The Redneck Wine Makin’ Guide (or “how to make wine on the cheap”)
I aint one of them Vintners. This here’s about how to make good wine as cheap as possible and without all of the fancy schmancy tools that folks’ll tell you that you gotta have. If yer lookin’ for a Vintner’s Guide to Premium Vintage Wine yer Google search has failed you and you should try again. Also, reckon I don’t know it all. I’ve only got one batch done so far but it turned out some awful good. I’ve talked to a lot of old folks that’ve been doing it this way for years and I wanted to share what I had learnt form’em.
As I’ve said, you don’t need all of that fancy stuff to make wine. Folks was making good wine for 5000 years or so before anybody thought about inventing a hydrometer to measure specific gravity. Now, I reckon if you want to make the same wine repeatedly so’s that it tastes exactly the same every time you might need that stuff but, on the other hand, maybe you don’t. It don’t matter though ’cause most of us are really only looking to turn that bumper crop of fruit into something other than preserves. This year it might be blueberries, next year it might be strawberries, or peaches or watermelons or or figs… whatever we have extra of. Heck, if you aint got extra fruit you can even make the stuff outta flowers…. I aint kiddin! You can! Ever heared of Dandelion wine? You think that’s made outta grapes? Nope.
I decided that I don’t need all of that high dollar stuff and I aint gonna buy it. Still, you gotta have SOMETHING to make wine in. I personally got me a 5 gallon glass jug for makin’ wine. You can use whatever you have handy. The jug that I got came from a wine making store and costs about $30.00. You can use an old water cooler bottle or even a bucket from Home Depot or somethin’. I mean, really, folks used to make this stuff in clay pots. Don’t get overexcited about how you aint got a new fangled carboy fer the fermentin’. So, that’s what you need… something that’ll hold a few gallons of juice. The return that you get will be a little less than what you start with but not much So, figure on losing a bit but for the most part if you want a gallon of wine you want a gallon jug… call it a 1:1 ratio… the scientific notation oughta be somethin like (1 = (1-li’lbit)). Ok, ok, sorry ’bout that… I didn’t mean to get all technical. Now whatever you use has gotta be sealable but we also need a way to vent gas out of it… we’ll talk about that in a while, for now just remember to get the lid when you get the bucket.
All right, so we have us a container. We’re gonna call that the fermenter just to be high minded about it all. Other things you’ll need is a siphon hose, preferably one that aint been used for stealing gas out of mama’s car. I use two dollars worth of rubber hose from the Home Depot store but you can use an old piece of water hose if you want. You’re also gonna need some yeast and a buncha sugar. The yeast can be anything from specialized wine making yeast to bread yeast. Heck you can even use wild yeast but that’s a little harder. Look, I’m gonna be straight with you. The wine making yeast is better for what you want but honestly yeast is yeast. If you want to use a packet of mama’s Fleishmann’s yeast that’ll work well for you. Just get ready for her to be mad the next time she goes to make some biscuits.
You’re also gonna need somethin to ferment. It really don’t matter what…. strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, figs, watermelons… whatever you got. Just don’t steal it. You can get in trouble over that kind of stuff. That said, stolen fruits make the best wines… Whatever you get you’re gonna need a lot of it. I mean more than your granny can eat in a sitting. Like 10 lbs or so. Since I made strawberry wine, I’ll go with that recipe here but I’ll tell yah what I did to get started. I went down to the grocery store, found the fruit they had on sale that day and bought 10 lbs of it. That happened to be strawberries so that’s what we’re using.
Figure on using about half the weight of fruit in sugar. Just so you don’t gotta do math, that’s 5 lbs of sugar for 10 lbs of fruit. Little more won’t hurt, little less probably will.
Keepin’ it clean
Now, I reckon the most important thing you gotta do is keep everything clean. The big thing that can go wrong with wine making is to get a little distracted and swerve into the vinegar making lane. A little bit of nastiness and you’ll end up with vinegar faster’n your sister’ll fall for a GI. So, how to avoid it? Clean your stuff. Now, real wine makers… err ‘scuse me… vintners have all kinds of high dollar cleaners for this purpose. Don’t worry about that stuff. Just pass by the laundry room and grab a bottle of Clorox and go to work cleaning your stuff. Clean everything… fermenter, hose, jugs, funnels, everything. If your wine is gonna touch it, get some bleach on it first. It don’t take much… just a tablespoon or so in a gallon of water and go to work on it. If it’s clean you’ll be fine. If it aint, you’ll make some fine, fine vinegar.
