Category Archives: winemaking

Sweetening Wine With Splenda

Every time I’m asked about sweetening wine, I always say the same thing:

  • Ferment to dryness
  • stabilize with sulfite and sorbate
  • add a boiled-then-cooled sugar syrup to your desired level of sweetness

and I keep saying it because it works great: you have a lot of control and the risks (of infection or renewed fermentation) are low. But sometimes this approach doesn’t work well, like when you want a sweet bottle conditioned cider. In that case a sweetener that yeast can’t ferment, like Splenda, is just the thing. You can also use it to sweeten an ordinary still wine without having to stabilize it. To use a non-fermentable sweetener like Splenda, you first have think about how sweet to make your wine in terms of ordinary sugar.

Decide how sweet you want it

There are two approaches to deciding how much to sweeten your wine: you can “sweeten to taste” or you can use your knowledge and experience to set a specific goal (eg with this style of wine and so much acidity, I want that much residual sugar).

The “to taste” approach might be the way to go if you’re on unfamiliar ground. Maybe you’ve never made a mead before and you’re having trouble getting specific guidance on how much sugar (or honey, or something else) to add. You might take several samples and sweeten them by different amounts, let them rest for a month or so, then compare them. Or you might start sweetening the entire batch by some amount (10 g/L, say) letting it rest then tasting it. Up the amount by a little more (5 g/L maybe) and repeat until you get it just the way you like it.

If, on the other hand, you’re making a style of wine that has been thoroughly researched, you might have a concrete goal in mind.

Either way, you’ll come to some specific sugar concentration – for a series of bench trials, for the starting point in a longer iterative process, or because you have determined the final residual sugar that you want. Once you have that sugar concentration, that amount of sugar for whatever volume of wine you’re dealing with, you can use it to determine how much Splenda you need.

Granulated Splenda, 1.2 lb Bag, Sweetens like 10 lb of sugar

Convert to an equivalent amount of Splenda

It’s not as straightforward as it should be to convert an amount of sugar to an amount of Splenda. First of all, the company does not provide weight to weight conversions (you know, so many grams of sugar to one gram of Splenda for the same sweetness). They do provide volume conversions. More than one, in fact. The “granulated Splenda” that comes in boxes and is meant for cooking is volume-equivalent to table sugar. So one cup of sugar would be about as sweet as one cup of granulated Splenda, but one cup of the Splenda that comes in packets, that you might use for coffee, would be much sweeter.

Since granulated Splenda is meant to be measured and converted from sugar, that’s what I’ll talk about in this article. If you’d rather use the packets, you’ll need to contact McNeil Nutritionals, which sells Splenda in the USA, and ask them how (it’s not on the package).

Since it’s meant to be substituted for an equal volume of sugar, that’s what we’ll do. You can refer to this page of sugar info to convert sugar amounts from weight to volume. Then measure out the same volume of granulated Splenda. Ok the tricky part is over, now we can take our measured amount of Splenda and sweeten our wine just as we would with sugar.

Make a syrup and add to the wine

The best way to add most things to your wine is by dissolving them and adding them as a solution. With sugar, or Splenda, that means making a syrup in exactly the same way you’d make a sugar syrup.

It makes sense to use sugar in ordinary situations because it’s cheaper and doesn’t require conversions. Sometimes you need a non-fermentable sweetener, though, and this is the right tool for the job.

Blending for Better Wine

Think Blending-Not Varietals ~ Bert Dunn

A lot of people know about Canadian wine, but some still think its too cold for wine grapes. In much of Canada it is too cold for the wine grapes that we’re familiar with. But hardy wine growers tend hardy grapes in the Great White North, and they make good wine by blending. Varietals that survive and ripen in cold climates may not be able to rival traditional wine grapes on their own, but if you blend good components, the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. I think fruit wine makers have something to learn from this and we can up our game by blending.

Three simple wines and some thoughts on blending them

I’ve made apple wine for years, but my recipe for a simple step by step apple wine recipe is more recent. It started with a comment from Leslie asking for a simple recipe. A quick answering comment grew up into a blog post: Leslie’s Apple Wine Recipe. I made this wine and I’m really happy with it; it’s an easy drinking white with good flavor and aroma. I plan to make more, lots more, but I’ve also been thinking about blending it with other “grocery store wines.”

Like my white wine from Welch’s grape juice. If you haven’t made this, you really should – it’ll surprise you. Here’s the recipe: Bailout Blanc. It’s cheap, easy (not like that! easy to make) and versatile. Pop open a bottle when neighbors drop by on a summer afternoon. Use it to top up almost any other wine you make. Not sure if that new white you brought home is worth buying more? Blind taste it against some Welch’s Wine. If it can’t clear that hurdle, and some can’t, you have your answer. It costs less than $1/bottle, and for that you get a lot. But you don’t get everything. For one thing, the aroma is lacking. Might blending produce a wine with better aroma? Maybe a little complexity? One idea is blending with apple wine, which has good flavor and aroma.

