I mentioned awhile back, that Ranger was looking forward to trying some elderberry wine made from our own foraged berries. I’d been making homemade wine from store bought juice for some time before this. I made a coupla very nice hard ciders that even the wife felt compelled to compliment. I finally got a good recipe for a nice ginger beer as well. Wine from my own foraged berries was inevitable.
The problem with me is that I consider recipes an insult. They’re an assumption that I’m either too stupid or too lazy to figure it out myself. Neither of those descriptors, describes me. I can figure out anything (eventually). So, I studied the best conditions, materials, reactions, everything anyone needs to make a passable wine. Admittedly, it helped that I have a scientific background, specifically in food development. Though I’ve never worked in a winery, I spent a goodly part of my career working on Crystal Light, Kool-Aid, Quench, Tang, Awake, and a well-known Donut shop’s Hot Chocolate and Hot Cider, so … yeah none of those has anything to do with wine.
OK, so Kool-Aid isn’t exactly Cabernet Sauvignon, and you’re right, I had a lot to learn even with a Food Development background. Though I have a large glass carboy, that’s about all I had. I figured I’d just start on a somewhat smaller scale. I found the best advice from googling “ec Kraus” or “Jack keller”, but I am a researcher so I also read all the red-neck recipes and instructions from such learned sources as Yahoo forums. Lotsa fun advice and ideas there. I loved the 2 Litre coke bottle and balloon method. Seriously, I did love it. It was just the right size for me to dabble my fingers in the water so to speak (not the balloon idea though, just the small fermentation bottle method). I figured, if I made something I liked, I’d ramp up the volume and make more, once tested thoroughly.
Store Bought Stuff
As stated above, I started my new retirement career with store-bought juices. I like black cherries, so I bought a bottle of black cherry juice, sugar, and some special yeast (EC 1118) from my local “You – Brew”. That yeast makes all the difference, it’s almost bullet-proof. Jason Bourne couldn’t kill that friggin’ yeast. It’ll forgive almost anything you do wrong, and will happily ferment away under near impossible conditions. While I was there, the store owner just gave me a hydrometer since all her customers buy one and then never use it, so she had dozens lying around. It isn’t absolutely necessary to have one, but they’re easy to use, and it didn’t cost me anything, so what the heay ? So, I merrily disinfected a coke bottle with dilute bleach solution and rinsed until I couldn’t smell bleach anymore, added the juice, the sugar, dissolved the sugar and added the yeast. I covered it with a Kleenex held in place with an elastic band, and put it in a covered bucket with a small terrarium heater to keep it about 72° F. It bubbled for the next coupla weeks. I drilled a hole in the cap I’d saved, glued a piece of tubing in it, and stuck the other end in a glass of water and watched it bubble for another month or so. Once it stopped, I let the uglies settle (technical terminology eh ?) for a few more weeks, then carefully poured it into another disinfected bottle leaving the uglies behind.
Wow ! The color was amazing ! It smelled wonderful. I took a hydrometer reading and found it to be 12 % alcohol. A perfect wine it was. I tipped back the hydrometer cylinder and took a shot of my first attempt. Then I promptly horked it out into the basement washtub and shouted something about sacred excrement. It took hours to get that taste off my palate. It became painfully apparent why I’d never seen black cherry wine on any shelves. I learned later to dilute the initial juice with water, and use the remaining juice to top up the fermenter when I drained off the grunge. Thoroughly humiliated, I bought grape juice, both purple and white as I figured “What the Hell ? Vintners all over the World can’t be wrong”. If you glean nothing else from this posting, gain this :
Don’t try to make homemade wine from store bought grape juice !
They were both worse than the black cherry floor cleaner I’d made the month before. Back I slunk to the Internet, seeking solace. But this time, I read between the lines as good researchers do. I tried something far less intimidating. Please be advised, I love ciders, and as I dabbled, I came up with some very nice formulae. As stated above, even the wife liked a couple of them. I developed a coupla good “ginger beers” as well. Technically, they were just very weak ginger wines, but they tasted good, and I even figured out how to make them fizzy !
From Foraged Fruit
So, with what I’d learned from the more elementary stuff, I figured I was ready to step up to proper wines again. We’d gathered a lot of choke cherries by this time, and I’d made jelly from them, which was … OK. Chokecherries have what we used to describe as a “cardboard” note, and they’re almost more smell, than taste. But I had plenty, so I gave it a try. Fermenting the juice from them just seemed to highlight the “cardboard” taste further. It was simply … OK, but I wouldn’t do it again, unless I tried adding some lemon juice to it. That’s what I was advised to do to the jelly to make the cardboard taste fade.