Look, we just went through cleanin’ everythin’. Don’t go stickin’ yer nasty feet in it. Take the strawberries and hull them… that means get yer pocket knife out (clean it!) and lop off the green bit at the top. Rinse it off and toss’er in the bucket. Repeat that until you’re done with all 10 lbs. If you’re using a bottle or a jug like I do you might have to cut it up a little more to get it in. That’s fine. In fact, it’s better, if you’re using a bucket you can give the strawberry a good squeeze to mash it up a little before you throw it in. You don’t want strawberry soup but the more you break it up the better. Once you get that done, add enough water to get the batch up to 3 or 4 gallons. The more water you add the weaker your wine will be but you’ll need at least 2 gallons or so. Add in about 5 lbs of sugar. Stir it good so all the sugar is dissolved and not just sittin’ the bottom. For not so sweet stuff, add a little more sugar, for really sweet stuff add a little less. Once the sugar is dissolved add in about two tablespoons of lemon juice and stir it good. That’s it.
Once you get everything in your bucket… I mean, fermenter… just let it sit overnight. Now, everything you’ll ever read about wine making will tell you to add 2 or 3 crushed campden tablets. You can get these at the wine making store or you can go without them. I use them myself sometimes if I’m being particular about a batch but as long as you’ve kept everything clean you should be ok. Anywho, let’er sit overnight. Don’t need to be long and you can probably even skip this step but I like to let things “rest” over night and since I’m writin’ this just do it. Besides, you’re gonna be tired after all that washin’ and hullin’ and choppin’ and such. Take a break.
Gettin’ the bugs goin’
Next day take yer yeast and add it to some warm water. For anything less that 5 gallons or so just use one packet or a tablespoon or so. No need to be particular about getting it exactly right. It works pretty much the same way as makin’ bread. Water about 75 or 80 degrees, stir the yeast in and let’er sit until it starts making bubbles. Once you’ve got bubbles goin’ in the yeast just dump’er in your fermenting fruit and stir it good. If you’re using a bottle or jug just cap it and give’er a good shakin. Leave the top off and cover your fermenter with something. Cheesecloth works great or a towel… whatever you got. You just wanna keep the flies out of it. You’ll want to leave it like this for a while. Just walk by every day or so and give it a good stirrin’ (or shakin’) to keep things going.
Keeping it going
Yeasties need air to get going but after a while the air starts to work against them and you have to get it all out. I waited 10 days for this (mostly because I was on vacation at the time and didn’t get back. How long you wait before taking the air out is science. Most recipes will tell you how many days you need to wait or the Specific Gravity of the wine… since we don’t do SG measurements, here’s the trick. When your wine starts to smell like really strong beer it’s good to go and can be airlocked. Now, the yeast are really working and putting off a lot of gas. You can’t just seal up your fermenter and leave it because the dang thing will eventually explode from the pressure of the gas the yeast are putting off. That can be kinda cool to watch but is really counter productive in the wine makin’ process. So, here’s the trick: you gotta make an airlock. The idea behind an airlock is simple, it allows gas (from the yeast) to escape but doesn’t let air back in. You can buy an airlock that’ll work fine at the wine makin’ store for cheap… less than a dollar… or you can make your own. To make your own you just punch a hole in the fermenter, figure out a way to attach a hose to it and then stick the other end in a glass of water. How you go about attaching the tube to the lid of your fermenter is up to you but 30 minutes in the Home Depot store and you should be able to figure something out. Whatever you come up with has to be airtight. If you’ve got it right you should start seeing bubbles coming out of the tube in the glass after a while. As long as it’s making bubbles it’s makin’ wine… just leave it alone. You can take a quick peek every once in a while but mostly you want to keep the air out of it so leave the lid on it.