Another is to blend it with Produce Department Chablis. I made a balanced wine with no faults and nice aroma that was bland. Maybe blending it with Welch’s Wine would produce good flavor and aroma – a better wine than each was individually. I haven’t made wine from supermarket grapes again, but I might – if only to see what sort of alchemy I can cook up by blending it.

Have you tried blending? How’d it turn out? I’d love to hear about it.

Leslie’s Apple Wine – Bottled!

Leslie's Apple WineTen months ago I posted a simple recipe for apple wine, at the request of a reader:

I really want to try making apple wine. I know pretty much nothing about wine making. I know of a homebrew shop about 45 minutes from me. I need to know everything I will need to make a sweet apple wine, and I also need step-by-step instructions.

I created an easy recipe for Leslie on the fly. Now, it’s one thing to say that a recipe is easy to make, but how do you know until you try it yourself? That’s what I did, and I’m very happy with the result: an easy to make wine that was ready to bottle quickly and tastes good. What really jumped out at me from this experience was the importance of choosing between unfiltered and clarified juice.

Make wine fast with clarified juice

I’ve made a lot of apple wine, but this is the first time I used clarified juice. I would always buy unfiltered juice; it’s cloudy with a visible sediment at the bottom, and a lot of people (including me!) expect it to taste better than the bright clear juice that next to it on the grocery store shelf. To find out, I’d need to make two batches, as identical as I could except that one used clear juice and the other unfiltered, taste them blind and see. I haven’t done that, so I don’t know.

But I do know that if you want to make good wine quickly, the clarified juice wins hands down. I bottled bright clear wine ten months after pitching the yeast without fining. Doesn’t sound quick to you? It had been bulk aging for four months and hadn’t thrown sediment – not a hint, even after agitating. So I could have bottled four months earlier – that’s only five months after pitching the yeast.

Even accounting for delays or snafus, I’m confident I could bottle bright clear wine in six months every time. Faster with a fining regimen.

Be patient and take notes

Ready to bottle and ready to drink aren’t the same thing. It’s good now, but I’ve seen apple wine improve up to two years. So if you make this, try to spread it out. Drink some now, and open a bottle every few months. Take notes – even if you don’t think you have much to say. Was it smoother (harsher) than you remember? Is the aroma more or less pronounced? Or different in some other way? How about the color? Write it down! You’ll want to know this when you bottle your next batch.

Running the numbers

You’ll also want to know how the wine analyzed out. If you haven’t looked into the nitty gritty of calculating the alcohol content from specific gravity readings, you’ll be surprised at how complex and inexact it can be. I plugged in my original and final gravities into a number of online calculators, and got a range of 13.3% – 13.7%. I’ll save the discussion of just what goes into these calculations, and why different online calculators might not agree for another time. For now, I’ll just call it 13.5% alcohol. It had a final gravity of 0.994 and a TA of 6.5 g/L, as tartaric. pH was 3.5. On paper, it looks like a crisp, dry white.

How does the apple wine taste?

And that’s exactly what it tastes like. Apple wine can be fruity or neutral or anything in between. This one has good flavor, with a hint of apple, and a nice finish. I’ve tasted country wines that seemed watery, and others that were full bodied. This one was right in the middle with a just-right medium body. The aroma was muted and it had a refreshing acidity that wasn’t too tart.

About the label

A good wine deserves an attractive label, and for that you need good artwork. I struck gold when Courtney Bell agreed to let me use this image. The color scheme, the apples, and the first rate photography make it perfect on an apple wine label.

Since there isn’t a lot of room when it comes to the text, what you leave out is as important as what you put in. My labels usually have a header, “Apple Wine,” in this case. At the bottom goes a footer, and here I included my website url and a copyright notice from Courtney. Informational text includes the batch number, so I can refer to my notes, and some basic measurements.

What about your own labels? Think about wine that you’ve bought. Were you curious about something, but couldn’t find it on the label? Put that in yours. What about things that you glossed over? Don’t clutter up your label – leave those sorts of things out.

A great way to start

If you’re thinking about making wine, this recipe is a great way to start. By using clarified juice, you save a lot of steps like processing the fruit and fining the wine. That makes it an easy recipe that’s ready quickly. Another good choice is Welch’s Wine. So stop thinking about it and do it!

