Wine, from Latin vinum, is traditionally an alcoholic beverage made from fermenting grapes. Winemaking grapes usually supply enough sugar and are low enough in acid to produce stellar wines without doing much except to let them ferment. It is typically important to test for sugars and acids however to know if adjustments need to be made or not.
But what about wines made from fruits other than grapes?
When making wine from fruits other than grapes, adjustments are very common, and can be determined by the amount of fruit used per gallon, the proper sugar additions, and whether or not the final juice’s acidity needs to be adjusted.
Getting The Right Fruit - Crushing and First Additions
Unfortunately these days, big box grocery stores are stocked with underripe fruits and vegetables that have been sealed, sprayed, gassed, or even irradiated to prevent spoilage and increase shelf stability. These fruits are not the greatest to make wine with. What you want is fully ripened fruit, that’s maybe starting to reach into the rotten category. Moldy spots can be cut off and removed, and dried and shriveled fruits typically yield a deeper flavor and depth to the final wine. With this, you should be able to go to a local farmer's market and haggle a deal with someone for a case or two of fruit that’s not selling for next to free, but use common sense please.
Once the fruit is obtained, you should wash the heck out of it. You don’t know where that fruit has been. Wash, rinse, soak, rinse, repeat multiple times until you feel confident all the gross is gone. At this point, start cutting the fruit, squeezing it with your hands into large mushy chunks and place them into your properly cleaned fermentation bucket. Do this for all the fruit, then determine your dilution rate.
Unlike grape wines which are usually made from pure grape juice, home-made fruit wines are usually diluted with water before starting the winemaking process. The main reason is that certain fruits, such as elderberries, are simply too strong in flavor. The second reason is that some fruits are too high in acid and would produce a wine that is too sharp tasting. An example of this would be gooseberry and blueberry.
When diluting, use filtered or spring water, DO NOT USE TAP WATER! You can dilute up to 75% of the fruits weight, depending on the fruit. Use common sense, and your tastebuds to help determine what dilution you want. A good range is 35% water to 65% fruit by weight.
Time to add some pectic enzyme. This is an enzyme that eats natural pectins in most fruits, and does 2 things for the wine maker. Pectic enzyme will help yield roughly 10% more wine than if you didn’t use it, and finally it helps in the final clarification process. Mix up pectic enzyme according to the instructions, and add to the diluted fruit water, and mix, squeeze and squish with your (clean) hands for a few minutes.
At this point, we’ve came to a fork in the road. To sulfite, or not to sulfite, that is the question.
Campden tablets are Sodium Metabisulfite, and are used in fruit wines to prevent natural wild yeast from fermenting the fruit. The typical dose is 1 crushed campden tablet per gallon of must, mix well, and allowed to set unsealed for 24 hours before adding the yeast. This should kill off the natural yeast and other bacteria that’s been growing with the fruit. The addition of this much sulfite at the beginning can cause a hydrogen sulfide contamination which smells like a rotten egg, not what many people want their wine to smell like.
Hydrogen sulfide contamination is also very tedious and time consuming problem to get rid of, so personally I’d prefer to pitch a large amount of commercial yeast to combat the wild yeast, and take my chances of any minimal off flavors. Your wine is yours to do with what you like.
Chaptalization - Adjusting for Sugars
The technique is named after its developer, the French chemist Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal. This process is not intended to make the wine sweeter, but rather to provide more sugar for the yeast to ferment into alcohol. Chaptalization is really just a super fancy word for sweeten.
Check the last page of these instructions and you’ll see a chart labeled Average Fruit Juice Sugars and Potential Alcohol. For sake of simplicity, ‘Brix’ is just percentage of sugar, and ‘Potential Alcohol’ is that amount of alcohol that we can get out of those sugars. Sugars convert into Alcohol and CO2. The easiest way to determine the potential alcohol is to multiply the brix by .55. Therefore if you have 22 brix, you should wind up with somewhere around 12% alcohol. There is a limit, don’t attempt to make anything over 15-18% or you’ll just be wasting time and money.
