Making Your Own Wine

by frankbeswick

Home wine making is a pleasant aspect of a self-reliant lifestyle.

Being able to give your guests a glass of your own home brew made in your own kitchen or cellar is a special pleasure. The wine can be made with your own home-grown ingredients or berries that you have foraged for yourself. True, you will have to purchase certain ingredients, such as wine yeast and yeast nutrient, and the equipment costs a little, though not much, but it is a peaceful and productive hobby.

Picture courtesy of Pixel12013, of Pixabay

Personal Experience

I have had successful and unsuccessful experiences when making wine, far more of the former than the latter. Some wines have been memorable. The children and I used to forage near the canal where we had a secret place, an aged elderberry tree whose berries we picked. Some were mixed into desserts, but once  I mixed them with blackberries and produced one of the best home wines I have ever tasted. Well worth remembering! Apple juice mixed with blackberries  makes a good wine. The blackberries are boiled down to get at the juice and mixed in with apple, Unlike cider, which requires cider apples, any apple will suffice. But press it if you have a  press or purchase some apple juice. Crab apples need pressing, as crab apple juice is hard to obtain. A quick tip, though: elderberry alone is quite tarty and some people can have a mild stomach pain with them. I, fortunately, am allergic to nothing.  Just like my father.

Any fruit will suffice. Hard fruits, such as apples and pears, need pressing, but soft fruits, I have found, are juicier when heated. Do not boil, as boiling destroys flavour. When I made a lovely gooseberry wine I chopped up the gooseberries then heated them to extract the juice.  Strawberry wine, I found from  experience, is delicious, but leaves a thick layer of seeds at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. Plums  and damsons make a good wine, nice and fruity, though I don't make it from my plum tree, as my wife likes plums too much for me to ferment them. Don't be too tempted by wine produced only from one fruit/vegetable, true country wines often were a mixture of fruits.

 Seeds and vegetables are sometimes used for wine. The trouble with seeds is that left unmalted they add  nothing to the wine, so if you want barley wine you would be advised to purchase the malt and proceed from there. Potato wine uses fermented potato, which is chopped and boiled and the water strained off for fermentation. It is similar to carrot wine and to the delicious parsnip wine, whose high sugar content makes for a strong wine. Rhubarb makes a popular wine [the stems that is.] Wine can also be made from some tree sap. Birch wine is a delicacy, and I imagine that maple will make a good wine ingredient.

Note that I have omitted mention of beer and spirits. I rarely drink beer and so have never made it. Spirits in most countries require a licence and there is good reason for this. Without the precautions taken by a trained distiller spirits can be toxic. I have never made them and never will. It is important to say that you must abide by all laws pertaining to home wine making in your state. In the UK I am allowed to make wine for home consumption, but am not allowed to sell it or give it as a raffle or tombola prize.

How to Make Wine.

I will work on an example, blackberry wine. You wlll need a demijohn [jar], fermentation lock, rubber bung with a hole for the lock and sodium sterilizing powder. Put a teaspoonful of the powder into the jr and wash it out with warm water. Make sure it is all washed out  

Get a pound of blackberries and place them in a pan, bringing them gently to heat, but not to boiling. Soon you will have a dark liquid. Pour the liquid through a plastic funnel into the demjohn. Then pour two pounds of white sugar into the jar.  When the temperature of the jar is about 25c you can add your yeast. Many wine makers make a yeast starter the day before brewing, which is a bottle containing yeast, yeast nutrient, sugar and warm water. The advantage of this is that it gets the fermentation off to a good start, but it is also possible to simply pour in the yeast and the yeast nutrient. Then top up the jar with warm  water, but do not overfill. Part fill the fermentation lock with water, stick it into the hole in the rubber bung, then seal the jar. Your ferment will start, at first slowly with a few bubbles, then it will quicken. 

Wine cannot be hurried. Leave your wine in a warm, dimly lit place, maybe for three weeks  until the ferment is over. Then to make sure drop a sterilizing tablet into the jar. Quickly reseal, as you do not want germs entering. You can get wines that are ready in three weeks, so the kit manufacturers tell you, but if you want quality you must be prepared to wait for the wine to mature. Some winemakers wait for  year.

Sometimes a wine will be cloudy. This is more the case with white wines. When this happens use wine finings, which is a  substance that clears the cloudiness, depositing it at the bottom of the jar.