Plum Liqueur Recipe

Liqueur is simpler than wine because it’s not fermented, and though some will age well, most are ready to drink quickly. That’s why I wanted to make liqueur from my small plum harvest. Like all fresh fruit liqueurs, this one will need some time for extraction – pulling the sugar, color, and flavor from the fruit into the liquid. In a way, that extraction step is a bit like the primary fermentation step in making wine. Making liqueur starts to look very different from winemaking, however, when you think about alcohol, sugar, clearing, and aging. I’ll have more to say on that later, but first, here’s the recipe:

Ingredient Amount US Measure
Plums 1 kg 2.2 lb
Table Sugar 500 g 1.1 lb
Vodka (80 proof) 2 L 2 L*
Fruit Protector 22 ml 1.5 Tablespoons

* Yes, “2 liters” is the US Measure of vodka. Don’t believe me? Go into any liquor store in the US and try to buy vodka by the quart. Go right now, I’ll still be here when you get back 🙂

I based this recipe on a recipe for Umeshu, Japanese liquor made from unripe plums. It’s different enough from other liqueurs I’ve seen and different enough from Umeshu (made from unripe ume plums – which I understand are more like apricots than plums) to be interesting. It’s also easily scalable. How often do you have exactly 1 kg of plums? When I made this recipe, my plums weighed in at 825 g, so I scaled everything by 0.825:

  • 825 g plums
  • 413 g sugar
  • 1650 ml vodka


You’ll need a container that can hold all of the ingredients (like a bucket with a lid), a strainer, and a jug with stopper. After that, it’s quick and easy:

  • Clean and sanitized the container.
  • Add plums.
  • Pour sugar over plums.
  • Add vodka.
  • Stir.
  • Cover and let sit in a cool dark place for a 2-4 weeks, stirring occasionally.
  • Strain into a cleaned and sanitized jug. Let sit in a cool dark place for 4 more weeks.
  • Bottle.

Sugar and alcohol

There’s more alcohol in liqueur than in wine (about 20% by volume), and you add it directly (as vodka, usually). Liqueurs are sweeter too – from 15 – 30% sugar (by weight). Sometimes higher. Making a recipe revolves around the amount of alcohol, sugar, and water you want in the final product. This recipe will yield about 25% alcohol (by volume) and 18% sugar (by weight). I wouldn’t go below 20% alcohol, but feel free to vary the sugar and alcohol to your taste.

If you’re wondering why I report alcohol content by volume and sugar content by weight, it’s because you’d get some weird results if you tried to figure sugar content by volume. Try dissolving 2 cups of sugar in 1 cup of water (you may need to boil briefly). Once it’s back a room temperature, you’ll have about 2 cups of syrup. So is it 50% water and 100% sugar? If you do it by weight, it’s roughly 60% sugar, 40% water – adds up to 100%, like it should. I’d do alcohol that way too, but it’s just too common to report alcohol by volume.

Fruit Protector

Were you wondering about that ingredient? It’s a combination of sugar, vitamin C, and citric acid that’s used in home canning to keep fruit from browning. I’ve seen it in some liqueur recipes, so I decided to try it in mine. As a winemaker, I’m tempted to use sulfite for the same purpose, and I also wonder about how acidity affects the final taste. It’s available in supermarkets, and you can order it online.

Those are things I’ll look into later. Right now, it’s time to open a bottle of plum liqueur and hit the send button 🙂

Know Your Ingredients: Blueberries

With a nice flavor and spicy aroma, blueberries make a good dry red wine.

First some basics: There are about 109 blueberries in one cup (240 ml), and they weigh about 5.2 oz (148 grams).1 Fresh blueberries keep best when stored cold, just above 32F (0C).2 They keep well frozen, too, and the freeze/thaw cycle helps in extraction.

Citric is the dominant acid, and all titratable acidity (TA) numbers in this post will be as citric. Almost all the sugar is glucose and fructose.

Composition of blueberries

Table 1: Blueberry and grape composition1
Component Blueberries Grapes
Water 84.21 80.54
Protein 0.74 0.72
Fat 0.33 0.16
Ash 0.24 0.48
Fiber 2.4 0.9
Total Sugar 9.96 15.48
Starch 0.03 0

The amounts are g/100 g, and do not add up to 100 because the test for each component is subject to experimental error3. About 5%, by weight, will be refuse – things like stems or unsuitable berries – so either use the data on sorted, stemmed fruit or scale your answer by 95%. To find the amount of sugar in 100 lb of fresh blueberries, for example, multiply by 0.096 (9.96% sugar) and by 0.95 (95% usable fruit). That would be 100 lb * 0.096 * 0.95 = 9.12 lb.