Cleanin it up
After another week or so the strawberries will start to bleach out and get kinda white. It’s time to get rid of them. When you’re ready to do that, get yourself another container… shoulda bought two of them buckets… and clean it with bleach like before. Rinse it out good and then use your hose to siphon the juice out of your fermenter. Don’t worry too much about getting little bits of strawberry right now… you just want to get as much of the juice out as you can. Once you have all of the juice siphoned out just throw the strawberries away. While yer at it you might notice that things are really cloudy… that’s ok, we’re gonna fix that. You can either wash out your fermenter bucket and pour your juice back in or just continue the fermenting in your new bucket. Either way works. Whatever you do, get the airlock back on it as quick as possible. From here on out you want to avoid moving, shaking or stirring the fermenter. The idea is to let all of the cloudy stuff settle out. It should get back to fermenting and making bubbles pretty quick. Let it go for another two weeks or so without moving it and then repeat the siphoning process. This time filter it through some cheese cloth (or one of mama’s dish rags) to catch all of the strawberry bits that you missed last time. You’ll notice a lot of white stuff on the bottom, that’s the dead yeast that’s making your wine cloudy and settling out. When you siphon it you want to avoid sucking that stuff up. It’s ok if you get a bit of it but you want to leave most of it on the bottom of the bucket/fermenter. From here on out you can start tasting your wine to see how it’s going. If it tastes really sweet let it keep working. If it takes like it’s got too much alcohol in it just water it down a bit. Here’s the trick though, while the yeast are working any sugar you add to it will get converted to alcohol. So don’t go addin sugar to it to make a sweeter wine cause that’ll keep getting converted until you’ve got something that’ll knock yer prom date completely out. Just let’er keep going until all of the fermentation stops. You can tell because it’ll stop makin’ bubbles in your airlock. Once all fermentation has stopped then you can add more sugar to the mix and make it sweeter. Do this one cup of sugar at a time. Add a cup, stir it in good, wait a few days to see if fermentation (bubbles) starts up again. If it does, let it finish again, wait a few extra days and then try adding another cup of sugar. When you can add sugar to the wine without restarting the fermentation it’s done and you can add as much sugar as you want to get it as sweet as you want. Let it sit for another week or two until things start to clear up again… siphon the wine off of the dead yeast and keep going. 3 or 4 weeks at a time until it’s as clear as you want it. Pretty much any time after a month or so you can sneak a little nip here and there. It won’t be as pretty as a store bought wine until everything settles out but it’ll be as good as it gets.
You can get wine bottles and corks at the wine makin’ store, but you don’t need’em. Wine will keep just fine in pretty much any container as long as it’s air tight. I use one gallon glass jugs but you can use anything. My uncle uses left over 2 litter coke bottles to store his. Works fine, tastes fine. No need to get snazzy with it, anything with a screw on cap will work.
Once you’ve got’er all bottled up the easy part is over and the hard part begins… waitin… Now, here’s the thing about agin’ wine. It WILL get better the longer you wait… up to a year or three… BUT unless your gonna enter this stuff in the county fair contest why would yah? It’ll be plenty good right out of the bottle and if you’re the one drinkin’ it AND you like it… why the hell wait? My wine ages in the bottle while it’s waiting to get drunk. If I take a nip and think it’s good for drinkin’ it gets drunk…or I do… but the point is, aging wine is for making the wine good enough to drink not for the sake of aging it. If you like it drink it. If you think it needs more time, wait. Simple, like that.
Is it dangerous?
Nope, not a bit. There aint much that you can do to wine that’ll cause it to make you sick. Now, granted it goes to vinegar and you drink it you’ll spend some time heaving but that’s to be expected and it won’t hurt you… much. In general though, if you can force it down, it won’t hurt you.
What about vinegar?
If it goes to vinegar then you’ve made vinegar. There aint no gettin it back. Just throw it out and start over. That’s one of the things that all of that scientific fancy stuff is trying to avoid. Still, as long as you don’t care about losing a batch every now and again it’s no big deal. If you keep things clean like I told yah then you won’t have this problem anyway. Just step around it, clean things better next time and make another batch.
I reckon I’m pretty hard on them Vintner fellers here. That’s because some of them are pretty hard on folks who don’t wanna follow the high dollar path. They speak of vintages and years while we speak of “damn, that’s good!” That’s ok. What they do is really cool. They put a lot of work into getting wine just so and making sure that it comes out that way every time. They get the most bang for the buck… and they use cool tools to make it happen. I’m good with that, it’s a hobby or a job for most of ‘em and it’s important to ‘em. That bein’ said, it’s not a crime to do it the old fashioned way. To get good wine out of left over fruit and to enjoy it out of a dixie cup instead of a wine glass. They’re makin’ one thing, we’re makin another. That’s all there is too it.