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My Favorite, No-Fail Wine Recipe

Wine making is not a great mystery. Like anything else, it can be as simple and as complicated as you want to make it. I know some people get into the science of the process and have elaborate set-ups. Others just make wine.

This year I had 5 grapes on my vines. Count them. FIVE. Either the squirrels and raccoons beat me to them or the vine was just in a bad mood this year.  So I went to a local “you pick” vineyard and had a great time picking all the different kinds of Muscadine and scuppernong grapes growing there! (I also learned how to take better care of my own vines.) While there, I was introduced to a young man who was also a wine maker. He told me that he had no idea to make wine until his pappy came down from Tennessee to live with him and his family. When his dad saw the roadside signs for you pick Muscadine, he insisted they stop and get some.

“What for,” his son demanded.
“Why to make wine,” said his dad.
“We can’t make wine,” the son insisted. “It’s too complicated.”
“No, it’s not,” Dad said. “The folks back in the Tennessee hills have been making wine for years. I’ll show you how.”

Turns out he uses a similar recipe to mine, but he just strains it once and drinks it right away, sediment and all. He and his dad make wine every year, and that’s how they like it.

I tried to make dandelion wine years ago (like 50+) when I was first married. I ended up with a big mess (although it turns out the batch would have been alright if I’d been patient enough to age it a year or so!). Anyway, that experience was enough to make me swear off wine making. But then a couple of years ago I picked a bag of Muscadine grapes from the vines in the back yard and thought I’d try winemaking again. I found this awesome no-fail wine recipe on the internet and the wine turned out really well. It was a bit sweet and high in alcohol, but very pleasant to drink. (With all that alcohol? You bet’cha!!) But I had some problems with the recipe, mainly translating quarts into the right amount of grapes (pounds, cups?), so I had to do some adjusting, especially when I had a couple cups of grapes and had to figure out the correct ratio of other ingredients. But that’s easy with some basic math.

Adapting the recipe for various amounts of grapes:
The recipe calls for 8 quarts of grapes, 8 pounds of sugar (you use a lot of sugar making wine!), and 4 quarts of water. I just couldn’t figure out how to use the recipe for different amounts of grapes. And just how many cups or pounds of grapes equal 8 quarts anyway? So I worked it out:
1 pound of grapes = 2 ½ quarts of grapes – use 2 ½ pounds of sugar, 1 ¼ quarts of water.
2 pounds of grapes = 5 quarts of grapes – use 5 pounds of sugar, 2 ½ quarts of water.

You see the relationship? Use the same number of pounds of sugar as the quarts of grapes, and use half that amount of water. This is not brain surgery. If you want to try it, just do the best you can with the measurements. If you goof up, no one’s going to die, so relax and have fun.

Here’s an equipment list and my version of the original recipe:

EQUIPMENT:
You will need to buy a few things for making wine, but for the most part, you can use equipment you may have already or what’s readily and cheaply available at a local store. One thing I do collect are large glass gallon jugs to use as secondaries, but plastic milk containers work just as well. As for wine bottles, ask your friends to save them for you. You’ll soon have a surplus.

Here’s what you need:

  • Primary – this is a large container – a food grade plastic bucket, a stainless steel canning pot, the liner and lid from the crock pot. Anything large enough to hold a good quantity of liquid and grapes, and has some kind of a cover (does not have to be air tight!).
  • Secondaries – large glass or plastic containers/jugs where the wine can rest and let the sediment settle before it’s bottled. I have used gallon milk jugs, and they work, but I prefer something clear so I can see the amount of sediment in the bottom.

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That whitish stuff at the bottom of the container in the photo is sediment – dead yeast cells and such.

  • Quart mason jars – 1 quart is a little more than 750 ml which is the size of a standard wine bottle.
  • BIG spoon to stir.
  • Measuring cups
  • Colander – plastic seems to work best.
  • Large mesh strainer.
  • About a yard of plastic tubing (the kind that’s used for aquarium pumps – get it at the pet store). If you have access to a store that sells wine-making supplies, there’s a small plastic tip that fits over the end of the tubing to keep it off the sediment in the bottom of the bottle. ** This enables you to syphon the wine out without disturbing the sediment. It is very handy!
  • Plastic funnel
  • Plastic measuring spoons

Buy the following online or in a winemaking store:

  • Corks and corker – no, you may not use used corks. To avoid contaminating your wine, you need new ones. Sorry.
  • I have a hydrometer. I’ve never used it. It’s up to you if you want to buy one. It measures the alcohol content of the wine.
  • Sterilizer – a good one is potassium metabisulphate (Campden tablets). I am told that you can use vinegar, but if you don’t completely rinse the vinegar from the equipment, it will contaminate your wine and kill your yeast. You need live healthy yeast to make wine, so this is a disaster!! Be safe; forgo the vinegar and use the potassium metabisulphate. To make the sterilizing solution add 1 teaspoon to a gallon of water and stir.This can be stored for up to a year. I rinse my equipment, bottles and jars with this mixture, and then rinse everything well with cold water. That seems to work, and at the same time satisfies my aversion to using chemicals.
  • **Get the small plastic tip – the little plastic thingy — for the end of the syphon tube here. They should know what you’re talking about.

