Writing Your Own Recipe
Naturally, the first step is to select your fruit. Always choose unblemished, fully ripe (but not overripe) fruit. The quality of the fruit will have a direct effect on the quality of the finished wine. Wash thoroughly.
Next, you must decide how much fruit to use. This is easy with fruits that have a high water content (berries, mangos, pears). Use 1/2 to 1 gallon of prepared fruit for each gallon of wine. If you have a juicer, you have the option of extracting the juice that way. Use as little as 1/3 gallon of juice for a gallon of wine.
Using less juice will produce a subtle flavoured wine that will take less time to age: 6 to 12 months. Using more juice will produce a full-bodied wine and will require more aging time: 1 to 3 years. Let your taste (and patience level) be your guide.
If using hard fruits, vegetables, herbs or flowers (apples, carrots, mint, dandelions), it is a little harder to decide how much to use. They do not juice as easily (unless you have a juicer). You will need anywhere from 1/2 gallon to 2 gallons of prepared fruit (etc).
There are different ways to extract the juice from these hard ingredients.
Each of these methods will require straining and pressing pulp. To extract as much juice as possible, use the hot or cold water extraction on the pulp after the first straining.
Acid is needed to help prevent vinegar bacteria from forming, help the wine keep for long periods of time and give the wine good flavour.
When making wine from anything other than grapes, it is usually necessary to add acid (especially with herbs and vegetables). Test the acid level of the must before the yeast is added. The most popular commercial wines are about .65% (red) to .7% (white) acid. Some wines are as high as .95% acid. Try measuring the acid level of your favourite wine. Subtract .1%. This is the acid level you want to start your must at.
Acid levels may be increased by adding either commercial wine acid blend or citrus fruit juice (lemon or orange). 1 teaspoon acid blend will increase total acid by about .15% for one gallon of must. Use one lemon or two oranges to achieve the same acid level.
There are options if the acid level is too high:
All fruits contain sugar. When writing your own wine recipe, it is essential to have a hydrometer.
At room temperature, measure the specific gravity of the must. Then add sugar, stirring to dissolve completely, until the specific gravity is at the appropriate level. For fruits other than grapes, it will take about two pounds of sugar.
For dry wines, start with a specific gravity of 1.090 to 1.100. For sweet wines, start with a specific gravity of 1.100 to 1.110.
Use whatever type of sugar you prefer. I just use regular granulated white sugar most of the time. I have also experimented with brown sugar in some darker wines. My parents prefer to use corn sugar. Honey can be used in place of sugar with excellent results. Be creative!
Use good water to make your wine. I live in an area where there are often advisories to boil the drinking water. So, I boil my wine making water, too. When it rains, the water comes out of the tap yellow, so I also filter my water.
If you do not like the flavour of the tap water you have, do not use it to make wine. Boil it, filter it, or buy some at the grocery store. The quality of the water will affect the quality of the wine.
If you have a water softener, use water that has not gone through the softening process. The process adds salt to the water. It is preferable to have minerals in the water.
Tannin is found naturally in grape skins and seeds. It gives a little bite to the wine, keeping it from being flat and uninteresting.
If the fruit you are using has seeds that will be in the must, use 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon commercial tannin per gallon. If no seeds (or other bitter parts) will be in the must, use 1/4 teaspoon.
Tannin can also be had from tea, ginger, raisins or grape juice. Choose whichever one goes best with your main ingredient. (for quantities, see Table of Substitutions)
One to three campden tablets per gallon will prevent the growth of wild yeast and other organisms that can spoil the wine. Use two or three on soft fruits that spoil quickly, and one or two on harder fruits / vegetables that keep well.
One campden tablet per gallon should also be added at the time of bottling to preserve the wine. Alternatively, dissolve one campden tablet in two cups of water. Rinse the bottles with the solution.
Like other plants, yeast requires proper nutrients. Some recipes call for a slice of whole wheat bread. This is to provide the necessary nutrients (B vitamins). Use 1 teaspoon nutrients per gallon (or one slice of whole wheat toast).
Yeast is a fungus. It converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. It occurs naturally in our environment.
In the early years of wine making, the grape juice was set out to ferment and the winemaker hoped that it turned out. They did not know what yeast was, and were left to chance as to whether the right strain of yeast made its way into the wine vat.
Today, we can buy wine yeast at the store and exclude the undesirable strains. We can have a satisfactory product every time we make wine.
Basic wine yeast will tolerate up to 14% alcohol. Champagne yeast produces only about 12%. Other strains have been developed to withstand as much as 18% alcohol. Each has its own unique qualities. Experiment with them and decide which you like best for different types of wine. And remember: one package of yeast will ferment up to 5 gallons of wine.
Most fruit contains some amount of pectin. This is the ingredient that makes jams and jellies set. It is undersirable in winemaking as it causes cloudiness.
Apples are high in pectin. Grapes are low in pectin. If in doubt, add some pectic enzyme. Use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per gallon for fruit wines. The enzyme will break down the pectin and create a clearer, finer wine.
This covers the basic ingredients in winemaking. If you need a method, check any of my wine recipes -- it is written in detail on each of them.
Be creative and have fun. And once your recipe is tested, send me a copy and I will post it here on my website. Include a photo if you have one.
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