports, Trader Joes and nuts.com. But they also sell natural cocoa powders, so read the descriptors carefully or ask before you buy.

I do think I will splurge soon and order some Valrhona Pure Unsweetened Cocoa Powder online. Absolutely every authority I've read rates it as the very best...with a price to match. But I know I am mortal and would like to taste the very best once before I check out.

One last thing, most of the online recipes for base-chocolate wines were ripped from my site or adapted from my 2007 recipes. I don't really care about that except if you copy you are supposed to attribute the source. My greater concern is that most copiers and adapters see "4 oz Hershey's Cocoa Powder" in the ingredients but fail to notice (or understand) the following: "I measured the cocoa powder in dry ounces...." Over and over again I see the cocoa in the ingredients listed as "4 oz (1/2 cup) Hershey's Cocoa Powder". There is a huge difference between a half cup and 4 ounces by weight. Four ounces -- that's 114 grams -- of cocoa powder is a lot more than a half cup, in which case you may very well want to use Dutch processed cocoa powder.

July 3rd, 2015

In response to many emails and personal inquiries, I must explain that these long interludes between blog entries means life is consuming my time, not that I am experiencing any heavy depression or health problems. No need for details, as I'm sure they would bore most of you. Thank you, Fred, Al, Desmond, Mike, Kaylene, Cathy, Keith, Dave, Karen, and any I may have overlooked for your thoughtful inquiries.

Well, I completely missed the months of April, May and June in my WineBlog. Filing my taxes and then filing an amended form was nerve-wracking enough. Other complexities, mini-emergencies, technical difficulties, personal demands, and writing projects ate up my time. I regret it, but life happens.

I hope to get back on schedule soon. Several upcoming travels will make that difficult. We'll see how it works out.

I hope you all have a relaxing yet fulfilling 4th of July. As you celebrate this holiday, it is worth remembering that of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence on that date in 1776 five were captured, tortured and executed by the British, nine died of wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War, two lost sons serving in the Continental Army, 12 had their homes, properties and businesses burned by the British, and two were wealthy when they signed but died in utter poverty as a result of the war. That is the price they paid when they pledged upon that piece of parchment their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. We should all remember the cost of our freedom but few do. I hope you take a moment to reflect upon it.

The WineBlog and website have now been rendered for mobile devices. In time, I hope to do far more in optimizing the pages for the huge variety of platforms out there. Naturally, the larger the screen the better. There are many downsides to this rendering. One is clutter. I will work on reducing that in the future. Another is the on-site search engine—it simply doesn't work on mobile devices. I'm sure I'll discover more as time passes. This is all new to me, so please be patient.

Al Stewart's 'Year of the Cat' album

I was driving home late one night and flipped stations, only to catch the opening notes of an old classic, Al Stewart's Year of the Cat. My God, what a timeless masterpiece. If it had been the only song Al wrote and recorded under the production genius of Alan Parsons it would still make him one of the best song writers of the '70s at the very least. And you didn't "have to be there" to love it. You only have to listen to it—preferably through headphones in a dark room, where the music and lyrics can carry you wherever.

The '70s was a decade in which you really had to be talented to rise above the outpouring of clutter that filled it. Much was often good, some very good, a few were great, and then there were a very few magical gemstones. Year of the Cat was, and still is, a timeless jewel.

The tale of this song has been told and retold so many times it is with hesitancy that I dare to tell it again, but some may never have heard it.

Stewart wrote the music to very different lyrics as a song entitled "The Foot of the Stage." In 1966 he had witnessed a very depressed comedian named Tony Hancock come out, break his routine, and walk to the edge (or foot) of the stage and tell the audience what a loser he was, that it all had no meaning anymore and he might as well just end it all here and now. The audience laughed at the man, thinking it was a new routine but totally in character of the man known for his self-deprecating humor. But to his dismay Stewart realized the man was serious and on the verge of a total breakdown. Stewart wrote the song after Hancock killed himself with a drug overdose in 1968. He never released it, feeling it was too dreary and not really wanting to take advantage of the man's tragedy.

At some time Stewart's drummer went on a tour in North Africa. At one small town the man left the tour to visit the bazaar and do some shopping, soak up the local ambiance or whatever, intending to rejoin the tour at the bus. Instead, he saw a woman, a local, walk out into the sun in the stunning dress of flowing silk and he became enraptured. We don't know if she was a "working girl" or not, but the man had a sensual interlude with her and later realized he had both lost his tour ticket and missed his bus. So he decided to make the most of it and stayed with the woman for some time. We are not told when or how he left.

References in the song to the film Casablanca suggest he was in French Morocco. The title and tag line suggest it was in 1975, the year of the cat in Vietnamese astrology, but it could have been 12 years earlier. Stewart later said he saw a book by that title in a friend's flat and wove it into the song as a time marker. This fits 1975, as he recorded the song in early 1976.

Stewart, a Scottish songwriter and performer, was well known by then for his construction of clever lines that captured the imagination and allowed the listener to weave or paint the story in a personal way. His talent for doing so peaked when he put new lyrics to his 1966 "The Foot of the Stage" melody in Year of the Cat. It charted worldwide, especially in China where the audience had no idea what the words meant or the story it told but loved the music and the sounds in the lyrics.

The link is to the studio version, but there are live performances on YouTube that are instrumentally better but the lyrics are not as crisp. The lyrics are below the viewer so you can read along if unfamiliar with the song. But even if you are familiar, it is fun to read the image-inspiring phrases and turns on words.

Al Stewart's studio version of 'Year of the Cat'

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolour in the rain
Don't bother asking for explanations
She'll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat.

She doesn't give you time for questions
As she locks up your arm in hers
And you follow 'till your sense of which direction
Completely disappears
By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls
There's a hidden door she leads you to
These days, she says, I feel my life
Just like a river running through
The year of the cat.

She looks at you so cooly
And her eyes shine like the moon in the sea
She comes in incense and patchouli
So you take her, to find what's waiting inside
The year of the cat.

Well morning comes and you're still with her
And the bus and the tourists are gone
And you've thrown away the choice and lost your ticket
So you have to stay on
But the drum-beat strains of the night remain
In the rhythm of the new-born day
You know sometime you're bound to leave her
But for now you're going to stay
In the year of the cat

Generic Recipe for Unknown Cultivated Grapes

Vitis aestivalis var. aestivalis

When I recently received a request for a recipe to make wine from unspecified grapes, I did the best I could with what little information I had. Despite inquiries, the gentleman could not tell me what kind they are. It makes a difference, as it could take between 12 to 18 pounds of grapes per gallon of wine. Only after I gave it my best shot did he mention they were cultivated grapes, but could not or did not identify them. What follows is my reply, edited somewhat for a larger audience.

First, some remarks on what is desired when you request a recipe. The original request was, "I'm looking for a proven recipe to make wine from grapes...nothing fancy. We are planning on picking them in September from a local grower and going from there. I would like to try and do around 30 gallons." This is so vague as to require a book to cover all possibilities.

If one wants a good, reliable answer, then one needs to supply good, reliable information. Are they wild grapes or cultivars, red grapes or white, wine grapes or table grapes? Taking the time to contact the grower and identify the cultivar would help a lot. There are an estimated 60,000 cultivated grapes. No one recipe fits all.

Since no further information came back to me, I selected 15 pounds per gallon as a working number, realizing this could be too many or too few. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of specificity when requesting assistence.

Reviving a Yeast 9 Years Past its Expiration Date

Young's Dessert / High Alcohol Wine Yeast

I don't know if this will interest anyone, but every 2-3 years I order a bunch of yeast from the UK-Unican, Gervin, SB, Ritchie, CWE brands, etc.. I don't order those I know the equivalency of and are readily available in the US. I keep my yeast in a container in a spare refrigerator used for chill-proofing carboys of wine, so it only has a top shelf with about 8 inches of clearance, a bottom shelf to keep the carboys off the original plastic shelf, the meat and vegetable bins I rarely use, and a freezer section stuffed with ZipLoc bags of grapes and other goodies.

Two months ago I was "taking inventory" by thumbing through the long plastic container I keep my wine yeast in---I keep between 50-80 sachets (packets) of yeast on hand all the time (you never know what you might need). My inventory sheet long ago became unusable due to too many notations, erasures and additions, so I just thumb through them every now and then. It was then I noticed a packet that had slid down under the other packets. It was a sachet of Youngs Dessert/High Alcohol Wine Yeast that should have been used by 2006. I have never just thrown out a yeast without giving it a chance, so I brought it to my kitchen refrigerator and stood it upright against a tub of butter. Every time I opened the refrigerator I saw it and that and chance finally motivated me to try it.

I was in my local supermarket and saw a bin of yellow honeydew melons at a good price. I tested them by pressing the flower end and found several that signaled they were close to full ripeness. I bought 4 and set them on the kitchen counter. After 4 days I let the yeast come to room temperature and made a yeast starter using orange juice, sugar and yeast nutrients. I sprinkled the yeast in the starter, whisked it a bit with a fork and covered it with a coffee filter held in place with a rubber band. I fed it every 8 hours for three days. At that time I began a second starter using Lalvin QA23. But that evening I noticed activity in the Young's starter. I kept both starters going and the next day began chilling them and the melons in my second refrigerator, reset to 55 degrees F. I also chilled the melons.

The next day I cut and chopped the yellow honeydews, stuffed them in a sanitized knee-high nylon stocking and pressed them in my basket press. I adjusted acidity, sugar, added nutrients and a dash of powdered tannin, and now had to choose the yeast. I chose the Young's and used the QA23 on a hurriedly prepared must of dried hibiscus flowers and frozen mulberries.

Nine years past its expiration date and the Young's yeast was still viable. What's more, it carried the yellow honeydew to (an educated estimate) 18.35% alcohol by three additions of sugar (as simple syrup). The high alcohol is proving a bitch to balance, but it's almost there…I think.

Lesson learned---don't give up on an old yeast if you stored it in a refrigerator. Just treat it with respect and give it time. If only 3-5% of the bulk is still viable, in a starter solution they will in time thrive enough to give you a healthy inoculation. In melon wines, that is critical.

The recipe? I used the steps elucidated in the current (June-July) issue of WineMaker magazine, pp. 34-39. Not a subscriber to WineMaker yet? You can correct that by subscribing here. You can also order back issues.

March 9th, 2015

I've received several emails and two phone calls about my message in TidBitts about March 30th being my last entry. TidBitts itself is shutting down on March 31st. Let me explain it here.

TidBitts is a platform that allowed people like me to make periodic or, in my case, twice-weekly posts of exclusive content not published elsewhere. Subscription was just 99¢ a month. The venture was based on obtaining a certain number of subscribers to pay for all the people working behind the scenes that did PR, creator and subscriber support, IT technicians, etc. After several months of operation (September 2014 through February 2015), the number of subscribers required to make payroll and access fees did not materialize. Thus, they had to fold.

My own experience was a slow start and then a rising momentum of subscriptions until TidBitts made a promotional change and new subscriptions slowed and almost stopped. I believe they made a crucial mistake when they changed from "the first month free" to "a 30-day free trial." They sound like the same thing but are not.

With "the first month free," you had to subscribe to gain access to the content. At the end of the first month you could actually cancel and pay nothing, but if you did nothing you would be charged the subscription fee each month until you chose to cancel.

On the other hand, at the end of the "30-day free trial" you had to then subscribe, but there was no mechanism in place to prevent you from simply signing up for another 30-day free trial. There was no incentive to require you to subscribe. In the "first month free" model one was already a subscriber.

New subscriptions almost stopped under the "30-day free trial" model. I suspect all TidBitts authors experienced the same loss of subscription momentum. Whatever the reason, TidBitts simply did not obtain enough subscriptions to render their publishing platform viable.

I'm sad to see the venture fail. I had much more to publish and am sorry that opportunity will soon be gone. I thank all of you who did support Winemaking With Jack Keller. I owe you a debt of gratitude. Drop me a line at WinemakingWithJackKeller at outlook.com to tell me what you thought about the service.

151-Year Old Wine from Shipwreck Tasted

Wine experts taste a 151-year old wine from the Mary-Celestia, sunk during the U.S. Civil War

One of 5 bottles of sealed wine salvaged from the Civil War blockade runner Mary-Celestia, which sank off Bermuda in 1864, was uncorked and tasted in Charleston, South Carolina on Friday, March 6, 2015. The wine was grey and undrinkable.

The wine experts present said it actually smelled and tasted like crab water, gasoline, salt water, vinegar, with hints of citrus and alcohol. Indeed, the wine was actually 37% alcohol. With no label to identify it, it is most likely the wine was heavily fortified or was in fact a brandy.

Some wines salvaged from shipwrecks actually taste great, having aged slowly in the cold depths and covering of the seabed. In this case, however, sea water obviously invade the wine through its cork closure.

A sample smelled like camphor, stagnant water, hydrocarbons, turpentine and sulphur, wine chemist Pierre Louis Teissedre of the University of Bordeaux said after analysing samples. [His] analysis showed it was 37 percent alcohol.

You can read the full story at the link at the end of today's entry.

Salvaging Under-Ripe Avocado

Yesterday I bought 4 avocados. This morning I struggled to even cut one in half and then had to pry the two halves apart. Try as I did, I could not pry the seed from the half containing it. I went to the internet to see what might be done and read several blog entries and threads on using microwaves to soften the flesh. Some reported failure while others reported success. I decided to give it a try.

First, a little background. I eat an avocado a day as a healthy snack. One of my local supermarkets began importing avocados from Mexico that were consistently bad---large portions of flesh that were brown and showed signs of larva infestation. Those that were sound tasted bland to bad---nothing like an avocado should taste. I complained repeatedly to no avail. So, I took my business to the other big supermarket in my town.

The first avocado I cut open from the other supermarket was terribly under-ripe. I decided to try using the microwave oven to soften it up. Thirty seconds on high caused some give, but not enough. An additional 30 seconds created some more softness and freed the large seed, but the center of the flesh was still very hard, so back to the microwave it went for a third 30 seconds. When removed, the halves were too hot to handle. You could say they was cooked. With the use of w kitchen mitten and spoon the flesh was removed from the skin, but it was still pretty hard and the bright green of an unripe avocado. I considered what I might do.

Lindsay Nixon's Vegan Tuna Melt illustrates how my English muffin was prepared and served (photo credit: Lindsay S. Nixon, 'Vegan Tuna Melts Recipe' on Happy Herivore Blog, August 10, 2009)
I didn't photograph my delicious
concoction, but Lindsay Nixon's
"Vegan Tuna Melt" looks close (just
imagine an avocado-based spread under
a warm tomato slice)

I took the idea of a blog entry I had read and placed the two halves in a bowl large enough for my potato masher to lay flat against the bottom. I added about 2 ounces of cream cheese, 1-1/2 tablespoons of chili sauce and a teaspoon of lime juice. It was difficult to mash but yielded to determination until it was chunky but spreadable. The avocado was turning greenish brown but that could have been because of the blending. I tasted it and decided it needed a bit of sweetness, so I added about two teaspoons of mint jelly and blended it in with a fork. It tasted wonderful.

While two halves of an English muffin were toasting I cut two thick slices of tomato and microwaved them 30 seconds. The avocado mix was liberally applied to the muffin halves, topped with warm tomato slices and served open-face. Delicious!

I had enough to smother two more English muffin halves topped with warm tomato halves. It was a wonderful breakfast!

A Mead Experiment

Small, medium and large Meyer lemons
Small, medium and large Meyer Lemons

After all the marmalade, wine and frozen juice I made with the Meyer Lemons I was gifted (see Feb 23, 2015 entry), I still had 12 Meyer lemons spread on newspaper on the living room floor. I also had 3 pounds of orange blossom honey. The solution was obvious.

Because Meyer lemons ares sweeter than regular lemons, I decided to go all in. I juiced 6 lemons and produced 1 level quart of juice, quite a bit more than I'd normally use but I decided to take a chance---Columbus did. Here is what I did.


  • 6-7 Meyer lemons (enough to yield 1 qt juice)
  • 3 lbs honey
  • 5 cups water (divided)
  • water to make up 1 gal
  • peel (stripped of inner membrane)of 2 Meyer lemons
  • 1 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin (optional)
  • 2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 pkt wine yeast (I used RP15 [Rockpile 15]) husbanded in a yeast starter solution

Number of Meyer lemons used depends on their size and the juice produced. More pectic enzyme may be be needed if mead does not clear. If unable to separate inner membrane from peel, use sharp paring knife to cut outer peel off in strips and place in jelly bag, tied closed. Approximately 2 1/2 quarts of water will be needed.

Add finely crushed Campden tablet (not listed) at first and third racking and before bottling, if needed. Stabilize with potassium sorbate (not listed) 1-2 months before sweetening.

Meyer lemon mead in primary
Meyer lemon mead in primary,
peels not bagged

Make a yeast starter solution. Put 1 quart of water on to boil and stir in honey until dissolved. When water boils, remove from heat and skin off any scum. Cut lemons in half and juice them, reserving juice and discard any seeds (pulp removed during juicing can be used in a number of ways---just think about it). Turn lemon halved inside out and with a sharp paring knife start separating membrane from peel, then just pull the membrane off and put with saved pulp. Cut peeling halves into quarters and place in primary or, optionally, put in jelly bag, tie closed and toss in primary. Add all remaining ingredients (except yeast) to primary and pour in honey water and then enough water to make 1 gallon. Cover primary. When water cools to room temperature record specific gravity (sg), add yeast starter solution, cover, and set aside. Stir daily. When vigorous fermentation subsides remove lemon peels and discard, transfer mead to secondary and affix airlock.

Rack after 45 days and measure sg regularly (weekly). When at or below sg 1.000 add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate. If not at or below sg 1.000, continue checking sg weekly. Mead takes longer to ferment than wine so be patient.

If mead does not clear when at or below sg 1.000, add and stir in 1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme every 7 days until it clears. If mead is not bone dry (sg 0.990-0.992) when K sorbate is added, measure sg every 7 days and when it stabilizes (does not change) for 21 days, rack and sweeten to taste and balance with very clear honey. Even slightly hazy honey will spoil the polished clarity of a mead, although this can be corrected with bulk aging (recommended) or filtration. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

I have never used this much lemon in any wine or mead, but these are Meyer lemons and they are not nearly as tart as regular lemons. I've eaten one a day for the past two weeks, so I know their tartness. The recipe dilutes this tartness by one-fourth, but I suspect it will still require some sweetening to balance. Just how much I don't know. I am still making this mead myself. But I have played with this lemon's juice for two weeks now and I am confident it can be managed or I wouldn't publish it before I've tasted the results. But if you want to wait, I'll report on it here when it's ready.

February 23rd, 2015

Monopoly card: 'Bank error in your favor.  Collect $200'

Making wine is easy. Balancing a checkbook is hard.

It seems like once a year I realize that even if all the checks I have written that haven't yet cleared are accounted for, my balance and the bank's balance are different. I guess I need to start using a calculator.

Please don't write suggesting electronic banking. I'm not gonna do it! Without a little pain and suffering, what would be the point of it all?

And consider this: if everyone used electronic banking there wouldn't be that Monopoly card giving you $200 because the bank made an error in your favor. Do you really think the bank's computer would suddenly say, "Oops, I made an error in your favor and owe you $200"?

Many times I've explained that I do not use blogging software to publish the WineBlog or The Winemaking Home Page, but rather do all the coding and markup myself. It takes me much longer to write and post an entry than it does someone using…WordPress for example. I choose to do it this way so this is a bed I have chosen to lay in.

HTML sample from a previous entry
HTML sample from a previous WineBlog entry

Any sample of HTML markup could demonstrate how it is done. So why mention this at all? Simply because I want you to know that writing a WineBlog entry isn't just sitting down and writing. It also includes the extra time and attention it takes to markup the text so your computer can display it the way I intended. The extra time is probably not all that long—maybe 30-45 minutes max—when all goes well. But it doesn't always go well. All too often what I intend and what displays are two entirely different things. Then I go into troubleshooting mode and try to locate the problem. Sometimes it's easy—a missed open- or close-tag bracket (technically, a "less than" or "greater than" symbol)—but sometimes it is very difficult to find the problem. A typical difficulty is when a comma is inserted in the markup where a period goes. Sounds easy to spot but it isn't when you've got advanced macula degeneration and, even with frequest prescription glasses upgrades, they tend to look alike at times, especially after more than a few hours at the computer or delving into reference books. I once spent over two hours trying to figure out why a code snippet didn't work when it was copied and pasted from a sample that always worked. Turns out that when I typed in the variables that related to the current content, I inadvertently entered a capital "o" (O) instead of a "zero" (0). Every time I checked my variables the O looked like a 0. I only discovered the problem when I retyped the variables one letter or digit at a time, running the snippet after each singular entry.

What I'm trying to do here is explain why things don't always look right. My vision is deteriorating quicker than I ever anticipated. I require periodic injections in my left eye just to slow down the inevitable. Very often I see slightly double. My right eye is registering the image in the right place but my left eye is shifting the image to the right just a tad. How much? Just enough to frequently hit the key to the right of the one intended. When that happens repeatedly, I compensate by typing the key to the right of what is intended. The result is I usually hit the correct key but sometimes actually hit the one to the right. It's very frustrating. I write less and less because of it. My TidBitts were just the right length to get in and get out without fatiguing my eyes to the point where I started seeing double.

Every now and then someone contacts me to say my page is screwed up in some way. Last night I was told my recipe ingredients were all run together on both Firefox and Opera. I then spent well over 3 hours trying work-arounds to make them appear as I intended on those two browsers.

There are standards for HTML and CSS, the two major components that tell a browser how to interpret and display the coding sent to them. I am not up-to-date on the latest standards but have slowly attempted to incorporate new elements as I can. Just so you understand what is involved, It would take the better part of an entire day and evening to bring any one of my archived files to where this page is (and it is not where it should be) as they would have to be completely recoded. Someday I may have time to do this, but it isn't in my near future.

When my current page displays inaccurately on one or two browsers it means those browsers haven't adopted the standards for the elements I've incorporated or I have simply done it wrong.

Essentially, I write for the Chrome browser. I long ago gave up on Internet Explorer, which often seems slower than me in adapting to new standards. For a while, I looked at my entries in five different browsers and most of what I posted consistently displayed okay in four of them. Then I got real busy and stopped checking the various browsers. The result is the message I received yesterday.

If you think this blog is not displaying correctly on your laptop or PC, please let me know. I know it doesn't display worth a damn on handheld devices (but my TidBitts stream does). It will get there one day, but not tomorrow. In the meantime, please let me know of obvious display problems you have on your PC or laptop. I'll appreciate it very much.

Meyer Lemon, <b>attribution:</b> cropped from original photo posted to <i>Flickr</i> by Debra Roby, and then posted to <i>Wikimedia Commons</i> licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Sometimes a gift can be overwhelming. A friend said her friend had a Meyer lemon tree and they had used all they wanted, given others all they wanted, and still had more on the tree. If I wanted them she would pick me up. I said sure and asked what size bag I should bring. She said to empty my laundry basket. It holds at least a bushel and we filled that sucker to over-flowing and still there were lemons left on the tree.

Meyer lemons (Citrus × meyeri) are native to China but commonly named after Frank Meyer, a Department of Agriculture employee who brought a sample of the plant to the USA in 1908. It is thought to be a cross, probably natural, between a true lemon and either a Mandarin orange or true orange, all of which are native to China.

A typical Meyer lemon is large, about the size of a normal navel orange, but some are much larger. They have a thin peel which is easy to remove by hand. They are much sweeter than true lemons and the sections can be eaten raw as a fruit, Their taste is much better than true lemons and certainly better (my opinion) than sour oranges. Previously, I was familiar with very thick-skinned Meyer lemons in California but learned that the thick peel is a result of nitrogen or potassium deficiency and seasonal applications of the right fertilizer will eliminate the thick peel. They are not two variants of the Meyer lemon.

The thin peels make excellent marmalade. I use the attachment to my food processor for juicing citrus and it does a magnificent job of removing most of the pulp as well, which is caught in a strainer. I have made three half-gallon batches of Meyer lemon marmalade, a 5-gallon batch of Meyer lemon wine, a Meyer lemon pie, stored three quart bags of Meyer lemon peel for future marmalade in the freezer, six quarts of frozen juice, and still I have a 5-gallon pail of Meyer lemons. Sigh. I guess I'm going to make a lot more juice….

Amira Wilighagen, age 9, on <i>Holland's Got Talent</i>

Most of you know that now and then I share with you what I consider to be special moments in musical performance or stylistic development. I do this because music touches my heart so very dearly that I just want to share it and explain why a performance is special to me.

There are talent auditions that are timeless. Susan Boyle and Jackie Evancho are two that jump immediately to mind, but the list is much longer and yet it is also short—less than a dozen have enriched my soul to the point of bringing tears. In October 2013 on Holland's Got Talent a 9-year old delivered one of the most astounding auditions in history. A petite Amira Willighagen stood calmly on the stage and began to sing.

Few singers rise to such prominence that they are immediately recognized by fans by their first name alone—Elvis, Cher, Reba, Beyonce, and Madonna are some—but after this single performance Amira meant only one person to millions. Please do yourself a favor and watch the video to see why. Incredibly, she did this without having a single singing lesson—she heard the song, learned it and found the notes on her own.

Amira Willighagen's October 2013 audition for "Holland's Got Talent"

This performance was so astoundingly good that she was awarded a "Golden Ticket" straight to the finals, without having to win weekly competitions to get there.

This darling girl with the big smile, the friendly wave and a voice that is rare beyond belief went on to win the competition. For those who do not know Dutch, here are a some links to other performances (for English speakers):

Ave Maria, the Semi-Finals
Nessun Dorma, the Finals (and she wins!)
Amira & Andre Rieu Live in Concert at Maastricht July 2014 sound quality is not pure but worth watching nonetheless
Nella Fantasia, selection from Amira's album, 2014

Sepo Sauce

Sepo Sauce, from manufacturer's website

To be up-front, a 12-ounce jar of "Bread and Lettuce Sepo Sauce" was sent to me by the manufacturer to try. It looked like brown mustard and I already had two jars open in my refrigerator—a spicy Colman's and a coarse Dijon, so this sat on my kitchen counter for a while. When I finally opened and used it, I kicked myself for waiting so long. This stuff is amazing (to me, at least—your mileage may vary).

Called "Bread and Lettuce Sepo Sauce," the name hardly says it all. My first use of this was on a fluffy salad of hearts of romaine, baby spinach, arugala, and red lettuce, with thin slices of portabella, Roma tomato, English cucumber, and cashew nuts, plus a dusting of ground flax seed. To be honest, I dribbled the sauce sparingly over the salad, unsure of what it would taste like. Lightly tossed, I took a bite and began chewing.

Wonderful things began happening in my mouth. I quickly added more to the salad and tossed again. Just what the doctor ordered ! Besides the Dijon mustard, the flavors of garlic, basalmic, onion, and a slight hint of something peppery melded together perfectly into a creamy masterpiece. This is a mayonnaise-based spicy blend, smooth and easy to fold into salads of all kinds—spicy and savory but not piquant, not hot.

After several salads, I finally decided to try it on the other part of its name—bread. I visited a local barbecue place and bought some of their black bread. I love to toast it, smear it with Dijon mustard, place ham and cheese on it, pop it in the microwave for about 45 seconds, and eat it hot. I replaced the Dijon with Sepo Sauce and built my masterpiece, using thick-sliced Black Forest ham and French Gruyére cheese. The Sepo Sauce was as detectable as the black bread, ham and cheese, but the balance was perfect. Since then I have tried it on a variety of sandwiches without a single regret.

I once stayed in an English inn near Wales and for breakfast was served two broiled tomato halves with an unknown salty cheese melted on top, poached egg, ham, and fresh-baked rolls with butter and strawberry jam. I occasionally attempt to repeat this breakfast and it has evolved with my own tweaks. I sprinkle a Creole spice mix on firm tomato halves, broil them until the edges begin to blacken, take them out and top with pre-cut cheese rounds, return these to the broiler until the cheese browns and blisters, and serve with chewy thick-cut bacon, eggs over-medium and fresh baked biscuits, butter and marmalade. Yesterday morning I made this without the Creole spice mix and smeared Sepo Sauce over the cheese-topped tomatoes. It was divine, adding just the right savoriness to the tomatoes.

I'm sold. My imagination is racing with using this as a dip, a marinade, a brushed sauce for roasted chicken, ribs and lamb chops, but I'm scraping the jar for residue. I have no idea where to buy this stuff so ordered six 12-ounce jars directly from the manufacturer for $4 each—$28.92 with taxes and only $3 shipping. See the links below for the website.

When Life Gives You Lemons

Meyer Lemon Marmalade—Wordless Wednesday</a>, photo by Stacey Morgan Smith, December 21st, 2011, Shenandoah Valley Fowers blog, used under Fair Use Act for illustrative purposes only without commercial gain
Meyer Lemon Marmalade, photo
by Stacey Morgan Smith

Earlier I mentioned I was givena huge number of Meyer lemons. I made 5 gallons of Meyer lemon wine, a Meyer lemon pie, and 3 batches of Meyer lemon marmalade. I also have several gallons of Meyer lemon juice and several quarts of Meyer lemon peels in the freezer for future projects. I'll report on the wine when it's drinkable and can be assessed, but for now I wanted to share with you one of the three recipes I used for marmalade.

My lemons came with a recipe and an 8-ounce jar of Meyer lemon marmalade so I could sample it before I made it. The recipe is flexible, allowing you to add more or less sugar to make a sweeter or more sour marmalade. I decided to go all in, but departed from the recipe in several ways, including harvesting the natural pectin from the lemons for a thicker set (they're loaded with pectin, so don't even think about canning pectin). Here are the ingredients:

  • 5 lbs Meyer lemons
  • 5 lbs sugar
  • 5 cups water (divided)
  • 1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice
  • jelly bag
  • 8 8-oz or 4 16-oz mason jars w/lids and lid-rings

Scrub lemons well with brush, cut in half crosswise and juice them (a food processor juicing attachment is a Godsend for this). Strain all pulp and seed from juice and save both in separate bowls. Remove any pith from lemon shells (a thick central column of pith is in each lemon) and place with pulp and seeds. Cut half-shells in half and stack in pairs. Use sharp knife to cut peels crosswise in thin slices (an electric meat slicer will save you an hour of time, but be very careful).

Place lemon strips in non-reactive pot and add 3-1/2 cups water. Tie pulp and seeds in jelly bag and drop in pot. Bring to boil and hold boil about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and use tongs to remove jelly bag. Place jelly bag in bowl and float in sink of cold water.

When jelly bag is cool enough to handle with rubber gloves (about 15 minutes), remove bowl from sink and squeeze jelly bag to extract all liquid you can.

Add additional 1-1/2 cups water to pot of sliced peels, return to heat and bring to medium boil. When boiling, add sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved (about 6-8 minutes). Add squeezing from jelly bag and 1/2 cup of reserved Meyer lemon juice. Continue stirring to prevent anything from sticking to bottom of pot.

Meanwhile, wash and dry mason jars and place in 200° oven without lids for at least 10 minutes, then remove. At same time place a teapot with 2-3 cups water on to boil. When water boils, pour over lids and lid rings in bowl fo sterilize them. Do NOT boil lids or the rubber seal will become too soft, but rather pour boiling water over cool lids in cool bowl.

Back to the marmalade, hold boil, place candy thermometer in pot and increase heat slightly, stirring often. When temperature reaches 220°, hold boil for one minute. Remove from heat and begin filling sterilized mason jars using canning funnel and ladle. Wipe mouth edges of jars, place lids and rings, tighten just past finger tight, and place jars in oven (still at 200°) for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and place on cooling racks. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Go clean up all the pots, bowls, utensils, cutting boards, countertops, etc. Store reserved juice in ZipLoc freezer bag for another use, sit down and enjoy a glass of wine. You deserve it. After an hour or two all lids should have popped in and sealed. Tighten rings a little more. You can add labels now or later and store in pantry when completely cool. Any jars that don't seal (I don't think I've had one in the last 50-60 jars of marmalade, jelly or jam I've made) should go directly into the refrigerator for early consumption.

This is a thick but spreadable marmalade. As I said, I made three batches. Each was different—to one I added shredded carrot and zucchini and the other sliced apricot and pineapple. But I have plenty of material to make more with, and when I get some blueberries I know just what I'm going to do with them.

January 24th, 2015

Yesterday morning I ran into a local home winemaker I had not see in years. He said he had stopped his internet/email services about two years ago as they were just taking up too much time he could be using hunting, fishing, playing golf, and visiting his grandkids. Then he asked why I stopped my blog. I said I didn't and he said his son, also a winemaker and still with internet services, said I had not written anything in a long time. That's when I realized how off-track I have gotten since my old computer started failing and my trials and tribulations since.

For those who don't follow my Winemaking page on Facebook, I bought a new computer, only to discover how totally unintuitive Windows 8.1 is and how incompatible some of my favorite programs were with it. I finally had a local geek wipe everything off the hard drive, reformat it and install a clean copy of Windows 7 on it. After that I spent several weeks reinstalling my old programs (had to call many companies to obtain reactivation codes) and reinstall my old data (thank God for Carbonite, who sent me all my backed-up directories and files on an external hard drive). In between these actions I flew to Oregon to spend a week-plus with my mother and sister and her husband. I wrote many TidBitts and the Wineblog just got lost in all of this.

My sincerest apologies to you and all my followers. I'm back.

American Sniper, a Clint Eastwood film

If you don't know of this incredible movie, you've been in a deeper hole than I've been in the past three months. Chris Kyle was an American hero, the most lethal sniper in American History. However you felt about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, if you know someone who served in them and came home alive, there is a chance you might have Chris Kyle to thank for that. Considering the numbers who served, it is a small chance indeed but a real one nonetheless.

Clint Eastwood and Jason Hall teamed up with Chris Kyle to turn Kyle's best-selling book, American Sniper, into a movie. Condensing 448 pages into a 2-hour script was Hall's daunting task. He delivered his "final draft" on February 1st, 2013. The next day Kyle and companion Chad Littlefield were shot and killed at a shooting range by USMC veteran Eddie Routh, whom they were trying to help with his war-related PTSD. This event required a rewrite of the script. Jason Hall then worked closely with Kyle's widow, Taya Kyle.

The rewrite required compressing and compiling some events to allow time for a very different ending. The film has been criticized by some for not portraying certain personal, marital-related and timeline events exactly as they were described in Kyle's book, but the very essence of it is there and it is powerful. As for the exactitude of events, Taya Kyle diemisses them as necessary. "It brought Chris back to life," she said.

As for Rolling Stone's ludicrous review, all one has to do is consider the source. Rolling Stone has not celebrated or embraced American patriotism since the immediacy of the 2001 9/11 attacks subsided. And American Sniper is the story of a real-life patriot, not the kind of character Rolling Stone champions.

There is a reason this movie was nominated for six Academy Awards. There is also a reason Clint Eastwood was not nominated for Best Director and the movie was completely snubbed by the politically correct Golden Globe Awards, further diminishing their statue as anything more relevant than a insiders' pat on their collective backs. They have snubbed Eastwood since 2012, when he openly criticized President Obama at the Republican National Convention and moved outside Hollywood's inner circle. Screw them all. If you are at all objective, see the film and judge for yourself.

If you haven't seen this movie, see it in IMAX if you can or any format if IMAX is not available. It is one of those rare movies that, when it ends, the theater is silent and no one gets up to leave. Rare. Powerful. Masterfully directed, filmed, set, and acted. See it and let me know what you think.

Acids and Acid Blend

Acid blend

I received an email asking about acids, acid blend additions and the acids in common fruit. I quote the email:

I have been home winemaking and reading your web page for two years now, and I've come to a point where I would like to understand better the chemistry behind recipes. I understand sugars but want to understand acids better. My questions, for instance, are around why one fruit wine recipe may call for 1/4 tsp acid blend and another might call for 1 1/4 tsp. I would particularly like to see a chart with a side by side comparison from apples to oranges that lists each fruits TA, tartaric, malic, citric, etc. I think this would help me a lot to understand adding acids to recipes and other things like selecting yeast strains for their propensity to lower malic acid during primary fermentation.

The question is a good one. I explained part of it in my January 19th TidBitts stream and won't repeat it here because I've promised my TidBitts subscribers what I publish there is exclusive and stays there for a considerable period. But click below and you can read it by accepting a free, 30-day trial. I'm not being elusive here, but I've explained it. You can read it free. You don't have to subscribe 30 days later if you don't want to, but if you do you'll have to pay 99 cents a month for the twice-a-week stream.

As to why different amounts of acid blend are called for, it is to bring the base within the correct acid/pH window for the style of wine being made. This was explained in the 3-part TidBitts stream on acid correction that ran from January 3rd to the 15th.

But keep in mind that acid concentrations in fruit and berries varies considerably, as is evident in the January 19th entry referenced above. The only way to "get it right" is to measure the acidiyu of every batch before pitching the yeast. This is impractical for most of you, but if you use the amount in a given recipe you should land within the window of acceptability.

If the acidity is low in the finished wine it will taste flat and lifeless but can be corrected by adding acid blend. If the acidity is too high the wine can be brought into balance with the acid or the acid can be buffered to bring it into balance with the wine.

Most home winemakers never test for TA or pH. But if you have to test for one, I'd recommend pH. As I've explained before, it is far more important and greatly affects the amount of sulfite required to attain an aseptic level.

Clementine-Blanc du Bois Wine


Last year I had a poor harvest of Blanc du Bois grapes. I had lost two vines the previous year and last year another refused to awaken from its winter dormancy. A late freeze killed the flowers but new flowers, although fewer than the first ones the freeze claimed, survived to bear some fruit. I harvested them before they were fully ripe. It was either do that or watch the bids eat them

I knew I had pitifully few, not nearly enough for a gallon. In fact, they only pressed out about 1 ½ liters of juice. Not willing to waste it, I went to the supermarket to see what I might find to round out a gallon. What I found were Clementines.

The Clementine is a variety of tangerine (Citrus reticulate) and a close cousin of the orange (Citrus sinensis). They are more acidic than most tangerines and can be made into an excellent wine. Usually they are sold in bags or boxes weighing 5 pounds, but these boxes held 8 pounds. So be it.

Blanc du Bois just happened to be the white grapes I had. Any white grapes will do, or any white grape juice, providing it is 100% pure and doesn't contain sorbic or benzoic acid, either of which will prevent fermentation.

Clementine-Blanc du Bois Wine Recipe

  • 8 lbs Clementines, juiced
  • 9 lbs Blanc du Bois (or any white grape) crushed and pressed
  • 13 oz sugar (or as needed)
  • 1/2 tsp tartaric acid
  • 1 Campden tablet, finely crushed
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Vintner's Harvest BV7 wine yeast

Crush and press grapes. Peel and press Clementines. Combine juices in primary and add sugar. Stir until completely dissolved. Add remaining ingredients except yeast, which should be sprinkled in a yeast starter solution. Stir well, cover primary and put in a cold place for 12-24 hours. Allow to return to room temperature and add activated yeast starter solution. Stir must daily until vigorous fermentation begins to diminish, then transfer to a sanitized secondary. Attach airlock and set aside 30 days. Rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait 45 days or until wine has fallen clear, then rack into a fresh secondary into which another finely crushed Campden tablet is waiting. Allow another 30 days and bottle. Age 3-6 months before drinking. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Since there was a glass of wine remaining in the secondary after bottling (there always is), I drank it (I always do). It was quite good. I actually made this with Lalvin ICV-D47 yeast, but felt it needed a bit more body. The BV7 yeast is noted for high glycerine production which should enhance mouth feel and excellent fruit expression when fermented below 72 degrees F. I think this is a better choice.

December 10th, 2015

TidBitts logo

I'm excited by the response to my TidBitts stream. There clearly was a need for this format and I have long wanted to post the many insights that come to me but are too short for this blog. My last stream entry (tidbit) was both educational for me and my readers. It was a good one for me as I learned a great more about Amarone (a splendid wine) than I thought I might. And reader feedback suggests I cleared up a few things about malolactic fermentation for them, too, which of course is what all writers strive for. But MLF is a large and complex subject, so I'm sure it will be revisited again.

TidBitts reference page was taken down March 31. Prior to that there was a visual pointer to it here.

There is more to say about malolactic fermentation than I penned, which I know will fit fine in a future entry. I'm just pleased this format allows me to address more email subjects than I previously could. You might notice I've removed the warning about sending me emails from this blog and my Home Page. I still don't answer all of them, but I am answering most.

For your information, some of my upcoming TidBitts will be "Cold-Proofing A Wine," "Reducing Alcohol in Finished Wine," "Problem with Dandelion Wine," and "Yeast Nutrients" to name but a few. Remember, you can try them free for a month without obligation. They are ad-free as well and can be delivered tpany connected device (wired or wi-fi) you own or borrow.

If you've read much of this blog you know I love music, especially the songs I grew up with. I suppose we all do that. I think there is a profound difference between the music I grew up with and the music the kids and young adults of today are growing up with—especially to those who gravitate to rap. I could write a book on this subject but I'll sum it up succinctly. The music of my youth and early adulthood was actually music and not a monotonous laid-down track over which someone who can't sing recites bad poetry. If this insults your musical taste then just skip the rest and go to the next subject.

This difference was highlighted recently when I left the home of a young winemaker who was playing rap music in the background. The lyrics I could understand were obscene by any standard—degrading to women and disrespectful, even hostile, to authority and especially police. I could not wait to escape the monotony of sound in that apartment.

In my car, I switched from a talk station to one I knew played my kind of music. A George Harrison number from the '70s was playing and after that the following piece by Simon and Garfunkel.

For the last 40-45 years had anyone asked me what my favorite Simon and Garfunkel song was I'd have named another ("The Sound of Silence", but had they asked me what I thought their greatest song was I'd have named this one without hesitation. The music itself is both complexually sophisticated and beautiful in word and delivery. While the lyrics are free verse, they are outreaching, supportive and loving. This song is everything that rap music is not.

Listen to it and tell me I am wrong.

Simon and Garfunkel, 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'

I had the privilege of watching them perform this in person while on R&R in Hawaii in 1969. Sitting not more than 35-40 feet away, I was totally captivated by their perfect harmony and delivery. It was, fortuitously, the first time I ever heard the song as they had just finished recording the album and my companion and I were both blown away by the accompanying orchestration.

Black Raspberry Chocolate Port

My Black Raspberry Chocolate Port label
Label of a smaller, earlier,
less intensely flavored batch

I mentioned in my Facebook Page back on October 21st, "Sunday won Best of Show with a non-kit Black Raspberry-Chocolate Port. Might publish the recipe, but maybe not. Some things are worth keeping secret...." People wanted me to publish it, so I will—in a future TidBitts or WineBlog entry. Right now, I just want to tell you about the trials of making this port.

In June 2001 my wife and I attended the 100th anniversary celebration of the Pierce Arrow automobile in Buffalo, New York, where the cars were hand-built. 620 of the cars converged on the event and we rode in a parade through Buffalo in the rumble seat of a 1920-something 2-seater roadster. When the 4-day event ended we stayed on and toured up-state New York.

