Among the things that farmers do besides animal husbandry, growing crops, and learning how to maintain farming equipment, is the occasional practice of wine making. We are far from being on the cover of Wine Enthusiast magazine, but we figured out that it is possible to make good tasting wine out of almost anything that will ferment and we decided it might be fun to try. How hard could it be, right?
Acting on our decision to commit to a three-month process, we accumulated several 6-gallon glass carboys and made a trip to the local brewery supply store for wine-making supplies. We followed the instructions on all of the equipment and familiarized ourselves with wine additives, stabilizers, filters, sanitizers and hydrometers. Naturally, when we shared our news with family and friends, we received lots of advice and requests from many self-proclaimed wine experts who had made a batch or two in their lifetime. The first recipe we tried came from my father-in-law and seemed quite simple. The process took only a couple of hours plus the three months of fermentation and aging, but the results were (to say the least) surprising.
“Applejack” wine is basically a hard cider made from unpasteurized apple juice, sugar, and a packet of yeast. In my mind, I saw us as mad scientists, and I remember shouting “Look, it’s alive” when I saw the first sign of gases being emitted from the metabolic process. After the fermentation process was complete, we poured the liquid into to freezer containers and discarded the ice that formed the following day, leaving what we thought would be a beverage similar to wine, but boy were we wrong! After weighing the risk of poisoning ourselves with our own home-made concoction, we decided to imbibe in our first attempt at creating our spirit and toasted to our health. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that we needed further study on the correct method of using a hydrometer to test for alcohol content. Instead of a mild, wine-like cocktail, we ended up with a potent albeit potentially hazardous and highly alcoholic beverage that was off the scale for teetotalers like us! We have kept a bottle of it in the event we ever need to start a camp-fire, but the rest we gave away to brave souls who promised responsibility and signed a waiver (OK, I’m just kidding about the waiver).
Round two. One of our neighbors moved away and left a vacant house with wild Mustang grapes brimming over the fence from edge to edge and overloaded with plum bunches of sweet purple grapes. We Googled for a wine recipe and collected 25 gallons of fruit and we were ready for our next science experiment. We tasted the juice before adding the fermentation additives and to our astonishment; it was delicious so we proceeded to try our new and improved scientific hypothesis and concocted the ingredients. The following morning, we walked into the kitchen expecting the aroma of coffee but instead noticed a pungent smell wafting in the air and immediately turned our attention toward the wine carboys in the corner of the room. The airlock had blown off and there were purple stains on the ceiling. A puddle of purple foam surrounded the large bottle and our next lesson was learned. Don’t fill the bottle all the way to the top.
Finally, the day came when the bubbles stopped percolating and the minimum fermentation time passed. We were anxious to try it. This time, we measured the alcohol content and determined if it would put us in a coma or if it would measure up to our low expectations. I have to admit, it was not great wine, but it was reasonably good and we proceeded to bottle and label it. We have made a few other batches since then and truly believe that practice really does make perfect, or at least better than the previous batch! We will continue to experiment like Dr. Frankenstein until we produce something that we can serve with Christmas dinner or to guest who don’t know that we are new to Frankenstein wine. Cheers!