Now gooseberries, that’s a completely different story altogether. Gooseberries are wonderful jam and jelly berries as they’re chock full of pectin (especially the green ones). With all that naturally occurring pectin, you hardly (if at all) need Certo or whatever, to make it set.
*** I gotta go off topic for a paragraph here and tell ya this story *** I spent about 13 years working in the R&D Dept. of the company that marketed Certo. In those days the Marketing Managers were given a rather free rein with the Marketing plan and the dollars involved. Well, this one unfortunate fellow had noticed the “tag line” of the day was whoop-it-up, wrap-it-up, do-it-up etc etc it-up. Everything was something-it-up. Since his product brand was Certo, he came up with the brilliant slogan “Jam it up, with Certo”. ‘Cause, you make jam with Certo right ? Yeah … OK. He’d spent the money for magazine and TV ads, flyers and newspaper pieces too, before his Dept. head saw the first magazine ad. I think the poor bastard’s still selling used cars in Mississauga somewhere.
So anyway, gooseberries are full of pectin. If you wanna make wine from them, you’ll need an enzyme called pectinase (anything with “ase” on the end of it, is generally an enzyme) to break the pectin down. Otherwise, you’ll open your fermentation chamber, and find a cabinet filled with incredibly sticky foam, as I did. The worst part was that after I cleaned up the gooey mess, the wine wasn’t any screamin’ Hell anyway. Gooseberries kinda taste like rhubarb. Not much demand for rhubarb wine at the LCBO you might’ve noticed.
The wife and I scored a major wild grape find one afternoon late last year. We gathered a few kilos in a short while. I made wine out of them which went well enough. However, I lost an awful lot while draining off the crap in the bottom of the fermentation bottle. There wasn’t even enough left to fill a small bottle by the time I’d poured off the junk a coupla times. I made a mental note to sieve the juice better next time. Fortunately, I had more juice in the deep freezer. I went to retrieve it and found myself making another mental note. Boil the livin’ crap outa wild grape juice before assuming you’ve killed the wild yeasts that might be lurking on them. I have no idea what alien micro-beast was in that juice, but even in a deep freeze it caused the bottles to slowly explode and was oozing purple goo when I tried to lift them out. I’ll have to wait for the next defrost to get the goo off the freezer floor. Hence, I couldn’t make any more wild grape wine. However, what little I did make, was quite tasty and I will attempt again this Fall. I’ll just remember to boil the billy-bejesus outa the juice after sieving it through ultra-fine screens. Should you be wondering, no, it didn’t taste like LCBO type grape wine. Wild grapes taste like berries. Just like raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, choke cherries, currants, elderberries …
Elderberries, yes ! Now there’s the king of fruit wine berries. Elderberries come off their stems quite easily requiring very little time and effort. They boil up and mash down with ease. They’re clean in sieving and fermentation. No two inch deep layers of grunge in the bottom of the vessel with them. They smell lovely and produce a juice with amazing color and a wine to match. They ferment quickly and efficiently. You couldn’t ask for any better a fruit to make homemade wine from.
If you click on the box in the top right corner which says “search this site” and punch in the words
you’ll find a writeup from last Spring about a friend of ours who makes his own maple syrup. Well, the season was so short this year that Ranger and I missed the boil-down by mere hours. Doug had about 12 liters of sap left which he was gonna dump out. I asked if I could take it Home and try to make wine out of it. That was about 2 months ago. The damned stuff is still fermenting ! Anything else takes about 2 weeks primary fermentation, and maybe 1 month secondary. Every now and then Doug asks how the maple sap wine is coming along and I have to tell him it’s still bubbling away in the chamber. I don’t know if it’ll ever finish. I’m beginning to think it’s gonna be like Mead and require a few years to finish. Worst comes to worst, I’ll spike it with vodka and give him the bottle. No, I’m just kiddin’, I wouldn’t bother doing that. If I’m gonna do something, I might as well do it right, and to the best of my abilities, so I’ll just wait ‘til it’s done properly. I made up a special label with a picture of Doug in the foreground and his syrup shack in the background, to stick on the bottle. I’m pretty sure Doug will appreciate the fun factor involved.
Last Wednesday Ranger and I noticed this season’s strawberries are now available. The wife and I bought a pint and they were, of course, delicious ! You gotta know I’m gonna have to make wine out of those. With all the rain we’ve had, I’m hoping we’ll have a good crop of wild berries this year.
I won’t post any recipes here as the last thing the I’Net needs is another recipe to add to the millions already polluting the web. But if you just wanna have some fun making a litre or two of your own brand of wine, just leave me a note in the comments section at the bottom of this posting, and I’ll be more than happy to tell you what’s worked for me.