Archive for the ‘wine making’ Category

A recipe for making dry white table wine

Monday, September 9th, 2013

This is a step-by-step recipe for a dry white table wine. A prerequisite to applying this recipe is to learn the basics of winemaking.

White wines are always pressed before fermentation, so only the grape juice winds up in the fermenting pail.


* 18 lbs. ripe white grapes

* 1 campden tablet

* Tartaric acid, if necessary

* Table sugar, if necessary

* 1 packet wine yeast (like Champagne or Montrachet)

Making process

A photo of white and red grapes1. Harvest grapes once they have reached 19 to 22 percent
sugar (19° to 22° Brix). Pick over grapes, removing any moldy clusters, insects, leaves or stems.

2. Place the grape clusters into the nylon straining bag and put into the bottom of the food-grade plastic pail. Using very clean hands or a sanitized tool like a potato masher, firmly crush up the grapes inside the nylon bag.

3. Crush the campden tablet (or measure out one teaspoon of sulfite crystals) and sprinkle over the crushed fruit in the bag. Cover pail and bag with cheesecloth and let sit for one hour.

4. Lift the nylon straining bag out of the pail. Wring the bag to extract
as much juice as possible. You should have about one gallon of juice
in the pail.

5. Measure the temperature of the juice. It should be between 55° to 65° F. Adjust temperature as necessary. Take a sample of the juice in the pail and use your titration kit to measure the acid level. If it is not between 6.5 and 7.5 grams per liter, then adjust with tartaric acid as described above.

6. Check the degrees Brix or specific gravity of the juice. If it isn’t around 22° Brix (1.0982 SG) adjust accordingly.

7. Dissolve the packet of yeast in 1 pint warm (80° to 90° F) water and let stand until bubbly (no more than 10 minutes). When it’s bubbling, pour yeast solution directly into the juice. Cover pail with cheesecloth, set in a cool (55° to 65° F) area and check that fermentation has begun in at least 24 hours. Monitor fermentation progression
and temperature at least once daily.

8. Once the must has reached dryness (at least 0.5 degrees Brix or 0.998 SG), rack the wine off the sediment into a sanitized one-gallon jug, topping up with dry white wine of a similar style. Fit with a sanitized bung and fermentation lock. Keep the container topped with white wine. Be sure the fermentation lock always has sulfite solution in it. After
10 days, rack the wine into another sanitized one-gallon jug. Top up with wine again.

9. After three months, siphon the clarified wine off the sediment and into clean, sanitized bottles and cork them.

10. Store bottles in cool, dark place and wait at least three months before drinking.

Mulled wine recipe

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Coming up with unique offerings for your guests over the holidays can be a chore, especially when it comes to concoctions to stave off the chill of winter. Of all the options, mulled wine is my favorite. It’s a classic wine-based drink that can be easily made ahead of time and served by the glass when family and friends pop over. Remember that as with any recipe the real fun is in the interpretation so feel free to take my notes and add or subtract items at will. Don’t forget to record the plans for your final concoction because once your guests take a sip they’ll be dying to know how to make it themselves.

Mulled wineBefore you get started there are a few mulled wine rules. Any red wine will do but you don’t have to spend that much, after all you’re going to alter the taste considerably.

Try a wine from a region where the nights are fresh. The one thing they typically have in common is a deep full fruit flavor and lots of rustic structure (with acidity) – perfect for mulling.
Try your favorite red or:

  • Hungary’s Szekszardi Voros
  • Burgundy’s Jacob – Pinot noir
  • Italy’s Lungarotti – Cabernet Sauvignon

Never let the wine boil. If it’s boiled it’s spoiled. The flavor of the wine/spice combination will deteriorate if the mixture reaches the boiling point, so keep an eye on the stove. Actually, microwaving mulled wine by the glass or mug full is a better choice. The microwave process
concentrates the flavor elements that can dissipate when mulled wine is made on the stove in an open-mouthed pot, back into the drink. I usually find that one-minute on high heat works best but get there in 20-second incumbents to ensure the mulled wine doesn’t reach the boiling point.

