Strawberry Wine Forever

Back in May I started 5 gallons of strawberry wine. It’s September now, which means it’s time to bottle!

Actually according to my post-it, I should have bottled back in July. But a little extra ageing never hurt anybody.

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I siphoned all the wine into my huge bucket. I had hoped that using extra strawberries during fermentation would leave some residual sweetness, but I hoped wrong. It was extremely dry.

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I like sweet wine, and I think the strawberry really benefits from the sweetness, so I mixed up some honey in warm water and added it as the wine was siphoning.

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I put in 5 Campden tablets and 2 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate to keep the yeast from going after the new sugar source.

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With a bucket full of wine, I started bottling.

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My parents drink more than I do (though that’s not saying much), and they diligently save their empty bottles for me. I like the motley look.

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The bottles full, it was time to cork. Technically, I have a corker. In the strictly legal definition of the word, I do. It is, however, terrible. With one hand you have to squeeze two handles together to compress the cork, and with the other you have to press down on a lever to drive it into the bottle. All while not shooting your open bottle of wine off across the room. I tried to use it myself. I really did, and I just didn’t have the strength. My roommate Will stepped up to the plate and just barely managed it. What a man!

My birthday’s coming up, and I think I know what to ask for.

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It was a real struggle, but we got there in the end with 8 regular bottles and 8 double-wides. I’ll have to order up some new labels.

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I think I’ll call it Uncle Beth’s Fancy-Ass Wine

Strawberry and Rhubarb Wines

No, not strawberry rhubarb wine. Though there’s an idea…

I’m making strawberry wine and I’m also making rhubarb wine. Both of these wines hold the hallowed title of Good Enough to Do Again. These were two of my earliest and roughest attempts at wine making, but somehow they turned out the best.

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Last year’s rhubarb wine did not inspire confidence at first. It looked like dishwater and tasted pretty strange. But recently a bottle of it worked its way into the fridge, and I was as surprised as anyone to find that it tasted really good. Everyone says that ageing wine improves it, but I’ve always been dubious. What could possibly be going on in that bottle? But I’ve been at this long enough that some of my bottles are starting to reach the 1 year mark, now, and I have to admit to seeing a difference. (At least with the rhubarb. The bottle of last year’s blueberry I opened seems to have spoiled).

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So I’m back at it! The rhubarb is mostly from my parents’ garden, with a little supplemented from our community garden. I followed this recipe scaled down to one gallon.

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The strawberry wine I did not scale down. Last summer I made two separate gallon batches that were rousing successes, so I decided to shoot for 5 gallons this time. Sticking to my cheap guns, I bought these bargain berries at the bulk supply store. Maybe I’ll do a smaller batch with real local berries and conduct a dispiriting taste test.

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I sanitized my biggest bucket and lined it with a nylon cloth. My first strawberry wine had a lot of debris in it and actually started to sprout. Not this time!

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Berry by berry I removed the hulls and quartered the fruit. All 18 pounds of it. The recipe I’m following recommends 12.5 pounds for a dry wine and 25 pounds for a dessert wine. My past recipes have been light on fruit and then backsweetened with honey. This time I’ve upped the fruit and sugar and am hoping for a natural residual sweetness.

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The berries cut, I barely covered them with water and added a dash of wine tannin, a healthy dose of pectic enzyme, and 1/4 teaspoon of sodium metabisulfite. I draped a towel over the bucket and left it in the closet overnight. During that period the pectic enzyme and water started to break down the fruit and the sodium metabisulfite sanitized it. At least that’s what I’m told.

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By the next night the pectic enzyme had certainly gotten to work. The berries were already limp and pale and the water had become a thick juice.

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I added water up to the 6 gallon line, and then I went sugar crazy. I checked the gravity after mixing in what felt like an unholy amount of the stuff – it was right around 1.060. My recipe recommended 1.078 for dry and 1.100 for dessert, so either way I had to keep going.

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In the end I used one entire 10 lb. bag of sugar on the nose. This brought my gravity to just under 1.100, or a tiny bit less sweet than dessert wine.

