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 – 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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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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Is it Wine or Rocket Fuel?

January 7, 2008 at 8:00 pm (Thoughts, Wine Recipes, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , , )

Alcohol is the byproduct of yeast eating sugar. We worry about the amount of sugar in our juice because there is a direct relationship between the amount of sugar in the juice and the amount of alcohol in the finished product.

The formula for converting the sugar content into alcohol is:

(Starting Specific Gravity – Ending Specific Gravity) x 105 x 1.26 = % Alcohol by Volume

The starting specific gravity is going to depend on how much sugar is in your grapes or how much you put into the must. The blueberry wine currently in process had a starting specific gravity of 1.080. I know from experience that the ending specific gravity will be around 0.995 to 1.000.

Based on my numbers, the finished blueberry wine will run about 11% alcohol. That’s just fine, anything from 11% to 13% is acceptable. You can feed more sugar into the juice and end up with a higher percentage of alcohol, but it will most likely be out of balance with the flavor and taste more like rocket fuel than wine.

If you are working with grapes, you have a natural amount of sugar already in there. You can add more, but you want to measure the specific gravity before you do that. Traditional wine makers (old Italian men) will never add sugar to their juice. If you are making fruit wine, you have to add sugar, you don’t have a choice. Only grapes have enough natural sugar to ferment into wine.

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My Favorite Winemaking Book

January 4, 2008 at 10:43 pm (Thoughts, Wine Recipes) (, , , , )

I have a few books, but one of my favorites is a book called “Winemaking” by Stanley & Dorothy Anderson.

There are a few things I really like about the book. I like that the book has a plastic spine so it opens flat while you are working. The recipes are clear, well organized, and straight forward. The steps are well explained. Most importantly, there is a recipe for just about any kind of grape or fruit wine you can think of. After reading through this book, you feel like you can make wine out of just about anything fermentable.

Winemaking Book Cover

You can find the book on Half.com and Amazon.com, there are used copies available for about $5. Go pick up a copy.

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Blueberry Wine Log

December 31, 2007 at 9:51 pm (Kit Wine, Winemaking, Winemaking Log) (, , , , , , , , , )

12/27/07 – Removed blueberries from the freezer and set out to thaw.
12/29/07 – Crushed berries, put in muslin bag, added water to 4 gallons. Added 1 T pectic enzyme, 50 ml of 2.5% sulfite solution.
12/31/07 – Stirred frequently the last two days. Added 1 tsp grape tannins, 1 T yeast nutrient, 1 T acid blend. Boiled sugar in water, added about 9 lbs of sugar in total. Brought the mixture to 6 gallons with a specific gravity of 1.080. Added package of Premier Champagne yeast.
1/1/08 – Nice bits of foam on the top,it all smells very nice. This will be stirred and pushed down every couple of hours.
Blueberry Juice - Fermentation StartedVery Active Fermentation
1/2/08 – The second photo shows just how well the fermentation is doing. The juice tastes great. I’ve been stirring the fruit bag down every time I think of it, at least a couple of times a day. You don’t want to let the fruit dry out, keep submerging it so that the yeast breaks down all of the berries.
1/4/08 – The specific gravity of the must measured out at about 1.040. It’s hard to get a really accurate reading on the hydrometer as the foam is just all over the place. The wine will get transfered to a glass carboy when the specific gravity reads around 1.025.
1/6/08 – The wine has a specific gravity of 1.020, so it was time to move it to a carboy. This is probably the toughest part of the whole blueberry winemaking process because after siphoning the wine into the carboy, it takes about 45 minutes to manually squeeze out as much wine as possible from the bag of blueberry remains. All that is left from the 18 lbs of blueberries is a ball of fiber about the size of a softball. I didn’t think to take a picture, it’s all in the compost heap now.
1/14/08 – The wine is still actively fermenting in the carboy. It needs to be topped up with either water or sugar water. It probably needs two to four cups to reach the neck of the carboy.
More as it happens …

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I’m back…

December 27, 2007 at 8:19 pm (Thoughts, Winemaking) (, , , )

I haven’t made any wine in some time. My schedule has finally lightened up enough for me to have a few minutes. I started making wine from kits in 2001 and went real strong making my own fruit wine as well as kit wine for about 3 years. Then I got really busy and it sat.  Now my wine supply is dangerously low, so this week I started a batch of my homemade blueberry wine. I’ll get into the details a little later, I’m going to use this as a notebook as well as a forum for anyone wanting to get started in winemaking.

There is so much to cover, I have several favorite recipes that I will post. Lots of tips and ideas. By the way, making wine is not hard, it’s not expensive, and the results are a lot of fun. My friends were all a little reluctant the first time I brought some homemade wine to their house. Now when I show up with a bottle, it’s open before our jackets are hung up.

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