Friday, July 29, 2011

Wine making adventure: mostly plum

Someday, I shall have enough fresh fruit of one kind to make a single-fruit wine. Until then, I make "mostly x" wines. In the hall closet I have mostly apple, mostly cherry, and mostly orange. This time, I had 18 pounds of plums picked from my own tree (one of those dark purple ornamnetal plums) and from a tree on my family's rental property. I also had 6 pounds of elderberries foraged along the riverbank. I had these all chopped up and frozen in gallon ziplock bags, as it wasn't quite enough fruit for a 5 gallon run. I like my fruit wines very fruit-forward, although not very sweet. Some winemaking sources say that a subtler, grape-wine-like wine can be made with other fruits if the fruit-to-water ratio is low. I don't want my fruit wines to taste like grapes, I like them to taste like fruit. I planted grape vines this year for when I want grape wines.

Anyway, the final contribution to my wine was made by my friend Gloria, who bought me a flat of delicious cling peaches. I used 3 pounds of the peaches to round out my wine. Here are the frozen plums and elderberries ready to go, just so you get the idea of how much fruit is required for a 5 gallon batch.

Different fruits vary widely in acids, tannins, and sugars. When I mix fruits in a single batch of wine, I break it down as if I'm making individual gallons when I'm hunting up recipes. There are some very good winemaking books. The Way to Make Wine by Sheridan Warrick and The Home Winemaker's Companion by Gene Spaziani are good ones, particularly if you want to make grape wines. They don't take fruit wines very seriously, but they give a lot of information about the technical process. They can also make winemaking seem intimidating. That is why I also like The Joy of Home Winemaking by Terry Garey. She really takes the intimidation out and also treats fruit wines as a valid beverage in their own right, not as if they are a poor man's alternative to good grapes.

Of course, practically speaking, fruit wines are my alternative to wine grapes. Brew shops sell fresh, frozen, and concentrate wine grapes, but it is expensive, particularly in 5 gallon batches. In summer and fall, a lot of people give fruit away because they have so much.

So, once I know what kind and how much fruit I have, I turn to my favorite online winemaking recipe source, Jack Keller. He can be relied upon to have a recipe for just about any crazy fruit you may have. He had several for plums, elderberries, and peaches. I chose a recipe for plum wine, which called for 6 lb of fruit, a recipe for peach wine which called for 1 lb of peaches, and split the difference between his two recipes for elderberry wine, one calling for 3 lb fruit, one calling for 10. Essentially, I pretended I was making 3 gallons of plum wine, 1 of peach and 1 of elderberry. Why? Well, the plum wine called for added tannin, but the peach and elderberry wine didn't, as those fruits contain enough naturally to produce a balanced wine. Peach, on the other hand, needed relatively little added acid blend, but plum and elderberry needed more. I think treating each fruit separately creates a more balanced final wine.

So, my final, cobbled together recipe looks like this:

17 lb plums
6 lb elderberries
1 lb peaches
11 lb sugar
6 1/2 ts acid blend
3/8 ts tannin
5 ts yeast nutrient
5 ts pectic enzyme
1 packet wine yeast

All the fruit is chopped up, excepting the elderberries which are very small. If you have time, freezing the fruit helps break down the cell walls and makes the yeast's job easier, but it's not necessary.

If you take only one bit of information from this post, it should be this: For a five gallon carboy's worth of wine, you will need a larger than five gallon bucket for your primary fermentation. Helpful people at the brew shop will tell you this and try to sell you a 6.5 gallon bucket when you buy the carboy. Don't be stubborn and figure you can get a cheaper 5 gallon bucket elsewhere. Yeast create a lot of fizz. Think of the head of a pint of beer, then imagine it in a smaller glass. You don't want wine fizz pushing up and over the top of your bucket and all over your floor. Many wines are made with very colorful fruits that are hard to wash away. Just a thought.

Anyway, at this point I put my strainer bag into my 5 gallon bucket (don't be stubborn!). Bagging the fruit makes it much, much easier to remove after the primary fermentation is over. Dump in the fruit:



and plums, which were still frozen. All this fruit made my bucket very full. Doesn't look like I'll need much water. So, I brought a large pot of water to boil, and added the sugar. Normally, you would only boil about half the water you need along with all the sugar, and pour it over the fruit and add the rest of the water cold. Hot water helps start to draw the juices and flavors out of the fruit, but the pectic enzyme can't be added until the mix is room temperature. But I had a lot of fruit which was still frozen, so it cooled down quickly. Once I determined that the mixture was cool enough, I added all the other ingredients except yeast. Properly speaking, the recipe should also include a crushed Campden tablet for every gallon of wine. That kills off any errant strains of yeast or bacteria present. I forgot, so I'll see what happens. Cover the bucket with a clean kitchen towel to keep out dust and flies while allowing airflow.

After giving the pectic enzyme 12 hours to do its job (and also allowing the sulphur from the Campden tablets to dissipate somewhat), you can stir in the yeast. After a day or two, the mix will be very bubbly, which pushes the fruit up to the top of the bucket. It will smell a little like wine but look pretty gross. Like this.

Every day, preferably twice a day, you will need to stir the floating fruit back into the liquid. This allows the yeast to keep working on it. Being exposed to air away from the yeast, like the fruit on the top, can give other bacteria a chance to get to work on it. Periodic stirring allows the yeast to colonize and defend every bit of the fruit. Yeast is very good at keeping bad bacteria out of its domain. In a week or so, when the fermentation has slowed down a bit, I will pull out the bag of fruit. Usually I just let it drain and toss the contents. This time, since there was so much fruit, I will press as much liquid out of the must as possible. As it is, I had almost a liter of water-sugar syrup which didn't fit into the bucket to begin with, then I pulled out two liters of juice to avoid overfilling my bucket. Even adding that back in after pulling out the fruit, I will probably be left with less than 5 gallons of liquid to put in the carboy. The difference can be made up with plain water or wine.

I'll post an update when I transfer this batch into the carboy. After that, it's mainly waiting.

1 comment:

  1. I've always wanted to make homemade wine. You really have it going on! Very informative post!