Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Rhubarb Wine Update

The 4 pounds of chopped frozen rhubarb and the handful of blackberries were marinaded in 3 pounds of sugar and left for 24 hours. Last night I added around 7 pints of boiling water and gave it a good stir. This morning, when it was cool, I added a heaped teaspoonful of Young's Super Wine Yeast Compound. No need to add nutrients and it is supposed aid fermentation and clearing. This will be my first time using it so it will be interesting to see if it is an improvement.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Catching Up, Drinking Japanese Knotweed

I am afraid I have been very neglectful of this blog and up until very recently I have also been neglectful of my wine. You see Bert had made me a lovely cupboard to store my flagons in and when the cupboard door was closed I almost forgot they were there! I had quite the flurry just before I went to visit my brother in Vancouver but since returning had barely looked at it.

Until a few weeks ago. As I wrote in my other blog...

In the past three weeks I have bottled 5 gallons of wine (30 bottles), racked 21 gallons, poured one gallon down the toilet and started one gallon. It is almost like having a job. I also drank some and gave some away to delighted and grateful  recipients.

The minute I poured the last of the beetroot down the toilet I regretted it. The reason was it had flakey, cruddy bits floating in it. As the last of that strong, ruby red liquid disappeared around the U-bend I realised it was probably just a bit of dried stuff from its neck from when it was at the height of its fermentation. Oh well. Live and learn. It did free up a glass flagon for the start of the racking process. Most experts advise regular racking, but some of the stuff I had on the go hadn't been racked for 5 months!

I bottled everything I could. A dozen each of rosehip and orange and six of carrot and sultana. The rosehip is a bit on the sweet side, the orange should be good for mulling at Christmas. The best was the carrot and sultana. So all is racked and in shiny clean flagons and I don't have to go back to it for at least a week.

I started a batch of carrot, parsnip and raisin a couple of weeks ago and tonight I started a rhubarb. It is recommended that rhubarb should be chopped and frozen for at least 24 hours before freezing. It had been thrown it in the freezer unchopped several months ago. Tonight I let it partially defrost then cut it with the kitchen scissors. There are 4 pounds of it lying in a nice clean bucket and I've added 3 pounds of sugar and a handful of frozen blackberries that had fallen out of their bag. Lid on and that will be left for 24 hours then I'll add a gallon of boiling water and who knows what else? I'll check my various recipes and do what takes my fancy.

Tonight we are having a glass of Japanese Knotweed.  I made it in May 2012 and bottled it last January. We drank some in the summer time. This bottle has been lying around since then. It is actually very good. Note to self. Japanese Knotweed improves with age. Second note. Make some more in 2014. It is not as if it is hard to get and it is completely free!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Making Blackberry, Drinking Parsnip

I have been remiss. Almost two months since I updated this blog. This is some of what I've been up to.

Making a vegetable garden.
Learning to make curry.
Saying goodbye to my darling Bonnie dog.
Watching Game of Thrones.

And a little bit of wine making.

Since last updating I started Peach & Banana, Carrot & Orange, a Dandelion and a Rhubarb. The Peach & Banana was made from some frozen fruit languishing in the freezer. The fruit for wine I'm starting tonight also comes from the freezer. There were 4 pounds of blackberries taking up room and a little peck of raspberries. I'm aiming to get a dozen bottles out of it.

The method I'm going to use is roughly based on a Beech & Pollard recipe. It is supposed to be a dry rose.

4 lbs (1800g)blackberries + handful of raspberries, completely optional
Tsp nutrients
Tsp enzyme
2 Campden tablets
4 and half lbs (2 k) white sugar

The fruit is frozen so I have started by adding 4 pints of very hot water. When that cools I shall squish the berries with my very well-scrubbed hands. Then I shall add 6 more pints of water, nutrients, enzyme Campden tablets and sugar.

Tomorrow I shall yeast.

On the fifth day I'll strain it and make the volume up to 2 gallons (8.5 L) then I'll decant it into two flagons. After that I shall see how it goes. This is a rough guide after all.

And in other news, wine making means wine drinking. We finished the very first parsnip I made last night. It was yummy. I need a field of parsnips. What I don't use for wine, I'll roast and what isn't roasted will be given to the pigs. What a marvellous vegetable the parsnip is.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Not Fit For Pigs

The nettle wine is over a year old and I have been loath to sample it. The reason being that it has been over sweet at every tasting. Sweetness is a problem that is not going to improve no matter how long the wine is left. I am not sure what went wrong. My notes tell me that if was very frothy and exuberant to start with so I expect it fermented out before the sugar was used up.

