In our search for a more self-sustaining lifestyle, we are changing the way that we shop for food, grow our food and prepare our food. Organic has become the byword for a healthier choice. Why not include wine in the journey to be more organic? The stores are full of wines from all over the world, yet few of them are made without chemicals. One would think, with all the problems and allergies to sulpha, that someone would start making organic wine for sale, somewhere. I am sure they would charge an arm and a leg for it, however.
The reason for high organic cost is shelf life and reliability. Each bottle of “Chablis” from a winery must taste exactly like every other bottle of “Chablis” from that same winery. In addition, customers want the wine to last a long time, even after opening. Would you keep a bottle of fruit juice in the refrigerator for a month and expect it to still be fresh and good to drink after opening? If you could do that, wouldn’t you wonder if it were real food or not? So it is with wine. The sulphite and sorbate keep it from spoiling. The chemicals keep the wines from changing and oxidizing, and kill any foreign, wild yeasts that might help with the process. Are the chemicals and preservatives required to make a good wine? The simple answer is not necessarily–not if you are careful and not if cleanliness and sterility are your first priorities when making your wine.
Basically, wine is the end result of a living yeast growing and multiplying in organic juice with sugar added. The yeast feeds on the sugars in the juice and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. When the sugar has all been used up or the alcohol content has reached an amount that kills the yeast (about 12% usually) the wine is finished.
While you can drink wine as soon as it is finished and it won’t hurt you, it won’t taste very good. It gets much better and mellower with time. Most organic wines are much better after aging for a year. Some can be used in about 6 months, but are better after a year. Some, like dandelion, get better after two years. A wine can taste like paint thinner at six months and be the best wine you have ever tasted in your life after aging for a year.
There are some things that I add to my wine to help the yeast and to make a better wine, but they are all organic. I add pectic enzyme to eat up the pectin in the juice so the wine will be clear and I add a commercial acid blend. You can just use lemon or orange juice and I have many recipes that do just that, but I prefer to keep it simple and just use the blend of malic, tartaric and citric acids mixed commercially for winemaking. Some recipes call for tannin, if there is not enough in the juice naturally. I don’t always add it but when I do, it’s in the form of a green tea bag or two.
I have formulated most of my own recipes for making wine from the many different types of organic juice bases. None of them contain Camden tablets (sulphite) or sulphite powder or sorbate. Most use acid blend instead of lemon or orange juice, for simplicity.
You can be sloppy and just throw it all together and you may still get a good wine. Some people even put the juice outside in the summer in the hopes of capturing wild yeast to aid in the winemaking process. Many times this works, but many times it does not. You can end up with vinegar or a wine you wouldn’t want to drink. If you bake a lot, the baker’s yeast will be flying around your kitchen. Vinegar is made the same way, but with a different yeast and beer is made with yet another yeast. Wine is made with “wine yeast” and champagne is made with “champagne yeast”, giving it a different, yet pleasing, flavor. While all of these drinks will have alcohol and be potable, if you are making wine, it’s wine that you should end up with. To make wine reliably every time, you do need to be careful.
There is a lot of equipment out there that you can use to make wine, but it is not all necessary. Our great-grandfathers made wine all the time and it lasted for hundreds of years, unopened and stored in their cellars. They didn’t use a refractometer or a hydrometer or a thermometer. These things do have a place, especially if you are unsure of yourself or not familiar with growing live yeast, fungus or bacteria in food on purpose in the kitchen, but they are not necessary.
I don’t own a refractometer and have never found a need for one. While I do have a thermometer, I rarely use it for winemaking. I know what lukewarm feels like and wine yeasts are not that particular about temperature, as long as it is not too hot. It will make in the cooler temps, just more slowly. I made a lovely wine this past winter in the fairly cold storage room. It took a lot longer than usual but sometimes that makes a better wine, if you can wait for it! I do have a hydrometer, but don’t always use it. It is possible to make wine without one. You just have to siphon (rack) the wine more often and add a bit of sugar each time until it quits working. You don’t have to add all the sugar up front at once. You can continue to add the sugar as the wine makes, a little at a time, until there is no yeast activity left. You will need an air lock for this, however, so you can watch the gas bubbles escaping to make sure the yeast has finished working before you bottle the wine.
Very Important!! Never bottle the wine until you are absolutely certain the yeast has finished and there will be no more yeast activity in the bottle. In addition to producing alcohol from the sugar, yeast also produces carbon dioxide and it has to go somewhere. If the yeast continues to work in the bottle, the build up of gas will pop the cork or the bottles will explode. (If you want sparkling wine with carbon dioxide in it, you will need to artificially add carbon dioxide to the wine prior to bottling.)
For this reason, I do use the hydrometer most of the time and because I like to check things as they are making. I want to see where it is in the process. This isn’t really good for it, to be opened and exposed to the air, but I’m usually too impatient to leave it alone for weeks at a time. The hydrometer tells me how much sugar is left in it and the possible alcohol content. I have to get in there and check on things, handle things and generally mother it to death, no matter what I am making. This is not necessarily a good trait. I’m certain my kids don’t think so…
There is a lot of basic equipment that you will want to use but if you keep it simple, these things are not hard to find. I use a plastic ice cream bucket and lid to start all my one gallon wines. I apply the KISS (Keep It Simple) principle to everything possible. You can be creative and use all kinds of things to make wine. Even a pickle jar will work, if you can get a bung stopper for it that will hold an air lock.
The air lock is one piece of simple equipment that you will need. It lets the gas escape without letting any air in –a unique and simple little device (and cheap!). I don’t know how you would make wine without it, but I’m sure there’s a way. Surely they didn’t use air locks two hundred years ago!
All of this to tell you that you can make your own organic wine at home. It’s really not that hard. Be creative! I have three wines making right now: rose petal, lilac and sugar snap pea pod. I have plans to make wild daylily, bee balm, mint, ground cherry and chichiquelite this year, if time permits.
Use your imagination! Anything that might make a good tea will make a good wine.
Here is a good starter recipe for a simple apple wine:
12 pounds apples, mixed varieties
2 pounds (not cups) granulated sugar
1 gallon water
1 teaspoon. pectic enzyme
2 teaspoon acid blend
1/2 packet of wine yeast
Quarter the apples and run them through a grinder. Bring pulp to simmer in 1 gallon of water, holding simmer for 15 minutes. Strain juice onto the sugar in primary fermentation vessel, stirring well to dissolve, then reintroduce the strained pulp and, when cool, the pectic enzyme and acid blend, stirring well. Cover, set in a warm place for 24 hours, then add yeast. Cover, and set in a warm place for four days, stirring twice daily. Strain pulp and pour liquor into secondary fermentation vessel and fit with air lock. Rack when clear and fermentation has ceased. Rack again in 30 days and again in another 30 days, then bottle. Allow one year to age.
Get the handy print page and save this to your recipe box here:
Simple Apple Wine.
Editor’s Note: For further information, check out Sheryl’s e-book, Making Organic Wine At Home, available through her farm store.
You can also find Sheryl at Providence Acres.
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