Second Thoughts

This morning I added a 1/2 tsp. of pectic enzyme to the fig wine and stirred it in. I hope I haven’t wasted 3 pounds of figs. My nose makes me worry.

Fig Wine

Let’s try this again.

So, my first ever “country” wine batch (back in 2012) was a fig wine, using figs from the tree in my backyard. I tried a natural fermentation (no cultured yeast), and I knew very little about sanitation and such; indeed, I avoided sanitizing the fruit at front so as not to kill the native yeast. In any case, it turned out Badly. Yes, upper-case. And I have avoided fig wine production ever since.

At first, I felt justified in doing so, as a local commercial wine-maker suggested they had never tasted a pleasant fig wine. Had I looked up recipes online, which I normally do, I most certainly would have seen that people do indeed make enjoyable fig wine. But, I did not, for whatever reason. In any case, last weekend I taste-tested a fig wine at Grape & Grains, and knew that it was possible to make drinkable – even tasty – fig wine.

So here I am, doing what I thought I would never again do. I started by picking figs in the back yard – coming up with just under 4 pounds of ripe to extra-ripe figs. I brought them in and began processing them, which involved washing them softly and then removing stems. In the end I had 3 1/3 pounds of figs, which I blended a third at a time in water (about a third of a gallon total). This fig purée was then poured into a fine mesh bag in the bottom of an adequately sized fermentation bucket. Then I added my smidgen (1/20 tsp.) of potassium metabisulfite.

I wasn’t exactly following a recipe, more following my recent experience. I knew I would be adding a tsp. of yeast nutrient, so I tossed that in. And then I was stumped for a moment. I thought it was likely I would need some amount of acid blend, and decided to check online. Jack Keller has a “famous” recipe, at least as far as can be seen from repeated mention in other’s posts; He uses 3 tsp. of acid blend in it. Well. I didn’t have that much on hand.

So I used what I had left (1 3/4 tsp.), and then grabbed a lemon. One lemon’s juice should do the trick.

As for sugar, I was guessing 2 pounds from the start – about average for one gallon of wine. Keller’s recipe uses 1 3/4 pounds. Another recipe I saw used 2 1/4 pounds. Notably, the one with less sugar has way more figs, the one with more sugar much less. So, I think my “guess” is just fine. I heated the sugar in another 1/3 of a gallon of water to dissolve, and then tossed nearly the remainder of the gallon in to cool it down. I let this sit for a while (cooling a bit more) and then added to the bucket.

And now I wait for the potassium metabisulfite to do its thing. 12 to 24 hours from now I will add pectic enzyme.

Hopefully this time things go better!

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Better Than I Could Have Hoped

Friday night potluck at a friend’s house was Asian themed. My immediate thought, “It’s time to begin bottling the plum wine!” It seemed to be a big hit. But I am getting ahead of myself…

These are pictures from just before racking. I started by testing the taste with a syringe of each, the oaked (1G) and the un-oaked (3G). I let Kim sample, too, as my judgment of sweetness doesn’t always meet with her approval. In this case, I was completely surprised when she said that they were fine without the addition of sugar. I was quite fine with that; it’s much easier. But nonetheless surprised.

I started with the Hungarian oaked plum, filling first a single 750 mL bottle, and then racking the rest onto 1/4 tsp. potassium sorbate and a smidgen (1/20 tsp.) of potassium metabisulfite in a waiting gallon jug. Then I moved on to the plum without oak, filling another single 750 mL bottle, and racking the rest into a carboy with similarly proportioned preservatives (3/4 tsp. potassium sorbate and 3 smidgens of potassium metabisulfite. The bottles needed no additions, as they were going to dinner! The rest need to sit a couple days before bottling for storage.

Now, I’m used to plum wine having very distinctive character. First, the color is a deep ruby red. Second, it is thick and syrupy. Also, most are just short of sickeningly sweet, this barely covering up the taste of alcohol peeking through the plum. This plum wine “fails” on all counts.

In the carboy, as you can see above, they both were a very nice pinkish-red color, with the oaked version distinctly more brown. In the bottle, the sheen was more a pinkish orange, with the color difference between oaked and un-oaked less apparent. In the glass, they looked exactly the same, light pink with a glow.

It is thin, not syrupy, but not at all watery. There’s no doubt that it is alcoholic, but the alcohol is not jarring or out of balance, despite the seeming lightness of the plum. That being said, after a glass and a half, having previously forgotten to check the ABV, I decided to check the ABV. Based on the original reading of 1.106 and a final reading of 0.992 (taken months ago, but I see no reason why it would have changed), I calculate an ABV of 16.2%. Yeah, I think that’s about right.