We stopped at numerous roadside fruit stands and bought baskets of ripe Bing cherries, whose seeds we spit all over the landscape from buffalo southwestward and on to Pennsylvania. At one stand a sign announced black raspberries. We saw none and inquired. The young lady said they had sold out but called her father to ask if there were more that could be brought to the stand. He said no and I asked to speak with him. I asked if he ever sold just the juice and he said yes, but the harvest season for black raspberries was rather brief and he would not have enough to make a gallon of juice until next year. I wrote down his name and number and we departed.

Black raspberries

Black raspberry juice is not cheap and it was several years before I called, well before his announced harvest season, and ordered a quart of juice, which he shipped to me. I added to it a little blackberry and blueberry juice and diluted with water to make a gallon of wine. A few years later I ordered a half-gallon and this made a much better tasting gallon of wine.

In 2012 I ordered two gallons of the juice and it evidently was not packed well. FedEx notified me it was destroyed in shipment, meaning at least one of the gallon jugs broke and FedEx tossed it to prevent it from doing more harm to other parcels than it had already done. I filled out an insurance claim and eventually was reimbursed, but the harvest season was over by then. In 2013 I placed an identical order and requested that he double-box it and wrap the jugs in bubble wrap. He did so and I made a 3-gallon batch of Black Raspberry Chocolate Port. If you want the recipe, get on board with my TidBitts (see link above).

In the meantime, you have until June to line up a supplier of black raspberry juice. It isn't cheap, but you have plenty of time to save up for it—it will be worth every penny. Oh, and you have the same amount of time to order some Dutched cocoa powder. Shop online....

The Spice & Herb Bible

'The Spice & Herb Bible' by Ian & Kate Hemphill

The last book I reviewed here was The Food Substitution Bible, now an indispensible companion in my kitchen. Today I am reviewing The Spice & Herb Bible, third edition, by Ian Hemphill and Kate Hemphill. It, too, is now a permanent resident of my kitchen. Read on and discover why.

This 800-page (paperback edition) book is a reference and cookbook wrapped into one and it is stellar in each role. The introduction (Part One;40 pages) is well worth reading first, however tempting it is to jump to the heart of it all. It explains how each alphabetical listing is organized, the difference between herbs and spices, how spices fall into five key flavor groups and herbs belong to another with four additional flavors. Knowing this up front helps immensely in blending for complimentary and even counter-intuitive flavors.

Part Two is the bread and butter of the book—638 pages of alphabetical listings of 97 herbs and spices. That's over 6.5 information-packed pages per entry, each accompanied by excellent color photos, background and plant information, varieties, processing, buying and storage, spice notes and tips, interesting anecdotal travel notes, culinary information (combines with, traditional uses and spice blends—arguably the most valuable info-graphic for each entry), occasional potential substitutions, and recipes highlighting the ingredient. As mind-blowing as this is, there is more.

Part Three, The Art of Combining Spices, might just be the most important section of the book, depending on your prior knowledge. It discusses (separately) the principles and art of blending spices, using herbs in blends, and the spice and herb combination pyramid. Theses are essential prefaces to a listing (many with showcase recipes) of 66 distinctive blends. A healthy bibliography and essential index wrap up the whole.

If this isn't enough, the second edition of this book was joint winner of the Best Reference Book category at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Cookbook Awards—not an insignificant testimonial. With the third edition, The Spice & Herb Bible will undoubtedly remain the definitive reference book in renown kitchens everywhere.

If the foregoing doesn't convince you that this belongs in your kitchen or is the perfect gift for that special person you know who aspires to be a chef in his or her own mind, there is one more thing to consider—the from-scratch winemaker.

It opens a whole new world to spice and herb wines. Just about everything you need to know is there—the flavors, the aromatics, the combining potentials. What isn't there is the underlying base—a mead, a Niagara, a Muscat, a perhaps not-up-to-par Riesling, etc. I've already begun two spice wines from ideas gleaned from this book and will be reporting on them when they are ready to drink. By then I suspect I'll have another dozen fermenting or aging.

If you are interested in this book, buy it here and now in time for Christmas delivery.

November 26th, 2014

I had a computer crash. It took 5 days to bring it back to life. When it returned, it had problems I no longer wanted to deal with. I bought a new system (keeping only my printer and external hard drives) and the new keyboard did not work. The vendor (a 70-mile round trip away) said the machine was under warranty and I'd have to deal with the manufacturer. It took EIGHT days for a new keyboard to arrive.

Living in a small town has genuine quality of life benefits I love, but the big box stores are all in the big city to the north. Every coin has two sides.

Once again, I have to plug my TidBitts stream. I appreciate each and every one of you who have subscribed. My email has been glowing. I hope those of you taking advantage of the free trial subscribe in the end. Ninety-nine cents a month isn't much for what I deliver, and I could use the money.

Yesterday's entry, "Flavoring Wine or Mead Using Wood Other Than Oak" brought this comment from Colorado: "You just answered a lot of questions for me and probably saved me countless weeks of experiment and who knows how many wines? That in itself was worth $0.99." Read the tidbitt at http://www.tidbitts.com/free/9ac326.

"Why is My pH Changing?" brought this from Louisiana: "I've used my new pH meter a lot and have asked myself this same question a couple times. Thank you for the answer." And this: "I never would have thought of that…."

Two more TidBitts coming every week. Take a look. The first month is free.

Pairing Pie with Wine

The big day is tomorrow. Most of you have figured out what you're going to serve with the turkey or ham or whatever main meat you're having, but what about dessert? Thanksgiving dessert is traditionally pie. Wouldn't it be nice to pair a good wine with a good pie? Here are some recommendations from Josh Cellars, a label known for bold, appreciable wines that deliver the flavors and quality you expect, but any quality like-varietal will work.

Josh Cellars Sauvignon Blanc

Pie: Apple
Try: Josh Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
Bright aromas of lime and citrus are the core of this Sauvignon Blanc, with layers
of white flower nectar, peach, and tropical melon. The palate of the wine is fresh
and alive with clean fruit flavors and a perfectly balanced finish. The sweetness
of the apples enhances the citrus flavors in the light and refreshing Sauvignon

Josh Cellars Sauvignon Chardonnay

Pie: Pecan
Try: Josh Cellars Chardonnay
As there are different preparations of pecan pie, Chardonnay pairs well as it is a
medium bodied wine that is versatile enough to stand up to some of the richer
flavors and sweetness in the pie. The Chardonnay features tropical fruits and
citrus, beautifully married with harmonious notes of oak. A delightful harmony of
bright yellow and white stone fruit lingers on the palate and finishes with fresh
and clean acidity.

Josh Cellars Pinot Noir

Pie: Pumpkin or Sweet Potato
Try: Josh Cellars Pinot Noir
Aromas of cherry and strawberry on the nose with layers of spicy oak are
captured in Josh Cellars Pinot Noir. On the palate, the wine is plush and subtle
yet has a firm texture. Dark cherry and chocolate flavors fill the mouth with a rich
intensity and lingering finish. The earthiness and spice of the Pinot Noir
compliments both pies—cinnamon and spice.

Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

Pie: Mince
Try: Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
This Cabernet is an approachable blend with aromas of rich, dark fruit and
baking spices on the nose yielding to fresh plum, blackberry, violet, dried fig,
vanilla bean and Chinese five-spice. The wine is juicy with plum and blackberry
flavors, prominently layered with smoky and sappy maple oak, roasted almonds
and hazelnuts. Its firm tannins and full body will stand up against the rich fruit
flavors, spices and brown sugar featured in this decadent pie.

With all the love, planning and sweat that goes into the Thanksgiving meal, let the wine be of equal quality. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Cranberry-Table Grape Wine

Fresh cranberries

Just after Thanksgiving, cranberries will go on sale in most supermarkets. It's a good time to load up and make an unforgettable wine. Pure cranberry wine tastes a lot like White Zinfandel. I have twice served it as a mystery wine and White Zin was the most submitted guess for the variety. But pure cranberry wine is a tad thin in body. For that reason I like to add some 100% pure grape concentrate. For a 3-gallon batch I'll typically add two cans of white and two cans of red grape concentrate. This recipe is different and makes one gallon using red table grapes with the cranberries. Do the math for a 3-gallon batch but only add one packet of yeast.

Seedless red table grapes are still available in the supermarket. Yes, they aren't the same as the Noble Grapes of Europe, but they still add flavor, sugar, tannin, and body…and some color. Last year I used equal weights of cranberries and grapes and the wine was very good. This year I changed the ratio and think it will be just right Here's how to do it:

  • 3 lbs ripe cranberries
  • 2 lbs red seedless table grapes
  • 1 lb 12 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • 3 qts water
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 Campden tablet, finely crushed and dissolved in 1/2 cup water
  • pinch of grape tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt Champagne wine yeast in a yeast starter solution

Put the water on to boil and prepare a yeast starter solution. Meanwhile, wash the cranberries and cull out any that are unsound or unripe. Coarsely chop the cranberries, and put them in a nylon straining bag. Destem and wash the grapes. Cut in quarters, reserving any juice, and add to nylon straining bag with cranberries. Tie bag closed, in primary, adding any juice from grapes. Pour sugar over fruit and then pour boiling water over all and stir to dissolve sugar. Cover with sterile cloth and let cool about two hours.

Add crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, cover with cloth and let set about 10 hours. Add pectic enzyme, tannin and yeast nutrient. Stir, cover with sterile cloth and set aside for another 10 hours. Add yeast starter solution, re-cover and stir daily, punching down the bag. When vigorous fermentation subsides, squeeze to extract all juices from bag before adding contents ti compost pile, transfer liquid to secondary, and fit airlock. Rack after 30 days, top up, refit airlock, and ferment to dryness. When clear, rack again and wait 30 days. Carefully rack into bottles and age at least 9 months before sampling. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This is a good dry wine. You can sweeten to off-dry, but do not ruin it by adding too much sugar. If wine is a little lifeless or flat, add acid blend gradually until the wine tastes crisp.

November 9th, 2014

Again, my apologies for the long hiatus since my last entry. Very pressing personal affairs prevented me from attending to any writing here or elsewhere other than emails and certain Facebook postings. Several real life dramas (the latest, as I write this, my internet service connection is down) continue to plague me, but I do what I can….

I received several emails about the Michael Nesmith piece in my last entry's introductory rambles. Of them, I most appreciated the following by George:

Just wanted to say I enjoyed your piece on Michael Nesmith. I've been a fan of his music and sense of humor since the Monkees. I just wanted to add to everything you said that he is also an awesome live performer, with a superb band. We traveled from west Michigan to Cleveland, OH last year to finally catch him. He's philosophical, witty, writes GREAT songs, and performs them well. If you ever get a chance to see him live, it's worth the effort. He won't be performing Monkees hits but his renditions of Propinquity and Rio are worth the price of admission.
~~ George N., in Michigan

Thank you, George. Your comments are backed up by this one from Karen, who has written to me a number of times about many subjects—some of them were even about winemaking:

Your Michael Nesmith factoids were enlightening. I happened to see him in concert several years ago. He is a phenomenal personality and performer, and I love the variety of his songs and connection he has with his audience. His writing (songs and books) are magical poetry and prose. Thanks for the additional insights, and for highlighting 'Joanne.'
~~ Karen E., Austin, Texas

In truth, the factoids I chose to reveal are but a fraction of his accomplishments. If you have time, read more about him. If you start with the links I provided in my last entry and dig from there, you'll begin to see what I mean. George and Karen's descriptors are fitting—awesome and phenomenal.


I am pleased with the response to my TidBitts stream subscriptions and free trials. It is less than I hoped for, but enough that I am pleased. I very much appreciate all who are subscribing or just looking.

If you follow my personal or website/blog Facebook pages, you've seen a steady series of "encouragements" (okay, they are my own promotions) for my TidBitts and you are probably as tired of them as you are of political commercials, ads and candidate lawn signs. I promise this will decrease as I approach the number I'm hoping for.

It is painless to get a first month free trial. Just click on the link in the graphic below and it is done. No credit card pre-registration, no "service agreement," no nothing. Just click, save the URL to your favorites and it's done.

You'll see my last tidbitt (delivered Thursday), "Perception in Wine Competitions, Part 2." You can click "Next" at the top ("Previous" takes you to the last one you viewed, not the one prior to where you are) which will allow you to see Part 1 (delivered last Monday) and other published TidBitts

I don't know how far back you can scroll. I do know this month's line-up is good, containing eight TidBitts covering a broad spectrum of home winemaking.

TidBitts reference page was taken down March 31. Prior to that there was a visual pointer to it here.

By the way, tomorrow's (Monday's) tidbitt will be "Labels in Competitions and Where Did My Wine Go?."

As a reminder, the content in my TidBitts stream is exclusive to subscribers and will not appear in this WineBlog or my Winemaking Home Page for a long time, if ever. It is ad-free, delivered twice a week, and is deliverable to any connected device you might own—PC, laptop, tablet, e-reader, phone. Enough said.

The Food Substitution Bible

<i>The Food Substitution Bible</i>

Long-time readers know that I love cooking and cookbooks. I only mention ones here I am really jazzed up about. This one, by David Joachim, is not really a cookbook, but a Godsend to any who like to try new recipes and discover they don't have an ingredient or two. The Food Substitution Bible (2nd edition) is 695 pages of recipe-saving bliss, containing over 6,500 substitutions for ingredients, equipment and techniques. I dug into it the moment it arrived and have used it in six recipes thus far#8212;recipes I would not have tried had I not had it to consult.

The 1st edition of this book won the prestigious International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) award, a testament this reviewer considers the ultimate endorsement. And 10 minutes of reading entries will tell you why. The 2nd edition expanded the 1st by 25%, so this is the baby to go after#8212;for yourself or a Christmas present for the cook who has everything but doesn't have this book.

The typical entry will have at least three things#8212;(1) the name of the item in alphabetical order for quick lookup; (2) a brief description, useful tip or interesting fact about the item (if the item is known by several names, they appear here and each alternate name sends you to this entry if it is the item you're looking up); (3) substitutions for the ingredient (measure for measure), substitutions to vary the flavor, substitutions to save time, substitutions for better health, varieties of the item (for example, prepared mustard varieties#8212;there are five). In some entries there are even brief recipes for how to make the ingredient.

There are four other things an entry might have, either all or in part#8212;(4) a bordered reference to useful measurement equivalents; (5) proportions for the actual to substituted item when not 1 for 1; (6) cross-references to other names the ingredient is known by or related information (usually another form of the ingredient, such as dried, seed, oil, liqueur, or extract). There are also 40 pages of reference charts at the back of the book that are invaluable in themselvs and often referenced in the A to Z main potion of the book.

As an illustration, let's take Mace. Mace is "a spunkier version of nutmeg, being the dried, ground, reddish skin that covers the nutmeg seed. One ounce (5 mL) of ground mace cane be substituted with 1 tsp (5 mL) ground nutmeg (milder aroma), or 1 tsp (5 mL) ground allspice, or 1 tsp (5 mL) apple pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice).

I cannot say enough about this book. If you are interested in it, you can ORDER IT HERE.. You'll be more than glad you did.

Dragon Blood Wine

Danger Dave's Dragon Blood Wine

I don't do this often. In all the years I've published this WineBlog, I think I've only done it twice before. I'm talking about re-publishing someone else's recipe verbatim#8212;not because it is eloquent or can't be improved upon, but because, like "Skeeter Pee," it is a recipe I think will be much used and David C. Land deserves all the credit. It also is worth reading straight from the horse's mouth.

Danger Dave's Dragon Blood Wine<

My name is David C. Land (dangerdave). I am a firefighter from southern Ohio who started making wine in August 2011. Like most of you, I began slowly, but was soon bitten by the wine bug and started making many kits in my spare time. After gaining this valuable experience and understanding of the wine making process, I ventured out on my own. My very first homemade recipe was Lon DePoppe's original Skeeter Pee. I was amazed that anyone could make a good cheap wine so quickly. After varying degrees of success, I went about modifying Lon's recipe into a process that reflected both my own desires for my wines, and the processes I had come to understand. Here, I will impart the recipe I developed that has become popular among a diverse group of wine makers. It is specifically designed to make good wine cheaply and quickly while waiting for your kits to age. There are no secrets in wine making. You, my fellow wine makers, are more than welcome to use or modify this recipes or process for your own wine making pleasure. Enjoy!

The recipe is formatted for a six (6) gallon batch. To make a larger or smaller batch, simply do the math. Doubling the batch to twelve gallons would require twice the listed ingredients, while making a three gallon batch would only take half.


Always make sure anything that touches your wine is both cleaned and sanitized, and record everything you do!

This is a sweet-tart fruity 'blush' wine made from raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries with a lemon twist (if desired). It ferments quickly and clears fast. Batches of this wine have been cleared and bottled in less than two weeks (your experience may vary).

* Special notes, including cautions and variations appear in italics.

Step 1: To a cleaned and sanitized seven gallon (or larger) primary, add—in this order:

  • 1 bottle (48 oz each) 100% Lemon Juice (ReaLemon in the green bottle): More or less lemon juice can be added to your taste, (i.e., if you want to reduce the acid level use less lemon juice). The acid added here will help balance the final wine. Substitutes include any other kind of citrus juice (orange, lime, etc.), or use no citrus at all for a very soft, supple blush.
  • Water to about four gallons

20 cups of white granulated sugar (you will be looking for a SG of around 1.075 after filling to 6 gallons below. This will give you a finished alcohol by volume of about 10%-11%): Add more/less sugar for high/lower desired final ABV. Stir sugar until completely dissolved.

  • 1 tsp. tannin (stir)
  • 3 tsp. yeast nutrient (stir)
  • 1 tsp. yeast energizer (stir)
  • 3 tsp. pectic enzyme (stir)
  • Top water to six (6) gallons* and stir well
  • Test SG with hydrometer (remember, you are looking for a SG around 1.075) Note: The natural sugars from the fruit (below) will slightly increase the final ABV, so be careful how high you drive up the SG at this point!
  • 6 lbs. of Triple Berry Blend (raspberry/blackberry/blueberry--available in most grocery store freezer sections), frozen then thawed, in a fine mesh nylon bag (tied shut), placed in primary (add any extra juice from the fruit as well): Give the bag a couple of squeezes to work in pectic enzyme. You may also toss the fruit directly into primary, but this makes for a "messier" fermentation and subsequently will require more clearing time and further racking. Dozens of variations on this recipe have been created by simply substituting different or combinations of different fruit.
  • Cover primary Do not snap down the lid or add an airlock. Cover the lid with a cloth or towel.
  • Place brew belt (if desired): Keep temp in 68F-80F range. A higher temp will result in a faster fermentation, and a sharper tasting, more colorful wine. A lower temp will produce a paler blush with more fruity aroma and a smoother taste.
  • Let sit undisturbed for 12-24 hours...

Step 2: To the primary fermenter, add:

  • 1 packet of EC-1118 Yeast (follow yeast manufacturer's directions): Sprinkle yeast into one cup of warm water (100F), let sit for 15 minutes (no longer), stir and add to primary. Other yeast strains also work well. Experiment!
  • Stir Primary Vigorously!

Step 3: Each day, do the following, in this order:

  • Uncover primary
  • Check and record temperature
  • Check and record specific gravity
  • Squeeze juices from fruit pack into fermenter and remove fruit pack (The Presser Method): Temporarily place in sanitized bucket or bowl.
  • Stir primary vigorously: To introduce oxygen into must, suspend the yeast, and drive off CO2.
  • Replace fruit pack in primary
  • Cover primary

Step 4: When the SG drops to <1.000, do the following:>

  • Squeeze juices from fruit pack into fermenter—remove fruit pack: Discard fruit. Note: When the specific gravity (SG) has fallen below 1.000, and the fruit bag has been removed, discontinue stirring daily but check the SG and temp daily as before. Proceed from here only when the wine's SG has stabilized below 1.000. A stable SG means that the SG for three consecutive days reveals no change in the SG.
  • Uncover primary
  • Rack (siphon or drain) the wine into a cleaned and sanitized six gallon carboy, leaving the gross lees (the stuff in the bottom of the primary) undisturbed.
  • Add ¼ tsp. Potassium Metabisulfite (dissolved in half cup cool water) and stir
  • Add 3 tsp. Potassium Sorbate (dissolved in half cup cool water) and stir
  • Degas wine very thoroughly: I cannot emphasize this enough! Gas in the wine will prevent it from clearing quickly.
  • Add Sparkolloid* (or other clearing agent) per package directions (stir for 2 minutes): *1 tbs in one cup of water simmered (boiled) for about 5-10 minutes. Add hot mixture directly to carboy and stir.
  • If the carboy is not full, add enough cool water to bring the level within two inches of the top opening: Adding a like wine rather than water is preferred. A cheap white zinfandel will work well.
  • Add a bung and airlock (filled half way with sulfite solution)
  • Allow to clear undisturbed for no less than 1 week.

Step 5: When wine is clear:

  • Carefully rack off one gallon of wine into a cleaned and sanitized container, and set aside.
  • Carefully rack the remainder of the wine off of the lees into a cleaned & sanitized six gallon carboy.
  • Add 2-6 cups of white granulated sugar (stir until sugar is completely dissolved): This is where your personal taste comes in. Different people like different levels of sweetness in their wine. My DB is made with ¼ of a cup of sugar per gallon. Remember! The sugars will blend with the lemon and berry flavors over time, and the sweetness will come forward. Do not over-sweeten!
  • If carboy is not full, top up within two inches of top of carboy opening with some of the spare gallon of wine
  • Replace bung and airlock
  • Allow wine to sit quietly for another week.

Step 6: If the wine is completely clear:

  • Filter if desired
  • Bottle in clear bottles (because it's beautiful)
  • Note: Never bottle cloudy wine! NEVER!
  • Enjoy! This wine is great right from the start! It will, however, improve over time in the bottle. The first few weeks brings a noticeable improvement as the flavors blend and meld, while months will make it smooth and delightful. Be warned, though, it will go quickly. So, get some more going, fast!


Any kind of fruit you can imagine may be substituted for the triple berries in the above recipe. Use the exact same procedure, just use different fruit in the bag. I personally have made blueberry, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, and a delightful tropical blend using pineapple/mango/peach/strawberry. Other wine makers have had success with a quad-berry blend (blueberry/blackberry/raspberry/strawberry), a tropical blend using pineapple juice instead of lemon, and even cherry-lime (with lime juice). Fruit purees and fruit wine bases abound on the market. Try oak and/or raisins in the primary or secondary. The list of possibilities is endless. Use your imagination. Pick your favorite fruit, and make a Dragon Blood version of your own. Try raisins, spices, oak, or extracts. Give it a catchy name, and make this recipe yours!


I developed this method of wine making simply out of necessity. My desire was to make country fruit wine, but I lacked good available juice, and I do not own a press. The solution was to add the fruit to the primary in a bag of some sort. I use fine mesh nylon bags sold by most wine supply vendors. A cheaper disposable substitute is knee-high lady's nylon stockings. While the fruit is in the primary—in the bag—simply squeeze the bag each day and stir the juices into the must, replacing the bag afterwards. Needless to say, make sure your hands are clean when doing this. When the wine is dry, remove the bag and discard the fruit. This method slowly introduces the juice into the must during fermentation rather than all at the beginning. This also gives the skins of the fruit extended contact with the fruit pectin and yeast, elevating the flavors to a remarkable level in a very short time.


This knowledge is nothing new. I have built my methods and recipes from the stones quarried by others. The wine making community is a wealth of information and a multitude of wonderful people. They are your greatest resource. I am more than willing to help anyone who asks. If I don't know something, I will point you in the right direction. You may seek me out in the winemakingtalk.com forums (dangerdave), or email me at dangerdave911@yahoo.com, and we'll talk about making some good wine!

David C Land

This is indeed a beautiful wine, easy to drink and loaded with flavor. I recommend the original triple berry recipe, because the balance of flavors is hard to beat. I have not tried any variations yet, but I have some frozen elderberries that might find their way into the next batch, in moderation of course or they will overtake the other flavors in spades.

Thank you David...!

Wine Cooler Direct if you see a wine cooler in your future) has not been inspiring but I have high hopes for my TidBitts subscriptions to Winemaking With Jack Keller. In any event, at around 11:30 that same night, I brought FreePCServices back online because some of you probably really need it whether you realize it or not.

If you were inconvenienced by yesterday's developments I offer you my apologies, but every action taken was to protect your computer. If you visited the home page or this blog, have anti-malware software and got through in the seconds it took to take these two pages off-line, you are almost certainly safe. If you don't have anti-malware software, I invite you to visit my back-online FreePCServices.com and get a free program to protect your computer or device(s). Anti-malware programs are incorporated in the free anti-virus section. Not all anti-virus programs have anti-malware capabilities so you have to read.

Again, my apologies if you were inconvenienced in any way. I know I was....

Stroke illustrated

My friend Bob Wehner sent me an email about stroke indicators. I had seen it before and tagged it to discuss here, but somehow it slipped through the cracks. I decided it's too important to let slip through the cracks again. My mother has suffered two minor strokes#8212;one while on a cruise and one at home.

According to the U. S. Center for Disease Control, 800,000 Americans have a stroke each year; 130,000 of those die. Yet a neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim within 3 hours he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and then getting the patient medically cared for within 3 hours, which is tough.

Stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg—especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

I have seen two mnemonics to help a layman diagnose a stroke if any of the above symptoms appear. One is FAST:

  • Face: ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • Time: if you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

The email Bob sent me offered a different mnemonic with a fourth symptom. It uses STRT, which I have changed to STAT (the email uses the R to mean Raise the arms, but I have changed it to Arms because STAT is easier to remember than STRT):

  • Smile: ask the person to smile. Does one side droop?
  • Talk: ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred and lacks fluency?
  • Arms: ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downwards?
  • Tongue: ask the person to stick out their tongue. Is the tongue crooked or goes to one side or the other?

Obviously, if any of the diagnostic signs appear, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Michael Nesmith
Michael Nesmith as a
Monkee, probably 1968

Many of my older readers (and I hope younger ones as well) will recognize the name Michael Nesmith as one of the four musicians in the television series The Monkees. They may not recognize him as a poet, singer, song-writer, actor, television host, record and movie producer, author, as well as musical innovator in many ways—for example, as a pioneer in country rock, producer of musical videos and movies, and creator of 3D virtual concerts.

The Monkees aired from 1966-1968 but their albums continue to sell today. Nesmith wrote many hit songs for the group and many performers ("Mary, Mary" byThe Monkees and Paul Butterfield Blues Band, "Different Drum" and "Some of Shelly's Blues" by Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys, "Pretty Little Princess" by Frankie Laine, "Some of Shelly's Blues" and "Propinquity (I've Just Begun to Care)" by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, etc.). Whether you knew any of the above or not, my point is that Michael Nesmith is no lightweight in the musical world.

In 1970 Nesmith wrote and recorded one of the most beautiful and mature songs ever about a love of a younger past. His dreamily countryish song "Joanne" only made it to number 21 on Billboard and number 17 on Cashbox, but over the years it has become an iconic expression of young and lost love and embodies the best of Michael Nesmith. I had the origiunal studio recording posted below with beautiful graphics and imprinted lyrics, but it was taken down so now I've linked to a concert recording. Not as polished as the studio version, but still very good. I just can't tell you when or where it was recorded.

Michael Nesmith's "Joanne"

Footnotes about Michael Nesmith:

His mother and father divorced when he was four and he was raised by his mother in Dallas, Texas. She took temporary jobs ranging from clerical to secretarial to graphics design and when he was 13 she invented a liquid correction fluid for typewriters call "Liquid Paper." She founded, ran and built the Liquid Paper Corporation into a multimillion dollar entity and in 1979 sold it for $48 million. She passed away a few months later.

Nesmith, in 1965 an accomplished but still unknown musician/songwriter, went to the audition for The Monkees wearing a wool cap, carrying a bag of dirty laundry to wash on the way home, and basically acting like he could care less. They liked him#8212;and the wool cap.

Nesmith paid $450,000 to buy his way out of his Monkees contract in 1970 and was financially strapped until his mother passed away a decade later and he inherited a fortune.

In 1974 Nesmith incorporated Pacific Arts Productions which was a multimedia company. It morphed into Pacific Arts Corporation which was the parent of several production companies focused on different media. Among many, many projects, in 1979 Nesmith created a television program for Nickelodeon Network called PopClips which aired in 1980 and 1981 and included such performers as Split Enz, Pretenders, Kim Carnes, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police, The Rolling Stones, Carly Simon, and many more. In 1981 the program was sold to Time Warner/AMEX, after which (according to PopClips director William Dear), "...they just watered down the idea and came up with MTV."

Michael Nesmith, 2013
Michael Nesmith,

In 1982 Nesmith won the first ever Grammy Award for a musical video (Long Form) for his hour-long Elephant Parts.

In 1985 NBC hosted the series, "Michael Nesmith in Television Parts," in which he introduced America to comedians Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Whoopi Goldberg, and Arsenio Hall. Five home runs.

From 1974 and throughout the 1980s Pacific Arts created or acquired (at the time) the largest catalog of non-theatrical video titles in the world and set up its own independent distribution system. In 1990 Pacific Arts and Nesmith entered into a contract with PBS to distribute the Pacific Arts video catalog under the PBS logo. Serious disagreements soon arose and were followed by lawsuits and counter-lawsuits. In 1999 a jury in the Los Angeles federal court unanimously awarded Nesmith and Pacific Arts almost $49 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

In 1995 Pacific Arts opened Videoranch, which hosted (and cataloged) several multimedia projects. In 1998 it launched Videoranch 3D (VR3D), a test bed for 3-D virtual technologies which could deliver live content into virtual environments. The latter remained largely a research and development operation until 2004, when Nesmith developed a process for seamlessly embedding live video into virtual worlds and a companion production technique that allowed live performers to interact in real time with a virtual audience. Nesmith has two patents pending for these processes.

Pretty amazing guy, isn't he? And I probably would have thought that if all he ever did was write and record "Joanne."

"Cork Taint" Isn't What You Think It Is

A woman's reaction to TCA (photo from <i>Gizmodo Australia</i> for illustrative purposes only)

TCA—cork taint—is instantly perceived when sniffing the wine before drinking it. But recent research in Japan has shown that TCA doesn't really make wine smell bad. Believe it or not, it's probably all in your head.

A wine that has been tainted with TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) gives a musty odor, most often described as resembling a "wet dog," "damp dishcloth" or "moldy newspapers," and is the main reason many wines—especially those from Australia—now have synthetic cork or screw cap closures.

If you dig deep enough you'll learn that TCA has a close cousin, TCB (2,4,6-tribromoanisole), that smells so close to TCA that few can distinguish between the two. While TCA and TCB are responsible for the vast majority of cork taint, other compounds cause different but objectionable odors often confused with cork taint by those not familiar with them and their specific odors—guaiacol, geosin, 2-methylisoborneol (MIB), octen-3-ol and octen-3-one. While all of these are problems if present in wine, it is TCA that is most common and therefore is the poster child of tainted wines with cork closures and our focus here.

Misconceptions and Facts

The common misconception is that TCA is formed in the wine after bottling due to various fungi and molds colonizing the natural cork closure. This seems logical because if it was in the wine itself it would have been detected before bottling. Another misconception is that the use of synthetic corks and screw-cap closures eliminate TCA incidences. The latter is not quite true, as TCA can and has been detected in wines with such closures, and if this is the case then both misconceptions must be false.

Truth is often a strange bedfellow. The fungi and molds responsible for TCA are airborne and therefore can exist anywhere they are carried, such as the bark of the cork tree, wine barrel staves, grapes, winery equipment, and even winery walls, floors and ceilings.. And they are incredibly small. By themselves they are harmless, but when they are mated with chlorophenol compounds they produce chlorinated anisole derivatives—one of which is 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). The chlorophenol compounds can originate in pesticides, wood preservatives, chlorinated cleaners, or chlorine, once used to sterilize corks until banned.

If chlorophenols find their way into the winemaking process they can contaminate the equipment, the hoses used to transfer the wine, barrels and vats used to ferment or age the wine, or simply flow with the wine into the bottle. Every step along the way chlorophenols are harmless, but if they come into contact with those specific fungi or molds a metabolic process begins. It is not immediate, but it does not stop until after it has produced TCA.

That endpoint most likely occurs in the bottle, but the precursors may well have combined before bottling and therefore TCA can occur when screw caps and synthetic corks are used. In the case of the compounds, they need only exist in nanograms per liter, an incredibly small amount. TCA itself can be detected by sensitive noses at concentrations as low as 2 parts per trillion. That's "trillion" with a "t."

The Unexpected
Portion of the experimental schema reported in <i>PNAS</i>

Scientists and laymen alike always assumed TCA was like any other foul-smelling compound, detected by the scent receptors in the nose and sent by electrical signals to the brain. It ain't so.

A 2013 study by a Japanese research team, published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that TCA does not, as expected, excite olfactory receptor cells (ORCs) and recognize the smells associated with TCA. Rather, its presence, even at a very low threshold, suppresses the cells' ability to convert chemical smell signals into electrical signals recognizable by the brain. In other words, it suppresses and numbs the ORCs' ability to react to or categorize an actual smell.

We examined the effects of TCA on ORCs in whole-cell electrophysiological recordings. Considering its low effective concentration for producing off-flavors, we expected TCA to elicit excitatory responses in ORCs at low concentrations or in a majority of cells. However, we did not detect any ORC responses to TCA application. Instead, we were surprised to find that TCA actually suppressed ORC transduction currents.
~ Hiroko Takeuchi, Hiroyuki Kato, Takashi Kurahashi, PNAS, vol 110 no. 40, 16235-16240>

To translate, when those ORCs stop sending electrical signals to the brain, the brain apparently interprets the lack of input as a musty smell. Thus the perceived odor of wet dog, damp dishcloth or moldy newspaper apparently originates in your head as a sensory numbness. We cannot say for sure what the actual smell of TCA is.

In a follow-up study, the same researchers demonstrated that the original aroma of a TCA-tainted wine (or food) is always muted. This gives further credence to their finding that TCA numbs and suppresses actual scents. So the next time you think you are smelling cork taint, think again. You're smelling sensory numbness.

October 5th, 2014

Do NOT place a step-ladder on soggy, rain soaked grass and then climbe the ladder and lean over to cut a branch. The ladder will sink into the ground on the leaning side and you will fall. That's my safety tip for today based on recent experience.

I still have a large branch, still connected to the tree, fallen across my driveway. I've cut a tunnel under it I can drive through, but doing more will have to wait until my knee is better. Right now I can hardly walk, even with a knee brace and pain pills.


Nymph patterns, clockwise L to R, Killer Caddis, Wired Stone Fly, Zebra Midge, Anatomical Baetis/PMD, Troth Pheasant Tail (photo from Skip Morris Fly Fishing under Fair Use Act for illustrative purposes
Nymph patterns, clockwise
L to R, Killer Caddis,
Wired Stone Fly, Zebra
Midge, Anatomical Baetis/PMD,
Troth Pheasant Tail (photo
from Skip Morris
Fly Fishing
under Fair Use
Act for illustrative purposes

My recent flyfishing trip to the Black Hills was a learning experience. I love dry flies and never fail to coax the fish into striking...until this trip. They just weren't taking surface flies. After a full day of no strikes, I hung a dropper line with an emerger fly from the dry fly, using the latter as a strike indicator. Emergers weren't working either (at least MY emergers weren't), but my friends were catching trout using nymphs on the drop lines.

You don't need a dry fly as a strike indicator if you use bead head nymphs with a strike indicator on the line. You can use non-bead head nymphs with a lead split-shot weigh a few inches above the fly and a strike indicator. I didn't have any strike indicators so had to use the dry fly-drop line.

I don't really like to fish nymphs and had very few in my collection and very little experience fishing them. My friends had visited a fly shop in Rapid City before my late arrival and, having been told nymphs were the only thing working, stocked up. Since I missed that shopping trip, I had to use what I had.

Nymphs are basically bottom bait carried by the currents when washed out of their habitat. Our streams were fairly fast, so the trick was to cast high enough above the suspected fish to allow the nymph to fall to the bottom or a few inches above it and present itself as helpless food. When we hiked into the meadows, we found frequent beaver dams which slowed the current and created many structures for the fish, nymphing was a whole differed game. The drop lines were shorter and you could "work" the nymph with subtle line movement to simulate live, struggling bait.

For the most part these waters were crystal clear. If you could see the fish, they could see you. If you cast appropriately, the fish might not make a connection between you and the fly, but wading and shadows gave the fish many clues for caution.

The beaver ponds were the most challenging as here were a lot of in- and above-water logs, branches and exposed roots to snag on, and snag I did.

In free-flowing streams the challenges were just as great. There was plenty of organic material in the water to snag on, plus rock crevices, but misjudging the backcast area was lethal to the flies and tippets. And cross-bank overgrowth was equally dangerous. I pride myself on being able to drop a dry fly within inches of the far bank overgrowth. With a dropper line tied to the dry fly, this wasn't easy at all and on the next-to-last day I lost my last nymph while still trying to master the correct cross-bank technique. Luckily, my friend John Ewen gave me some of his, three of which I lost on the last day.

Nymphing is not what I'm used to, but I'm learning. I have a year to practice before our next trip to restock my fly collection and gear, and I will get it down just in case we face a similar challenge. You can bet on it. And I'm not finished with the Black Hills, either (God willing).

I received 5 emails and Tweets regarding John Denver's rendition of "The Weight." All were favorable, but all agreed The Band's version with the late Levon Helm singing at the drums is tough to beat. But three offered another version, known simply as "The Weight (encore)" at the Love for Levon Concert.

On October 3, 2012 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey a wide variety of musicians who had worked with Helm as well as musicians who were influenced by him put on an incredible concert. The purpose was both a tribute to Levon as well as a fund raiser to keep Helm's Woodstock barn in his family's control and to continue his Midnight Ramble concert series in the structure. The encore performance of "The Weight" by all of the concert performers was a genuine show of love to a man they all admired and missed.

I could list the performers but it would take so long to do it that I won't. Just watch the clip below and I'm sure you'll recognize a few, or see the article linked at the end of the entry. But do watch the clip....

"The Weight" (encore) Love for Levon Concert, October 3, 2012
East Rutherford, New Jersey

That was amazing! The complete performance of the concert (2 DVDs + 2 CDs) is available here. It is worth the price if only to see/hear Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes perform "Long Back Veil", Bruce Hornsby do "Anna Lee". Grace Potter and Matt Burr perform "I Shall Be Released", Joe Walsh and Robert Randolph do "Up On Cripple Creek", Roger Waters, G.E. Smith and My Morning Jacket perform "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", and of course the encore of "The Weight" by everyone. It's a fabulous treasure to add to any music/video collection.

Big Day Tomorrow...

Winemaking With Jack Keller
Winemaking With Jack
launches October
6th by subscription

Tomorrow I launch my TidBitts stream, Winemaking With Jack Keller. This is a big event for me, almost like a second blog, only this one will contain exclusive content not publish in this WineBlog. The difference between the two will be dramatic. No rambling introductions, no winemaking or food recipes, no book reviews or musical memories—just focused winemaking tips, tricks and insights to help you become a better winemaker. You won't get it anywhere else but will get it every Monday and Thursday, delivered ad-free to any connected device, if you subscribe, for just 99¢ a month.

Tomorrow's TidBitt will be "How Can You Know When A Wine Is Ready To Drink?" and will save you at least one—maybe more—750mL bottles of wine finding out. Thursday will present "Be The Best Wiinemaker", followed by "Be A Pioneer", "Those Darn Campden Tablets (and Potassium Sorbate, too)", "Cyanide in Our Wine?", "Clarifying a Stubborn, Cloudy Wine", Perceptions in Wine Competitions", and much more. The first month is free when you subscribe and you can cancel at any time.

Subscribe now and don't miss an entry—once the next one is published the last one is gone. Your 99¢ will buy me a few hours of server and connection time. I thank you for your donations but I'll need both to survive.

Pumpkin Wine

Pumpkin Pie Wine Label

It's October. The year is winding down. If you make your wines from seasonal ingredients, as I usually do, the choices are slimming down. You can still find a few grapes and raspberries are finishing up their season so get some if you can. There are many winter vegetables suitable for wine and imported fruit will be available but nowhere near the quality of locally grown. However, two biggies remain and both make excellent wine. These are pumpkins and cranberries.

The trick to making a good pumpkin wine is to use small pie pumpkins. Avoid the large, carving pumpkins and you will be delighted.

Pumpkin Pie Wine

  • 5 lbs peeled and cleaned pie pumpkins, grated
  • 2 lbs Demerara (or Turbinado) sugar
  • 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
  • zest and juice of 3 Valencia oranges (or 15 oz Valencia orange juice and zest of any 3 oranges)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • Water to one gallon (about 3 quarts and 1 cup)
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Champagne wine yeast

Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, peel pumpkins, remove seeds and grate with food processor. Put pumpkin, sugar and juice of citrus fruit in primary. Combine zests and spices in jelly bag, tie closed, and place in primary. Pour boiling water over ingredients in primary. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Cover primary and allow to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, thaw grape concentrate. When must is cool add grape concentrate, pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient and then stir briefly and re-cover must. Wait 8-10 hours and add activated yeast in starter solution and re-cover the primary. When fermentation is vigorous, ferment three days, stirring daily. Remove spices and strain liquid into secondary, fit airlock and ferment 30 days or until still for 3 days. Rack, top up and refit airlock. After 60 days or when wine clears, rack again and stabilize with 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, and refit airlock. After additional 60 days, sweeten to taste if desired and rack into bottles. Allow to age one year; two is better. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This was a marvelous golden-white wine that aged wonderfully. If you cannot get the smaller, more tender pie pumpkins get the smallest you can. Get the pie pumpkins as soon as you see them, One or two are required for a gallon of wine (above recipe).

Cranberry-Raspberry Wine

Fresh cranberries

Raspberries are at the end of their season, so if your supermarket doesn't carry them frozen then buy fresh ones now and freeze them in freezer bags until needed. Cranberries are usually not available until fresh raspberries are no longer available so plan ahead.

  • 3 lbs ripe cranberries
  • 1 lb thawed raspberries
  • 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 3 qts water
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet Champagne yeast

Put the water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash the cranberries and cull out any that are unsound or unripe. Coarsely chop the cranberries and put in nylon straining bag with raspberries, tied closed, in primary. Pour sugar over fruit and boiling water over all and stir o dissolve sugar. When cooled to room temperature, add pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Stir, cover with sterile cloth and set aside for 12 hours. Add yeast, re-cover and stir daily. When vigorous fermentation subsides, squeeze to extract all juices, transfer to secondary, and fit airlock. Rack after 30 days, top up, refit airlock, and ferment to dryness. When cclear, rack again and wait 30 days. Carefully rack into bottles and age at least 9 months before sampling. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This is an excellent dry wine. I've received one complaint and that was from someone who sweetened the finished wine and then found it too sweet. As Forrest Gump's mother used to say, "Stupid is as stupid does."

