Category Archives: winemaking

Tomato Wine: First Racking

Ten days after pitching the yeast, I siphoned the translucent, yellow, tomato wine into two 1-gallon jugs and a 1.5L magnum bottle. So 18 lb (8.2 kg) of tomatoes, 4.8 lb (2.2 kg) sugar, and 2.5 quarts (2.4 liters) water turned into about 9 liters (a little under 2.5 gallons) of wine. I still don’t have a good idea of what tomato wine will taste like. At this point it’s just tart and young. Lets see what happens after I add a little time!

Tomato Wine: Fermentation Complete

It looked like fermentation was winding down, so I drew a sample for testing. The sample had some dissolved CO2 in it, and that can skew my tests in two ways. It can give rise to carbonic acid, which will push the titratable acidity (TA) higher. It can also make it look like there is more sugar in the sample than there really is. As the CO2 comes out of solution, in the form of bubbles, it physically pushes upward on the hydrometer which leads to a higher specific gravity (SG) reading.

SG: 1.000, pH 3.03, TA: 10 g/L

The TA went from 6.5 to 10 g/L in six days, which is a much bigger jump than I was expecting. Did the carbonic acid push it up that much? Or did I just botch the test? Either way, the thing to do is rack and set it aside for a while. When I come back to retest, the CO2 will have bled off and I’ll have better results.

Tomato Wine Recipe

I sowed seeds that sprouted into seedlings. I transplanted the seedlings to beds. I fussed over the tomato plants. I planned. I harvested. Now, at last, I’m finally making tomato wine!


Juice from 18 lb (8.2 kg) tomatoes – about 1.67 gallons (6.3 liters)
4.84 lb (2.2 kg) sugar
2.5 quarts (2.4 liters) water
8 tsp (40 g) tartaric acid
2 tsp (10 g) diammonium phosphate
1 tsp (2.3 g) pectic enzyme
sulfite to 50 ppm (equivalent to two campden tablets)
premier cuvee yeast


Make a yeast starter and set it aside to grow. Juice the tomatoes and pour it into the fermenter. Dissolve the sugar in the water, boil, cool, and add to fermenter. Add sulfite, pectic enzyme, diammonium phosphate, and tartaric acid. Pitch the yeast starter when it is active.

Adjusting the sugar

I measured the pressed juice at:

Specific Gravity (SG): 1.024, pH: 4.23, Titratable Acidity (TA): 4 g/L

Based on those measurements, I decided to add 4.6 liters of SG 1.180 sugar syrup to the tomato juice. That’s 2.2 kg of sugar dissolved in 2.4 liters of water, and it ought to leave me with almost 11 liters of SG 1.090 juice. To determine how much sugar syrup to add in your own recipe, you can use this formula:

x = ( V * (TG – SG) ) / (1.180 – TG)

where x is the amount of sugar water, in liters, to add
V is the volume of must, in liters (6.3, in my case)
TG is your specific gravity target (1.090)
SG is the current specific gravity of your must (1.024)

The 1.180 is the SG of the sugar syrup (I was running out of variable names!)

Adjusting the acid

Once I adjusted the sugar, I knew what the final volume of the must was going to be, about 11 liters. Dry white wine musts are normally between 7 – 9 g/L TA, but I decided to aim a little low at 6 g/L. I wanted to add some acid to get the pH down, but not down so much that it would inhibit fermentation. It’s easy to add more later, and I expected to do just that. At any rate, I already had about 25 g (6.3 liters of juice at 4 g/L), and I was targeting 66 g (11 liters of must at 6 g/L), so I needed to add about 41 g. After the additions, I measured again:

SG: 1.104, pH: 3.02, TA: 6.5 g/L

My actual sugar and acid levels came out a little higher than I predicted, probably because my weight and volume measurements are imprecise – close enough. Now I’ve got a little under three gallons of sweet acidic tomato juice. I don’t know what tomato wine is going to taste like, but this juice is really odd. There is a strong flavor of tomato, which I like but is completely out of place in such a sweet juice. I hope the yeast like it, because I just pitched the starter.

Update 2/28/2008: Too much acid!

After fermentation, I measured the TA at 9-10 g/L. An error in my measurements might explain the apparent jump. I took two measurements just before pitching the yeast, however, and they were consistent with each other. I took two more measurements after it had fermented out, and they were both showed an increase of 2.5-3.5 g/L. I know that some acid forms during fermentation, but this much? I’m not sure what happened here, but I think the lesson is to wait until your wine is fermented out before you adjust your acid.

