Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wine making - problem solving

I am finally moving forward in the wine making adventure.  I ran into a bit of a snag on the whole process right at the beginning and wasn't sure what was going on.
I had everything mixed together and sealed in the bucket.  I was checking in on it daily like the directions stated.  The goal is to give the mixture a stir and to measure the specific gravity as the wine ferments.  After a couple of days, I got worried.  The specific gravity wasn't changing.  In fact, nothing seemed to be happening at all.  I added some yeast nutrients to see if that would help.  It didn't.  The only other thing I could think of was that the yeast that had come with the kit had gone bad.  I had no idea how long that kit sat on the shelf before I bought it (or if it was exposed to extreme temperatures).  It took me a week or so to get over to the local wine making supply store, but I finally purchased some new yeast.
The new packet of yeast did the trick!  The day after I added it, I went to check on the "must", and was surprised at the change I found.  The juice was bubbly and acted like champagne when I tried to measure the specific gravity (lots of fizz and bubbles).  It continues to progress and tonight the specific gravity is getting closer to where I need it.  Today it smells like alcohol.  It is encouraging to see the change after the frustration of a couple weeks of nothing happening.
My only concern now is that I added too much yeast nutrient to the must.  I don't know what that will do to the finished product -- if anything at all.  Only time will tell.
Soon, I should be able to move the wine to the secondary bottle.  I'll have more photos at that time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An update

Life is always busy for me around the holidays.  I've been spending my free time doing a bit of Christmas shopping and now I have to focus on getting the house ready for guests.  My family is coming over on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day to celebrate at our house.
I know I have been neglecting my blog lately.  Here's what's new:
The ground is covered with snow and it is absolutely beautiful around here.  I love the way pine trees look in the snow.  We have tons of birds at our feeders -- I can sit in my chair in the living room and watch them for hours (if I had the time).
Charlie and I bought a chest freezer to hold a pig that we bought from Uncle Dave (our prior landlord).  Yesterday we went to pick up the meat from the butcher.  Charlie mostly had steaks, chops, sausage and bacon made from the pig - no hams (the extra processing costs more).  We gave the hocks to his dad to make soups with this year.  After putting everything into the new freezer, I still have room for my freezer jam and plenty of room for storing more produce this year.  I enjoy canning and the idea of not needing electricity to put food by -- but I also enjoy how fresh food tastes when it is frozen instead of canned.  We will need to invest in a generator this Spring in case of power outages -- losing $300 worth of meat is not something I want to risk.
We also bought a new refrigerator/freezer at the same time we got the chest freezer.  Our old one was the original from when they built the house in 1975.  The seal was bad, it was making funny noises, and I know it was using much more electricity than it should have.  I'm hoping that even though we have a chest freezer now, our electric bill should go down just because both appliances are more efficient than the old fridge.
Next on the list is a new oven... but that is going to wait a while longer.
Other than the new appliances and the purchase of a pig, life is pretty much the same around here.  The stray cat is pregnant (either that or she is just getting fat from all the food she begs from me) and we are waiting for her to have her litter.  Work is work -- we are both blessed to have jobs that keep us very busy.  I got my first seed catalogue the other day and I get to start day dreaming about how much better my garden will be next year (hey, I can always hope).
That's about it.  I will try to post again soon.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wine making -- the beginning

Wine making has been something that I've wanted to try for years.  For some reason I thought it would be difficult or take a lot of equipment.  A few of my friends have been fermenting various things and having some pretty decent results, so I was inspired to tackle the project myself.  
I purchased a simple one-gallon equipment kit from a beer and wine making supply shop in Grand Rapids last weekend.  I also picked up a hydrometer at the shop as it wasn't included in the kit.  After looking over the recipe book that was included, I decided to try lemon wine to start.  I had a lot of lemon juice in the freezer from another project I am working on (I'll tell you more about it after Christmas).  The recipe called for some white grape concentrate and some yeast energizer.  Luckily, I found a supply shop in Saginaw where I could get them -- so Charlie and I made the drive on Sunday to get the remaining items that I needed.  You could certainly piece together the items you need without buying a kit, and you might save a buck or two -- but I was more interested in saving time.  
So, the basics:  1. Sterilization is very important.  You don't want wild yeasts and funky stuff growing in your wine.  You add a Campden tablet (included in the kit I got) which contains sodium metabisulfite.  It acts as a sterilant and antioxidant.  I'm assuming this is the stuff that causes problems for people with sulfite sensitivities.  2.  Keep the air out.  The kit also comes with an airlock that allows carbon dioxide to escape while preventing air from entering.  3.  Patience and observation.  Obviously it takes time to make any fermented item.  Observation is the stage I am in right now with my batch.

On Wednesday night I mixed together lemon juice, white grape concentrate, sugar, water, Campden and yeast energizer.  I covered it and let it sit for 24 hours.  Thursday night it was time to add the packet of yeast and cover it again.  This morning I sanitized my hydrometer equipment and did a test.  

The hydrometer helps you test when the wine is "done" -- it tests the specific gravity of the solution it is floating it.  You don't have to be a scientist to do this, you just have to be able to read measurements.
My recipe calls for a specific gravity of 1.04 -- mine is at 1.12 right now.  After a few more days (testing on a daily basis), I should be able to syphon it into my secondary (the white bucket is the primary, a 1-gallon glass jar is the secondary) and let it do it's magic for a couple of months.  Then it gets bottled.  It is that easy.
The equipment ended up totaling about $40.  The white grape concentrate was NOT cheap.  $15 for one liter (but it will last a while).  The lemon juice was something I already had on hand that I didn't want to waste.  Considering this equipment will last a long long time, I think it was a pretty good investment.  I'm excited to try different flavors.  Now I'm going to be on the look out for orchards and u-pick places that might want to get rid of their left overs.  I also want to find some elderberry bushes next Spring and see what I can get when the fruit ripens.  Lastly, I want to plant some fruit vines/canes/trees around our property so I can grow my own.
Be warned -- I have no idea if I am doing things correctly.  I probably should have spent some time reading a book about wine making first.  I just decided to jump right in with the very basic instructions that came with the kit.    Luckily, I have friends that have been doing this for a while, and another friend that works at her family's vineyard (I would adore that kind of career!).  If I need help, I have some support from people who know what they are doing.
Stay tuned for more updates...

Friday, December 3, 2010