By Rich Gulling and Pattie Vargas. A few purists still think that the only good wine is a grape wine. Making wines and meads from fruits, vegetables, flowers, grains, honey, and herbs is an age-honored hobby whose time has come again. Now, making wonderful homemade wines from these natural and unusual ingredients has never been easier.

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By Rich Gulling and Pattie Vargas. A few purists still think that the only good wine is a grape wine. Making wines and meads from fruits, vegetables, flowers, grains, honey, and herbs is an age-honored hobby whose time has come again. Now, making wonderful homemade wines from these natural and unusual ingredients has never been easier. If you are just getting your feet wet as a winemaker, here are a few basics. Finished wines contain from 7 to 14 percent alcohol by volume created by fermentation.

For a solution to ferment, only three components are necessary — sugar, yeast, and nutrients. The rest of the ingredients in most recipes provide the flavors or improve the character and keeping quality of the wine. The yeast continues to grow and multiply as long as it feels at home. Yeasts generally have a few working rules that are strictly enforced.

Violate the rules and they go on strike. Too little sugar, too much alcohol, too high or too low a temperature, too few nutrients — any of these will stop fermentation. Yeast does not like competition for the available nutrients and sugars, either. Let in bacteria, and there goes the neighborhood! As bacteria multiply, they create their own by-products. Some result in spoilage; one bacteria called acetobacter turns wine into vinegar.

That means keeping out the bacteria and, in the later stages of fermentation, the oxygen, so the yeast can produce alcohol most efficiently. Winemaking equipment generally falls into two categories: the essential and the nice to have. Essential equipment includes those things that are needed at each part of the process.

You will probably have some of the essential equipment in your kitchen already, and the rest you should be able to purchase rather inexpensively from a home winemaking supply store or mail-order catalog. If you are just beginning, the list on page 3 will provide you with the bare-bones equipment necessary to make your first batch of wild wine. Here are a few pointers:. Large Soup Kettle. This will be used for a number of purposes.

The most important use is to heat those components of your wild wines that need cooking to release the flavors. Do not use iron or chipped enamel pots, or brass or copper kettles. Because wines and major wine ingredients are essentially acid, they can react with metals to form metal salts, some of which are toxic. In addition to the possible health hazard, these metals may react with fruit acids to make your wines hazy.

Similarly, these same components may discolor aluminum kettles. For all these reasons, stay away from aluminum, copper, and brass pots when making wines.

Stainless steel, glass, and unchipped enamel pots are your best choices. Primary Fermentation Bin. The primary fermentation bin is usually made of white polypropylene — a hard, smooth plastic that is relatively inexpensive, easy to clean and sterilize, and without dyes that might impart unwanted flavors.

Alternative containers are earthenware crocks; large, white plastic wastebaskets; and buckets. If you use old crocks, make sure that they are free of cracks and that they have not been treated with a glaze containing lead, which could cause lead to leach into your wine.

Most crocks made in the United States in modern times are free from harmful metals in their glazes, but some crocks that come from Mexico or the Middle East may still have a lead glaze. Some historians believe that lead-poisoned wine, contaminated from storage containers, contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire, because lead poisoning causes a decline in mental acuity. Finally, although plastics are generally inert materials that do not react with wine, we try to stay away from colored plastic vessels because we are not sure whether dyes will affect the quality or flavors of wines.

White and clear plastic containers are easy to clean and sterilize, and psychologically, they seem to feel cleaner. These may be found in most kitchens. If you are buying them especially for winemaking, make sure that they are large and made of glass, metal, or plastic so they can be sterilized easily. Plastic Tubing. Winemaking suppliers also carry a wide range of inexpensive tubing for racking. Secondary Fermentation Bins. Several 1-gallon 3. Both glass and plastic bins must be able to be fitted with fermentation locks to keep out air.

Glass and clear plastic are relatively inexpensive and easily cleaned. We use the collapsible fermentation vessels because they are also lightweight and portable.