Racking The Merlot And Cherry Wine

I made good use of my new 3-gallon (11 liter) carboys this weekend. Three 1-gallon (3.785 liter) jugs, plus one wine bottle, of cherry wine fit perfectly into the carboy. Eight gallons (30 liters) of Merlot filled a 5-gallon (19 liter) and a 3-gallon carboy with a little left over in a wine bottle.

Higher yield from red wine?

I’m still surprised by the yield from my Merlot grapes. I bought 100 lb (45.45 kg) in October, and I was expecting about 5-gallons of wine, which is about what I’m getting from the 100 lb of Chardonnay grapes I bought at the same time. I think I know what happened. I treated the Merlot with pectic enzyme, then fermented it like any red wine, so the skin and pulp were soaking in a water-turning-to-alcohol mixture for a week. This, to say nothing the fermenting yeast, broke down cell walls and membranes making it a lot easier to squeeze liquid out of the pulp. The Chardonnay, on the other hand, were pressed immediately after crushing. The result: more Merlot wine from the same amount of grapes. I’ll have to make a note of this for next year to see if the extra yield from red wine is real or if this year’s experience was just a fluke.

Commercial Cranberry Wine

I just found out that a commercial winery in Washington made a cranberry wine. They were faced with the same high acidity that I discussed a few days ago, and we both used a similar approach to deal with it. They blended with Chardonnay (20% cranberry and 80% Chardonnay), while I “blended” with water (25% cranberry and 75% water). I considered blending with another fruit, but I want my first wine to be just cranberry. The water, which contributes virtually no acidity, allows me to squeeze in a little more cranberry, and I feel a bit better calling the result “cranberry wine.” Once I get that down and find out what cranberry wine tastes like, I can try different blends by substituting other fruit for the water.

Know Your Ingredients: Cranberries

With Thanksgiving not far behind and Christmas fast approaching, I began thinking about cranberry wine. I’ve never made cranberry wine before, so I think the best way to start is by taking a closer look at what’s in cranberries.

What are cranberries like?

One cup (240 ml) of whole cranberries weigh about 3.5 oz (100 grams). Chop them up and they take up less space, so you can fit 3.9 oz (110 grams) into a cup. Fresh cranberries keep best when stored cold, just above 32F (0C). Phenolic content is high, up to 200 mg/100 g. Some of these phenolic compounds act as antioxidants, others, like benzoic acid, as antimicrobials. Total acid content is about 3 g/100 g, most of which is citric and malic, and they’re rich in pectin.

What’s in cranberries?

100 g of cranberries contain:

87.13 g water
12.2 g carbohydrates
0.39 g protein
0.13 g fat
0.15 g ash

Of the 12.2 g of carbohydrates, 4.04 g are sugar:

3.28 g glucose
0.63 g fructose
0.13 g sucrose

What does this mean for winemakers?

It means we’ve got some work to do in the sugar and acid department. Let’s assume that the juice yield will be equal to the water content of cranberries – call it 87 ml/100 g – and that all the sugar and acid will be in the juice. In that case, we’d get 87 ml of juice, containing 4 g of sugar and 3 g of acid. That puts the acidity of the juice at 34.5 g/L, as citric, and it means we’ve about 46 g/L of sugar. Converting it to more familiar units, we have a specific gravity (SG) of 1.015 (5 Brix) and a titratable acidity of 37 g/L, as tartaric.

I would approach this by diluting the juice, with sugar-water, until the acid is closer to normal – I might target 9 g/L in the must, which is still a little high but within the norm for a dry white wine. Combining one part cranberry juice with three parts sugar-water gets us to 9.25 g/L. How much sugar in the sugar-water? An SG of 1.090 implies about 240 g/L of sugar. We started with 4 g in 87 ml, which is 46 g/L, and diluted it to 25%. It turns out that three parts of 305 g/L sugar water to one part 46 g/L cranberry juice gets us 240.25 g/L.

That would be a good starting point. A larger than normal dose of pectic enzyme and a yeast that consumes malic acid, like Lavlin’s 71-B, would also be good ideas. I’ll think about this some more and pull it all together in a recipe soon.

Further Reading

Haraold McGee’s On Food and Cooking is a great book on the science of cooking. No recipes, but lots of information on ingredients, like cranberries and other fruits, and food chemistry. That makes it a great reference for the home winemaker as well as the home cook.

The USDA nutrient database is a great place to look up the composition of all sorts of common foods. They don’t have much to say about acidity, but still very valuable.

Mead From Cherries: So far, so good

Making mead from cherries

I’ve often thought about making “second wine” using honey instead of sugar. Also called “false wine,” it’s made from the pomace of newly fermented wine by adding water, sugar and acid. I like honey, water, and acid (mead) all by itself, so using honey instead of sugar should be an improvement. That’s the idea behind my cherry mead, which I made in 2006 and 2007 from the pomace of that year’s cherry wine.

