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.

A Sudden Windfall

20150821_111357_HDRThere are six gallons of mead on my cellar floor.

I thought I fixed a faulty spigot. It turns out I didn’t.

But let’s not focus on the bad things. At least not until I’ve thoroughly mopped. Because plenty of good things are happening. I racked the lavender and raspberry meads, and they both taste very good. So does the mulberry wine. My Kazakh melon vine has taken way off, and I might actually get to see what its fruit tastes like before the frost.

And I have recently come into a huge amount of fruit.

Keri of kombucha fame let me in on a hot tip: Her fruit tree-obsessed landlord was away on vacation and the yard was getting littered with windfall fruit. He’d given her permission to go in and clear it up a little. If anything, we were performing an important service.

This tiny backyard orchard has plums, pears, and a few varieties of apple. It even has apples and pears growing out of the same trunk, because this old Portuguese landlord I’ve never met is an avid amateur grafter.

The ground was, as promised, littered with fallen fruit. Some had been there for quite a while, but some was brand new. While we were there I got startled more than once by a pear crashing down behind me. 20150821_105750_HDRWe waded around in the wet grass, getting devoured by mosquitoes and sorting the fruit into usable and unusable. The former we split between ourselves and the latter we composted. In the end I think I had something like six pounds each of apples and pears and a couple pounds of plums. And I was supposed to go away to Cape Cod for a week the next day. Cue frantic preservation. 20150821_160712_HDRI was saved by the fact that a lot of the pears weren’t completely ripe yet. I was… reasonably confident that they and the unbruised apples would last a week. But where to keep them? The house was hot, the refrigerator was at capacity, and I still hadn’t recovered from discovering my cellar mangoes full of little rodent toothmarks. Rationalizing that they were free anyway, I sealed them in a five gallon bucket in the cellar and tried not to think any more about it. 20150821_232313_HDRThe remaining apples and pears had some serious holes and bruises, and the plums were so ripe they were dissolving into my table as tried to figure out what to do with them. I’d never made preserves before, but I decided to take a stab. After some over-the-phone reassurance from my mother that I’ve eaten unprocessed jam my whole life and am no worse for wear, I sealed the preserves hot in sterilized old jam jars rather than processing them in the canner. 20150901_160639_HDRThe four light jars are apple and pear, heavy on the pear. The single dark jar is all that’s left of the plums after I ate quite a few. Apple butter was also on the menu. I found a great recipe for overnight apple butter, set the slow cooker on its way, and woke up the next morning to the smell of charcoal and cinnamon. It was not meant to be. 20150901_162219_HDROne week older and a tiny bit tanner, I opened up the bucket and was pleasantly surprised. There was some moisture on the sides and a touch of fuzz on a few stems, but no sign of the writhing mass of worms or near-sentient mold I’d envisioned. I had just enough pears for a gallon and a half of wine. It was meant to be a gallon, but I found myself with extra, and the man at the brew supply store made fun of me the other day for being small beans. 20150908_171547_HDRWith the remaining apples I attempted slow cooker apple butter number two. This time I added plenty of apple juice to keep it moist and woke up to…20150902_090559_HDR…Charcoal and cinnamon. It just wasn’t meant to be.

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.