I just started making fruit wine a little over a year ago. It was actually on memorial day weekend of 2019 that I started. I just started my 4th batch of wine, and for the first time ever I’ve got 2 batches going at the same time (I’m not counting bottle aging in this). I wanted to make a fruity summer wine and was having a hard time choosing exactly what fruit to choose, so I decided on a mixed summer fruit wine. It has sweet and tart cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. It also helped that I found a frozen 3lb bag of those exact mixed fruits. I hope it will be good, but winemaking is a hobby where the rewards only come with lots of patience. A lot like gardening.
But those rewards are sweet (even if the wine is dry). There is almost no better feeling than sharing a wine you made with friends. Sharing and enjoying the wine are not the only pleasures. It is fun to see the process of using a fungus (yeast) to change the sugars of either fruit or juice, or both into alcohol*. There are some fun skills to employ, such as changing containers, or “racking” the wine. The process of winemaking is a lot slower than the process of brewing beer, but can be a little less precise time-wise and temperature-wise. Other than water, there is no cooking involved in the winemaking process.
There are some choices you have when making fruit wine. What fruit to use? Do you use fresh fruit, frozen fruit, or juice. Do you use sulfites or fermentation inhibitors? Do you add tannins? Pectic Enzyme?
A lot of these questions will be answered by what you have to work with. Or what book or recipe you are using. I wrote a book review of one book that in particular influenced a lot of these decisions for me. I like using fruit for fruit wine making. I’ve yet to make a wine out of juice. I’ve mostly used fresh and local fruit, but in this most recent batch I used frozen fruit. I don’t use any sulfites or campden tablets or anything like that. I sanitize my equipment well and I boil water and pour that boiling water on top of the fruit, which helps to create a sanitary environment where the introduced yeast will not have competition from harmful molds or bacteria. That’s yet another choice, I do introduce yeast. Some winemakers allow wild yeast in the environment or on the fruit to ferment the fruit. I don’t want to take that chance, although the process intrigues me.
From the beginning my process is to first plan what I want to make. This may sound easy, but I’m also thinking about when it will be ready. I’ve given away most of the apple mead I made, and it’s not yet apple season, so most of it will be consumed before fall when everyone is in the mood for apples. I’m okay with that, because, again, for me sharing is the best part of winemaking. I have a batch of chocolate mint-chocolate wine going right now and the aim is to have this ready for peppermint mocha season. Chocolate mint started to be plentiful in the spring, which gave me a good 6-7 months to make this wine for the holiday season, although there will not be much time for it to age in the bottle, but I think it will be okay. With the planning also comes thoughts about sourcing. For the chocolate mint-chocolate wine I have very plentiful chocolate mint in my garden, that’s another reason I wanted to do that one in the first place. For the apple mead, I got the apples from a local farm (Triple B) and the honey from a local beekeeper (Jefferson Hills Honey). For the most recent batch of wine I bought frozen fruit from the supermarket. Ideally I would always keep it local or homegrown, but that’s not always possible. I also wanted to see the effect of the frozen fruit being more broken down by the freezing/thawing process in this wine. The last sourcing consideration to make is what kind of yeast to use. You can use bread yeast to make wine but every winemaking book I read cautioned against it. I may try it one day just to see how noticeable the difference is, but I use wine yeast. It is relatively inexpensive (you can get a 12 pack on Amazon for $12.99, I usually buy them for $.99 an envelope at a local beer store). There are many options, but I generally use a basic red or white wine yeast depending on the color of the fruit I’m using. This is probably not the most sophisticated way to choose yeast, but it’s fine for me. Beer yeast will also work for fruit wines. I also use a yeast nutrient to help the yeast in their reproduction and eating activities.
After determining what kind of wine you want to make, and what ingredients to get, starting the wine is rather simple. The first step in doing anything with a wine is to sanitize everything. I use a no rinse sanitizer. There are many brands of this, they are all the same. Before using the no rinse sanitizer I sanitize all of the surfaces I’ll be working on (sink, counter, etc.). Then I sanitize the equipment. I do rinse everything thoroughly even though it is called no rinse. I’ve found that if you don’t there is a residue left behind.
When everything is clean, I put the water on to boil. If I’m making a one gallon batch I generally boil about 1.25 gallons of water. While waiting for the water to boil I prepare the fruit and put it in the primary fermenter (I use a 2 gallon bucket as a primary fermenter). Once the water boils I add the sugar to the water, stir to dissolve, and when it resumes a boil I dump it over the fruit. I then wait several hours for the concoction to cool down to around room temperature. It may be a little bit warmer, but that’s fine, as long as it’s not hot enough to kill the yeast. When the temperature is right it is time to “pitch” or add the yeast. After that stir it in and cover. My fermentation bucket has a lid where you can fit an airlock. I fill the airlock with vodka, which is a good option as it won’t get mold or bacteria like stagnant water may.
With your fruit, liquid, and yeast in there the next day you’ll see signs of fermentation. If they are not immediately apparent, you will see them with the next step. What we need to do now is “punch down” the cap of fruit at the top of the fermenter. This involves stirring it down. When you do this, you will most certainly hear your yeast fizzing. Some batches may have more active fermentations that others. The one I’m making right now is super vigorous. It had huge bubbles, you could see the airlock bubbling, and actually some wine residue got into the airlock, which I cleaned and replaced. Other batches I’ve done have had more subdued fermentation where the only sign was the fizzing sound when I punched the wine down. Fermentation is happening in both, but a lot of factors go into how the initial fermentation happens, such as temperature and humidity, which could be the reason this current batch is so furious. The punching down process should be repeated twice a day for 7-10 days, or until the fermentation activity you’ve observed has appeared to stop. Thus ends the primary fermentation. The secondary fermentation and racking process will be another post in the future, I promise. Or you could look it up on youtube in the meantime.
Here are some photos to illustrate our process.
*An interesting book on yeast, sugar, and alcohol is The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization by Nicholas P. Money