Measuring sugar content

Hydrometer and refractometer readings don’t work well to estimate sugar in raspberries, like they do for grapes. Ever since I found this out, I’ve been wondering about other fruit. What about blueberries? They look more like grapes than raspberries in table 1. Oh, they have more fiber than grapes, and this can make sugar a smaller proportion of soluble solids, but they have only a third the fiber of raspberries. Also, blueberry sugar content is double that of raspberries. Both of those things should mean that your hydrometer or refractometer will get you much closer to actual sugar content of blueberries than they will for raspberries.

Some data to quantify “should” and “closer” in the table below. This is from a study on how peat, sawdust, and cocoa husks affect blueberries, but I was more interested in the brix and sugar numbers they reported:

Table 2: Brix vs Sugar Content in Blueberries4
Substrate Brix Total Sugar Sugar Brix Ratio
Average 14.15 12.11 85.6
Peat 14.45 12.04 83.3
Sawdust 13.95 12.30 88.2
Cocoa Husk 14.05 11.98 85.3

Total Sugar is percentage of fresh weight, and if all soluble solids were sugar, then Brix would equal Total Sugar. The Sugar Brix Ratio expresses sugar as a percentage of soluble solids. What a difference! Sugar is over 85% of soluble solids in blueberries, compared to not quite 30% for raspberries.

How much pectic enzyme for your blueberry wine?

I have seen blueberries listed with “low pectin fruit” in some places. Others have said that blueberries have a “medium” pectin content, and at least one described blueberry pectin content as “high.” I wasn’t able to find reliable numbers, so I fall back on indirect methods. Pectin is a form of soluble fiber, and according to table 1 blueberries have about 2.5x the fiber as the same amount of grapes. Does that mean blueberries have 2.5x the pectin as grapes? I really don’t know, but sometimes you’ve just got to work with what you have. There’s no downside to adding more pectic enzyme than you need, so I recommend using 2.5x the recommended dosage for grapes on your blueberries. Remember to use weight of the fruit and not volume of the must – your blueberry must is likely to contain added water.

Average Stats
Brix: 13.234,6
Sugar (g/100 g): 11.471,4,5
TA (% citric): 0.9374,5,6
pH: No Data
Yield (%): 87.944

Making blueberry wine

Blueberries have more acid and less sugar than grapes, but they are similar enough to make dry red wine. Use the weight of your fruit and the juice yield in the average stats to estimate the volume of juice in your fruit. Don’t worry if you don’t get that yield. Most home winemakers wont, but with time the free run juice and the juice trapped in the pulp will become more similar. At pressing, after several days of fermentation, the juice you leave behind will be very close in composition to the juice you press out.

A hydrometer or refractometer can be a pretty good guide to sugar content of blueberries, so the place to start is with a good clear juice sample – filter with a paper towel, then a coffee filter. Test the specific gravity and titratable acidity, then use the Wine Recipe Wizard for recommendations on how much water and sugar syrup to add.

Say you have 100 lb of blueberries and they test out to the values in my average stats box. That would be about 45 kg, and a 87.94% yield indicates 39.6 liters of juice. A brix of 11.47 is equivalent to a specific gravity of 1.046, and we’ll use the average titratable acidity of 0.937% as citric. I don’t know how you like your red wine, but lets pick a target gravity of 1.090, for this example, and a target acidity of 0.6%. The Wine Recipe Wizard suggests 10.3 liters of water and 12.1 liters of sugar syrup. It says you’ll have 62 liters of must after that, but remember these calculations are juice only – you’ll be fermenting on the pulp so your must will be larger.

Freeze and thaw the blueberries to break the cell walls, release the juice, and allow the yeast to do their work. Ferment your must for 3-5 days, then press. Continue fermenting the pressed wine under an airlock.

Is blueberry wine prone to stuck fermentation?

I’ve read a lot about stuck fermentation in blueberry wine, but I’ve never been able to get anything more definitive than, “lots of people say so.” For the record, I’ve had a stuck fermentation on a country wine style (3-5 lb fruit/gallon must) blueberry wine. It turned out to be a nutrient deficiency. I say that because I got it going again after adding more nutrient and a new starter. Another blueberry wine, made more like a red wine from grapes, fermented out normally and quickly.

If you’re worried about a stuck fermentation in blueberry wine choose a hardy yeast like Red Star’s Premeir Cuvee or Lavlin’s EC-1118. Stay well within the yeast’s temperature range. Blueberry wine lends itself to a red style anyway, and red wines are normally fermented at warmer temperatures than whites. Use yeast nutrient and follow the directions. Keep an eye on pH, especially if you’re making it like a country wine.

Bookmark this page, and help keep it up to date!