Occasionally in the days after starting your wine the ferment goes crazy and bubbles up into the fermentation lock. Don't worry over this, simply clean out the lock and replace the water. To avoid contamination some winemakers have a spare lock ready.  

Winemakers rack their wines after fermentation is over. This involves siphoning off the wine into a clean demijohn. When doing this leave the cloudy bit at the bottom, it is waste. The new jar is sealed with a bung without a hole, as there should be no gas escaping. Then they wait a couple of weeks at least before siphoning off into bottles. Bottles should be corked rather than screw capped because if there is a residual ferment a screw-capped bottle could explode, whereas a cork just pops out. My mother told me a family story that one of her father's brothers once brewed beer, but bottled it before the ferment was complete. During the night the family heard  a series of loud pops, and came downstairs to find the kitchen covered in beer froth.


Going Further

I have given a basic recipe, but there is so much still to learn. Nothing beats experience, and there is no substitute for practice. You should get yourself a good book on winemaking. Each wine is unique. You can make wine out of sugar, water, yeast and nutrient and certain flower petals, such as rose petals. Take care that the petals are not poisonous. Dandelion is not poisonous [don't eat the stems] but two glasses of dandelion  wine make you want to urinate. Daffodils [Narcissi] are definitely poisonous. You can make tea wine. Ginger wine is lovely, I love it.

But going into competition is a very demanding process. I have never done it, for I stick to vegetable shows. I have sampled some of the competitors' wines and they are of the highest quality. They have flavour, body and crystal clarity.


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Updated: 03/31/2021, frankbeswick
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Veronica on 02/24/2022

In England, as Big Bro says, "Former " is first, "latter " is second

frankbeswick on 02/24/2022

The white sediment is at the bottom of the jar along with the lees, the dead yeast. You do not use this stuff to drink, so when you siphon the wine, leave the sediment in the jar and then pour it away.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/23/2022

Thank you!

One last question: I meant to ask in regard to your first comment to my question two days ago, is there anything I can do about the white sediment in strawberry wine, and if not, will it have no or some slight taste?

frankbeswick on 02/23/2022

Mulberry is tasty, but takes 13 months to mature. Wineberry is a member of the Rubus genus, like raspberry and blackberry, so is very suitable for wine, as they are. Strawberry's soft, fruity flavour will blend well with the honey in melomel.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/22/2022

Thank you! So I'm looking forward to attempting strawberry wine since the strawberries are shooting up early along with the wild onion. What do you think of mulberry and wineberry as wines?

The web site for Westfjords Winery mentions honey wines as melomels with fruits and honey; as methylglins with herbs, honey and spices; and as "pure" mead. Would strawberry mix well with honey for what they call melomel, wine fermented with fruits and honey?

frankbeswick on 02/22/2022

Strawberries make a lovely wine, but expect a deposit of white sediment, as the seeds sink to the bottom and mingle with the yeast sediment.

Rhubarb is known to make a good wine, I have enjoyed it. I have never made bilberry wine, as there are not sufficient supplies of wild bilberries in my area, but I think it would be good. Crowberry does not grow in my area at all, so I cannot comment on it.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/21/2022

Wild strawberries grow here from March to November. But the clement weather has brought the beginnings of wild onion and strawberries already in this last week of February. What is your opinion of strawberry wine?

Also, what is your opinion of bilberries, crowberries and rhubarb for home-made wine? (The Westfjords Winery in Iceland mentions the previous trio as the fruits with which they intend to make wine.)

frankbeswick on 02/18/2022

Any wine that you enjoy, but wild fruits will not be available around St Patrick's Day. Maybe if you have stored apples and a press you can make apple wine. I rarely drink beer so I have never made it. But in mid march you might harvest young nettle leaves for nettle beer.

The former means first listed, just as in American parlance.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/17/2022

In re-visiting your article, a question came to mind because it's February and soon will be March. What home-made wine do you consider as most attractive, most tasty for Saint Valentine's Day and for St. Patrick's Day? Or does the latter day likelier inspire beer, and if so, what kind?

In a related, unrelated direction, I remember reading somewhere -- may not have been a reliable source -- that your side of the pond considers former as the second-listed and latter as the first-listed of two persons or things. On this side, the former is the first, the further away from the end of the sentence, and the latter the second, the closer to the end.

frankbeswick on 05/04/2021

Where I live in North West England grapes are hard to grow, so buying grape juice is necessary for wine makers.

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