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Finally I added 5 teaspoons of yeast nutrient and a 5 gram packet of champagne yeast. I covered it loosely with the bucket lid and pushed it to the back of the closet. By the next day it was bubbling vigorously and giving the bedroom a very distinctive smell.

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I gave the fermentation exactly a week, stirring and prodding the fruit bag a couple times a day. Once the bubbling started to slow (and I found someone big to lift the bucket up onto the counter for me) I racked it into a five gallon carboy.

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The nylon bag was a lifesaver. I’ve fought some vicious battles with fruit pulp in my time, but the bag just lifted straight out. That being said, a week’s fermentation didn’t leave much inside it. What had been a huge volume of fruit got condensed down to little chunks of seeds and fibers. Strawberries, it turns out, are mostly water.

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Since the strawberries added more than I was expecting to the liquid, I actually collected 6 gallons of wine instead of 5. I filled the big carboy completely with free runnings and a 1 gallon jug with juice squeezed directly from the nylon bag… into an unsanitized bowl. Because I am a fool. I hadn’t been planning on squeezing juice from the bag, so I’d just plopped it in any old bowl. Thank the lord the 5 gallon filled up before I had the chance to fill it with rogue bowl microbes. As it stands I may have contaminated that extra gallon, but it was a bonus gallon anyway. And I may get lucky. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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All told I have some beautiful colors. The two on the left are strawberry, already producing some impressive sediment, nylon bag or no. The one on the right is rhubarb, basically sediment-free and a fantastic shade of pink.

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Maybe I’ll serve the two together and let people make their own strawberry/rhubarb.

A Brewing Operation

I am on a wine kick. I’m not sure where it came from. A year ago my roommate and I made a mostly successful IPA from an ancient graduation gift beer kit. Since then we’ve made two more downright drinkable beers from Brooklyn Brewery kits,20150607_182116 although I think I may have overdone it on the carbonation… Look at that head!

I’ve been itching to make something more homemade, though, and since it’s June, fruit wine seems like a good direction to go. I bought this fabulous 6 gallon carboy off a very nice craigslist man, along with a 6 gallon bucket with a grommeted lid and more supplies than you can shake a stick at, all for $40.20150608_112228

It’s a lot of responsibility, coming up with a wine I can afford and am confident I might like enough to make 5 to 6 gallons of the stuff. I’ve settled on mango wine, mainly because mangoes were on sale and are a heck of a lot cheaper than berries. I will be following this 32-year-old recipe from the Rare Fruit Archives of Australia because it’s the first one I found that sounded doable. And because I like the sound of it.

That will be a separate post, though, as I’m still waiting for the champagne yeast to come in the mail, and I’m typing with my feet drawn up on my chair because there are twenty pounds of mangoes softening in paper grocery bags under my desk. Until then, a quick look around at the operation I’m trying to get going.

No one has lived in the apartment below ours for a year now. 20150607_120427_LLSThis means their basement storage room is unoccupied, apart from all the junk they left behind. Until someone new moves in, I’m appropriating it as my wine cellar! There’s a great, reasonably dark shelf for finished bottles, where I’ve put what’s left of the beer. And another, darker shelf for all that caution tape the neighbors were hoarding…

I’ve also got two wines fermenting20150607_121114 down here already. I brought them out into the light for a photo-op; they’ve been living off to the left of the frame in a dark corner. I’ve read many a forum argument about whether dark is necessary for wine or just an old wives’ tale. The jury appears to be out, but I figure if I’ve got the dark I might as well use it.

The pink fermenter on the right is a strawberry wine. When I transferred it from its primary vessel I had a terrible time separating the liquid from the berry sludge that formed, and now I have a pitifully shallow fermenter that still somehow has a ton of sediment. When I rack it again I’ll have to decide if I make up for the lost space with water or just move it to a half-gallon jug.

The yellow fermenter is mead that I’ll be racking as soon as the bubbling dies down. By the numbers it should be any day now, but the yeast is still going strong.20150607_120859

The bubbles in the airlock have actually formed a very cool honeycomb pattern. For a while I had a half-baked idea that this had something to do with the high honey content. And then I found the same pattern in the strawberry airlock.

And then I realized that idea was ridiculous.