September 30th, 2014

TidBitts 'bug' logo

As announced in my last entry, my TidBitts stream, Winemaking with Jack Keller, will be launching October 6th. This will be an ad-free, twice a week, stream of winemaking tips, tricks, tales, and insights written exclusively for subscribers. Subscription is 99¢ per month, the first month is free, and you can cancel at any time. None of the material in my TidBitts will be published here in the WineBlog or anywhere else. I'm confident your subscription will make you a better winemaker.

Every Monday and Thursday the stream will be delivered to all of your connected devices—your PC, laptop, tablet, or smart phone. I'm going to great lengths to provide it, but all you have to do to receive it is subscribe here. Let's have some fun together.


Fishing with nymphs requires acute concentration, no waders needed here (photo by John Ewen)
Photo of me on Spearfish
Creek, South Dakota

I took a vacation with my wife last month to Florida, but that was for us. I just returned from a week of flyfishing with three friends in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This was an annual "guys only" getaway for me. My wife has her own "girls only" getaway week.

We cabined at Cheyenne Crossing and thoroughly explored Spearfish Creek and its tributaries and then drove over to Rapid Creek, which was lots of fun. In both locations the fish were picky. They refused dry flies, preferring midges, nymphs and emergers. Nymphs were the best enticers, but when your flies are tumbling along the bottom you snag a lot of roots, submerged branches and rocky crevices and as a result lose a lot of flies. Using a dry fly as an indicator and a drop line with the nymph worked reasonably well, but water levels were so varied that it was difficult to judge the correct drop length. But these variables are what makes flyfishing so challenging and fun.

And in the end it isn't about the right flies or the fishing itself, but about being out there in God's country and attempting to become one with the ebbs and flows of the streams. It's about communing with nature in a existential way. We caught browns, brookies and rainbow trout, but released them all to hopefully grow bigger and smarter. It was pure fun—almost.

Yes, I stepped on a rock that rolled and sent me into the creek. I forgot to put my cell phone and wallet in waterproof baggies and that was a costly mistake. The wallet and its contents dried out in the cabin but the cell was toast. We live and learn, although I had learned this lesson before so it was simple negligence on my part. I'd do it again tomorrow, with or without the baggies. The lure of the streams is powerful.

Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro and Buffalo Bill Cody, 1873
Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack
Omohundro and Buffalo Bill
Cody, 1873

Since most folks have no idea where Cheyenne Crossing, South Dakota is, it is located near the central western border of South Dakota. It is a short drive from Lead (pronounced Leed) and Deadwood, where James Butler (aka "Wild Bill") Hickok was shot in the back of the head on August 2, 1876 by Jack McCall while playing poker in Nuttal and Mann's Saloon, now commonly referred to as Saloon Number 10. The original saloon burned, along with 300 other buildings, in the fire of September 26, 1879. The rebuilt saloon burned again in the fire of 1899. The current building, possibly built on the wrong site, is made of brick.

Hickok was an original in every way. At age 18 he rode with General Jim Lane's "Jayhawkers" in the Kansas Territory, where he first met and befriended William F. (later known as "Buffalo Bill") Cody, who was then only 12 years old but an able horseman and marksman. In 1860, at age 23, he was mauled by a bear which he injured twice with his handgun and finally killed with his knife, but suffered multiple lacerations, a crushed chest, shoulder and arm. He was a Union soldier during the Civil War and later a scout for the 7th and 10th U.S. Calvary Regiments. He was a lawman in several towns in the Kansas and Nebraska Territories and personally knew (and liked) John Wesley Hardin, although at the time Hardin was using an alias and Hickok didn't know his true identity. Hickok was also a long-time friend of Buffalo Bill Cody and friend of Martha Jane (aka "Calamity Jane") Cannary (who claimed she had once been married to Hickok).

Hickok was known as "the first pisolero," what we would now call a gunfighter. It is well documented that he was the first man to face an opponent in a town square—Davis Tutt, in Springfield, Missouri in 1865—and kill him in a quick draw duel. Hickok had already killed David McCantles in a gunfight in Nebraska in 1861, but it was the mano y mano showdown in Springfield that solidified his reputation as the pistolero and caused dozens of dime novels to be written about him—almost none of them true. Wild Bill would kill 36 men during his 39 years of life.

Trout Slayer Ale, in a restaurant in Deadwood (photo by John Ewen)
Perfect beer on a trout fishing trip

This detour in history now complete, our cabin was also a leisurely drive to Mount Rushmore, a sculpture well worth seeing. We also drove an additional 17 miles to see the far from completed Crazy Horse Memorial on Thunderhead Mountain—what will be the largest sculpture in the world if ever completed.

It was begun in 1948 to memorialize the Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse and only a small fraction of it (notably, the head) is completed. A lady in the cabin next to ours suggested we not pay to "go in" to the monument as you can see everything you need to see from the highway. We ignored her advice and paid $7 each to go in anyway. I personally regretted the decision. The Visitors Center is a large building housing historic Oglala Lakota artifacts, clothing, weapons and art, but the majority of the space is occupied by vendors selling souvenirs, jewelry and crafts. With over a million visitors each year, one has to wonder why so little work has been done on the giant sculpture (If completed to design, it will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high). As one of my friends said, "They could take the entry fees, hire a brigade of Chinese, and the thing would be done in a few years."

Despite my disappointment of the Crazy Horse Memorial and losing my cell phone to North Spearfish Creek, it was a very enjoyable getaway. The fishing was both relaxing and challenging, as the brown, brook and rainbow trout—evident everywhere—were feeding on nymphs, not my favorite fly to fish. All fish caught were gently released.

One evening in the cabin we were talking about music and I mentioned my love for the hauntingly enigmatic song by The Band, "The Weight." Fellow fisherman Charles Gallagher then introduced us to the purity of voice version by the late John Denver. While I personally prefer Levon Helm's' sometimes raspy delivery of the lyrics (especially their Woodstock performance), I do appreciate Denver's clean and sometimes passionate delivery.

John Denver, "The Weight" with

The TA vs. pH Debate

pH Scale, courtesy of Environment Canada under Fair Use Doctrine

My early winemaking books, most by British authors, discussed acidity in wine mostly in terms of TA. If pH was mentioned, it was sort of "another measure" you could make but I don't recall any serious emphasis on it. They used litmus paper to measure it and that was considered "too unreliable for meaningful results." Thus, I grew up making wine using TA as my acidity index.

It really wasn't until I moved to San Francisco and began taking day trips to the wine country and talking to the winemakers that I was seriously confronted with pH. None of these guys ever mentioned TA unless I brought it up. Their index was pH.

Let me preface here that the winemakers at the various wineries were very accessible to home winemakers if they were not in the middle of a process that required their full attention. Tastings were free, winery tours were sort of ad hoc, and if you wandered away from the tasting room and roamed around no one got in your face about it. It was a great period in the California wine industry's evolution—a laid back period when lots of new wineries were developing their niche and the big money had not yet started buying up labels and guarding their "secrets".

There were three winemakers in particular I liked to visit with. All three gave me generous samples of yeasts I had never heard of and explained why they used them. I tried to relate their varietal-specific examples to fruit and berries and they were very open to discussing this. But when they discussed acid, I was always lost because pH was largely a mystery to me. It took me a long time to actually appreciate where they were coming from and why.

TA stands for titratable acidity but is more easily understood by the more common misnomer "total acidity". In short, it is the sum of all acids in the must or wine as a volume ratio—a percentage of the total volume. Thus, a wine with 7.5 grams per liter of TA has 0.75% of its volume in the form of several combined acids. It makes no difference in the equation whether the acids are strong fairly stable and influential, such as tartaric or malic, or are weak and relatively unstable acids such as citric, succinic or acetic. In total, the average wine contains dozens of acids, but the vast majority are in such trace amounts that they have little or no effect on taste but do influence bouquet later on.

The above paragraph, beginning with "TA stands for...", has been corrected. Previously it said in part, "Thus, a wine with 7.5 grams per liter of TA has 7.5% of its volume in the form of several combined acids." A misplace decimal point made the percentage off by a factor of 10. It now correctly reads "0.75%". To say I am embarrassed is an undersatement. Thanks to my Facebook friends for pointing this out.

pH is much more complicated to explain and I'll only explain the basic concept here. Just remember that pH is a German abbreviation for the potenz (power, or potential) of a solution to yield hydrogen (H) ions (H+). There are French and Latin terms using the same abbreviations and meaning the same thing but really, who cares? The result is the same.

If the solution is acidic, it yields hydrogen ions. If it is basic (alkaline) it yields more hydroxyl ions than hydrogen ions. The scientific explanation of pH measurement is a negative logarithm scale of the hydrogen ion concentration—negative because the more hydrogen ions, the lower the pH and logarithmic because each whole number is an order of magnitude (+ or - 10) greater or lower than the next whole number. Distilled water has a pH value of 7 and is neutral. A solution with a pH value of 6 is 10 times more acidic than distilled water, while a solution with a pH value of 8 is 10 times more alkaline than distilled water.

Wine is normally between a pH of 3 and 4, with 4 considered biologically and chemically unstable as it will allow living organisms that place the wine at risk of spoilage. While pH 3.4 is considered safe, pH 3.6 is considered risky. Logically, there should be number between these two that is the threshold number, but what it is is open to debate. For years I have believed that 3.55 was that threshold, but during the past decade I have come to believe that pH 3.5 is a safer number. Personally, I am more comfortable with my wines being at or below pH 3.4.

There are other reasons pH is important. A lower pH requires less sulfite to reach and maintain an aseptic level to ensure biological stability and less bentonite to approach protein stability. Lower pH slows the rate of oxidation, allows the extraction of more and brighter colors, and makes malolactic fermentation much easier to control.

Finally, higher pH can lead to the development of acetic acid which, when coupled with higher alcohol, can lead to the formation of ethyl acetate—an all too common problem these days with so many wine yeasts reaching 14.5-16% alcohol. More is not always better If fact, higher alcohol creates balance problems many winemakers don't bother to correct or attempt to correct incorrectly. You can't just dump sugar in the wine to ameliorate the alcohol and expect balance. Time-consuming but necessary bench trials are required to do it right. A better solution is to use Montrachet yeast, which won't produce these high-alcohol wines in the first place.

In my opinion, pH is far more important than TA, and yet I measure neither in about half my wines. A simple taste test will usually tell me what I need to know but sometimes not. Then the pH meter comes out and all too often I discover my calibrating solutions are out of date (and the nearest supplier is a 76-mile round trip away). I have to get back into inventory control....

September 15th, 2014

As I reported in my last WineBlog entry I was scheduled to migrate my web activities to a UNIX server 8 days ago. This required converting hundreds of ASP pages to HTML. It isn't easy and, while I know HTML, I don't know UNIX and its strict rules. In the end I was in over my head with two other completely unrelated developments to contend with. After 5 days of pulling my hair out, I threw in the towel. I'll probably try again at some later day, but life is too crowded right now to tackle a new programming language. To those who sent me words of encouragement on my Facebook page, thank you very much for all the encouragement.

On September 22 one of those other two developments will kick off. Details follow below.

Winemaking with Jack Keller

On September 22 a new content delivery service will be launching called TidBitts. This is a subscription service covering a huge spectrum of unique content from your selected favorite participating authors for 99¢ a month. Once subscribed, the content will automatically be delivered in bite-sized "tidbitts" designed to be read in a minute or two. The content is unique, written exclusively for the TidBitts stream and not published elsewhere. You can unsubscribe at any time if you don't think it is worth it. My "stream" will be published every Monday and Thursday at 10 a.m. Mountain Time beginning October 6th.

For years I have been asked by various publishers to package my WineBlog in a subscription format. I have turned down these offers because the blog is my portal to you as life happens. I like it like that. I can grab a topic and explore it as much as I want or as time permits. But, at the same time, I've noticed many, many times, in email or conversations with other winemakers, little snippets of insight or tips that pop up. At the time I recognize them as worthy (in my mind) of sharing but they are often too short to flesh out as blog entries. But when TidBitts came along, I recognized it as the perfect venue for capturing those snippets that formerly got lost on the cutting room floor.

I have been working hard at creating a stream of twice-weekly "TidBitts" for your benefit. While I was prepared to launch my subscriptions on September 22nd, the failed UNIX migration and upcoming travel have caused me to delay my launch until October 6th. But even with the delay, I think you will be happy with them.

Jack Keller's TidBitts stream (subscription) page

My "TidBitts" will be unique in the sense that I haven't published them before or in the context of the current example. For example I recently discovered that one small, obscure sentence in my "Wine Problems" page applied to a cloudy banana wine a reader made. He knew that my solution worked but wanted to know why. The whole thing was too short for a WineBlog entry but perfect for a TidBitts entry. And the content is exclusive. The only other person who has seen it is the person whose email I answered.

If you want to see what TidBitts is, go to TidBitts and take a 1-minute peek by clicking on the "What is TidBitts?" video. If you think you might like to try my stream (the first month is free after you subscribe), you will have to wait until September 22nd and go to Explore TidBitts and scroll down until you see my stream, Winemaking with Jack Keller. Again, this will not work until then. My stream will launch on October 6th, twice a week every week. I'm hoping that 99¢ isn't a budget-buster and you're curious enough to see what I have to say that you'll try it. If not, my WineBlog will still be here....

Preventing Watermelon Wine Spoilage

A reader wrote that his watermelon must spoiled 3 days into primary fermentation using a recipe found here. The recipes call for adding Campden, covering the primary, waiting 24 hours, and then pitching the yeast. He wondered if the 24-hour Campden treatment might be adding to the problem, as these are crucial hours when no alcohol is being produced and it is the alcohol content that protects the wine from spoilage.

I had to agree with him. In fact, I do it differently myself, adding the Campden at first racking rather than up front at the beginning, It is crucial that the wine reach 10% alcohol (12% is better) to preserve the wine from spoilage bacteria that sours the wine.

But, I also have a dedicated refrigerator with an external, programmable thermostat that I set to 59 degrees and place both the yeast starter solution and later the juice into and toss the yeast starter.

The published low tolerance of Montrachet yeast, the only yeast I use for watermelon wine, is 59 degrees, so it never fails to start. I build the yeast starter solution for at least 24 hours but also chill the watermelon(s) I'm going to extract the juice from and once extracted toss the solution directly into the juice and ferment in the refrigerator.

The cold must slows down the fermentation somewhat, but also helps prevent juice spoilage. The combination of a cold must and fast yeast (even chilled, Montrachet is among the fastest) works for me, but not everyone has the luxury of a second refrigerator. I acquired mine when my wife wanted a new one and I claimed the old.

Since watermelons are nearing the end of their season, I really need to rewrite the watermelon wine recipes to reflect this better procedure. A re-written recipe, using the discussion above as prelude, would look something like this:

Improved Watermelon Wine Recipe

  • 6-8 lb watermelon
  • 12 oz white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 1/2 cups finely granulated sugar
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • water to make up 1 gallon (if required)
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1/2 tsp crushed potassium sorbate
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • packet Montrachet yeast

Prepare yeast starter solution and chill to 59 degrees F. or as close to it as you can get. Place watermelon beside it to attain the same temperature. Build starter solution for 24 hours.

Cut the rind off of melon, cut melon into one-inch cubes, and put melon and any free juice in nylon straining bag in primary. Tie bag closed and smash melon to release juice. Thinly grate the yellow off two lemons, juice the lemons, and add the juice and zest (gratings) to primary. Add grape concentrate and water (if required) to make up 3-3/4 quarts total liquid. Add sugar and yeast nutrient and stir well to dissolve. Add yeast starter solution and cover primary with cloth. Ferment 5-7 days, stirring daily. Remove nylon straining bag and squeeze to extract liquid. Dispose of bag contents, wait one day, transfer liquid into secondary, fit airlock and ferment to dryness (about 30 days). Rack, stir in finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and potassium sorbate, top up, and refit airlock. When clear rack again, sweeten to taste if desired, and wait 30 days. If no refermentation, bottle wine. Allow to age in bottles 3 months. Consume within 1 to 1 1/2 years. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

September Country Wines

I get many emails throughout the year asking about what wines to make at that time. As September reaches its halfway mark, this question has arisen in two emails. I usually reply with, "Google 'ripens in September'" or whatever month it is. Such a search will return several million hits and can be quite bewildering. Here's how to manage the results.

Google does something weird. It keeps track of your searches and attempts to tailor the results to your search history. I mention this because your search results might be different than mine. My results for "ripens in September" returned 5,600,000 results. I am only interested in what appears on the firt page or two of the results.

The first hit, for me, was Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, California. A nice table was presented that lists the plants they sell that ripen in September. Among these are Fuji apples, several varieties of grapes, peaches and plums, and Asian pears and quinces. Since all of these can be made into wine, this is a good page to bookmark into your favorites -- especially since it also contains links to fruit that ripen in May, June, July, August, October, and November. Naturally, the list would be different for nurseries in Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, etc., but perhaps you can find more localized lists be searching "ripens in September in Florida" or whatever state you reside in.

This hit was confined to fruit. Thursday Bram (that's her name on the website) compiled a generalized list, by month, for the U.S. at WiseBread: Living Large on a Small Budget. This is another page worth bookmarking. Using her list, one could add eggplants, pumpkins, tomatoes, and pomegranates to the list -- all of which can be made into wine.

A third page I have bookmarked is one by the Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida and, as you might image, will add fruit that you might not easily find. Their Ripe for the Pickin'! page is not confined to a single month but rather lists the months certain fruit ripen. By scrolling down the page we can see that annonas, bananas, dragon fruit, guavas, jackfruit, mangos, mameys, papaya, and starfruit are all available now.

In addition to what I have listed above, I also have several foraging sites bookmarked that tell me what I can go out and find in the wild in Texas but one can find sites suited to their locale.

Having said all of this, except for foraging sites most folks don't really need websites to tell them what's available. They simply go to the market and look at what is there. But the searches have value if you live in the suburbs or rural areas where people have planted fruit trees. Freshly picked fruit taste much, much better than fruit in the supermarket that was picked a week or more ago.

Within a half-mile of my house are over a dozen homes with pear trees planted in plain sight of the street. I see them every day and yet seldom think about them until I see a reminder that the local pears are ripe right now. A mature pear tree produces far more fruit than the average household will consume fresh. Many folks preserve pears, but not every year -- not when their pantries still have jars of pears from previous years. The short of it is that almost any of the dozen homes in my neighborhood with pear trees will let me pick as many as I want if I just stop and ask. The lists of what is ripening remind me to stop and ask.

September 4th, 2014

My wife and I just returned from a much needed vacation in Florida, spending one week based in Fort Lauderdale and the remainder in Naples. We did not go online except to obtain boarding passes for our flights home. No email, no cell phone except when we made phone calls, very, very limited texting to family members. It was a great getaway.

Our greatest adventure was driving US Highway 1 to mile 0 on Key West. We spent too much time sightseeing and did not get back to our condo until 11:35 p.m., but it was worth it. This is what a vacation ought to be.

And, of course, the moment we saw the sign saying we were on Key Largo, Bertie Higgins classic song by that name started playing in my head, I wished I had brought a CD with the song on it so I could play it, but I didn't. But I can play it for you. I know most of my younger readers will not have seen the movie the song references -- it actually takes lines from Key Largo and Casablanca, both movies from the 1940s, the latter made before I was born but rereleased during the '50s -- but the message of the song is self explanatory. Please take 3 minutes and enjoy it.

Bertie Higgins, Key Largo with lyrics

The 1981 song was Higgins' only certified gold recording, reaching #1 on Billboards Canadian and US Adult Contemporary Tracks. I do regret not bringing the CD with me....

Wine Refrigerators from Wine Coolers Direct

You may have noticed a message in my message box above, "Is the WineBlog Useful to You?" The message says, "You might also support one of my sponsors. Any purchase made through this link to Wine Cooler Direct will help support my efforts. Besides a large variety of in-home wine refrigerators, you can also find some beginners' winemaking supplies there.

A Big Change Is Coming

Because of four incidents where my site went down due to defects in the Windows server it was on, I have taken steps to move my site to another host server -- this one a more reliable UNIX server. This decision was not cheap and will not be done without great effort on my site to convert hundreds of .html pages to .html formats, but I have to do it to ensure better service. If you can support any of my sponsors or make a donation, I will be forever grateful.

You might think I just went on a vacation spending money that could better be spent on my server transfer, but that vacation was planned and paid for several months ago, before I knew the problems the site periodically encountered would be chronic. I think I deserved the vacation. Your opinion may vary.

The transition will, I hope, occur on September 8th. It should be seamless if I do my part and can endure one or two sleepless nights, but if you experience a brief "Error 404 message" on the 8th please try again later. Your patience will be appreciated.

Sea Grape Wine

Clusters of seagrape fruit in various stages of ripening
Clusters of sea grape fruit in
various stages of ripening

We encountered many, many sea grape trees (Coccoloba uvifera) on the Keys. Due to pruning, some were more bush than tree and are commonly incorporated into landscaping. Because they tolerate salt, these tropical trees are often planted to protect dunes and coastal habitats. They are also one of God's free gifts to those who like jelly, jam or wine.

Following a stop for a delicious lunch on Key Islamorada my wife spotted what she thought, from a distance, were clusters of grapes in a tree, mostly dark purple but many still green and shades in between. They were the fruit of the sea grape tree. They were both sweet and tart at the same time, yet very flavorful, although a large central seed allows only marginal pulp. We pulled up a very small seeding and wrapped its roots in moist napkins which I latter transferred to a ZipLock bag. I transplanted it in soil in a pot immediately upon my arrival home but have little hope it will survive as it does not tolerate frost. Still, I had to try. I can bring it indoors on chilly nights -- maybe just keep it potted and strive for a tropical bonsai....

The fruit are tasty and make a good jelly, jam, syrup, or wine. I can imagine them being incorporated in ice cream or yogurt or even used in liqueur. My desire is to make wine with them one day if I ever get back down to the Keys and can collect, process and freeze them for the trip back to Texas. Until then, I can only dream....

Sadly, the following recipe is not entirely my own, but was adapted from one posted by Jim Walrod on eHow. His looked sound, but I greatly modified it to conform to my winemaking methods. I think will work very well.

Ripe sea grapes
While most sea grapes ripen
red to light purple,
we found plenty that were
almost black

Sea Grape Wine Recipe

  • 8 quarts of ripe sea grapes, destemmed
  • water to cover sea grapes
  • 2 lbs very finely granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • general purpose wine yeast

Place washed and destemmed sea grapes in a large pot and add water sufficient to just cover them. Bring to a light boil, turn off the heat, and allow them to cool, covered. Meanwhile, begin a yeast starter solution with your favorite general purpose wine yeast. When fruit has cooled, strain them into a nylon straining bag (retain the water used in the boil), tie bag closed and set in a primary. Crush the fruit firmly by hand (rubber gloves are advised unless you like purple hands). Measure the juice obtained so you know how much of the reserved water to use to bring the liquid up to one gallon.

Measure the water required and stir into it the sugar, acid blend, pectic enzyme, and yeast nutrient until all are completely dissolved. Refrigerate the remaining water for use in topping up. Add sugar-water to primary, which should now contain the bag of fruit pulp, extracted juice and sugar-water mixture. Add yeast starter solution and cover the primary. Twice a day squeeze the bag of pulp to extract juice and allow yeast into the pulp. When fermentation is on fourth day, remove the nylon straining bag, squeeze it as dry as you can and discard pulp. Check specific gravity of must. If between 1.010 and 1.020 transfer to a gallon or 4-liter jug and attach airlock. Ferment to dryness and rack into another sanitized jug, adding 1/2 teaspoon of crushed potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Top up with refrigerated cooking water and attach airlock.

Allow another 4-6 weeks for lees to settle. Wine should be clear. If not, use a fining agent or a little more time. If you wish to sweeten the wine, rack again and sweeten to your taste; top up and reattach airlock. Allow 30 days to see if wine continues fermenting. If it doesn't, bottle the wine. Allow at least two months before tasting but that might be rushing it. Should age well out to a year or more. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

August 19th, 2014

The WineBlog should load much faster now that I've archived the 2013 entries (see left column).

In my last WineBlog entry (August 6, 2014) I spoke of the loss I felt by the passing of Dale Ims. I specifically wrote, in part, "Every attempt to work on this blog has ended in depression...."

On August 11th the world lost a performing genius, Robin Williams, by suicide. It was widely reported that he suffered from depression. It was also reported, albeit not nearly as prominently as his depression, that he was only rcently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, which obviously added to his depression and possibly was the straw that broke his will to continue life. This is speculation on my part as, of this moment, I have not heard of a final letter, recording or other form of communication in which he explained his motives for the final act he performed.

I was in California when the news broke and flew home as previously planned the following day. When I finally turned on my computer that evening I was greeted with over 380 emails. For five hours and 25 minutes, until 4:10 in the morning, I read emails, answering only three that evening (morning, actually) and deleted over 300. I saved 78 for further consideration and more careful reading, but only after falling asleep at the keyboard for about 20 minutes did I finally retire for sleep.

I almost missed a significant email -- well, significant to me. It was from someone I did not know with a last name, Polish I think, I could not pronounce. I actually highlighted it for deletion because I get several emails each day in foreign languages -- Russian, Slavic, etc. -- which I simply do not have time to have translated online. But the subject line caught my eye and I deselected it from deletion. The subject was, "Depression - Are You Okay?" I only got around to reading it on the evening of the 13th.

The writer, who lives in Ohio, basically said that following the death of Robin Williams and his reported depression she grew worried about me and my confessed depression. Then she penned about 400 words of reasons why I should never let the thought of suicide take up residence in my mind.

What an extraordinary thing, that a complete stranger to me would reach out about her concern and then offer wonderfully chosen words of reason and encouragement.

I assured her I harbored no such thoughts, but thanked her profusely for her outreach. I will say no more about this except that she set an example of humanity to emulate and for that I was profoundly touched.

Rest in peace with God, Dale, Robin and Dad....

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Robin Willams in <i>Good Will Hunting</i>, 1997

Robin Williams (July 21, 1951-August 11, 2014) was an extremely gifted comedian, actor and voice for animated characters. If you don't know this already nothing I could say here could possibly cause you to appreciate the depth of his genius. He starred in, had supporting roles, or contributed to 81 films and 27 television series. His last film, Absolutely Anything, is not scheduled for release until 2015. He was in four movies with 2014 release dates (Boulevard, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn Merry Friggin' Christmas, and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb).

I have spent over 11 hours watching YouTube clips of Robin Williams and four of his movies -- three of which I had seen before (Moscow on the Hudson [1980], Good Morning, Vietnam [1987],Dead Poets Society [1989]) and one I watched for the first time (Bicentennial Man [1999]). As time permits I will re-watch Awakenings (1990), The Fisher King (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), The Birdcage (1996), Good Will Hunting (1997), Patch Adams (1998), and two oldies -- Popeye (1980) and The World According to Garp (1982). Because I am currently on vacation without a computer, these and probably others will have to await September and beyond. The viewing mentioned herein and the writing of this entire entry, with the exception of three sentences, was done three days ago in Texas but I ran out of time to upload it. It is being uploaded from a thumb drive attached to a pay-for-use computer at a resort.

One of the clips I watched was a webcast by Christopher Greene (not to be confused with British comedian Chris Greene) titled The Truth About Robin Williams' Suicide. In it he cynically postulates that none of us "really cares" about Robin Williams, and that if we did we would wear a black veil over our faces to cover it from the eyes down, wear a ribbon or pin of any color to signify Robin Williams as the person we are mourning, and speak to no one for a month.

This is a totally arbitrary and absurd set of "proofs" that one "really cares" about the tragic death of Robin Williams or anyone else for that matter. Neither I nor any member of my family did this when our father passed away and we certainly "really cared" for him and his departure. I immediately noted that Christopher Greene was not wearing a veil, pin or special ribbon for Robin Williams, and he certainly was speaking, so all he was proving was that he himself didn't really care. The absurdity of his "proofs" only detracted from the other points he was trying to make which I don't care to repeat.

Robin Williams, June 2001

I think if you cared about the loss of the living Robin Williams you might do as I did, only you would probably spread my 11 hours out over a wider span of time. What I mean is you would remember him by watching his performances -- clips of him on YouTube and revisiting your favorite Robin Williams films or maybe watch some movies you missed.

There is one clip on YouTube well worth watching, but it is an hour and 34 minutes long. Titled "Robin Williams - Inside the Actors Studio," it was originally uploaded to YouTube in many, many segments, but someone spliced them together into a "Full Video." Recorded June 10, 2001, it is an astounding interview by James Lipton and performance by Williams, who cannot help but perform spontaneously and yet still reveals incredible insight into how this shy child of two very different parents became the comedic genius he was.

Williams tributes his mother's sense of humor as encouraging his own. He speaks of his youth, his schooling and of drama classes that pulled him out of his shyness. Indeed, he frequently spoke of specific teachers in high school, college and the Juilliard School in New York City -- one of only 20 accepted into the freshman class of 1973. He cites excellent teachers, talented friends and an instinct to try anything and try to learn when to pull back. His lightning fast wit and improvenization zeal are not only witnessed in the Actors Studio interview, but commented on by others. It is well worth the time to watch.

I've linked it below, but must tell you in advance that whoever spliced it got the audio and video out of sync at about an hour and 6 or 7 minutes into it; you hear it before you see it, but the material is so rich, funny and revealing you don't care as much as you might if it were anything else. I strongly advise you to watch it...and to marvel.

James Lipton with Robin Williams Inside the Actors Studio, June 10, 2001

A Primer on Racking

Lees after racking (photo by Jared Skolnick, from 'First Racking' in <i>Wine Views</i>, February 24, 2008, displayed under Fair Use Act for illustrative purposes

I don't get many questions about racking but I do get some. Mostly they ask about avoiding siphoning lees, extracting wine from gross lees or using a siphon pump. Here's my thoughts.

First off, racking is simply using a siphon to transfer the must or wine from one vessel (tank, primary, carboy, jug ,or barrel) to another while leaving as much sediment behind in the first vessel as is reasonably possible. All you really need is a length of clear, food-grade tubing, but it helps to use a racking cane with a diversion flow cap on the bottom to prevent or at least reduce sediment transfer from the first vessel to the second. I use a 12-inch cane for both 1-gallon and 4-liter batches and a 21-inch cane for 3- to 6-gallon batches. The cane is bent or curved at the upper end to direct the flow downward through attached tubing. Both cane and tubing are clear, food-grade plastic or vinyl 3/8- to 1/2-inch inside diameter. I prefer 3/8-inch but use 1/2-inch when using my Buon Vino MiniJet pump/filter (which is rarely).

I don't use a siphon pump it initiate the flow. It is so easy to simply suck on the siphon hose to get the wine over the mouth of the carboy and at least down to the level of the wine, then quickly insert the output end into the receiving carboy and watch the flow, that a siphon pump seems like a total waste of money. I watched a fellow use one once and it took him longer to get a flow started than I could achieve using mouth suction. I know the arguments about getting my "germs" on the hose, but 12% alcohol by volume and an aseptic level of sulfites kill them dead. Call me frugal if you wish but the $20 spent on a siphon pump I don't need would be better spent on rib eye steaks.

Leaving the sediments behind is relatively simple and only requires hand-eye coordination. Once about 3/4 of the wine has been transferred from the first carboy, I tilt it toward me and slide a box of jello under the lifted part of the carboy to prop it up at an appropriate angle to aid removing the remaining 1/4 volume. The only key thing is to do the tilting slowly so as not to disturb the lees (if you must move the carboy to a higher elevation before racking, move it and then give it a few days for disturbed lees to resettle). As the wine volume is reduced, guide the racking cane as close as you can get to the lees without drawing them into the racking cane. One can actually get quite close, as seen in the photo above.

As for removing wine from gross lees consisting of fruit pulp, I have found that transferring the lees to one or more tall, very well cleaned and deodorized 1/2 gallon pickle jars allows them to settle more. The tall, smaller diameter jar causes the mass to be concentrated and slowly settle, freeing wine above for later removal. This settling could take a week or more. You will never recover all the wine trapped in the lees without pressing or drip-draining the lees in a woman's nylon stocking (knee-highs work well), but either of these methods allows the dead yeast lees to escape with the wine and another racking in 3-5 weeks will be necessary.

After the first racking, most of the solids in suspension will be yeast. As they die off they settle as lees. After they have metabolized all the sugar and nutrients available, many generations of yeast will die off and settle as lees. The rest release an enzyme that breaks down the cell walls of the dead yeast to release the nutrients contained within in a process called autolysis. The live yeast then began feeding off the released nutrients. If the wine is not racked again at an appropriate time this process can put the wine at risk of developing off-flavors and/or odors. Thus, it generally is necessary to rack the wine off the dead yeast lees to prevent this.

There is no hard and fast rule on when to conduct the second racking. It really depends on when the fermentable sugars are exhausted and a solid layer of yeast lees forms. This usually occurs within 2-5 weeks after the first racking and the wine should be racked within 4 weeks of this point -- autolysis takes time to occur and 4 weeks is the threshold point.

Recipes are experience-based guidelines. Some recipes specify the second racking should be conducted 4 weeks after the first while others might say two months. These instructions are based on the experience of the recipe developer but your conditions might differ. A specific gravity of less than 1.000 indicates sugar exhaustion but the yeast die-off might not be evident for another 2-5 weeks, Thus, you need to adjust the recipe according to the conditions you encounter.

If, after the second racking, you see a steady build-up of yeast lees, you racked too soon. This happens, especially with meads which ferment more slowly than wines. Specific gravity is the greatest indication of fermentation completion. As long as the gravity drops every 4-6 days, fermentation continues. Only when it flat-lines at the same specific gravity over a period of 10-14 days can we be certain when fermentation concluded.

It is amazing that when you bulk age a wine in a carboy after three well spaced rackings and stabilization, you almost always find a very light dusting of dead yeast on the bottom. If the wine is aged in a barrel you don't actually see the dusting but it is almost always there. Therefore, when adding the final dose of potassium metabisulfite to bring the unbound (free) sulfite density to 30 or 40 or 50 before bottling, it is essential that the wine be stirred to integrate the sulfite but then allowed to rest for a week or more so the light dusting can settle again before bottling. If one wishes to filter the wine before bottling, this is the time to do it -- after allowing the dusting to resettle. If the wine was brilliantly clear before you need not filter it; simply give it a month before bottling and then carefully rack the wine into bottles.

I always mark the last bottle or two by writing "LB" ("Last Bottle") on the outward end of the cork before inserting it. No capsules are placed over these corks as I want to know where these bottles are so they do not inadvertently get entered into competition. The reason is simple. If any of the bottles can be expected to have some of that dusting of dead yeast siphoned into them it would be these. I usually drink these bottles first when determining when a wine is ready for consumption and competition. You are welcome to do it differently.

August 6th, 2014

I will be archiving my 2013 WineBlog entries next week to speed up the loading of this page. Until then, please have patience.

Dale Ims of Rochester suburb Webster, New York, a winemaker, a friend, a collaborator, an inspiration, lost his battle with cancer in the early morning hours of July 9th. The news was a show-stopper for me, hitting me hardest where I live -- in my writing. For three weeks now I have been unable to write much more than a personal reflection of what knowing Dale has meant to me.

Every attempt to work on this blog has ended in depression, for behind the scenes I was trying to tie together a collaboration Dale and I started some months back. I wanted to finish it and publish it before Dale passed on, for he knew he was dying but only shared that news with me about three and a half weeks before he left us. My work on the project stopped when I received the news of his death. The fire within me simply went out.

To those who have written asking what has happened to my blog and to those who have wondered but not asked, I offer the above as an inadequate response. The whole truth is more complex than that but the essence is there.

I will say more about Dale at a later date, when I muster up the wherewithal to complete the work we collaborated on. At this time I only want to say Dale is survived by Linda, his wife of 48 years, children Steven Ims, Jennifer Hallworth and Lisa Stevens, 12 grandchildren, sister Norma Ims, and hundreds of friends-- about 300 of whom were at his memorial service. We will all miss him, but keep him alive in our hearts.

Rest in peace, Dale.

<i>Vitis lincecumii</i>

Dale made wine from commercial varietals grown in the Finger Lakes of New York, but also from the native grapes he found in wide abundance. He tried for several years to use my "Taming the Wild Mustang" article in the June/July 2004 issue of WineMaker magazine as a guide to working with his wild grapes.

The high acidity he found surprised him, but he was even more surprised at how much dilution was required to reduce it to tolerable levels. For the grapes he was working with, Vitis vulpina and V. riparia (see my, June 7th, 2014 WineBlog entry "More Native Grapes of New York"), this dilution corrected the acid at the cost of the fruitiness of the grapes. Mustang grapes possess a much stronger and penetrating flavor than either grape he worked with and thus accepts the dilution and still makes a flavorful wine.

It was only when he diluted less initially to take the edge off the acidity, made the wine and then reduced the acid a bit more post-fermentation using one of the carbonates that he began making real headway. Had he lived longer, he would have worked it out to perfection. I have no doubt about that.

Native grapes are a challenge for the home winemaker. And yet our forefathers managed to make good wines from them without the benefit of award-winning websites or blogs. As we read the private and public records of the past we discover that some were able to coax "exceptional" and "exquisite" wines from these free-for-the-picking bountiful grapes.

The mustangs are mostly gone here is South Texas, but still evident aplenty north of San Antonio. In the deep South the muscadines too have or are falling, but further north they still ripen. And everywhere else the wild grapes are pushing for a later maturity, challenging you to beat the birds and four-legged wildlife to the harvest. There's wine in them there grapes! Make it!

'Judgment of Paris' by George Taber

Joy Neighbors catches the essence of this affair, the 1976 Judgment of Paris, in two sentences:

It all began back in 1976 when British wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized the first Paris Wine Tasting. The event was meant to promote the “best of the best" in the French wine world, but something totally unexpected happened during the gala tasting.

What happened, of course, is that the eleven judges from the French wine industry selected, in a blind tasting, what they were sure were French wines. What indeed they selected as the best white wine was Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay (Napa Valley) over Meursault Charmes 1973 (Roulot) and three other French Burgundies that included two famed Montrachets. Of the red wines tasted they selected Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) over Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1970 (Pauillac) and three other Bordeaux blends that included the vaulted Chateaux Haut-Brion 1970. And Bordeaux's 1970 vintages were heralded as the best since the fabled vintage of 1961.

To say the results were "totally unexpected" is an understatement of the highest order. In France, it was outright scandalous and the eleven judges were heaped with scorn. In California, there was elation in local circles. Three of the four top scoring whites were Golden State wines, two from Napa Valley and one from Monterey. Two of the top five reds were Golden Staters (Napa Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains), but four Napa Valley whites filled the bottom four places. Still, both red and white Napa Valley wines beat the French -- in Paris, with French judges.

Nine of the eleven French judges at the Judgment of Paris, 1976
Nine of the eleven French judges
at the Judgment of Paris, 1976

In the world of wine commerce, the Judgment of Paris in 1976 reshuffled the deck, perhaps forever. California's wine sales went from $300 million in 1976 to $23 billion in 2013. Consumers no longer instinctively asked for French wines. The New World had emerged, and it became a global emergence. Outside of France and French restaurants, wines from the United States, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and South Africa are more likely to dominate a wine list than wines from France

The 2008 movie Bottle Shock, which told a story of Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay's win at Paris, is anything but the story. So much fiction was written into the script to create a love story, elevate Bo Barrett from minor to major figure, and portray Steven Spurrier -- the organizer of the Judgment -- as a bumbling, comedic, shunned, English Francophile, and portrayed Jim Barrett as the winemaker of the famed 1973 Chardonnay that beat the French when in fact it was master craftsman Mike Grgich (pronounced "Gur-gich"). If the film even mentioned the Stag's Leap S.L.V. 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon that won the red wine half of the tasting I missed it.

>The inaccuracies and omissions of Bottle Shock were the gnawing impetus for screenwriter Mark Kamen, who incidentally owns Sonoma's Kamen Estate Wines, to write the Judgment of Paris screenplay. After reading George Taber's book of the same name, he tells the as yet unrevealed story of Stag's Leap founder Warren Winiarski and presents an honest account of Steven Spurrier. At least that is the claim.

I highly recommend you read Joy Neighbor's July 30, 2014 Joy's Joy of Wine blog entry for much more of the story of this movie (see link at the bottom of today's entry). But first, enjoy the trailer for Judgment of Paris -- the movie.

Judgment of Paris trailer

If the movie is 1/4 the quality as the trailer, it will be well worth watching. We await a release date....

Borage Tea and Wine

Borage plants just about to flower (photo source: frozbroz.com, Fair Use Doctrine)

A request from DeKalb, Illinois sent me down memory lane and thinking of possibilities. Austin Cliffe grows borage in his garden and inquired about borage wine. I admitted I never made it, have never seen a recipe for it, but I have experience with borage and have made a lot of borage tea. I think the key to making a wine might build upon that experience.

Rich in vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and mineral salts, borage is a very ancient herb with various medicinal uses. It is associated with recuperation from illness, restoring one's strength, relief from stress, hangover relief, overcoming melancholy, an aid to summon courage to act or make a decision, and in treating fevers, chest colds, throat irritations, bronchitis, and digestive disturbances. It can also be made into a poultice to treat insect bites, stings, inflammation, bruising, boils and rashes. No interactions between borage and standard pharmaceuticals are known or suspected.

My own experience with borage began during the 1970s while living in Colorado Springs. A good friend was a self-taught herbalist and had one of the most amazing gardens which actually consisted of many segments spread throughout her property as landscaping. From our social interactions she correctly diagnosed me as suffering from PTSD, but knew that I rejected that as at that time I did not think PTSD was a real malady. So she approached it differently and made me a large quantity (a gallon, to be exact) of borage tea and suggested I drink two cups every morning before beginning my daily routine.

At that time I was student body president at college, state secretary of the Young Republican League of Colorado, a registered lobbyist for the Vietnam Veterans of Colorado, an appointed member of the State Advisory Council for Community Colleges and Occupational Education, and was courting the woman who later became my first wife. I had a full plate and stress was my constant companion. The borage tea had a noticeable calming effect and I drank it daily -- usually warmed but sometimes cold. My friend made me a gallon of the tea, delivered in 1-gallon milk containers, every week. It was not until I moved north to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder that my daily intake of borage tea ceased.

Many years and three wives later, I happened upon a wild patch of borage less than two miles from my house in Pleasanton, Texas. In retrospect, there had probably been a cabin or bungalow there at one time with borage planted as an herb. When the property was cleared of the dwelling and allowed to go fallow the borage survived and spread over a half- to three-quarter-acre area. This is conjecture on my part, but borage is not a native of Texas. But because it readily reseeds itself my conjecture explains its presence at that site, which has subsequently been developed and is mostly a paved parking area for trucks, trailers and oil field equipment. I can find no borage around that area, but intend to plant some in one of my garden areas.

I used the younger leaves of the plant, packing a measuring cup to its rim. I added these to 10 cups of boiling water and immediately covered the pot and removed it from the heat. I let it steep 20 minutes and strained the liquid into the carafe of my coffee maker. I did not know enough about borage to eat the cooked leaves, but will in the future. They are very nutritious, by themselves or mixed with spinach or any cooked vegetable.