The Know Your Ingredients series is a way of collecting useful information on various wine bases. Its the sort of thing I’ve googled for, but couldn’t find, when starting a new style of wine. I hope I’ve saved you some trouble. Nobody’s perfect, though, so if you notice a mistake or something worth adding please leave a comment and let me know. I’d especially like well-sourced data on blueberry pH and pectin content.


1) USDA National Nutrient Database Great information on the composition of many foods. I used the keyword “blueberries” and the food group “fruit & fruit juices,” and selected raw blueberries to find information for this post.

2) On Food and Cooking – Haraold McGee
This is a book on cooking that every winemaker should have. It’s packed with information on all sorts of ingredients, like blueberries and other fruit. It puts blueberries at 11% sugar and 0.3% acid (a little low compared to my other sources), by weight.

3) Documentation for USDA National Nutrient Database When you really want to know how the USDA determined the amount of fat in raspberries – or how and why they did anything in the nutrient database – look here.

Evaluates the influence of three types of substrates (peat, sawdust and cocoa husk) on yield, quality and chemical composition of highbush blueberries. Good data on sugar content, soluble solids, acidity, and juice yield of blueberries.

Studied the nutritional properties of highbush blueberries and how they changed during storage, but I was interested in the total sugar (10.87, 11.83, 11.22, 11.53 % fresh weight) and titratable acidity (0.54, 0.80, 0.81, 0.87 % fresh weight) at time zero.

6) Chemical composition of selected cultivars of highbush blueberry fruit – Katarzyna Skupien.
Compared the basic chemical composition of four varieties of highbush blueberries. These four are tested over three years giving twelve observations of brix and titratable acidity.

Notes and Further Reading

The Average Stats table is just me with a calculator averaging the values in my sources. Real world agricultural commodities vary, but I’ve tried to make this a good starting point.

There are many Brix/Specific Gravity tables on the web. Here is one.

Hopefully your yeast will always ferment out, but if not, here is how I deal with a stuck fermentation.

Raspberry Wine: How the pros do it

Winemaker magazine has a good article on commercial raspberry wine and how two wineries make it. There are striking similarities between the two, but each has a unique style and that means there are some important differences. Lets look at both and see what we can learn.

Denny Franklin of Pheasant Hollow Winery

Mr. Franklin aims for a must of 21-22 Brix, ferments dry, then sweetens to 4-6% sugar. That’s a lot of sugar, but the high acidity of raspberries leaves it tasting less sweet that you might think. He notes that pressing can be difficult and advises patience – be slow and deliberate. He doesn’t use recipes, but provides a lot of info on the typical quantities he uses. I was able to scale those down and distill his method into a recipe:

Ingredients for 6.25 – 7.5 gallons (23.7 – 28.4 liters) of Raspberry Wine
Item US Measure Metric Measure
Frozen Raspberries 40 lb 18 kg
Sugar 10 lb 4.5 kg
Water 1 gallon 3.8 liters
Superfood 7 g 7 g
Pectic Enzyme unspecified unspecified
Bentonite 7 g 7 g


  • Use frozen raspberries, dissolve sugar in water then add to raspberries
  • Add pectic enzyme and stir
  • Pitch yeast (Lalvin EC-1118) when the must reaches 50F (10C)
  • Ferment at 75-80F (24-27C), punch down the cap twice per day
  • Press when it has fermented out (about 7-8 days)
  • Fine with bentonite (1 g/gallon)
  • Cold settle at 26-30F (-3 to -1 C)
  • Filter or age & rack until clear
  • Stabilize and sweeten to taste ~ usually 4-6%, 0.68–1.0 lb/gallon (81–118 g/L)

Christine Lawlor-White of Galena Cellars Winery

Lawlor-White offered less detail about quantities, so no recipe. But experienced winemakers should be able to make good use of her method. She notes the same difficulty in pressing as Mr Franklin, and suggests rice hulls. She doesn’t specify a residual sugar level or discuss sweetening, but I’ve got to think she’s not out to make dry wine with 100% raspberries.

  • Use frozen raspberries, freeze fresh ones, to get better extraction
  • Sugar to 23 brix, 8-14 Brix from raspberries & 1 Brix for each 0.084 lbs. (0.038 kg) sugar
  • Sulfite frozen raspberries to 50 ppm, then cover with dry sugar
  • Stir in sugar when the raspberries have thawed
  • Pitch yeast when must reaches 50F (Lavlin EC-1118 or V-1116)
  • Ferment between 50-60F (10-16C)
  • Skim off cap w/slotted spoon and discard to avoid cloudy bitter wine from ellagic acid contact
  • Press after 5 days, even if still fermenting, to get the wine off the fruit ASAP
  • Press with rice hulls to improve yield

One’s like a red, the other like a white

Both use frozen raspberries, neither dilutes with water, and both pitch the yeast at 50F. They both recommend Lavlin EC-1118 yeast. Mr Franklin makes his raspberry wine a lot like a conventional red wine: punch down the cap, press after it’s fermented out, ferment at a relatively high temperature. Lawlor-White, on the other hand, ferments cool and presses early. She also scoops out and discards as much of the cap as she can. It’s more like a white or rose. And yet, I imagine her white is full bodied and brimming with flavor – unlike any white or rose you’ve ever had.

