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, "...be 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?"