Friday, September 13, 2013

Fruit Wine Basics

Fruit wine is a popular alternative to the home winemaker since varietal grapes such as Merlot and Riesling are not usually grown in peoples backyards, And while wine grapes have been bred over thousands of yeast to have the right amount of sugar, bitterness, acidity, and flavor to make a full bodied and complex glass of wine, don't think that fruit wine is for hillbillies and prisoners. You can make incredibly good wine out of fruit with the right adjustments and time that rival the complexity of fancy bottle of chardonnay, or your favorite Merlot. The steps for fermenting fruit wine are the same as it is with grape wine, but there are some additional adjustments that are needed.

The main things to consider while making your wine are as follows: 
  • How much you want to make
  • How much fruit and sugar you want to use
  • How long do you want to wait
  • Adjusting bitterness and acidity levels

None of these Items are hard to do, and some refinement will probably be needed after your first batch, but be sure that great wine is possible at home.

How Much
You need to weigh the amount of fruit that is available to you with the amount of work you want to put into it, the equipment you have, and of course the amount you think you can drink.

Fruit and Sugar
Some fruits yield bigger flavor than others, but 2-4 lbs of fruit per gallon of water is a good base line. There is no “right” amount. The less fruit you use the lighter your wine will be, both in body and in depth. If you like deep, heavy dessert style wine, the more fruit you will want to use.

Again, there is no “right” amount of sugar to add to your fruit. The amount of sugar used determines the amount of alcohol in your finished wine, plain and simple. Some fruit has enough convertible sugar to make a good alcoholic drink. Apple juice for example will yield about a 5% alcohol by volume cider all on its own, but that is not wine. Adding additional sugar will boost the alcohol level above 9% which would be considered wine. What kind of sugar is up to you, but Cane sugar or Corn sugar gives consistent results without adding much to the flavor, and one pound of either will give you approximately 5%ABV in a one gallon batch.

The Wait
The addition of sugar increases the amount of alcohol, but the increase of alcohol also extends the amount of time needed to wait for the finished product to be “drinkable”. Much of the bathroom hooch style of home wine is a result of wine that has not had proper time to age. This is a result of the sharp solvent flavor of Ethanol produced by yeast that has not had a chance to blend and meld with the juice. The more Ethanol produced, the more time it needs to mellow out.

Bitterness and Acidity
Wine grapes have the advantage of having the right amount of bitterness and acidity built in for the most part, but you may want to adjust both of these for a fruit wine to attain the right mouth feel. Bitterness in wine comes from the tannin in the grape skin, other fruits have this too, but in most cases you will be removing the skin, so adding tannin back in will help balance the sweetness of the wine. Similarly, the lack of acidity in your fruit wine can give it a watered down, and flat taste. There are some fruits that don't need much additional acid, if any, like blueberries and cranberries, but adding a blend of tartaric and malic acids is good practice for most other fruits. This can be adjusted through trial and error, or by using an acid test kit.

The fermentation process will be the same from here on out. Just make your juice, add your sugar, add your tannin, and acid blend then your yeast. Ferment it for several weeks and you will be ready to bottle. Age for another several months and you will be ready to drink your wine.

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