I told Austin that if I were going to make borage wine, I would first make a gallon of borage tea and build my must from that. It would have to have sugar, yeast nutrients, acid blend and tannin dissolved in it, and I would also ferment it with 1 pound of chopped golden raisins or a container of 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate to add body to the wine. My preference would be for the concentrate.

It later occurred to me that there is no reason I can think of for not leaving the cooked borage leaves in the must and seeing what the yeast can do with them. I would make it both ways -- with and without the leaves in the primary -- and compare the results. However, I did notice that if the leaves were left in the hot water longer than 20 minutes the flavor became stronger than I liked, so if fermenting with the leaves I would remove them after 20 minutes and add them back to the cooled must.

The recipe below does not include the leaves during fermentation. It calls for 7 pints of borage tea. I would make a gallon (using 1 1/2 cups of packed borage leaves) and remove and refrigerate a pint for use in topping up after racking.

Borage Wine Recipe

  • 7 pints borage tea (see above)
  • 11-oz container 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb 6 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme (powdered)
  • 2 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin (powdered)
  • general purpose white wine yeast

Begin a yeast starter solution (see How to Make a Yeast Starter Solution). Make 1 gallon borage tea and reserve 1 pint, refrigerated, for topping up. In a primary, to the 7 pints of remaining tea dissolve sugar, acid blend, tannin, and yeast nutrient, stirring well to dissolve. Add frozen grape concentrate to cool the tea, stirring as needed. When under 100° F., add pectic enzyme, cover primary and set aside 10-12 hours or overnight. After set-aside period, add yeast starter solution.

When vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary and attach airlock. After 30 days, rack into another sanitized secondary with 1 finely crushed Campden tablet (or 1/16th tsp potassium metabisulfite), stir, top up using reserved borage tea, and attach airlock. After two months, taste wine. If flat, stir in 1/2 tsp acid blend, wait an hour and taste again. Continue adding acid blend as before until wine tastes crisp. If wine is too dry, stir in 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet (or 1/16th tso potassium metabisulfite), reattach airlock and wait 30 days. Sweeten wine to taste -- usually only 1/4 cup of sugar dissolved in wine will raise it off dryness, but sweeten to your taste. Wait an additional 30 days and carefully rack into bottles. Wait at least 3 months before tasting. Should improve with time out to one year. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Strawberry-Chocolate Port

Chocolate-dipped trawberry (photo source: Not Your Mother's Cookbook, Fair Use Doctrine)

Fran Henshaw of Sarasota, Florida noted that another writer had made my Strawberry-Chocolate Wine (see link following this day's entry) into a port and asked how his might be done. My reply follows.

Initially, make the Strawberry-Chocolate wine. Changing it from a wine to a port involves three things.

First, you have to increase the alcohol to 18-22%. You can do this by using an appropriate yeast capable of exceeding 18% alcohol by volume. Lalvin K1-1116 (Montpellier) would be my first choice (18-20% abv) but requires nitrogen-rich nutrients such as Fermaid K. If shooting for 18% abv, Red Star Premier Curvee/Lalvin EC-1118, Lalvin DV10, or Lalvin L226 (high nitrogen demands) will do the deed. The trick is to initially add enough sugar to reach 12-13% abv and slowly adding small increments of sugar to the must as fermentation proceeds. For example, wait until the s.g. drops to 1.010 and add just enough sugar to raise it to 1.020, then repeating this procedure. Eventually the yeast will stop and you will have a moderately sweet port.

Another option is to use a lower alcohol yeast and ferment to dryness, then add an amount of alcohol (such as 80- or 100-proof brandy) sufficient to hit the target of 18-22%. One can use a Pearson Square to calculate the amount of brandy to add (see link below), but the brandy will alter the taste of the port slightly. One could also use a neutral spirit such as Everclear.

Second, you will need to increase the body of the wine, as the higher alcohol will thin it out a bit. We tend to think that alcohol increases body because it gices the wine long legs, but it is less dense than water so thins the wine. This can be helped by adding some banana water to the must before fermentation begins -- or golden raisins (about 1 pound, chopped, per gallon) or a container of Welch's 100% pure white grape juice (or red if you prefer) frozen concentrate per gallon.

Bananas add body to wine. The best way to add this body-builder to wine is as banana water. To make banana water, use one pound of ripe bananas per gallon of wine. Ripe bananas have dark yellow peelings spotted or streaked with dark brown or black; the flesh inside is soft, turning slightly translucent, but still holds its shape while feeling slightly mushy. There is no need to peel the bananas. Slice crosswise 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Place the slices in one pint (16 ounces) of boiling water per pound of banana. Reduce the heat and simmer 20 minutes; strain without squeezing. Retain and cover the liquid and set aside to cool. The water should have reduced to about 12 ounces, but whatever the final volume is that is the amount used to increase the body of the wine. Measure and add this as part of the water added to the recipe -- in this case, the Strawberry-Chocolate Wine recipe.

Third, you have to balance the wine. When the alcohol is that high, balance becomes a struggle. You will have to make small additions of acid, tannin and sugar until the alcohol is brought into balance, while at the same time assuring the body is sufficient to hold it all together. This is not as difficult as it sounds. Add, stir, wait an hour, taste. At some point you will probably achieve balance but not recognize it. Your next additions of tannin and acid blend will be too much. You can't take it out, so just age it. After a year or two, the tannins will join together into longer chains and precipitate out, while the acids will tend to mellow out as they are slowly converted to malates or tartrates, the latter of which can be precipitated out by 3-5 weeks in a refrigerator or winter garage (and racked while still cold). At the same time, the sweetness of the port will tend to be perceived as increasing. This is normal, so I always recommend you sweeten it almost to the point of balance and it will age into balance.

Sweetening "almost to the point of balance" sounds like guesswork and you might easily get it wrong. If you sweeten a sample of the wine -- say 100mL -- and take exact measure of how much sugar you add, at some point the sample will taste perfect in terms of sweetness. At that point, you look at the cumulative additions prior to the last addition (the one that made it perfect) and that is the amount of sugar to add -- scaled up from 100mL to a gallon, or 3,785mL. When using this method, I use a gram scale to add sugar in 3-gram increments. Suppose on the 4th addition it tasted perfect. In that case I use the cumulative amount used for the 3rd addition -- the one before it tasted perfect. In this case it means I have to add 9 grams (3 X 3) times 38 (37.85 rounded up), or 342 grams (12 ounces by weight) of sugar to the gallon. Using this amount, I am assured that as the wine ages and tends to taste sweeter than it did when bottled it will age into tasting perfect.

If you make a port, including making the Strawberry-Chocolate Wine into a port, you must accept that it will probably be 3-4 years before you drink it. Port takes time. But it is worth it.

July 4th, 2014

Happy birthday, America. Your founders were brilliant in creating a nation where each of us are born, if not equal in social status, at least equal in opportunity to obtain an education, to succeed or fail as a result of our own decisions, efforts and merits, to prosper and rise above our birth status, to enjoy equal protection under the law, and to enjoy the freedom to express our opinions, worship as we choose, and travel, assemble and vote for our representatives and leaders.

We are blessed with vast natural resources, extensive navigable waterways, scores of natural harbors and seaports, great expanses of forest, prairie, plains, mountains, deserts, and bottom lands.

We are a great assimilation of immigrants, natives and the descendents of slaves and indentured servants. We are not and never have been a perfect nation, but we are the best expression of freedom, opportunity and equality in existence for the past 238 years.

I am lucky to have been born here and proud to be an American. Happy 4th of July and happy birthday, America.

In my last entry my link to the live <i video was wrong for 26 hours. It might have stayed that way had not a couple of you informed me of the error. I thank you for the correction and only wish I had read my email sooner. That performance of "Sultans of Swing" is without doubt the best live performance of the song ever recorded and I feel bad for anyone who missed it. Mark Knopfler's mastery of the guitar is brilliantly evident in this virtuoso performance in London's Hammersmith Odeon. I can't say enough about it.

I also mistakenly said that Mark Knopfler was the only permanent member of the band to span it's 15-year history. That was in error, as bass guitarist John Illsley also stayed from founding to dissolution. Also in this performance are Hal Lindes on rhythm guitar, Joop de Korte doing an outstanding job on drums, and Tommy Mandel on keyboards.

While this is of necessity a group performance, it is a tour de force by Knopfler's guitar. The triads in the riffs, which include second inversions, are particularly noteworthy, executed in Knopfler's unorthodox (but now widely copied) style of using his thumb to execute the first on a downward pick while using the index finger and thumb to pull the second and third notes respectively upward. Some of the triads are executed so fast as to seem impossible

The 2010 remastering of "Alchemy Live," the DVD this performance was pulled from, is perhaps the finest live concert album ever produced. You can obtain it in MP3 format for under $10 here or obtain the DVD for $3 more here. It is the most played DVD in my collection. A distant second is Roy Orbison (and friends)'s "Black & White Night" and the 25th Anniversary Special Edition of The Band's final concert (with notable friends), "The Last Waltz". If I could only take three musical DVDs with me into exile, these are the three I would take.

Peach Melomel

Grilled peach with honey cinnamon butter (photo from <i>The Mama Report</i> blog entry of July 31, 2013, Fair Use for illustrative purposes only, no commercial benefit derived)

Kevin Hart messaged me in Facebook in search of a peach melomel recipe. A melomel is a fruit based mead. I actually have two recipes -- one using regular peaches fermented directly and the second using grilled peaches. After tasting the second one, I doubt I will ever make the plain peach melomel again unless the peaches are just fabulous.

Having said that, I have to add that you should not take my word for this. If you have the peaches and the honey, make both and decide for yourself. All meads are an investment in time and you do not want to waste that time trying something radical. However, if you have the ingredients to make several batches you can afford to experiment.

Our neighbor who gave me and my wife 80-100 pounds of peaches each year passed away nearly 8 years ago and his home (with 5 fruiting peach trees) was sold by his estate. Within two years the new owner had killed the trees by not watering them. They produced delicious, freestone fruit and allowing them to simply die for lack of water was criminal. Each was planted in a shallow basin 6-7 feet across. A mere 15-18 gallons of water per tree per week was all they required to set and maintain a 30-pound crop per tree.

In the future, if I can obtain good peaches, I intend to make the grilled peach melomel with ground cloves and cinnamon. I have dreamed of this mead and think it would work as long as the spices are muted so as to not mask the peaches. Since I have never made this before, I would first make it using minimal spices. I would also like to make this as a wine fermented on brown sugar.

A word about peaches. They should be picked ripe and processed immediately or within a day. They should be sweet and flavorful. The flesh need not be soft and juicy but should be delightful to eat. The peaches from my neighbor had firm flesh that softened on the grill. They made excellent pie and cobbler. If your peaches are freestone, they can be halved and grilled. If the flesh clings to the pit, all you can do is remove it the best you can in wedges or chunks.

You have to understand that this is an investment in time. You will not bottle the mead for at least a year after starting it, and then must bottle age it for about six months before opening. If you cannot be patient enough to wait it out, make wine instead, which you cam drink in about a year.

Peach Melomel Recipe

  • 4 lbs peaches, washed, halved, pitted, and sliced thinly
  • 3 lbs clover honey
  • juice of 2 medium lemons
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice at room temperature
  • Campden tablet
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • Water to 1 gallon (approx 2 pints)
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet mead yeast, or Red Star Montrachet

Begin a starter solution in sanitized quart jar with orange juice, yeast nutrient and yeast. Cover and set aside. Add 1/4 cup water (but no additional nutrient) every 2-4 hours.

Prepare peaches and place in primary; sprinkle with lemon juice until all is used. In enameled or stainless steel pot place honey and twice that volume of water (empty honey jar into pot and use jar to measure water-- a 3-pound jar of honey will hold about 2 pints). Stirring often, bring to a rolling boil then reduce heat to maintain a low boil for 20 minutes. Skim off any foam the forms. Pour over fruit, cover with sanitized cloth and let cool. Add acid blend, pectic enzyme, tannin powder, water. Stir, cover and set aside 10 hours or overnight. Add yeast starter solution and cover primary.

When vigorous fermentation slows, remove peaches (discard to compost pile or use to make a peach jam) and transfer liquid to secondary. Attach airlock and move to cool dark place for 2 months. Rack to sanitized secondary, top up, affix airlock and return to cool dark place for 3 months. Rack again into secondary containing very finely crushed Campden tablet dissolved in 1/2 cup water. Top up, reaffix airlock and return to cool dark place. After additional 3 months, rack, top up, affix airlock, and return to cool dark place. After 4 months, stir in another very finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, reattach airlock and set aside 3 days. Carefully rack into bottles and age 6 months before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Grilled Peach Melomel Recipe

This recipe is identical to the previous one except the peaches must be freestone so they halve, must be ripe but not overripe and soft, and are grilled. There are no rules, but here are some tips. If grilling outdoors using charcoal, wait until all the meats and corn or whatever is finished and the coals are about used up. Brush the cut faces of the peaches with honey and the grilling grate with canola oil. Set the peaches face down on the grill for 3-4 minutes. Baste the skin sides with honey and flip. Remove after about 3 minutes -- 4 if the coals are really dying out. If using a gas grill, adjust heat to low. If using an indoor cooktop grill, set heat to between low and medium-low. The best flavors come from the charcoal.

  • 4 lbs peaches, washed, halved, pitted, basted with honey, and grilled
  • 3 lbs clover honey
  • juice of 2 medium lemons
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice at room temperature
  • Campden tablet
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • Water to 1 gallon (approx 2 pints)
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet mead yeast, or Red Star Montrachet

Begin a starter solution in sanitized quart jar with orange juice, yeast nutrient and yeast. Cover and set aside. Add 1/4 cup water (but no additional nutrient) every 2-4 hours.

Prepare peaches and place grilled halves in primary; sprinkle with lemon juice until all is used. In enameled or stainless steel pot place honey and twice that volume of water (empty honey jar into pot and use jar to measure water-- a 3-pound jar of honey will hold about 2 pints). Stirring often, bring to a rolling boil then reduce heat to maintain a low boil for 20 minutes. Skim off any foam the forms. Pour over fruit, cover with sanitized cloth and let cool. Add acid blend, pectic enzyme, tannin powder, water. Stir, cover and set aside 10 hours or overnight. Add yeast starter solution and cover primary.

When vigorous fermentation slows, remove peaches (discard to compost pile or use to make a peach jam) and transfer liquid to secondary. Attach airlock and move to cool dark place for 2 months. Rack to sanitized secondary, top up, affix airlock and return to cool dark place for 3 months. Rack again into secondary containing very finely crushed Campden tablet dissolved in 1/2 cup water. Top up, reaffix airlock and return to cool dark place. After additional 3 months, rack, top up, affix airlock, and return to cool dark place. After 4 months, stir in another very finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, reattach airlock and set aside 3 days. Carefully rack into bottles and age 6 months before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

June 27th, 2014

As I was driving the interstates the other day I drove into a severe thunderstorm. In the blink of an eye I could see nothing in front of me, nothing to the sides, no headlights in my rearview mirror. I did not know if I was still in my own lane, but kept the steering wheel locked straight ahead, turned on my emergency flashers, and pumped the breaks to slow down gradually while flashing the break lights in the rear.

At times like this one must put his faith in the common sense of others and the protection of the Lord. After 20 or 30 very long seconds I drove into a pocket of lesser intensity and could briefly see the car in front of me as well as a line of 18-wheelers to my right. I moved over 3-4 feet to my left, saw headlights a safe distance behind me, and again drove into severe rain that swallowed the world.

I had slowed to 35 when I drove out of the storm. We had barely speeded up to 60 mph when we were swallowed up by another, similar downpour. When I say "we" I mean me and the cars immediately in front of and behind me as well as the trucks to my right. No one changed lanes or attempted to gain highway advantage between the storms. It was comforting to be part of a driving community that did nothing reckless when deprived of all visual cues. In all we would drive through three additional storms of equal intensity and each time did what we had done before. We came through as a team.

Book cover, <i>Cajun Cuisine</i> by W. Thomas Angers

I recently returned from a 5-day trip through the heart of Louisiana's Cajun and Creole heartlands -- from Lake Charles through Jennings, Crowley, Rayne, Lafayette, Breaux Bridge, the great Atchafalaya swamp, Baton Rouge, and around the north (Ponchatoula, Covington, Slidell) and south (New Orleans, Metairie, Kenner, Laplace) of Lake Pontchartrain. I basically followed the routes of the interstates, missing huge swaths of ancestral settlement, but I was visiting family and friends and time was short.

You don't stay in Cajun country without enjoying their rich and nuanced cuisine, which is subtler and less spicy than Creole cuisine. On this trip, the highlight meal was a catfish fillet smothered with crawfish etouffée.

Good Cajun food is a joy to eat and can be heart-healthy with simple attention to ingredients. But do you have to travel to Louisiana to enjoy it?

We had two Cajun cookbooks in our house -- Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen and later Thomas Anger's Cajun Cuisine: Authentic Cajun Recipes from Louisiana's Bayou Country.

My father, a pure Cajun, grew up in a house without a cookbook. His mother just put in the essentials and played with the ingredients until it tasted right. That's how they do it down there. My mother, of Scot-Irish stock, had no idea how to produce the dishes my father grew up with and loved, so when the great Cajun cookbooks of the 1970s and '80s came out she took advantage of them to please my father. My sister, a brother and I had already left home, but the cookbooks were there whenever we returned and enjoyed he evidence of their use.

Prudhomme's book is a classic, covering both Cajun and Creole cuisines with his own innovative and often brilliant adaptations. His recipes are exact but the results are divine. He is, after all, one of the most famous chef's to ever capture the essence of Louisiana's unique cooking heritage, elevating it to international fame. But few dishes in it are authentic Cajun. As I said, he is a chef and puts his own mark on everything -- but what a mark! I offer a warning here. His recipes are perfectly balanced. Do NOT try to tweak them in any way or you'll regret it. Many have tried; all have failed.

Anger's book is entirely different and authentic Cajun with no modernized renditions. The recipes are stripped down to their essentials, guaranteed to deliver dishes any Cajun would instantly recognize. They are the bare bones, intended to be played with by adjusting ingredients to taste. Less complex, modern and flamboyant than Prudhomme's, less spicy than Creole, rarely using tomatoes (but you can). Cajun dishes are built around the Cajun holy trinity of onions, celery and bell peppers, often added to a roux and augmented with chicken, shellfish, seafood, pork, rabbit, squirrel, or whatever you have on hand, most often served with rice, and meant to be eaten as is or seasoned by the eater with his or her favorite condiments -- salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, filé, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Cajun mustard.

If you want pure Cajun cuisine, Anger's book is the only cookbook you'll ever need. If you want to entertain and impress your dinner guests, use Prudhomme's book. As my mother discovered, it's better to have them both. You can....

Cajun Cuisine: Authentic Cajun Recipes from Louisiana's Bayou Country, by W. Thomas Anger (for the real deal, basic recipes that stand on their own but can withstand your favorite tweaks)

Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, by Paul Prudhomme (just in case you want incredibly tasty modernized versions of Cajun, Creole, and Southern Louisiana recipes)

One of the most successful British bands in history, Dire Straits first really big hit was 1979's "Sultans of Swing." Weighing in at just under 11 minutes, the song was never edited down for radio but once, for TV, it was concluded after the vocals and a final riff. BBC Radio was at first unwilling to play the long song, but after it became a hit in the US and was played here the BBC relented and it eventually got huge play-time.

Dire Straits received 11 prestigious awards and was nominated to another 15. Their albums have spent over 1,100 weeks on the UK albums chart and sold over 120 million copies worldwide. Why they have not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when they dominated British music for nearly two decades is beyond me and hundreds of Hall of Fame critics (Google "Dire Straits and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" and you'll see what I mean).

Originally Dire Straits consisted of brothers Mark and David Knopfler and friends John Illsley and Pick Withers. Over the band's 15-year history the only permanent fixture was songwriter, arranger, film score composer, record producer, guitarist extraordinaire, and vocalist Mark Knopfler -- clearly the guiding genius of the band. His finger-picking style influenced a generation of guitarists.

In 1982 the band embarked in an 8-month long world tour to promote their "Love Over Gold" album, which culminated with two sold out concerts at London's Hammersmith Odeon on 22 and 23 July 1983. The double album "Alchemy Live", was a recording of excerpts from these two concerts and was reportedly released without studio overdubs. It was mixed in November 1983 and released in March 1984, reaching the Top 3 spot in the UK Albums Chart. The concert was also issued on VHS and was remastered and released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2010 – the only performance on the new format to date. The performance below is from one of those concerts.

Inspiration for the song came from witnessing a jazz band playing in the corner of a practically deserted pub in Deptford, South London. At the end of their performance, the lead singer announced that they were the "Sultans of Swing", and Mark Knopfler found the contrast between the group's dowdy appearance and surroundings and their grandiose name amusing. Paul Williams writes that the band described in the song "has no hope whatsoever at making it big... It is not a stepping-stone to someplace else. It is, take it or leave it, the meaning of their lives, and much of the record's greatness is in the tremendous respect it evokes in every listener for these persons (whether they be great musicians or not) and the choices they've made. The ways they've chosen to live."
~~ Excerpted from "Sultans of Swing," Wikipedia

Mark Knopfler's guitar riffs from about 4:50 in the song until the end are a virtuoso performance unto themselves -- seemingly a free-wheeling jam session, but every note is tightly scripted and preformed -- singling him out as one of the great guitarists of all-time. Indeed, he was ranked 27th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Follow the lyrics (below) with the performance.

Dire Straits performing "Sultans of Swing" in London, July 1983

Sultans of Swing

You get a shiver in the dark
It's raining in the park but meantime
South of the river you stop and you hold everything
A band is blowing Dixie double four time
You feel alright when you hear that music ring

Well, now you step inside but you don't see too many faces
Coming in out of rain to hear the jazz go down
Competition in other places
Oh, but the horns, they're blowing that sound
Way on down south, way on down south London town

You check out Guitar George he knows all the chords
Mind he's strictly rhythm he doesn't want to make it cry or sing
Left-handed old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing

And Harry doesn't mind if he doesn't make the fancy scene
He's got a daytime job, he's doing alright
He can play the honky tonk like anything
Saving it up for Friday night
With the Sultans, with the Sultans of Swing

And a crowd of young boys, they're fooling around in the corner
Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles
They don't give a damn about any trumpet playing band
It ain't what they call rock and roll
And the Sultans, yeah, the Sultans, they play Creole, Creole

And then the man, he steps right up to the microphone
And says at last just as the time bell rings
"Goodnight, now it's time to go home."
And he makes it fast with one more thing,
"We are the Sultans, we are the Sultans of Swing."

Texas Winemaking -- The Early Years

San Antonio Regional Wine Guild logo, used with permission


In August 2010 I began attempting to answer some questions put to me by Dr. Russell Kane, wine writer and blogger (www.VintageTexas.com/blog), in his on-going project ("Searching for Texas Terroir"). I attempted to recruit the aid of several SARWG members for research but little useable information came from that effort. My apologies for sounding dismissive of those who sent me information, for I sincerely appreciate what was offered. Some of it was scant, some wildly exaggerated and some having no citable source.

I recently found my answers to the first four of fourteen questions Dr. Kane asked of me. Whether I ever sent them to him or not I cannot ascertain, but having never seen the material assembled published, I thought it would be fun to rework those four answers into a look at early Texas winemaking. And, having just admonished contributors for not providing citable sources, I will here ignore that requirement and leave out the citations to make it more readable. I am not writing here for an historical journal. However, I will insert editorial comment in [brackets].

Earliest Reference to Wines Made from Native Texas Grapes

I have long searched for the earliest reference and have not found it because I don't read Spanish. Remember, an Anglo Texas is a very modern affair. Stephen F. Austin did not bring legal white colonists to Texas until 1822, although perhaps as many as 4-6,000 hunters and squatters -- illegal trespassers into the Spanish province -- had slipped across the Sabine and built lean-tos and cabins in the piney woods of the east. The trespassers outnumbered Austin's 300 families of legal immigrants by ten to one, yet had no standing and officially did not exist. Had Spain and then Mexico organized ranging companies to push back the trespassers as Austin did to drive out the Indians, there almost certainly would not have been enough Anglos in residence to support the 1835-36 revolt against Santa Ana.

This historical detour is necessary to explain what should be obvious. Squatters and poachers do not collect and record data for later researchers to mine. With the rare exception of La Salle's failed colony at Lavaca in 1685 and Lt. Zebulon Pike's 1806 trespass, the only records of Texas before Austin came along were written in Spanish. As much as I wish otherwise, it will be a bilingual researcher who will uncover the earliest mention of wines made from native Texas grapes. What I do know is that Austin wrote, "Nature seems to have intended Texas for a vineyard to supply America with wines."

Austin traveled extensively throughout Texas looking for the best land to situate his colony, so there is little doubt he was not referring only to the grapes that grew between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers where his colony was located. But even if he had limited his observations to this narrow (but long) slice of Texas, he would be referring to V. mustangensis [formerly V. candicans], V. cinerea var. cinerea, V. cinerea var. helleri [formerly V. helleri], V. rotundifolia, some V. vulpina [formerly V. cordifolia], V. aestivalis var. lincecumii [formerly V. lincecumii], V. aestivalis var. glauca [formerly V. lincecumii var. glauca], a few V. aestivalis var. aestivalis, V. monticola, and possibly some V. palmata, with V. mustangensis being the most common. However, if he knew any of these species by name, they would have been common names such as mustang, muscadine, possum, and post oak. However, I can find no instance where he recorded any grape by any name.

The first record I can find of a mention of wines in Texas in English is a March 1806 diary entry by Lt. Pike referring to his passage through El Paso, in which he noted "...numerous vineyards from which were produced the finest wine ever drank." These, however, were undoubtedly Mission grapes, introduced into the region by Spanish missionaries in 1659 or shortly thereafter. But on May 5, 1837, President Sam Houston reported to the Congress of the Republic of Texas regarding trade, "Her [Texas] cotton, sugar, indigo, wines, peltries, live stock, and precious minerals will become objects of mercantile activity." While he could have been referring to the wines of El Paso, in 1838 the grapes for these wines originated largely on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande around Ciudad Juarez. It is far more likely he was talking about wines from native grapes, but he failed to say so and so we must speculate.

But there were also small wineries located at each of the many missions in Texas, if only to provide wine for the sacraments. Both Spain and Mexico were officially Catholic and all legal immigrants to Texas prior to the Revolution had to swear they were Catholic or would convert to Catholicism. These were not commercial ventures, but they did exist. The grapes grown for these wines are largely unknown. The Mission grape of many missions from El Paso west to and throughout California is simply not proven evident at missions located east of the Pecos.

Ethnic Winemakers

We know the Spanish brought tons of cuttings with new friars sent to Mexico and other possessions in the New World, but we also know that most of them arrived dried out and did not root. But some did root and leafed through two or rarely three inflorescences. Those that flowered in phase with one another cross pollinated and their seed would produce V. viniferahybrids that, when germinated, would suffer the same early death fate as their parents. It is probable that a few flowers mentioned above and all vines that flowered out of phase with each other were pollinated by native vines in close proximity to where they grew. Grape pollen carries up to a mile with only moderate breezes. Seed from these grapes carried some genetic resistance to New World microorganisms and stood a good chance of survival.

The friars who were sent out to establish northern missions almost certainly carried seed from these rare fruit, both for economy of weight and space and because wood carried by burro would almost certainly rub off all potential buds. This means the grapes cultivated at missions were Old-New World hybrids and both tasted better than the pure natives and carried resistance to all the New World stuff that killed off European vines.

Most references place the "Mission grape's" origin at El Paso. If the original vineyard there (and eventually there were many) was grown from seed, decades of vineyard management would have weeded out nonproductive vines and replaced them with rooted cuttings from the more productive ones. It seems unlikely, even after 300 years, that all vines would have been replaced with clones from a single specimen. The work of the missionaries was too varied, unpredictable and demanding to focus on the vines as closely as that scenario would have required. Thus, no one knows what the "Mission grape" really is, but we know that one Mission grapevine is not the same as another. I have no belief whatsoever that a common Old-New World hybrid ever existed. There would have been hundreds if not thousands originally that were culled to perhaps a few dozen.

I have run across many reports of immigrants bringing vines with them from Europe to Texas. The trip from Germany, for instance, to the Hill Country of Central Texas was long and hard and wood only traveled bes in the winter when dormant. That wood had to travel across Germany to a port, cross the Atlantic and Gulf, and then be carried up into Central Texas. If they brought wood with them, I have no doubt it that little of it would have arrived in good shapr. But reportedly, some did root and leaf before dying off.

We know that many settlers made wine from native grapes. It is simply unlikely that someone would go through the trouble of bringing cuttings with them to Texas (which did not grow) and then decide not to try making wine from the abundant native grapes.

When speaking of Texas immigration, we must remember that Austin's authorized (by Mexico) colonists only arrived in the 1820s. The real great wave of immigration did not occur until after Texas won its independence from Mexico and the legislators of the new Republic of Texas worked out the conditions for settlement. Thus, the floodgate opened around 1840-41.

A German immigrant who moved to Cypress Mills in the Texas Hill Country in 1845 later wrote of enjoying a glass or two of "fiery Texas wine." That part of Blanco County is covered with V. mustangensis, whose red wine so perfectly matches that description of "fiery" as to be the probable grape.

The above report is so typical of communities throughout Texas that it would be boring to even cite them. Every community where native grapes grew developed an early home winemaking tradition. Ethnic communities tended to make a community project out of harvesting, crushing, fermenting and later processing the wine for clarity and distribution. Czech, Polish, German, Austrian, Estonian, Hungarian, Italian, and you-name-it communities harvested the local mustang, muscadine, post oak, possum, winter, and mountain grapes, none of which resembled any grape they had ever had to make wine from before, and they either learned to make decent wines with what nature provided or they adapted to the taste. There are scores of reports of communities harvesting 3,000, 8,000, 11,000 and even 20,000 pounds of grapes in one to three days, mostly Mustang, for community wine.

While the original emigrants had their own Old World winemaking methods, those were largely discarded as they were forced to deal with what nature provided -- high acid, low sugar, uncertain nutrients, and in some cases low juice to pulp ratios. Within 20-30 years, new generations who had never experienced Old World grapes or wines took the reins and had only New World influences to guide them. They must have figured it all out because their descendants make very good wine out of inedible native grapes.

If one can detect a German influence in the mustang wines of Fredericksburg, a Polish influence in the mustang wines of Poth, or a Czech influence in the mustang wines of Victoria please instruct me on those influences. I only taste mustang wine.

Evolving Native Wines

In 1853 J. D. B. De Bow reported, "We have many a time feasted on the most delicious grapes in our rambles through the hills and along the limpid streams of Texas." We wish the locales were revealed, but they are not. We can only speculate these were V. aestivalis or cinerea varieties, or V. vulpina, acerifolia, champinii, doaniana, or even very ripe monticola or rupestris, but there can be no doubt that De Bow was speaking of wild, native grapes, for only these were available as described.

De Bow goes on to quote the editor of the Houston Telegraph: "We are indebted to Col. William E. Crump for several bottles of excellent wine manufactured from the native grape. He has succeeded in making a white wine from the Mustang grape which we consider far better than the best samples of Catawba wine we have received from Cincinnati. The red he has made from the same grape is of an excellent quality and resembles the best claret; he has also made wine from the winter grape, which ripens late in autumn."

The mustang, however, would not be a candidate for "... the most delicious grapes in our rambles through the hills and along the limpid streams of Texas." They are simply too acid for raw feasting. They are, however, still made into commercial wines in Texas today, both white and red.

Native muscadines are still made into wine in east Texas but have been almost entirely passed over by commercial wineries in favor of cross-bred varietals. Indeed, since I cannot think of a single Texas winery that makes a native muscadine wine, perhaps the "almost" in the preceding sentence should be stricken, but I'll leave it in case I've overlooked one.

The best native grapes I have eaten off the tree-supported vine in Texas have been V. aestivalis var. aestivalis, var. glauca and especially var. lincecumii. These were the staple grapes of early eastern settlers and, we are told, Sam Houston's favorites. And yet, again, I know of no commercial winery in Texas making wine from them despite the fact that they grow in beautiful bunches, are typically low hanging, and grow in great abundance over most of the eastern quarter of the state.

Native Grape Winemaking Areas

The following is strictly historic, but offers an excellent breakdown of the most common native grapes in Texas regionally. It is not nearly as complete as "The Natural Distribution of Native Grapes in Texas" by Keller and Comeaux (2009, unpublished), but certainly the best available in 1866. One must expect that settlers in 1866 Texas did what settlers do -- made wine out of the best ingredients available. I'm sure wherever they were east of the Pecos they had blackberries, dewberries, probably elderberies, possibly huckleberries, pawpaws, persimmons, agaritas, mayhaws, plums, prickly pears, crabapples, mulberries, and many others, but the wild grapes would be too alluring to ignore, no matter how challenging they were to make into wine.

In 1866 S. B. Buckley published "A Preliminary Report of the Geological and Agricultural Survey of Texas." In it he describes the grapes of Texas as he understood them. His account is important because he points out he was first in naming and describing the Mustang grape (in 1861); in 1862 it was attributed to Englemann as V. candicans, but Buckley named and described it first as V. mustangensis and taxonomists have since corrected the name to reflect his first publication.

"Three species of native grapes are common here [Navarro County], the mustang, post oak and the winter grape. The mustang is so abundant as to be used in the manufacture of wine of a superior quality, which we tested on several occasions with the hospitable inhabitants of that region."

More generally, the report says of French immigrants, "...they can also grow grapes, for which this State possesses peculiar advantages, there being at least seven species indigenous here, besides others from abroad in cultivation; of these, the mustang grape (Vitis mustangensis), the most widely diffused and the most abundant. It grows throughout most of the State, excepting some parts of Eastern Texas, and perhaps a part of North western Texas; it attains a large size, sometimes almost completely overspreading the largest trees, and is readily known by its leaves, which are of a deep green above, and white and tomentose beneath, besides its fruit has very distinctive characters; it has a large black fruit, sometimes nearly an inch in diameter, and clusters of a moderate size it is little esteemed for eating, on account of an acid juice in the inner cuticle of the skin, which, if swallowed, gives a burning pain in the throat; still, the pulp is quite palatable, and wholesome if squeezed out, and eaten without the skin. It makes, what we think to be, an excellent red wine, which, by age, attains strength and flavor.

"The Lincecum grape (Vitis lincecumii) should be V. aestivalis var. lincecumii] grows in Eastern Texas and in the eastern parts of the central portion of the State in post oak openings, whence it is often called the 'post oak grape.' It is of low habit and slender form, growing in clumps or climbing over small trees and bushes to the height. of from 4 to 10 feet. It has larger clusters of thin skinned, purple berries about three-fourths of an inch in diameter, which are juicy and of a pleasant acid taste. Fruit ripens the last of June and the first of July. It is well worthy of cultivation, being certainly for table use, and it ought to be tested as a wine grape.

"The Mountain grape (Vitis monticola) is of similar habit to the above; being seldom more than ten feet high. It has small cordate leaves of a pale green color, which are smooth above and more or less pubescent beneath, especially along the nerves. lts clusters are rather densely fruited with white or amber colored berries, one half or three quarters of an inch in diameter, thin skinned, which are ripe in July and August. It is said to be sweet tasted and of a very agreeable favor. It is sparingly cultivated, being as yet little known. Specimens of it with unripe fruit are in the collection at the geological rooms; and they have a strong resemblance to those of the winter grape, from which it is distinguished by its fruit and difference in time of ripening: its smaller leaves and its smaller size throughout.

"Mr. Lindheimer, a well known German botanist of New Braunfels, who has done much to elucidate the botany of Vitis, and who first brought the next species into notice also first called our attention to aestivalis, which, with the two preceding species we first described it the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia for 1861.

"Mr. Durand, a French botanist, in describing the Mustang grape in 1862, gives it the name of 'Vitis candicans,' supposing it had been previously described by Dr. Englemann. This is a mistake. Dr. Englemann never published any description of the mustang grape, nor was any botanical description ever published of it previous to ours in 1861.

"The Rock grape (V. rupestris) grows along the borders of rocky streams in North western Texas. Its leaves are small, smooth and shining above and below of a deep green, and coarsely toothed. Its branches are rather stiff and, erect, three to four feet high, seldom trailing, but, often growing like raspberries and blackberries in thick clusters of nearly vertical sterns. It has small clusters of densely placed black berries about one half an inch in diameter. Its fruit is said to be thin skinned, acid and good. Its leaves resemble those of the muscadine grape. The other grapes growing wild in Texas, being also found in many of the States east of the Mississippi, are well known.

"The winter grape (V. cordifolia) [(Sic!) should be V. vulpina] is common in Central and Eastern Texas, and is next to the mustang the most widely diffused.

"The Muscadine or Bullace grape (V. vulpina) [(sic) should be V. rotundifolia] is confined to the southern and south eastern counties, extending in Central Texas as far north as Washington county. It is called scuppernong in the eastern part of North Carolina, where it is much cultivated for making wine.

"The returns of wine made in this State in 1859 are 13,946 gallons, most of which, we suppose, was made from the mustang grape, except perhaps a few gallons made from the El Paso grape on the Rio Grande."

These are about half the species/varieties native to Texas, but still the most complete listing to that date.


The early winemaking history in Texas is not clear, but neither is it murky. We can say with confidence that there was a period when wine could not have been made from V. vinifera grapes unless the grapes formed on second or possibly third leaf vines, the latter seemingly unlikely because of the many microorganisms fatally hostile to those vines.

However, it was possible for those same dying vines to set some fruit. If self-pollinated or pollinated from other Old World vines, the seed would not be multi-generational viable. If pollinated by nearby native grape vines, seed from the resulting fruit would possess some degree of tolerance or even immunity to the New World environment. Successive generations of seed would presumably have greater tolerance or immunity. Seedlings from such successive-generation seeds, planted at missions, may have been generally termed Mission grapes because of where they were grown, leading to an impression that a Mission grape existed as a type.

Until the discovery that V. vinifera vines could be grafted to New World native rootstock and be afforded the tolerance and immunities inherent in those rootstocks it was not possible to grow V. vinifera long-term in the New World. Thereafter, it was. Still, grafting vinifera onto native rootstock did not occur wholesale in Texas until the 1970s -- 85 years after it was accepted in Europe as the only way to grow V. vinifera in the presence of phylloxera. With the exception of a few vineyards established on grated rootstock, Texans stubbornly looked for acceptable hybrids. Black Spanish (Lenoir), Herbemont, Champanel, Edna, Barlinka, Mother Gloyd, Weisser, Muscanal, Convent, and Ellen Scott were all identified as viable hybrids capable of supporting a wine or table grape industry (Mother Gloyd and Weisser are Mustang x vinifera hybrids, but seedless). Of these, only Lenoir and Herbemont are widely planted, although an extensive planting of Convent has been made. Again, it was not until the 1970s that entire vineyards were planted in Texas of V. vinifera varieties grafted to native rootstock.

During the period prior to grafting onto native rootstock the only grape wines most settlers could make were from native grapes. That ability continues through today. Further, throughout the settlement of the New World it was possible to make country wines from non-grape material -- fruits, berries, flowers, leaves, etc. The latter have been poorly described or not described at all in historical treatments of the settlement period.

There is much research that could be done to learn more of early winemaking activities in Texas. Every county and many local museums, historical societies and individual local historians maintain files of original or transcribed letters, journals, notations of commerce and other documentary records that may contain evidence or clues to these activities. Unless one is actually in need of this data, there is no incentive for non-involved persons to search these files for such evidence.

I will offer to file, collate, analyze, evaluate, and describe any such information forwarded to me, either by email or post. My email address is linked to in the upper left column. I can send my postal address to anyone who requests it for good reason.

Very Slow Fermentation

'Bishop's Collar' in secondary "Bishop's Collar" in secondary--
no airlock activity, ring of
small bubbles around top of
clear wine

Should a plum wine ferment for 11 months? No, but it could happen. Far more likely is another, often over-looked problem.

Rob Morris again wrote that he had a problem. A plum wine had been fermenting eleven months. He doubled one of my recipes, adding the sugar in stages. During this time he racked the wine six times. The wine continues to emit a ring of small bubbles around the neck of the secondaries. The wine is in the coolest and most stable temperature in the house (69° F.) and it smells and tastes good. So he asked if I thought he should just leave it until the bubbles stop forming?

I replied that I had a similar problem once, only worse. I had a pomegranate bubble for two years. When I say bubble, I really mean it did what Robs did -- bubbles formed around the neck rather than pushing bubbles through the airlock. I should have recognized the asymmetry at the time but didn't.

There comes a time in most fermentations when the pressure of the CO2 being released during fermentation is not strong enough to push the water in the airlock far enough to release a bubble. Small bubbles often appear around the neck of the secondary, but if they do not contribute to the internal pressure enough to allow a bubble to escape then the gas in those small bubbles, as well as the microscopic bubbles you don't see, is trapped inside the secondary. So where does it go? Into the wine, of course.

When a wine becomes saturated with CO2 it begins releasing it in small bubbles. These often form around the neck of the secondary until their gas is reabsorbed by the wine. This is an endless cycle, but I didn't recognize it. So I told Rob what I did at the time that caused the little light to blink on.

Since the s.g. of my wine was at 0.992, I realized it was done and hit it with potassium sorbate and metabisulfite, left it alone for two additional months, racked it, and then degassed it for about 10 minutes a day for four days. It gained a point in s.g., probably due to the added sorbic acid (sorbate), but was still bone dry so I sweetened it a little. I should have measured the s.g. 6 months sooner at least, as it may have been sitting at 0.992 for that long or a lot longer and the bubbles were just CO2 being released from the saturated wine and then being reabsorbed.

One may ask why I let my wine sit for so long. It would be a good question but one easily answered. Then, as now and most days between, I really didn't need the wine but more importantly I had no place to store the wine if I bottled it. At this moment I have 68 gallons of wine ready to bottle but no place to store it if I did. My wine racks hold 182 bottles, I have two cabinets filled with bottled wine, and I have two cases of wine stacked in a cubbyhole in the laundry room (it was three but I just gave away a case of wine on my trip through Louisiana).

After Rob received my reply he wrote back that his plum's wine is coincidentally also at 0.992 s.g. So, he racked it, tasted it, and hit it with potassium sorbate and metabisulfite. The taste was very good, but there was a slight effervescent mouthfeel. The latter, of course, is due to the wine being saturated with CO2. Rob will degas the wine, bottle it and then let it bottle age.

June 16th, 2014

Have you ever tried to buy something when the cash register, which is really a computer, is down? It happened to me Tuesday when hunger and memory converged and I decide I wanted an old fashioned Dairy Queen cheeseburger with bacon. Since it was nearby, I drove over to the local Dairy Queen, parked and went in.

I brought an opened bottle of water in with me so all I wanted was what Dairy Queen calls a "Quarter-Pound Bacon Cheese Grillburger," which I clearly stated when I ordered.

