Making good wine is like making your own signature dish. You care about the ingredients, since these can make or break the final product, and youÌre willing to test your method over time, adjusting the recipe here and there to suit different tastes or to make the balance perfect.
In wine, the primary ingredients are the yeast and the fruit. You can use nearly any kind of fruit, from locally grown apples, grapes, pears, and peaches, to exotic pineapples, papayas, oranges, and mangoes. Dandelion wine is a sentimental favorite. And many people like to use wild fruits like currants, marion berries, huckleberries, and strawberries.
If the fruit you use has a mild flavor, you can use more of it than you might with a stronger fruit. Fruits that jell easily (have a high pectin content), may require a couple tablespoons of depectinizer, to help the flesh break down. Raisins and bananas both give body without greatly affecting the flavor. Apple cider or raisin jack are excellent projects for first-time wine makers, since theyÌre relatively easy to make and can be made using bakerÌs yeast that you purchase in the supermarket. As you advance, you might consider buying a more refined variety of yeast Ò these can be found at very cheap prices.
The main danger areas with wine-making all relate to bacteria. Molds will ruin the flavor of your wine, and vinegar bacteria changes sugar to vinegar, making your wine undrinkable. To avoid these problems, make sure all of your wine-making equipment and bottles are completely clean and sterile. You can do this in a variety of ways. You can use bleach, baking soda, sodium carbonate, B-brite, iodophor, or commercial cleaners to clean your equipment. If you use soap and water, be sure to rinse your bottles several times, since even the slightest soapy taste will ruin your wine.
Next, press your raw fruit (or run it in the blender) and strain out the skins. If youÌre making red wine, leave the grape skins in Ò if you want white wine, strain the skins out. Your wine recipe may call for the addition of citric acid or lemon juice at this point.
Next, heat water and sugar on the stove until the sugar is dissolved. If youÌre using a kit Ò and many great, affordable kits are available at wine shops and online Ò it may come with glucose solids to use instead of sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, you can remove the water from the heat source and add your fruit.
Let the mix cool and add cold water. Let it rest for a few hours. Pour it into your first container, ideally something large enough to hold three gallons of liquid. Do not use metal containers! Plastic or glass will work fine. Your wine may include organisms at this point, so you can add Campden tablets to sterilize. Wait about 24 hours, then add the yeast or the Ïprimary fermenterÓ that comes with your wine-making kit Ò sprinkle the yeast on the top of the liquid. Now your mix is called Ïmust.Ó Check your recipe to see if you need to put a lid on your container.
Visit your must every day to stir it Ò this will help mix up the pulp. After six or seven days, strain the must through cheesecloth and put it in a secondary fermentation container (a glass jug works well). Get a plastic airlock to keep the air out. At this point you want the yeast to be deprived of oxygen because this is when it produces alcohol. The wine may bubble in the jug, slowing down as the weeks pass and the sugar is consumed. In two or three weeks, youÌll be ready to move your wine into bottles.
So long as the bottles are clean it doesnÌt matter what kind of bottles you use. Pop bottles with screw tops will work just as well as wine bottles with corks. Fill the bottles to the top, using a siphon or Ïbottling wandÓ so you donÌt bottle the sediment thatÌs at the very bottom of your fermenter. Let the wine age again in a cool dark place for about three months. Then, if you like, rebottle the wine, again avoiding the sediment that will have settled to the bottom of your bottles. Some wines need to ferment for as long as a year to taste good; others are tasty right away.
As you go through the wine-making process, be sure to keep good notes so you can adjust your steps in the future. Note the temperature in your resting room Ò if the room is too cold or too hot, the wine may not activate (75 degrees is ideal). Make a note of your resting times, the fruits you used, the type of yeast, and the type of sugar. And if months or years seems like too long to wait for your wine, create a new batch every month or so, so you can have wine that ripens throughout the year.