Perhaps I should give it to the pigs but that would be against the law. It is not that pigs are not allowed to drink alcohol - it is that they are not supposed to eat or drink anything that has passed through a kitchen, just in case it might have become contaminated by pork products. And I make my wine in the kitchen. Of course no pork product will ever gave tainted my wine as I am scrupulous about hygiene. But the law is the law -  not that pigs care.

If I ever take up making cider using the old-fashioned method I shall definitely have to take care that the pigs never get wind of it because it was not unknown for the traditional cider makers to throw a lump of bacon (or a dead rat) into the brew to give it body. I'm sure that would never be allowed now. Bit of horse maybe - for sure isn't that in everything!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Blackcurrant, Birch Sap and Rhubarb

We drank the last bottle of blackcurrant during the week. I started it in August 2011 and it had been in the bottle exactly one year. The colour was gorgeous, it was strong and it had legs. It also had flavour - but, unfortunately, that flavour was rather acidic. Sadly the birds ate all my blackcurrants last year so there was none made in 2012. I found a pound or so of currants in the freezer so I might try again soon only this time I'll add blackberries and use a very different recipe. this time i don't care if it is a bit on the sweet side as long as it doesn't have that vinegar thing going on. No prizes at the county show for the 2011 Blackcurrant.

Dave came up trumps with the birch sap. We started it last week. I got it into the flagon and it is fermenting away nicely. there was an extra half gallon and as I don't have a half-gallon jar I plunged into the depths of the freezer and came out with a bag of rhubarb and another of crushed peaches. that should do nicely. They'll be started of and I'll add the birch sap to it. I told you I was a rough vintner!

Tonight we are drinking rhubarb. It was only bottled last month but had popped its cork. That's God's way of telling you to drink it. It's pleasant enough. Lacks interest.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Birch Sap Wine

It was Dave's idea that we should try birch sap wine and he sourced the birch sap. Being a responsible sort of chap he took very great care not to damage any trees and he plugged up all the holes he had drilled.

Andy Hamilton writes on birch sap wine, "Any birch tree can be tapped, but ensure you tap an older tree of at least 25–30cm in diameter: any smaller and you risk damaging the tree before it has had a chance to grow."

The recipe was very simple. Boil the birch sap, let it cool down, add the juice of two lemons, sugar, a pound of chopped up raisins, a cup of strong black tea and the yeast and nutrient.

It went into the demijohn at the beginning of April 2012 and I bottled it last November. Dave and I split the bottles between us, three each. Unfortunately a couple of his bottles popped the corks. Possibly because they were stored in the kitchen and it was too warm. He lost a bit but drank what remained. I gave him another bottle at Christmas to make up for his loss. That left two bottles and we drank one tonight.

To start with it was fizzy. Why it hasn't popped I do not know but it is  delectable and, by far, the loveliest wine I have ever made. I wish I had a crate of it. Two crates even. It is a wine so delightful that you wouldn't even care if it wasn't alcoholic.

I can only hope that the late, cold Spring means that the sap has yet to rise so that I can make some more. And I think Bert should plant a birch wood.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Happy Easter

I do like to spend part of a festive day progressing my wines. Today I racked (first time) the blackberry and raspberry that went into the demijohn on Saint Patrick's Day. I had a bit of difficulty with this one which I began on the first day of March. The first yeasting went nowhere. It fermented nicely on the second attempt. I noticed today that there was a lot of sediment so made racking a priority.

The wine is a good, bright colour and has little sweetness left in it. For the first time ever I added sugar. Just two tablespoons, dissolved in boiling water and cooled down to blood heat. I also added a dash of white wine left over from last night.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Fourth Racking Blackberry Wine

Tonight I am drinking one glass of blackberry wine. I made two batches of blackberry from the fruit I picked in September and October. This one was made with 1lb of fruit and the second with twice that amount. I racked it this evening and there was a glass left over. It is dry and has a great flavour.  One to look forward to.

A post from my other blog on picking blackberries.

After a few fine, bright days the rain came back. I had made the most of the fine weather gathering blackberries and rose hips by day and making, progressing and tasting country wine in the evenings. Wednesday was a very productive day for I was out in the fields for hours berrying and listening to Nelson Mandela's 'Long Road to Freedom'. The reading was so engrossing that I probably stayed out longer than I had intended.