Airlocks, yes or no? I have several air locks. I’ve never had to use them with this recipe. I did make a batch of Merlot once using a commercial mixture, and yes, I definitely needed an airlock for that — one bottle of wine actually exploded! (What fun.) If you get an airlock or two or three, you will need stoppers to hold them in the mouth of the secondaries. But this recipe does not need an airlock.

RECIPE:

  • 8 quarts of fruit
  • 8 pounds of sugar
  • 4 quarts (1 gallon) of non-chlorinated water
  • 1 package of dry yeast (yes, bread yeast works with the recipe! Having said that, I’ve used both bread and wine-making yeast with similar results.)

Follow these directions exactly! This is a simple, no fuss recipe and makes a delicious wine.

  1. Mash the grapes. You can use your feet — although I don’t recommend it for this small a batch — a potato masher, or a wooden rolling pin with the handles removed. The grapes don’t have to be completely pulverized, just squished enough to release the juice. I have used a blender and that works, but you end up with smaller particles and so you will have to strain * the wine very carefully a couple of times. (See STRAINING at the end of this article.)
  2. Transfer the mashed grapes to a large crock. (Food grade plastic buckets work very well and come in several sizes.)
  3. In a separate container, mix the sugar into the water
  4. Dissolve the yeast in sugar water. The directions on the yeast packet say to “proof” the yeast before using it. This means dissolving it into about ¼ cup of warm water. What you get is a puffy, sticky mass. I’ve done it both ways and both work. Suit yourself.
  5. Pour the sugar/yeast water over the mashed grapes and stir
  6. Slice on potato and put the slices on top. (I know. Sounds weird, but yes, do this. The potato provides nutrients for the yeast – yeast is a living organism – and also counters the acidity in Muscadine and scuppernong grapes.
  7. Spread a good handful of old fashioned steel cut oats or potato meal over the potatoes. (Once again, yes, this is important.)
  8. Let the whole thing stand for 28 days, stirring every couple of days.
  9. Strain the wine into a secondary container (see STRAINING below). Basically the wine if finished at this point (i.e. you can drink it), however a couple more steps make for a much better wine. So, at this point, I “rack” my wine into large clear containers to let it settle. (Rack = siphon the wine from one container to another leaving any sediment behind.) Settling can take anywhere from a couple of days to a month. And you may want to do it more than once depending on the amount of sediment.

wine04

  1. After the wine is clear (clear liquid on top with a layer of sediment at the bottom), I siphon the clear wine into mason jars and put the jars in the refrigerator to let the wine clarify even more. (I like my wine perfectly clear.)
  2. If there’s still more sediment on the bottom of the jars, I will rack the wine again into clean mason jars. Only when I’m satisfied with the wine’s clarity do I bottle it. I don’t have a separate refrigerator for wine, so I tend to just keep it in mason jars because they take up less room than wine bottles. If the wine is going to be a gift, I’ll put it in a wine bottle. If I’m serving the wine, I’ll pour it into a decanter. This isn’t to be fancy (well, sometimes it is!) but because it’s easier to pour wine from a bottle or decanter than it is from a mason jar.
  3. Before bottling or storing your wine, in order to stabilize it so it can be aged long-term, add potassium metabisulphate (Campden tablets) which inhibits the growth of bacteria, and potassium sorbate (Sorbistat K) which will kill any residual yeast before bottling. Always use these two chemicals together. (You will have to order them online or get them from a wine supplier.) Dosage: ¼ teaspoon potassium metabisulphate per 5 gallons of wine; or 1 crushed and dissolved Campden tablet per gallon of wine. And ½ teaspoon of potassium sorbate to a gallon of wine.
  4. Bottle, but do not seal the bottles. That’s what the recipe says. I have no idea why you can’t seal the bottle at this time.

NOTE: You might want to consider adding water if the wine is very strong, and believe me, it can be! One time I had a batch that was so strong, just the fumes would knock you over! I added an additional gallon of water, and ended up with a very nice wine. Use your own judgement and be prepared for some failures. If you add water and the wine is too weak and thin, you can add some more wine from another batch. I usually have 4 or 5 batches going at one time, so this is possible. Or you could use some wine from the previous pressing.

Another NOTE: Potassium metabisulphate is also good for sanitizing wine bottles and equipment

*STRAINING: I use a colander for the initial straining to remove the largest particles — grape seeds and skins and so forth. You can put this waste, less the potato slices, in a mesh bag and let that drip into a bowl to salvage the last drops of liquid. After the wine is strained through the colander and the largest particles are removed, I strain it one of two more times through a screen strainer — a bigger version of the small strainer you used for tea. You’ll be surprised at the amount of sediment you get both times. You’re going to have to clean both strainers a number of times during this process because they will become clogged pretty quickly, especially if you used a blender to crush the grapes. I have tried filtering the wine through coffee filters but it takes forever, and the filters get clogged up really fast. It’s not worth it. Just let the wine sit and the sediment will eventually settle to the bottom and you can siphon the clear wine off the top of that.