The teenager behind the counter asked, "Do you want to upgrade the combo for an extra dollar?" I repeated that all I wanted was the sandwich.

"Would you like something to drink?" Somewhat annoyed at this point, I lifted up my bottle of water so he could see it and said all I wanted was the sandwich.

"Would you care for a dessert with that?" Frustrated, I very firmly (and probably a bit loudly) said, "For the fourth time, ALL I WANT IS THE SANDWICH." Two young female employees chatting near the drive-up window interrupted their chat to glance at me and then when back to their conversation.

He wrote something on an order slip, pulled out a laminated chart (tax table), ran down it with his finger and then wrote something else on the slip of paper. He looked up and said, "Sorry about that. Our register is down and I have to do this by hand. That will be $4.10."

I gave him a $5 bill. He stared at it for a few seconds and said, "I have to figure this out." I tried to help with, "You owe me 90 cents change." He stared at the slip he had written my order on and repeated, "I have to figure this out myself."

I was astounded, witnessing yet another example of our schools' failure to teach simple math. So I tried to help again and fished a dime out of my pocket. "Here. Just give me a dollar." He didn't take the dime, but stepped back and said, "You're confusing me. I don't want that. Just give me a minute to figure this out."

"It's 90 cents," I said. "$4.10 subtracted from $5 is 90 cents."

He never looked up at me but continued staring at the order slip. "I don't know that, so I have to figure it out myself. Our register is broken."

I'd had enough. May God help us because our schools certainly aren't. "Never mind. I don't want anything. Just give me back my $5." Reluctantly, he handed it over and I walked out, got in my car, drove to the drive-through and waited at the speaker.

One of the girls asked, "May I take your order?" "Yes, I'd like a Quarter-Pound Bacon Cheese Grillburger -- just the Grillburger." "What would you like to drink with that?" "Nothing -- just the Grillburger." "Do you want a Blizzard or dessert?" "No, just the Grillburger." There was a wait as she wrote it down and looked up the tax. That'll be $4.10. Please drive up to the window."

At the window I handed her the $5 bill. She took it, stared at it a few seconds and said, "Our computer is down. Give me a minute to figure this out."

I received the link below from a friend and attempted to verify the story but, although I found many links to it, I could not actually verify the story is true. And yet, the video exists and someone created it. Several sites, repeated the story, but that is not the kind of verification a journalist or historian would use. Nonetheless, here's the story,

Seventeen-year-old Joe Bush got a high school assignment to make a video reproduction. He chose history as a theme and tucked it all into two minutes. He took pictures from the internet, added the track "Mind Heist" by Zack Hemsey (from the movie Interception) and produced this. Turn on your sound and hold on tight! Here's a history of the world in 2 minutes.

Joe Bush's History of the World in 2 Minutes!

In one word, all I can say is "intense."

Today's major entries are about sulfites and sorbate. The two entries are quite different in focus. I hope you enjoy them.

Sulfites and the Regulatory Bias Against Wine

Wine label proclaiming 'Contains Sulfites'

It seems like I write on the subject of sulfites at least once a year, but I don't think the subject can be over-emphasized. Both this and the next entry concern sulfites. I'm not going to repeat here the contents of the next entry, which concerns using sulfites and potassium sorbate in our wine. Rather, I'm going to discuss "sulfite sensitivity" and a regulatory injustice perpetrated upon wine but not upon many other ingestibles containing higher amounts of sulfites than found in wine.

I repeatedly (or so it seems) get email asking for a recipe for [name your wine here] without sulfites. The emails usually claim the writer or his/her spouse is "sulfite sensitive" or "sulfite intolerant" and needs to eliminate sulfites from their wine.

I used to have a canned reply for this kind of email in which I explained that very, very few people (only a small fraction of a percent) are truly reactive to sulfites and its all in your (or your spouse's) head. Then in 2010 I sent it to a person who genuinely was sulfite intolerant and I felt like a fool. Even so, the truth is that very, very few people actually react adversely to sulfites, but how does one know?

Sulfite Sensitivity

Sulfite "sensitivity" and "intolerance" actually mean "allergy." There are medical protocols for determining if a person has an allergic reaction to sulfites and if so at what strength. Such protocols are administered by board certified Allergy/Immunology physicians and need only take 2-3 hours to diagnose with accuracy.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, "If you are not asthmatic, sulfite sensitivity would be very unusual." Even so, it affects over 200,000 people, most of whom must avoid wine. The question is does sulfited wine present a threat to everyone else.

In the last quarter of the last century the United States placed an upper limit on sulfites in wine at 350 ppm -- a limit rarely reached except for cheap, sweet and usually white wines -- and required labels to declare "contains sulfites" if the sulfite level exceeds 10 ppm. Although there are a few but growing number of wines that do not add any sulfites to avoid this label, a label declaring "contains no sulfites" would be deceptive because yeast produce small amounts of sulfites as a byproduct of fermentation -- sometimes enough to require the label. This regulated label declaration, "contains sulfites," however, has caused a wide and largely unwarranted consumer concern regarding sulfites. As Liza Gross points out:

[T]he words “contains sulfites” loom for the average consumer, unaware of the label’s intended audience: the sensitive few. And the sensitive few, researchers now know, typically have severe asthma. Of the estimated 22 million Americans who have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20% have severe asthma. Of that subgroup, about 5%—or 220,000 Americans—are sulfite sensitive.

For sensitive individuals, an inadvertent encounter with sulfites might trigger anything from itchy hives and wheezing to shortness of breath and severe chest constriction. Only rarely has ingesting sulfites resulted in death—attributed to complications from asthma—but never from drinking wine.
~~ Liza Gross, "Making Sense of Sulfites," Wines & Vines

Those last five words -- "but never from drinking wine" -- gave me pause, until I realized exactly what she was saying. She isn't saying that wine shouldn't be avoided by asthmatics with sulfite allergy, only that wine has never been linked to the death of one. So if not wine, then what? The odds are something they ate.

Graph, Sulfites in Wine Comparative graph of common
sulfite culprits (source: Wine Folly)

Madeline Puckette, "a certified wine geek," pointed out the more common culprits in the chart to the left. Whereas she shows dry red wine as the lowest, she also shows commercial wines at the maximum allowable 350 ppm, on par with soda and other soft drinks. The worse culprits on her chart are French fries and dried fruit. But the focus of her article is about sulfites in wine and thus she doesn't elaborate on the foods. More importantly, she doesn't mention that foods containing more than 10 ppm of sulfites are not required to label this as does wine -- only state their existence as a preservative in the ingredients.

All raisins contain sulfites because all raisin grapes contain sulfur. Dark raisins contain less than golden raisin because in order to preserve that golden color of the white grapes they are heavily sulfited. Dried apricots, apples, pears, mangos, papayas, pineapples, most banana chips and many other dried fruit are likewise heavily sulfited to preserve their color. They are in fruit roll-ups, snack and energy bars, trail mixes, and dozens of other products. If a person can eat these dried fruit without an allergic reaction, that person will not react to the sulfite load in wine.

However, notice the rank of French fries -- second highest. Almost every fast food outlet and many diners, cafes and restaurants use pre-cut frozen potatoes from which to make their fries. Potato starch turns to sugar and oxidizes to a brown color when stored at a temperatures below 45° F. unless sulfited. This leaves each potential fry with 13 ppm or more of sulfites. If the cut potatoes are coated with potato starch to keep them crisp longer, which many are, that sulfite load can double.

French fries are not the only heavily sulfited potato product. Any frozen product containing potatoes -- hash browns, potato patties, 'tater tots, potatoes O'Brien, mashed potatoes in TV dinners -- are heavily sulfited. None carry the same warning label as does wine. Nor do most fruit juices made from concentrates. soft drinks containing fruit juice from concentrate, caramel color (all colas), high fructose corn syrup (read the label), and several other ingredients containing sulfites.

These examples are mere samples of the foods and beverages containing sulfites, yet many medications contain sulfites or sulfates as well. The point I am trying to make is that it is very, very difficult to avoid consuming sulfites in whatever form, but only one form -- wine -- requires a "contains sulfites" label. Thus, whenever the average person is asked to name an ingested product that contains sulfites they say "wine."

Sulfites and Sorbate: What You Need to Know

Potassium sorbate

I was reading a thread on winemaking problems in a discussion group. One writer lamented, "I stirred in a crushed campden [sic] tablet and back-sweetened the wine. The day after I bottled it one of the bottles blew its cork and made a real mess. Could the problem be the campden [sic] tablet didn't completely dissolve?"

First of all, Campden is always capitalized because its a man's name, albeit deceased. Secondly, I hate the term "back sweeten." The correct term is "sweeten." [I also hate "the fact of the matter is." The correct English: "the fact is." Why use two or more words when one will do?] These are not mere stylistic complaints. In the first case, you wouldn't write, "We stayed at a hilton." Hilton is a person's name, so you capitalize it. In the second case, economy of language is a virtue if it communicates correctly.

The first two respondents to the post got it wrong. They agreed that not crushing the tablet fine enough to dissolve its particles was the problem. The third respondent got it right. "Campden by itself is not a stabilizer. You have to also add potassium sorbate."

Adding Sulfites

For the past 7-8 years, in my wine recipes, I have written, "1 finely crushed and dissolve Campden tablet." I added these extra words because too many people complained that crushed Camden wouldn't dissolve. It will. It just takes an awful lot of time and stirring. All that stirring is saturating the wine with oxygen (O2), hastening its eventual oxidation. If you draw off just a cup of the wine and dissolve the finely crushed Campden in it before adding it back into the secondary, you only expose a cup of the wine to O2 saturation but dilute the saturation when the cup is returned to the bulk.

The active ingredient in the original Campden formulation was sodium metabisulfite. Adding sodium to your wine has not been advised for decades. The preferred active ingredient is the salt potassium metabisulfite, which is now incorporated into the Campden tablets sold in the USA -- I do not know about other countries. But it is far more economical to use pure potassium metabisulfite rather than Campden tablets.

For a dose of potassium metabisulfite equal to that contained in a Campden tablet you need only add 1/16th of a teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite. Measure a level 1/4 teaspoon of the potassium salt, deposit it on a clean flat surface, and with a knife divide it in half. Then divide each half into halves. You'll end up with four partitions (quotients) of potassium metabisulfite, each equaling approximately 1/16th of a teaspoon. Compare that small amount with a Campden tablet. All that extra bulk in the Campden is inert binding material. Would you rather dissolve all of that into your wine or just the small amount of the active ingredient?

The 1/16th teaspoon dose is a ballpark number not chiseled in stone but is comparable to Campden's 45 ppm dose. For a slightly lesser dose, divide that 1/4 teaspoon into five equal parts (I do it all the time, so I know you can do it).

There are several factors which dictate adding more or less sulfite. These include the pH and temperature of the must or wine, the condition of the grapes or fruit from which the wine is made, and the type and style of wine being made. To better explain the influence of these factors would require a longer piece than is appropriate here, but I recommend one reads the piece referenced at the end of today's entry ("Sulfur Dioxide Additions for Home Wine Making").

Back to the original problem, the third responder was correct that Campden (or potassium metabisulfite) does not stabilize the wine. It just protects it against harmful microorganisms. Well, "just protects" is an understatement. It also protects the wine against premature browning, oxidation and development of off-odors from aldehydes. There are other reasons as well; e.g. preventing an already balanced wine from undergoing malolactic fermentation and ruining its balance when its acid component contains significant malic acid.

We don't know when the winemaker asking the question actually bottled his wine, but based on his rushed first racking one might suspect he sulfited and then bottled the wine soon thereafter. One must practice patience when making wine. This isn't beer. Wine takes time -- months.

Before You Sweeten....

If you want to sweeten your wine, you should first treat the wine with potassium sorbate. Potassium sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid. Sorbic acid is practically insoluble in water but its potassium salt is completely soluble in water where 74% by weight is converted into soluble sorbic acid (it has already been dissolved, so has become soluble) and the remainder into ionic potassium. We say we add sorbate, but it is only a vehicle to adding sorbic acid.

Sorbic acid has selective anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties and inhibits yeast growth (reproduction) but does not kill the yeast. For that reason the wine should have been racked extremely clear and bulk aged long enough that the yeast density is very low when the potassium sorbate is introduced for it to be effective. After bulk aging a clear wine for several months to further reduce active yeast populations, the wine should carefully be racked again off any dead yeast before adding potassium sorbate.

Beware of Off Odors

The normal, ballpark dosage is 1/2 teaspoon per US gallon, or 150-200 ppm. It is more concentrated at low pH and the dose can be adjusted downward for higher alcohol but if you feel you cannot calculate the proper lower dosage use the 1/2 teaspoon per gallon and you'll be okay. Never add more than that or you'll introduce off odors similar to bubble gum. I will not include the calculations for reduced dosage here because most home winemakers will not be able to measure the smaller amounts the calculations will indicate and guessing could be dangerous.

Never add potassium sorbate to a wine that has already undergone malolactic fermentation or you introduce another unwanted off-odor -- geraniol, which resembles geraniums and cannot be removed without ruining the wine.

Adding Sorbate

I usually hold off sweetening my wines for a month or so after adding potassium sorbate to give the yeast culture time to thin itself out further, which will be evidenced by a light dusting of dead yeast lees on the bottom of the secondary. All surviving yeast won't die off in a month, but a significant portion will.

After sweetening, I leave the wine alone for another month to make sure it doesn't start refermenting. It shouldn't, but sorbate has a shelf life and the closer it gets to that end-time the less effective it will be.

Give the wine time to prove the efficacy of the sorbate. If it is too old or a calculated, reduced dosage is insufficient, the yeast will reproduce and the sweetened wine will trigger renewed fermentation. However, potassium sorbate has a taste threshold and one should never exceed the 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.

If you used the correct amount and fermentation renewed, the sorbate was too old and all you can do at that point is (a) wait it out and bulk age for another six months or more, or (b) chill the wine to 28° F. for no less than two weeks. Chilling the wine will usually cause the added potassium to precipitate out as potassium bitartrate. The wine should be racked off the bitartrate crystals or they will dissolve back into the wine as it returns to room temperature. Whichever avenue you choose, do NOT add more sorbate.

Additional Suggestions

I have two additional suggestions regarding potassium sorbate.

First, all the potassium sorbate I have ever purchased has been "prilled." This is a method of exuding the salt (potassium sorbate) when slightly moist through small holes, the result of which are small, elongated particles. These particles are quickly dried and can give the winemaker fits as they dissolve slowly and look unsightly for a while.. My solution has always been to reduce the particles to a powder in a mortar and pestle before stirring into the wine.

Second, I recommend buying the smallest amount of potassium sorbate you can get by with and replace it every 6 months no matter how much is left unused.

Sulfites are an important tool in the winemaker's arsenal, especially important in protecting the wine against spoilage bacteria and mold. Potassium sorbate is the best vehicle for adding sorbic acid to a wine containing residual sugar. In correct dosage it preserves that sugar by preventing refermentation. They should be used together before bottling a sweetened wine.

June 7th, 2014

Rarely can one do what I did last night. While writing descriptions of the grapes for the second major entry below I mentally searched for a word that meant "laying down, as if pressed," and the word "appressed" came to mind. To be certain it was the correct word, I got up, took a 3 3/8-inch thick dictionary down from a bookshelf, and opened it perhaps 3/16 inch from the beginning. I looked at the pages I had opened to (pages 72-73) and there was the word I sought! How often does THAT happen?

Later, I wrestled with using the word "trichomes" to indicate short hairs and again retrieved the dictionary. Son-of-a-gun if I didn't do it again! I cut the book open near the back, at pages 1428-1429, and there was the word! That has got to be as rare as being dealt two royal flushes in the same poker game. I'm dumbfounded...!

Ian & Sylvia's album, <i>Northern Journey</i>

Talk about coincidences, I woke up this morning with a folk song from the mid '60s playing in my head. The song was Ian and Sylvia's "When I Woke Up This Morning." Get it? I woke up this morning with "When I Woke Up his Morning" playing in my head. Weird!

Actually, that isn't the name of the song at all -- just the opening line. The real title is "You Were On My Mind." What was most strange is that I never, ever think of that song -- well, at least not that version of it, written by Canadian Sylvia Tyson, which actually starts with, "Got up this morning, you were on my mind...." What I always remember is the version performed by We Five, a quintet out of San Francisco who created a completely different song by changing a few words and a few notes. They topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for five weeks with a folk-rock classic that in my opinion is still unmatched in sheer energy.

We Five's version begins nice and easy in the opening two stanzas. Then in the third stanza it builds in intensity and holds that intensity through the fourth. In the fifth stanza it again drops to a gentle, flowing tempo but again increases in intensity and holds it to a climatic end.

The very first time I heard it I recognized it from Ian and Sylvia's recording earlier that year, but I also recognized I was hearing something very different, very unique, very full of energy. See if you don't agree:

Fred Astaire introduces We Five live on Hollywood Palace

This live version lacks the mixing richness and energetic intensity of the studio recording, but it still beats any other version but the recording itself so I couldn't resist showing it. Besides, I like watching Beverly Bivens dance her two-step while singing. It makes me feel young again

The arranging genius of We Five was Michael Stewart, brother of The Kingston Trio's John Stewart who later had a distinguished solo career. John's best album ever was his live The Phoenix Concerts, containing too many classics to mention. However, "July, You're A Woman" and "The Last Campaign Trilogy" (containing "All the Brave Horses") are worth the price of the double album. Believe me.

The two gentleman on the left, Michael Stewart (glasses, playing the Gibson 6-string guitar) and Bob Jones (left rear, playing the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar) are both now deceased. Stewart left us in 2002 and Jones in 2013. Rest in peace, Michael and Bob. You live on in your music.

Elderberry / Concord Grape Wine

Black elderberries (photo source sambucolaustralia.com)Concord grapes (stock photo
Black elderberries and Concord grapes

I poured a glass of my Elderberry/Concord blend -- 4.5 gallons of 2003 Elderberry blended with 1.5 gallons of 2012 Concord (not precisely but close). There is of course a reason for this unlikely marriage, the result of which is very, very good.

The first duty of wine is to be red. The second is to be a Burgundy. — Alec Waugh, In Praise of Wine

I think Alec would have loved this wine, even though undutifully containing not a drop of Pinot Noir or any other noble grape. Not a Burgundy -- with an exclamation point -- but a joy to savor. The aromatics are rich and complex, darkly red, ripe and inviting, with a hint of heritage roses and freshly broken pomegranates. Absolutely inviting. It screamed. "Taste me," so I did.

Indescribable taste, so I won't try. Suffice it to say I am pleased. More than pleased. But it was a long journey to this glass.

The elderberry component was as close to "pure" (67.5%) as I ever want to make. I have made it with a higher percentage of juice and I then agonized similarly over its slow maturity. I fined out much of the tannins of that one. But I decided to wait out the 2003. It bulk aged for a month less than 10 years, always too tannic to consign to the lives of corks -- even ones that cost $1.18 each and supposedly are rated as 20-year closures.

Last year, while lamenting that my own life is finite, I decided to blend it with something drinkable. The only red wine I had aplenty that might work was Concord. It was a gamble./p>

When blending, there are three considerations. First, the blending wines should be good enough, sound enough, to stand alone. Blending a good wine with a bad produces a lot of bad wine. Second, the blended wines should maintain (if they have it) or achieve (if they don't) balance. Third, the flavors must, as a minimum, compliment each other and, as an optimum, enhance each other. Blending Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot is the norm rather than the exception because these two wines usually satisfy all three considerations in union.

I considered both my elderberry and Concord to be good and hoped the flavors would enhance one another. It was balance that concerned me most. If one of the blending wines will not balance because of too much or too little of one of the elements of balance (body, sugar, alcohol, acid, tannin) the other must be able to offset that deficiency so the blend achieves balance. The elderberry had more than enough tannin for two wines and the Concord, I believed, could accept a lot more but was not actually deficient.

Having never tasted this blend before, I hoped the flavors would meld together nicely but didn't really consider this the gamble. Nor did I think balancing the tannin was the gamble. The gamble was whether the Concord will live considerably longer with the elderberry's long-distance tannins or the longevity of the elderberry will be considerably shortened by a short-lived Concord. That was and remains my greatest concern.

It is a gamble to which only time will decide. In the meantime, I'm resigning myself to enjoying it. Life is too uncertain to bet on the long-haul at this juncture and the wine is delightful, so I will drink it without worrying about its aging potential.

More Native Grapes of New York

Jack Keller Winemaking Facebook Page excerpt
An except of my blog's
Facebook Page

I've received many messages regarding my post on my friend Dale Ims making wines from wild grapes in New York. These communications generally reveal an interest in utilizing the grapes for making wine, but little knowledge about the grapes themselves. What they reveal is that most wild grapes are simply known as wild grapes. If they have a name, up there they are all either "fox" or "frost" grapes. This does an injustice to the "riverbank" and "winter" grapes sharing the habitat.

I don't expect everyone to know every plant in their area. I don't know all the ones around me, but I do try to learn the ones I happen upon time and time again. There are so many. But when two obviously different looking vines are growing close together, they can't both be "fox grapes." So let's look at the four true native grapes found around New York state. Descriptions are heavily dependent on T. V. Munson, Barry Comeaux and my own limited observations.

<i>Vitis labrusca</i> (Fair Use photo by Steve C. Garske, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point)
Vitis labrusca (photo by Steve
C. Garske, University of
Wisconsin - Stevens Point)

V. labrusca is commonly known as the "fox grape." Despite the fact that various grapes are called this, no other grape anywhere has that same distinct pungent odor and flavor which long ago was termed "foxy" for reasons no one today can say with certainty (although there are three or four theories circulating). In Tennessee it is locally called "swamp grape" and elsewhere sometimes called "northern muscadine" although not at all a muscadine. Berries vary considerably in size but generally are 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. Clusters are generally small but can be medium. Large clusters usually indicate hybridization. Seeds 2-4 medium to large, notched on top with a short but well-defined beak, colored pale purple or dirty-brown and maturing darker. Leaves vary geographically, can be small (3 inches broad to 2 1/2 inches long) to large (8 inches broad to 7 inches long), averaging about 4 1/2 inches broad, always broader than long, tip pointed. The petiole (leaf stem) is long, minimally half as long as the leaf, thicker at each end than in the middle. The basal sinus (the leaf indentation where the petiole attaches) is deep and can be narrow or broad. Slightly lobed closer to the tip than the base, typically 2/3 the way down, may be asymmetrical, the lobes typically pointed, the leaf edges slightly toothed. The underside is covered between the ribs with short, dense, whitish or brownish cottony felt. The upper surface initially is covered with densely appressed short hairs of a light (buff or pinkish) color which shed as the leaf matures to a wrinkled, dark dull green surface. Leaves on ground shoots of old vines, young vines and sometimes new growth more deeply lobed with 3-5 lobes, not always angular or dependable for identification -- use mature leaves for identification. Defining characteristic are tendrils, which on well-grown wood are on every node, continuous (no other species displays this). New growth is often strongly covered with pubescence and even stiff hairs at nodes, shedding to smoothness when mature. Wood and tendrils mature dark brown or chestnut in color. Natives bear little resemblance to labrusca-vinifera hybrids such as Himrod, Concord, Catawba, Niagara, etc.

<i>Vitis vulpina</i> (Fair Use of photo, Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne)
Vitis vulpina (photo credit,
Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne)

V. vulpina, once misnamed V. cordifolia, is commonly called "frost grape" but also "winter grape," "possum grape" and "sour winter grape" elsewhere. "Frost grape" comes from beliefs that the berries only ripen after the first (or second) frost, but if a very late frost the berries will ripen anyway, evidenced by birds feeding on them when sugar peaks and acidity declines. Berries are small (3/16 inch to 3/8 inch in diameter), generally loose in the cluster which is medium to long, covered with a thin bloom and typically have an unpleasant, herbaceous flavor even when ripe. Clusters are sometimes shouldered but usually simple and open. It is a vigorous climber and can grow to massive sizes. Leaves average 3 1/2 inches broad by 3 3/4 inches long, cordate (heart-shaped), but basal lobes sometimes overlap. Basal sinus narrowly or broadly acute generally, but sometimes truncate. Edges small or large toothed, generally irregular. Ground shoots and seedlings for first two years leaf with 3-5 lobes with rounded sinuses, upon maturity (third year) leaves assume cordate shape, slightly lobed. in mature leaves, upper surface glabrous (smooth, devoid of hair or down), dark green, shining, lower surface a paler green, sporting usually 7 pairs of not quite opposite ribs of pale-yellowish-green with thin but stiff pubescence, the rib's divisions with prominent dense and stiff pubescence, especially in the bronzy-colored young leaves, gradually thinning with maturity. Seeds are small, nearly as broad as long, ovate, dark brown to chocolate color at maturity, beak short to medium, blunt or acute, rusty or reddish-brown. Young wood pale yellow-green or bronze-red with strong fawn-colored pubescence, shedding to maturity to drab or hazel color with lighter and darker striations, bark separating annually. In northern climes, one of the first native species to shed its leaves in autumn, but in the South leaves are persistent until most species drop their leaves.

<i>Vitis riparia</i> (Fair Use of photo by kgNaturePhotography.com)
Vitis riparia in flower (Fair
Use, kgNaturePhotography.com)

V. riparia, "riverbank grape," is almost always found close to water or drainage, hence its common name. It can be found as an aggressive climber developing impenetrable tangles or as more of a bush or knee-to-waist-high ground hugger, also forming tangles, when climbing support is absent, will cover fences if present. Berries 1/4 to 1/3 inch, rarely 1/2 inch, ripen black with heavy bloom, white grapes are rare but known, on 3-inch to 5-inch compact, slightly shouldered clusters, clusters typically many. Skin soft, pulp juicy, juice pure and vinous when ripe, very acidic before ripening, berries persistent. Seeds 2-4 very small to medium, broad, beak poorly defined, grooved. Petioles about as long as leaf is broad, color when young usually pale red or green, sometimes dark red aging to green, leaf at right angle or nearly so. Average leaves 3 to 5 inches broad, can be 6-7 inches (rare), length about same as width. Basal sinus broadly U-shaped, usually shallow but can be deep, basal lobes rarely closed or (rarer still) overlapping, always distinctly rounded. Lateral lobe about halfway or more to tip, sharply pointed, lobe groove acute, rarely rounded. Edges irregularly toothed, both large and small but usually large, tip pointed and usually prominent but sometimes tip is short. Upper leaf shoulders bend upwards when young, relax with age, distinctive. Upper surface dark green to lively middle green, glabrous, under side similarly colored but slightly lighter, smooth except on 6 to 7 pairs of not quite opposing ribs which are pubescent with tuffs conspicuous in rib/vein forks. Leaves firm but thin even with age. The wood's bark is often more reddish than any other grape, aging dark with gray or brown striations. Shedding bark at end of first or beginning of second year usually mostly gray.

<i>Vitis aestivalis</i> (photo by Mark Gelbart, Fair Use)
Vitis aestivalis (photo by
Mark Gelbart, Fair Use)

V. aestivalis ("summer grape" in South, "pigeon grape" in upper Atlantic seaboard, "winter grape" in New York) grows widely with multiple regional variation as abundant as those of V. cinerea. Variation is consistent with climes and geographic separation with many 19th and early 20th century "species" having been proven to be V. aestivalis variations. This variability makes generic description difficult. My description here is for pure holotype V. aestivalis var. aestivalis with caveats for some, but not all, variation. For example, V. aestivalis var. lincecumii. V. aestivalis var. glauca and other Southern and Western variants are not here described. All variants produce some vines normally good for making wine. Berries are typically 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter, considered small, thick to medium bloom when ripe, persistent at that time. Skin thin but tough, blue-black to deep black, pulp commonly dry acidic even when ripe, but occasionally tender, juicy and very sweet. Clusters are generally cylindrical, 4 to 8 inches long, simple and often slightly shouldered, compact to slightly loose and open. Petioles usually half or less as long as leaf is wide, with narrow shallow groove above obscured with pubescence or rusty wool or both. Leaf 4 to 7 inches long, always longer than wide except basal leaves (leaves closest to trunk) may be more rounded. Basal sinus deep, narrow V-shape to broad V with basal lobes approaching and sometimes lapping. Prominent lateral, pointed lobes halfway down, but commonly 5, rarely 3 lobes, often inconspicuous except by ribbing. Lobe sinuses acute, rarely toothed, rarely rounded except in ground shoots from old plants with 5 to 9 lobes, palmate in appearance. Edges toothed, small to large but typically irregular (except generally absent in lateral sinuses), defined and pointed. Tip long and pointed, often excessively so. Leaf color above rusty-wooly when young with trichomes (hairs) along veins, shedding to glabrous and leathery when mature, moderate to darker green. Leaf underside glaucescent (yellowish-green), typically with 7-8 prominent, not quite opposite ribs arising from the midrib, ribs both pubescent and rusty-wooly with pubescent tuffs in forks. Seeds 2-4, broad and ovate, light to dark cinnamon color, beak short, blunt and poorly defined -- sharp and defined usually indicates hybridization. Wood rusty-wooly when young, becoming smooth and bright reddish-brown on maturity. Nodes enlarged under buds but narrow opposite. Tendrils intermediate, once or twice forked, persistent.

Asparagus Wine

Bunched asparagus

Whenever I'm down it seems the inbox brings a pick-me-up. That was the case this week while mourning the passing of a friend. An email from Cheryl Scoledge of Jackson, Tennessee brought me an original recipe for Asparagus Wine she was gracious enough to allow me to share. I don't know why I never thought of this one.

Only a year into winemaking, Cheryl and her husband already have white grapefruit, dandelion, honeysuckle, coconut, and four others in secondaries or bottles. When she recently found asparagus at the market for $1 a pound she stocked up, only to find no recipe for asparagus wine on my site or anywhere else. Not to be deterred, her Tennessee pioneer spirit and understanding of the basics empowered her to create her own.

I made both a dry and a semi-sweet to see which I end up liking…. The scent is a bit weird – asparagus doesn’t have the most appealing aroma… It’s not like Chocolate Strawberry Port or anything! But it goes great with fettuccini dishes – vegetables – and I’m sure fish or eggs.

The following is her recipe in pretty much her own words. Very straightforward....

  • 4 lbs Asparagus
  • 3 oranges
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 can white grape juice conc
  • 1 tsp Penzey’s ginger (next time I’ll try 1 oz fresh ginger – could have used a little more)
  • 1 3/4 lb sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin 1118 yeast

Peeled oranges and lemon into primary fermenter – juiced them, and added grape juice concentrate, ginger and sugar. Boiled asparagus until tender – drained over primary and kept asparagus for other recipes.

Tannin tends to clump together when added to water, so I mixed pectic enzyme, tannin, yeast nutrient, and 1 tbs sugar together and added to yeast starter No clumping!


This was a very fast wine, transferred to secondary 3 days later – racked 4 days later – sorbated and bottled within 1 month. Not bad at all.

I'm most proud of the Scoledges for jumping in and working out the essentials of a wine I'm going to have to try. Of course, they have local mentors from the Tennessee Viticultural and Oenological Society living in Jackson and nearby Nashville, but if this is any indication of their understanding I'll bet they will be mentoring new winemakers soon.

Thank you Cheryl for sharing.

May 31st, 2014

My vineyard looks pitiful. Several vines succumbed to the multiple freezes of this past winter and four more put out fantastic growth and then fell ill and died within three days. I hate to say it, but I have no idea what killed them. The leaves showed browning around all the edges one day, were completely brown the next, and were brittle and disintegrated when touched on the third day. I said my farewells but left them in the ground hoping for a resurrection. Two rebudded, broke into leaf and promptly gave up the fight. I have plenty of potted cuttings to replace them with, but most of these are native grapes from Virginia and New York. Gone are my Black Spanish and prized Orange Muscats. Sigh...!

Italian Meatball Stew in a Mug (photo by Colin Erricson, courtesy Robert Rose, publisher, with permission)

Last night it dawned on me I hadn't thought about dinner. As I looked in my refrigerator and freezer for guidance, I saw the answer. I had a container of leftover, refrigerated marinara sauce I made four nights ago and a bag of small, frozen beef meatballs I had purchased for a specific dish called Italian Meatball Stew. Both items are required for the recipe, which is in a new cookbook I acquired a few months ago called 250 Best Meals in a Mug by Camilla V. Saulsbury. It was time to put the ingredients to use.

It took about 5 minutes to throw the meal together and another 2 minutes to fsh cooking it in the microwave. It was delicious and satisfying. Best of all I had leftover ingredients to make it at least once more -- four times if I make (or buy) more marinara sauce.

First let me say a few words about this cookbook. Most of the meals in it are simplicity itself although some require more preparation time and ingredients. There are chapters on breakfast meals in a mug, breads and muffins, soups, stews and chilis, meatless main dishes, meat, poultry and seafood main dishes, pasta and grains, snacks, and desserts (oh yeah!). Perhaps best of all, there is a whole chapter on super-fast, cheap and easy recipes with 4 ingredients or less. I love this book.

The average dish requires a 12-16-ounce microwavable mug. I had mugs large enough, but I had doubts they were microwave-safe so picked up two new ones at a Dollar Store. Here is the recipe to fill one of them:

Italian Meatball Stew in a Mug

  • 4 medium or 6 small frozen beef meatballs
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup ready-to-use beef broth (or vegetable, or chicken)
  • 1/2 cup drained canned mixed vegetables
  • 2 tbsp drained canned or jarred mushroom pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash of garlic powder (my tweak)
  • dash of onion powder (my tweak)

In the mug, microwave the meatballs on high 1 to 2 minutes to defrost and warm them. After 1 minute I cut the meatballs in half in the mug with a fork and continued heating them another 30-60 seconds.

Stir in the marinara sauce, broth, mixed vegetables and mushrooms. I added the garlic and onion powder at this stage but not the salt and pepper. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until heated through, stirring after 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and top with grated Parmesan cheese ot grated Italian-blend cheese. A little chopped fresh parsley also adds to the richness of this simple meal. A little garlic bread on the side is nice but optional

The hard part is deciding whether to eat it with a spoon or a fork. I started with a fork and finished with a spoon. It was not only good, but super filling.

Scrambled Eggs Florentine in a Mug (photo by Colin Erricson, courtesy Robert Rose, publisher, with permission)

Here is a super easy breakfast meal in a mug. Buying frozen chopped spinach in a bag made measuring out a cup much easier than had I bought a block. While I was at it I measured out 2 more cups and refroze them in Ziploc bags for later use. I also divided the leftover canned tomatoes into Ziploc snack bags in 1/4 cup portions so as to be recipe-ready for another breakfast.

1 cup frozen chopped spinach
2 large eggs
pinch ground nutmeg (optional)
pinch salt
pinch ground black pepper
1/4 cup drained canned Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

In the mug, microwave the spinach on high for 11/2-2 minutes or until thawed and warm. Using the tines of a fork, press down firmly on the spinach and drain off excess liquid.

Using a fork, beat in the eggs, nutmeg (if using), and salt and pepper until well blended. Stir in the tomatoes and Parmesan. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and stir with a fork. Microwave on high and additional 30-45 seconds or until the eggs are puffed and just barely set at the center. I actually stirred again after the second 30 seconds and then microwaved the last 15 seconds.

This is a hearty breakfast by itself, but doubly so with a toasted sliced bagel smeared with homemade marmalade and a 6-ounce glass of orange juice.

I heartily recommend this cookbook, especially for someone constantly on the go who has little time or inclination to cook. Can you spare 5 minutes? Good. This book will be a life-saver many times over. You can buy the 312-page 250 Best Meals in a Mughere. I know...I know. I had doubts about it too at first, but three months of use has convinced me this is a great find -- and a great gift for anyone living alone.

The short video (48 seconds) below is a relic of times gone by and features my boyhood hero, Roy Rogers, "King of the Cowboys." He was such a hero of mine that my 1st and 2nd grade school photos captured me wearing Roy Rogers tee-shirts.

What looks strange in the video is that all of the participants wear their trousers tucked into their boots -- a style called "showing the boots." A lot of people in this part of Texas (and others, of course) wear western style boots. I personally know only one man who shows his boots in public, but I'll bet he doesn't show them while venturing into the brush country.

If you showed your boots in the brush, you'd end up with all manner of leaves, twigs, seeds, insects, and who knows what else in your boots. Seeds would work their way down into the working part of the boot and would soon feel like pebbles under the feet. Ticks and other nuisances would soon be working their way stealthily up the leg inside the trousers. In short, it's not the best way to wear your boots in the brush or fallow grasslands. The practical way of wearing boots is with the trousers over the boots to keep everything but the feet out of the boots.

With women it's a different story. More often than not they'll show their boots just as they would any shoes. If you paid $200, $400 or more for a pair of fancy boots you might want people to see what you're wearing.

But, leaving all that aside, please watch the very short video. Terrible video quality, yes, but the content is right out of days gone by. You'll never again see an advertisement like it on TV.

Roy Rogers Quick Shooter Hat.... I want one!

Talk about concealed carry! In an armed robbery situation, just tell the robber, "I carry my money in my hat" and then offer him the money. If the weapon were a Ruger LCP .380 it would fit and drop almost any armed would-be robber with a bullet in the chest at point-blank range.

Even if a real-deal quick shooter hat were developed, you'd never see it advertised on TV. But since I wear a western hat 95% of the time I venture out into the public, I want one!

Mustang Grape / Blackberry Wine

Mustang grapesBlackberries
Mustang grapes and blackberries

I received an email from Aaron Finch -- location not disclosed but probably Texas or a contiguous state. He wants advice in making a Mustang/Blackberry wine. Fortunately, both I and one of my friends have a lot of experience with this blend. Aaron's email reads, in part:

My father's property has both mustang grapes and wild blackberries in overwhelming abundance, and I have been tossing around the idea of blending these two flavors in a wine. I could certainly substitute quantities in one of your existing recipes, but I wanted to check to see if you had any experience with this idea.

The mustang grape juice, when processed and diluted, has a very nice, clean, and tart flavor. Balanced with the full-bodied richness of the blackberries, I could see making a very nice, medium-bodied wine, anywhere from dry to sweet (my tastes favoring sweet).

Thank you for any time and consideration. Your contribution is unparalleled.

Aaron, your question is a good one and one my friends and I have shouldered many times. First of all, I highly recommend that you make two wines -- one mustang and one blackberry. Co-fermentation of the two ingredients will work, but the perfect balance of flavors will be impossible to control.

I suggest you use 6 pounds of mustang per gallon for that wine and 5-6 pounds of blackberries per gallon for that one. Blackberry cultivars such as Lawton, Navaho. Shawnee and others will produce a richer, more flavorful wine, but wild berries still make good wine and win competitions. Wild blackberries tend to be a little tarter than the cultivars. In addition to what you use foe wine, I suggest you press 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of blackberries and store the juice in the refrigerator or freezer for later use, as you'll see below.

After the two wines have finished fermentation, rackings and clarification, then the fun begins -- blending. Before we go further, stabilize both wines using 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate and 1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite per gallon. Let the two wines sit for a few weeks before blending -- I let them sit a month but you can select a longer or shorter period if you like. The idea is to give the chemicals time to work on the surviving yeast. You don't want a refermentation after you bottle the blend.

Marvin Nebgen, at Messina Hof Hill Country
Marvin Nebgen, at Messina Hof
Hill Country, Fredericksburg,Texas

For this blend, I conferred with my good friend Marvin Nebgen of Fredericksburg, Texas because he has won more competitions than anyone I know of with this blend. As it turns out, Marvin does exactly what I do.

The typical blend for both Marvin an me is about 60% mustang and 40% blackberry. The key is typical. It changes from year to year based on the flavors the two wines deliver but 60/40 is typically in the ballpark. Here's how to nail it:

First of all, Aaron said he prefers a sweeter wine. So, into the blackberry wine he should add enough of the refrigerated or frozen (but now thawed) pure blackberry juice as he can to achieve the sweetness he enjoys. Since the juice contains unfermented sugars, this sweetens the wine. If you have a full gallon of blackberry wine there is no room to add juice, so transfer (rack) the wine into a larger jug -- 4L, 4.5L, 5L, or even a 3-gallon carboy. You need room for the juice. Add some juice, stir and taste. Do this until you like the taste. Now add 1/2 to 1 cup more juice. Why? Because you are going to mix this wine with mustang wine that will be dry. Trust me on this.

Put out several wine glasses -- let's use three in this example -- and in the middle one carefully measure and deposit 60 mL of mustang wine. I the one on the left put 65 mL of mustang and in the one on the right put 55 mL. From left to right put in 35 mL of blackberry wine, 40 mL, and 45 mL so that all three classes hold exactly 100 mL of blended wine. Stir each glass to integrate the wines and beginning from the left and working to the right taste each wine. Cover each wineglass with a napkin and wait 15 minutes. Now taste them again and select the one you liked best. You are trying to select a blend in which you can taste both the mustang and the blackberry with neither one dominate. If you selected the same one twice, good but you have more work to. If you selected two next to each other you still have work to do but less of it.

You are trying to select a blend in which you can taste both the mustang and the blackberry with neither one dominate.

Suppose you selected the center glass both times -- the 60/40 blend. Empty the two other glasses (drink 'em or combine them for later, but DO NOT USE THEM in the following steps), Place one on the left of the center glass and add to it 62.5 mL of mustang wine and 37.5 ml of blackberry wine. To the glass on the right pour 57.5 mL of mustang and 42.5 mL of blackberry. Taste each of these two wines and select the best. Now cover the glasses with a napkin and wait 15 minutes. Taste the center wine and the one you selected 15 minutes prior. Now select the one you prefer. That is the blend you should use, even if it differs from the one you selected 15 minutes earlier. I'll explain why in a moment.

Now let us consider the possibility that the first time you selected two different wines -- let us say you selected the middle wine and the one on the right -- blends of 60/40 and 55/45 respectively. Place a napkin over these two glasses and empty the third. Spread the two remaining glasses apart and put the empty glass in the middle, between them Into it pour a blend of 57.5 mL mustang and 42.5 mL blackberry. Taste all three and select the one you like best. Now cover the center one and after 15 minutes select the one you like best. Even if different from the one you selected 15 minutes earlier, this is the blend you should select.

Why do I insist you should select the one you liked best o the second tasting? The answer is because once you open a bottle to drink it, it will breathe before you finish it. After the first glass, it will taste more like the wine you selected at the second tasting. That is the blend you want.

If perchance the wine is not sweet enough for you even after adding the pure blackberry juice and blending, you can add dissolved sugar as simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water).a little at a time until you like the taste. However, it is best to stop short of what you prefer because over time the wine will taste sweeter than it does right now.

This, by the way, is one of the classic blends among Texas winemakers. The flavors go so well together that it is one of the reasons Marvin wins so many competitions with it. Do it and enjoy.

Blackberry Wine

Blackberries ripe, ripening and green (photo by Ragesoss, used under Creative Commons SA-3.0 Unported, SA-2.5 Generic), SA-2.0 Generic, and SA-1.0 Generic License[s]

When I had a ready-source for Brazos blackberries (a Texas A&M cultivar with big clusters of firm, sweet, juicy fruit that ripens here in mid-May), this was the recipe I used to produce more winning blackberry wines than all my other blackberry recipes combined. No matter what blackberries you have, use it with confidence.

