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Winemaking is both a good and a bad hobby for me: good in the sense that I can start it and then forget about it for several weeks; bad in the sense that I have to wait so long to enjoy my results.

I already described the initial winemaking process here and here. A good wine generally requires several re-rackings; i.e., must be transferred from one carboy to another after several weeks. Some home winemakers (Hi Dad!) prefer to let the whole process carry out in only one container and for only a few weeks. Yes, technically that is all you need to ferment sugar into alcohol. The result will have flavor and will get you drunk. But is it a good wine?

I don't believe so. The liquor in the first carboy is full of sediment. The reason to leave it in the first secondary container for 45-60 days isn't so that the yeast can work longer. Once the liquor reaches a certain alcohol level, it kills off any remaining yeasties, so as long as your must had the correct specific gravity, you'll reach your desired alcohol content regardless of how long the liquor sits in the primary. However, over those 45-60 days, sediment in the liquor falls out of suspension.

I'm just short of the 60-day mark, and it's time for the next step. Today I re-racked my wine. What that means is that I sanitized my equipment and carefully siphoned the liquor from the current carboy to the another clean carboy.

I learn from my mistakes. When I initially racked the liquor from the primary to the secondary I made a royal mess of things. There was wine and water all over the kitchen. The house smelled of an odd combination of white wine and jalapeños for days! Part of the problem, of course, was inexperience, but part was also a failure to use the best available tools. I simply used sanitized plastic hose, which flopped all over the place. The guy at The Modern Homebrew Emporium, where I get my supplies, suggested I get a different type of siphon, one that has a long straight hard piece of plastic at one end with a filter and then a shorter length of stiff plastic at the other end, with flexible hose in between. I could also have bought a fancy autosiphoning tool that uses a pump to create a vacuum and start the siphoning, but the guy didn't think it was necessary. And he was right. I siphoned the liquor into the clean carboy with a minimum of mess using my new tool, leaving an ooze of sediment in the first carboy and a significantly clearer wine in the second carboy.

The other improvement I made was to use a smaller carboy. This isn't really a mistake per se, but the first secondary I used was a 5-gallon carboy. This time I bought a 3-gallon carboy. That really is plenty big for any wine I plan on making, and it seems more manageable.

The fellow at the Emporium asked how my wine tasted. "I don't know," I replied. He suggested that, while I was siphoning into the clean carboy, I allow a little to siphon into a small glass for a taste test. So I did just that today. It still has a ways to go, but I am pleased with the results so far. It's a dry, acidic, spicy wine. I'm hoping the acidity will tone down a bit with aging, but I think it's pleasant. It is definitely a sipping, not a chugging, wine!

I should have two more rackings, about 30 days apart, to allow the wine to clear further. Then maybe I'll have a small party for some of the locals to sample my first wine.

In the meantime, I am eager to get started on my next wine. I would like to do a hibiscus wine, but finding the ingredients may prove difficult. In October I think I'll start an apple wine, and maybe in the winter a cranberry wine. But I'd like to start something now with whatever fruit or vegetables might be abundant at the moment. I could do a tomato wine, but then I would need at least 4 pounds of perfectly ripe and fresh picked tomatoes. If any of you locals have access to quantities of fresh produce at cheap prices, let me know so I can find an interesting ingredient for my next wine. Thanks!


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 27th, 2003 01:20 pm (UTC)
Have you tried the Haymarket for produce?
Jul. 27th, 2003 08:54 pm (UTC)
All that racking is unnecessary. Just add a clarifier when the wine is done and you rack the final product. You don't need to wait a long time if you start a small new batch every two to four weeks. And I don't think anybody ever got drunk on any of my wines, with an average alcohol level of nine percent -- you can get stronger beers. I chose that level because I like flavorful young dry wines.

As for cheap fruit, make friends at your local market and get them to donate the stuff that is about to be tossed because it is pasado -- too ripe. Carrots are extremely high in sugar -- use them alone or in combination with something else. Dilute honey until it will produce about ten percent alcohol and brew that. If you really want to be different, try some flower wines: cactus flower, elderflower (elderberry flower) or the famous dandelion wine. They all work pretty much the same as the hibiscus / saril wine: boil up the flowers with sugar, let cool, add yeast, allow to ferment. I'll bet you could make a pretty decent wine from roses -- rose hips have a citrus taste and are strong in vitamin C but the petals just have a delicate fragrance. Another edible flower that would be interesting to try for a wine is the nasturtium, which has a peppery taste when added to salads.

Cathy returns from Florida tonight. Either she or I will get you a bag of hibiscus flowers early in the week at either Albertsons or Henry's Marketplace. You should be able to start your wine by next week-end.
Jul. 28th, 2003 01:32 am (UTC)
I see you found Jack Keller's site. He and I have corresponded a bit about techniques and recipes. I've been getting my recipes from his site.

Sure, the re-racking may not be necessary, but I think it helps. And I'm not in a huge hurry, so I'll follow the instructions I have to the T before I start freelancing.
Jul. 28th, 2003 04:09 am (UTC)
Still, you grew up watching your mother and I cook without recipes and you saw me making wine without recipes, although I followed certain simple, basic guidelines. I was sure you were ready to do much the same, to try the direct, seat-of-the-pants piloting approach to blending flavors and producing ... whatever. That is, after all, the appeal of the Iron Chef -- the old one, not the new Las Vegas perversion -- depend on your instincts and try what seems reasonable.

Simplify, make it yours, then elaborate. For example, mead: add water to honey until desired alcohol level is reached, heat, cool (or chemically sterilize), add yeast, let ferment, let age, clarify, enjoy. Generalize for wine. Flower wines require leaving the flower heads in for the first three to ten days of fermentation and require extra care in clarifying for the pollen to settle out. If you make wine from milk, plan to drink the end product within twelve hours, perhaps slightly longer if you refrigerate it after eight hours or so to slow fermentation, but if you wait it becomes cheese.

Make wine frequently. Make strange wines. Have fun.
Jul. 28th, 2003 04:19 am (UTC)
I never saw you making wine; I just heard stories.

I do plan on having fun. I am having fun. If it becomes too involved an activity, I won't have time for it. I don't mind the wait and enjoy the idea of starting something, letting it do its thing, and not having to worry about it for weeks or months.

Looking forward to the saril. I guess that will be my next wine, and then an apple wine in the fall and maybe a cranberry wine in the winter. I'd also be open to a tomato wine if I can find 4 pounds of freshly picked ripe tomatoes. Maybe even a banana wine. :) It's fun thinking of the possibilities.
Jul. 28th, 2003 07:16 am (UTC)
Cheap produce
We have lots of cheap produce here...just drop by and buy some! ;-) ~Spot~
Jul. 28th, 2003 01:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Cheap produce
Oh, yeah, I'm booking my next flight to Turkey! ;)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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