And it is dry, which allows the plum to come through nicely. The plum flavor is light, but it is clearly plum. And better yet, placing a nose to the rim of the glass and simply sniffing: it is one of those sensations of stopped time – so deeply plum, with a feeling of contentment and joy. Don’t interrupt someone in the middle of this reverie.

Personally, I thought the oaked plum did have one issue, and that was too much oaking. Both variants of the plum wine have aged en masse, rather than in the bottle. And much of the time (8.5 months) in secondary the oaked jug had the tiny blocks of wood delivering their character. Probably a little too long, as the plum flavor did not stand up as well to the strength of the oak. But it still tasted good, just stronger than I imagined it “should” be. And all that from 0.5 ounces of Hungarian oak!

So while the plum wine has turned out nothing as I expected when I first put fruit to bucket, any use of the word “fail” to describe it is a mistake. I’m definitely satisfied with the results, and look forward to enjoying the remainder once bottled.

And coming soon, a barley wine only slightly modified from Jack Palmer’s “Fightin’ Urak-Hai Barley Wine”. Or maybe I will try starting a small batch of fig wine (again) first. The possibilities…

Premature Racking

I had decided it was time to rack the new grapes wines in to their secondary fermenters, and off the fruit. They were definitely slowing down, and it had been plenty of time by my estimation. I decided I would not worry about checking the PA to verify progress. This was a very poor decision!

It took couple minutes, but the Mars Grape wine began filling up the air space in the carboy neck with bubbles. Lots of long-lived bubbles. And then they began crawling up the tube in the airlock. At first I tried to raise up the airlock plug. No good. I scooped out the bubbles. In a matter of seconds the space was filled again. So in the end I had to rig up a makeshift airlock on a grander scale.

I took a gallon jug of water that was mostly empty, inserted a syphon tube into it, forcing in place (tip below the water) with the little plastic catch that usually acts as a “pinch” for flow. I placed the other end of the tube snugly in the bung, and the bung back into the carboy neck. Now, there is the rapid music of carbon dioxide being released into the jug; This, rather than the bubbles filling up the normal air-lock and eventually filling it to the point that it starts overflowing back into the carboy…never a good thing.

The Saturn Wine is also bubbling pretty vigorously, further testifying to the error I have made. But in this case, it is not able to sustain a foam head, whether by virtue of the wine’s own character or fermenting power. I think it will stay that way, so am leaving with the normal air-lock and bung.

Some might view this as a failure, but I’m going to choose to see this whole experience as an opportunity. I’m soon to start a barley wine recipe that cautioned that it is almost certain to require such intervention even in the primary of a 5 gallon batch brewing in a 6.5 gallon fermenter. To be exact, the word “messy” was used. That’s some bubble head! It’s nice to know that I have everything I need to quickly get such a make-shift airlock in place.

I Must Have Left My Head Somewhere

Ever heard the expression, “I’d forget my head if it weren’t screwed on…” ? That’s kind of the way I was feeling over lunch today.

I forgot to keep up with chemical supplies, as I commented yesterday. Hopefully the lack of pectic enzyme doesn’t come back to haunt me. And then today, when I went to pitch the yeast, I realized I didn’t exactly have the yeast supplies I had intended. Specifically, I intended to use Montrachet for both these 3 gallon batches. Yet, I only had one packet. A very easy thing to have taken care of…mea culpa!

I had 3 or 4 Pasteur Champagne packets, one D-74 (perfect for mead), a couple KV-1117 and bread yeast. As an alternative, I could have split the packet of Montrachet, though half for each would have been a stretch for the packet, since it is indicated for 1-5 gallons. I decided to go with the Pasteur Champagne option. So, I rehydrated a packet of Montrachet and a packet of Pasteur Champagne. I added the Pasteur Champagne to the Saturn grape wine, and the Montrachet to the Mars grape wine. A little bit of vigorous stirring to incorporate oxygen, and then I sealed the tops of the buckets and air-locked them.

Everything is looking good. The Saturn is taking on much more of a reddish tinge, as expected. And I can already see the air-locks bubbling away, so now we wait, with intermittent stirring.

Making Up The Total

First Tasting of Vagabond Gingered Ale

First Tasting of Vagabond Gingered Ale

Before we get into the wine-making…

I’m sitting here, having finally completed with the additions (except the yeast) to my two new wines. Today being the 18th, the first day of readiness*, I placed one of the Vagabond Gingered Ales (#49, to be precise) in the refrigerator. And now I get to sample it.

The carbonation is a little under-pronounced. I’m imagining the other bottles will be better with a little more time. The flavor is very good, I’d say in the style of a porter, the red-tinged darkness backing it up. I don’t notice much ginger, but Kim said she could taste it. There is a noticeable bitterness from the hops, but not too much. And it has that slightly burnt flavor that I associate with chocolate malt. Toasty may be better; burnt sounds bad. And overall, it is decent.

