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Sunday 30 March 2014

Making Wine On A Whim

Making wine at home is so fun, inexpensive, and rewarding.

Good wine is more than a bunch of grapes.You can make delicious wine out of all kinds of fruit. My favorite fruit wines are apple, pear, golden plum, rhubarb, and blackberry. 

All you need to make a batch of homemade wine are fruit, yeast, and sugar. And, some containers to put your wine into. One gallon glass juice jugs work just fine for small batches.

The following directions are my own tried and true method for making delicious homemade wine and are based solely from my own experience. I encourage anybody that is interested to discard intimidation because it is actually really, really easy to make wine.

Fruit will ferment on its own, without any help from us. Left to its own devices, unpasteurized fruit juice turns to alcohol. (Try juicing apples and leaving it on the counter for a few days. You just made cider.) The key to making wine is just to stop the fermentation with a tasty level of alcohol before it turns to vinegar.

This batch of peach plums yielded a couple gallons of golden wine.

Remember that almost all of the wine sold in liquor stores, unless it is specifically organic, has been sprayed with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Grapes in particular get treated heavily and this is another reason why I choose to make wine myself from good quality fruit. A bottle of homemade wine makes for a special gift and is always appreciated at dinner parties and potlucks.


The recipe I use is a general ratio of fruit to sugar to water.

One package of Champagne Yeast for up to 20 gallons of wine.

One gallon of water for every 3 to 4 pounds of fruit.

One pound of sugar for every one pound of fruit.

That is all you need to know to get started. This loose recipe can be altered depending on the desired alcohol content and also the sweetness of the fruit. For example, I am generous with sugar when I use tart fruit in blackberry or rhubarb wine, and I hold back a bit when I'm making plum wine, because the plums are full of natural sugars. 

The more sugar you add, the more alcohol you will make, because essentially the sugar feeds the yeast and the yeast is what ferments your fruit juice into booze. However, don't think that you can make a good strong wine by adding extra sugar. Keeping to the ration is important in producing a wine that is both alcoholic and tasty.

*Please note that bread yeast does not work for wine. It would be overwhelmed by sugar and die.


Say you just picked some fruit and you are keen to turn it into wine. First, weigh the fruit so that you can measure the appropriate quantities of sugar and water. The first step, or primary fermentation, should be done in a large and open container. I have a lovely 5 gallon ceramic crock for the purpose, but I've also made wine in 5 gallon buckets, and for big batches I use a garbage can! Everything is clean and sterile, of course. Your wine will begin its fermentation and live in this container for up to two weeks.

Berries and fruit need to be sterilized with boiling water so that the wild yeasts do not interfere with the packaged, more predictable yeast. (There is a method of natural fermentation that allows the natural yeast to develop and does not call for prepackaged yeast - the difference is akin to bread making with packaged yeast versus a sourdough starter. Someday I'd like to try it the all natural way.)

Bring some of your measured water to boil, and pour it over your fruit. Then add the sugar. A nice tip for measuring sugar is that 2 cups equals one pound. Remember the one to one ratio of sugar to fruit. Stir in the sugar while the mix is still hot. Then, add the rest of your water so that the fruit and sugar slurry cools slightly but is still nice and warm. Add the packet of yeast. (Remember, yeast is alive. If the mix is too hot, the yeast will die.) 

Cornelian cherries, on their way to becoming booze.
Now be sure to cover this primary fermentation so that it can "breathe" but so that no bugs, dust, or debris can contaminate your wine. A double layer of cheesecloth or a thin piece of fabric works well, tied securely around the surface of your container. Trust me, you don't want fruit flies to find your wine.

Over the next ten days or so, the yeast will start to work and a bubbly head will appear on your wine-to-be, which is known at this stage as the "must" or, "young wine". I stir the batch every few days. Now comes the fun part! Strain the must so that only the liquid makes it into your secondary fermentation, which is a jar, jug, carboy, or demi-john. At this stage we now have a "wort" which is still full of sugars.

mmmmm.... wort.
This next step in the process is very important. During the secondary fermentation, air should be allowed to escape from your container - but oxygen should not be allowed in. You need to cap your container with a fermentation lock. Special tops for this purpose can be purchased at a hardware store, and this is the method I prefer. You can also use a balloon fitted over the mouth of your secondary ferment, providing that you pay attention to when the air fills the balloon and "burp" the wine as needed.

And now we wait.

Generally when I make wine I leave most of it to secondary ferment in a cool, stable environment. The warmer the site, the faster your wine will ferment. It takes anywhere from six to ten months for the wine to be drinkable. You can watch the wine at work by observing the tiny bubbles that rise to the surface - this is the byproduct of the yeast turning the sugar into booze. When those little bubbles stop, and your wine stops burping, you are ready to rack it off into bottles.

Every year I make several gallons of wine and simply use recycled wine bottles with screw-on lids. These lids all come with little gaskets and when screwed on tightly, they work just fine. I don't bother with corks.

What about the rest of the must? That fermented fruit slop that is leftover after you strain the primary ferment? Add more sugar and water of course! There is no reason why you can't make another batch of wine or cider with the original fruit. The second time around, you don't even need to add yeast, because its already there in the must. Just add warm, not boiling, water.

As your wine continues to develop in the bottles, it will change in flavor and intensity. Sometimes wine that is flat and sweet will be bubbly a month or two later. And then a month or two after that, it will be dry and delicious. I prefer wine to be on the sweet side, but everyone's taste is different.

One year I made a second run of wine from a big batch of blackberries. I was disappointed in the result, which was a thin wine that was sickly sweet. I shared some bottles and used some for cooking, and one bottle was forgotten in the cupboard. When I found it six months later, it was exquisite blackberry cider. Bubbly, slightly sweet, and alcoholic. What a treat!

If you are not happy with your results, give it time. Your wine will continue to age and at the very worst you will end up with a batch of homemade vinegar.

Now that you know how to make wine, here is a recipe for a very special brew.


One gallon dandelion flowers (use the full blossom head, not just the petals)
One gallon boiling water
2 oranges
2 lemons
4 pounds sugar
One package yeast

Make a strong tea of the dandelion flowers and water and let stand for 24 hours. Strain, and discard the flowers. Add the grated rind and juice of the oranges and lemons, and the sugar, stirring well. Add yeast and allow to primary ferment for one week before straining into a wort and capping with a fermentation lock.

Good luck practicing as a home vintner.
Bottoms up! 

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