A Very Ancient Craft
The author has tasted countless varieties of wine made from almost every fruit, newer, vegetable and grain. Almost everyone is tempted to the exotic sometime or other. Experience proves, however, that the best wines are generally made from fruit and nowadays flowers, vegetables and grains are only added to increase the bouquet, flavour and/or body of the wine.
Almost any kind of fruit can be used, although in general terms it must be admitted that the Continental grape makes the best wine of all. This does not mean, however, that all grapes make good wine or that you cannot make better wine with, say, apples or gooseberries than you can with some grapes. There is no question that many English fruit wines are considerably superior to many commercial grape wines, especially of the "vin ordinaire" character.
The fruit if it is dirty must first be washed and then should be crushed and steeped in boiling water. Some pundits prefer to use cold water, but this never seems to be so successful in extracting the juices and flavours from the fruit as boiling water, which also has an inhibiting factor on mould growth.
The basic method is to crush the fruit and pour on boiling water, cover closely and leave till cool, then add one Campden tablet per gallon and a teaspoonful of Pectozyme. The must should always be kept closely covered, but should be stirred each day for three or four days. The liquid is then strained, sugar, yeast and nutrient added, and fermentation is started.
With many fruits it will be found that there is still much goodness left after the first mashing. It is nearly always a good idea then to add a further quantity of boiling water and when cool another Campden tablet and a little Pectozyme. Keep covered but stir as before and after two or three days this juice may be strained and added to the first. This process of double mashing as it is called is very well worth while indeed. It is frequently used in the preparation of commercial wines.
There is much to be said, too, for fermenting a wine on the pulp. To do this the yeast should be added twenty-four hours after the Campden tablet and it is thought that by this means an even better extraction of flavour and fruit juice, etc., is obtained. After not more than seven days on the pulp, however, the wine should always be strained free from the pulp before unpleasant bitterness', due to decomposition of the fruit, enter the wine.
When preparing a must it is important to consider the purpose for which the wine is being made. Dessert wines will need more body, alcohol and sweetness. Table wines can be a little thinner in texture, free from excess sugar and lower in alcohol content. You should dearly decide in your mind what you intend to make and having done so you should balance your must accordingly. It may be necessary, for example, to include some dried bananas to give a more substantial body to a port-like wine. It is almost always necessary to ensure that the wine contains a fruit with sufficient acid and it is valuable to blend different fruits, knowing the qualities of each, to ensure an adequately balanced result. Many commercial wines, for example, are made from a variety of different kinds of grapes, sometimes as in the Rhine area, from as many as thirteen different grapes. In the Loire area of France it is not uncommon to use six different types of grapes and so on. In the same way when making apple wine in this country it is desirable to use eating apples, cooking apples and crab apples and these in different variety too. Experience tends to show that at competitions the best wines have been made from a blend of suitable fruits rather than from a single fruit exclusively. When preparing a must, however, it should be borne in mind that no two wines of the same kind made in different years are ever exactly the same. The sun and rain alone can make a subtle and sometimes a distinct difference. You need not be worried, then, about using the precise quantity of the ingredients. A recipe may call for, say, 12 Ib. of apples, but you might have excellent apples of which 10 Ib. will be sufficient, or your sample may be so poor that you need 14 or 15 Ib. of apples. It should always be remembered that the recipes are only a guide.
When using citrus fruits, as you probably already know, they should always be peeled very thinly so as not to include any of the white pith, and all this pith should then be carefully removed and thrown away. Stone fruit has to be crushed in such way that the stones themselves are not crushed and these should not be added to the wine at all; they are best removed and excluded, since they so frequently impart an unpleasant bitterness or flavour of almond to the wine. Fruit stalks are best removed and this includes almost all fruit, such as strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, cherry and so on. Rhubarb should be topped and tailed to exclude much of the oxalic acid and then should be wiped thoroughly clean and either minced or chopped small. Vegetables such as parsnips, beetroot or carrot must be thoroughly scrubbed to exclude all traces of earth, the flavour of which can linger and ruin a wine. They are then boiled till they are tender and only the liquor is used. If flowers are used the petals should be picked off the stalks, so that no green is included. One talks of rose-petal wine, but the same principle should apply to dandelion petal, coltsfoot petal, elderflower petal and so on.
It is hardly ever desirable to boil fruits, since frequently this causes the formation of a pectin haze in the finished wine. When a must has been adequately prepared and steeped the liquid should be strained off the pulp should be pressed to squeeze out the last drops and the sugar and the yeast added so that fermentation can begin. Small quantities of must are best squeezed through a linen cloth, but larger quantities, and hard fruits such as apple, are easier to press with some mechanical aid. In a small wooden press some 20 Ib. of grapes can be squeezed into a lump no larger than a tennis ball.
Citric acid has already been mentioned and it is essential that the must contains enough acid both to make the kind of wine required and for the yeast to live in. lust as some plants require an acid soil or an alkaline one, yeast which is a botanical cell requires an acid solution in which to grow and live healthily. In general terms it prefers from 3 to 4 parts of acid per thousand parts of liquor. For dry table wines the range can be from 2·5 to 3 parts acid per thousand parts of wine and 3 is a good figure to aim for. Dessert wines can vary from 3·5 to 4·5 parts per thousand with 4 as the general optimum. Recipes usually try to include enough acid in general terms, but just as the fruit can vary in its sugar content, so too does it vary in its acid content. Just as you can produce an over-sweet wine from a recipe which recommends 3 Ib. sugar when the fruit you use is excessively ripe and sweet, so too can you produce an over-acid wine if the recipe recommends the rind and juice of two lemons and the fruit you use is extremely sour due to being under-ripe in a relatively sunless year.
As it is desirable, indeed essential, when making high quality wine to check the sugar content accurately, so too is it equally important to check the acid content as accurately as possible. Several suppliers sell a chemical wine-testing kit for about £10, and if you propose to take up winemaking seriously this is an expenditure which will be rapidly repaid in the form of high-quality wine. The kit is quite simple to use an intelligent ten-year-old boy would find it great fun.
Full details are given in the kit, but briefly a known quantity of must is diluted with an alkali until the solution turns a neutral pink. As the quantity of alkali used is carefully measured, the actual quantity of acid present is readily ascertainable.
A very rough guide can be obtained by using a pH litmus type paper. You simply dip the paper into the liquid to be tested and compare the colour it has become with a chart provided. A chemist friend of the author once said that this was about as accurate as dipping your finger into a liquid to find out the temperature. But even doing this is better than no guide at all. The optimum pH is between 3 and 4.
In conclusion, do remember that the vinegar bacillus Mycoderma aceti floats invisibly in the air, together with spores of moulds and wild yeasts and germs. It is absolutely imperative to keep your must thoroughly covered with a tight fitting lid, a sheet of plastic secured with a rubber band, or several layers of good linen tied down. All equipment of every kind should be thoroughly washed after use, dried and put away in a dry place. Moulds love moisture. Before use it is a safety precaution to rinse all bottles and vessels, corks and so on in a solution of potassium metabisulphite (one Campden tablet in half a pint of water with a few citric acid crystals). This inhibits all, unwanted micro-fungi and will ensure a wine free from these contaminations.