Nearly twenty years ago, and after a few failed attempts, I finally passed the driving test and got my driving licence. Within weeks I decided that I'd make the trip to visit my sister in Kerry. It was quite a journey back then, as roads were not as good and there were many little towns and villages that could not be bypassed. I was over ten hours on the road and by the time I got to the sister's house, ten miles west of Dingle, I was completely exhausted. It was good to get to bed that night. The only problem was that every time I nodded off to sleep I woke with a jolt, my hands on a steering wheel and the dusty road ahead of me. I've never had such an experience before or since - until Wednesday night.

That day in the fresh air and the evening sterilising, racking, stirring and tasting had me ready for a good night's sleep. My only problem was that each time I drifted off I was jolted awake, my hand stretched out to pick just one more juicy berry...

Postscript: Bert has just informed me that blackberries picked after the 29th September are 'no good.'

Who says so?
Alan Titchmarsh. He says that after the 29th September they are as bitter as gall.
Because the devil spits on them.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Carrot Wine

Tonight we are drinking a bottle of carrot wine started in October 2011 and bottled last May. It is a beautiful colour, ever so slightly fizzy and on the sweet side. After this there is just two bottles left. I see from my notes that a bottle popped its cork four months after bottling and one that I gave to a friend at Christmas popped last month.

Really instead of drinking I should be making for I've only started one batch this month. Time to look in the freezer to see what is available. And carrots are cheap.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Making Rhubarb Wine

Rhubarb wine is, without doubt, one of the easiest wines to make and to drink. Rhubarbs 1 and 2 are finished and both pleased us. Rhubarb 3 is ready for bottling and tonight I racked the most recent batch, Rhubarb 4. It is a month in the demijohn and the flavour is already amazingly delicious. It tastes like a yummy rhubarb tart with only one little thing to bring it down - it is maybe a smidgen too sweet. Then I checked my notes. I started this wine off with a pint and a half of surplus pineapple wine. What a combination! A new project for the summer time - rhubarb & pineapple wine. Apparently they work well in a crumble too.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Taking A Break

Tomorrow I'm heading off to Donegal for a couple of days so, as if I hadn't enough to be getting on with, I decided to start another wine before I left. I went to the freezer and pulled out a bag of raspberries and another of blackberries. Sugared and watered, campdened and nutriented, it will get yeasted when I return.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Carried Away

I decanted the elderflower (dried elderflowers) into the demijohn and it smells delicious. It is fermenting away on top of the piano in the second warmest room in the house. I can't leave wine in the warmest room in the house because that is where Pearlie (mother-in-law) lives and I'm sure the carers would talk. I noticed I'm running out of demijohns so had a count. I have 18 gallons in jars and one gallon in the primary. Is this what Judith Irwin meant when she wrote about getting 'carried away'?

I will need to bottle something soon but nothing seems completely ready. The blackberry is top of the list. After all, the worst that can happen is that it pops the corks and we'll have to drink it young. What a tragedy that would be.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Carrot & Raisin Wine 2

I started some carrot and raisin wine back in November 2012 and on racking found it to be very promising indeed. Carrots were cheap in Lidls this week so I thought I'd have another go. Except I didn't buy enough. There were supposed to be 4 lbs of them so I threw a couple of parsnips in to make up the amount.

Method: Chopped the carrots (and parsnips) and simmered them for about 45 minutes. Then strained them on to a pound of raisins and 2 lbs of demerara sugar. Added half a teaspoon of nutmeg and a little more of cinnamon and the juice of an orange and a lemon. Stirred it all up and tomorrow I'll make a yeast starter.

I started a gallon of elderflower from the dried elderflowers I bought in Nature's Way. That was a couple of days ago. That goes in the demijohn on Wednesday.

And that vin de stinky poo? We're drinking it. It's actually not that bad. Not wonderful but definitely quaffable. I'll try another batch using fruit juice but I might use pomegranate or pineapple next time.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Vin de Stinky Poo

I wrote before that I did not start this blog to boast about how delightful and yummy my home made wines are. I also want to share with you all my mistakes and disasters so you don't have to make them too.

I was drawn to the idea of speedy wines and found a recipe for making wine from supermarket fruit juice. I chose orange and apple and used boring old juice from my local Eurospar. The making of it could not have been easier. I started it in October 2012 and it has been through four rackings and has yet to clear and it does not smell delicious. It is meant to be a speedy wine so I'm not keeping it much longer and, in fact, we decanted a couple of glasses from the demijohn tonight to see if it can be drunk. We are brave like that.

Today is the first time in a fortnight that I've been near my wine apart from starting another rhubarb at the weekend. I am about to embark on a racking frenzy. And that means lots of tasting. I discovered another big mistake tonight. In January this year I made two lots of pineapple, two weeks apart. For one I used less sugar than the recipe recommended. Somehow I have labelled them with the same date so I don't know which is which. My only solution is to rack them both tonight and hope I can decide by taste which is the one with less sugar. I'm hopeful. One has already been racked (and tasted) and it is rather yummy. Not like that stinking fruit juice stuff.