I’ve included sugar in my ingredients list because some find that added sugar soothes the tangy flavor the mulled wine can express after being warmed up. I prefer diluting the mulled wine with herbal or citrus tea. Tea (especially citrus or herbal oriented varieties) not only softens the flavor but it adds subtle elements that the mulled wine doesn’t have on its own. If tea or sugar isn’t to your liking try balancing the flavor by adding a little water to the blend before pouring.

One last thing. Since it’s the holidays a candy cane as a garnish not only adds a nice peppermint flavor to the mulled wine, it looks terrific and really evokes the liquid personality of the season.

Here is a recipe derived from that of my grand aunt Else:

2 lemons

2 oranges

1 750 ml bottle of medium- to full-bodied Red Wine

Nutmeg (to taste)

Cloves (to taste)

1 oz brandy or Cognac (or to taste)

1 cup (250 ml) granulated sugar (optional)

Herbal or citrus influenced tea (optional but excellent)

Water (optional softener instead of tea)

4 large cinnamon sticks

4 candy canes

Instructions (makes four large portions):

- Cut lemons and oranges into slices.

- Pour the red wine into saucepan and gradually heat.

- Add fruit slices, nutmeg, cloves and brandy.

- Keep an eye on the mixture and wait until it becomes hot to the touch.

- At this point you could blend in sugar or water (if desired).

- Pour into glasses/mugs and add tea (to taste).

- Garnish with cinnamon stick and candy cane.

- Serve.

As I said earlier, premixing the ingredients and microwaving it by the glass/mug full is just as easy.

If you’re keen on a holiday oriented drink that isn’t served warm why not try Ginger Wine. It has roots planted firmly in the Victorian Era and has a wonderful ginger essence that is as tasty as it is familiar.

If you have a twist on this recipe or have another wine-based cocktail idea, please comment.

A guide to making your own wine

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Nothing feels as satisfying and authentic as making your first batch of wine from fresh grapes. And there’s no better time to try it than in early autumn, when grapes all over the Northern hemisphere are ripe for harvest in vineyards and backyard gardens.

Vineyard womanThere are many kinds of grapes to choose from, depending on where you live. Vitis vinifera is the classic choice for flavor, varietal character and historic authenticity. This famous European wine-grape family includes such renowned varieties as Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the United States, to make a sweeping generalization, v. vinifera grapes thrive in California and the Pacific Northwest. They also grow well in microclimates scattered from New York to the Great Lakes, the Mid-Atlantic states and beyond.

Those who live in colder, wetter climates may not be able to find v. vinifera grapes grown locally. Don’t be discouraged. Fine hybrids and Vitis labrusca grapes, which are less susceptible to cold and disease, may be growing near your home. Other options include ordering grapes through your favorite local winemaking shop or from a produce wholesaler. Whatever kind of grapes you use, the general techniques, equipment and ingredients are the same. Here’s an overview of some key steps along the way.

Inspecting the Fruit

Winemaking starts with inspecting the grapes. Make sure they are ripe by squishing up a good double handful, straining the juice and measuring the sugar level with a hydrometer, a handy device you can buy at a winemaking supply shop. The sugar density should be around 22° Brix – this equals 1.0982 specific gravity or 11 percent potential alcohol – and the fruit should taste sweet, ripe and slightly tart.

The grapes also must be clean, sound and relatively free of insects and other vineyard debris. Discard any grapes that look rotten or otherwise suspicious. Also, it’s very important that all the stems are removed, since they will make your wine bitter.

Keeping it Clean

Winemaking demands a sanitary environment. Wash all of your equipment thoroughly with hot water, boiling what you can. It’s also wise to arm yourself with a strong sulfite solution to rinse any equipment that comes in contact with your wine. To make it, add 3 tablespoons of sulfite powder (potassium metabisulfite) to a gallon of water and mix well.

Adjusting the Juice

Adjusting the juice or “must” of your wine is critical. Luckily, it’s also easy. Acid content is measured with a simple titration kit; you can buy one at a supply shop. The ideal acid level is 6 to 7 grams per liter for dry reds and 6.5 to 7.5 grams per liter
for dry whites.