Lesson learned: Avoid acid reduction – sweeten instead

What really stands out is that they both make undiluted raspberry wine, while nearly every raspberry wine recipe I’ve seen calls for a small amount of fruit (3 lb or so per gallon) and a lot of water. The reason for this, aside from cost savings, is that raspberries are so high in acid. Yet, neither winemaker mentions reducing the acid, and here I’d like to talk about my own experience. My last raspberry wine was from juice, like Lawlor-White I don’t want my raspberry wine fermenting on the fruit, and much less water than most recipes. I tried to make a dry wine and reduce the acid. It was a pretty drastic reduction and I think it affected the flavor. I wasn’t happy with the result, and I now recommend sweetening to bring raspberry wine into balance.

Red or white?

As I said, I’m wary enough of fermenting on the fruit that I make raspberry wine from juice. That said, the decision to make it like a red or white is a stylistic difference. The only way to know which is right for you is to make both and try them. Yes, that means drinking a lot of raspberry wine, but you’ll just have to take one for the team and drink up!

Easy Apple Wine Recipe: For Leslie

Over a year ago, Leslie asked me for an easy apple wine recipe with step by step instructions. My first reaction was surprise. She posed her request in a comment on one of my apple wine recipes. That one was pretty easy, wasn’t it? I combined some apples from my backyard with some store-bought juice. All I had to do was juice the apples, add that to the juice I already had, measure the specific gravity and the titratable acidity, figure out how much sugar and acid to add, and … oh. Ok, now I remember what it was like when I was first starting out. I went looking for an easy recipe that didn’t make me run tests or figure anything out. So I thought about it for a bit, scribbled down some things I remembered about apples and apple juice, ran some numbers through a calculator, and whipped up a recipe for her on the fly.

I never heard from her and I forgot about the whole thing until I saw some apple juice at Trader Joe’s the other day. I hadn’t made a new batch of wine in a while, so I grabbed it from the shelves on impulse – I was going to make apple wine! Then I remembered.

Since a lot of people miss the conversations in the comments, I decided to update it a little and make it a top level post.

Here is Leslie’s Apple Wine Recipe:

To each gallon apple juice add three cups boiled-then-cooled sugar syrup (dissolve 3 cups sugar in 1.5 cups boiling water), one teaspoon acid blend, one teaspoon pectic enzyme, and one crushed campden tablet (or equivalent). Sprinkle a packet of Red Star Premier Cuvee, or other wine yeast of your choice, over the must.

Stir daily. You should notice fermentation in a couple of days. Once it has fermented out (a week or two), transfer to airlocked glass jugs/carboys. Top with other wine, or if you have to, water so that there is no more than one inch of room between the stopper and the wine. In a month or two, you should notice sediment has fallen. Rack into a clean airlocked glass jug/carboy. Add a new crushed campden tablet (or equivalent) every other time your rack.

When the wine stops throwing sediment, it’s ready to bottle. If you want it sweet, stabilize and sweeten according to your taste. If you just don’t know how much to sweeten, start with 3 tablespoons sugar/gallon of wine.

Ingredients for one gallon

This scales up easily. Want to make five gallons? Multiply everything, except the yeast, by five. Three gallons? Multiply by three.

  • 1 Gallon Apple Juice
  • 3 Cups Sugar
  • 1.5 Cups Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Acid Blend
  • 1 Teaspoon Pectic Enzyme
  • 1 Packet Yeast

Equipment you will need:

A primary fermenter, this is what you put everything in at first. A food grade 2-gallon bucket with a lid (not air tight, just to keep the dust and bugs out) works great for 1-gallon of wine that is fermented on skins and/or pulp. An airlocked 3-gallon carboy does the job too, while protecting juice-only fermentation from air. A 6-Gallon Carboy is just the thing for larger batches up to five gallons.

Two secondary fermenters. These are usually glass jugs or carboys that you can close with an airlock. One-gallon jugs work great for 1-gallon of wine. Why two? So that you have a place to siphon your fermenting/aging wine into.

Extra glass bottles that you can close with airlocks (wine bottles, beer bottles, and so forth). You’ll need these for wine that doesn’t fit when you rack.

Racking cane and siphon hose. You should siphon the wine from one container to the next so that it doesn’t splash and pick up too much oxygen.

