The Wine Pages: Homebrew winemaking
Strawberry season is upon us. For a few weeks in June we in the UK are treated to a glut of strawberries. The local season only lasts a few weeks, but the strawberries are fantastic. I never bother eating imported strawberries at any other time of year - what's the point? There are things to enjoy all year around, why expend all that effort importing fruit that has no taste?
Today I went strawberry hunting. I always buy my strawberries for wine from a couple of local farms. Getting them from a selection of sources means that you end up with a variety of strawberry types.
The best way to collect strawberries for winemaking is to pick your own. This allows you to select the plumpest and ripest strawberries. However, if you work full time and want a lot of wine, it is very time consuming. So I normally buy the pre-picked sort. Usually they can be had for just under £2 per pound.
Strawberries do not ripen much once they are picked. All the do is get mouldy. I normally buy and make my strawberry wine on the same day. Usually a nice hot sunny day so that I can sit in the garden doing the work.
Strawberry wine on its own is infamous for being a little, well, strawberry-ish. Almost to the point of being uninteresting. The secret, I find, is to blend the strawberry fruit with other types of fruit to make something a little more complex.
I started my wine making today with 14lb of strawberries. I also had 4-5lb of bananas, 4lb of gooseberries and 500ml of red grape juice concentrate. I am aiming for a final volume of about 5 imperial gallons.
First the strawberries. Clean out your winemaking bucket, the large 6 gallon one. Put a gallon or so of hand hot water in it, and dissovle enough potassium sulfite to give the whole 5 gallons protection. About a gram or so - don't forget the grape juice will be sulfited. This gives a fairly strong sulfite solution to drop the fruit into - killing all the nasties, and protecting from oxidizing. Strawberry pink hates oxygen!
Don a pair of plastic gloves and use the tip of a potato peeler to remove the green stalk and some of the whiteish core material. Crush each strawberry in your hand and dump it into the bucket. This is really boring. Put the radio on. Have a friend help. But do it outside, all the squeezing will soon spread strawberry juice everywhere.
Next the gooseberries. I don't bother top-and-tailing them - I suppose I should, but I am bored of fruit preparation by now. I crush the gooseberries in my hands and add them to the bucket.
The bananas are boiled up for a few minutes in a gallon of water, along with one or two of the skins. This is then poured into the bucket with the other fruit. The bucket is now nice and warm. I add the red grape juice concentrate and about 3kg of sugar, and bring the whole thing up to around the 5 gallon mark with cool water. A liberal dose of pectic enzyme and a couple of teaspoons of acid mix, and on goes the lid until tomorrow evening.
The inital acidity is around .20-.30% TA - this needs boosting. The gravity is around 1070 and should probably be higher, however, I will adjust these things tomorrow once the pectic enzyme and a bit of time have had a chance to adjust things.
The sign of a good strawberry wine is the colour. Preserving the red color of strawberry wine is very important. It can turn into a grim brown colour very easily. The secret here is two-fold. Start with a good dose of red grape concentrate to bolster the colour. Always use a good level of sulfite in the wine the prevent the slightest chance of oxidation. If the wine becomes slightly oxidized, it will go brown and the red colour is lost forever. I always make sure that the sulfite level in strawberry wine is kept to 50ppm minimum. And this means starting with at least a gram of potassium bisulfite in the must - or at least one campden tablet per 2 gallons of must. Add the red grape concentrate will raise this further, because it contains sulfite itself. Leave the strawberry wine to rest for at least 24 hours before pitching the yeast. This gives the sulfite a chance to settle and give the yeast a good start in life. After creation of my must in this batch, my sulfite level measured 75ppm, but 24 hours later the yeast was able to take hold!