But you know something? I'm going to try the fruit juice wine again for Judith Irwin recommends it. I bet that old Spar fruit juice is the problem. If the next lot is stinky too then we'll forget about it for ever.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


I did not start one single batch of wine in February and March of last year. Very bad of me and I vowed that this year would be different. But here we are, the 5th of the month already and nothing has happened. I'm planning on starting elderflower from dried flowers I bought in Nature's Way but then i realised that concentrated grape juice was needed. That means another trip to Belfast and it is horrible out there. Blowing a gale and threatening snow and then there is the 'fleg' protest.

Some research on the internet led me to the notion that sultanas can be used as a substitute for grape juice and, thanks to my love of baking, there are always plenty of sultanas in the cupboard. So what is keeping me from getting started? Three words. Game of Thrones.

Must give myself a shake and get started. Hopefully there will be something to report tomorrow.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Getting It Wrong

This blog is not intended to be a show-off platform to shout about how good I am at making wine for I'm actually not that good. I am a beginner and there will be mistakes. If you are reading this and you are a beginner too, or maybe just thinking about making your own wine, then I'd like this blog to encourage you. I've only been doing it for less than eighteen months and I've produced some very drinkable wines. I've also made some wine that is never going to make the grade at the County Show.

I did bring out some of my better efforts at Christmas time - damson, blackberry & raspberry, rhubarb. And they were well received. So much so that I got rather big-headed. But that was friends. Siblings tend to be more direct with their opinions.

The youngest sister was here last weekend and just as she arrived I was racking this year's orange. I gave her a taster and she said it was horrible. I was actually thinking that myself. I'd played around with the recipe and used less sugar in hopes of a dry wine. It had also been left on the peel for too long. The result was dry and astringent. And I've two gallons of it!

To save face I brought out my raspberry wine later that evening. Sister said it tasted pleasant enough but far too sweet and strong. She did not finish her glass. I did not let it go to waste. Next day big hangover. Mind you we finished off three bottles of Mr Asda's finest between three of us as well as the raspberry. But it was the raspberry did the damage. So that was Nelly well chastened as to the glory of her country wines.

The 2011 orange came of age today and I'm drinking a glass as I write this. It is sweeter than I would like but compared to the 2012 lot it is nectar.

By the way – if anyone reading this has a bit of experience I would love to have your input. Together we can be great or, failing that, better.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Busy Day

I've been busy today. The second pineapple is in the primary vessel, fermenting away. The froth on top is a beautiful even white which reminds me of the fizzy head on Creamola Foam. It needs to be stirred daily for seven days before going into the demijohn.

I also racked (second racking) and sampled these three wines.

Nectarine. It's not very clear and has a heavy, peachy flavour. Still a bit on the sweet side.

One of the wines I made from clementines at Christmas. This one won't be for everyone. I think I over did it on the peel for it is a touch on the bitter side. But if it's alcoholic I'll drink it. This might be one for an experiment with blending. I have six bottles of nettle wine that are far too sweet.

Carrot & Raisin. This one is good. I'll have to make a note of the recipe before I forget. It should be easy enough to find because it included pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It is dry as a bone, full of flavour and a beautiful colour. If we can hold off  and nothing goes wrong we'll be drinking it next Christmas.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Keeping Note

A few weeks ago I was given eight juicy pineapples. One of the benefits of being known for making wine is that people sometimes give me fruit or vegetables that they cannot use themselves. Of course, when the time comes, they receive a bottle in return for their generosity. I always remember who gave me the produce so have no problem recalling who is to get a bottle of (hopefully) yummy alcohol.

The memory is less accurate when it comes to recalling what recipe I used. This means that if something is particularly successful I don't always remember how I made it.

I made my first batch of pineapple wine at the beginning of January using a recipe from C.J.J. Berry. Berry's recipes often call for a good deal of sugar and as I prefer wines that are not too sweet I sometimes use less sugar than he recommends.  I started a second batch this evening with pineapple I'd frozen and this time I used the recommended 3.5 pounds of sugar. I think I used 2 pounds for the first batch. Taking notes on recipes is something I must always do from now on. When the time comes for drinking one might be dry and light and the other rather sweet and very alcoholic. Then I'll know.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Another Book

A friend loaned me Booze for Free by Andy Hamilton. I'm very impressed with it. So much that I think I'll be buying my own copy soon. I haven't read all of it yet, just the section entitled The Basics and I've  already garnered a few new ideas from it. I like Hamilton's style. He is easy to follow and slightly irreverent, reminding us that making booze can't be that hard when prisoners have been known to make it in jail with hardly any equipment at all.

