Well, it hasn’t been an amazing few weeks in Australian politics. I don’t have high – or any – expectations of the coalition but Tones and co (with Labor limping after them) have had the kind of stellar fuck-wit parade of a month that just makes you want to give up or haul off and hit someone until it stops hurting. Neither of these are great long term coping strategies. Some better ones are getting involved in a bit of community work or activism (doesn’t matter how much or how little), writing to your MP, and, when all else fails, getting your friends together and getting on the turps. Or in my case watching you friends get on the turps (baby launch in 2.7 weeks).
So to further the cause of drinking to forget (they say that’s healthy, right?) I am proposing to teach you how to make wine. It’s cheap and fun, and really gratifying. This is my first go at it and it’s not finished yet so it’ll be a work in progress that we check in with through the stages.
The first thing you need to know about wine-making is that it is piss-easy. Okay, so Andy and I do do a lot of beer brewing which is somewhat complicated so I’m basing my assessment of easiness on that, but even so – it’s almost suspiciously easy. I’m making blackberry wine but the principle is that same for any wine. Basically you’re just whacking some fruit and sugar in a cleanish bucket with some water and yeast and wandering off until it’s alcohol.
The only real difficulty is equipment. I was happy to just go ahead and purchase everything I needed because I’m confident that I will continue to make other wines over time and, as we brew a lot of beer anyway we already had some stuff and other stuff I purchased has a dual brewing/winemaking use. If you’re less sure you can improvise some of the vessels etc – ask me anything you want to know in the comments section.
Reading wine recipes can be a bit confusing – especially if you’ve never brewed anything before – so I’m going to break it down a bit with explanations of why you are doing certain things.
This is going to be a loooong post.
I used a combination of instructions from here and here (the attached video more than the recipe), and took inspiration from the attitude of Ben, from Ben’s Adventures in Wine Making, who is so utterly charming that I would love to give him and his bassoon a big hug. I suspect he would be very embarrassed by that though.
Equipment you will need:
Sanitiser – a no rinse one is heaps easier to work with and has the added bonus of being odourless and not irritating for asthmatics
2 food grade plastic buckets (one with a lid in) a size greater than 5 litres (I used an 11 litre one and a 20 litre one)
2 x 5 litre/1 gallon demijohns – that’s a UK gallon (4.5ish litres) not a US gallon (3.8ish litres)
Airlock and bung
big spoon – probably don’t use a wooden spoon
hydrometer and test jar/tube
several layers of muslin which will fit over a bucket
1.75 kg Blackberries – according to tradition these should be foraged from the hedgerows but I used frozen ones (don’t tell Ben) because it’s winter and it can be such a massive pain in the arse to find wild-growing blackberries in Melbourne that you are sure haven’t been sprayed
1.5 kg Sugar – table sugar is fine (take that beer brewing!)
4-4.5 litres Boiling water
1 tsp Pectolase
1 tsp Red wine yeast (or as directed on the packet)
1 tsp Yeast nutrient
Okay, some info about the ingredients and equipment that you might not know anything about.
Pectolase is an additive that prevents your wine being hazy by not allowing pectin (that’s what makes jam set) to form. This is not a necessary addition, haziness won’t harm the wine, it just won’t be nice and clear. Apparently another way to prevent haze is to make the must* with cold water rather than boiling water, as it is the heating of the fruit that causes pectin to form in the first place. Recommendations against using cold water are that the boiling water helps to kill any unwanted natural yeasts and bacteria that may give your wine unwanted flavours as it ferments. The pro cold water camp reckons the boiling water destroys some of the more subtle aromas and flavours from the fruit.
Campden tablets are small tablets of potassium metabisulfite (which creates sulphur-dioxide) which are used in wine making as both a stabiliser and an antioxidant. The chemical inhibits the growth of unwanted wild yeasts that may spoil the flavour of your wine (this is why we add one at the beginning in the recipe) and also prevents oxidisation (which ruins the colour and flavour) of the wine at later stages during racking and bottling. This is a chemical that, in higher concentrations, can make you feel pretty shit and is often the thing that people who react badly to wine are allergic to – it’s the thing that you are reacting to particularly if you are having an asthmatic reaction. All wine will contain some sulphur-dioxide as it is naturally produced in the wine even without a campden tablet, so if you’re particularly concerned about it here is some advice that I wrangled out of my good friend Ruaridh, who is head brewer for the East London Brewing Company, while he was having his dinner at 2am after a hard day’s brewing:
“potassium metabisulfite is used in wine to stabilise the product, by adding the all-important sulfur-dioxide (SO2). Complete avoidance of SO2 is all-but impossible, as it is a natural by-product of the fermentation. All the debate swirls around whether or not an addition of SO2, either via potassium- or sodium-metabisulfite, – on top of what is already naturally present in the wine – is necessary. There don’t appear to be alternatives to those two compounds, which makes sense if you look at their chemical makeup (lithium metabisulfite wouldn’t work, for example).
Basically, addition is nearly impossible to avoid, but it should be minimised as much as possible. Absolute avoidance is something even professional winemakers struggle to achieve, and the reputation of the wines produced by ‘natural’ wineries appear to be variable.