Transportation of red grapes just harvested in FranceHere’s an example: If your must measures 5.5 grams per liter, then you need to add 1 gram per liter of tartaric acid to bring it up to 6.5 g/L. Since 0.2642 gallons equals 1 liter, 1 g/L is equivalent to adding 3.8 grams of tartaric acid to your one-gallon batch. Add this powder in one-eighth teaspoon intervals, checking acidity carefully after each addition, until the desired level is reached. You can buy tartaric acid at your supply shop.

You also need to monitor the sugar level with your hydrometer. The must should be about 22° Brix for both reds and whites. To bring the sugar concentration up, make a sugar syrup by dissolving one cup sugar into one-third cup of water. Bring it to a boil in a saucepan and immediately remove from heat. Cool before adding in small amounts, one tablespoon at a time, until the desired degrees Brix and specific gravity is reached. To lower the sugar level, simply dilute your must or juice with water.

The temperature of your must can also be adjusted to provide the perfect environment for yeast cells. Warming up the juice gently (don’t cook or boil it!) is an easy way to bring it to pitching temperature without damaging the quality of the wine. Fermentation can sometimes reach into the 80° to 90° F range, though the 70° F range is standard for reds (whites often are fermented at cooler temperatures).

If your grapes have been refrigerated or are too cold, use this unorthodox but quick trick: Heat up a small portion of the juice in the microwave, mix it back into the fermentation pail and re-test the temperature. An electric blanket wrapped around the fermentation pail also works, but takes longer. For cooling, add a re-usable ice pack and stir for a few minutes. Pitch the yeast when the temperature reaches 70° to 75° F for reds and 55° to 65° for whites.

Racking the Wine

“Racking” means transferring the fermenting wine away from sediment. You insert a clear, half-inch diameter plastic hose into the fermenter and siphon the clear wine into another sanitized jug. Then top it off and fit it with a sanitized bung and fermentation lock. This can be a delicate operation and it’s important to go slowly. You don’t want to stir up the sediment, but you don’t want to lose your siphon suction.

Bottling the Batch

Screwcap or cork for wine bottling?Bottling may sound complicated, but it’s really not. To bottle your wine, you simply siphon your finished product into the bottles (leaving about 2 inches of headspace below the rim), insert a cork into the hand corker, position the bottle under the corker and pull the lever. It’s always wise to buy some extra corks and practice with an empty bottle before you do it for real.

Wine bottles can be purchased at home winemaking stores, or you can simply wash and recycle your own bottles. These supply stores also rent hand-corkers and sell corks. You should only buy corks that are tightly sealed in plastic bags because exposure to dust and microbes can spoil your wine. Corks can be sterilized just before bottling, with hot water and a teaspoon of sulfite crystals.

A one-gallon batch will yield about five standard-size (750 ml) bottles of wine. If the fifth bottle isn’t quite full, then either drink that bottle or use smaller bottles to keep the wine. The key is to have full, sealed containers that are capable of aging.

Now you’re ready to make your first batch of fresh-grape wine. The recipes have similar steps and techniques, with one important difference. Red wines are fermented with the skins. White wines are pressed before fermentation. This series continues with a recipe for making white wine and a recipe for making red wine.


Vincent Fritzsche blogs on winemaking in Oregon too. You can follow the discussion on wine making by subscribing to the feed on wine making blog RSS or by subscribing to the mailing list of comments available below.

California wine country

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Alexander Valley - Sonoma

The Wine Country is a region of Northern California in the United States known worldwide as a premium wine-growing region. Viticulture and wine-making have been practiced in the region since the mid-19th century. There are over 400 wineries in the area north of San Francisco, mostly located in the area’s valleys, including Napa Valley in Napa County, and the Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Bennett Valley, Livermore Valley and Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. Wine grapes are also grown at higher elevations, such as Atlas Peak and Mount Veeder AVAs. The region is defined not only in terms of viticulture, but also its ecology, geology, architecture, cuisine, and culture. The majority of the grape harvest, in terms of both area and value, derives from Sonoma County.

Communities associated with the Wine Country include Kenwood, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, Geyserville, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Guerneville, historic Fort Ross and Ukiah.


