Main Ingredients for Making Your Own Wine
Making Your Own Wine
Delicious and inexpensive drinks from garden produce
The ancient tradition of country wine-making — which began long before the Romans brought the grape to these shores — has never died out. Indeed, in the past few years it has attracted an ever-growing group of enthusiasts whose links with the soil are usually confined to their own gardens.
There are many reasons for this. Apart from being able to entertain friends at a fraction of the cost of buying commercial wines, there is the pleasure of acquiring a creative and satisfying hobby and of finding additional uses for garden produce.
The principles of wine-making are very simple and it is unnecessary to buy a great deal of expensive equipment. Many of the items you need can be found in a well-equipped kitchen, and the remainder bought from a chemist or ironmonger or from one of the ever-growing number of shops specialising in home-brewing and wine-making.
The results of your efforts should be at least as drinkable as the less expensive commercial wines, and will certainly offer much more variety. With experience and a little care ,you could soon be producing a range of beverages with really distinctive flavour and character
In spite of the many concentrates and kits sold for home wine-making, it is still cheaper and more satisfying to use produce grown in your garden or gathered in the countryside. No greater skill is needed and, with a little care, good results are assured.
Almost all garden fruits and vegetables, many wild hedgerow plants and even the petals of scented flowers can provide the basis for delicious wines, each with a distinctive flavour. Apart from the plants themselves, the principal ingredients are yeast, sugar and water.
All ‘country’ wines, made from these homely ingredients, are improved by the addition of grapes, whose ideal balance of acids, mineral salts, tannin and vitamins, aids fermentation and makes up for any deficiencies in the basic fruit, flower or vegetable. Raisins, sultanas or concentrated grape juice may be used instead of fresh grapes for this purpose.
Fermentation — the process by which sugar is converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide — is brought about by the enzymes secreted by yeast cells. These tiny vegetable cells, invisible to the naked eye, grow on most fruit skins — especially those of grapes.
However, since the wild strains produced on fruits in Britain are unsuitable for making wine of good quality, yeast must be added.
Bakers’ or brewers’ yeasts are unsuitable. Wine yeasts, which provide both a stronger wine and a firmer sediment, may be bought in tablet, granular or liquid forms.
Sachets of ‘super yeast’ are particularly useful for the beginner, since they also contain the correct amounts of nutrient salts. This yeast starts fermenting extremely quickly, falls cleanly to the bottom of the jar and promotes a good flavour in the wine.
For those who like to experiment, there are special yeasts produced in the great wine-growing districts — Sauternes, Burgundy, Bordeaux and so on. When added to the must of a wine of similar type — a Graves yeast to rhubarb, for example —they help to impart their characteristic flavour.
Whatever type is chosen, it is always better to add activated, rather than dormant, yeast to the must. This ensures prompt fermentation and helps to avoid infection by micro-organisms. As the sachets contain dormant yeast, it is necessary to activate it before adding it to the must.
To activate yeast, place it in a sterilised bottle containing a few spoonsful of boiled and cooled fruit juice that has been slightly sweetened. Grape juice is ideal, but the juice of any sharp-tasting fruit, such as oranges, will do.
Leave plenty of air space in the bottle, plug the neck lightly with cotton wool, and leave it in a warm place for several hours or overnight. A stream of bubbles indicates that the yeast is active and ready to be added to the must. In the case of ‘super yeast’, this may occur within four or five hours. Other types, however, take up to two days.
Some of the remarkable qualities of yeast are reflected in the fact that if you wish to make several batches of wine within a short time, you need use only three-quarters of the contents of the bottle and replace the amount taken out with fresh fruit juice, cold boiled water and sugar.
Within two days, you will have another large colony of yeast cells.
Use tap water — hard or soft — or water from a spring or well. Rainwater is unsuitable, unless first filtered and boiled.
Alcohol in wine is produced exclusively from sugar, either from that contained in the basic fruit or vegetable or from the extra sugar that you add to the must. Grapes and honey apart, all musts require some additional sugar.
Ordinary white granulated sugar is the most suitable — except when making Madeira-type wines, when brown sugar should be used. Chemicals such as saccharin are non-fermentable, and are therefore suitable only for sweetening finished wine.
Wine-makers often ask whether a particular fruit will produce dry or sweet wine. The answer is that any wine will be as dry or sweet as you make it, for this depends on the amount of sugar you use — not the type of fruit. The more sugar you use, the longer the wine will take to ferment and the stronger it will be.
Bear in mind that the natural sugar content of fruit and vegetables may vary from year to year, so the quantities of sugar recommended in the recipes on pp. 362-4 are only approximate.
Though you can produce good wines simply by following the recipes, perfectionists should measure the natural sugar content of the must with a hydrometer and add only enough sugar to produce the amount of alcohol required.
In addition to the basic materials used for wine-making, various additives are needed to ensure reliable fermentation and a good-tasting wine.
Like all living things, yeast requires feeding in order to function properly. All the elements it needs are present in pure grape juice and also in some other fruits, but are lacking in vegetables, herbs, flowers and honey.
Therefore, to ensure good fermentation in wines made from fruits and vegetables, it may be necessary to add nutrient to the yeast. This is sold as crystals and added to the wine at the rate of half a level teaspoonful per gallon.
Yeast can flourish only in an acid solution, and wine, too, requires acid to assist in the development of a good bouquet and flavour. Citric-acid crystals are best, but tartaric or malic acid may also be used, or a combination of all three.
Almost every must will require some acid; the amount depends on the natural acidity of the basic material. Some musts those made from honey, flowers, herbs or vegetables, for instance will require the full dose of 3 oz. Per gallon (5 g. per litre) while others, such as rhubarb and red currants, need considerably less.
Tannin gives red wine its bite and character and is also beneficial in white wines, though to a lesser extent. Half a level teaspoonful of grape tannin — a brown powder — is sufficient for six bottles of wine.
Some wine-makers, however, prefer to use cold tea instead. Half a cup is usually enough, depending on the strength of the tea.
These are the wine-maker’s cure-all. One, dissolved in a pint (600 ml.) of cold water, is the perfect sterilising agent for wine-making equipment. Each item must first be washed in this solution.
One tablet dissolved in a gallon of must, or of finished wine, will prevent oxidation and the growth of spoilage organisms.
Add two tablets to sweet wines after racking, to stabilise them and prevent further fermentation.
Added to all fruit wines, the enzyme improves both juice extraction and flavour by breaking down the pectin contained in the fruits. It also reduces the risk of haziness in the finished wine.
Add the enzyme at an early stage, before sugar is added to the must. A rounded teaspoonful per gallon should be enough for most types of fruit.