The Wine Pages: Homebrew winemaking
The hobby of homebrew winemaking has a very large scope for experimenting. Endless combinations of ingredients and techniques can be employed to produce a wide range of results. Use winemakers can produce many different styles of delightful wine. We can of course create many different styles of undrinkable slop, but such is the nature of experimenting.
I find a terribly elegant approach to experimental homebrew winemaking is to combine suspense of a new ingredient with the satisfaction of doing something very cheaply. Making a new wine out of something cheap is very enjoyable. If you get a wine that somebody enjoys, then it is a double success. You make somebody happy in their wineglass, and you get to make them happy for a low price. Of course, making an experimental wine out of something intrinsically expensive or hard-to-obtain can be rather dangerous. Making, for example, wine from truffles would be terrifying.
Back in the summer I was walking around the local supermarket in search of cheap and potentially enjoyable winemaking ingredients, and arrived at the fruit juice section. Supermarket fruit juices have come a long way since I was served orange juice as a child. Pretty much any combination of fruits can be found in a box, and at a range of prices. The sad looking cartons of long life orange juice are still there, but you can now spend as much as you like on something like a bottle of orange and pomegranate juice which has been squeezed between a virgin's bum cheeks in the light of a full moon.
Aiming fairly low, I settled on Raspberry and Cranberry juice. This was for 2 reasons. First, it is a pretty colour. All wine should be a pretty colour. More importantly however, I know from experience that this type of fruit drink is very clear and contains little or no 'bits'. I would imagine that a wine made from juice-with-bits-in is likely to throw a heavy deposit and be more difficult to clear.
The most important detail when selecting an inexpensive fruit juice for winemaking is on the ingredients listing of the pack. Ignoring all the sales talk about 'not from concentrate' and so on, focus on the actual ingredients list. You are looking for a few key words. Having a certain about of sulfite (any E number between E220 and E228) in the wine is probably ok, but I would avoid it, although yeast is tolerant to sulfite, you do not know how much is in the juice. The worst thing to have is Sorbate (E201-203), this will prevent the yeast multiplying and your wine will drain cleaner.
So far the Raspberry and Cranberry juice looked pretty good. It was priced at about 75p a litre, so I purchased 4 litres.
I raised the gravity to about 1085 and made it up to about a gallon with warm water. It is important to get the juice to at least room heat before you start, otherwise dissolving sugar is hard work.
I added a healthy teaspoon of acid mix.
And the tip of a teaspoon of tannin.
Finally I pitched some Gervin No.1 yeast and started the fermentation on 21 August 2008.
It fermented quite rapidly, and was racked and 1 campden on the 6 September 2008.
By the 11 September 2008 it was clearing well, but tasted a bit sharp so I chucked in some de-acidifier. I often end up added too much acid to my wines.
The next day I added some two-part finings, and by morning it was looking very clear.
At this point it was proving very popular with some of my visitors, so I quickly bottled it.
Alas, it is now the 8 October 2008, and there are only 2 bottles left!
This wine was certainly a success. Although it was not a particularly interesting or well structured wine, it proved popular with the less discerning visitors, so they happily drank this 'homebrew alcopop' whilst my better wines got a chance to age and mature. I haven't drunk much myself, but it has fulfilled its role as a 'few bottles of cheap filler wine' very well indeed.