Adventures in Wine
The following is a guest post by my friend Marci Formato, who is a much braver fermenter than I am.
In the part of the world where I live, there is an abundance of wild berries known as “black caps”. These are similar to blackberries, but smaller and with a higher seed to fruit ratio.
They remind me of my childhood and I simply adore them. As a matter of fact, the only time I wear nail polish is during picking season because I am embarrassed at how stained my finger nails become!
During one especially bountiful year, I picked so many that I made jam, jelly, canned the juice and still had leftovers. A neighbor suggested that I make wine.
I found this recipe online. I did not have a one gallon carboy and was not looking to spend money on this experiment, so I bought 4 quarts of apple juice in glass jugs and made my kids drink it at every meal. I used a balloon instead of an airlock. It was fun to watch the balloon expand and know that the yeast was doing its work. A little science lesson for the kids too. Again, not wanting to waste money on the unknown, I used regular bread yeast instead of a special-for-wine yeast.
A warning: The wine connoisseur may not enjoy home-made wines, unless you are strictly controlling for temperature and other variables beyond my skill, equipment , palate and level of perfection. Regardless, this first attempt at blackberry wine tasted good to me and I was ready to try again.
For my next attempt, I bought a carboy, airlock, siphon, hydrometer and expensive yeast from a home brewing store. I highly recommend the siphon. Trying to siphon by sucking on a plastic tube resulted in an extraordinarily messy kitchen (and a slight buzz). This time I tried making my wine with grapes. The result was disaster, undrinkable, even for me.
Not to be deterred, the following year I made more blackberry wine, using my trusty bread yeast. I was careless and I didn’t keep precise track of the timing for each stage. The result was blackberry vinegar. It was ok for cooking, I wouldn’t use it on a salad, and most of it ended up down the sink. Lesson learned.
Last year I made strawberry wine. This was the most delicious of my attempts. It does not taste like the cloying, sweet, inexpensive berry wines sold in stores. It is dryer, yet fully scented by the strawberries. I would definitely make this one again.
So far, I have an embarrassing 50% success rate with wine-making. I learned to be more careful with counting days between steps and I suspect that fruits other than grapes may give a better result for the amateur, likely because with grapes you already have an expectation of what it should taste like. Now that I have the equipment (total investment about $50 US), it costs me virtually nothing to make wine using wild or excess fruit. I am still willing to experiment and enjoy the anticipation during the months of fermentation.
This year my peach tree produced more fruit than ever before. I’ve canned some, made jam, created a spicy glaze for meats, and eaten them until I feel a rash coming on. I still have a few pounds left and realize it is time to bring out the carboy and start fermenting again. Wish me luck!