Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Making Wine (sort of)

I have recently become a wine-maker. To say I proactively investigated all the nuances of wine-making would be seriously misleading. I am a wine maker because the plums started fermenting on their own in the large buckets sitting in the carport, and I didn't feel like spending hours picking the stems off the table grapes to make raisins. One could interpret this as laziness, alternatively as being overwhelmed with just too much fruit. I would prefer to think of it as making lemonade out of lemons, or, in this case, wine out of fruit.

My mom assures me that the grape wine will likely be in the category of Manischewitz. I had been hoping for something along the lines of a nice French table wine. A few friends have squinted their eyes ever so slightly when I mention I am also making plum wine. Not sure why. Then, again, I have never sought out plum wine at the store, so there may be a reason for the lack of enthusiasm in my mates and the absence of plum wine on store shelves.

Once I determined there was a wine-looking liquid being produced without any assistance on my part at the bottom of the plum barrels, I stopped by the local brewing store for some yeast and a lesson. I walked out with lots of yeast, an additional carboy (6 gallon glass jar), and an hydrometer looking something like a thermometer but with less decipherable markings.

Scooping the worst looking plums off a crust at the top, I gingerly sprinkled a sulfide solution over the rest to kill unwanted yeast and begin with my own. I listened to a few friends about how to start the yeast activation, watched it almost bubble over the top of the bowl, stirred the solution in with the fruit, and waited.

Well, I didn't exactly wait. We had hauled the largest tubs into the greenhouse once it became evident that the night temperatures were too cool and I was going to need to wrap my tubs with some sort of insulation to keep up the heat. I ended up using electric blankets for the warming part and an old vinyl table cloth to seal the tops. Appalachia, here I come! Every day I stirred the mixture a couple times, as required to break up the must. Even tried the liquid from time to time - very dry! Hmmm, probably should have added more sugar at the beginning.

Determining when to press the fruit skins and pulp had more to do with actually having time to do it and a couple good days of clear weather. Annie helped me drag the tubs outside and set up the press in the grass. We started with the table grapes, and found the entire thing worked quite well, with clear(ish) red liquid flowing gorgeously into our first carboy.

We worked next on the plums and found the task to be a lot more messy. Whereas the grape skins held together tighly when the liquid was pressed out, the plums had turned to mush. There was plum flesh flying all over the place and our two sieves clogged with pulp regularly, slowing down the process. We completed the crush with two full carboys of plum wine, still wondering whether this was an awful idea.

Lest I forget, we also pressed a handful of grapes from our 2-year-old vineyard. This will make a total of 2-3 bottles! The liquid had a rose color even though the grapes are supposed to be Pinot Blanc. Not sure (again) about the taste - seems very dry - but at least we can say we have a producing vineyard. Must come up with a label, probably a leaping lamb theme, or is that too queer!

Our neighbor,Karen, has followed suite in the vintner process, with a great deal more research upfront. She is using some of the apple cider we pressed this month to make hard cider...she hopes. She went into the same brewing store I did (only one within 50 miles) and came out with many of the items I didn't bother to buy, so between us we have a complete set of tools.

When Karen used my hydrometer, she actually read the instructions. Seems I was supposed to take a reading before any yeast was added so I understood the normal sugar levels. Without that first reading I will never know the actual alcohol content of my wines, which may or may not matter if they taste like Manischewitz!

Karen is much more philosophical (and kind) about my fruit-into-wine adventure this year. She says if the wine tastes horrible, then we just try again next year with a little planning in place to prevent some of the issues we experienced our first time out. I figure, if the wine tastes horrible, I will redefine the old adage again about making lemonade from lemons and make lots of Beef Bourginone (beef cooked in wine). Should be yummy.

Photo: 3 carboys (plus one in box) full of what we hope to be wine. Lots of sediment. Time to siphon off the liquid and get rid of the gunk.

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