Category Archives: winemaking

Small Batches

1/2 gallon ''backyard burgundy'', 1/2 gallon honey apple, and a 1-pint leon-pinotThere are some good reasons to make wine in 5-gallon (19 liter) or larger batches. Once you know what you’re doing, it takes about the same amount of effort to make five gallons of wine as it does to make one. The amount of headspace in a 5-gallon carboy isn’t much more than in a 1-gallon jug. So five gallons of wine. stored in 1-gallon jugs, is in contact with a lot more air than if it were in a 5-gallon carboy. That makes oxidation a bigger problem. So why am making the three small batches in the photo (and many more that aren’t shown)?

Each one has it’s own story. My “backyard burgundy,” a rose made from Leon Millot, Pinot Noir, Siegerrebe, and Price grapes that I grew in my bonsai vineyard, is on the left. On the right is my honey apple, made from Liberty, Ashmead Kernel, and Roxbury Russets that I grew in my bonsai orchard. Finally, my Leon-Pinot, a red wine made from Pinot Noir and Leon Millot grapes from my bonsai vineyard, is front and center.

I’m still not sure what to call my most recent wine, but Backyard Burgundy just might stick. It’s the product of two less-than-ideal harvests from my bonsai orchard. From pests, large and small, to wacky weather I wasn’t sure what I’d get from these grapes. The 2007 harvest sulked in my freezer until it was joined by the 2008 vintage. Growers all over the Puget Sound complained of low sugar and high acid, so I decided to toss all the grapes into a single batch of rose. So I crushed, pressed, and fermented the juice just like a white wine. All the red grapes gave the wine it’s color, and that’s why it’s a rose instead of a white wine. I love my bonsai vineyard, but volume isn’t it’s strong suit, so the harvest from a difficult year – even two difficult years – will be small. The 8.5 lb gave me about 3 quarts of juice, and I’m hoping for three 750 ml bottles of finished wine.

You’ve really got to want to make wine to make it in these quantities, and I do. That’s why I crushed, fermented, and pressed a red wine from my first harvest ever – 4 lb (about 1.8 kg) of Leon Millot and Pinot Noir grapes. It’s been aging in a 500 ml Grolsch bottle since 2006 and I’m getting ready to open it.

The honey apple came from my biggest harvest of apples. It was big enough that I decided not to supplement the apples with store bought juice, like I usually do, and that will make it my smallest batch of apple wine. How’s that for irony?

Tax Day Wine

Wine from Welch’s grape juice

Its tax day in the US, and this year taxes made me busier and grumpier than normal. With all that behind me, I’m starting to feel like my old self. So when Welch’s concentrated grape juice went on sale the other day, I bought twelve cans to make a “Tax Day Wine.” Yep, definitely feeling better! If you’ve never made wine from frozen concentrate, it probably seems like a nutty idea. There is method in this madness, however, and good technique can transform Welch’s grape juice into a drinkable wine that costs less than $1/bottle. Think of it as the home wine maker’s version of “Two Buck Chuck,” the simple, popular table wine that Trader Joe’s sells for $2/bottle in most of the country (and a higher but still affordable $3/bottle here in Washington).

What kind of juice

There are all sorts of frozen concentrates available, and I’ve made wine from a lot of them. The white grape juice, made from Niagra grapes, is the most consistent, and that’s what I’ll be using. Others have been hit or miss, with some of the hits being really good and some of the misses being really disappointing. I suggest you start with white grape (other brands, like Old Orchard, are fine). After you make that, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect from concentrates. If you want to make more, then by all means try the blends like Dole’s Pine-Orange-Banana – just watch your acid, don’t expect the wine to taste like the juice, and have fun.

I hope to make this in the next week or so, and then I’ll do a proper writeup. Until then, Happy Tax Day!

Update 1/29/09: Better late than never! Full writeup on Welch’s wine

Boy did I ever get sidetracked! It was nine months in coming, but I finally posted a complete recipe for wine from frozen concentrate. If you’ve made Welch’s wine, let me know how it turned out. If not, maybe now’s the time to give it a try. While you’re at it, you might have a look at my Produce Department Chablis, a wine made from grocery store grapes.

Oak Staves, Chips, and Powder – Free Samples!

Oak Samples

I just received this very impressive sample kit from the Oak Solutions Group. There’s a lot to experiment with: different types of oak, in different forms, with different levels of toast. I hope to be trying it all out, and writing about it, over the next year. To get one for yourself, follow this link, fill out the form, and select which samples you would like. They ask what company you work for and your title, but I just wrote in “Home Wine Maker.”

Time to experiment!

Rhubarb Wine With No Added Water?

