Growing up in Louisiana, strawberry wine was a sort of a mystical drink, something I envisioned being swilled on a porch overlooking a bayou, partaken by a highly capable Cajun with a lifetime of self-sufficiency in pocket and innate love of sweet hooch and merriment. Okay, truth be told, my mother would annually read me a rousing rendition of The Cajun Night Before Christmas that likely colored this image. Nevertheless, I always wanted to taste that wine.
Years passed, as they do, and I moved out of Louisiana, away from the likes of homemade wine and into a world of refined tannins and hints of fig. The thought of something so sweet and rudimentary was cute but hardly desirable, not like, say, a full-bodied cabernet with blah-di-blah-blah. Then, as you do, I came back down to earth, quite literally, and started farming organically and DIY-ing like a wild man, the type of man I envisioned sipping strawberry wine on the porch.
So, I wanted to know just how make my own fruit wines, and now you can, too.
The Basic Theory
Pretty much any fruit works for wine, but there are classics. Berries are quite common and produce lots of tannins with big flavors. But, pitted fruits—plums, nectarines, peaches, cherries, etc.—are also popular, as are apples and pears, which make for really sweet sipping. And, of course, blending flavors is an option and can create some really interesting interplays and subtleties. Whatever the case, fruit equates to flavor.
The booze comes in when sugar and yeast are added to the mix. Yeast feeds on sugar to create alcohol. The more sugar there is to convert, the higher the alcohol content, and of course, the sweeter the wine. (It’s not a good idea to just add gobs of sugar, giggling at how strong it will be, as the result will be disgustingly sweet.) The trick will be finding the balance. For example, apples have much more sugar than blueberries, so measurements must be altered (find a recipe to help). But, the crux is that sugar equals alcohol, which is why the whole process goes down in the first place.
The Basic Equipment
Making wine is actually a fairly simple process, requiring only a few humble pieces of equipment, which explains how it was possible to do it out in the middle of the bayou. Really, all you need is a decently sized pot or crock, something that can hold around three gallons of water comfortably. Next, there is a fermenting vessel, like a five-gallon water jug or bucket with a lid (that produces a seal). A funnel and some fine mesh works for transferring and filtering out solids. You’ll need airlocks so that as the wine ferments it can release gases but not allow foreign elements in (This can be bought or made at home). Finally, it’s time to bottle up the booze, which requires a siphon (again, can be bought or made) and a few good storage containers, like old wine bottles or jugs (Carlo Rossi-like gallon jugs are ideal. Unfortunately, Carlo Rossi wine isn’t vegan.)
I like the romance, the sort of moonshiner madness, of creating all of these things myself, but truth be told, complete wine-making kits are fairly inexpensive and will possibly have things in place a bit more quickly, allowing the wine to start flowing freely a bit sooner.
The Basic Process
So, with all the stuff in place, the fruit chosen, it’s time to get the wine a-working. It takes a little while, which is intimidating, but the process is really easy.
- The Must: Must is the solution made from all the ingredients—fruit (frozen works best) and sugar, possibly pectin, tannins, and acid blend if you get fancy—prior to the yeast being added. Dissolve the sugar in hot water, pour it over the fruit, cover it, and let it rest for a day.
- Primary Fermentation: Add the yeast to start the magic. This is a bubbly process that happens pretty quickly, just a few days to two weeks. This one happens without the airlock and actually requires air exposure, but make sure to cover the wine with a breathable top to protect it from bugs and debris.
- Secondary Fermentation: Now, the idea is to stop the yeast from multiplying (the point of the primary fermentation) and start concentrating on making alcohol, and that’s all about the air, or lack thereof. Filter out the fruit, put the liquid into a clean new container, and put on the airlock. Seal it off for a couple of weeks or more.
- Bottle the Wine: Once things have been left to make nice, the wine is siphoned out to clear it off any remaining sediment, which will have sunk, and put into its final containers. At which point it is aged to create deeper flavors. Best to wait about three months before pulling the first cork (or twist the first cap).
Then again, there is the easiest method ever (Hint: Read some of the reviews for upgrading the results to a more palatable beverage.)
Image Source: Kelowna09/Flickr