Pumpkin Wine: Trick or Treat?

Being a kid on Halloween meant dressing up in a costume, staying out after dark, and asking strangers for candy. Saying it like that makes it sound kinda strange – maybe even dangerous – why on earth would I do something like that? I was a young boy, so I did most things because they were strange and dangerous. Ah the good ole days! So, can a sensible but bored adult still live on the edge a little on Halloween? I don’t know, but it made me think about pumpkin wine.

Starch makes pumpkin different from other wine bases

Pumpkins contain starch, which is a lot (hundreds or thousands) of sugar molecules stuck together. These molecules fit together in a tight compact mass, making raw pumpkin flesh hard and unpalatable. In order to make wine from it, we need to extract the flavor and aroma compounds with water. To do that, we need to loosen up that tight compact mass and allow the water to penetrate. That means cooking. There are several ways to do this. One way is to cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds and pulp, then bake the two halves, flesh sides down, in a cookie sheet at 350F for 30 minutes.

Mashing the pumpkin

Winemakers and homebrewers treat starch very differently. For winemakers, starch is a problem that causes haze. Homebrewers convert starch to fermentable sugar by “mashing” it, and when they’re using pumpkin in their brews, they’ll often bake it and toss it in the mash. We can borrow that technique from our homebrewing friends and mash the pumpkin flesh. We’ll need to add enzymes that will break down the starch, and we’ll need to control the temperature so that it’s warm enough for the enzymes to do their work, but not so hot that they are destroyed. It turns out that there are two important enzymes that work together on this, but each works best at a slightly different temperature. A compromise that works well is to hold the mash at 150F (about 66C) for 30 minutes.

You can make pumpkin wine without mashing, but there are two benefits that make it worthwhile. By converting the starch, you increase the amount of fermentable sugar and ensure that no starch ends up in your wine. The extra sugar probably isn’t all that significant, but starch in your wine can cause a haze and support spoilage organisms. Those are headaches worth avoiding.

Towards a pumpkin wine recipe

A recipe or procedure for making pumpkin wine is still a work in progress for me. The starch in pumpkin makes it so different from other sorts of wines that I wanted to address it separately. This pumpkin wine looks a lot like a beer so far, and you can make good pumpkin beers, but next time I’ll address sugar, acidity, and the typical issues in making a wine.



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7 thoughts on “Pumpkin Wine: Trick or Treat?

  1. Andy

    I’m fairly ignorant of wine making, and the nuances that separate it from brewing, so I can only wildly speculate. Pumpkin is not an efficient place to get fermentable sugars, so we typically use it for some flavor and color, but rely on malted barley for the body. Our latest recipe (Scott’s recipe) uses a little bit of wheat and honey in addition to the malt. It might be worth padding the recipe with some honey or some other constituent to bump up the fermentability. This would, of course, not be ready for Halloween…

    One thing brewers do to reduce the unfermented particles is move the beer from primary fermentation to secondary. This moves the beer of the settled sluff on the bottom, but also gives it time to reduce turbidity. This may help reduce the haze you’re hoping to avoid. Another brewers trick is to crash the temperature, but this does more to settle out yeast than anything. I wonder if finning agents would work though. You could try adding something like isinglass (after sterilizing, of course) to see if that helps.

  2. Erroll Post author

    Hello Andy,

    I was planning on adding sugar to increase the fermentables, but now that you mention it, honey might be a better choice. Also, I didn’t know that isinglass was effective on starch – thanks for the tip.

    Erroll

  3. Scott

    If you use a lot of honey as your fermentable sugar, you’ll essentially be making mead, which requires a long fermentation time (6-12 months). You may want to research this before going down the path of solely using honey and pumpkin. Just a thought.

  4. Erroll Post author

    Hi Scott,

    The mashing gives this recipe a beer-like feel to it, but I was always intending to make a wine (or mead) with about 12% alcohol. I expect it to take about year to be drinkable, but I think I can ferment it out in four weeks or less.

    Mead can be slow to ferment because of a nutrient deficiency, low pH, or yeast falling out of suspension. You can correct all three. Adding enough nutrient, like diamoniumphosphate (DAP), and a daily stir will take care of the first and third problems.

    Often, the pH can be managed by delaying any acid additions until after fermentation is complete. Some meadmakers will add cream of tartar, at a rate of 1 tsp/gallon, to stabilize the pH. The problem is that mead is weakly buffered, compared to wine, so a small amount of acid produced during fermentation, or added by the meadmaker, will push the pH down a lot. If the pH dips below 3, it can stop the yeast in their tracks. I had just such a pH crash while fermenting my oregano wine.

    I managed all three potential problems in my last mead, and it fermented out in three weeks, so it can be done!

    Erroll

  5. Gewehr98

    Erroll,
    I’ve just started my 3rd annual batch of Pumpkin/Raisin wine, albeit a 3-gallon quantity. I’ve learned that baking my pumpkins like one would do for pumpkin pie or acorn squash really changes the nature of the wine, as well as reducing the amount of starch haze clearing time. I bake the pumpkin quarters until they’re fork-tender, then scoop the soft mush into the carboy before adding the raisins and an appropriate amount of brown sugar to bring the SG up to 1.095-1.100. I use a Lalvin Champagne Yeast, and the fermentation is vigorous enough to blow the airlock off if you forget to leave enough headspace for the pumpkin/raisin fruit cap. (Don’t ask me how I know this!) The finished wine is a dark amber color, fairly heavy in body with a delightful taste and finish. I should really give in and make 6-gallon batches, considering how fast 15 bottles will go after bottling…

    Darin

  6. sara

    With Halloween approaching and pumpkin harvest around the corner I know many will likely be making pumpkin mead or wine. But don’t forget there is another recipe out there that has you actually making the wine/mead IN THE PUMPKIN. This recipe was passed down to me…

    Ingredients:
    3 lbs honey (ambrosia, I think)
    1 oz fresh ground nutmeg
    1 oz allspice
    0.5 oz cinnamon

    Remove the seeds, from the top, from pumpkin of choice–try to find a pumpking that will hold a bit over 1 gallon. Bring two quarts of water to a boil. Add ingredients and boil for ten minutes. Cool, and pour into the pumpkin. Add water to nearly-fill the pumpkin. Ferment in the pumpkin until obvious signs of the pumpkin turning bad, such as mold growing around the cut top of the pumpkin (my primary fermentation was ~10 days). Rack into secondary (not another pumpkin). I did not add any yeast nutrient, because I figured the yeast would have all the nutrient it needed from the pumpkin. Before bottling, I had to clear the mead with TurboKleer (two-part flocculant). Aged for a minimum of 3 months before serving.

  7. Erroll Post author

    Thank you Sara,

    I’ve heard of pumpkin wine being fermented in the pumpkin, but I’ve never tried it. Do come back and let us know how it turns out!

    Erroll

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