Monday, October 31, 2011

Step by Step: How do you make wine?

I realized the other day that though I've been trying to run a site on simple winemaking recipes and techniques, I never have posted a simple explanatory guide on how it is that wine is made. Thus this very generic guide on making wine at home will be forever placed on the right hand side of the page in the "Guides" section, where you can also find the glossary I have been putting together, and which I add to on occasion, and the sugar guide from a post in early October of this year. This post will include all of the must-knows before you begin the most basic winemaking, without overwhelming you with details. It's an easy hobby, and only ever has to be as complex as you want to make it! Give it a try!

Let's break winemaking down into steps.

Step one: Sanitize your space, your utensils, and the container that all of your ingredients are going into.

Step two: Put your juice and any other ingredients like sugar, water... into the container.

Step three: Put in your yeast (the temperature of the juice must be between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit for most yeasts to do their work).

Step four: Cover the container so that air can get out, but not in. How? They make special airlocks for this, but a balloon with some pinholes poked in it usually works just fine.

Step five: Wait (It might take eight days, it might take forty. This depends on your yeast, the temperature, the amount of sugar in the juice... all sorts of things. Just wait until the yeast stops working, and the wine isn't as cloudy.).

Step six: Bottle your wine, keeping as much yeast out as possible. If there is a lot of yeast floating around in the wine, then its probably not ready to bottle.

Step seven: Put the bottles somewhere cool to age for a while. Aging will depend on what you want out of your wine, and what kind of wine it is.

Note on Aging: My peach wine is great at ten months old, my light mead is good at two months, my pumpkin wine takes over a year to develop its smooth vanilla taste. You can drink the white hillbilly wine after a month, and it tastes like a two dollar bottle of wine, or you can drink it at ten months old, and its about as good as anything you can buy at the wine shop for ten dollars.

Rules: If you follow these basic rules, then you're bound to have something that, given time, tastes pretty good:

1.) Cleanliness, you must make sure everything you do is sanitary, especially that you ferment your wine in a sanitary container

2.) Do not use juices or concentrates with preservatives, these often kill your yeast, make it difficult to ferment, or cause your yeast to produce off-flavors or odors.

3.) Use wine yeast only.

4.)Patience! If it doesn't taste good, don't drink it, and don't throw it away. I once dumped out five bottles of wine because I didn't like it. Ten months later I still had two bottles and it was amazing!

Friday, October 28, 2011

All About Peach...

Last February I shared my recipe for peach wine. I had had the wine for a while, and it was pretty good, definitely worth making again (which I have), but then Cait and I went a while without having any. A few months, and it underwent a transformation. A really, really wonderful transformation.

When we opened our third-to-last bottle of our 2010 Peach in early October, it was very dry, fruity yet woody, complex. There are ways in which I would liken it to a nice dry Rioja. Now we have no bottles left.

The recipe is really quite simple, and if you'd like to make a cheaper version or if you simply can't get raisins and lemons in time, then you can always substitute a little acid blend and a tiny bit of grape tannins (less than 1/8 tsp). Of course if you are using fresh peaches, slice them up and boil your water, then pour it over them to kill off the wild yeasts, or use a campden tablet crushed. If you recall from the original post, I use my mom's home canned peaches, and it could not have turned out any better.

I am visiting my parents this weekend, and raiding their peaches.

I must warn you about something if you plan to make this recipe. After two months the wine still is too woody, it's drinkable, but almost a little disappointing. After four months, it might be hard to save any. If you make it to six months, you're half way there. On its first birthday, this wine is good for any occasion. Give it as a gift (if you can stand to part with it), bring it to a get-together.

You must try this recipe!

The Winemaker

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pear Cider

Ramble: This recipe for pear cider or pear wine is simple and delicious. At our farmers market right now pears are going for $2.50 for 8 quarts! That's almost enough for two gallons of this delicious beverage!


4 lbs. Pears peeled and sliced
boiling water to 1 gallon
6 cups sugar
1/8 tsp. tannins
1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
1tsp yeast nutrient
champagne or wine yeast

Peel and slice the pears into small chunks. Place in a sanitized stock pot. In another pot, bring your water to a rapid boil. Carefully pour the water over the chopped pears, place lid over them, and allow them to sit until the entire mixture reaches room temperature, or at least under 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 38 centigrade). Add the pectic enzyme and stir about to mix it in.