A Stirring Spoon. I like stainless steel because they’re easy to sanitize by boiling; 14″ is a good size for 1-gallon batches.

No preservative in the apple juice

It’s very important that the apple juice have no preservatives – look for “pasteurized” and “no preservatives” on the label. If you see “sorbate” or “benzoate” on the ingredients, don’t buy it. It’s not that these things will do you any harm, but they will prevent the yeast from doing their work.

How to subscribe to the comments

A lot people know they can subscribe to the posts and be kept up to date automatically. But some posts generate a lot of conversation in the comments – most of this goes unnoticed. You can stay in the loop, whether it’s a reply to your question, somebody else’s question, or something totally new, by subscribing to the comments.

Update 5/23/2011 – Easy Apple Wine Recipe Bottled!

This wine was easy to make. Everything went smoothly and I bottled ten months after pitching the yeast. Using clarified juice meant the wine dropped clear, without fining, very quickly. In fact, I could have bottled at six months. But looks aren’t everything; this crisp dry white has good flavor and I’m looking forward to seeing (and tasting!) how it ages.

Making Mistakes And Learning The Right Lessons

As a wine (and mead, maybe cider, sometimes beer) maker, I’m always learning. It can be exciting to uncover the details of an unfamiliar yeast strain or the chemical composition of fruit, but as one of my wine making friends reminded me, sometimes the most important lessons – the ones that can have the biggest impact on your wine – are the mundane ones. Like pay attention, get organized, and plan ahead.

I’ll never forget my first mistake

I don’t know how he’d feel about me relaying his story of how he lost 5 gallons of promising wine, but fortunately (?) I’ve made plenty of my own mistakes. My very first wine got off to an exciting start, and I checked in on it hourly. I worried and doted over every step. Did I add just the right amount of tannin? The right kind? How about acid? Should I have used a different yeast? It’s been hours since I pitched the yeast – how come it’s not fermenting yet?!?! I needn’t have worried about any of that and not just because it was destined to come crashing down – literally – and spread out over the floor as it flowed over and around the shards of broken glass.

I was laser-focused on some important details

Nope. None of the those things mattered one bit. And I now know they wouldn’t have mattered even if I had been paying attention to my entire setup during the First Racking. It wasn’t just the first time that particular wine would be racked (siphoned from one container into another) it was the first time I had ever siphoned anything. So it was a big deal and I was determined to Do It Right. That meant no splashing. The whole point of siphoning is to transfer the wine without incorporating oxygen into it, so I was very intent on the end of the siphon hose – getting it into the receiving vessel quickly and smoothly, getting (and keeping) it submerged as quickly as possible, and keeping the vessel stable to it didn’t agitate the wine. I wasn’t wrong about any of that, and I did them all pretty well. I just left out a thing or two that proved to be important.

But overlooked one or two others

Like making sure the siphon hose was long enough for the height of my counter and the size of the 1-gallon jugs I was using. And keeping in mind that tugging on the (slightly too short) hose to get it and keep it submerged didn’t just reduce splashing but also pulled on the jug of fermenting wine sitting on the edge of the counter just above me. And that just because it didn’t fall right away didn’t mean that, as the racking progressed, the constant tug of the siphon hose wouldn’t overcome the (steadily falling) weight of fermenting wine holding the jug in place.

Everyone makes mistakes

It would have been helpful to learn all of those things a litter earlier than I did – yeah, that would have been great. Instead the 1-gallon jug with about half a gallon of fermenting wine came down with a … well I don’t remember exactly what it sounded like. I just remember being snapped out of whatever I was thinking about, which was probably how great the siphoning was going (no splashing here!), to find myself barefoot, wearing shorts, and sitting cross legged on my kitchen floor surrounded by shards of glass (from really big to really small and everything in between) and about half a gallon of fermenting wine spreading out over the floor.

The trick is to learn the right lessons

That was, um, discouraging. But I survived (I don’t know how, but literally without a scratch) to make wine another day. The remarkable thing is that I’m still learning from that all these years later. Yes, I make sure about the length of my siphon hose and that jugs and carboys are secure as I siphon from them. But today I realized the most important lesson is to develop an efficient and reliable procedure for each step in your wine making. Things like racking, bottling, testing, making up a must should all have a tried and true checklist – literally a written list of every item you will need and every step you will take. No more discovering at the last minute that the racking cane’s foot didn’t get sanitized or that you don’t have enough containers of the right size for all the wine your’re going to rack, or … anything. Each of these processes are simple enough that we ought to be able to do them the same way each time. No surprises, no mistakes, so the excitement in homemade wine can come from how it tastes.