5-6 pounds blackberries
2 1/2 pounds extra fune granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon powdered pectic enzyme
1/16 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite
7 pints water
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1 packet general purpose wine yeast in a starter solution

Pick only the deep black ripe berries, and don't be too concerned about gathering those which are a few days past ripe. Wash the berries carefully but thoroughly with cold water in a colander. Transfer them to a small-mesh nylaon straining bag and crush them in the primary. Pour 7 pints boiling water over berries and cover the primary with a sanitized towel. When water cools stir in the potassium metabisulfite and re-cover the primary. After 12 hours stir in the pectic enzyme and re-cover primary. After two days, remove bag and squeeze gently but thoroughly to recover as much liquid as you can without exuding pulp.

Add sugar and yeast nutrient and stir until completely dissolved (about 5 minutes -- up to 3 times that long with larger sugar particles). Add yeast as starter solution, cover, and set aside 5-6 days, stirring daily. Transfer to secondary of dark glass (or wrap clear glass with brown paper) to top of shoulder and attach an airlock. Place in cool (60-65 degrees F.) dark place for three months. Rack, stabilize and allow another two months to clarify, then carefully rack again* and bottle in dark glass. Store in a dark place. Allow 6 months to age, a year to mature. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

*After racking the last time but before bottling, taste the wine. If it tastes flat on the palate stir in 1/2 teaspoon of acid blend, wait 15 minutes and taste again. If still flat repeat until the wine tastes fruity, lively and right. The blackberries I used did not usually need acid additions, but all berries are different.

This is the perfect blackberry wine for blending with mustang wine, as discussed in the previous item.

May 26th, 2014

Iconic photo of 8-year old Christian Golczynski, son of Heather and Marine Staff Sergeant Marcus Golczynski, receiving the flag that draped his father's coffin from Marine Lt. Col. Ric Thompson at graveside, Wheeler Cemetery, Bedford County, Tennessee, April 4, 2007 (photo copyright Daily News Journal, photo by Aaron Thompson;  caption added by Jack Keller)

This is still one of the most poignant graveside photos I have ever seen. I added the caption to remind us of what this holiday is all about.

This iconic photo was taken by Aaron Thompson of the Daily News Journal, Murfreesboro, Tennessee at the April 4, 2007 graveside honors paid to Marine Staff Sergeant Marcus Golczynski. Lt. Col. Ric Thompson presents the flag that draped the Staff Sergeant's coffin to his son, 8-year old Christian Golczynski, "On behalf of...a grateful nation."

Staff Sergeant Golczynski, age 30, was killed by enemy gunfire while participating in combat operations with B Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment in Iraq on March 27, 2007.

Staff Sergeant Golczynski was on a voluntary second tour of duty in Iraq and was killed two weeks before his tour would have concluded.

In a letter to his family from Iraq, the late Staff Sergeant wrote:

I want all of you to be safe. And please don't feel bad for us. We are warriors. And as warriors have done before us, we joined this organization and are following orders because we believe that what we are doing is right. Many of us have volunteered to do this a second time due to our deep desire to finish the job we started. We fight and sometimes die so that our families don't have to. Stand beside us. Because we would do it for you. Because it is our unity that has enabled us to prosper as a nation.

However you may have felt about Operation Iraqi Freedom, Staff Sergeant Golczynski's words speak profoundly of duty, honor and country. It is for him and all who have fallen in the service of our nation that we celebrate Memorial Day. Pause from your grilling, shopping and playing and honor them. They would do it for you.

I first watched the video below a couple of years ago. Yesterday my cousin sent it to me again. I'm glad he did. There are great pictures and great quotes in it. Please take a few minutes to watch it.

A word of warning. Some of the quotes flash by fairly quickly. You might want to keep the cursor on the pause button just to be safe. The quotes are worth reading.

The Path of the Warrior -- what Memorial Day is all about

May God bless all who have served and embrace all who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

A Native Grape Wine From New York

Wild grapes in upper New York growing with poison ivy
Wild grapes growing with poison
click image to see detail

My friend Dale Ims, who lives just outside of Rochester, New York, made some wines last year from native grapes growing wild in his area. The grapes are abundant, as the accompanying photo he sent me shows, and are present in several species. Yet few humans bother to pick them and make wine. He sent me a bottle of each of the two batches he made. I drank one a few nights ago.

I'm not sure exactly what grapes the consumed wine was made from. I know the remaining bottle is Vitis riparia, as I have 10 cuttings from the vines Dale harvested his grapes from growing right here at my home, now in their second leaf (year) and they match the species description almost perfectly. I'll have to wait another year for fruit, but Dale sent me all the photographic proof -- and hundreds of seeds -- I need to confirm the identity with certainty. They are V. riparia.

Native grape wines, regardless of species, present us a different experience than do wines most people normally drink. They simply present a different organoleptic profile -- one unlike any delivered by V. vinifera grape wines. In other words, they are unique, and each species among them is itself unique, and grapes within a species grown in different terrior present different nuances.

The sad thing is that very few wineries -- probably less than a handful in the entire United States -- make wines from true native grapes, harvested in the wild, from vines covering the fences and treelines along backroads. Poteet Country Winery in Poteet, Texas does -- it buys mustang grapes (V. mustangensis) by the pound from whoever brings them in -- and their wines are wonderful..

I was sent a bottle of wine from wild V. aestivalis, reportedly made by a winery in Georgia. Unfortunately, the wine had been divided among splits and thus did not bear the winery's label or identity. The wine was very good but I could not attribute it as neither the shipping box nor the internal note identified the sender or the winery. I waited in vain for a letter or email from the sender so I could identify the winery. Many internet searches failed to find it.

But my point is that it is very unlikely you will ever have an opportunity to buy a true native grape wine, and when I say "native grape" I mean "native" as defined here -- not a native species-V. vinifera hybrid like Concord or Norton.

You might have a friend who makes wine from native grapes and offers you a glass or a bottle, but that is a singular experience. As with commercial wines, that is but one taste out of countless potential tastes and would not be a fair assessment of the vast potential of native grape wines. They do not appeal to everyone and lovers of fruity V. vinifera varietals must abandon what they have experienced before, accept what is presented, or be disappointed. Some people love them immediately, others "acquire a taste" for them, while still others reject them out of hand and never try them again.

The bottle I drank was, as I told Dale, what I call "tame forward." By this I mean that upon its entry into the mouth there is little fruitiness to recommend it. It enters "tame" and to connoisseurs of noble (V. vinifera) varietal wines would be an immediate disappointment. Yet, as with many native grape wines, upon swishing it in the mouth and immediately swallowing, it coats the palate with its unique, inherent fruitiness and delivers flavor galore. Rather than fruit forward, it is fruit behind. The finish is long and the flavors linger for minutes, making it a delightful wine to enjoy over a leisurely meal or prolonged evening. But every sip remains initially tame until swished and swallowed.

Thank you, Dale. I will allow the second bottle to age a bit longer before drinking. Truly, I wait with great anticipation....

Making A Native Grape Wine

Two immature native grape species from Rochester, NY (photo by Dale Ims with permission)
Two different species of unripe
native grapes. Rochester, NY

Here are the winemaking notes of a native grape wine from a 2008 batch totaling just over two and a half gallons. The species is not yet known but are the same vines that produced the grapes used in the previous piece to make a very nice wine. This is not a recipe. This is a method.

I thank Dale Ims for sending me these notes. I'm publishing them to give you something to think about. The method is sound. Only the details need adjustment to accommodate any wild grapes you might find in your area.

In south Texas, mustang grapes will begin ripening in 5 weeks and a harvest will be available for about 2 months max. In up-state New York, the very grapes Dale used will ripen in about 4 months, possibly less weather permitting, and hang on the vines for another month or so. Everywhere in-between will vary with latitude.


There are a few vines that produce grape-like berries but aren't grapes. Look at the leaves. If they don't look anything like grape leaves you have seen in the past, either skip them or verify what they are. There are grapes with unusual leaves.

Use Google to locate a master gardener in your area and see if they can help you. Bring them a section of the vine containing several leaves, berry clusters and tendrils. Even if they don't know at first sight what the vine is they will possess the resources to find out.

Always be sure you are dealing with edible fruit before making wine from wild berries. With experience comes expertise.

For a winemaking adventure, scout out any native grapes in your area. You certainly don't need to know what kind they are to make wine from them. If they are grapes, with yeast they'll make wine. Just be sure they are grapes. Then visit them every once in a while to follow their development. When they change color, visit them at least weekly and taste a few from different clusters and from different placements in the clusters -- high near the stem, low near the bottom and in the middle, especially tasting a few on the side of the cluster not facing the sun.

They may not be all that tasty, especially at first, but you'll be able to taste ripeness when it occurs. If in doubt and the birds are eating them, pick 'em as fast as you can. No matter how thorough you are, you will always unintentionally leave plenty for the birds, but if you wait too long the birds won't leave any for you.

Even if you find the taste objectionable, pick 'em and make wine. It is one of the mysteries of nature that foul-tasting grapes can be coaxed into yielding wonderful wine by any good winemaker. You need to remember two things. They will be high in acidity so dilution with water is essential, and 98 times out of 100 you will need to add sugar -- lots of sugar. Oh, and a third thing to remember is that these are really wild grapes covered with really wild yeast and other microorganisms, so sulfite early and inoculate with a proven cultured yeast.

2008 Wild Grape Winemaking Notes*

*These notes are only lightly edited (by me) for clarity and were written by Dale Ims, Rochester, New York with my thanks for sharing.

10/24/08 Picked grapes from the 104 overpass of Maple Drive. Late in the season – some grapes had started to go to raisins. Weight with stems: 4.5 lbs. Picked berries from all the bunches to be sure that we don’t get stems in the mix. Put berries in stainless steel pot and smashed with 2x2. Added 2 quarts water that had been boiled & cooled, along with perhaps 4 grains of sodium metabisulfite.

10/25/08 Added ¼ tsp pectic enzyme in AM. Not even going to check SG of must. Going to add 4 quarts more water (with sugar) in two additions, and enough sugar to give 14% alcohol in 7 quarts of must. To get 14% alcohol from water, we need about 35 oz sugar per gallon of water. For 7 quarts, we need 62.5 oz sugar. For the first installment, we add 32.5 oz sugar to 2 quarts of water, boil it a couple minutes, then cool and add to must. Also add ½ tsp yeast nutrient. Make a yeast starter with water & RC-212 yeast, then step-wise additions of the must. Finally, add the starter to the must.

10/27/08 Ferment going well. Stirring the chapeau into the liquid 3-4 times per day. Lots of color, flavor and aroma in the must at the current level of dilution. Think I will add another quart of water and 9oz of sugar to the last addition. That will make the last addition 41oz of sugar in 3 quarts of water.

10/29/08 Adding the 41oz of sugar in 3 quarts of water. Boiled & cooled. Had slowed down pretty substantially.

10/31/08 Still tasting pretty sweet after stirring. Surprised that it isn’t ready to filter, rack & cap.

A cubitiner with spout A typical cubitainer with spout

11/5/08 Strained the must into the 5-gal carboy to which I had added 8 grains of sulfite. Still tastes kinda sweet, but hasn’t been fermenting very fast. Siphoned the must into a 2 1/2 gal Cubitainer and added bubbler airlock. Got perhaps 2 gallons. Next day there are occasional burps from the bubbler.

12/5/08 Planned to rack the wine into jugs, but it is still bubbling occasionally. Think I’ll give it a little more time.

1/6/09 Still bubbling occasionally. Going to give it a little while longer.

2/4/09 Still bubbling. Moved the Cubitainer to the heated tent. With single sheet cover and 3-40 watt bulbs, getting about 68 degrees inside. Plan to cover better for higher temp.

2/18/09 Added some covering and improved things a bit. Getting up to 70 or maybe 72 degrees now. Seems to still be bubbling.

2/28/09 Couldn’t wait any longer – racked it. Tasted kinda sweet, so I checked the SG: 0.999. There is a little sugar left! Racked it into two 4-liter jugs plus there was perhaps 6 oz more. Amazed at how much – the cubitainer was 3 inches or so from full. Added 5 grains total of sulfite to the receiver jugs. Leave the jugs in the basement; the small bottle with the residual 6oz seems to be bubbling fairly frequently. Maybe the air in the bottle is helping the yeast. The jugs are very slow, but full to the neck.

4/1/09 Added some oak. The wine was still bubbling very slowly. I split out about 1.75” x 3/4 x 2.5” and added that to the jugs after boiling the chips for a couple minutes. Divided the splints up as possible. The jugs are bubbling faster since the wood was added.

7/1/09 Still getting some really small bubbles floating to the surface in the jugs. Measured SG: about 0.996 or 0.997. Maybe still fermenting slowly!

7/20/09 Bottled it. It seemed to have stopped bubbling. Added 6 grains of potassium metabisulfite to a 3-gal carboy and siphoned contents of both jugs into the carboy. Decanted the contents of the small bottle, as well as all but the dregs of the jugs. Very little residue in the jugs. Tastes pretty good. Want to measure the acid level with my pH paper scheme.

6/1/10 Measure TA in a 12oz bottle: 0.62%. A little pressure in the bottle when I opened it. At 0.62% TA, the grapes must have a lot of acid! We started with 4.5 pounds with stems, but probably only got a quart or so of juice. We added 6 quarts of water and got the 0.62%! Must have been about 4% acid in the juice!!!!

- - - - - End of Winemaking Notes #8212; Begin Jack Keller's Commentary - - - - -

As you can see, this was a very long fermentation, probably due in part to two factors.

First, Lalvin's RC-212 has a reliable fermentation window of 68-86° F. Below 68° the yeast gets sluggish as most of the colony goes dormant; if dormant too long the yeast slowly die off. Fermentation picked up after he placed a heat tent over the yeast, but slowly as the population had to replenish itself (a thermostatically controlled heating pad or heating belt would have worked too).

Second, RC-212 ferments more vigorously if some nitrogen is fed every so often, especially when the fermentation has dragged on for several months. This can be supplied by adding a small amount of generic yeast energy or, better yet, a branded nutrient supplement such as Fermaid K which provides readily useable nitrogen as alpha amino acids derived from inactivated yeast fractions.

Other than these two comments, I cannot fault the method Dale used. He followed the chemistry of the must as best he could, diluting the natural high acidity of many native grapes, factoring and fractioning his sugar additions so as not to create an osmotic imbalance detrimental to yeast health, and maintained an aseptic level of sulfites to combat any bad organisms that might otherwis take advantage of a slow fermentation. When temperature became an obvious issue he took steps to raise it. His method would have worked beautifully without temperature adjustment farther south.

One way or another, it will work for you.

May 14th, 2014

Thanks for the instant feedback I received on my article in the latest issue of WineMaker magazine -- "Small-Batch Winemaking: Make Wine a Gallon At a Time", pp. 40-44. I really appreciate it..

Art Bevens of Richmond, Virginia wrote, "I really appreciate the honesty you conveyed right up front by sharing both 'Why Small Batches' and 'The Downside of Small Batches.' I also found valuable your discussions of required equipment, expendable supplies and their shelf life, and 'Nice-to-Have Winemaking Stuff.' Your discussion of recipes was eye-opening. I can see it is not going to be as easy as making wine kits, which frankly have become boring, but you explained it so well I'm ready for the challenge."

Laura in Joplin, Missouri emailed, "Thank you Mr. Keller for another fine article. I've been making 1-gallon batches for years but once again you have taught me more than a few things that will make my future batches a lot better."

And Vincent Candy wrote, in part, "Your concise explanation of terroir is the best I have seen anywhere and has made you my go-to authority in all things related to wine making."

Not a subscriber to WineMaker yet? You can correct that by subscribing here. My article on making wines from tropical fruits will be in the next issue if no editorial changes occur.

A short stack of pancakes

I was recently in a group chat about baking and mentioned a little trick I've been using for years to make extra light and fluffy pancakes. I was surprised when none of the other chatters had ever heard of it so decided it might also be of value to some of you.

When I'm not making sourdough pancakes, I use a just-add-water pancake mix in a box. For four 6-inch pancakes, you use 1 cup of dry mix and 2/3 cup of water. If your griddle is hot, the pancakes come out near perfect.

Now, the secret trick. For lighter, fluffier pancakes, do not make the batter until the griddle is hot. Then, instead of using tap water use club soda. The carbonation in the water makes an almost foamy batter that in turn makes lighter pancakes.

Once I was out of club soda and opened a bottle of tonic water. It worked just as well and there was no discernable taste of the quinine in the tonic water. That sent me experimenting. For my next batch I used an orange-flavored carbonated water and topped the pancakes with orange marmalade instead of my usual maple syrup. Perfect! Since then I have used several fruit-flavored waters and jam toppings with excellent results.

It's a simple trick, but one you can see and taste.

Album cover, <i>Facing Future</i> by IZ Kamakawiwo'ole

A song has ben stuck in my head and I wanted to share it with you. But it isn't the song itself I wanted to share, but the experience of one particular version by one particular artist.

It is impossible for me to write about Israel "Braddah Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole, the great Hawaiian ukelele player with the gentle and soulful voice, without mentioning the history, impact and popularity of his music.

As co-founder and original member of the Makaha Sons of Ni?ihau, his recording career began with Poki Records in 1976 with the album No Kristo. His last album with the group was released in 1991 -- Ho?oluana -- although a 2001 album was compiled by Poki Records that included Iz.

In 1990 he moved to Mountain Apple [records] and began his solo career with the album, Ka ?Ano?i, a hugely popular release in Hawaii. In 1993 he released Facing Future, which for many years now has been and remains the top selling Hawaiian music album in the world. This was followed by six additional albums -- E Ala E (1995), N Dis Life (1996), IZ in Concert: The Man and His Music (1998), Alone in IZ World (2001), Wonderful World (2007) and Over the Rainbow (2011) -- each worthy in it's own right, although the last four were released after his death and the last three are compilation albums.

Iz passed away in June 26, 1997 at the age of 38 from heart and respiratory problems caused by his obesity -- at one point he weighed almost 770 pounds. His coffin lay in state in the State Capitol rotunda in Honolulu, only the third person in Hawaiian history bestowed this honor. Approximately 10,000 people paid their respects and the state flag flew at half staff on the day of his funeral. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was the voice, the spirit, the heart of Hawaii, and the people of Hawaii loved and mourned him. They still celebrate his birthday.

Shortly after his ashes were scattered off his hometown Makua Beach, Universal Pictures featured Israel's rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World" in the soundtracks of K-Pax and Meet Joe Black, while Columbia featured it in Finding Forrester and 50 First Dates, Sony used it in Men With Guns, Artisan Entertainment in Made, and Warner Brothers in Fred Claus and IMAX: Hubble 3D. It was also featured in TV's season finale of ER (50 million viewers), American Dad, Scrubs, Cold Case, Glee, and the UK's Life on Mars.

The resulting domestic and worldwide exposure shot "Facing Future" to the top of Billboard's World Chart. It stayed in the top 10 of that chart until time required it be moved to Billboard's World Catalog; combined, it stayed there an astonishing 493 weeks. "Alone in IZ World" enjoyed being there 423 weeks and "Wonderful World" 150 weeks.

I read an account about Israel's most played song. It said he called and woke his producer in the middle of the night and said he had just dreamed a version of a song and had to record it right away before it faded. They met at the studio, spent 15 minutes warming up the equipment, and Iz sat on a stool and recorded this unique and haunting version in one take -- then went home. It is the song by which most non-Hawaiians know him.

Well over 104 million views, about 50 of them mine....

Click here to watch the long version ("Somewhere Over A Rainbow/What a Wonderful World"), the second most played Iz song in the world. They used the same video from the first piece in this one with some repetition, only without the audio-video synchronization. Visually, it is less satisfying than the shorter, tightly edited piece, but just close your eyes and let his soothing voice carry you into another place. That's what he does best....

You can buy Facing Future here.

Hamburgers in the Inbox

Hamburger, from commons.wikimedia.org under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License

I am sometimes astonished by which topics I write about trigger email. Within an hour of posting my last WineBlog entry (May 3rd) I began receiving email about hamburgers.

The first was from Mark Harling saying next time I'm in San Francisco I have to go by Marlowe's, south of Market on Townsend, and try the juiciest burger in The City. The patty is a marriage of beef and lamb (now that sounds interesting!) with bacon, cheddar and all the trimmings, but forget the mayo; the grilled bun facings are smeared with aioli for an unforgettable taste experience. Makes me want to hop on a plane....

Another swore that adding Panko, crumbled blue cheese and real bacon bits (cooked but not crisp, then chopped with a sharp knife) to the ground beef transforms the patty into a flavor-packed delicacy in its own right. All condiments are optional but should not detract from the flavors in the patty -- lettuce, tomato and avocado are in, but not raw onion (grilled or caramelized are okay) or pickles. I do not doubt the sincerity of this advice and intend to try it a couple of times at least, experimenting with and without the caramelized onions.

My friend Bob sent me his favorite burger recipe, which consists of a patty that is 75% lean Black Angus sirloin and 25% Italian sausage, mixed well but not compacted too tightly. The patty is grilled along side a pineapple ring. When the patty is grilled almost to perfection the pineapple ring is placed hottest side up atop it and a thick slice of white Cheddar or Gruyère placed atop the ring and allowed to soften just to the point of melting before removing the patty/pineapple/cheese from the grill and setting it on a grilled bun faced with mayo, a bed of baby spinach and arugula and a thin slice of red onion. He says avocado slices are optional but not tomato or pickle as they will detract from the sweetness of the pineapple ring. I intend to try that one, too -- twice, both with and without the tomato just to be sure.

The same day I received my June [2014] copy of Food & Wine magazine in the mail I also received an email from Percy McGrath (location not stated). He recommended I buy the magazine and read Daniel Duane's article, "The Secret Ingredient in the Perfect Burger is:" beginning on page 50. Having already collected my mail, it was the first article I read. It is a very enjoyable and enlightening read. I will definitely give it a try.

My next email was unrelated to hamburgers but leads into my next entry so I'll jump right to it.

Angels in the Wine

Celebration Herbals Angelica Tea, 24 teabags box

Every now and then a question leads to inspiration for a new wine. That's what happened a few days ago when an email from London, Ontario led to experimentation that sparked a decision to try something deliciously new.

An email from Rob Morris got my attention. He was preparing to make my April 12th recipe for Parsnips and Angelical Root Wine and wanted to substitute Celebration Herbals® Angelica Tea for the chipped angelica root my recipe called for. He explained:

The total weight of the package is just under an ounce, consisting of 24 tea bags, but I can't see using it all. Can you? Anyway, there are instructions for decoction for a medicinal tea using one tea bag per cup of water brought to a boil and simmered in a covered pot for 10 - 20 minutes and for a 'pleasure tea' using one tea bag per cup, steeped 5 to 7 minutes in boiling water. How much of this do you think I need and should I leave the bags to steep in the must for the prescribed time [as in your recipe using root chips]? Alternatively, do I just make a pot (say four to six cups worth) of strong, bordering on medicinal tea and add it to the must?

Excellent questions, Rob! As I said in my reply, it's a matter of adaptation -- using what you have to best fit the requirement. In your case, your tea particles are much finer than my root chips and give the particles a greater surface area to mass ratio. In other words, you'll get more flavor from a teaspoon of tea particles than I will from a teaspoon of my root chips. Thus, you should require much less tea to give you the same flavor as my chips yield.

I suggested you should make a cup of the medicinal strength tea and taste it. If you like the taste, dilute it by mixing with another cup of water and taste that. If you like the first best you need to use 16 teabags. If you like the second use 8. If you can't decide split the difference and use 12. Remember, whatever strength you use will be further complexed by the parsnip root, banana, grape concentrate, tannin, acid, etc.

I further said that whatever number you decide to use, put that number of teabags in the parsnip water while the bananas are simmering (leaving the tea bags in for 10-20 minutes or as long as you deem necessary).

Yesterday I had to go into San Antonio and before I left the house I called my favorite heath foods store and asked if they had this tea. The answer was yes, so I stopped by and picked up a box of Celebration Herbals Angelica and two boxes of their Damiana Tea (from which I will make a liqueur).

Last night I experimented with the angelica tea and decided to make an angelica wine without the parsnips. I've made angelica liqueur before and know the flavor this herbal root can deliver, so here is what I am doing.

Angelica Tea Wine

  • 16 bags Celebration Herbals® Angelica Tea \
  • 1 12-ounce can Old Orchard or Welch's 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb 10 oz white granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 6-1/2 pints water
  • 1 packet Red Star Côte des Blancs wine yeast

Bring water to boil, turn off heat and insert teabags. Steep at least 7 minutes. Remove tea bags, add sugar, acid blend and yeast nutrient. Stir well to dissolve all solids. Add grape concentrate and stir to integrate. Cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to 95° F., transfer to primary and add yeast in a starter solution. Cover primary and set aside. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary and attach airlock. Wait 30 days and rack into sanitized secondary containing 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again every 30 days until clear, then add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet* and sweeten to taste as desired. Wait another 30 days and bottle. Wait 3 months to taste but improves with time. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

*Do not add second Campden tablet 30 days after adding first. If wine is clear 30 days after adding first Campden tablet, rack and add both potassium sorbate and Campden tablet 30 days later.

I intend to sweeten mine to 1.010 s.g. -- slightly more if I feel it needs it. Angelica is delightful slightly sweet, but your taste might differ. Taste it dry and sweeten in small increments until you find what pleases you.

May 3rd, 2014

This entry has taken a long time to come together because of continuous distractions and a 3-day loss of my ISP. I beg your forgiveness, but real life trumps this blog every time. But I try....

I finished our tax preparations and filed them on April 15th -- again! I just hate going through that long process every year. If our taxes were simple to compute it wouldn't be so bad, but they get more complex every year it seems. Every new complexity brings with it new forms, schedules and worksheets, not to mention the records on our end to support them. From start to finish it took two days -- some of it a learning curve but much of it a hunt for records and receipts.

And, on top of it, I had to file the final tax return for my late father's estate, which leads me to the next part of this posting. I strongly encourage you to read it for lessons learned.

We Are All Going To Die....

Last Will and Testament

With life comes eventual death. We are all going to die someday and for the vast majority of us we don't know when this will occur. For that reason alone, it is never too soon to "get one's affairs in order." That means planning for what happens to what you leave behind and how it relates to one's survivors.

When my father passed away last year I discovered I was to be the executor of his estate. At first a mild panic set in. I have friends who have been executors and do not recall any of them describing it as a pleasant or easy duty. Worse, my father resided and passed away in California, a state known to write laws that guarantee, to the greatest extent possible, the necessity of hiring an attorney to accomplish all but the simplest of legal matters.

Before I even saw my father's Last Will and Testament I spent a day reading California's probate laws. They're online. It was not until I was near the end of them that I found the part that would actually apply to my father's estate.

When we looked into all the various assets to establish a value of his estate, we discovered something extraordinary. My father did everything right. There could not be a cleaner estate.

My father, a baker all his working life, was a man of modest means. His life became more and more financially comfortable as each of us five children moved out and paid our own way. He had banking accounts, some investments, annuities, life insurance, and Social Security. It was not a large enough estate to meet the threshold for probate, but even modest estates must go through probate (think lawyers) if certain conditions are met or other conditions are not met.

Everything my father owned was also jointly owned by my mother, who survived him. When I say jointly owned I mean both names were on the deed, the title, the account. When he passed away a year ago, he left no estate. Absolutely everything that was in his name was also in my mother's name. All else was community property and simply became hers. You cannot leave a cleaner estate than that.

So why am I telling you this? Because even in death my father continues to teach me something worth learning. I have also learned some things from observing the experiences of others. If you accept that you are going to die someday, please read the rest of this piece (it will open in another window so you won't lose your place here).

Did You Notice?

If you clicked on the link to read the rest of the piece above, you should have noticed the page to which you were taken was completely restyled. It should have been much easier to read, faster loading and, of course, cleaner in appearance.

I'm trying my best to update my skills and learn HTML5 and CSS3, the current standards for coding these pages. It isn't easy for me, as every time I attempt something and it doesn't do what I expected I go back to the two books I purchased to learn this.

This is not what the WineBlog itself will look like, but you have to learn somewhere and so I decided to take a very long piece and move it to another page as a short essay. The essay page is where I am practicing what I'm learning.

While the new standards, some of which have actually been specified for at least five years, will display fine for the vast majority of you, there are some who will see something else -- just what is something I can't predict. The problem is browser age. My server-side visitor statistics show the problem.

Exactly 1/3 of you (33.3%) are accessing my site using Safari. Just over 1/4 (25.7%) are using Chrome. Together, that's 59%. The remaining 41% are using Firefox (14.7%), Internet Explorer (12.8%), Mozilla (10.8%), Opera (1.5%), and other browsers (1.2%). I have no idea who is using what. The server collects no personal data.

Of the 59% using Safari and Chrome, nearly 1/4 of them are using versions too old to recognize the current standards. It's worse (almost 1/3) when it comes to the remaining browsers. That means between 1/4 and 1/3 are not seeing what web designers are creating for you. In some cases that means substantive content is missing from your views, but generally it means the pages look crappy compared to what they should look like.

Firefox is up to version 31, yet 96.2% of the Firefox viewers are using version 28 or older. Among Internet Explorer users, over half are using versions incapable of recognizing most of the newer standards and nine of you are using version 2.0 which was released in 1995 with Windows 95 and Windows NT.[if you are still using those operating systems you have no choice, as nothing you could download today would run on those systems].

I am not belittling anyone for running a 2- or 3-year old browser. I hate updating browsers and taking a chance my favorites will disappear (of course, I almost always back them up so it is just a minor inconvenience when the program does not automatically grab them), but every time I do upgrade I notice how much nicer things look on the internet. And let's face it, browser upgrade are free.

I have four browsers on my computer and will download a fifth today. I use them to look at my entries before I post them. Okay, a few times I was in a hurry, didn't do that and was unaware that I had screwed up the code, but generally I do. My poin is I know there is a difference in browser displays.

The best argument I've read for updating (or even changing) your browser was posted in this piece at Smashing Magazine. If you haven't updated your browser in the past year, or if you are still using any version of Internet Explorer, I invite you to read it for your own good

As I transition to winemaking subjects, I thought it would be nice to enjoy some wine as I write. I'm enjoying a gift bottle of 2011 VEO Grande Cabernet Sauvignon from the Colchagua Valley, Chile. I'm not going to do the tasting notes thing (plums, black cherry, tobacco, and all that nonsense) but will just say this is what Cabernet Sauvignon should taste like. It isn't fantastic, but it's awfully damned good.

By the way, "awful" in the English language was originally a very high complement, meaning the object of the complement inspired a fullness of awe.

To illustrate how words have changed, there is a popular story, attributed to both King Charles II or sometimes Queen Anne, when first entering Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral in London, described it in contemporary English of the day as "awful, pompous, and artificial." Stated another way, the words mean the cathedral left the witness full of awe, suggested pomp and ceremony and was designed and executed in the highest art of architecture and embellishment. In modern English we might say it is "awe-inspiring, majestic, and ingeniously designed and built."

St. Paul's Cathedral was consecrated while still largely incomplete in December 1697 and again in 1708 when it was completed enough to hold regular services. It was declared "completed" by Parliament in 1711, but construction and adornment continued until into the 1720s. Until 1962, it's dome was the highest man-made structure in London at 365 feet.

Since it's construction was not even begun until the old St, Paul's, damaged beyond repair by the Great Fire of 1666, was demolished in 1670, Charles II could not have uttered the words (above) attributed to him. He died in February 1685, over 12 years before it was first consecrated and 25 years before it's famous dome was completed. On the other had, Queen Anne reigned from 1702-1714 and undoubtedly would have visited the magnificent baroque cathedral, seat of the Bishop of London.

Yes, I rambled again, detouring acutely from the subject of this sub-entry, which was the 2011 VEO Grande Cabernet Sauvignon. I may have to pause my writing for a while, as the wine is affecting me.

Works In Progress

https://subscribe.pcspublink.com/magazine/Wine/subscribeFormWine.html?track=JQ216&pub=WINE&term=6WineMaker Magazine

I'm back after a few days on other projects. I've been writing up a storm and hope you enjoy the results when they are published in WineMaker magazine. Two articles will appear in separate issues. The first should be in the next issue and will be on making small batches of wine. For all of you who make kit wines and have been hesitating to get into making small batches (a gallon or so), this article is for you. In the issue following that article will be one on making wines from tropical fruit, which in some cases can only be done in the Northern Hemisphere using juices as the fruit won't survive shipment. I think the more adventurous among you will find it useful.

If you don't yet subscribe to WineMaker, it's never too late to do so. Just click on the banner above and subscribe. It really is an invaluable resource if you make wine....

If your browser is too old to render the banner, just click here to subscribe (and for heaven' sake update that browser -- browsers are FREE!).

Spoiling the Yeast

<i>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</i> yeast (credit: Jef D. Boeke and Sarah Richardson, Johns Hopkins University)

I once had the pleasure of tasting an unfortified strawberry mead made by Greg Howard that boasted an amazing 28% alcohol by volume. It was, of course, sweetened with honey to balance the alcohol's heat. It had body to spare and the unmistakable aroma of freshly cut strawberries. The flavor lagged and was not fully appreciated until a second or two after swallowing. When I asked him how he made it he simply said, "I spoiled the yeast."

Having never heard this term I was about to ask the obvious question of what he meant when another person present at the wine guild meeting cut into the conversation and the opportunity slipped away. I always meant to ask him more about this but guild meetings were always happenstance -- unscripted, unmanaged and unpredictable. When I had a few moments alone with Greg I usually questioned him about something more pressing -- the location of his secret stand of mustang grapes that refused to drop and thereby became hanging raisins. From these he made the best mustang wine I've ever tasted.

Shortly before Greg was transferred to Oklahoma he gave me clues to the secret stand of mustangs, clues that were both vague and yet, in hindsight, absolutely accurate. My wife and I found it the next year after a dozen or so Sunday drives along the backroads between Rossville, Somerset, and Lytle, an area I referred to as "Greg's triangle."

In this part of Texas mustangs ripen in late June-early July and we found them in October -- much too late. It would take two more years before I found them just right, when they were about 1/3 shriveled and yet still soft, yielding and filled with their concentrated juice. That stand still remains but is reduced to a single female vine with a broad reach. But I digress.

Greg visits us irregularly and each time I kick myself for failing to ask him about spoiling the yeast. Two months ago, during one of those bitter cold spells we'll always associate with 2014, I ducked into a little country store near Dilley, Texas hoping to find a hot coffee dispenser (I did). Two men were talking at the counter and both were drinking a dark liquid from small, clear plastic cups. Partially hidden behind a display of various lottery scratch-offs was a near-empty screwcap wine bottle with a masking tape label that said "Mustang."

"Mustang?" I asked, half to myself. The man who was talking said a few words to the other, putting a fine point on whatever it was they were talking about, then turned and looked at me for 2-3 seconds. I recognized the face but could not place it. Then he turned to the other and said, "Fetch a glass for Mister Keller here. He might appreciate your wine." Then he turned back to me and introduced himself. We had met at the Medina County Fair 6-7 years ago when I was head judge of the Home Wine Competition. I think I awarded him a rosette, but can't be sure.

The wine I sampled that day was sweet, unmistakably mustang, and had a hint of fire as I swallowed. They both studied me as it went down. "Whoa," I said and they both grinned. The man behind the counter said, "It's a hair's width over 22% alcohol, none added." I asked what yeast he used and he said he didn't know -- he started it from the lees of another fermentation and lost track. When I asked the starting specific gravity he said it was 1.080. When he saw the look of puzzlement on my face he said, "I spoiled the yeast"

I wasn't going to let this pass, so I explained I'd heard this expression before but didn't know "precisely" what it meant. I assume he meant he fed it, and he said yes -- very slowly. He added the sugar two ounces at a time, using a postal scale to measure the sugar and kept a tally. His explanation went something like this:

I actually kept a hydrometer in the wine almost all the time. When it showed a gravity of 10 [s.g. 1.010] I'd add two ounces of sugar, remove the hydrometer, stir with a glass rod until it dissolved, then put the hydrometer back in. Fermentation almost stopped at 20%, then after a month it picked up again but was still slow. I figure it was 22.1% when it finally stopped. I hit it with sorbate and sweetened it until I could just taste the alcohol -- so I knew it was there. It ain't balanced, but it's like I like it.

And it was good. The alcohol bite was not unpleasant, but sort of acted as a constant reminder that you don't want to drink too much of this when you still have 50 miles to drive.

What actually happed in "spoiling the yeast" is that a high-alcohol yeast strain -- probably Premier Curvee/EC-1118, Lalvin 43, DV10, K1-V1116 or (less likely) L2226 -- reached its threshold of alcohol toxicity and began a wholesale die-off. But a few yeast adapted to the toxic environment, survived and reproduced. When their density was high enough to register continued fermentation the gravity dropped enough to eventually warrant a new addition of sugar. The upper limit of the surviving yeast may not have actually been 22.1%, but the activity was so slow fermentation appeared to have stopped and certainly did soon after stabilization.

And so this is how I confirmed my suspicion that "spoiling the yeast" is just a country expression (at least in these parts) for feeding the yeast slowly to allow them to acclimate to higher and higher alcohol levels -- levels above what they are rated at. And, I got to taste some whoop-ass mustang wine to boot.

Specific Gravity Corrected for Temperature Variation

Hydrometer reading below 1.000, courtesy of Rochester Area Home Winemakers

Hydrometers (or refractometers) are essential in determining the starting and ending specific gravity (or, if you prefer, degrees Brix). With these two numbers, you can calculate the alcohol content of your wine within one percent accuracy using the Potential Alcohol (PA) of the starting s.g.

Specific Gravity of Alcohol

The most accurate measures of density are made using a pycnometer, a laboratory instrument impractical for use in home winemaking. A much simpler instrument for density measurement is a hydrometer. In the United States hydrometers may be calibrated at 15.56° C (60° F.) or 20° C (68° F.). Either calibration yields the same numbers for the same liquid as long as the wine is measured using the calibration temperature or corrected to account for differences. Calibration at 20° C has been the preferred temperature since the early 1960s. While there is universal agreement that the specific gravity of distilled water at either calibration is 1.000, there are several values floating around for the specific gravity of alcohol itself, numbers derived using a pycnometer. Several authorities (e.g. ASBC, CSGNetwork) cite the s.g. of ethanol as 0.789; CRC cites 0.794 and others cite 0.790 and 0.792. I have generally used the number 0.792 as a happy medium. But why the differences?

The problem is defining alcohol, the purity of the alcohol and the type glass the pycnometer used to measure its density is made of-- Pyrex and ordinary glass yield different numbers, although slight. Winemakers generally refer to ethanol (ethyl alcohol) when they say alcohol but the alcohol in wine is mostly ethanol and trace amounts of higher alcohols as well. Thus, the range of numbers assigned to ethanol is really not critical because it is not the only alcohol in wine. Assuming an ethanol s.g. of 0.792 is "close enough."

It is worth noting that a hydrometer calibrated at 15.56° C yields a specific gravity of distilled water as 1.000, but if the water is 20° C that same hydrometer gives it a specific gravity of 0.998 -- which is why we correct for temperature.

The specific gravity of alcohol is not the same as distilled water. The latter is 1.000, but the s.g. of alcohol (specifically, ethanol) is much lower (see sidenote). Hydrometer tables factor in the change that ethanol causes to the s.g. of a must and resulting wine as far as potential alcohol (PA) is concerned. But again, they are only relatively accurate down to 1.000 and at the specific calibration temperature of the hydrometer -- either 60 or 68° F.

If a hydrometer is calibrated at 60&#;176 F. and your must or wine is higher than that you will get a lower reading than you would at the calibrated temperature. You have to compensate for that temperature difference.

  • At 70° F. add 0.001 to your s.g.
  • At 77° F. add 0,002 to your s.g.
  • At 84° F. add 0.003 to your s.g.
  • At 89° F. add 0.004 to your s.g.
  • At 95° F. add 0.005 to your s.g.
  • At 100° F. add 0.006 to your s.g

Similarly, if the hydrometer is calibrated at 68° F. and your must or wine is higher than that you will get a lower reading than you should. You have to compensate for temperature difference as follows:

  • At 74° F. add 0.001 to your s.g.
  • At 83° F. add 0,002 to your s.g.
  • At 90° F. add 0.003 to your s.g.
  • At 95° F. add 0.004 to your s.g.
  • At 101° F. add 0.005 to your s.g.

These corrections may not seem like much to you, but they are essential if you intend to write the alcohol level on your label. Get it right or forget noting the abv (alcohol by volume) level.

Hamburger, Anyone?

Jack Keller's giant hamburger, using a quarter (25-cent piece) for scale.  Author's photo.
Jack Keller's giant hamburger, using a 25¢-piece)
for scale.

Someone reminded me that this month (May) is National Hamburger Month. I don't know who decides these things but I'll play along. I love hamburgers as much as the next person and maybe even more.

When I lived in San Francisco I asked a date where she wanted to eat. This is a dangerous question in a city where you can easily be charged $300 and up just for hors d'oeuvres at some of the swankier places. Interestingly, my date said "Charlie's" and immediately read my quizzical look and began giving me driving directions. The place was a sit-down hamburger joint with an menu that took careful reading to decide.

I remember settling on one called "The Limelighter," that sported a 1/3-pound patty, caramelized onions, avocado, tomato, alfalfa sprouts (I had reservations about these, but they just blended right in), bacon, a great contrasting cheese (Gouda, I believe), and I asked for horseradish-mayo on both buns. It instantly became my favorite burger in the world, although there was no way a normally built person could ever get the tjing in their mouth to take a clean bite. But wrapped, you could surely try (it was still a juicy mess to eat, but oh so good).

I don't recall the full name of the place. It could have been Charlie's Burgers or Charlie's Hamburgers or just Charlie's. I searched long and hard for it on the internet but did not even find an historic mention.

Oh, and if you were wondering about the pictured burger above, that is a masterpiece I made using a full pound of beef strongly flavored, lettuce, tomato, avocado, white onion, extra sharp cheddar, mayo and Grey Poupon on a Muffuletta roll. The meat was thoroughly blended with Tony Chatchere's Creole Seasoning, soy sauce and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. Details are on my October 13, 2011 entry in the archives.

The email that started this topic recommends healthy alternatives to beef burgers -- vegetarian fare from Veria.com. I haven't tried them, but I might.

An old and dear friend says next time I'm in "The City" (San Francisco) I simply have to stop by the Plant Cafe and try their veggie burger -- the color of beets, not blood, with lentils, mushrooms, cashews, and bulgur wheat in the patty. He swears it's the finest veggie burger in town. Since Charlie's is no longer there, I may just have to try this....

April 12th, 2014

On the first anniversary of my father's passing my mother learned she had malignant choroidal melanoma. The news put a damper on a remembrance dinner and toast to my father, so much so that it was postponed until Friday, April 5th.