Enjoy your wine! BTW, it’s legal to make wine for your own use. You can also give it as a gift. But it is against the law to sell it. Keep this in mind. Also, in some places in Eastern Europe they take the mash left over from making wine and distill it to make liqueur. If anyone figures out how to do this, I’d love to know how!!!

 

Linda, Mo, and Katie’s GREAT ADVENTURE!

March 16, 2016:
The big black truck left this morning at 7am for Tulsa, Oklahoma. Why, you ask would anyone want to go to Tulsa, Oklahoma? Katie, Marlene’s big black doberman (aka Lady Katerina von Dobermen, CD, BN, RE, CGC), qualified and was invited to participate in the 2016 AKC Rally National Championship! 

Katie was a rescue dog, and after her past bad experiences, putting her in a crate and  flying her to Oklahoma would traumatize her, and so they’re driving. The trip shouldn’t be that bad …  it’s an easy two day drive. Her Rally classes are on Friday, and the adventurers will be home by Sunday. Our good friend and fellow dog trainer, Linda, volunteered to go along which left me free to stay home and feed all the other dogs, horses, chickens, and fish. I’ve been to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I know Linda will appreciate it more than I. I think this is a good thing, right? Anyway, I told Marlene to take lots of pictures so we can document this momentous event.

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Art in the Park – 2016

Here’s what’s going on in Brooksville, Florida on the same weekend:

Art in the Park – March 12-13 – Free ($5 to park)
Swamp Fest – March 11-13 – $8 adults/$4 children 6-12
Will McLean Music Festival – March 11-13 – $25/day

What a wonderful example of a lack of communication and coordination! All of these events are within 20 miles of each other, and they’re all scheduled for the same weekend. It’s not as if Brooksville/Spring Hill has such a huge sophisticated population to support three such events on the same weekend, but the coordinators don’t seem to take that into consideration (why not?). Plus, not many people are going to travel to an event in Brooksville, Florida, a small town with very little to recommend it. There isn’t even a bookstore! (I often wonder why I live here!)

Now Will Fest is always well attended because of all the musicians and fans of folk/old time music in Florida and the surrounding states. In fact it appeared to have even more than its usual large crowd. The campground was packed. And there were more vendors this year. More interesting to me, there were four mountain dulcimer events compared to only one workshop offered the previous years. The dulcimer jams were well attended and some of the best I’ve encountered. Most of the participants were excellent musicians and the music rocked!

Then on Sunday I got together with friends, Marlene, Don, and Di, to view the art in Art in the Park. IMHO, the event was pathetic. There were probably half the vendors of previous years, although someone told us that all the spaces had been sold out. (Yeah, right.) The attendance was thin from what I saw at 11 am on Sunday. Maybe there were more people on Saturday, but I was off having a blast at Will Fest and didn’t see.

To make matters worse, someone decided to make more money from the (free) event by charging $5 to park; at least that’s what they did that on Saturday. When we got there on Sunday no one was collecting parking fees, so I guess they’d given up. Faced with a $5 fee, most people just parked off site and walked in.

The art itself, however, was some of the best I’ve seen at that show. I ended up chatting with some of the artists while my friends wandered on, and so, when they came back and dragged me off to lunch, I missed out on some of the vendors on the far side of the lake. Of the ones I did see, however, many were very good and two were worthy of note.

Emilio (Sonny) Vergara is a photographer whose photographs of Florida landscapes and wildlife are gorgeous! His style is painterly … in fact I thought one was a painting until I walked over to it. Vergara’s use of color and composition are superb. He’s an excellent craftsman who is based in Brooksville. His business is Sky Shadow Photographs – http://skyshadowphotography.blogspot.com/. Check him out … He does prints on canvas as well as paper.

Clovis Dean Rusk paints in oils, and told me that he’s only been working in fine art for the past three years. Prior to that he was a graphic artist, and this shows in his excellent drawing skills. I was once told that the only artists who can actually draw are sculptors and illustrators. Well Rusk is an excellent example of a painter who can draw. I don’t think I could pick a favorite from his paintings. Each one of them has something different to say and each one is well executed. I was first attracted to the painting of Poppa Bear,  a stereotypical biker — a hefty bearded male wearing leathers, dew rag, tats, and holding a beer bottle while standing in front of an American flag. In a baby carrier on his chest is a Pomeranian, wearing goggles and a helmet. It is a brilliantly executed painting (http://onpaintingagain.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2016-01-05T07:51:00-08:00&max-results=7). And this was only one of the paintings I admired there. Each one was different, each one was well painted, and each one drew you in. Rusk’s blog is OnPaintingAgain.blogspot.com where he talks about his process and how he builds his paintings, and a lot of other things (he’s in a band). I hope to see more of his works. It’s excellent!

These were actually the only two artists that I got to examine in any detail. There were some others I would have liked to spend more time with, but, well … next year.