Sonoma Mountain AVA with background of the Mayacamas Mountains

Wine Country proper is generally regarded as the combined counties of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. However, some reference works include part of Lake in the term Wine Country. These counties contain the following American Viticultural Areas (AVAs):

  • in Mendocino County: Anderson Valley, Covelo, Mendocino, and Potter Valley.
  • in Napa County: Atlas Peak, Los Carneros, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, Oakville, Rutherford, Saint Helena, Stags Leap District, and Yountville.
  • in Sonoma County: Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Knight’s Valley, Los Carneros, Northern Sonoma, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain, and Sonoma Valley.
  • in Lake County: Clear Lake, Guenoc Valley, High Valley, and Red Hills Lake County.

The six-county North Coast AVA overlaps with the Wine Country as defined here. In addition, the names of the counties themselves are legal for use as appellation names.


Yountville historic rail station, Napa Valley

The earliest prehistory of the Wine Country involves habitation by several Native American tribes since approximately 8000 BC. The principal tribes living in this region were the Pomo, Coast Miwok, Wappo and Patwin, whose early peoples practiced certain forms of agriculture, but probably not involving the cultivation of grapes. During the Mexican Colonial period and after, European settlers brought in more intensive agriculture to the Wine Country, including growing grapes and wine production. Some of the historical events that led to the establishment of California as a state transpired in the Wine Country. In particular, the town of Sonoma, is known as the birthplace of American California. Agoston Haraszthy is credited with being one of the forefathers of the California wine industry in Sonoma by his planting of grapes in the lower Arroyo Seco Creek watershed of Sonoma County.

As home to both Buena Vista winery, California’s oldest commercial winery, and Gundlach Bundschu winery, California’s oldest family-run winery, the Sonoma Valley is known as the birthplace of the California wine industry.


Pygmy forest along a popular Wine Country hiking trail of Hood Mountain. Note darker vegetation in upper right is a mixed oak woodland

A diversity of aquatic and terrestrial organisms populate the Wine Country and its riparian zones. Winter-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tsawytscha), Delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) and steelhead (Onchorhynchus mykiss) are the most prominent fishes. Anadromous fish movements in Sonoma Creek and the Napa River as well as the Laguna de Santa Rosa have been studied extensively not only in the mainstems, but in many of the tributaries. These investigations have demonstrated a historical decline in spawning and habitat value for these species, primarily due to sedimentation and secondarily to removal of riparian vegetation since the 19th century.

A variety of salamanders, snakes and frogs are also present in the Wine Country. The federally listed as threatened California red-legged frog is present in the northern reach draining the south slopes of Annadel State Park. Several endangered species (mostly associated with the Napa Sonoma Marsh) present include California clapper rail (Rallus longirostris), California Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis), California brown pelican (Pelicanus occudentalis), California freshwater shrimp (Syncaris pacifica), Salt marsh harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventris ), Suisun Shrew (Sorex ornatus sinuosus), Sacramento splittail (Pogonichtys macrolepidotus). The above are endangered species with the exception of the splittail, steelhead and black rail, which species are federally designated as Threatened.

Upland ecosystems drained include mixed California oak woodland, chaparral and savannah woodland. In these upland reaches one finds plentiful Black-tailed Deer, coyote, skunk, raccoon, opossum, wild turkey, turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk and occasionally bobcat and mountain lion. Prominent higher elevation trees include: Coast live oak, Garry Oak, Pacific madrone, California Buckeye, Douglas fir, whereas Valley oak is prevalent on the Wine Country valley floors.


The Wine Country has undergone a boom in tourism. In 1975 there were only 25 Napa Valley wineries; today there are well over 400 wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Tourists come to the region not only for wine-tasting, but also for hiking, bicycling, hot air ballooning, and historic sites, as well as the extensive culinary choices. Numerous notable chefs and restaurateurs are present in the Wine Country, including Thomas Keller, John Ash, and Sondra Bernstein. Besides the obvious winery attractions, the Wine Country is known for its hot springs baths, petrified forests and other natural areas.

The Wine Country tourism boom has its downside, exemplified by traffic congestion on State Route 29, particularly on summer weekends, when the number of tourists often exceeds the carrying capacity of the road. The Napa Valley is also experiencing pressures for increased urbanization and roadway upgrading.

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