We don't know the extent of the cancer. All that has been confirmed is a single tumor that is growing aggressively in her retina. Before doctors will target it they need to conduct a full body scan to confirm or rule out additional tumors. Because of her normal run around with insurance, we were not expecting a speedy pre-approval for the scan. To our surprise it only took a week to gain approval and Thursday a full-body PET-CT was conducted. Now we wait for the results, which could take a week or more.

A Marvel of Medical Technologies

A little over a week ago my mother's ophthalmologist looked at a fluorescein angiogram and explained to her, my sister and youngest brother what the "whiteness" was in an otherwise dark mass that shouldn't be there. The whiteness ruled out any good news we had hoped for -- a vitreous or sub-retinal hematoma. He explained that the whiteness was micro blood vessel networks and there were a lot of them, meaning it is a sustained, growing malignancy called choroidal melanoma -- a cancer.

Anyway, that's why ophthalmologists love fluorescein angiography. It shows disruptions in known capillary patterns (such as by drusen and age-related macular degeneration, both of which I which I suffer from) and also shows patterns that shouldn't be there, as is my mother's eye.

Thursday my mother underwent a full-body PET (positron emission tomography) scan with a simultaneous CT (computed tomography) scan. A PET scan alone yields insufficient desired high resolution, so another scan is performed instantaneously using X-ray imaging (PET-CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (PET-MRI) and the two are co-registered by computer to produce much better and much higher resolution than PET alone. This whole technology took 30 or 40 years to develop and really only matured (PET-CT) in the 1999-2000 timeframe. It is a lot cheaper than a PET-MRI but still not cheap.

In my mother's case, I'm pretty sure they used the radioisotope fluorine-18 bound to a glucose analogue called oxyglucose to form a radiotracer called FDG (fludeoxyglusose) as a radiotracer. That's the main isotope they use when mapping neuron networks (and cancer sites) since both metabolize glucose constantly.

Fluorine-18 has a very short half-life and only exists for an hour or so after being created, so the imaging has to be done as soon after the isotope can be bound and injected. As the fluorine-18 component of FDG decays it emits a positron, which is the antiparticle of an electron. The positron travels a very short distance (a millimeter, more or less), is slowed by body mass until it collides with an electron in tissue and the positron and electron annihilate each other, producing two gamma particles as photons (two particles of light) that the PET-CT detects, records and stores as indexed data.

These annihilations occur all over the body (when using FDG) and are overwhelmingly numerous -- only a computer can sort them out and construct a detailed but useful image that is precisely mapped. A very skilled radiologist knows where and what the tissue should look like where the annihilation events occur, so when they start occurring somewhere they aren't expected it means a neural section has changed or a cancerous growth has been detected.

That we can even manipulate radiotracers to target metabolic activity and detect positron-electron annihilation at the sub-atomic level is incredible. Computers are fast, but they have to sift through billions of annihilation events occurring every billionth of a second for however long the scan lasted, so it will take some time before the radiologist can interpret the constructed images and deliver the results to my mother's doctor. So we wait, with hope and fear.

My reasons for writing all of this are two-fold. (1) I learned all of this so why not share it. The technology itself is fascinating. (2) My brain explodes every time I think about where science has taken us -- or is it where we have taken science? For those of you with absolutely no previous knowledge of any of this, I wanted to blow your mind too. None of the sciences involved were easy to apply to technologies that had to be precisely integrated to solve countless problems (and I really mean countless) and arriving at a single endpoint. Marvelous....

Random Thoughts

I want to be out there casting flies into one of the streams that pass for rivers in this part of Texas, but taxes are looming. Isn't there always something?

I'd also like to sit in the shade of one of my large oaks and have conversations with my dad we never managed to have. His passing last year makes that impossible in this physical world, but I do often talk to him when no one else is around. I regret very much not talking the time to do this when he was still among us.

Make time to embrace the ones you love. No matter how awkward the subject may be, converse with them. When they are gone and two-way conversations are no longer possible you'll be glad you did.

Snowbound grapevines, photo by Jamie Germano, <i>Rochester Democrat & Chronicle</i> staff photographer, displayed under Fair Use Act of 1984

If you've ever driven through upstate New York you know what mile after mile after mile of vineyards look like. My wife and I drove from Buffalo to North East, Pennsylvania. Once we left West Seneca we drove 73 miles of which I don't recall ever being out of sight of a vineyard. Most of the way they carpeted both sides of the highway.

This past winter has been brutal, not only up there but for a third of the country. New York may suffer 20% to 50% freeze damage to vines that normally have no problem surviving its winters, but so may a dozen or more other states. We won't know until harvest, but already growers in New York and elsewhere have announced they will be dropping the fruit of specific cultivars to give the vines a chance to recuperate from freeze damage. This is a grower by grower decision based on what they see in the vineyard.

Will this affect the price of wine next winter and beyond? It might affect the price of wines in hard-hit areas, but there will be plenty of wines available from South America, Australia, South Africa, Europe and elsewhere that will be priced competitively.

There are at least two schools of thought here. One is to price one's wines sufficiently to recoup the loss from freeze damage. This is a great strategy if consumers are willing to pay more for local wines when there are real choices occupying adjacent shelf space. The other strategy is to survive by pricing your wines to sell.

A friend of mine went to a commercial wine competition awards dinner years ago and happened to sit at a table of complete strangers from all over the country. When two people began discussing the pricing of their respective wines, one woman, who had mentioned over and over again that her winery was in Napa, loudly announced that if she couldn't get $100 a bottle for her wines then she wouldn't sell them. This quieted the table, but conversation eventually resumed (although not with her). When she left the table for some reason everyone laughed at her arrogance, especially since no one had ever heard of her winery! Wines have to earn a price. Just being from Napa Valley (or Finger Lake) does not confer grand cru status. She did not accept any awards for her wines and my friend never saw her at another function.

I hope the wineries up north do not price their wines too dearly when very good, affordable wines are available by the shipload. Make wines that sell and you'll survive until next year. You are, after all, farmers, and farmers have bad years as well as good. In bad years you try to survive. In good years you try to prosper. It's a universal ying / yang.

Carbonite InfoCenter screenshot

To those of you who read my write-up in my March 31st entry about Carbonite Online Backup and decided to test drive the program, good for you. A free test drive is easy to sign up for at THIS LINK and is the best way to determine if the program is right for you. It certainly is for me.

As I said previously, if you subsequently decide to subscribe to the program using the above link both you and I will receive a $20 gift card of choice. But again, I am not recommending it for the potential gift card, but because it has saved my bacon once and I sleep well knowing it is there if needed again. Sooner or later each of us will experience a hard drive or complete computer crash. Since 1988 I've had a few.

The last was potentially the worse because by then I had almost 2 terabytes of data on my computer. This included a complete backup of my three web sites and blog, thousands of files relating to winemaking, grape, fruit and berry growing, grape, fruit an wine chemistry, hundreds of research papers, and so much more that supports my hobby. Additionally, I had (and still have, thanks to Carbonite) over a hundred e-books, several hundred .html, .html and .css code "snippets," several dozen manuscripts, articles and writing projects, over 6,800 musical files, over 330 full-length movies, thousands of photographs, literally thousands of cooking, baking and cocktail recipes, many tutorials, my favorites, spreadsheets, databases, and much, much more.

I'm not trying to "sell" the program. I'm just telling you what I've experienced and how grateful I am to Carbonite for having it all continuously backed up. My initial backup was not quick. Because of the extremely large amount of stuff I had, spread over two internal and one external hard drives, it took months to complete the initial backup, but since then it keeps me backed up as I go. My premium service allowed me to receive my backup by mail. That was my choice but may not be yours. I understand this.

But we all know there will be a disaster one day. Having it backed up on your computer is, well, a fool's solution. Backing it up in the cloud, where Carbonite stores its data, is the reasonable solution if you are security conscious, install your security updates regularly, and are totally paranoid about clicking on un-vetted links on Facebook and other social networking sites, and are suspicious about emails containing nothing but a link.

Brute force hacking by automated password guessing software is not a likely threat unless you are using weak passwords. Your computer or connection is much less likely to be hacked directly and a keystroke recorder installed by downloading a free app or blindly clicking on links sent by email that are not amply described to you.

In the end you must decide for yourself. I've made my decision and it's Carbonite. It isn't the right choice for everyone but it will be for many.

A 'palindrome' reads the same backwards as forward. This video reads the exact opposite, backwards as forward. Not only does it read the opposite, the meaning is the exact opposite. It is not a palindrome, but....

This is only a 1 minute 44 second video and it is brilliant. Make sure you read as well as listen to the entire video....

The video was submitted in a contest by a 20-year old. The contest was titled "u @ 50". When they showed it, everyone in the room was awe-struck and broke into spontaneous applause. So simple and yet so brilliant.

Please click the link below and turn on your sound.

Outstanding Wine, Way Too Many Lees

Chopped tomatoes in their own juice

I am grateful to all positive feedback I get, but am especially grateful when the feedback concerns a non-grape wine off the usual track. Mark Richter wrote to me about a tomato wine he made, which by all accounts is outstanding. I left out the opening, laudatory paragraph to get to "the heart of the matter," with minor, non-substantive editing.

So far the best wine that I have made was tomato wine. We had a huge crop of tomatoes last year so I decided to try wine. You would not believe all of the raves I had. I am not sure if it was because it was good or people just were expecting the worst. The biggest surprise was that people didn't believe me that tomato juice is yellow, that the pulp is red. Everyone is asking me to make more of the tomato this year.

So here is my problem. After going through all of the work, doing the primary fermentation, the separation of the pulp was out of this world. I only got about 30% wine from all of the batch. I lost so much due to the high amounts of sediment that made its way through the cheesecloth bags. I filtered it through cheesecloth from the primary to secondary, and even between the rackings.

When bottling time was there, I ended up with about 17 bottles of wine out of [an original] 11 gallons. Don't get me wrong, I love the solving of the problem and I'm not looking for the shortcut but, if there is a way to avoid waste of this over something small that I am overlooking, I would sure like to know.

I think this year I am going to try different types of tomatoes and see if that helps or which one is the better tasting for the wines. Do you have any suggestions on reduction of sediment or even the best process to use for tomato wine?

The mesh size of the bag you used may have been too large. For many fruit and berry wines (and tomatoes are technically berries), the pulp breaks down too fine for all but the smallest mesh. Here's a solution I've used many times.

First, separate the legs of a new pair of pantyhose or buy a pair of "knee high" ladies' nylon stockings. Sanitize them in water with potassium metabisulfite in it (1 teaspoon per gallon will do the trick with only 3 minutes exposure -- clean all your equipment in it, but do it outside in a breeze or with a fan on so you don't breathe the caustic fumes). No need to rinse after sanitizing. Use these to hold the chopped or crushed tomatoes. Don't squeeze them -- just raise and dunk a few times a day to loosen up the pulp within so the yeast can move around. When it's time to remove them, just let them drip drain without squeezing. The pulp can be cooked into spaghetti sauce or casseroles or tossed onto a compost pile. Some very fine pulp will still get through, but just transfer it with the liquid to secondary.

When it's time to rack, sulfite the wine using 1/4 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite to 5 gallons of wine. Rack as usual, leaving the lees as you normally would. A double layer of the unused upper part of the pantyhose secured over the uptake end of the racking hose with a small, sanitized rubber band will help with some of the remaining lees.

Then take a double layer of very fine (tight weave) muslin large enough to drape in a bowl with plenty of material outside. Sanitize it first! Pour the lees in the bowl lined with the sanitized muslin, gather the overhanging muslin, tie it with strong cord, and lift and hang it over the bowl to drip drain (I tie it to an overhead cabinet door handle). Do not squeeze. Yeast and some extremely fine pulp particles will flow through but most of the lees will stay. After a half hour or so you can dispose of the lees (I spread mine around our roses) and add the liquid to the secondary.

Use the tightest weave muslin your fabric store has and you'll be doing the best you can without filtering the wine. Wash the muslin for future use, store it when dry in a large Ziploc bag, but sanitize it again before using it with wine when necessary.

Future rackings should leave normal lees. If you think the lees are still too thick, try the muslin again but you'll get diminishing returns. You might even place a heavy-duty paper towel between the layers of material, positioned so it is dead center on the bottom. If the paper towel clogs up and slows the flow, just give it time.

One last thought. If you can use the same tomato cultivar again, do it! Tomatoes are like grapes, peaches, plums and other fruit that vary in taste. When one works, don't change unless you can't get any more. Of course, there's nothing wrong with making small test batches with other cultivars to see if you can identify another winner.

Parsnip and Angelica Root Wine

Parsnips (photo from San Diego Master Gardeners Association site, fair use for illustrative purposes only

I usually make parsnip wine with an added aromatic, such as rose petals or elderflowers. I made it once using orange blossoms but denuded my tree and didn't get but two oranges that year -- but the wine was very good when it finally matured. But I got a good buy on parsnips at Whole Foods and searched their bulk herbs for a good aromatic. I picked up exactly one ounce of angelica root chips which I've used before in several wines, including parsnip.

Parsnips, of course, are a fall-winter crop best harvested after a hard frost, but are usually available all year because they travel well and have a long cellar life. I love their almost nutty flavor when added to soups, stews and many slow-cooker meals. Wine is made from the boiled water of the sliced root, so the method below saves the cooked root for eating while using the cooking water for wine.

Both banana water and 100% white gape juice frozen concentrate are used for adding body to the wine and banana water is obtained by cooking bananas. In this recipe the parsnip water is used to cook the bananas after the parsnips are removed.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica) root grows primarily in Northern Europe and Scandinavia but a variety grows in Southeast Asia . The root is used to flavor aromatic liqueurs such as Bènèdictine, Chartreuse, Dubonnet, and Vermouth, usually ordered as an apèritif to aid digestion. It also has medicinal value as a tea. I make a liqueur with it using only the root, vodka, sugar, and three drops of fresh lemon juice per 750 mL bottle. There are two major groups of aromatics in the root -- one is extracted in chloroform and to a lesser degree in alcohol while the other is extracted in water, The water soluble extracts are somewhat volatile and extracted in warm-to cooling water, not while boiling. It is important to know this and not attempt to take shortcuts in the method prescribed below.

Like most root wines (beet, carrot, rutabagas, etc.), parsnip has a long aging period, but usually can be enjoyed at two years. Only by maintaining a sufficient level of unbound sulfite can the wine be extended beyond that period; if made as specified below, it should last as long as 5 years in cool storage (56-70° F.), 7 years in cold storage (45-55° F.). Served socially with hors d´oeuvres, appetizers or before a special meal, it is a most appealing wine made dry or very slightly off-dry.

  • 4 lbs parsnips
  • 1 lb ripe bananas
  • 10-11 oz can of 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 oz chipped angelica root
  • 1 3/4 lbs finely granulated pure cane sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp tartaric acid or acid blend
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme (reserved)
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet or 1/16 tsp potassium metabisulfite
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin, powdered
  • water as required below (just under 1 gallon)
  • yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt Lalvin R2 (preferred) or any Sauternes (but not Champagne) wine yeast

Put 1 pint water on to low boil and add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Set aside for later use in sanitized mason jar capped just until finger tight. Concurrently, put 5 pints water on to boil in stainless steel or coated interior pot, and while waiting wash, scrub, thinly slice parsnips, and add to boiling water. Reduce heat to low boil, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, slice ripe bananas, unpeeled, into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces and set aside (the peels contain amylase, an enzyme that hydrolyzes starch to produce dextrins, maltose, and glucose so do not remove the peels). Use slotted spoon to remove parsnips for eating and add sliced bananas to boiling parsnip water. Continue low boil, uncovered this time, for an additional 30 minutes. Removed from heat and remove and discard the bananas. If any foam or scum formed on the surface from cooking the bananas, carefully remove it with a large spoon. Encourage water to cool by adding frozen grape concentrate and cover pot.

Yeast Starter Solution

To a half cup of tepid water add a pinch of yeast nutrient,
a couple of drops of lemon juice (that's TWO drops) and
3/4 teaspoon of sugar, dissolved. Sprinkle the dry yeast on
the surface (do not stir) and set it aside, covered with a
sanitized piece of muslin or a paper towel held with a rubber
band. Check it in 30 minutes to see that the yeast granules
are viable (expanding); if not, add another packet of yeast.
After 2 hours of viable yeast activity, add another half-cup
of water, a pinch of yeast nutrient, 2 drops of lemon juice,
and 3/4 teaspoon of sugar, dissolved. Add these ingredients
every 2 hours until ready to transfer the must to secondary.

If you are going to bed or work and will be unable to attend
to the starter every two hours, simply add enough ingredients
to suffice for the period you will be asleep or away. The yeast
will do their thing without you there, so sleep well but stir
the starter when you awaken.

Place angelica root in a fluted coffee filter, gather edges and tie closed with enough string to allow draping over edge of pot for easy recover. As water cools, raise and dunk angelica every 10-15 minutes to aid infusion. When water is at or below 115° F. stir in dissolved Campden tablet or potassium metabisulfite (preferred), tannin and yeast nutrient. Cover and set aside 10-12 hours, lifting and dunking the angelica bag as often as is practical (every 30-60 minutes if possible, but okay to ignore if set-aside is overnight). During beginning of set-aside, make a yeast starter solution (see sidebar).

At the end of the 10-12-hours, remove angelica and very gently squeeze and discard, transfer must to a secondary along with the sugar water and yeast starter. Do not top up but do attach and airlock. Stir daily. When vigor begins to subside, top up. Rack at 30 days, top up and reattach airlock. Wait for wine to clear. If not clear in 60 days rack and add pectic enzyme. Wait 2 days and add another dose of sulfite (Campden or potassium metabisulfite). If you intend to sweeten slightly to off-dry (to no more than 1.004 s.g.) add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate with sulfite and wait 30 days before adding sugar. Wait an additional 30 days to be sure there is no latent fermentation by residual yeast. Rack into bottles when wine clears or after additional time due to sweetening. Cellar wine in cool storage (the bottom of the most central closet in the house if you do not have a basement or cellar) for 2 years. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This looks like a lot of work and is, in fact, more involved than most wines, but the matured wine is worth the effort and you'll be kicking yourself for not starting a batch every year. But remember, 2 years is the minimum aging time; it might take longer.

March 31st, 2014

Time flies and things are returning to normal around here, although I still have more to do than I have time for. I know, I know...join the club.

Relaxing before my presentation at TVOS 2014
Relaxing before my presentation
at TVOS 2014 in Nashville

My thanks to those who attended the 2014 TVOS Conference at Nashville and wrote to comment on my presentation, private conversations or some other aspect of our mutual attendance. I enjoyed my time in Nashville immensely and want to thank Chris and Elizabeth Card for their hospitality and stellar helpfulness.

I had some great conversations with attendees and was very impressed with the knowledge and seriousness of so many people. Of course, I find this at every conference or seminar I attend, as you don't attend these events unless you're serious about the subject.

When it came to viticultural discussions, I was most often the student. As I explained time and time again, I grow some grapes but am not a grape grower. I say this in the sense that the late Lon Rombough used the term in his classic book, The Grape Grower. I started growing grapes to understand the experience, not to become a viticulturist. Most people who grow grapes to make wine with know more about viticulture than do I.

Once again I say to all I met in Nashville, it was a real pleasure spending time with you.

Jack Keller and SARWG President Friench Tarkington (photo by J.D. Leppert, with permission)
SARWG President Friench Tarkington
conducts a Guild business meeting
on my patio while I try to decide
whether to drink wine or coffee....

Nature blessed us on Sunday, March 16th, as the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) met at my home. The latest cold snap dissipated, the previous night's rain moved east and predicted 25-mph winds failed to materialize. The sun darted in and out of clouds and it was a comfortable 60° F. on my patio. Bouts of cold weather had kept the blue bonnets from carpeting my small vineyard (I use that term loosely), but three days later they opened dramatically. Oh well, you can't guarantee everything.

But I could guarantee a fine feed. As I have done for many years, I slow-cooked a brisket in my oven overnight on a bed of onions, liberally rubbed with Cajun spices, and the other members brought a lavish assortment of side dishes and desserts. Over three dozen wines floated around to wash things down. It was a damn fine time.

We were treated to a vertical tasting of Rioja wines by Bonnie Villacampa, an international wine judge who spent a decade in Spain earning her bona fides but now lives in Texas. She studied under one of the most renowned scientists in the Rioja region, has acute olfactory perception and loves everything "wine." Her enthusiasm for the wines she poured was contagious.

Bonnie Villacampa Tarkington (photo by J.D. Leppert, with permission)
Bonnie Villacampa, March 16, 2014

Bonnie quipped, "I am not or ever will be an expert," and then went on to tell us about the wines, their styles, and how each was made or aged as she poured a collection of Tempranillos she brought. She began with an unoaked, nouveau-style LG (de Leza Garcia) and then worked her way through a succession of older oaked and double-oaked (American and French) Cune and Barón de Villacampa, ending with a 10-year old de Villacampa Reserva that earned wide praise.

A 2009 Calatayud Los Rocas Garnacha rounded out the Spanish wines, itself a Tempranillo-core wine. All were good, as not a drop was left in a bottle.

I know that many of our members have long harbored an affection for Tempranillo, but I believe Bonnie's presentation might have swung any on the fence to embrace this rich, dark varietal. It is fruity in its youth, mellows somewhat with age, and yet never fails to deliver a warm and tangy flavor in spades. Not too tannic, not too acidic, the grape finds balance with ease under the guidance of decent winemakers.

I believe Tempranillo is now the most planted grape in Texas where it thrives in the long heat that extends from mid-spring to mid- to late-fall. The grape develops more complexity in American oak than French, where the wood's vanilla and coconut nuances combine well with the natural notes of prunes, chocolate and tobacco found in the grapes of both Rioja and Texas.

Thank you, Bonnie.

 A dead hard drive (photo from www.deadharddrive.com, used under Fair Use Act of 1984)

Sooner or later it's going to happen. Your hard drive is going to crash. When it does, the odds are good you're going to lose everything on it. It's happened to me more times than I care to count, either at home or at work. At work, we were required to backup our data every two weeks. Even then, I occasionally lost valuable, irreplaceable data.

The last time my personal hard drive crashed I had gone several months without backing it up because the external hard drive I used for back-ups was full. With almost 2 terabytes of data, this would have been disastrous had I not had a remote backup of my web sites, blog and favorites, plus my less crucial music, videos, photos, e-books, and other data. That was the day I thanked my lucky stars I had subscribed to Carbonite, the backup service that automatically encrypts and backs up all data files we all collect to a remote location. That day the service paid for itself and I have slept well ever since knowing it works.

Carbonite runs in the background whenever I turn on my computer and automatically backs up new or changed files. It allows me to synchronize files across all my devices (computer, laptop, tablet, smart phone). If (when) I next have a hard drive failure, because of the sheer volume of data I have, I have opted to have my data express shipped to me on a separate drive. The folks at Carbonite walked me through the steps to restore my files and they went to their proper locations.

You may consider this an unashamed commercial plug for Carbonite. The reason I say "commercial" is because I am asking you to consider Carbonite for your own peace of mind, and if you do I ask you to use this link to try the service for free. If you subsequently decide to subscribe (as little as $59 a year -- although my plan is more) both you and I will receive a $20 gift card of choice. I have recommended Carbonite to many without the enticement of a gift card, so that is not why I write this entry.

The important thing is your data will be backed up automatically and remotely without having to worry about your backup drive filling up and missing new data. You can restore your files at will, individually or all at once -- to the same or a new computer -- from any of your connected devices. Few people will need the extra delivery method I have chosen, but if you do it is available (you can upgrade plans at any time).

Consider it, for your own peace of mind and use the link above.

Once in a while someone sees something perceived as undesirable and a little light of inspiration clicks on to convert the undesirable into something desirable. We call this "thinking outside the box" or "inspiration" or any number of things denoting completely new technological application.

Thanks to a Twitter retweet by Ken Alawine Waggoner of a tweet by Spoonflower, I was led to a post on The FIDM Blog by Victoria (not further identified). There is a short (5:12 minutes) video of such an inspiration by Gary Cass. He has devised a way to make seamless, fashionable clothing from wine. Well, sort of.... The Fashion Institute of Design and Manufacturing (FIDM) is pursuing the incredible technology Cass has developed. Learn more in the following video.

(WARNING: Clicking on the links following the video could use up a significant block of time.)

Pretty remarkable, yes? I would like a pair of trousers, 32x29 (inches), in Wrangler boot cut fashion, with or without belt loops, button or zipper fly. But it's got to have pockets.

Understanding the Basics


I received an email that indicated both a real problem and an imagined one. I identified the real problem and offered solutions. At the same time I identified the imagined problem and recommended some reading regarding the basics of winemaking. While I admire those who are gutsy enough to jump right into something new without really understanding what they are doing (the Lord knows I've done this many times), it helps greatly to do a little reading first. Let me help.

Please don't get me wrong. As I said above, I admire those who are gutsy enough to jump right into something new. I made my first liqueur without any idea of how it was supposed to be done and threw it out. I tried to make soap, tan a hide and make wax without any understanding as to how each is done. In my cases, I was trying to reinvent each procedure using very slim clues I had picked up over the years through general reading -- not do-it-yourself or craft books. I did, by accident, reinvent the spinning wheel but totally failed to figure out how to make a loom until I went to the library.

At least the writer I was referring to above had a recipe to follow. Had all gone well there wouldn't have been a problem. But it didn't, there was, and that person had no idea what to do next except seek help. I was able, I think, to steer the novice in the right direction.

I offer here a bit of advice to novices. I have a page called "The Basic Steps." If you read it to the end (it ends with a copyright notice, so if you haven't gotten that far you haven't read it all) and follow the five links representing each step, you'll have a pretty good idea of what is supposed to be happening.

"Using Your Hydrometer" is another essential page, and I strongly suggest you get in the habit right away of recording the beginning specific gravity (s.g.) of every batch you make. There are several reasons for this, all of which help solve real or perceived problems. I'll point out just three that illustrate many emails I've received.

  • If the starting s.g. is higher than the highest s.g. on the chart on the page (hint: it's the number in lower left column on the chart), there is a good chance no fermentation will occur
  • If you get a stuck fermentation, you can subtract the current s.g. from the starting s.g. and determine the current alcohol level, which may be either dangerously low or sufficient to preserve the wine
  • If the final s.g. is a number not on the chart, look for the second chart and see if it is on there (if it is lower than 1.000, indicating a dry wine)

I've posted pages on "Yeast Strains" to help you select an appropriate one. If you're making a country wine (non-grape), you can go to my WineBlog archives and find the entry of October 24th, 2012 and find yeast recommendations for popular fruit and berries.

If you have a real or perceived problem, you can go to my page on "Wine Problems" and see if anything there resonates. Most common problems are there, but not all.

I'll be the first to admit that some things on my site are out of date. In some cases there are contradictions. I learn as I grow older. Just as eggs were good for you, then bad and then good again, my mind gets changed. I am remiss in going back and correcting, but newer posts reflect newer data. Have patience with me and I'll try to have patience with you.

Red Beans and Andouille Sausage Po' Boy

The Metairie Po' Boy (red beans and Andouille sausage), photo courtesy of Ulysses Press/Judi Swinks Photography
The Metairie Po' Boy (Red
Beans and Andouille Sausage
photo courtesy Ulysses Press/Judi
Swinks Photography)

I love a wide variety of foods, but I really, really love Southern food. I was born and spent my pre-teens in Louisiana so I guess it's in my roots. I love Tex-Mex food, but not like I love Cajun/Creole. The very best Cajun/Creole comes out of New Orleans, and in that regard I've got a real treat for you.

From the moment I opened a new cookbook -- The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook by Todd-Michael St. Pierre, a Cajun/Creole foodie and New Orleans native -- I knew I had hit a flavor-laden goldmine.

As I do with every new cookbook, I immediately started thumbing through the recipes before reading the introduction. The very first one, "The Peacemaker" (fried shrimp and oysters), got my salivary glands working.

I quickly skimmed through many famous New Orleans culinary delights: soft shell crab, crawfish étouffée, fried 'gator tail, shrimp rémoulade, fried catfish, crab cakes, Creole meatballs, eggplant parmesan, fried scallops and chipotle, and much more.

Soon I was heading to the supermarket to get ingredients for a variety of feasts.

My first po' boy from the book was "The Jazz Fest" -- stuffed Portobello mushrooms with two cheeses and balsamic vinegar. As I sat down to eat I started reading the introduction. I sure wish I had started there sooner.

Right Up Front

<i>The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook</i>, by Todd-Michael St. Pierre

The introduction tells the history of the po' boy, which is more than just an interesting bit of trivia. It defines the sandwich.

From the very beginning, size was an integral part of the po' boy sandwich. A small po' boy is large by other regions' standards, and in New Orleans large is gigantic. This huge sandwich is history you can eat. The po' boy dates back to 1929, when sandwich-stand owners and brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin offered free overstuffed sandwiches to striking streetcar conductors, whom they referred to as the "poor boys"....

At first, the Martin brothers used regular French bread, but then they asked the folks at John Gendusa Bakery to make the first poor boy loaf, so they would have a better size sandwich bread without narrowed ends to accommodate more filling. Keeping their promise, the Martins provided the striking workers with big, hearty, belly-filling sandwiches. Bennie Martin said, "We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended. Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, 'Here comes another poor boy.'"

I never knew this. But another important feature in the introduction is a recipe for the long rectangular breads essential to good po' boys (crusty, like French bread, but in a different shape). I bought "submarine sandwich rolls" at the supermarket. Eight inches long, they are sufficient for "submarine" or "hero" sandwiches but poor substitutes for a po' boy wrapping. And for a po' boy, the bread is more than just a container for the innards. It is part of the culinary experience.

The Metairie Po' Boy

All of the po' boys in The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook have names. "The Metairie" is named for the town just west of New Orleans, sandwiched (pun intentional) between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. Metairie is the southern terminus of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the 23.87-mile long bridge that still holds the record as the world's longest bridge over open water.

This is the third po' boy I made using the new cookbook and the first I made using my homemade po' boy sandwich breads. It features three ingredients symbolic of Cajun/Creole cuisine -- red beans, andouille sausage and Creole mustard.

Cajun andouille (pronounced an-doo-ee) is a double-smoked, coarse-grained, pork sausage made with smoked Boston Butt roast, garlic, onions, pepper, wine, and other seasonings. After stuffing the casing, the sausage is smoked again. It can be a reddish-brown, plump, slightly moist, lightly smoked sausage or a thinner, dark, dry, heavily smoked and sometimes aged link -- or anything in between.. The Metairie is made from andouille somewhere between the extremes.

I still had some frozen andouille from the 20 pounds I picked up in Lafayette last year, purchased with gumbo as well as red beans and rice in mind. One thawed link, opened with a length-wise butterfly cut, redirected its purpose. The red beans are essentially red beans and rice without the rice. In the South you can buy Creole mustard, or you can make your own (see below).

Don't let the list of ingredients scare you. Making this is easier than it looks. It just takes time.

  • 1 lb dried red beans
  • 8 oz shredded pork (roast or carnitas)
  • 1 tsp olive oil or bacon drippings
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely diced
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tblsp crushed red chili pepper
  • 1 tblsp Cajun or Creole seasoning
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lb andouille sausage
  • 12-inch loaves po' boy French bread rolls
  • Creole mustard (store-bought or homemade*)
  • mayonnaise (optional)

*Homemade Creole mustard

  • 6 tblsp Dijon-style mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco sauce or horseradish spread, to taste

1. Soak the red beans in a bowl overnight, in water at least 1 inch over the beans, discarding any floating beans; rinse after soaking and drain.

2. To get 8 ounces of shredder pork, cook a pork roast or carnitas in a crock pot on low according to the recommended directions of the appliance manufacturer or in 1 cup of beef stock overnight (8-10 hours). After cooking, shred the pork with two forks (all of it or just the amount required) and weigh 8 ounces for recipe and use the rest in another meal.

3. In a sauté pan over medium heat, heat the oil or bacon drippings. Sauté the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large pot over high heat, bring the drained beans and 4 cups fresh water to a boil. As the water reaches a boil, the sautéed vegetables should be finished. Add them to the boiling pot. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in the shredded pork, crushed red pepper and Cajun/Creole seasoning and simmer 45 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.

4. Remove a cup of the red beans, mash them, then return them to the pot and cook for another 30 minutes. During this last half hour, check the red beans, If water remains in the pot, mash up some more beans and blend them in. Remove from heat, covered.

5. Split the sausage down the length without separating the halves and butterfly it (spread it out flat) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the sausage until cooked through (about 8 minutes per side).

6. Place the sausage on the bread (spread mayo on the bread if desired). Stir the chopped parsley into the red beans, stir and place a generous portion on the po' boy. Top with Creole mustard. Cut into 2 sections and serve immediately with coleslaw or another fresh vegetable side..

Because I am still on a portion-control diet, half a po' boy works for me and my wife. If eating alone, saving half for the next day produces soggy bread no longer fit to be eaten as a po' boy but still incredibly delicious (the old saying goes: "Monday means red beans and rice, and on Tuesday they taste twice as nice"). So, when my wife is away I just add a little more of the red beans and Creole mustard to the leftover half the next day, microwave 4 minutes on 30% power (to prevent explosive splatter), and eat with a knife and fork. It is every bit as good, believe me. Finally, if you want to order the book (it will make your taste buds happy), you can ORDER IT HERE.

March 3rd, 2014

I was supposed to fly out of Nashville today, but when I logged onto Southwest Airlines yesterday to get my boarding pass my flight was cancelled due to an ice storm rocking the northern half of the country from coast to coast. I was lucky to get on the last flight to San Antonio last night. I love this global warming. It convinces me that Al Gore deserved his Nobel Prize as much as Barack Obama deserved his.

Unsafe chainsaw technique

When I was a junior officer in the Army, like all junior officers I was appointed many "additional duties." Among those were Company Safety Officer, responsible for motor pool, vehicle, weapons, and training safety. I was also responsible for conducting inquiries when anyone was injured in any manner while performing official or leisurely activities on or off post.

No one person could do all of this, his own duties, and a half dozen or more other appointed additional duties. So I relied on senior NCOs, instructors from higher echelons and consolidating safety training with lateral units. In other words, I managed to fulfill the duties expected of me by delegating much of it to others.

But as a result of this additional duty I became pretty good at surveying an area or situation and spotting unsafe potentialities. That's why this photo shocked me. Can you spot what the soldier is doing wrong?

Right away I realized he was not wearing ear plugs or safety goggles. His hearing and eyesight were both at risk when he pulled that starting handle.

I would hate to be his Safety Officer if he suffered negative consequences.

No need to thank me for this simple risk assessment. I just like to share the fruits of my training.

His master's image

I found the image on the left on Pinterest. It melted my heart. If you own a dog, it will probably melt yours too.

When I got home last night around midnight, my dog went absolutely nuts welcoming me home. I've been gone much longer than I have been on this trip but I never had the homecoming I received last night. I suspect it might have had something to do with the thermometer reading 30 degrees F. on the patio but maybe not. All I know is that I really wanted to get some sleep but she would have none of that. She kept me up until 3 a.m. and even then wanted to play some more. Even with the lights out, every few minutes she would come over and sniff at me to make sure I was still there.

This particular dog was a rescue animal and obviously had experienced some unsettling times before we got her. She would not come into the house and so lived outside regardless of the temperature. Two years ago she escaped our fence and was gone for 10-11 days (I'm not sure which) before I opened the front door and found her almost lifeless body on the front porch. She was malnourished and dehydrated yet too weak to eat or drink. I took her to the vet and he did blood work and started an IV. She had several serious problems, not least of which was tick fever and heart worms. The vet said her chances of surviving were less than 50%.

I was given a host of medications and a syringe with which to feed and medicate her through the mouth until she could take food. I carried her into my computer room and slept on the sofa next to her for just over a month while she recovered. We bonded really strongly during that time and she's been a fair weather outdoor dog ever since, only sleeping inside when the nights are bitter cold or refuse to drop below 90. She loves air conditioning and central heating.

This photo sings to me. If you are a dog person, you know what I mean.

TVOS Conference

Grapes, wine and barrel, from TVOS website
Grapes, wine and barrel, from
TVOS website

At the behest of Chris Card, president of the Tennessee Viticultural and Oenological Society (TVOS), I flew to Nashville last week. Since 1973, TVOS conducts and promotes the art and science of grape growing and winemaking to amateurs and professionals in both fields. Their annual conference, a day-and-a-half affair, has concurrent sessions disseminating information, conducting well-managed tastings and featuring speakers with national and international reputations. I therefore wonder how I ended up on the agenda, but do appreciate the honor. I met some terrific people there last year and expanded that body this year.

I hated to miss Dennis Rak's (Double A Vineyards) discussion of nursery production (they harvest 4,000,000 cuttings a year from plantings of about 100 cultivars!), but I simply could not miss John Watkins' concurrent vertical tasting of "Spicy and Sweet Muscats." The eleven wines tasted were from Spain (Malaga), Greece (Island of Samos), Italy (Asti, Lombardy), United States (California Central Valley), Australia (Murray River, Victoria), Chile (Limari Valley), Romania (Murfatlar), France (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) and offered a wonderful sampling of both still and sparkling wines. I also sat in on John's tasting of "Marvelous, Muscular Malbecs," where ten wines were presented, all but one from Argentina.

It was a pleasure to sit in on two presentations by Ellie Butz, a microbiologist of wide renown currently representing Lallemand and Scott Labs as well as Vintage Winery Consultants. Ellie was involved in the production of the first American freeze dried malolactic bacterial culture in 1979 by Tri Bio Labs. She was encouraged by the late Philip Wagner to establish a wine analysis lab to support the growing eastern wine industry. She spent eight years with Mississippi State University and fifteen with Purdue University in their enology and viticulture programs. She and Dr. Richard Vine ran the Indy International Wine Competition for many years, growing it into the largest in the United States in 2005. I could go on, but let's just say her bona fides are impeccable.

Her presentation on "Techniques for a Better Bouquet with Oak and MLF" was captivating. I wish it had been four or even six hours long as she covered the subjects with broad brush strokes that barely scratched the surface while still presenting much to ponder and apply. Her second presentation, "The Magic Apple: From Hard Cider to Apple Brandy," included a tasting of several commercial products and instilled an appreciation for the mass production of such elixirs.

Dr. David Lockwood, University of Tennessee, discussed "Virus, Insect and Canopy Management," another subject that can barely be surveyed in 75 minutes. David has along history of providing assistance in vineyard preparation and management to growers in Tennessee.

Robert Green discussed the "Enology and Viticulture Program Online," a feature of the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Area Community College open to in- and out-of-state students. This is a serious course, but one can take individual classes for specialized needs if one so desires.

Matthew Germano of Germano Wine Cellars did a presentation on "Building a Modern Wine Cellar." I did not attend this, but know from others that he covered a wide spectrum of options, from closet conversions to full-blown winemaking and cellaring construction, both above and below ground.

Oh, and I spoke about my wine blog and took "email" (questions) from the audience -- which I then tried to answer.

I know I missed some presentations, but did not attend them and so don't feel comfortable writing about them.

Friday evening we were bused to the Nashville Lawn and Garden Show where 21 Tennessee wineries conducted tastings of their products. No one could sample them all and still remain standing, but most of us sure tried. A private hors d'oeuvres feast (and I do mean feast) was most welcome, with ample enough food to serve as a dinner and both buffer and mediate the effects of the wines consumed. A Saturday evening banquet offered more food and a never-ending supply of wines to pair or simply enjoy before and after the meal. It was a great trip, even if I had to scramble to leave a day early and missed seeing Nashville's more famous sights and eateries.

Top Topics

Top Topics

Last week I was reviewing the top topics clicked on through my rss feed, Twitter posts and Facebook mentions.

Frankly, I was surprised by the top topics, and this got me wondering about the topics mentioned in emails. In January 2013 I started creating files for email mentions of blog entries, so all I had to do was count them. It took a heck of a lot longer than I thought it would, but once again the results were surprising.

Since most items I post in my blog have unique addresses within the page (this one is page url + #030314B -- #030314A is the entry on the TVOS Conference), it is easy for me to track what people click on and what they don't. But I've really never tallied them up until now. I might do this again some day. It was interesting to me. Your mileage may vary.

Without going into the actual numbers (boring information), the top topics clicked on during the 14 months of January 2013 through February 2014 were (there was a tie for number 4):

#1 Aug 06,2013: What is a Native Grape?
#2 Apr 30, 2013: Serious Home Winemakers
#3 Feb 18, 2014: The Panty-Dropper (Orange Wine)
#4 Apr 24, 2013: 5 Tips for Winning Home Wine Competitions
#4 Jul 15, 2013: Apple Pie Moonshine
#5 Apr 11, 2013: Black Raspberry Wine
#6 May 04, 2013: 5 Snacks for Belly Fat Weight Loss

Since the number 3 topic was only posted two weeks ago, I can only surmise the title and lead-in had something to do with it's traffic. Number 2 is about my trip to Rochester, NY as the guest of the Rochester Area Home Winemakers and I suspect most of the clicks were by members of the club, with many being multiple clicks. Since I have said several times that the best wine I ever made and my favorite wine of all -- grape or non-grape, sweet or dry -- is black raspberry, I think this may have had something to do with the popularity of number 5. Only number 1 was a real surprise, but a pleasant one to me. I love working with real native grapes. If you can make good wine with them, you should be able to make fabulous wine with Vitis vinifera varieties.

Tallying up my emails was even more surprising, as the top three were items I posted in my introductory comments and were not named entries. They were:

#1 Feb 08, 2014: Intro piece on Federal Budget and Entitlements
#2 Apr 11, 2013: Intro piece on my father&apos;s passing
#3 Dec 31, 2013: Intro piece on Bob Hope
#4 Jul 15, 2013: Apple Pie Moonshine
#5 Apr 30, 2013: Review of Inside of A Dog
#6 Jul 11, 2013: The Relevance of pH in Wine

A friend told me he sent out an email referencing number 1 and I suspect it got forwarded more than a few times. All but a few thanked me for pointing out what I did. A few of the exceptions were from people living on entitlements who basically told me where to go....

The emails on number 2 were all -- every one of them -- emails of sympathy and condolence and I appreciated every one of them. Many of the email regarding number 3 were veterans who shared memories of Bob Hope touring his or her base -- the man is very beloved by veterans. Most of the emails regarding number 4 were tweaks people applied to the recipe or they shared different recipe versions altogether.

Without exception, emails for number 5 were by dog lovers, with most of the email received 3-5 weeks after my review of the book appeared, although I still get an email about the book every couple of weeks.

Number 6 is the only one of the top six about winemaking, which surprised me. However, the relevance of pH in wine is so important that it didn't surprise me it generated the most emails about winemaking. About a third were from people with a better grounding in chemistry than myself and I'm pleased to announce that only one of them said I didn't understand the subject very well. I suspect the others were just too polite to say it....

