Wild Winemaking

Create unique wines from a variety of locally foraged ingredients. Home winemaking isn’t as challenging as it sounds.

Photo by Getty Images.

You don’t need to plant a vineyard to make wine. Many ingredients can be gathered for free or grown in your own garden.

Before you begin the process of making wine, consider your two main ingredients: fruit (or flowers, herbs, or vegetables) and sugar. Commercial grape wines are made by crushing the grapes and fermenting the juice. Adding sugar is done in some areas where grapes don’t develop high enough levels of sugar to reach the standard alcohol percentage of 12 to 14 percent. Most other fruits have less sugar than grapes — flowers and herbs have essentially no sugar — and they need to have some sugar added to their fermentation to reach appropriate levels of alcohol content. The added sugar can take many forms; in my wines, I use primarily plain white sugar and raisins.

My fruit wines are typically made with chopped or crushed fruit rather than juice, although I have occasionally used only juice. I believe that using the entire fruit, including the pulp and skin, adds more flavor and color to the wine. When I use fruit, rather than juice, I have to add water, usually with sugar, to the developing wine.

How Much Sugar?

Because I want my wines to keep and age well, but I don’t use sulfites to preserve them, they need a relatively high alcohol content. The minimal concentration needed to ensure proper preservation and aging is 14 percent. Some of my wines approach up to 18 percent alcohol. They age more like hard liquors than typical wines.

The alcohol in wine comes from sugar. As the yeasts begin to feed on the sugar during fermentation, they convert it, in part, to alcohol. For my wines to achieve their characteristic high alcohol concentration, they need lots of sugar. However, too much sugar can overwhelm the yeast and make it difficult for fermentation to begin. With small batches, such as the 1-gallon recipes that follow, the amount of sugar isn’t enough to interfere with the yeast.

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