Let sit overnight. The following day the pectic enzyme will have made your pears quite mushy, use a very well-washed hand or better yet a sanitized potato masher to squish the pears even more. Give the mixture time to sit and let the pear juice work its way out of the fruit. This can be anywhere from a few hours to overnight. More time generally means more pear flavor.

After having sat a while, use a cheesecloth (two layers is best) or a few turkey stuffing bags, or beer boiling bags to strain the juice from the pears. Do not squeeze the juice out if you can help it, just let it sit!

Add in all other ingredients, making sure that the sugar, tannins, and yeast nutrient are dissolved, and place the entire mixture into your sanitized fermenter, with an airlock attached. All for fermentation, and bottle when clear!

How to make it bubbly: I know I like my pear cider bubbly, so here's how it goes: If you're filling a beer bottle/small bottles: add 1 tsp sugar to each bottle before filling. If using wine bottles add 1 1/2 tsp. sugar to the bottle before filling. Store at room temperature for a few weeks to get carbonation, and keep the bottles in a Rubbermaid bin or leak-proof container if possible. If you have added too much sugar your corks could pop or your bottles could explode. This has only ever happened to me once, a long time ago, when I added way way too much sugar when bottling. With these proportions I have never had a problem! Also, good synthetic number 9 corks stay wedged in the best!

Related Recipes: meddyglyn, light mead, medium mead, sweet mead, apple cider

Lakewood Winery, Seneca Lake, NY

In early September Cait and I visited my parents in North-central Pennsylvania, and took my mom to Watkins Glen, NY to do a day hike up the gorge. Things took a turn, it was very hot out, and we ended up doing a few wine tastings at some of the Vineyards/Wineries along Seneca Lake. The best of the batch was, by far, Lakewood Vineyards.

Lakewood is just a few miles up from the southern tip of Seneca Lake, in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The winery is on the west side of the lake. The atmosphere was casual, the staff was a riot, and the place was bustling, and it's no wonder, they have some really wonderful wines.

As you know, I am a dry red wine fan, but I tasted a bit of everything. My favorites were by far the Gewurztraminer, their Long Stem White, and Candeo, a sparkling wine that they claim is for those moments when "beer is too little, and wine is too much". I know, these are all white wines, but that's where the Finger Lakes wineries excel. We bought a few bottles and have since enjoyed them.

Wines are not all that Lakewood makes, they also have a few meads on hand. I am happy to report this, as I know that my mead and meddyglyn recipes are among the most popular on the site.

Lakewood makes a mead called Seifu's Tej, an Ethiopian style mead that they brew for a chain of popular west-coast Ethiopian restaurants under the guidance of a master Tej blender. It is an exceptional mead, light, crisp, with a hint of sweetness and very refreshing. They also make their "Mystic Mead" which is a blend of wildflower and orange blossom honeys. Though I did not sample it on this trip, I look forward to trying it in the future.

We will certainly be returning to Lakewood. A link to their website can be found here: Lakewood Vineyards.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Next Week in the Winemaker's Notebook:

Next week in the Winemaker's Notebook I have a fun mix of recipes, wine-related recommendations / anecdotes / tips, and an update all about a favorite recipe!

My first post will feature a trip to Lakewood Winery, in the Finger Lake's region of upstate New York, where grapes are not the only thing they're fermenting! I'll talk about a style of mead that was new to me, and definitely new to New York!

The next post will feature a recipe for Pear Cider! Don't let the word cider fool you, this recipe packs a little more punch than your grocery-store variety ciders, and a delicious punch at that! Check in, and make for yourself one of the favorite drinks of the ancient Romans!

The last post of the week will be all about peach! Our peach wine recipe is top notch, but there are a few considerations you may want to know about before you make it. I'll include a few new tips, and some variations to the original recipe posted! Make some now while you can still get peaches, or do as I do, and use home-canned peaches any time of the year!

Until next time,

The Winemaker

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sweet Mead

Ramble: This mead recipe is similar to the others that i have posted, but it is probably the only one that will give you a sweet mead. It's simple, quick, and delicious every time. It produces a darker mead, and a very strong mead, so watch out!