February 25th, 2014

I need to apologize once again. I have spent the last few days attending to pressing personal business. Some of it was personal, some medical, some pertaining to commitments I have made, and some of it was (and continues to be) legal. As a result, I have not worked on a WineBlog entry.

When I go more than a week without posting an entry I start getting email asking that I post something. I'm sorry, but life simply trumps this blog. It's in my face without an on/off or pause option.

Because I have a speaking engagement in Nashville I won't be able to work on an entry until next week. Again, my apologies.

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February 18th, 2014

Thanks to television -- a marvelous technology we all take for granted -- I'm really enjoying the Winter Olympics. The athletes are wonderful. Many know they don't really have a chance to win a medal, but they give it the best they can on their particular day and that's all anyone can do. The medalists get the glory, but they all -- each and every one of them -- can glow in the satisfaction of knowing that they are Olympians.

Each athlete survived his or her nation's selection process and they competed -- for themselves and for their nations. Despite their numbers, very, very few people in the world can claim that. Their moments of competition, regardless of the outcome, will form memories that will survive their entire lives. Some that I witnessed will survive mine.

In 50-60 years each that still lives can hold his or her head high and say, "I was an Olympian." I applaud them all. And thanks to television I can say that.

The Real West television series

Speaking of the Winter Olympics on television, I like to watch history programs as well. One of the series I very much appreciate is The Real West, a series that first aired 69 episodes in 1992-96. I enjoy the reruns, which are running on History Channel, MSN and A&E.

Hosted by the incomparable Kenny Rogers, The Real West was a history lover's series. Every episode was packed with facts, stories, legends and myths surrounding just about every aspect of the old west. It highlighted the early explorers, the Native Americans, famous and not so famous characters, battles, movements, towns -- just about everything you can think of and much you can't.

One of the things about the series I have always loved is the opening of each episode. Against the backdrop of beautiful vistas, an unknown Native American elder recites what I have always thought was a paragraph of the memoirs of some famous chief. I searched unsuccessfully for some time for this quotation and only tracked it down a few days ago. It is part of a song called "We'eyekin" -- the guardian spirit of the Nez Perce nation. What follows is the first part of the song. The portion quoted in the series begins with the third line.

One time the wind blew free and there
was nothing to break the light of the sun.
In a past that is now lost forever
there was a time when land was sacred
and the ancient ones were as one with it.
A time when only the children
of the Great Spirit were here.
to light their fires in these places with no boundaries,
when the forests were as thick as the fur of
the winter bear and a warrior could walk
from horizon to horizon on the backs of the buffalo,
when the deserts were in bloom
and the streams pure as freshly fallen snow.
And during that time when there were only simple ways,
I saw with my heart the conflicts to come,
and whether it was to be for good or bad,
what was certain was that there would be change.

The Real West seems dated today, not in the history but in the presentation. Although it was only 18 years ago that its last episode first aired, in those 18 years computer graphics, special effects and reenactments have become the norm of historical documentaries. Even so, the episodes are so loaded with information that any true lover of history will excuse the dust of technology's advance and accept them for what they are -- chapters of change, sometimes profound, sometimes not, but always legendary.

There are songs and there are instrumentals. Among the instrumentals there are a few -- a very rare few -- that are so pure in sound, so stripped of non-essential accompaniment, that they are perfect just as they are. They are also timeless. In 1959 Santo and Johnny performed "Sleepwalk", the very epitome of what I am referring to.

A year earlier Natalico and Antenor Lima, better known as Los Indios Tabajaras, recorded an instrumental version of a 1932 Spanish song called "Maria Elena." Their recording was not released in the U.S. until late 1962, where it rose to number 6 in Billboard's pop chart and number 3 in Billboard's easy listening chart. Please do your ears a favor and click on this recording.

I remember this song from my childhood. My mother frequently played a 78 rpm version of it by Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra, with lyrics sung by Bob Eberly, recorded in 1941 -- before I was even conceived. I still remember that version, but it was so fully orchestrated that the skeletal core of the song is difficult to identify. Los Indios Tabajaras' version strips away the orchestration and reveals the essence of the song beautifully.

My thanks to Leon Cross for tossing me this link to reminisce over and share.

Fermentation Products

One possible pathway for the fermentation of glucose into ethanol and carbon dioxide
One possible pathway for the
fermentation of glucose into
ethanol and carbon dioxide

A winemaker asked what exactly is produced as a result of fermentation. He knew that alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced at roughly 51.3 and 48.7 percentiles respectively, but what of the other fermentation products such as glycerol and higher alcohols? Excellent question, the answer to which is neither simple nor fully understood.

The 18th century Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, demonstrated that sugar is transformed through fermentation into alcohol and carbon dioxide and led him to the startling conclusion that "Matter cannot be created or destroyed," but simply transformed. Following Lavoisier's death Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac determined that the fermentation of sugar results in 51.34% alcohol and 48.66% carbon dioxide.

Louis Pasteur later established that fermentation is more complex than previously thought and that Gay-Lussac's equation only accounts for about 90% of the sugar transformed. The rest is converted into other substances. No list of these substances will probably ever be complete, as more are discovered every year.

Emile Paynaud noted:

The chemical mechanism of sugar fermentation is incredibly complex. The diagram of the most important transformations comprises no less than 30 or so successive reactions, bringing into play a great many enzymes. You might say enzymes are the tools of the yeasts adapted to one stage of the transformation. Each reactions necessitates a specific tool, a different enzyme. The by-products...are somewhat like the remnants of these multiple reactions.
-- Emile Peynaud, Knowing and Making Wine, 1981

For many years it was thought that the active mechanism for alcoholic fermentation was the enzyme zymase. Even today writers incorrectly attribute fermentation to zymase. But zymase is not a lone enzyme but a complex of enzymes. Twelve (but not all) of the enzymes involved are listed below in the order they are activated by the yeast:

  • hexokinase
  • phosphoglucoisomerase
  • phosphofructokinase
  • diphosphofructo aldolase
  • triose phosphate isomerase
  • glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase
  • phosphoglycerate kinase
  • phosphoglyceric mutase
  • enolase
  • pyruvate kinase
  • pyruvate decarboxylase
  • alcohol dehydrogenase

Not all yeast species possess the same enzymes. One species may ferment one sugar but not another, and there are sugars which are not fermentable by any known yeast. Winemakers and brewers use species that perform the fermentations we desire. Other enzymes that may be activated for particular catalytic or metabolic needs are (in order of potential importance):

  • sucrase (also known as invertase)
  • maltase (also known as glucase)
  • lactase
  • hexosephosphatase
  • reductase
  • carboxylase
  • melibiase
  • endo-tryptase
  • proteolyptic enzymes (also known as the proteinase enzyme group)

You don't have to understand any of this to make wine. However, if you do understand it conceptually you will realize what miracles yeast are to possess an enzyme toolkit that ferments sugar. Without enzymes, there would be no fermentation and no wine. Remember, the yeast make the wine.

Peynaud identified the following primary components produced from the fermentation of sugar in water. The list is by no ways complete, as the final entry, " Many trace by-products", is a great many and more are identified all the time. Further, when you add the biochemistry of grapes to the fermenting mass you introduce a very rich environment for hundreds of more by-products. Well over 1,000 components of wine have been detected, so the list below for the fermentation of sugar in water seems sparse.

Products Formed By The Fermentation of 170 Grams of Sugar

from Peynaud, 1981


Mean mg/L


Mean mg/L

Ethyl alcohol
Carbon dioxide
Succinic acid
Butylene glycol
Acetic acid
Lactic acid


Higher alcohols
Citramalic acid
Pyruvic acid
x-ketoglutamic acid
Ethyl acetate
Many trace by-products


The above numbers are approximations. Much work has been done since 1981 and fermentation of "sugar" allows some variation as there are a great many kinds of sugar even sucrose can have variable compositions.

Also, the original data for the above table presumes a test sample with 2 grams of residual yeast in the sample (whether live or dead is not revealed). If the sample were not subsequently racked and the yeast lees allowed to undergo autolysis (sur lie aging) with periodic stirring, additional by-products would appear, the most notable being mannoproteins (e.g. mannose), polysaccharides and some glucose -- the first associated with aromatics, mouthfeel, body, and a softening of astringency from tannins; the second possibly affecting mouthfeel (the jury is still out on this); but the latter making the wine susceptible to spoilage bacteria if not biologically stabilized (e.g.with sulfites or prolonged cold storage).

The actual percentages of alcohol and carbon dioxide resulting from the fermentation of sugar is thus not yet known, at least I have not found a recent revision of the Gay-Lussac equation. I think it unlikely to be his 51.34% alcohol and 48.66% carbon dioxide, but if a revision exists I have not yet run across it and I have eleven 3-ring binders of scientific papers specific to sugar fermentation by yeast. If you have a revised equation and a cited source, please (even pretty please) email me.

The Panty-Dropper (Orange Wine)

Cointreau, the secret ingredient in this wine

In 2004 I made an orange wine with a small amount of orange liqueur added. I offered some to a visiting friend and he talked me out of a bottle before heading home to Georgia. Some weeks later he called and suggested I change the name to "The Panty-Dropper" for reasons your imagination will have to fill in. When I went to post the recipe a few weeks later I couldn't find it. I just ran across it last night (I had used it as a place marker in one of my 3-ring binders on yeast) and decided to share it.

First, a word about oranges. If you can get Valencia oranges, get 'em. They are the staple orange juice orange. Navel oranges just don't convey the same flavor. If you cannot find Valencia oranges, you can use pure orange juice (no pulp, no preservatives) in lieu of the oranges and water. Check the specific gravity because the sugar requirement will be very different.

Second, a word about the orange liqueur. I used Cointreau. The only other liqueur I would use is Triplum Triple Sec Orange. These two liqueurs are very well balanced between bitter orange and sweetness, with a perfect blend of spices that complement the orange. Cointreau is 80 proof and Triplum is 78 proof. Triplum costs about half of what Cointreau costs, but the higher price is worth it. No substitutes! If you can't do it right, don't do it.

The Panty Dropper (Orange Wine) Recipe

Read the above first.

Valencia oranges have seeds which must be removed before placing in a blender. Chopped orange seeds will make the wine almost undrinkable. Also, these oranges will have varying sugar content, so after adding water and allowing the juice to blend be sure to measure the specific gravity and calculate the exact amount of sugar to raise the specific gravity to 1.100. You my not get the same number that I did.

Finally, do NOT add the liqueur until you are ready to bottle the wine. The secret is to allow it to blend with the wine without any further air contact until poured to drink.

  • 6 lbs very ripe Valencia oranges
  • 1 lb 10 oz extra fine granulated sugar (check hydrometer to be sure)
  • 3 qt water
  • 9 oz Cointreau or Triplum Triple Sec Orange
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • Campden tablets (or potassium metabisulfite)
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt Red Star Premier Curvee, Lalvin BA11 or ICV-D47 wine yeast

Use very ripe oranges only. They will be softer to the grip. Put two quarts of water on to boil. Meanwhile, peel the oranges and remove all the white pith (it is bitter and will ruin the wine). Break the oranges into sections and remove all seeds and discard them. Drop the sections and any free-run juice in a blender or food processor and liquefy (you may have to add a cup of water to the blender). Pour the liquefied oranges into a fine-mesh nylon straining bag (or sanitized nylon stocking) in the primary and tie it closed. Add the sugar, tannin and yeast nutrient to the primary. Add boiling water and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Add an additional quart of water, cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to room temperature, add yeast.

Ferment 7-10 days and remove bag, squeezing to extract juice from pulp. Transfer to secondary, add 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet (or 1/16 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite), top up and fit airlock. Rack every 30 days and again after additional 30 days, adding additional Campden tablet (or potassium metabisulfite) and 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate at 2nd racking. Wait 10 days and sweeten to taste. Wait additional 30 days to be sure fermentation does not continue.

Add one shot (1 1/2 ounces) of orange liqueur to each bottle (5 bottles for one gallon) and one shot to the wine. Now carefully rack into the bottles and apply corks or screwcaps. Age at least 6 months (one year is better) before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

I can neither confirm nor deny the effects this wine may have on a woman that caused my friend to suggest the name. He may have just gotten lucky. However, it is easy to drink too much.

February 8th, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor and director, dead at age 46

Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor and director, dead at age 46 from an overdose of heroin -- what a senseless waste of a talented life! He wanted to escape the real world with heroin and he did. If you play with fire, sooner or later you're going to get burned.

When I was 19 a fairly good friend of mine over-dosed on heroin in a motel in Long Beach, California. A year later, a very close friend -- a genius in mathematics and destined to be a world class chess player -- also went bye-bye on heroin. Then many of my heroes in the music world began checking out. There's a lesson to be learned here.

Sticking a needle in your arm to find escape is stupidity, as is doing it "just to see what it's like."

About 30 years ago in San Francisco I ran into an old friend from Southern California who said he was living on the street. We went to a diner I liked and had a late lunch. While eating, he confessed he had a heroin problem and could use some money and a place to crash. I dodged the money and housing issues by instead telling him about a free clinic I knew of where they could steer him into a free rehab program. When he flatly declined this course, I asked him how he ever got hooked on heroin. He said that he became curious as to what it felt like and tried it once just to find out. One fix led to another and now....

I paid for the meal but did not give him any money or offer him a spare bed. His problem was self-inflicted and I wanted no part of it other than take him to get medical help. Besides, I knew if I gave him so much as a dollar or a one-night stay I would never be rid of him and his expensive addiction. We are all challenged by countless crucial choices in life and when it came to heroin he made the wrong one. So did Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The national debt ceiling was last raised on October 17, 2013, and technically expired yesterday, but at the last minute Treasury Secretary Jack Lew discovered "special accounting maneuvers" to continue paying the nation's bills until February 27. Can you imagine going to your credit card issuer(s) every few months and asking them to raise your credit limit because you don't have as much money as you'd like to spend? As you will see below, unless Congress takes some painful measures sooner or later to reform spending, entitlements and taxes, the debt ceiling will have to be raised until the United States goes bankrupt or ceases to exist, whichever comes first. I'm betting on bankruptcy.

The largest element of the current and future debt is called entitlements.

Entitlements commonly refers to benefits to which we are entitled to as taxpayers or citizens/residents. Some entitlements are earned by virtue of our investment through payroll taxes, such as Social Security and Medicare. Some are not paid for through payroll taxes but out of general revenues, such as Medicaid, Obamacare subsidies, Section 8 housing, SNAP/food stamps, student loan subsidization, and other welfare programs which you do not earn but rather qualify for.

But there are other entitlements we don't easily think of unless we receive them. Buried within Social Security is a largely unfunded series of additional entitlements for the disabled, widows and orphans. Medical care and disability compensation for veterans are earned through their service, as well as potential lower home loan rates and educational benefits. Another layer of entitlements are paid for by employers, such as federal and state unemployment, worker's compensation and disability insurance.

While a large segment of uninformed U.S. citizens think entitlements could easily be paid for if only defense spending were reduced sufficiently, the fact is that in 1976 entitlement spending exceeded defense spending and never looked back. In 2012 entitlement spending was more than twice defense spending, and that was after all U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq. And the rise in entitlements has only just begun. By 2045 just four programs (Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare subsidies, Medicaid) will devour all revenue of the United States.

Medicare is adding to federal deficits faster than any other government program. Retiring baby boomers (yes, I'm one of them), an aging population and rising healthcare costs are driving this escalating rise. The second high-riser is Social Security, which began running deficits in 2010, paying out that year $48.9 billion more than taken in through payroll taxes and rising. Without reform, these deficits will only grow and grow and grow and never end.

Only bold, transformational spending, entitlement and tax reforms, a reduction in the size and scope of government, policies that facilitate economic growth, and personal responsibility can reduce spending to sustainable levels and end deficits without raising taxes to onerous levels. In short, the nation needs to regain a sense of fiscal responsibility.

None of us (I hope) manages our personal finances the way the government does. National debt will probably never be completely erased, but it badly needs to be brought under control.

Not only is the government strapping our future generations with crushing obligations which can never be paid for with taxes, its irresponsible behavior also threatens each of us. As we have seen in Greece, Spain, Italy and other countries that embraced the mirage of unending "free" entitlements, when you run out of other people's money that house of cards collapses. Ours grows shakier every day.

Much, but not all, of the information here was summarized from a blog entry by Tyler Durden, linked to at the end of today's entry. In it he lays out the problems and debunks the several popular fixes habitually circulating -- cutting discretionary spending, reducing (and even totally eliminating) defense spending, letting tax cuts expire, taxing the wealthy, raising taxes on everyone, etc. It is worth visiting.

Strawberry wine with pulp cap

I get some great questions on my Facebook page. One came to me from Tiffany Barnes Blickhan on February 2nd with the accompanying photo. She asked, "Can you please tell me what is going on with my strawberry wine?" Naturally, I wanted to know the particulars involved. After several exchanges, the important clues were as follows:

This was started on January 13, and fruit removed on January 20. Racked into secondary on Jan 21. Red Star Montrachet active dry wine yeast.... No pectic enzymes were used.

The fruit fermentation was fine. Strawberry tends to fall apart quickly and a seven-day fermentation is guaranteed to break it down pretty good. Leaving the wine in the primary longer after removing the fruit would have allowed the very fine pulp to form a thin cap which could have been skimmed off before racking. Instead, Tiffany transferred the wine to secondary the next day and the fine pulp with it. The result was the mass of fine pulp that the rising CO 2 pushed to the top.

The ropiness of the pulp at the very top might be caused by yeast clumping with the pulp but more likely involves pectin. It is difficult to say for sure as this is a young wine for ropiness to develop in, but it looks right. If she racks this wine quickly, leaving the pulpy mass behind, the wine should recover fine.

Leaving the mass will reduce the volume. I suggested topping up with water (will dilute the alcohol, color, flavor, body), another suitable wine (if no strawberry is available, then a fruity rosé would work) or fruit juice (strawberry would be preferable). A fruit juice would restart fermentation but shouldn't take too long and would rebuild the wine.

All in all, this is not a serious problem. It looks worse than it really is.

The above analysis of Tiffany's strawberry wine raised the question of how much fermentation pulp contact is enough or too much? That very much depends on the fruit being fermented as well as other factors.

In the case of strawberries, kiwi, certain pears, paw-paws, or aggregate berries like blackberries, raspberries and their cousins -- fruit that yeast will quickly reduce to disintegrating pulp -- one should monitor the condition of the fruit or berries and remove them before they completely fall apart. Usually 5 days is long enough but the table below also applies.

For fruit or berries that tend to hold together more completely during fermentation, there are several factors that influence how long to allow them to remain with the must. These factors should help influence a decision for either short pulp contact or long pulp contact.

Shorter Pulp Contact

Longer Pulp Contact

Ripe or over-ripe
Strong color in skin / pulp
High tannin in skin / seeds
Low or marginal acidity
No or low sulfiting
Room temperature fermentation
Short-lived wine with little or no aging

Under-ripe or just becoming ripe
Lighter than expected skin / pulp color
Weak to moderate tannin in skin / seeds
High acidity
Aseptic level of sulfiting
Low temperature fermentation
Long-lived, aged wine

Some fruit or berries can be pressed after being removed from fermentation but many are too fragile when removed to survive pressing -- peaches, nectarines, apricots, figs, quinces, etc. The condition of the pulp as well as the table above should dictate when to remove it.

The table above applies to grapes as well as fruit and other berries. I hope you find it useful.

Concord-Elderberry Wine

Concord grapes
Concord grapes ready for the

Elderberries make an excellent wine by themselves but, like most wines, when blended with another base seems to excel. The elderberry contributes color, tannin and complexity to the blending base while mellowing and melding into the flavors contributed by the other. By request, I share a Concord-elderberry mixed fermentation yielding 5 gallons.

I am still aging an elderberry-Concord blend which is now 9 years old. I blended 4.5 gallons of elderberry wine (from a 5-gallon batch made with 3.5 gallons of elderberries -- I never weighed them) and 1.5 gallons of Concord (from two 1-gallon batches made from concentrate). The recipe below uses Concord grapes and frozen elderberries. You can use fresh elderberries if they happen to ripen at the same time as your Concord grapes.

This (below) is a good recipe. The wine can be drank young or allowed to age -- or both. The elderberries will give it good color.

If you want to eliminate the water and use more Concord grapes, about 54-60 pounds of grapes should do it, but you're on your own from there. Having not done it, I can't offer adjustments to the other ingredients but they will be minor except for the sugar.

In the recipe below, a cool, dark place does not mean a winter garage or unheated winter cellar, but rather an interior closet or other place out of direct sunlight. If you do not have a dark interior closet, at least cover the primary loosely with a blanket or other covering.

Concord-Elderberry Wine Recipe

  • 5 lbs frozen and thawed elderberries.
  • 24 lbs fresh or frozen Concord grapes
  • 8 lbs 4 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 gal water (approximate)
  • 2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 3/4 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp potassium metabisulfite
  • 3 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

Put 1 gallon water on to boil. Meanwhile, crush grapes and elderberries in primary. When water boils, turn off heat and stir in sugar until dissolved, cover and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, sprinkle potassium metabisulfite over the fruit, add 1 1/2 gallons of water, stir well with wooden spoon and cover the primary. When sugar-water cools to approximately 105-115 degrees F., pour into primary, stir and re-cover the primary. Set primary in a cool, dark place for 12 hours total from when potassium metabisulfite is added. Begin a yeast starter solution separately. At the 12-hour mark stir in pectic enzyme, acid blend and yeast nutrient and set aside in cool, dark place for an additional 12 hours. Add yeast starter solution into the must. Cover the primary and set aside in a cool, dark place.

Punch down the cap and stir the must twice daily. When vigorous fermentation subsides, strain off and press pulp, transferring all liquid to a 5-gallon carboy. Do not top up. Attach airlock and allow to ferment to dryness. Wait additional week and rack into a sanitized carboy. Top up as needed with water and reattach airlock. Set aside in a cool, dark place for 45 days. Rack, stabilize with 1/4 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite and 2 1/2 teaspoons potassium sorbate, dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water, top up, and reattach airlock. Set aside in cool, dark place for 30 days. Sweeten to taste as desired and set aside an additional 30 days. Carefully rack into bottles and wait 3 months before consuming. Will improve considerably with age. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

When I made this wine (1998) the grapes were sweet but the elderberries were not, so I used a lot of sugar. My advice is to measure the specific gravity after crush and work from there. As you add water, continue measuring specific gravity and adjust.

Red Beans and Rice

Red beans and rice, with ham hocks and sausage
Red beans and rice, with ham
hocks and sausage

Many people have written me offering to write guest entries. I always decline, not because I don't respect them but because this is my blog. If I want to incorporate others' content I'll do it my way. That way you can only blame me if something is wrong or you disagree. But the following entry is not mine. It was written by my brother Barry and my only contribution is very minor editing. It is his own recipe for a Cajun/Creole favorite, Red Beans and Rice.

Barry's Red Beans and Rice
by Barry Keller

It's Monday, you're in New Orleans. You go to a neighborhood restaurant. You order the day's special. It will be red beans and rice. On Monday, it always is. Some say it started as a way to use the ham bone left from Sunday's dinner. Others say it started so that a Creole housewife could do her Monday washing while the beans simmered on the stove. I don't know if either of these origins of the red beans and rice Monday tradition is true, I only know you haven't lived till you've tasted real red beans and rice. This one is a real treat for your taste buds.


  • 1 lb dry red beans
  • Water
  • 6 large ham hocks (3-1/2 to 4 lbs) or two ham shanks (3-1/2 to 4 lbs)
  • 1 lb sausage (Andouille is preferred, but pork kielbasa works just as well, cut diagonally into 3/4-inch chunks)
  • 2-1/2 cups finely chopped celery
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 2 cups finely chopped green bell peppers
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp white pepper
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 1-1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1-1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1-1/2 tsp basil
  • 1-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
  • 4-1/2 cups cooked, long-grain white rice

Ham hocks
Ham hocks are loaded with flavor,
but should be trimmed of skin and
fat for this dish


Soak beans overnight in a large pot of water. The water should be an inch or two above the beans.

The next day, into a large saucepan or Dutch oven, dump the ham hocks, the vegetables, the spices and 10 cups of water. Stir, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour or so. Remove the ham hocks and set aside.

Drain the beans and add them to the pot along with 6 more cups of water. Cover and simmer for an hour more, stirring occasionally (more often toward the end of the hour). Stir in the sausage and let it simmer until the beans start to fall apart, 30 minutes or so. Scrape the pan sides and the bottom often to keep the beans from sticking and burning. If it becomes too dry, add in a little more water. At this same time, start cookin' that rice! Add the ham hocks back in and heat for 10 more minutes. If there are hunks of fat in the ham hocks, keep them out. If using ham shanks, remove the bones and anything else that doesn't look too edible. You really just want the meat.

OK, there is another way to make this which is how I always do it anyway. Soak the beans in a crock pot as above and pour out the extra water the next morning. Add all ingredients (except the rice) into the crock pot. Cover and simmer all dang day long (8 to 10 hours). Pull out the extra fat and/or bones.

To serve, plop a big serving o' rice onto a plate. Smother with red beans. Make sure there are generous portions of ham and sausage on the plate. This is hot and spicy. A beer goes really great with it. Your mouth will think it has died and gone to heaven!

You can also make this without the sausage, but I never do.

End of Barry's Recipe

I never leave out the sausage either. It just isn't right without it. And Barry is right about the crock pot and the wonderful things this dish does to the taste buds.

Barry shared his recipe many years ago after working years to perfect it. I've played with green and red bell peppers and increasing the garlic and the cayenne pepper -- even replacing the latter with ground chipotle -- without improving it. This recipe simply works, and if you're really hungry serve it with a slice or two of buttered French bread and a salad on the side.

And please, don't ruin it by adding tomatoes or tomato products. This is a tomato-free dish. Save the tomatoes for your salad.

January 31st, 2014

It has been a long hiatus since my last entry -- an entire month. I sincerely apologize, but life happened and was demanding. Unexpected projects around the homestead, another medical problem, my wife's automobile accident in California -- all conspired to compete for my attention. I have a couple of trips planned in the near future and some other writing commissions I'm obligated to, but hope they will not upset my posting schedule as much as the last few weeks have. Despite whatever else I am doing, this blog is always on my mind.

I have discarded my New Year greeting and a couple of other introductory vignettes I had written for the blog, but have kept three and added one (on the weather). None of these are related to winemaking so you can skip them if you wish to without hurting my feelings.

You have no way to know this unless I confess it, but I often write many more introductory pieces than I keep. Something attracts my attention and I write about it, but if I posted them all there would be no room for winemaking, so I discard many.

But I do hope you all enjoyed your holidays. They are so important to maintaining close relationships. I do regret my influenza bout kept me quarantined but hope your experience was more rewarding.

Just as I was preparing to post this last night (January 30) my website disappeared. I called the hosting support team and they indicated a 10-24-hour restoration period. I have already received 2 emails, a Tweet and a Facebook message reporting the site is down, but I just checked and it is up once again. These things happen.

<i>Burn Notice</i> cast (l to r) Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar
Burn Notice cast (l. to r.)
Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell,
Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar

I'm a big fan of Burn Notice, the 7-season series that ran on USA Network from June 2007 through September 2012 and now is being rerun onIon Television. When the series first aired I had mixed feelings about it. The premise that, "When you're burned...you're stuck in whatever city they dump you in" insulted my intelligence. But once I actually got past that line in the pilot (and the introduction of every episode), I warmed up to the series itself. There are many reasons.

For starters, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) is easy on the eyes, even eyes with macular degeneration. Especially in a bikini. Then there are the gratuitous shots of hot babes in bikinis in most episodes, but now I'm repeating myself.

The two real reasons I like it are (1) the scenarios are multi-layered, pretty creative, often using McGyver-like ingenuity, and downright entertaining, and (2) the narratives by Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) are loaded with good (and quite real) trivia, statistics and tradecraft (spycraft, to the uninitiated). So good, in fact, that the Agency's (no one has called it "the Company" in decades except bad writers) Studies in Intelligence, a classified publication I received at work for about 24 years, featured a positive review of the series several years ago and specifically applauded the tradecraftsmanship (new word -- I just made it up) Weston employs. You can't get a better endorsement than that.

The acting is good but not appreciated. Its only Emmy Award nomination for acting was Sharon Gless (plays Madeline Weston) in the category of "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama." I personally think Bruce Campbell (as Sam Axe) was deserving in the 2011 prequel movie, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe Although Jeffrey Donovan is solid in every episode, the scripts do not allow him to be anything other than Michael Weston, burned spy. Pity.

Season one is screening now on Ion. Season two should be starting soon. Hell, maybe they've already transitioned into season two. In either case it's worth watching if you like action adventure and very creative plots. Check your cable or wireless provider for Ion Television and look for it in the schedule (Thursdays). I record them for convenient viewing.

<i>Thank The Lord, He Only Made One Like You</i>, by Bob Wehner

Bob Wehner is a friend of my wife and me and a lifetime member of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild. He's a caring and remarkable man. He recently published his memoirs and I was the first to post a review on Amazon. That review follows.

Thank the Lord, He Made Only One Like You! (Paperback)

Review by Jack Keller: 5 stars
Entertaining journey over time with a man who has lived a full life

Bob Wehner happens to be a friend of mine, but I'll try not to let that fact bias my review. Over the years I've heard many of the stories in "Thank the Lord, He Made Only One Like You!", but reading them, fleshed out as they are, was like hearing them for the first time.

Bob's memoirs attest to a full and blessed life and is broken down into four parts. Part I covers highlights from his depression era and Word War II childhood years and includes collecting autographs and meeting movie legends of the time -- Glenn Ford even gave him a ride home -- while spending a summer in California (Lookout California), witnessing a suicide after a double murder (A Hot Summer Day), to hearing personal stories of Charles Lindbergh from family friends (More Boyhood Memories), walking into his aunt's house after being reported dead (Stranger Than Fiction), and other memories.

Part II then jumps to his service days, participating in an airlift to get hay to snowbound cattle during one of the worst blizzards in Arizona's history (Operation Haylift), participating in the Berlin Airlift (The Berlin Airlift, and other chapters), to his days as a submariner when he was instrumental in the first submarine penetration of Puget Sound aboard the USS Sea Devil using a ruse (Aw, C'mon, Get Real), serving with the man who dove in to rescue Lt. George H. W. Bush from the waters off Chichi Jima (Far East Bound), and living through a battery fire in a Mark 47 electric torpedo (Torpedo Nightmare).

Back in civilian life (Part III), Bob recounts how he became the youngest Dairy Queen owner in the country (at age 22), his marriage to Kay -- a Miss Missouri contestant -- (The Big Wedding), his tenacity at securing a job with Cessna (The Cessna Adventure), engine trouble while flying over Arkansas (The Longest Ten Minutes of My Life), and many personal stories about life, marriage and parenting which are both interesting and inspiring. They reveal the kind and decent people we know the Wehners have always been.

The Final part of the book is a testament to Bob's love for his wife of 50 years and 5 weeks. We attended their 50th anniversary only recently aware that Kay had been diagnosed with incurable cancer two months before. Five weeks later she passed away while taking a nap. Knowing Bob as I do, I weep for him when reading the final chapters. His love never waivered and has not diminished since her passing.

There are stories missing but their absence doesn't take away from the book. I suspect Bob simply got tired of writing.

This is a very good book to read, filled with wonder as seen through the eyes of a boy, with service as seen through the eyes of a sailor and submariner, with daring and determination as seen through the eyes of a young man, with love and devotion as seen through the eyes of a husband and father. I recommend it to anyone who likes reading about living with values. You don't have to know Bob to appreciate a life well lived.

If you want to buy the book, click on the picture above (currently only available at Amazon.com), order it, read it, and write a review. Or, order it HERE.

I have twice posted videos of performances of "Nella Fantasia" on this blog -- on December 30, 2011 by Sung-bong Choi, and on March 7, 2012 by Sarah Brightman. I'm posting yet another performance of that song, both because I love the song and I love the performer.

I'm not sure where or when this was performed, but I wish I had been there. Whenever it was, the performer was still young, being only 13 years old as I write this. Born Jacqueline Maria (but known to all as "Jackie") Evancho, this young lady will turn 14 on April 9th of 2014. Think about that as you watch this performance.

Jackie Evancho has released 6 albums (her first, Prelude to a Dream, was withdrawn from distribution by her parents after her appearance on America's Got Talent and is now a collector's item). O Holy Night, released in 2010, debuted No. 2 on Billboard 200, No. 1 on Billboard's Classical Albums and No. 2 on Billboard's Holiday Albums. It went platinum in 3 1/2 weeks, making Evancho the youngest solo artist ever to go platinum. Her subsequent albums had similar successes. She is an amazing performer and I expect her to be around for a long, long time.

Back on September 29th, 2013 I mentioned that both The Old Farmer's Almanac and Farmers Almanac both predicted "a bitterly cold upcoming winter." The latter publication even predicted "a winter storm will hit the Northeast around the time the first outdoor Super Bowl is played at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It also predicts that two-thirds of the country will experience a colder than normal winter, with heavy snowfall in New England, the Great Lakes and Midwest regions."

The National Solar Observatory and NASA both made similar predictions based on the absence of a solar maximum last year -- a period of increased sunspots and resulting solar radiation that occurs every 11 years. During the "Mini-Ice Age" of 1645 to 1715 there were no solar maximums observed, although their cycle was well understood by then.

So, as you chip ice off your windshield repeatedly this winter, remember -- you may well have read it first here if you don't read the standby Almanacs.

Complementary Wine Ingredients

Mixed fruit, photo from hdwpapwes.com

I've received many requests for wine and food pairings, for grape and non-grape blending suggestions, and several that really interested me -- for pairing ingredients that complement one another in mixed ingredient wines. Undoubtedly, certain ingredients go well together while others do not. While I cannot provide a definitive list of either, I can suggest ingredients that I know complement each other.

Complement is a precise word with several meanings, used here in the sense of either of two parts that complete the whole or mutually complete each other. The table below offers a number of complementary selections for each ingredient listed, but by no means the only ones. With the exception of ginger, vanilla and occasionally mint, I omitted listing herbs and spices. Cinnamon, cloves, anise, and many other spices could have been added in some cases but I chose not to go there for reasons I won't go into.

There are many ingredients not mentioned, not because they don't have complementary potentials, but because I stopped working on the table at 3:45 in the morning and did not pick it up again when I awoke because a minor crisis pulled me in another direction. Thus, it is a work in progress, but I wanted to get it out anyway "as is" because I suspect it will prove useful to many who make country wines.

I intend to continue working on the table in the future and post a dedicated page on The Winemaking Home Page I can add to as deemed necessary.

When pairing ingredients, rarely will equal quantities complement each other. You will have to dig through the posted recipes, search elsewhere or experiment to arrive at appropriate ratios, but keep in mind that ratios can be upset by ingredient quality and personal taste. It is easy to add an ingredient, but impossible to take it out once integrated. Thus, incremental additions are suggested. I have added pineapple juice to a wine a teaspoon per gallon at a time to find that exact taste I was looking for -- add, stir, let sit a half hour and then taste and decide what to do next. Patience is required to make really good wines.

There are two ways to use this table. You can combine ingredients before fermentation or blend wines after their fermentations and clarifications are complete. I do it both ways depending on my confidence in the outcome. Experience will allow you to do the same.


Complimentary Ingredients



Asian Pear

Blood Orange

Currants, Black/Red






Prickly Pear
Raspberry, Black/Red


apple, apricot, Asian pear, banana, blood orange, cherry, chocolate, coffee, fig, ginger, honey, kiwi, orange, peach, pear, plum
almond, Asian pear, cranberry, currant, ginger, kiwi, lime, mango, maple, pear, persimmon, pomegranate, rhubarb, strawberry
almond, ginger, honey, orange, peach, plum, vanilla
almond, apple, ginger, honey, macadamia, raisin, vanilla
cherry, chocolate coffee, ginger, honey, mango, papaya

apricot, citrus, grape, other berries, peach, plum
almond, chocolate, fig, ginger, honey, other citrus
ginger, fig, lavender, mango, lemon, orange, other berries
apricot, banana, chocolate, citrus, nectarine, peach, plum, vanilla
almond, banana, cherry, ginger, mandarin, orange, strawberry, vanilla

almond, banana, ginger, orange, vanilla
apple, chocolate, citrus, mango, pear
apple, chocolate, citrus, grape
apricot, fig, grape, honey, lemon, mandarin, other berries, peach, plum
banana, berries, citrus, mango, vanilla

almond, citrus, pear, vanilla
almond, apple, apricot, banana, berries, chocolate, citrus, coconut, grape, passion fruit, peach, pear, pineapple, plum, tropical fruit
citrus, honey, other berries
berries, chocolate, citrus, ginger, raisin
other citrus, mint, tropical fruit, vanilla

citrus, coconut, huckleberry, pineapple, strawberry, tropical fruit
apple, banana, berries, cherry, citrus, coconut, mango, strawberry, tropical fruit
berries, cherry, chocolate, coffee, persimmon, plum
apricot, berries, cherry, other citrus, ginger, nectarine, peach, plum, prickly pear, tropical fruit
apple, berries, cherry, other citrus, ginger, papaya, plum, strawberry, tropical fruit

citrus, ginger, gooseberry, tropical fruit
cherry, chocolate, coffee, fig, ginger, tropical fruits, vanilla
apple, banana, berries, citrus, coconut, melon, tomatillo, tropical fruits, vanilla
berries, citrus, grape, strawberry
almonds, berries, cherry, chocolate, coffee, cranberry, fig, ginger, grape, persimmon, pineapple, vanilla

banana, citrus, mango, tropical fruit
almond, apricot, blackberry, cherry, elderberry, ginger, lemon, raspberry, rhubarb
almond, apple, chocolate, citrus, persimmon, vanilla
apple, citrus, kumquat, pear
coconut, tropical fruit

almond, citrus, honey, vanilla
apple, citrus, tropical fruit
citrus, tomatillo, tropical fruit
apricot, citrus, ginger, nectarine, other berries, peach, plum, rhubarb, vanilla
apple, apricot, berries, citrus, ginger, nectarine, peach, plum, strawberry

apple, chocolate, citrus, kiwi, rhubarb, vanilla
berries, citrus, mango, prickly pear, tropical fruit

Usually two ingredients are paired -- blackberry and grape, for example, or strawberry and kiwi -- but complex unions are not unheard of. I have made wines with three and four ingredients many times and as many as 21 once -- a vermouth. Some ingredients pair with just about anything. Almond, apple and citrus as a group are obvious examples, but rhubarb has far greater complementary potential than any other ingredient, a fact not exhibited in the table above.

In truth, rhubarb can be paired with just about any other ingredient. The beauty of rhubarb is that in small amounts it tends to adopt the flavor of whatever it is paired with, making it a great "extender" when you are just shy of having enough of something to make a batch with. If you grow rhubarb and give away your excess, try chopping the excess stalks into 1/2-inch pieces and storing them in the freezer for when you have almost but not quite enough of something else -- whether cherries, gooseberries, kiwis, peaches, plums, persimmons, strawberries, or whatever. If you don't grow rhubarb, consider doing so or make friends with someone who does.

Finally, raisins, grape concentrate, apricots, dates, barley, and light dry malt extract are all body builders and one or another have been used for decades to centuries to add body to light country wines. Consider them if additional body is needed, but also consider their individual flavor profiles. Once added and fermented, you cannot take them out.

Wine Won't Stop Bubbling

'S-shaped' airlock, pushing a bubble through the lower curve

I had something else planned here, but received an email I thought was more immediate and worth sharing so the other thing will have to wait. The email touches a problem all of us have either experienced or one day will. Hopefully, after this entry you'll know what to do if you experience it one day for the first time.

Sep 5 -- started a 2.5 gal jug of blackberry wine -- no hydrometer reading taken
Oct 26 -- racked into clean jug added campden tablet and pot sorbate -- IT STARTED FERMENTING AGAIN
Nov 30 -- racked and added a bit of sugar -- STARTED FERMENTING AGAIN
Dec 2 -- added more campden and pot sorbate
Jan 20 -- racked again and FERMENTATION RE-STARTED

It tastes great and I really want to bottle it -- will it ever stop fermenting or can I do something to stop it? I'm afraid of the corks popping.
-- email from Carole, dated January 28, 2014

My experience suggests the potassium sorbate used was old and therefore useless in stabilizing the wine. Optimally, potassium sorbate should be stored in a dry place out of direct sunlight. Even with proper care, shelf life once unsealed is only 6 to 8 months.

Potassium sorbate should not be purchased in plastic bags or packets bearing the local homebrew shop's label, as this indicates a bulk supply was opened and the smaller quantities packaged from it. The problem is that the sorbate begins degrading as soon as the bulk supply is opened to the air and may have exceeded its shelf life before it is even purchased.

I toss out at least 50 times more potassium sorbate than I use because it expires. It simply is the price you pay if you want to really stabilize a wine. All the sorbate I buy is in plastic containers with a foil vacuum seal under the cap. That is the only way to know it will be fresh when the seal is broken

To stop this wine from bubbling, new potassium sorbate needs to be purchased and added to the wine at 1/2 teaspoon per gallon. Then wait however long it takes for the bobbling to stop. If it were me, I would measure the SO2 when the bubbling stops and bring it up to 50 ppm if not already there, then rack the wine and wait at least an additional 30 days before bottling.

I know Carole is chomping at the bits to bottle the wine, but whenever a problem is encountered and corrected it is prudent to wait and make sure the problem is solved before bottling. Potassium sorbate does not kill active yeast. It just renders them incapable of producing new yeast. One should expect old yeast to die off after applying an appropriate dosage of potassium sorbate, but it might take a while. The test is to adjust the SO2, carefully rack the wine and observe for a period of at least 30 days.

Racking, no matter how carefully we do it in a home environment, always introduces some fresh O2 into the wine, a catalyst for activating live but sluggish yeast. A day or two after racking often reveals those reinvigorated yeast as they resume fermentation and bubbling restarts. Be patient.

When fermentation stops this time the yeast population should have diminished to a safe enough level to rack the wine into bottles, being careful not to disturb the fine dusting of dead yeast on the bottom. Personally, I would wait another 2-3 months after fermentation stops as the die-off will continue for a while and I would rather have the dead yeast precipitate in my carboy than in my bottles.

Carole's problem is not unusual. I suspect that at least 90% of all home winemakers have inert potassium sorbate in their winemaking supplies. It is an easy detail to overlook.

Most ingredients have a shelf life beyond which they are useless for the intended purpose. I have listed some of the shelf lives on my site (see links, below). I write the expected expiration date on a small label affixed to the cap of the product, determined by adding the shelf life to the date I first unseal and open the product. I then make a calendar entry a month earlier than the expiration date to remind me to order more.

I hope this entry helps many more than Carole. Her problem is not unique. I experienced it for years before I happened upon a causal reference to the shelf life of potassium sorbate and a few other items. My self-appointed role is to pass that knowledge on to you. While I do this freely, I do hope if you find the information useful you will consider making a donation to assist in my continued research and experimentation. There is a button above in the left-hand column to facilitate a donation. None is too small to be appreciated.

For earlier entries, see archives (left column)

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