Picking Fruit to Make Wine

February 29, 2008 at 9:29 pm (Thoughts, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , )

You want to make fruit wine. Where do you get the fruit? I would suggest you think about this for a minute or two.

Supermarket fruit is often one step above wax fruit. You have no way of know how long it has been there, how ripe it was when picked, or how it was grown. Chances are pretty good that supermarket fruit is lacking in flavor. Produce markets are a better choice. Farms or your own yard is an even better choice.

I think it matters. If you are going to make wine, you need fruit with flavor, lots of flavor. You want the fruit to have ripened on the vine or tree, not in a boxcar being infused with a compound that induces ripening. You also don’t want to spend a fortune if you don’t have to.

If I really have a choice, my fruit is picked by me at a local farm. The berries are just off the vine, picked when ripe, and oozing with flavor. Sometimes I can only pick a couple of pounds at a time because I’m early in the picking season. I just wash the berries, package them in three-pound packages and store them in the freezer. Three pounds is the amount of fruit needed to make one gallon of wine.

Here’s my thoughts that I just related to someone who emailed me a question. My first year making blueberry wine, I went to the local pick-your-own place and picked blueberries. It took a lot of hours to pick the eighteen pounds of blueberries I needed for one batch of wine. The bushes were small and the berries were scattered. That was the best blueberry wine I ever made.

My local place changed hands and they stopped pick-your-own berries. A friend took me to a big farm in NJ that grows acres of blueberries. They are huge, beautiful berries that burst in your mouth, and you can take them off the bush by the handfuls. I picked about 25 pounds of berries in two hours. The wine they make is lacking in body and flavor compared to that first year’s crop. I suppose I have two choices, use more berries, or find another source. I’ll do both, but mostly I’ll keep my eyes open for a new source.

Some fruits are perfect from the produce market. We have a Produce Junction nearby. This place has fruit by the bag and the prices are typically quite good. You need to know what you want and you need to be choosy because their fruit it not always right for wine making. The best wine I’ve ever made (besides that first year blueberry) was a Black Plum dessert wine. I made that from Produce Junction fruit. I think a bag was three pounds for $2. I bought six or eight bags, split the plums, took out the seeds and froze the fruit. When a fruit is in season, Produce Junction is the way to go.

Develop local sources. You can make great wine from whatever your local fruit supply provides.

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Quick Tip – Temperature and Fermentation

February 22, 2008 at 6:55 pm (Kit Wine, Quick Tips, Winemaking Tips) (, , , )

If you ferment your wine at a lower temperature, the wine will have more flavor. Most yeasts need to be above 65°F to get started, but once well under way, the temperature can be dropped to slow fermentation and increase the extracted flavors. My blueberry wine has been fermenting at about 59°F.

I learned this tip just last week from my buddy at a local winery.  He put cooling jackets on his 1000 gallon vats so that he can ferment at 56°F.

This is just as valid for a wine kit, just remember that you can’t go by the number of days in the kit instructions.  You will have to use a hydrometer to know when your primary fermentation is nearing completion.  It will take longer, but it will taste even better.

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More Winemaking Toys

February 15, 2008 at 8:51 pm (Thoughts, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , , , , )

Yeah, you’re hooked. Me too. The good news is that your not going to spend a fortune to move up one level in the food chain. Here’s what you need to ask Santa for:

  • Floor Corker – this is the best $70 you will spend. Trust me, you are going to get sick of that hand corker in about 4 minutes. This will take the pain out of bottling.
  • Bottle Tree – Get the big one. I wash my bottles and put them on the tree to dry, then store them in their cases upside down to keep the dust out.
  • Washer/Injector – This little baby lets you fill a bowl with Iodophor solution and spray the solution into your bottle by pushing the bottle down on a plunger. Sanitize or your hard work goes bad.
  • More Carboys – I have five 6-gallon carboys and three 5-gallon carboys. If you have only one carboy, you can only have one batch of wine in the works. It’s not uncommon to have wine in a carboy for 3 or more months. Buy a couple.
  • pH Meter – This is my wish-list item. I still don’t have one and I should. This is for the advanced lush, but maybe I’ll find one in my stocking if I post my wish here.
  • Chemicals – No, you don’t want chemicals, you do need them though. You’ll need grape tannin for fruit wines, yeast nutrient, pectic enzyme, yeast packages, acid blend, Potassium Metabisulfite (kills off wild yeasts), and Potassium Sorbate (halts yeast growth).
  • Wine Thief – This is a tube you lower into your carboy, cover the top (like a straw) and out comes about 25 ml of wine to taste or test. Very inexpensive and very useful.
  • Vinometer – This little thing is also inexpensive, but I really like having it. When your wine is done fermenting and all the sugar is gone, you put in a few drops of wine until it starts dripping out the bottom, then turn it upside down. You can read directly the alcohol content of your wine.

See, that wasn’t so bad. All of that together is probably about $200, and now you are in serious winemaking mode.

What toys did I miss?  Post your suggestions.

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Quick Tip – Cover Up That Carboy

February 9, 2008 at 7:49 am (Kit Wine, Quick Tips, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , )

Put a T-Shirt over your carboy when you have wine in it.  It will help keep the sunlight off the wine.  If you don’t do this, the color of your wine can fade.  It can also cause the temperature of the wine to move up and down as the wine is heated and cooled by the sunlight.  If you make wine in a dark basement, then never mind.  But my carboy sits in the kitchen or dining room right now, and it gets lots of light every day.  So just as you are told to keep your bottles of wine out of the sun, keeps your really big bottles of wine out of the sun too.

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Quick Tip – Using Raisins in Homemade Wine

February 5, 2008 at 8:07 pm (Quick Tips, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , , , )

There are a number of recipes that call for using raisins to give a homemade fruit wine more body. You pick up the sugars from the raisins and the results are definitely better. I seem to think I used raisins in my Cranberry wine. (I just checked and realized I never posted my cranberry wine recipe. I’ll get that posted soon, I promise.)

Here’s the caution, and I never saw this printed anywhere. The raisins are preserved with SO2. That’s not a bad thing, but you don’t have any way of knowing just how much is in there unless you use a test ampule. When I made the Cranberry wine, there was so much SO2 in my must just from the raisins, that if I had added any on my own, the yeast might not have been able to start fermenting.  I knew this because I used a test ampule to give me a reading on my sulfite levels.  I strongly recommend picking up a pack or two if you are going to be making wine from scratch.

SO2 Titrets
These are available from http://www.piwine.com

The image above is the SO2 titrets, they are a one time use ampule that costs about a buck a piece. I purchased a couple of packages way back, but I don’t use them very often. It would be easy to use two or three per batch of wine. If you are planning on testing your SO2 frequently, look into titration using a starch solution. Again, http://www.piwine.com can help.

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