I hope to be able to explain in three easy-to-follow steps, how to make a quality fruit wine you can be proud of. You will then be on your way with a new art form, like when an artist paints his first masterpiece, or when a chef creates his first great meal. As with any art, you may experiment around some basic principles, with some failures, but with time and experience, failures will rarely occur and most of it will be success.
Step One Prepare the fruit. Take over the kitchen. You will need access to a stove, a kettle, a freezer, a blender, a sink, and a good glass of wine (of course to remind you of what you are aiming for). Prepare two kilograms of the fruit (I will not be covering the creation of vegetable, flower, herb, honey or grape wines – let’s learn to crawl before we run). Do not remove the skin unless it is usually inedible – the exception being bananas, as banana skin can be used in wine, but we don’t usually eat it. Remove stones and pips – it is easy to do so. If the fruit has larger stones or seeds that are not easy to remove, that would be broken up by the blender, then the fruit needs to be crushed by the potato masher rather than put through the blender. If the seeds are either very, very small, such in many berry fruits, or have been removed completely, then the two kilograms of fruit is best put through a blender. Then, in 2kg lots, freeze them in the freezer. The ice cream tubs come in very handy for this process. Freezing the fruit brings out the extra flavours and helps break down some cell walls in the fruit. The fruit, now frozen, can be stored until it is convenient to start the wine.
Clean out a twenty-litre esky with some boiling water. It does not need to be completely sterile. However, if you prefer to be absolutely sure, then a small quantity of sodium metabisulphite and warm water wiped around the inside of the esky will do the job. Put the two-kilogram block of fruit in the esky and leave to defrost.
Into a large saucepan, that is able to hold at least ten litres, put one kilogram of sugar (1.5kg for a medium wine, 2kg for a sweet wine), the tea from six teabags or half a teaspoon of red tannin powder, and three litres of boiling water from the kettle (this is quicker than trying to bring the water to the boil on the stove). Bring it all to the boil, then pour over the defrosted fruit in the esky. Stir quickly, then replace the esky lid and leave to cool for twelve to twenty-four hours. The heat from the boiling water will effectively sterilise everything inside the esky without cooking the fruit. Don’t forget to clean out the stockpot and clean up the kitchen. Your future expeditions into wine making may depend on it!
Step Two Your wine / sugar mixture (must) is now ready to start fermenting. Yeast can replicate and grow by breaking down sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). It does not need oxygen (O2) to complete this process. This is called an anaerobic process. If oxygen or air is allowed to get to the wine, oxidation can occur, whereby, alcohol combines with oxygen to create acetic acid (vinegar). There is a bacterium called acetobacter that carries enzymes that rapidly promote this process. The acetobacter looks like a white scum on the surface of your wine or beer. It requires oxygen to survive.
When wines or beers are fermenting rapidly, a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced, which is heavier than air. Therefore, a thick layer of CO2 is created above the fermenting wine or beer, excluding any oxygen. Therefore, during the rapid fermenting process, at the beginning, oxidation of your wine or beer is very unlikely to occur, and you do not need to have it in an airtight container fitted with an air lock. When the fermentation slows down, this is the danger time, as the layer of CO2 above the wine or beer is not as dense, oxygen can get to the surface and oxidise the alcohol to vinegar, particularly in the hot Queensland climate. It is therefore important to reduce the amount of air space above your fermenting wine or beer when the fermentation process slows down. This simple understanding of how the fermentation process works will probably get rid of a very large number of people having disasters.
When we add the yeast, we want fermentation to start quite rapidly to create that CO2 layer. To ensure this rapid start, some people create a yeast starter bottle where they add a small quantity of sugar in a sterile bottle and water with the yeast the day before they are going to add this to the wine. DON’T BOTHER! The wine will still be warm after twenty-four hours in the esky and addition of dry yeast will still create a very rapid fermentation, so, add a small quantity of dried wine yeast, a teaspoon of yeast nutrient (available at local brew shops), and a teaspoon of pectolitic enzyme (pectolase). For most wine, the addition of the yeast nutrient is not absolutely necessary, however, if you embark on vegetable, flower or honey wines, the addition of yeast nutrient is essential. The addition of one tspn of tartaric or citric acid will certainly help the flavour of wines that are based on non-acidic fruit, in particular bananas. The pectolase, in my opinion, is essential for most wines, unless you are absolutely sure that the fruit you are basing your wine on does not contain any pectin. Pectin is required in jam making, making the jam set. If present in wine, it creates a haze that is very difficult to get rid of at a later date. Therefore, the addition of a pectolitic enzyme, that destroys pectin, at the beginning of the fermentation process, ensures you are likely to have a clear wine at the end.
