After reading up on home winemaking (somewhat obsessively, I must admit) , it was time to brew our first batch of wine.
Some blackberries had been languishing in the freezer from a most successful 2006 forage, when said berries were huge, abundant and juicy. (As opposed to this year’s berries, which disappointingly seem to be diminuitive, seedy and scarce.)
We followed (more or less) the instructions on Nigel Deacon’s Winemaking Notes page (note that if you’re using Firefox browser, it messes up the format of the page somewhat). I like his simple approach which minimises chemicals. No testing pH, specific gravity or sugar levels, just bung it all in and let the would-be wine get on with it!
Our first batch was a gallon of blackberry and pineapple. This combination is suggested by Nigel Deacon, and is said to give the wine an “excellent bouquet”.
Nigel suggests freezing fruit to sterilise it (the other two methods are boiling and chemical sterilisation, the latter of which is not recommended). Since the blackberries were already frozen, that part was a no-brainer.
I’ll leave the basics of winemaking to those who can speak more authoritatively than yours truly, but a couple important things to remember: germs are NOT your friend (or at least, not a friend of your wine), so ensure everything is well-cleaned and sterilised; and heat (but not cold) will KILL your yeast, so don’t ever add yeast to overly-warm liquid.
Blackberry pineapple wine
First we sterilised our fermentation bin with a chlorine-based agent called “Chempro”. This brand does not appear to be available anymore (ours was donated by my FIL), but ones by VWP and Young’s brew are other chlorine-based agents that are available. We followed directions on the packet, and rinsed out the bin thoroughly with tap water afterwards.
We then put 1.8 kg (4 pounds) of frozen blackberries into a muslin hop bag and put it in the bin. (Using a hop bag means not having to strain out bits of mashed-up fruit later.)
Next we added 3 pints of filtered water to the bin, as well as one litre of pineapple juice (“not from concentrate” juice from the supermarket’s chiller case, £1.39). Then covered with the bin lid and let the fruit thaw for 24 hours or so.
Now we added the sugar… one kg of organic granulated sugar, Billington’s brand from Sainsbury’s (£1.29). I though it would save a lot of stirring if the sugar were dissolved first, so I added it to 1/2 pint of filtered water and heated it gently until the sugar dissolved. This sugar syrup was then added to the bin.
The yeast went in next. The packet of wine yeast we used was Gervin wine yeast no. 2 (GV2), which is “especially suitable for red wines based on autumn fruits such as blackberries, elderberries and sloes”. Actually we used half a packet of yeast, since one packet will make up to five gallons and we were only making one gallon. The other half of the packet was wrapped in clingfilm and put in the fridge to await another batch of wine. Per the package directions, the yeast was sprinkled in 50ml of warm water to which 1/2 teaspoon sugar had been added, then left to stand for 20 minutes. After this time it had foamed up nicely. It was then stirred and added to the bin, which was also then stirred to distribute the yeast.
At this point the level in the bin was a bit over the five litre mark.
Then the waiting began. We put a heating strap around the bin, but not at the level of the liquid, since we were afraid this would make it too hot. Instead the strap was placed higher up the bin.
Some sources say to stir the mixture daily, others don’t mention stirring at all. We stirred the wine twice during the week it was in the bin.
After one week, the hops bag containing the blackberries was well-squeezed to remove as much juice as possible (the pulp was composted), and the fermented juice was poured through a funnel into a cleaned and sterilised one-gallon glass demijohn. A rubber bung with airlock was fitted, and we watched as the wine continued to ferment and bubbles passed through the airlock (very exciting, well at least if it is the first batch of wine you have ever made it is exciting, maybe not so much if you’re an old hand at it).
Another week later the wine was racked into another sterilised demijohn using siphon tubing, leaving the sediment behind. The wine was surprisingly clear at this point. Of course we had a tiny tipple, and were amazed at how good this very young wine tasted. The pineapple really did add something special to the blackberry flavour.
So now we wait and will rack again further at some point, and eventually transfer to wine bottles.
We are no longer homebrew virgins!