I Have So Much Wine

Today is all about dark wine. It wasn’t meant to be, but completely by accident all my dark, autumnal-looking wines were due to be racked at roughly the same time. Which is good, because they all catch the autumn light in such a way it’s a shame they live in the basement. I’ve read that exposure to light can give wine off flavors. I’m not sure off flavors are a real concern for someone at my level, so I may consider relocation. It would be the most roundabout stained glass in town.
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Then again, sunlight beating down on my wine might heat it up to an uncomfortable extent. This may be a sight that comes only every month or two. It’s more special that way. From left to right we have Raspberry Melomel, Elderberry Wine, Plum Wine, and Strawberry Wine. “Melomel” is the beautiful old fashioned-sounding term for mead flavored with fruit. The even older fashioned-sounding “metheglin” is mead flavored with herbs or spices. If I learn the professional language, I’m one step closer to being a professional myself. Right?

Speaking of metheglin, I racked my lavender metheglin last week, and it received rave reviews. It’s incredibly strong (I’m still getting the hang of the hydrometer) but the little bit I tried tasted lovely, especially with a little honey mixed in. One of my roommates said it reminded him of Viking’s Blod, a household favorite mead, so I took it as the highest of compliments. Viking’s Blod don’t come cheap, so I’d dearly love to be able to replicate it. The recipes I’ve found involve hibiscus, not lavender, so I may need to explore the world of flower-flavored metheglins.

But enough about future projects. In the here and now, I’m still racking this elderberry wine which, as you may remember, tasted like vinegar back in July. I sure remember. I’m still dutifully racking it every month in the hopes that it will, as the recipe suggests, improve with age.

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And as far as my monthly notes are concerned, my hopes are not unwarranted. In July this wine was “…Not good” and I was “hoping for an ageing miracle.” In August another ellipsis introduced an incredulous “…getting better?” Now, in September, I swear it was downright close to drinkable. It tastes and looks to me like a very dry red wine. Is this stuff actually improving, or is my palate getting more and more accustomed to dubious homemade fruit wine? The latter is almost definitely true, but I’m hoping the former is a little bit true, too. We’ll see.

I also racked a mulberry melomel that had been fermenting in a bucket for a few weeks. True to form, I’m following a half-remembered friend-of-a-friend forum post recipe and hoping for the best. In a departure from my usual methods, I soaked the berries and sugar in water overnight and added the resulting strained and simmered juice to the honey and more water. After it had cooled, I combined it with raisins and yeast and let it sit in an air-locked bucket for two weeks. I opened it up to find some very alcoholic reconstituted grapes floating on a sea of hooch. I have got to get my alcohol content under control before I go blind.

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Despite its potency, the mulberry melomel is really delicious. It has a light mulberry flavor with a strong honey base. And its color is fantastic. It reminds me of freshly pressed cider and has an opacity to it that I hope doesn’t disappear. So far I haven’t made a mead I don’t like. The honey makes for such a warm background to other flavors that it avoids that astringency I tend to get in straight fruit wines. Once winter kicks in and the fresh fruit is from California, meads brewed with dried herbs and spices might be just the thing.

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I counted, and I have eleven and a half gallons of wine sitting in my basement. None of it’s ready yet, but in a few months’ time my apartment may have to have a serious Bacchanal.

Ten Pounds of Frozen Mulberries

I have ten pounds of frozen mulberries. 20150707_143950

At the end of the season I moved from my calm handpicking method to much more drastic measures involving a tarp, some bungees, and a long PVC pipe. Yields went up. Tree limbs went down.

By now the tree has finally mellowed and stopped producing fruit. The birds have moved to greener pastures and the driveway no longer smells like vinegar. And I have to find something to do with all this fruit.

Or rather, I have to find a few things to do with this fruit in a way that adds up more or less to ten pounds. Thankfully all the berries are frozen, so any time constraints are replaced by freezer space constraints. Which are also kind of pressing.

For my first project I’m trying a very simple wine. I’ve read a few recipes that recommend adding raisins or juice because mulberries on their own make for a very thin-bodied wine. In fact, the alternate recipe in that link calls for both raisins and orange juice. For my first batch, though, I’d like to do without the bells and whistles. I’ve still got six pounds to tinker with if I think I can make improvements. And I figure as long as I’m in this house I’ll have summertime mulberry re-ups.20150721_220801_HDR

I thawed four pounds of berries and threw them into a bucket. They were still unbelievably cold, so instead of crushing them with my hands like in the old country, I used a potato masher. I think the effect was more or less the same.