Which yeast? There are approximately ten different wine yeasts, all with different qualities. I will not go into every wine yeast here, but Gervin produce an excellent range and the quality is superb, however, they are difficult to get hold of in Australia. The licensed importer is in WA, however, most of the yeasts can be purchased from your local brew shop, although, not under the Gervin name. Once the yeast nutrient and pectolase are added, stir them twice a day for the next seven days. Note: Use a large wooden or plastic spoon, or alternatively, a stainless steel one that has been sterilised with boiling water or through the microwave. This is quite important.
Step Three For the past seven days, some part of your house has smelled like a brewery. Well, now it’s time to get a bit messy. You need a 10 litre plastic bucket that has been sterilised with some sodium metabisulphite. Over this, drape a large nylon straining bag. You can make this from nylon mesh similar to mosquito netting, or buy it from you local brew shop. Pour your brew into the straining bag, lift up the edges, and gently squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can into the bucket. IMPORTANT: Your hands need to be as clean as possible for this stage, preferably cleaned in a weak sodium metabisulphite solution, or better still, put on some plastic gloves and wash those in a metabisulphite solution. There are probably a hundred different ways that this messy stage can be made slightly less messy, but why should I spoil your fun. Just keep the solid particulate matter inside the nylon bag and the liquid matter in the bucket. When you have squeezed out as much as you can and your hands and arms are aching from the process, put the nylon bag and solid matter aside.
The liquid now needs to go into sterile fermenting vessels, that is, some concentrated metabisulphite should have been in the container, shaken about and left for a short time. 3L fruit juice containers are ideal for this purpose, and the liquid you have should fill two of these almost exactly. If it doesn’t, top up with water to approximately 3cm from the top. Fit a rubber bung and air lock, also sterilised by soaking in metabisulphite. Put a small amount of metabisulphite solution in the air lock and leave to finish fermenting, which will take approximately two to six weeks, depending on the time of the year. After three weeks, whether it has finished fermenting or not, the clearer wine at the top needs to be siphoned off, using a sterile siphon tube, into another sterile fermenting vessel. A 5litre glass demijohn is ideal. Alternatively, another 3litre fruit juice container and a 2litre wine or port flagon is adequate. (Anyone unsure of how to siphon the clear wine from one bottle into another, please give me a call.)
Some wines may now have finished fermenting and be quite clear and therefore are ready for bottling without further ado. Most wines will take a little longer than this to clear and you have to leave them in the fermenting vessels for anywhere up to six months, however, most wines will be clear within two months. There are various reasons why your wine may not clear, and it is probably best to seek advice from your local brew shop about using a clearing agent. For perfectionists who wish to have their wine absolutely crystal clear, a filtering mechanism may be required. However, for most people starting up, a very slight haze on the wine will not change the flavour much at all, and is quite acceptable.
Bottling: How to become very unpopular with the rest of the household in the middle of a summer’s night, (and oh so many people has this happened to), with exploding bottles and popping corks on a hot warm evening because they have lacked that great virtue, patience, and have tried to bottle their wine far too early. I could make this part very high-tech and very complicated. For those who compete at state or national levels it is complicated, especially when trying to make lower alcohol semi-sweet or medium wines. So, invest in a hydrometer and read the instructions. If the specific gravity of the wine is less than 0.995, and the fluid level in the air lock appears level and not popping, the wine is unlikely to ferment any further, and if it is clear, it can be bottled. If you are making a sweet wine and the specificity is as it is meant to be (more than 1.020), invest in a little, tiny capillary action vinometer that gives an approximate alcohol by volume measurement. If the alcohol by volume measurement with this little device is more than 18%, it is not likely to ferment any further and can be bottled if clear. Anything between these perimeters may need a little more thought. Happy brewing and remember, have fun! Experiment in small qualities and even the best chef can burn the toast.
If you’re interested in making fruit wine, consider joining the Western Suburbs Amateur Wine & Beer Makers Guild. Meetings are usually held at the Graceville Croquet Club, Appel St. Graceville 7.30pm 1st Wednesday of each month. Contact Tony Bilbrough preferably by email: firstname.lastname@example.org 0415 032 285