A little adjustment and a little more time

I got a chance to look in on the 2007 cherry mead when I racked it the other day, and I think it’s coming along nicely. If I had to sum up the flavor in one word, it would be “mild.” It’s a little fruity, and the aroma is pleasant, but I think it needs more time. Here are the numbers:

Date: 11/21/07, Specific Gravity: 0.996, pH: 3.39, TA: 5 g/L

The TA is a little low, so I added about 1.25 g/L of tartaric acid. With that little adjustment, I’ll leave it alone to age for a while.

Red Wine From Cherries: Revisiting the acid problem

Making red wine from cherries

I made cherry wine, in June 2006 and 2007, like a red wine from grapes. I crushed the fruit, adjusted the sugar and acid, and pitched the yeast. The sugar and acid profile of cherries is very different from that of grapes, so “adjusting the sugar and acid” is a much bigger step in making cherry wine than it is in making red wine from grapes.

Acid: Fixing one problem will make another worse

I just racked the 2006 cherry wine, and that “bigger step” is proving to be a real headache. The pH is too high, which puts the wine at risk of spoiling, and the titratable acidity (TA) is too high, which leaves the wine tasting tart. I first noticed this problem a few months ago in my 2007 cherry wine, and decided to wait a while before acting. Ok it’s been a while, and I think I’ve just proven the old adage that ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away! Here is an analysis of both wines:

Name Date SG pH TA (g/L)
2006 Cherry Wine 11/21/2007 1.010 3.83 9
2007 Cherry Wine 7/30/2007 1.007 3.76 11
2007 Cherry Wine 11/21/2007 1.006 3.90 7

Both wines finished off dry, and both suffer from high pH and high TA. I don’t have earlier data for the 2006, because I didn’t have a pH meter or an acid test kit when I made it, but the measured pH rose and the TA fell in the 2007 cherry wine. I’ll tackle the 2006 vintage first. The way I see it, I’ve got two options in dealing with these problems.

The simple option: Add acid and balance with sugar

Adding more acid will lower the pH. That will solve the first part of the problem and improve the wine’s stability. Neutralizing some of the existing acid will lower the TA, which will solve the second part of the problem and improve the wine’s flavor. Speaking of flavor, it isn’t very good. I don’t think I can describe it in any useful way, Marsha said it was “icky,” but it didn’t taste tart. I think that gives me some leeway to lower the pH by adding tartaric acid, even though the TA is already high.

The complicated option: Replace one kind of acid with another

The acid in my cherry wine is mostly malic. That’s different from grape wine, where the acid will be mostly tartaric. What if I could replace some of that malic acid with tartaric? That would make it more like a conventional grape wine, and might solve my twin acid problems. This would mean neutralizing some malic acid first, then adding tartaric acid. It turns out that neutralizing malic acid is tricky and it makes this option a lot more complicated than just adding tartaric acid and relying on residual sugar to balance it. My 2007 cherry wine has the same acid problem, so whichever option I choose, I’ve got a lot riding on the outcome.

Racking The Chardonnay

I’ve had about six gallons (23 liters) of Chardonnay fermenting in two 5-gallon (19 liter) carboys since 10/17/07. That’s when I took delivery of my purchased grapes, 100 lb of Chardonnay and 100 lb of Merlot. I pressed the Merlot on 10/22/07, and racked the Chardonnay a few days ago.

Up to this point, I’ve kept the free run separate from the press wine and I analyzed both of them before I racked.

Free Run – Specific Gravity (SG): 0.992, pH: 3.57, Titratable Acidity (TA): 7.5 g/L
Press – SG: 0.991, pH: 3.72, TA: 7 g/L

Virtually identical except for the pH, which is noticeably higher in the press wine. I decided to rack some of the free run into a 1-gallon jug, and combine the rest of the free run with the press wine in a 5-gallon carboy. The carboy needed topping up, and I used some of my 2005 Riesling and a bottle of “topping wine,” odds and ends form different batches that I combined into a single wine bottle.

Apple Wine Recipe: Surprising increase in acidity

I racked my apple wine on 11/15/07. It analyzed out as:

Specific Gravity (SG): 0.996, pH: 3.56, Titratable Acidity (TA): 7 g/L

So it had fermented out in less than ten days, but the thing that surprised me was the TA. It rose from 5.5 to 7 g/L when I was expecting it to drop. The wine has only just finished fermenting though, so its probably got quite a bit of carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolved in it. That CO2 will give rise to some carbonic acid and a higher TA. I honestly don’t know if that’s enough to explain the high acidity, but I’ll let it be for a while. As it ages, the CO2 will bleed off and I’ll test (and taste!) it again.