I used one of Andy's ideas when I was straining the apple wine I started last week. It's very simple and if I had an ounce of common sense I would have thought of it myself. I used plastic clothes pegs to pin the muslin straining bag to the edge of the bucket. Previously I put the muslin inside a funnel but it really slowed the process up. I added the sugar, gave it a good stir and decanted it into a sterilised demijohn. No sign of any mad fermentation yet.

Then I saw the fly. At least it looked like a fly. It had wings. I panicked and got Bert's binoculars out. You might wonder what use binoculars would be. But if you reverse the way you look through them and hold them close to the object of interest they make a rudimentary magnifying aid. The fly started to look like a broken apple seed. I do hope so. If the fermentation stops I'll know something is wrong. I have seventeen gallons of wine in jars now. They'll not all be marvellous but I hope they will be drinkable. There is still a lot to learn.

The apple wine recipe is from Pollard and Beech. It's supposed to be a dry one. Unless you're a fly.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Keeping It Clean

One of the most important principles of wine making is cleanliness. It is not enough to simply wash the equipment to be used – it must be sterilised. If this rule is not adhered to, your wine is likely to be contaminated by airborne yeast and other bacteria and may fail. I normally use VWP Cleaner Steriliser for all cleaning and sterilising purposes. I've also used sterilising tablets such as Milton or Boots own brand but, to ensure that bottles are scrupulously clean, I always feel more confident with VWP.

Preparing to make, rack or bottle wine made me very nervous at first as I fretted that somehow germiness would get into the finished product and spoil everything and all my effort would be wasted. I'm happy to say that I've now produced over 100 bottles of wine and none, so far, has spoiled through lack of hygiene. That's not to say there haven't been other problems but that is for another blog post.

So firstly, when preparing to sterilise I wash everything I intend to use in soapy water. I'll use a bottle brush for demijohns and bottles and I rinse thoroughly. Then I sterilise using VWP. When sanitisation is complete rinse in cold water. I am also careful to keep my hands very clean just as I would if I were cooking or baking.

If you are new to this you might find the cleaning routines rather daunting. I know I did when I began again. But routines soon become automatic and easier to deal with.

One thing does bother me and that is the pesky fruit fly. That is one of the reasons I love to make wine in the winter months. No fruit flies. If one of these pests gets into your wine you will end up with undrinkable vinegar. But, as I said, fruit flies are much less of an issue in the colder months.

Today Bert and I went to Nature's Way in Belfast. It was a snappy visit as there was a flag protest scheduled for the afternoon. The young lady who works in the shop was as helpful and pleasant as ever and I stocked up on VWP cleaner and other ingredients and bought two long handled plastic spoons for stirring. Long handled will be very useful as they can be sterilised and kept in the primary vessel when daily stirring is recommended.

I also bought dried elderflower as I'm dying to make elderflower wine but we have had precious little blossom on our trees these past few years. And what little there was I wanted to become elderberries. It did not happen. The berries got scoffed by birds but I do not begrudge them as birds cannot shop in Nature's Way.

Sliced apples in the primary vessel. The yeast and nutrient go in tonight and the sugar in six days time. I was a little worried when I opened the lid an hour ago. The mixture smelled faintly of methylated spirit. Will this be my first big disaster?

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Making A Start

I've been blogging at Nelly's Garden since 27th August 2004 and in the past year I've often written about my adventures in wine making. It's something I used to do years ago, maybe more than twenty years ago! Unfortunately I'd given away most of my wine making equipment so I had to start again from scratch. There were a few glass demijohns stored in the shed and a couple of tattered paperbacks and that was all I had.

I started my first two batches back in August 2011. Blackcurrant and rhubarb, both from the garden. Since then I have made a further 32 batches of wine of which half has already been bottled. That is 96 bottles of wine! At this moment I have a batch of beetroot in the primary vessel waiting yeast and 6 pounds of apples on the kitchen table to be chopped and got ready. I have a lot of frozen fruit in my freezer and a cupboard full of sugar. 

Judith Irwin writes in 'A Step by Step Guide to Making Homemade Wine' that home wine making does have its problems, the chief of these being the amount of space that is needed. She cautions, " careful not to get too carried away. One gallon can soon multiply into ten, and then twenty, as enthusiasm grows, and all the problems multiply with them." But as Bert says, "Where's the problem in that?"