Collapsible plastic fermentation bin Used for secondary fermentation, the plastic bin is inexpensive and. Fermentation locks Even though they have vastly different shapes, each of these locks keeps the air out of the fermentation vessel.

Fermentation Locks. These simple plastic devices keep air out of your fermentation vessel during the critical second fermentation, when the necessary alcohol is created to give your wine good keeping qualities. They come in several configurations see illustration and are available wherever winemaking supplies are sold. All models work by holding a small amount of water to act as a barrier between outside air and the inside of your fermenter.

They are also designed to allow any excess carbon dioxide created by the fermenting wine to escape the fermenter by venting through the water barrier. Wine Bottles. Take special care with your wine bottles when you store the wines. In this age of recycling, you can probably find quite a few friends who will save wine bottles for you as well. We almost always reuse the bottles from wines that we make or buy.

Wine bottles come in a variety of shapes — traditionally related to the region where the grape variety was grown or the kind of wine the bottle held, such as Burgundy, claret, Rhine wine, or champagne.

The amount of wine a bottle holds is fairly standard. Most winemakers — and wine buyers, for that matter — assume that the standard bottle, holding approximately 25 ounces ml , is what is meant by a bottle of wine. True, some wines are sold in half-gallon 1. Because it is more commercially profitable to bottle fine vintage wines in the traditional ounce ml wine bottle, the term jug wine has come to connote a cheaper or inferior wine. When you bottle and cork your own wild wines, the designation becomes academic.

If you entertain frequently and would normally consume more than one ounce bottle of wine in the course of an evening, by all means bottle your wine in jugs. Just remember that wines are more prone to oxidize, or turn, once they have been opened, so bottle your wines in quantities that are likely to be consumed in a single seating. New Corks. We avoid reusing corks. Used corks break easily; they may have gotten fat with absorbed liquids, which makes them difficult to insert into the bottles; and they may not fit properly.

New corks are cheap and readily available. We use new, sterilized corks for bottling our wine. Traditionally, fine wines are corked and stored in a rack that keeps the bottles on their sides with the necks slightly lower than the bottoms. That position keeps the corks moistened with wine so they swell and form a tight seal. Screw-on caps may allow some air leakage, which will cause your wine to oxidize.

Caps applied with a bottle capper just seem more appropriate for beer or soda pop than for wine. New corks cost only a few cents each and are well worth the investment.

The whole winemaking process covers a lot of time. To be sure to remember when you are supposed to accomplish all the steps in the process, keep track with a pencil and your trusty notebook. Keep notes. You may want to make a particular wine again, and your notes will let you know what to expect. You may have made adjustments along the way to create a superb wine. When you make an adjustment in ingredients, for example, or if you have a problem, write it down.

With a hydrometer, you can:. If you have a wine that has stopped fermenting, use your hydrometer to measure how much sugar is in the early stages of your wine also called must. If you have calculated the amount of sugar needed to produce a certain strength of wine, you will have more control over how sweet or dry the finished wine will taste.

Hydrometers are instruments used for scientific measurement. In recent years, hydrometers specifically for winemaking have become available. They also indicate when it is safe to bottle a wine.

The hydrometer works on a simple principle. The denser a liquid, the greater its gravity or weight and the easier it will be for an object to float in it. Water, for example, has a gravity of 1. If you add sugar to the water, it becomes denser. Then its specific gravity, or its gravity compared to water, will be a number higher than 1 — or 1 plus a decimal, such as 1. A hydrometer looks something like a thermometer with a weighted, bulbous end.

The weighted end makes it float upright in a liquid, and to read it, you look at the printed scale at the exact point where the surface of the liquid cuts across the scale.

The thinner the liquid, the more the hydrometer will sink; the thicker or more dense and therefore sweeter the liquid, the higher the hydrometer will float. For that reason, the scale has the lowest figures at the top and the highest at the bottom. If you put the hydrometer in a liquid that has less gravity than water, such as alcohol, it will sink even lower, and the specific gravity will be less than 1.


Making Wild Wines & Meads: 125 Unusual Recipes Using Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & More

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