Hands down the easiest way to test for sugars is to own a refractometer. They are simple, non-messy devices that don’t cost much and can last a lifetime. Otherwise, you have to strain some of your fruit pulp into a test vial, and use a hydrometer and take a reading. Just the fruit and water should read a fairly small sugar value so we can do some simple math to figure out how much sugar to add to get to our desired brix. To raise 1 gallon of must, 1 Brix, add 1.5 oz of sugar, or you can just Google ‘chaptalization calculator’ and plug in your numbers.
Acid Testing and Adjustments
It’s very important to check acid levels while making wine at home because acidity level has maximum contribution in determining the taste of wine. If your wine is too acidic, you will pucker up and if your wine is has low acidity, it will be dull in taste. So, checking acid levels of wine is a very important step to prepare a wine of exceptional quality. So let’s see how we can check acid levels while preparing wine at home.
There are two easy ways by which you can check acid levels of wine at home - pH strip test and titration. You can use litmus paper to check acid levels, which is a very easy and fast way of checking acid levels of wine. pH strip test can be used in monitoring the acid level in all types of juices irrespective of their tartness. If you are using litmus paper for checking acid levels of wine, then make sure that the reading comes in between 3.4 to 3.8. If the reading is low, your wine is more acidic.
Another important way to check acid levels is the titration method. It is very useful for beginners who don’t have much experience in monitoring the acidity level. It gives a very accurate result as compared to the litmus paper test. You can purchase a wine making titration kit and easily check acid levels after a few minutes of practice. The titration kit accurately measures the acid level with respect to the sharpness of the wine’s taste on the tongue. While checking acid levels of wine through titration kit, you will get the results in ‘Percent Tartaric’. So if the final reading is 80% tartaric, this means that acid composition is 8 tenth of 1 percent of the total volume of the wine.
After checking acid levels of wine, it’s very important to adjust the acid levels. If your wine is low in acidity, use acid blend to increase the acid level. Acid blend is composed of Citric, Malic and Tartaric acid and highly effective in increasing the acidity level of wine. On the other hand if you check acid levels and find that your wine is highly acidic, you can reduce the acidity by using calcium carbonate.
So, try these methods and prepare a perfect wine at home.
Yeast and Maceration
Now that the sugars and acids have been properly adjusted, it’s time to ferment, macerate and finally strain. Maceration is the winemaking process where the phenolic materials of the grape—tannins, coloring agents (anthocyanins) and flavor compounds—are leached from the grape skins, seeds and stems into the must. In fruit wine, this process just assured full use of the natural sugars caught in the remaining flesh of the fruit.
Pitch your wine yeast simply by sprinkling the yeast on top, and giving it a proper stir. There are dozens of wine yeast out there, so be sure to research the yeast you want to use ahead of time. If you chose to skip the 24 sulfite wait, then it’s best to over pitch the yeast by 2 or 4 times the typical rate to assure that the yeast take over and defeat any wild yeast that could be present on the fruit.
You should plan on stirring the fruit, and “pressing the cap” down at least 2 times a day for the first week, or until fermentation is nearly finished. Doing this prevents any mold or excessive oxidation from happening and allows for all the sugars to be fermented.
After 7-14 days, once fermentation seems to have stopped, it’s time to strain and press the fruit solids to provide you with a nearly finished product. There are nylon mesh bags available that make this process rather easy. Simply line another clean and sanitized bucket with a nylon mesh bag and pour the fermented must in. Lift out the bag, and allow to drain. Squeeze the bag, or use a fruit press if desired to pull out all the remaining liquid.
At this point, you are at the standard secondary process involved in any kit wine process. Allow to age, rack for clarification, and then decide whether to sorbate the wine, and back sweeten, add clarification products such as isinglass, and bottle. Remember to taste the wine and adjust any acids and sweetness prior to bottling.
Then just serve and enjoy!