…Back to the wine:

I started off the evening by adding a gallon of distilled water to each of the buckets, and then measuring specific gravity. Both came out to the same 1.038 – low, but not completely unexpected. That they both were the same was a little bit more unexpected! I used an online calculator over at a mead forum (one that I had used before) to calculate how much more sugar would be needed to bring me to the right specific gravity for a wine at around 12.5% ABV. The suggested target was just under 5 pounds.

But factoring in that there was likely still a lot of sugar tied up in the grape solids, I decided to lower it a bit. I measured out 4.75 pounds of sugar into a half a gallon of water and heated on the stove until it was all in solution. This I did twice, once for the Mars grapes and once for the Saturn grapes. After heating each, I added it to the bucket and waited some time before again measuring SG.

I checked the SG on the Mars first, and also the temperature. I found an SG of 1.102, at a temperature of 90°F. I probably should have used a little less water, to account for the bulk of the sugar. The end result was about 3.75 gallons total. I know some of that will be lost to the leftover fruit solids, and some to the yeast pack at racking. But still, I was shooting for 3.5 gallons total.

I then moved onto the Saturn, finding an SG of 1.094 (what I had actually expected for both) at a temperature of 86°F. I also noticed that the level came up to more like 3.8 or 3.85 gallons. Both had started with a temperature of 66°F. I haven’t done the calculations, but those should be all the readings I will need to figure an original gravity for comparison at the end of fermentation.

I let the temperature drop a little more, then found that I had made a gross error. I need pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient and wine tannin. I had just enough of the yeast nutrient and the wine tannin for these two; I will need more very soon. But I had nowhere near enough pectic enzyme.

Now with a straight “wine” grape, you often don’t need pectic enzyme, from what I can gather. And even with a typical table grape you don’t. With strongly flavored grapes like Concord, you do – to the tune of 1 tsp. per gallon. I’m not sure where Mars and Saturn really fall, but somewhere between the table and highly flavored. Also, the use of wine tanning was indicated for the table grape but not necessarily the highly flavored grape…so I guess I am blurring lines a bit with this recipe I am putting together.

I added to each of the wines 3 tsp. of yeast nutrient. To the Mars grape wine I added 3/4 tsp. of wine tannin. I added just a little bit more to the as-yet-lighter Saturn wine, 1 tsp. of wine tannin. My guess is it will always be lighter, though likely redder than it is now. I divided my remaining pectic enzyme between the two of them, about 3/8 tsp. each. That is well under what I am guessing is best, but it will have to do. I have no opportunity to get more in a reasonable time frame. The danger is haze, and I am willing to accept that. If I were being optimistic, I’d maybe even say that it probably isn’t necessary at all. Time will tell.

With that, I would normally wait 24 hours for the pectic enzyme rest. With such a low dosage, I may not even wait that long before applying yeast. In either case, it will be tomorrow evening.

* Re-reading quickly that post, I see I jumped the gun by a day. Tomorrow was the actual “first day of “readiness.”

Saturn Grapes, Check!


That’s about the best way to describe the state of the grapes as I picked over them to remove stems and bad berries. Unfortunately, there were simply a lot of bad berries. Describing what I saw would make some squeamish, so I will refrain from details. Jenna, who helped me in spite of the stickiness and distasteful smell of fermentation, had a harder time than I determining which berries were “good enough.” I think in some cases the grapes had not fully ripened – lots of green, rather than red. But even in “green’ cases, I enjoyed the flavor of an occasional taste test.

Long story short, after picking through and then washing the good, I bucketed 18 pounds for wine, and bagged another 3.5 pounds for jelly. Maybe an ounce or two short, actually. So that is 21.5 pounds out of the 25 picked. Not as efficient a pick as the Mars grapes, with 26 of the 27 pounds kept. Still, not a bad haul!

With the destined-to-be-jelly grapes in the freezer for later, I moved on to crushing the wine grapes. As expected, I put them in a straining bag in the bottom of the fermentation bucket, and tied it off. Then I began to crush. Crushing these Saturn grapes was much more difficult than the Mars. It took a little more elbow grease, and a lot more time. But the end result was nearly the same, nearly 2 gallons of grape slurry, roughly a purple-grey/brown.

As with the Mars grapes – maybe even more so with these Saturn grapes – I decided it was necessary to add potassium metabisulfite. 1/8 tsp. should once again be a decent amount to knock out the “native” yeast for a 3 gallon batch. I mixed it in well, and was greeted by the odor of sulfur. I could have gone ahead and started adding the extra sugar and water, plus chemicals, to get the Mars grape wine going. But, instead, I decided to sync these two up. So I expect that will be a task for both these wines tomorrow.

I ought to take the Venus grapes out of the freezer…