I make rhubarb wine every year. I get about 6 fl oz/lb (400 ml/kg) of juice when I thaw frozen rhubarb, and since I use about 3 lb/gal (360 g/L) of rhubarb I need to add a lot of water. But 6 fl oz/lb scales up to over 4.5 gallons from 100 lb of “fruit.” That’s not far from the yield I expect from grapes, and it made me wonder about making rhubarb wine without added water. When the Lynfred Winery announced a commercial rhubarb wine, I wondered even more. Can commercial wineries add water? I don’t think they can, so I asked them how they made their wine. They were kind enough to explain their method: thaw frozen rhubarb, add sugar to about 20 Brix, then pitch the yeast. No added water and no neutralizing the oxalic acid. They did mention that the wine needed residual sugar to balance the acid.

I think I’m going to need a lot of rhubarb this year … and maybe a bottle of Lynfred’s Rhubarb.

Knowledge is power: What winemakers need to know about rhubarb

For more information about rhubarb, like how acidic is it? how much sugar? and other things winemakers need to know when they make rhubarb wine, see here ~ Know Your Ingredients: Rhubarb.

Update 3/28/2011: Commercial Raspberry Wine is made the same way

Homemade raspberry wine is also made with a small amount of fruit and a lot of water. Why? Rhubarb and raspberries are both highly acidic, so commercial wineries approach raspberry wine the same way Lynfred makes rhubarb wine: All fruit with little or no added water, sugar to bring the must up to wine strength, and sweetening to balance the acidity.

Valentine’s Day Wine: Making your own

A wine to match the occasion

A couple of weeks ago, I passed along some great advice about pairing wine and chocolate for Valentine’s Day. That got me thinking about making a wine for the Day of Romance. What should the wine be like? At first, I thought it should pair with chocolate, like those earlier recommendations. Then I thought, I’ll make it with chocolate! I’ve heard of chocolate being used in making wine and mead (even beer), and I’ve always been curious about it.

It’ll take some doing, but it’ll be fun

This is the first in a series of articles on making wine with chocolate. I have a lot of questions, like should I try to make a plain chocolate wine the way I made Oregano Wine? Should I use a more traditional base that goes with chocolate, like raspberry or cherry, and incorporate chocolate into the wine? What form of chocolate should I use (solid, cocoa, syrup, extract)? As I find answers, and more questions, I’ll update this series with new articles. Ultimately, and hopefully in time for next Valentine’s Day, I’ll fashion a recipe and make chocolate wine!

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Acidity In Mead: Being rigorous with incomplete data

I talked about five of my meads yesterday, and how I might decide if they were ready to bottle. I looked at clarity and specific gravity (SG) because I didn’t want the mead throwing off sediment or fermenting in the bottle. I tasted, probably the most important test of any wine or mead, and I checked the acidity.

Mead’s peculiar chemistry makes it difficult to measure the titratable acidity (TA). I explain this in more detail here, but the short version is that the common tests, like titration, overstate the TA. That made me think that such tests had no value, but I’ve since changed my mind. Measured TA’s don’t give you a precise value, but they do give you some information. That’s why I reported TA values for all five meads yesterday.

Using titratable acidity values in making mead

What do those values tell us? I began to get an idea about that when I was thinking about my cherry mead. As I said back then, you can use the TA values as upper limits. If you want to make a mead with the acid profile of a white wine, for example, you look up the range of acid values common in white wine then aim for the high end of the range. A good book on winemaking basics will give you that information. I like Daniel Pambianchi’s Techniques in Home Winemaking, he covers the basics really well and has special sections on ice wine, port, and sparkling wine. He says that the TA in white wines will normally range from 5 – 7.5 g/L. Adjusting a mead to 7.5 g/L puts the actual TA somewhere below that. Tasting the adjusted mead, after about a month or so to allow any acid additions to integrate with the mead, will reveal if the acidity is too low. If it is, then a series of add (no more than 0.5 g/L) – wait – taste cycles will nudge it right into the sweet spot.

Trying to improve a good approach

This is a good approach, but I’d like to get better information on the lower limit of a mead’s TA. Since the measurement error stems from the gluconolactone that exists in equilibrium with gluconic acid and that equilibrium depends on temperature and pH, maybe careful measurement of TA, pH, and temperature would yield some information on how much gluconolactone got caught up in the measurement. We might be able to use that to get a lower limit on, or even pin down, the actual TA. I don’t know how to do that yet, but I’ll see if I can find out. Another way to tackle this problem is to find out how much gluconolactone typically exists in honey. Putting limits on gluconolactone concentration will allow us to put limits on the actual TA. Those are my ideas anyway, if anyone can shed some light on them, or has another idea, please leave a comment and let us all know.

Five Meads: Are we there yet?

I looked in on five meads yesterday to see if they were ready to bottle. I was looking for clarity, I tasted them to see if they were pleasant to drink, and I measured the specific gravity (SG), pH, and titratable acidity (TA).

