Wild Winemaking

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

| March/April 2019

wild-winemaking
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.

In addition to 3 pounds of table sugar, I also add raisins to my flower and herb wines to give them more body, kick-start fermentation, and add a little residual sweetness. I vary the amount of raisins because I like a mixture of sweet and dry wines in my cellar. I typically use regular dark raisins, but I also use golden raisins to keep the wine light-colored when I’m fermenting wine from more delicate white flowers, such as elderflower or black locust flower. To get the maximum benefit from the raisins, I soak them overnight in just enough water to cover them, and then blend the raisins and the soaking water in a blender before adding them to the must (crushed fruit or juice). I have flower and herb wines in my cellar that are more than 20 years old and are spectacular — disproving the notion that homemade “country” wines should be consumed while young because they don’t age well.

How Much Fruit?

The amount of fruit, vegetables, flowers, or herbs to use per gallon of wine depends on the type of fruit and how intensely flavored you want the finished wine to be. The amount of fruit and herbs in the following recipes should be taken as guidelines, not absolutes. I make most of my wines from fruits that I grow or forage, and I simply estimate the weight. Most fruit wines should contain anywhere from 3 to 6 pounds of fruit per gallon of wine. A smaller amount of fruit will produce a lighter, more delicate wine, while a larger amount will make a heavier, more intense wine. (And fruits with more intense flavors will make more intensely flavored wines, while fruits with milder flavors will make more delicately flavored wines.) It’s nice to have both types of wine in your cellar. For dried flowers or herbs, I use a minimum of 1 ounce per gallon of wine.

garden-tomatoes
Photo by Getty Images.

Instead of weight, I usually go by volume when making larger batches of wine. I want my primary fermentation bucket to be about half full of fruit to make a bucket of wine. Fresh herbs and flowers should also fill about half of the bucket, with adjustments made for flavor intensity — you’ll need less of an intense herb such as rosemary, for example, and more of something delicate, such as elderflowers. Experiment with different amounts to discover your own preferences.

What Type of Equipment?

Winemaking supply catalogs sell a lot of tools and equipment, but you really just need a few basic things to make wine. For each of the following 1-gallon recipes, you’ll need a 2-gallon fermentation bucket or crock. If yours doesn’t have a cover fitted with a fermentation lock, you can cover it with a 12- to 16-gallon trash bag during the primary fermentation stage. Pull the bag over the bucket and loosely tuck it in around the bottom.

fermentation-lock
Fermentation lock. Photo by Getty Images.

After primary fermentation, it’s time to press out the pulp and put the liquid into secondary fermentation. For this you’ll need a small-necked 1-gallon glass jug with a bung and fermentation lock. To transfer the wine into the secondary fermentation jug, you’ll need a siphon hose; I use plastic tubing. After the wine has aged, you’ll need to bottle it using standard wine bottles with corks. Funnels also come in handy when making wine. 

Try your hand at making homemade wine with these favored recipes below!



Tomato Wine

This wine tastes like a marinara sauce. I’ve used it in salad dressing instead of vinegar, adding olive oil and sea salt. It also makes a great cooking wine and marinade. Yields 1 gallon.

tomato-wine
Tomato wine. Photo by Jennifer Olson Photography.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound raisins
  • 3 pounds tomatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 cups fresh or 1/4 ounce dried oregano
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 1/2 pounds sugar
  • 1 packet wine yeast

Directions:

1. Soak the raisins in enough water to cover overnight, then chop them, with the soaking water, in a blender. Chop the tomatoes, onion, garlic, celery, and pepper, and add to the fermentation vessel, along with the raisins, basil, and oregano.

2. Bring the gallon of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the sugar and bring back to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the boiling sugar water to the mixture in the fermentation vessel. Cover and let cool.

3. Stir in the yeast and cover. Stir twice a day until fermentation slows, 7 to 10 days.

4. Press out the pulp, pour the wine into a secondary fermentation jug, and secure the fermentation lock. Check it the next day; if there’s a deep layer of lees, rack and filter the wine. Rack again every 2 to 3 months.(“Racking” is the process of siphoning the wine from one jug to another, leaving behind any sediment, called “lees.”)

5. The wine should be ready to drink in 6 months. Let it age in the jug for as long as possible before bottling, at least 6 months to 1 year.

Sweet Basil Wine

Basil doesn’t keep its flavor well when dried, so when I want to preserve basil for future use, I pack the leaves into my blender with just enough water to chop them up into a thick slurry. Then I freeze the slurry in ice cube trays. Basil cubes kept in the freezer will still have strong flavor even a year later. This wine has a strong basil flavor. It also makes a great cooking wine, and you could add it to cocktails made with vodka or gin. Basil wine goes well with cheese, or with a tomato soup appetizer. Yields 1 gallon.

basil-wine
Basil wine. Photo by Jennifer Olson Photography.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound raisins
  • 2 quarts frozen basil cubes or
  • packed fresh basil
  • 1 gallon water
  • 3 pounds sugar
  • 1 packet wine yeast

Directions:

1. Soak the raisins in water to cover and soak overnight, then chop them, with the soaking water, in a blender. Combine the raisins and basil in the fermentation vessel.

2. Bring the gallon of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the sugar and bring back to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the boiling sugar water to the mixture in the fermentation vessel. Cover and let cool.

3. Stir in the yeast and cover. Stir twice a day until fermentation slows, 7 to 10 days.

4. Press out the pulp, pour the wine into a secondary fermentation jug, and secure the fermentation lock. Check it the next day; if there’s a deep layer of lees, rack and filter the wine. Rack again every 2 to 3 months.

5. The wine should be ready to drink in 3 to 6 months. Let it age in the jug for as long as possible before bottling, at least 6 months to 1 year.

Chokecherry Wine

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) grow wild where I live in Colorado. As the name implies, they’re inedible raw. The small fruits grow in clusters. They have a large pit and are black when ripe. This wine has a very nice cherry flavor and a good red color. Using more chokecherries per gallon will give you a deeper-colored and more strongly flavored red wine. Yields 1 gallon.

chokecherry
Photo by Getty Images.

chokecherry-wine
Chokecherry wine. Photo by Jennifer Olson Photography.

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds chokecherries
  • 1 gallon water
  • 3 pounds sugar
  • 1 packet wine yeast

Directions:

1. Stomp or mash the chokecherries. Place them in the primary fermentation vessel.

2. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the sugar and bring back to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the boiling sugar water to the chokecherry mixture in the fermentation vessel. Cover and let cool.

3. Stir in the yeast and cover. Stir twice a day until fermentation slows, 7 to 10 days.

4. Press out the pulp, pour the wine into your secondary fermentation jug, and secure the fermentation lock. Check it the next day; if there’s a deep layer of lees, rack and filter the wine. Rack again every 2 to 3 months.

5. The wine should be ready to drink in 6 months. Let it age in the jug for as long as possible before bottling, at least 6 months to 1 year.


Excerpted from Wild Wine Making by Richard W. Bender. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

Richard W. Bender has been making wine with fruits and vegetables for more than 30 years. A former nurseryman, he lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

wild-winemaking

Wild Winemaking

Making wine at home just got more fun, and easier, with author Richard Bender’s experiments. Whether you’re new to winemaking or a seasoned pro, you’ll find this innovative manual accessible, thanks to its focus on small batches that require minimal equipment and that use an unexpected range of readily available fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Order from the GRIT Store or by calling 800-234-3368.






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