5lbs honey
water to one gallon
1/4 tsp. tannins
1 tsp. yeast nutrient
wine yeast (I recommend pasteur champagne)

Combine honey and water in a large pot. Stir to dissolve the honey, and bring to a boil. When it begins to boil, a foam will come to the top of the liquid, skim this off and discard it. (This saves having to do very frequent racking, as without this step your mead will naturally produce sediment over time). This step also kills wild yeasts in your honey, so that no sulfur compounds are needed to kill them off! Allow the liquid to cool to at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit while covered, then add in the tannins, yeast nutrient, and yeast. Place in fermentor, fit with a cover and an airlock, and you're on your way to a dark, strong, sweet mead!

Tips: For an easy way to get your tannins into the must (the juice you're fermenting) see Tannin Tip , and for more information on mead, some helpful tips, and some fun variations, visit my medium mead page: Mead Tips.

Related Recipes: meddyglyn, light mead, medium mead, apple cider, pear cider

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Most of the recipes on this site to date are for country wines, a very broad term that generally refers to wines made with anything other than grapes. Every fruit is different, but generally speaking, most fruits do not have the sugar content, the acidity, or the woody qualities that grapes have, and that's why we end up adding things to our country wines like sugars, tea, raisins, lemon juice, acid blend, tannins, and yeast nutrients. This certainly doesn't make these wines any less "pure" than a straight recipe of pressed grapes and yeast (in reality there are very, very few wineries that add nothing to their juices to get the perfect chemical mix).

I personally avoid using stabilizers (other than citric acid, the "lemon juice" acid) and preservatives like campden or other sulfur compounds in my wines, but that's just my choice, and I wouldn't scoff at anyone who does use them. The rest of these "additives", however, are sometimes not optional, not if you want a full-bodied, great-tasting wine.

Today, we focus on sugars.

There is a whole slew of sugars out there that can be used in your wine, and knowing what to use is not easy for a beginner. So hopefully this helps to answer, What kind of sugar should I use in my wine?. Let's do this by sugar:

Corn sugar: This is a fermentable sugar most often used to prime beer before bottling. It's generally comes ground ultra fine so that it goes into solution easily. It can also be used to raise the alcohol of a wine or beer without altering the flavor. It is a very refined sugar.

Table sugar: This is sucrose, which yeast will ferment. It is by far the cheapest sugar for making wine, and can also be added to your wine or beer to boost the alcohol content without altering the taste.

Brown sugar: Brown sugar will, of course, also boost your alcohol content, but it will also change the taste of your wine. During fermentation and aging the brown sugar (which has some of the molasses left on it, as it is less refined than table sugar) imparts caramel aromas and flavors to the wine. Thus, you wouldn't want to use this with peach wine or a grape wine, but it makes for a very warming and cheery apple cider, and can even add nice complexities to a mead or beer.

Molasses: Molasses should probably be avoided. It will greatly affect the taste of your wine, and often not for the better. While it may bring some notes of caramel out, molasses is full of impurities from refining table sugar, and those impurities can lead to off odors and flavors in your wine.

Honey: If you've tried mead, you know the flavor that fermented honey imparts, and it can be very nice and refreshing, but it is a flavor all its own. Honey compliments many beers and fruits, and when used with fruit juice, a wine called melomel.

Malt extract: This is dried malt extract, and is often used in beers, but can on occasion add a grainy base to fruit wines if desired. Its use as such is not especially common.

Turbinado sugar: This is a washed brown sugar, leaving a little molasses, but not much. It imparts nice caramel hints, without overpowering the flavor of your wine, an excellent choice for sugar.

This list is by no means extensive, but it should be more than enough information to get the beginner or intermediate home wine-maker an idea of what kind of sugars to use in their country wines. Until next time...

The Winemaker

Monday, October 17, 2011

Easy Apple Cider

This recipe does vary from my first recipe that I posted. It is not a lot different, but it is very simple, and delicious. I've made many apple ciders over the last year, and this one is really fool-proof, so give it a whirl.

1 gallon fresh-pressed apple cider
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp tannins
champagne yeast

That's all! You can mix it all together in your sanitized fermenter (with juice at room temp) and let it go! That's all you need to do! It tastes just wonderful. Remember: the better the quality of your juice, the better the cider will come out, but also remember that it's pretty hard to mess up hard cider. If you use good yeast and good juice, you'll get a consistently good cider!


