It’s Fruit Time

May 9, 2008 at 7:43 pm (Quick Tips, Thoughts, Winemaking) (, , , , )

Stupid title… sorry. However, it is the time of year where I start visiting my local fruit stands. We have a place around Philadelphia called Produce Junction. I have no idea if they are a chain or just local. In this place, you get in line, tell them what you want and they toss the fruit on the counter. Everything is prepackaged. If the fruit is in season, it’s good stuff and it’s cheap. I purchased my black plums there a couple years ago, I think I paid $2 for three pounds. Since each three-pound back is good for a gallon, it was easy to get what I needed for a batch of wine. I probably bought seven bags to have a little extra, then pitted them and threw them in the freezer.

The down-side to this place is the seasonality of the fruit. There were a few short weeks when the plums were really good and really cheap. A few weeks later they weren’t even available. The trick is to be a regular, I often walk out empty handed.

I want to make my plum wine again, it is just magnificent. Check out the recipe and watch your local fruit stands.

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Quick Tip – Cloudy Wine

April 13, 2008 at 10:10 pm (Kit Wine, Quick Tips, Thoughts, Wine Recipes, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , , )

Cloudy wine? Give it time. I know, I’m a regular Dr. Seuss. But really, there are ways to clear wine. You can filter using a filter pad. You can use different fining methods where you add an agent like bentonite or isinglass, that the particles bind themselves to. Even better, be patient. Put the carboy of wine in a quiet and dark corner and forget about it. Every week or so make sure the trap has liquid in it and look at a flashlight through the wine. When you clearly see the bulb, the wine is ready to be bottled. Still cloudy, wait another month and check again.

So why not just filter or add chemicals. You can, lots of people do. I try very hard not to. Most particulates will settle out given enough time. I’m of the opinion that filtering will remove some of the good with the bad. My friend at the winery says filtering strips the color from the wine. I don’t want to filter, I’m lazy.

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Quick Tip – Economy of Scale

March 15, 2008 at 6:39 pm (Quick Tips, Thoughts, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , , , )

I make wine six-gallons at a time. I’ve tried more, I’ve tried less. Six-gallons is perfect, although five-gallons is almost as perfect.

Basically, it comes down to equipment and efficiency. My first batch of blackberry wine was three or four gallons. I fermented what I had in berries. I racked from the fermenter to one-gallon wine jugs and half-liter bottles. I think I had three one-gallon jugs and a half-liter wine bottle after my first racking. The next racking was a pain, the auto-siphon didn’t fit in anything. I racked to more small bottles. It was a lot of work and in the end it yielded only about 15 bottles of wine. But the wine came out great and I wished I had made more.

It’s just so much easier to do one big batch. I can carry a six-gallon carboy. It’s heavy, but I can lift it to the counter siphon to another carboy. It gives me a nice batch of about 30 bottles of wine. That’s two full cases for me and six bottles to give away.

I still keep those one-gallon jugs in case I want to make a small batch of something, but usually I just purchase enough fruit to make the full six gallons.

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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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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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Quick Tip – Adding Yeast

January 17, 2008 at 5:11 pm (Kit Wine, Quick Tips, Wine Recipes, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , )

When it’s time to add yeast to the must (juice soon to be wine), vigorously stir up the juice. You want to dissolve some oxygen into the juice, the yeast is going to need this. Now open the yeast package and sprinkle the buggers on the top, but don’t stir. Leave it on the top for at least 12 hours. After 12 hours, you should have a nice foamy active community on top of your wine.  If you do, it’s time to give it a good stir. You will have a very active fermentation going on in no time.  I often check on the fermentation by just putting my ear to the fermenter.  When the yeast is really working, you can hear the CO2 bubbles constantly popping.

I’ve tried all the other methods of activating the yeast; this one seems to be best. I’ve made starters with the must, I’ve made starters with sugar water, and I’ve just poured and stirred. Adding the beasties and just letting them sit is the way to go. When I first started making wine kits, I believe they had you pour and stir. Now they do the sit on top method. Science rules.

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Quick Tip – Making Your Bottle Appealing

January 9, 2008 at 2:58 pm (Quick Tips, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , )

When I first started making wine, I showed up at a party with a very plain unlabeled bottle. I was excited by my creation, but only my good friends were willing to try it.

Even free wine needs a good marketing image. So before I took my wine anywhere else, I made labels by taking pictures with my digital camera and putting text over the top. The result was an impressive color label, much nicer than most commercial wines. I also purchased heat shrink capsules for covering up the cork. When I showed up with the same wine in colorfully decorated bottles, everybody wanted to try it.

I’ve outgrown the image problem. All my friends have enjoyed many bottles of my wine by now, so I cut back to printing my labels on my laser printer. They are cheaper than full color, but still appealing.

I use a glue stick to attach my labels. I typically draw the glue all around the border and make an X in the middle. Glue sticks do a fine job holding the label on and the labels can be easily removed by soaking the bottle in hot water.

Peach Wine Label
Click on this thumbnail to see a larger version.
Unfortunately, this batch of wine never made it to the bottle.
But damn, what a beautiful label.

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Quick Tip – Iodophor

January 8, 2008 at 8:48 am (Quick Tips, Thoughts, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , )

Buy this stuff. It’s not expensive, it lasts forever, and it does a great job.

Iodophor is a sanitizer that is used to kill off wild bacteria. After you clean your stuff (fermenter, siphon, hose, carboy, …) you put some of this stuff in there and let it sit for like 2 minutes. Buggies are gone. Don’t rinse, just pour it out. Now go right to work, if you rinse, you introduce bacteria again.

I keep a spray bottle of the stuff handy when I’m making wine. You mix about 7 drops into 16 oz. of water. I like to make it a little stronger, seven drops just doesn’t seem like very much. Now spray everything before use. If I’m going to stir some stuff, I spray the big spoon thoroughly, then use it. Same with the hydrometer, rubber stopper, etc.

Buy a small 2 oz container first. If you ever use it up, buy the quart, refill the little one, put the quart away. I once dropped a quart container, the cap shattered and I had the mess of a lifetime. The stuff is iodine based, it stains everything. Be warned. But it also does a great job sanitizing.

Iodophor

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Quick Tip – Wine Bottles

January 2, 2008 at 8:20 pm (Quick Tips, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , )

There are a lot of small wineries here in Pennsylvania. They all have tasting rooms and they go through a couple of cases of wine each week. I’ve become friends with one of my local guys. I stop by to exchange ideas and I take him my wines to try.

He’s always offered to sell me supplies that he buys in bulk. I used to purchase bottles from him because I liked that they were all the same size and shape (it makes for easier storage) and he was cheaper ($9 a case).

He used to clean his used bottles, but he’s grown too big and now he’s recycling them. When I found that out, I asked him to save some for me. They don’t mind as long as I don’t let them pile up. His labels are easy to clean off. If your local place’s labels don’t come off in hot water, find another winery.

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