I added a pile of sugar plus yeast nutrient, acid blend, and pectic enzymes. I threw in some sodium metabisulfite and let the berries sit for a day to hopefully kill off whatever’s been living in our driveway.

Then I pitched the yeast and got this bizarre moonscape. I’d say it’s halfway between a satellite map and a cobbler.20150723_162514

I let the yeast do its thing, squishing the berries and swirling the bucket daily, leaving the lid loosely on the bucket with just a cloth over the grommeted hole to let oxygen in but keep fruit flies out. I did this for a week, and I think it was too long.

A lot of my problems at the moment seem to come from the weather being too hot. I can’t wait until a few months from now when I get a whole new batch of unforeseen cold weather problems. 20150730_124032_HDR

I racked the wine to a carboy by siphoning it through my trusty mesh funnel. I forewent my old nylon stocking trick because I thought the wines I’d used it on had a certain… nylony taste to them. The funnel worked just fine, and I got a beautiful full carboy of mulberry wine…

…That isn’t showing the slightest signs of fermenting.20150730_125359_HDR

It’s a great color. It tasted… fair. But there’s not a single bubble in the airlock. There’s not a single bubble creeping up the inside of the glass.

This stuff just isn’t fermenting anymore.

I’ve been reading up, and the problem is almost certainly due to the heat, of which we’ve had a lot lately. There’s a chance the fermentation has gotten stuck due to big fluctuations in temperature, which we’ve certainly had between daytime and nighttime. There’s also a chance it’s been so hot during the day that the fermentation has gone into overdrive and just plain finished.

I’m hoping it’s the latter problem, and I’m going to proceed as if it is and see what happens. I gave the carboy a hearty shake and no yeast turned up. I tasted it and it certainly tastes fermented. There is a risk that if it fermented at a very high temperature it’ll produce off flavors. I’m not sure I’m up to a high enough standard for that to be a problem yet.

20150803_175512_HDRWe’ll have to wait and see with the plum wine I’ve just made, too, because the exact same thing happened to it. Nice fermentation in the bucket, none at all in the carboy. Beautiful color and wine-y but not by any means good taste. Whatever the problem is, it seems to be environmental, and I’m tempted to believe it was a rapid fermentation.

This is partly because it means I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

A Mulberry Invasion

20150611_101426_HDRIn a way, I’ve been making mulberry wine for two years now. The neighbors don’t have much going on in their yard, but they have one mulberry tree with production rates any orchard owner would be proud of. And it hangs mostly over our driveway. Which means the berries ripen, fall off, and make a vinegary sludge an inch deep.

I know it’ll be a challenge, but this summer I’m hoping to improve upon this setup. Last year my friend Tommy and I got our act together enough to collect one crumble’s worth of fruit, with some heavy 20140713_174232supplementation from other berries scrounged from the community garden and the woods. We called the crumble Fruits of the Forest, and my hat still has stains.

This is a year of proactivity, however, so my plan is to collect the ripe berries daily and freeze them, hopefully accumulating enough to make mulberry wine, which I vaguely remember being drunk at a Redwall feast. If not, it’ll be Fruits of the Forest time again.

As you can see, the invasion has already begun in earnest.20150613_134109_HDR Twice now I’ve gotten out the hose and blasted them into the street, but by the next morning they’re always back in about this thickness. I don’t want to scavenge them off the ground, since they don’t handle the impact well and start to smell vinegary pretty quickly. I’ve had dreams of hanging hammocks to catch them, but with the bird traffic around here I’m afraid I’ll catch just as much poo.

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I don’t have any pictures of the actual event, but here’s a lively re-enactment.

My roommate’s mother visited recently, and she was having flashbacks to shaking mulberry trees in Iran with a big sheet held out to catch the berries. I adapted this method by laying out a bunch of newspaper and whacking the tree with a broom. It was not a booming success. I took out just as many unripe berries as ripe ones, and when they hit the newspaper most of them bounced or rolled away.

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In place of that technique, I’m now opting for hand-picking. I find it strangely soothing.

Since our driveway is Birdtown, USA, my initial plan was to pick the berries when they were nearly ripe, then let them sit on the counter for a day or two before freezing them. The birds and I have formed a strange truce, though. They ravage the top branches and leave the ones I can reach, so the berries I’ve been collecting are actually nice and ripe. I’ll have to look into this bond I’ve apparently formed with the natural world and use it to my advantage somehow.20150613_151913_HDR

So far I’ve collected and frozen 5 1/2 pounds of the things, and the tree is showing no signs of stopping.

Man, I hope mulberry wine is good.