From Chicken-Keeping to Wine-Making: How One Homesteading Project Inevitably Leads to Another July 24, 2014 14:55

When I picked up my first chickens in Maple Ridge two years ago, the woman I was getting them from insisted that I take about twenty pounds of fruit from her heavily-laden wild golden plum tree.  I didn't know what to do with so many plums, so I froze the fruit while I considered what homesteading project could possibly use them all up.  When my neighbor offered me red grapes from his vine and said he was using the rest to make wine, the answer became clear: a golden plum wine tinted pink with the addition of the grapes. I have to admit that I never even bottled the wine: after letting it ferment for about nine months in the carboy, I tasted it and found it to be so delightful I couldn't resist having a glass.  Then, night after night, I kept sneaking "just one more glass" until, lo and behold, the carboy was empty!  I can't say that it was particularly sophisticated or nuanced, but to me--who made it from start to finish and even picked the fruit that went into it--it was the best wine I'd ever tasted! Since my first wine was half plum, I guess you'd call it a "country wine," that being the term for a wine made from any fruit other than grape.  This summer, I'm starting a tayberry country wine--my third to date (the second was a wild fermented blackberry wine, which is described below).  

 They are bigger than both raspberries and blackberries and have a rich tart flavor and deep wine-red coloring.
Tayberries are a hybrid cross between raspberries and blackberries.  They're larger than both and have a tart flavor and deep wine-red coloring.

When I made the plum wine, I scoured the internet for recipes and because I couldn't find one that called for the exact combination of fruits I had on hand, I settled for making an educated guess about how much sugar to use.  According to Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation (my go-to resource for all things fermentable), for 3 gallons of crushed fruit, you'll end up using 10 to 12 lbs. of the sweet stuff.  For the tayberry wine, I'm following his recipe for elderberry flower wine, which he says can be used for a wide variety of country wines by substituting whatever berries, flowers, or veggies you have in abundance.  In fact, Katz lists a fascinating variety of country wines that he's tried: dandelion, tomato, carrot, even jalapeno!

 Freezing the berries right after picking them keeps them fresh and actually helps break down the cell walls so they get juicy faster.
Freezing the berries after picking them keeps them fresh and speeds the juicing process.

 

 Cover the berries with boiling water and stir to get the juice out and to kill wild yeasts that may produce off-flavors.
Cover the berries with boiling water and stir to get the juice out and to kill unwanted pests.

Making wine is no different from making any other fermented product: bacteria and/or yeast convert sugars into desirable by-products--the acid that makes yogurt tart, the carbon dioxide that makes kombucha effervescent, or the alcohol in wine and beer.  Usually, you add some type of yeast or bacterial culture (a.k.a. SCOBY or "mother") to start the fermentation process.

 Champagne yeast will tolerate a higher alcohol content than other yeasts.
I'm using a champagne yeast because it will tolerate a higher alcohol content than other wine and beer yeasts.

 

 Wait for the yeast/juice mixture to start bubbling and then add it back to the bucket.
Wait for the yeast/juice mixture to start bubbling and then add it back to the bucket.

However, there are always wild yeasts clinging to the outer skins of fruits--most noticeably on red grapes and blueberries as a whitish bloom--so it is possible to make a "wild fermented" wine without the addition of commercial yeast.  The resulting wine, however, is not guaranteed to taste good and will likely be inconsistent from one batch to the next.

On the other hand, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that the jug of bubbly fermenting juice you feared would turn out something like gut-rot prison hooch has instead aged into a fine-tasting fruit cordial.  Anyway, that's what I'm calling my wild-fermented blackberry wine from last summer--the result of an over-zealous blackberry-picking outing in Pacific Spirit Park.  I had more than enough berries for fresh-eating, for jam, syrup, and ice cream.  Afterwards, I ran the too-soft berries that remained through the food mill and intended to save the juice for flavoring smoothies and who knows what else.  However, when I opened the jar a few days later, it was bubbly and starting to "turn."  Not really knowing what I was doing, I poured it in a 1-gallon jug with a couple lbs. of sugar and topped it off with water.  I stoppered it and put on an airlock and left it to sit in the cool dark basement and hoped for the best...

 Wild-fermented blackberry wine from last summer.
Wild-fermented blackberry "cordial."

That was last summer.  Having no idea what to expect, I brought the jug to the Homesteader's Emporium 2-Year anniversary party last weekend and opened it for the first time in almost a year.  To my surprise and delight, it was not gross at all!  In fact, it was sweet and clear and definitely alcoholic.  It could stand to ferment for another year or more to reduce the sweetness.  Only time will tell how well that particular cordial will age. But, I digress...

After adding the yeast to the tayberry wine, we let it sit undisturbed at room temperature for a few days.  Sandor Katz claims it is best to let the yeast chow down on the naturally-occurring fruit sugars before adding granulated sugar.  So, several days after starting the wine, an entire 4kg. bag of Rogers white sugar went into the bucket!  Well actually, we first dissolved the sugar in a pot of water over low heat, then when the syrup cooled, we mixed it into the frothy fermenting tayberry juice.

 Here, Hubbie and Homebrew Veteran shows off his siphoning prowess.
Here, Hubbie and Veteran Homebrewer shows off his siphoning prowess.

 

 Check out the beautiful color of the tayberries.  As yeast and fruit particles settle over time, the wine will become much clearer.
Check out the beautiful color of the tayberries! As yeast and fruit particles settle over time, the wine will become much clearer.

All that's left to do now is wait... and wait... and wait some more.  In a month or so, when the wine has clarified considerably, we'll transfer it to another 5-gal. glass carboy identical to the one pictured.  That way, we'll remove the fruit debris and dead yeast that accumulate at the bottom.  For now, this homesteading project is going into the fermentation cellar to keep the sake and salami company.  Let's hope I have the patience to get it to the bottling stage!