In terms of it being used as an anti-oxidant, some winemakers instead avoid the ingress of oxygen at as many points in the winemaking process as possible. In terms of it being utilised to inhibit microbial growth, the three other factors that can also help here are: -pH (the lower/ more acidic, the better) -alcohol content (the higher, the better) -residual sugars (the less, the better)
(these principles hold true in brewing as well)
In a nutshell, if you make an acidic, boozy, dry wine with virtually no oxidation during the production process, you will be going in the right direction towards winemaking that won’t require added sulfites.” Thanks Ruaridh!
These things can be pretty difficult to achieve in a home winemaking context and we’re only using a little bit of potassium metabisulfite but it’s worth having a play around with if you’re keen.
Hydrometer – a hydrometer measures the density (or in fact, specific gravity) of your wine or beer and you use that measurement to figure what percentage of alcohol your wine will have. You take an initial reading before fermentation and another reading when fermentation ends (or if you’re doing it properly, two, a couple of days apart). You’re first reading should give you a number between 1.07 and 1.09. As the yeast eats the sugars during fermentation the gravity will drop and by the end of fermentation you should have a reading of 0.90 to 1.00. To find the alcohol percentage you subtract your final reading from your first reading then multiply by 129 (there seems to be a bit of disagreement on the number you should multiply by – I’ve found numbers ranging from 129-133.5, but there are also online calculators which will do it automatically for you). I forgot to take an initial reading because I was in the middle of doing a few different things when I was making the must so I now will not know how alcoholic the wine is when it finishes fermenting. Oh well, next time.
Day 1: today you will need your bucket with a lid, masher, big spoon, thermometer, and potato masher – wash everything well and sanitise according to the instructions on your sanitiser. Don’t make the solution stronger because you want it to be extra sanitary, this is counter productive and may be harmful to your health and the health of your wine. You’ll find it easiest to make up the solution in a spray bottle and spray everything down. I also recommend sanitising a big bowl to put all your little sanitised bits and bobs in.
Wash your fruit and put it in the bucket. Using the potato masher, squish the berries pretty thoroughly so that it’s a pulpy, juicy mess. Add the boiling water and the sugar and stir with the big spoon until all the sugar is dissolved.
Now let the must sit until has cooled down to about 20°C, this will take a while. Anyone who is familiar with beer brewing will know that the wort needs to be cooled as quickly as possible at this equivalent stage of the process, but from what I can tell it doesn’t seem to matter for wine, you can just let it cool at its own rate. You can speed things you of you want though by sitting the bucket in a sink or bath-full of cold water, or using an immersion cooler.
Keep checking the temperature, and when you’re at about 20° add the pectolase and the campden tablet and stir well to combine. You need to crush the tablet, you can’t just chuck it in, the easiest way is crush it between two spoons (watch this video to get an idea of the whole winemaking process, including how to crush the tablet nicely). Take a little of the must and put it in a trial jar to take a hydrometer reading (see note above about this). Now pop the lid on and leave the bucket somewhere warm for about 24 hours. You want to try and keep it at about 20°.
Day 2: Add the yeast (follow the instructions on the packet) and yeast nutrient and give your must a good stir (remembering to sanitise the spoon first).
After this leave the must to ferment in the bucket for five to seven days. Some instructions say to give it a stir every 24-hours or so, others just to leave it. I think I stirred mine every day for the first three or four days, then decided it was too much of a pain in the arse to sanitise the spoon every time (because I’m lazy). Check it every day either way – you’re really waiting for it to stop vigorously fermenting, but it will sort of be hard to tell anyway because the bucket is really wide so it will easily ferment without frothing everywhere. I think your best bet is just to wait the seven days to be safest.
Day 7: Today you are going to strain the fruit out of the wine and transfer the remaining liquid to a demijohn. I forgot to take any photos of this stage, sorry!
To start with pull out your second bucket, muslin, and pegs. Sanitise everything well – I use my muslins for a whole bunch of cooking stuff so I boiled mine for 15 mins or so because I wanted to be sure they didn’t have all old bits of cheese or anything in them. You can also use tea towels for this (as long as they’re really clean and you don’t mind them being stained purple) but they’re a bit of an awkward shape to go over the bucket.
Loosely drape the cloths over the bucket and peg in place so that there’s a good hollow for the fruit to rest in. Gently pour the wine from one bucket to the other through the muslin. This might take a few pours as the wine will take it’s time to work its way through the cloth. When everything is poured out of the first bucket leave the wine to drain through for at least half an hour as there will be plenty of liquid in the fruit hanging in the muslin. You want to let the liquid drain out naturally, rather than squeezing the remaining liquid out by bunching the muslin up and giving it a squeeze because if you do that you will end up with heaps of extra particulate in your wine which will make it cloudier.
Syphon the liquid into a sterilised demijohn. If the liquid doesn’t come up to the neck of the demijohn you can fill it up with cooled, boiled water – you don’t want it to come all the way up to the top, just to the point where the neck starts to be straight – leave about 8-10cm. Pop the bung and airlock on, and fill the airlock with a little steriliser or cooled boiled water. Leave the wine somewhere warm (16-20°C) and out of direct sunlight.
Now we play the waiting game. We’re now going to let the wine ferment to dryness which can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks. You’ll know when this has happened because you the airlock will stop bubbling. I haven’t got to that stage yet so to find out what happens next you’ll have to wait for the next thrilling instalment of wine making (hint – it ain’t over yet!).
* Must is what the wine/liquid is called before it’s been fermented