Adventures in...

Our first early lesson:

1. Don't add fresh cider to fermenting cider 
unless you're sure the yeast are dead. Things will blow up.
(And we've got the glass all over 
Geoffrey's basement to prove it.)

The Winelist
Winemaking Home Page
for the Beginner, Novice, and Seasoned Hobbyist


Jack is the man. He has been doing this a long time, and has won many awards, both for his product and his very thorough site, covering many aspects of winemaking, particularly fruit/flower wines. He has many recipes, even after losing many more to computer problems, and helps you diagnose many common problems that can occur.

That being said, however, let me be clear that I don't follow all of his strongly suggested methods, particularly his fondness for sulfites. I'm not going to argue with him; that would be arrogant, since I've been doing this less than a year. His arguments are logical and persuasive. I simply choose not to use them. Excuse me a moment while I do my Dennis Miller impression - I don't want to get off on a rant here, but . . .

Many of my friends (including one of the people in my winemaking group) are sensitive to sulfites. Now, please don't start with, "all grapes have sulfites naturally, so they should get headaches from grapes and raisins; plus commercial wineries keep sulfite levels well within acceptable levels blah blah blah whine whine . . ." Just don't. I don't want to hear it. Here's why: it's not the normal level of sulfites in grapes/raisins that's the problem, it's the extra added for sanitation reasons. We choose to be particularly scrupulous about keeping our equipment clean by the liberal use of hot water and bleach solution, and use only strong commercial wine yeasts that take off quickly and overpower any interlopers roaming around in the must. That seems to take care of the issue. It's worth it to us to have something that we and our friends can drink without the fear of dealing with days of misery afterwards from an unrelenting migraine. We make simple fruit wines; they're not meant for long cellaring. A lot of the fruity goodness that we're working so hard to preserve dissipates over time. Our stuff is meant to be consumed early, and hopefully, often. We don't need a bunch of preservative in it. OK? But that's just my opinion; I could be wrong.

So, is this ever a problem? Sure. We like our wines, for the most part, a bit sweet. That can be tricky. There are 2 ways to end up with a sweet wine:

1. Have so much sugar/fermentables in the must that even when the yeast have eaten their fill, there's sugar left over. Of course, you don't want *too* much left, or it'll taste like cough syrup, but if your yeast are either particularly wimpy or strong, you could end up with a sugar level that's not quite what you were looking for.

2. Stop fermentation before the yeast are through eating, leaving food behind. This is even trickier and scarier than #1. How do you get the yeast to stop?

a. You can put them to sleep by putting your must in the fridge for a couple of weeks, then filtering them out. That assumes you have the fridge space to do that (I don't). And for heaven's sake, make sure you get the yeast out! Once the wine warms up, if they're still there, and the food is too, they'll just starting eating again. If your wine is in the bottle then, you could have some messy and dangerous explosions. No thanks.

b. You can kill them with sulfites. See my rant above as to why that's not a viable option for us.

c. Get as much yeast out as you can, and use sorbate to keep whatever's left from multiplying. OK, this works, but apparently sorbates often add a geranium odor to wine, which is not what most people have in mind. Sorbate is usually used as part of a 1-2 punch with sulfites; what you don't kill, you sterilize, basically. We have used sorbate, but sparingly for fear of spoiling the aroma.

3. Let the yeast eat their fill, leaving the wine dry, then backsweeten. This is what we prefer to do. If the wine seems balanced, even when dry, dry it stays - we're not taking the chance of messing it up. It's just option #1 turned around; rather than loading all the sugar at the beginning, we put some back at the end. And yes, you still have to be careful that the yeast really are done, or are at least close enough to done that the worst that happens is that the wine becomes sparkling rather than explosive. I'd love to be sure I could do it on purpose without fear, as I personally love sparkling wines (a feeling not necessarily shared by my cohorts), but if that's the sacrifice I have to make to be sure my friends can drink my wine, oh well.

Recipes: use them or not?

Experienced winemakers discourage the use of recipes, urging you instead to develop your own taste and sense of what works and what doesn't. I understand, but I need to start somewhere; I'm perfectly happy to let someone else do the experimenting. I can taste it afterwards and see whether I like it that way, or what I'd change next time. We're still learning, and most of our batches are 1 gallon only; not a big loss if we decide we don't like it, but to be honest, there are a lot of talented winemakers out there, and we haven't had any duds yet. I have a list of over 50 recipes on my "I wanna do these right now!" list, much less the "Hmmm, that looks interesting; I might give that a try" list or the "Wow! That was great! Let's do that one again!" list.

Cats / Costuming / Cooking / Knitting
The House / Friends / Music / Links
Winemaking /
Wine List