Pectic Enzyme: I use this stuff every time. It breaks down the pectin in your apple cider/wine that makes it hazy. Without using it, your cider will probably take a very long time to clear. You also run the risk that it will never clear. Cider with a pectin haze tastes just as good, it's just not quite as pretty. Use it at a rate of 1 tsp. per gallon, and let it sit in your cider overnight before adding any other ingredients.

Yeast: Although pasteur champagne is not actually a champagne yeast, it makes a wonderful, nutty cider. Another amazing cider yeast is Côtes des Blancs, which gives a nice fruity flavor and aroma to your cider.

Tannins: To maximize the potential of your tannins, follow the following link for an easy method for getting tannins into your cider: Tannin Tip.

Oaking chips: Oak barrels can add an amazing, complex character to your apple cider, unfortunately they cost a small fortune. An affordable alternative is oaking chips, these are toasted French or American oak that can be bought in small quantities very cheaply (about one dollar per ounce usually). An ounce or three-quarters of an ounce are easily enough to oak one gallon of cider, and three ounces, given enough time (seven months give or take a few) will be enough to oak about five gallons.

At present I am fermenting ten gallons of apple cider. Half of it i will Oak for eight months, and half of it I will bottle and we will enjoy throughout this winter and next spring or even next summer depending on how long it lasts. I know that nine months or a year is a long time to wait for your cider or wine or mead, which is why I try to make a big enough batch that I can sample a bottle every few months, AND have some left once it has "come of age". This is also a great way to come to realize just how much your wine changes between bottling and its first birthday. It is really a lot of fun. So, quick, before autumn is over, get out there and make some apple cider!

Related Recipes: meddyglyn, light mead, medium mead, sweet mead, pear cider

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Irish Red Ale: A Change of Pace for the Winemaker

I love wine, that surely goes without saying, but I also enjoy a good beer. My girlfriend's father has been brewing beer for a little over a year now, and he's met with great success. His ales and stouts and cervezas have been wonderful, and he now almost exclusively provides beer for family gatherings and as a parting gift each time we visit. It's enough to tempt the winemaker to try his hand at beer.

And that's exactly what happened. I had been tossing the idea around for some time when groupon in our area was an all-you-need beer kit (that's a daily deal website with deep discounts on--usually--local goods). I selected the Irish red ale as my beer to brew, and soon I was on my way! You can see the finished product here; it was so unfortunate, in order to take the picture I had to pour this glass and sip it while writing this post!

The kit contained yeast, priming sugar, liquid malt extract, a pound of grains, aroma hops, and bittering hops. All in all I spent a good amount of time sanitizing, and then about three hours brewing. I let the beer sit for a while after fermenting to clear, then racked it, added the priming sugar, and bottled it. Altogether a very simple experience, and very rewarding. The older the beer gets, the better it tastes, but to someone who is used to waiting months before tasting wine, beer is a nearly instantaneous reward!

I'm on my second batch of beer right now, but that's not all I've been up to!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Meddyglyn or metheglin is a type of mead of Welsh origin. It takes your basic mead and adds any number of various herbs and spices to produce a cheery drink that goes down smooth. It can definitely be enjoyed any time of the year, but makes an especially nice holiday drink. The amount of honey in the recipe can be 2.2 lbs per gallon; 3 lbs per gallon, or 5 lbs per gallon for a sweeter meddyglyn. This corresponds to the "light mead" and "medium mead" recipes on the site already, and the 5 lb corresponds to a strong, sweet mead.

Water to one gallon
1 tsp. yeast nutrient
1/4 Tsp. tannins
orange peel
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp. whole or course ground nutmeg
2 cloves
1/4 vanilla bean

Add honey and water to a pot. Heat over low heat until the honey is dissolved. Then bring to a swift boil. Foam will come to the top. Scoop off as much of the foam as possible (this keeps sediment out of the bottles later on). Cool the mixture to about 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Add in nutrient and tannins. Place the mixture into the primary fermenter, add the yeast.

After about two weeks or when the fermentation seems to stop, rack to secondary fermenter if you're using one, if not go the the next step.