Introducing the Wine Recipe Wizard

Introducing Washington Winemaker’s new Wine Recipe Wizard! This is a more robust version of a spreadsheet I’ve been using to create wine recipes. Use it to go from juice to must by adding sugar, water, and acid. The Wizard is designed to tell you exactly how much of each – all you need to do is tell it about your juice (specific gravity, titratable acidity, and volume) and what you want the must to be like (specific gravity and titratable acidity).

This is how I make rhubarb wine, apple wine, raspberry wine, cherry wine, and others. Juice, measure, adjust, then ferment. The Wizard helps with the “adjust” step.

Give it a try – Give me some feedback

I’m not sure there’s a first version of anything that’s perfect, and I don’t expect this to be an exception. There are ways to make it better, and I don’t know all of them. So if you think of one, let me know. I wanted to get it out quickly – for Rachel, Paul, and everyone else who’s been waiting for me to do this – and that meant leaving some unfinished business:

Known Issues

  • You have to enter the volume in liters, and this probably isn’t ideal for US users. I plan to add a radio button that allows you to select US or metric units, but in the meantime remember that 1 gallon = 3.785 liters.
  • You can only use sugar syrup with a specific gravity of 1.310. Another radio button will be coming soon that will allow honey or custom values.
  • The Wizard doesn’t handle juices that are sweeter and more acidic than the must. So if your juice SG is higher than the must SG and your juice TA is higher than your must TA, you will get an error message.
  • There are some limits on what values you can enter, but it will still allow you to specify a must that is impossible to create with a standard sugar syrup. In cases like that the Wizard will tell you to add negative volumes of stuff – you won’t run into this for real world juices and ordinary musts, but it’s a bug that is in there and I do plan to fix it.

I’m excited about this, I’ll keep working on it, and I hope it helps.

Sweetening Wine: An example

I get a lot of questions about how to make a sweet wine. I think the best way is to ferment to dryness, stabilize, then add boiled & cooled sugar syrup. I’m getting ready to do that with my raspberry wine, so I thought I’d use it as an example. It’s pretty dry right now, with a specific gravity (SG) of 0.996. It also tastes tart even though I neutralized some of the acid with potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3).

How much sugar?

I intend to raise the SG by 0.010 to 1.006, and that will mean adding about 30 g/L of sugar. For each US gallon, then, I’ll be adding 113.55 g (about 4 oz). How did I decide on 0.010? Well I didn’t want the most memorable thing about my wine to be that its sweet, so I aimed for a small incremental change. I thought that 0.010 would give me an incremental boost that wouldn’t overdo it, and anything less might have gone unnoticed. It’s important to set clear goals in your wine making, but sometimes “not too little but not too much” is as precise as you can get.

Make a sanitized sugar syrup

Unlike honey, sugar can harbor unwanted micro critters, so I’ll want to sanitize it before adding it to the wine. It’s also good practice to dissolve any solid additives in water, or other liquid (maybe a small about of the wine) before adding them to wine. That way the additive (sugar in this case) is incorporated into the wine without disturbing it and releasing a lot of dissolved CO2 all at once. So for each US gallon, I’ll measure out about 2 fl oz (about 30 ml) of water, boil it in a microwave, dissolve the 4 oz (about 114 g) sugar, bring back to a boil in the microwave, then cool in a water bath. I’m trying to minimize the amount of water I use, but if the sugar doesn’t dissolve easily I’ll add a little more.

Update 2/9/2009 – Sugar Syrup: Rethinking the proportions

After making sugar syrups and reading more about it, I’ve settled on two parts sugar to one part water (by volume) as the best way to make it. I’ve collected what I know about sugar, and making sugar syrup into a separate post. It’s one to bookmark and refer back to.

Stabilize and rack the wine onto the sugar syrup

Once the sugar-water has cooled, it’s time to add the sulfite and sorbate. This will stabilize the wine and keep any dormant yeast from springing into action. Check the directions on the package of sorbate that you buy, mine call for 0.5 tsp/1 US Gallon so I’ll add that along with sulfite to 50 ppm. Pour this sanitized sugar syrup with sulfite and sorbate into a sanitized container then rack the wine into it. It’s really a good idea to rack at this point because you’ll be leaving behind any sediment, which is always a good thing but it’s especially important now to leave behind as much yeast as possible, and the siphoning will gently mix the syrup into the wine.

Now comes the most common task in winemaking – waiting. Give the sugar time, a week at least – a month if you can, to integrate into the wine, and check to make sure it hasn’t started fermenting again. After that comes the most fun task in winemaking – taste it. If it’s still not sweet enough, then go through another sweeten-wait-taste cycle. If it’s ready, then it’s bottling time. I’ll drink to that!