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Entries in Wine (6)


Why? Because I Can!

Admittedly, this may be a sign that I'm taking the homebrew thing a bit too far.  On a recent trip to Sam's oversize jugs of juice caught my eye at a ridiculous price and I though "Hell, I could ferment that"!  Once I got the two-pack of gallon sized jugs of 100% cranberry/pomegranate juice home I decided there wasn't even any point in sanitizing a primary fermenter.  I just drilled a hole in the lid for an airlock, removed two cups for headroom (using it to make a stuffed pork loin), sanitized the lid and airlock, shook to aerate, then dropped in a packet of dry wine yeast.   Its going nuts fermenting as I type.

The original gravity is only about 1.050 (good for beer), so I may add some sugar in a day or two to boost the alcohol to typical wine levels.  If it turns out too dry, I'll add additional juice for sweetness at the end.  Not sure what too expect, but its a fun experiment.

Who else has tried fermenting something just because they can?




Making Wine @ Home (part 4)

Be sure to check out the other posts in the series to follow a winemaking kit from fermenter to glass.

Secondary fermentation is complete for my Chilean Pinot Noir kit, so now it is time to stabilize and degas.

Stabilizing mostly means killing the yeast to ensure that fermentation will no longer continue. This is especially important if reserve juice is being added for sweetness. If the yeast is still active, that juice would be fermented as well. Worst case scenario is that fermentation keeps rolling along after bottling resulting in dangerous "bottle bombs".

Degasing basically refers to stirring the heck out of it to release any CO2 dissolved into the wine during fermentation. When brewing beer, we harness the CO2 production to create carbonation. Unless you are after a sparkling wine, CO2 in wine is not very pleasant and significantly detracts from the flavor, residual CO2 can also result in popped corks or bottle bombs.

Most kits contain Potassium Metabisulfiite and Potassium Sorbate for use as stabilizers.  Potassium metabisulfite (also used in the form of camden tablets) is used to kill any wild yeast or microrganisms that may have found their way into the wine and also serves as an anti-oxidant to help maintain flavor and color.  Potassium Sorbate prevents yeast from multiplying and prevents any other molds or yeast from getting a foothold over time.  Wines that are designed for aging rather than immediate consumption typically increase the dosage of these ingredients.  They are also the reason for the warning "Contains Sulfites"  found on commercial wine labels.

Mix these ingredients with a 1/2 cup filtered water and add to your fermenter.  Now the fun part,

time to stir the heck out of it to drive out CO2.  I use an wand attachment for my drill with a stopper that fits the mouth of a carboy.  This is much more effective that any stirring you can do by hand.  Just be careful not to let the stopper pop out and spray the walls : )

I stir with the drill for at least 5-6 min taking breaks every minute or two.  This stirring also suspends any sediment in the bottom which will also help clarify the wine as it settles again by dragging other particulate matter down with it.  That brings us to the clarifying agent which we add at this time as well.  Kits will come with either Chitocan (made with shellfish shells) or isinglass (from fish swimbladders) to aid in clarifying the wine.  Who knew winemaking was so fishy  : )  These additives may sound disgusting, but they are tried and true methods to accelerate the settling of any solids suspended in the wine used by winemakers for decades or longer.

Once you add the clarifying agent, then stir the heck out of it again, top off with a similar wine (water will just water it down), cover and let sit for at least ten days to let gravity do its work.  Next we will rack into a clean carboy off of the sediment (leaving the fishy stuff behind) to finish clarification.

Be sure to check out the earlier posts in the series.



Book Review: Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible

You may have noticed some links on our site.  We signed up for their affiliate program in hopes of offsetting a portion of our hosting fees and fund future adventures to blog about.  Mostly this has resulted in me buying more stuff from Amazon!  The latest example is this book that kept popping up in the sidebar rotation.  I couldn't resist the name and I'm glad I didn't.

The Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible by Leon W. Kania is a very amusing read starting out with a brief introduction to life in rural Alaska.  It is full of anecdotal references to life as a a bootlegger while providing very practical advice and recipes for everything from Dandelion Wine to Moonshine and Bathtub Gin.  There are at least a hundred beer, wine, and liquor recipes in this book, and nothing pretentious about it.  While I don't think I'll ever make milk wine, I appreciate this book's bravery in exploring all things fermentable.

As a DIYer I also enjoy the simple instructions and tips for building our your brewery and/or distillery (including several still designs) from everyday objects all while maintaining an emphasis on safety.

This is not a technical book by any means, but it will get the wheels turning if your adventurous.  Its also a fun window into the history of homebrewing and bootlegging moonshine.



Making Wine @ Home (Part 3)

This is the third part of a series following a batch of wine from fermenter to glass.  Be sure to check out the other posts in the series.

Today I moved the wine from the primary fermentation bucket to a 6 gallon glass carboy.  Its important after the first 10 days or so to move the wine (yes, it is actually wine now) leaving behind the initial sediment and spent yeast or "lees".  If the wine is left to sit on the lees too long they will impart off-flavors to the wine.

This is a good time to check the progress of the fermentation.  This batch started out at an original gravity of about 1.100 and after about two weeks of steady fermentation has dried it out to about 0.996!  This equates to about 13% ABV so far.  This is a pretty good indication that the fermentation is nearly complete.  I will let it sit in the carboy for another 10 days or so and then begin the degassing and clarification steps prior to bulk aging.   Be sure to check out the other posts in the series ...