Boil a small saucepan of water. Cut the orange peel up into slices, and boil for five minutes. This gets rid of bitterness. If you have any concerns about bacteria on the vanilla bean or cinnamon stick, you can also boil these for a few minutes with the orange peel. Remove from water with tongs, and add directly to the fermenter. Also add in the other spices. Allow to steep in the mead, which is now becoming meddyglyn. I let mine sit for ten days to two weeks before removing the cinnamon and orange peel, but you can play with this. The longer it sits, the more pronounced the flavor of the spices.

Bottle and enjoy!

Note: Any of the spices can be optional, but I would NOT skip the orange peel, the cinnamon stick, or the nutmeg, but that's my personal taste. This is an awesome recipe to play around with.

Related Recipes: light mead, medium mead, sweet mead, apple cider, pear cider

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Light Mead

Ramble: This incredibly simple recipe is for a very nice, light, dry mead. I've recently made a batch, and it came out wonderfully! It is truly spectacular, I like it much better than the medium mead, which I also like a lot! It has a very refreshing taste that would make it a perfect summer drink, and the one that i made has a nutty finish and a bit of warming quality that simultaneously make it an ideal fall or winter drink, a quality I often find that adding the tannins brings out. Here goes:


about 2.2 lbs. wildflower honey
1/4 tsp. tannins
1 tsp. yeast nutrient
wine yeast (recommending red star pasteur champagne or lalvin K1-V1116, or red star côtes des blancs)

Add honey to a stockpot, bring to 1 gallon with water. Warm over low heat until all honey is dissolved. Bring to a swift boil. This will bring a foam to the top of the mixture, scoop off as much of this foam as possible. This step helps your mead to clear very nicely, but also to ensure that sediment doesn't form over time on the bottom of your bottled mead, as happens without this step. If you would rather skip the boiling step, that's an option, and no harm is done.

Allow the mixture to come down to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 26 degrees Celsius), but not below sixty degrees. Add in your yeast nutrient (I wouldn't recommend skipping this step if you can avoid it, because honey does not supply a lot of the nutrients that the yeast require, and as we all know, happy yeast make happy wine). Add in your tannins (for a nifty trick to get your tannins into the must better, check out the post "Tannin Tip"). Rack to primary fermenter, then add your yeast. Personally, i used pasteur champagne, which is not actually a champagne base yeast, and it was wonderful. Though it is not a champagne yeast, I like some carbonation in my mead, and this did the trick beautifully. Apply airlock and allow to ferment.

Fermentation will likely last at least ten days, but give plenty of time, especially if fermenting below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Bottle and cork for a flat mead!

For a sparkling mead (which I prefer), add about one and a half teaspoons of sugar to each 750mL bottle before filling, then fill and cork! I would store these in a bucket or bin with a lid on top until certain that all carbonation has ceased. Though I only ever had a problem once with corks popping (when i first started making wine and added way too much sugar to some apple cider), it is better to be safe than sorry and a bucket or bin makes for easy clean up! With this amount of sugar (1.5 tsp.) I have never had a problem! Enjoy!

Related Recipes: meddyglyn, medium mead, sweet mead, apple cider, pear cider

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tannin Tip

Having tannins on hand can be extremely beneficial. I avoided them when I first started making wine because I didn't like the idea of adding anything "unnatural" to my wine. Instead I tried using black tea and raisins in the must to get what seemed like "more natural" tannins. Then I tried using some tannin powder, and what a difference! I have been very happy with the results, so I would recommend that any winemaker give them a try.

One problem I noticed the first time I used the tannins is that they like to stick together. A week after I put them into a one gallon batch of wine that I had in a clear fermenter, I noticed they were all in a little glommed up bunch on the bottom! So here's my tip for adding tannins to your wine:

Measure out your tannins into a cup first, add a little bit of water to suspend them, and stir like crazy! You'll have to be very careful that they don't sneak onto the back of the spoon and stick there, they like to do that. They're sneaky.

Once you've got it all mixed up, then add it to your mead, cider, hillbilly wine, peach wine, pear wine, meddyglyn, or whatever else you fancy. It's an easy way to maximize the potential of the tannins.

Until next time...

The Winemaker