Name SG pH TA (g/L)
2004 Plain Mead 1.001 3.05 5
2005 Apple Mead 0.995 3.39 5.2
2006 Experiment (boiled) 1.000 3.27 6
2006 Experiment (no heat) 1.000 3.29 5.3
2006 Grape Mead 1.000 3.51 5+

Ready or not, this four year old mead is going in a bottle

I tasted sweetness on the 2004 plain mead, despite the low SG. It had that distinctive, pleasant aroma that I’ve come to associate with mead, and the lady of the house thought it was, “a little young, but it’s going to be good.” I’m not sure I’m as patient as she is, so I’m going to bottle it.

This apple mead is the only one not ready to bottle

The 2005 apple mead tasted and smelled of apple, but only a hint. I thought it was a little tart. It was the only one of the lot that I thought wasn’t clear enough to bottle.

Trying to settle a long running debate

The 2006 experiment is a test of the idea that boiling a mead’s honey-water mixture before pitching the yeast impairs the aroma by driving off volatile compounds. I split a batch, boiled one and made the other without heating. That was two years ago, and I think these meads are ready to bottle. I normally age mead for three years though, so I may let them age in the bottle then have a tasting party next February.

Update 10/28/2008 – The results are in!
It was a long running experiment with a little surprise at the end. Follow this link to see the results of my mead boiling test.

The trouble with titration

The 2006 grape mead is made from the pomace of my smallest batch of wine ever. I added honey, water, nutrient, and cream of tartar. I had some trouble checking the TA on this one because I ran short of sodium hydroxide, the base I use to titrate acid in a wine sample. I added 5 ml to the sample, and that brought the pH to 7.4. That’s very close to the end point. If I really had reached the end point, it would have indicated a TA of 5 g/L. It’s a bit more, maybe 5.25 g/L, but since I can’t be sure I just noted “5+”

Hmm, that acid measuring contraption I wrote about the other day just looks better and better.

Titratable Acidity: A Better Way?

A man, his contraption, and a different way

I learned of a different way to test for titratable acidity, the other day. At the last meeting of the Puget Sound Amatuer Wine and Beer Makers club, Don Proctor demonstrated this method using an odd looking device. He used ordinary baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to neutralize the acid in a test sample. The important thing about this chemical reaction is that it gives off carbon dioxide (CO2) in direct proportion to the amount of acid neutralized. Now his device didn’t look so odd. The stoppers, tubing, glass cylinders, and green liquid were used to measure the amount of CO2, and if you know how much wine was in your sample and how much CO2 was produced, you can find the acidity of your sample.

The difference is in what you measure

This method, and conventional titration, both aim to measure the amount of acid by neutralizing it with a base. In a titration, you add a carefully measured amount of base until all the acid is neutralized. It’s important that you add just enough base to neutralize all the acid – no more and no less – because you determine the amount of acid in the sample from the amount of base that you add. Because you have to measure the base so precisely, it’s best to add it in liquid form. That means you need to have a solution of base at a precise concentration. Now, this is easy to find, but it’s expensive and it has a short shelf life.

Why the new way is better

You need to neutralize all the acid in Mr Proctor’s method too, but you don’t need to know how much base it took to do that. That means you don’t need to determine the end point (no pH meter) and you can use cheap, shelf stable baking soda instead of expensive perishable sodium hydroxide. That’s a big plus, as I found out the last time I ran out of chemicals. I’m going to have to get one of these contraptions!

Update 9/8/2008: A picture is worth a thousand words

If you’re having trouble visualizing it, take a look at this photo.

Rhubarb Wine Recipe: First Racking

By 1/30/08, the specific gravity (SG) of my rhubarb wine had dropped to 1.000, and that means fermentation is finished or nearly finished. So, ten days after I pitched the yeast, I racked into a 1-gallon jug, two wine bottles, and an 8-oz (about 240 ml) coke bottle. When you’re working with small volumes like this, it pays to have a variety of small containers handy. I got caught short three months ago, and learned my lesson. So, in addition to the wine bottles and the coke bottle, I had some 16 oz (not quite 500 ml) and 20 oz (almost 600 ml) bottles ready.

It’s an opaque golden color and a little fizzy right now. In time it will clear and become still. The SG will drop a little and some yeast will settle out. At that point, I’ll test the acidity, make any needed adjustments, and rack again.

Extracting Juice With Sugar

Crushing and pressing is a great way to get juice from most berries, but this isn’t a one size fits all approach. Sugar extraction is a good way to “juice” hard fruits and vegetables. To do this, cut up the fruit/vegetables into 0.5 inch (1.25 centimeter) pieces and cover with sugar.

Dry Sugaring Rhubarb

In the photo, I’ve covered about 3.9 lb (1.8 kg) of rhubarb with 1 lb (450 g) of sugar. The sugar draws moisture out of the rhubarb, and in a few days I strained off this juice. After that, I put the rhubarb back in the bucket and covered with water, as a rinse, and strained again. I’ve used this procedure in making rhubarb wine and apple wine.