Making Wine @ Home (Part 2)

This is the second post following the progress of my winemaking adventure from fermenter to glass. Please check out the other posts in the series.

First off you need to gather your equipment and sanitize everything that will come in contact with the wine (I use Star San). The only equipment you will need to kick off fermentation will be a primary fermenter that holds at least 8 US gallons, long handled spoon or paddle, airlock, wine thief (turkey baster works fine) to take a sample to measure specific gravity and a hydrometer or refractometer.

I have removed most all plastic from my home brewery, but I find that an 8-10 gallon food grade bucket, (non food grade plastic can leech harmful toxins) is still the best primary fermenter for wine. While I prefer glass for wine for secondary fermentation, primary fermentation is just too violent due to the high gravity of wine and carboys easily channel that energy into a high pressure fountain! Unless you don't mind repainting your walls and ceiling, a nice big plastic bucket will do nicely.

Open up your wine kit and you will typically find a large bag of grape juice (about 4 gal), Bentonite, Potassium Metabisulphite, Potassium Sorbate, Chitosan, Yeast, Oak Chips, and possibly a small bag of juice to add sweetness before bottling.First step is to dissolve the Bentonite in hot water in the bottom of the fermenter. I heat up about 2 liters of filtered water in an electric tea kettle, dump it into the fermenter and stir the heck out of it. It will look like muddy water...that's because it is.  Bentonite is a special type of clay that is used for its ability to help draw out protein particles from the wine and allow them to settle out and filter the wine right there in the fermenter.

Next, carefully open up your bag of juice.  The box should have a punch out that supports the neck of the spout to make pouring easier.  A bottle opener comes in handy for removing the lid. Its a lot of sticky liquid so pour carefully.  Next, poor a gallon of hot filtered water into the juice bag to rinse out any remaining juice.  I use the electric tea kettle again to heat up filtered water.  There's a lot of nasty stuff in your water heater's tank, so please resist the temptation to use hot tap water.  It won't kill you (unless its been stagnant for months), but it won't do your wine much good.

 Top off your fermenter to the 6 gallon mark (or the total volume your instructions call for) with filtered water and stir the heck out of it for at least a full minute.  This is an important step because it aerates the must dissolving oxygen into it.  This is very important to giving the yeast a healthy start.  Now is a good time to take a sample and measure gravity (I used my handy refractometer, so I only needed a drop).  Your specific gravity should measure between 1.080 and 1.100 depending on style.  If it is lower you have added too much water, higher and you probably didn't add enough (see your kits instructions for details).

If there are packets of oak chips or elderflowers, add them now and stir them below the surface.  Check your temperature to make sure your must is between 65 and 75°F.  (Temperatures outside this range are not healthy for the yeast).  Temps higher than 80°F will likely kill them (that's a bad thing).

Sprinkle the yeast over the must and put the lid and airlock on the fermenter.  You should begin to notice bubbles in the airlock within a few hours or the next day at the latest.  Now just let it sit for about a week and the the yeast do its magic...

In part 3 we'll check the gravity to monitor progress of fermentation and, if ready, rack to a secondary fermenter.



other posts in the series


Making Wine @ Home (Part 1)

I made my first attempt at winemaking last year on SuperBowl Sunday and decided this year to make it a tradition. It also provides a memorable reference point as the wine ages. This will be the first of a series of posts following this batch of wine from fermentation to the glass.

To me, wine is a more complex topic than beer due to the wide variety of fruits and varietals used.  However, I find the process of making wine to be much simpler than brewing.  Most of the variables that influence the end result are up to mother nature herself rather than in the brewer or malt house or recipe combination.  The primary influences on any wine is the quality and attributes of the fruit it is based on.  The basic concepts of wine and beer making are the same. The most striking difference is that the sugars are extracted from fruit much more easily than grain.   Carbohydrates and starches in grain are broken down using heat to stimulate enzymes which break them down into simple sugars.  Most sugars found in fruit are naturally ready for fermentation.  Introducing heat would modify their structure in a way that would make them more difficult to ferment, so there is no "cooking" when making wine. Bottom line: making wine is far less time consuming but the raw ingredients are more expensive!

The process is quite simple:


  1. Sanitize your equipment (fermenter/lid, spoon, hydrometer)
  2. Fill fermenter with fruit juice, here forward called "must"
  3. Add yeast to kick off fermentation
  4. Rack to secondary fermenter (after 1 week)
  5. Allow fermentation to complete (another 2-4 weeks)
  6. Stabilize (stop fermentation)
  7. Degass (remove CO2 from fermentation)
  8. Clarify and Filter
  9. Bulk age (optional)
  10. Bottle

The wine I am starting today is a Chilean Pinot Noir using a Wine Expert’s Selection International kit from my local homebrew shop.  The varietals in this kit come from Chile from the same vinyards as the award winning wines in that region.  I splurged a bit on this kit but my homebrew shop has been recommending it to me since I first showed an interest.  Most wine kits range from $60-$170 and produce up to 30 bottles.  The more expensive kits often include award winning veritals which may require special order months in advance of production.

Next post, we'll open up the kit an complete steps 1-3 (day 1) for making wine at home...

Be sure to check out the other posts in the series