WONDERFUL WILD WINESNatale Ghent May 1, 2019
Fermenting Herbs, Berries, and Weeds is a Great Way to Capture the Wild Flavours of Spring
What better way to herald summer than with a glass of homemade wine made with ingredients gathered from nature in the spring? With a modicum of effort, unique and delicious wines can be made using almost any edible plant material including herbs, fruit, flowers, leaves, roots and even tree sap. Not only will you be able to enjoy the fruits of your labours, by making wine you will be taking part in a tradition that reaches deep into the foundation of civilization.
Wine making is an ancient art whose exact origins are unknown. It is generally believed that the practice of making wine dates from over three thousand years before the Romans in what is now Turkey. There is also evidence that wine of some sort was being made at that time in China as well. Though we do not know the details of how wine-making was first discovered and refined, we do know that wine was eventually viewed as both a food and a medicine, and that it possessed great trade value. Many ancient shipwrecks in the Mediterranean are full of wine jars and amphorae. Wine was also an important part of religious rituals. People even paid their taxes in wine.
Today, home wine-making has become an art form. While wine made from grapes is considered by some as the only true wine, alternative wines can give grapes a run for their money — though it does take some time to get used to their unique and often surprising taste. But anyone with an open mind and an adventurous spirit will appreciate some of the more exotic wine-making options using materials supplied by nature’s bounty.
Wine-making for the home enthusiast can be as complicated or as easy as the participant desires, with the type of equipment reflecting the degree of involvement. As with any hobby, there are shops that specialize in high-end equipment, but a nice bottle of wild wine can be made with equipment gathered at little expense. For the purposes of this article, I will describe a simple technique that requires a minimum of fuss and a modicum of faith. Please note that as the recipes described in this article involve materials harvested from the wild, the first credo of any maker of wild wines is to tread respectfully through nature. Harvest materials with the view toward future abundance. Pick from areas that are both clean and plentiful, leaving a healthy amount of plant material behind. Do not harvest anything unless you are 100% sure of its identity. If your plant identification skills are not up to snuff, go with someone more experienced. It is also important to keep a journal of your wine-making activities including annotation on location of plant material, harvest dates, weather conditions, etc. These notes will prove invaluable as you continue to hone and expand your cellar. Also, it is imperative to use clean equipment that has not been used for purposes other than food preparation.
• l5 or 10 gallon capacity white food-grade plastic pail or earthenware crock (no metal as it can react with hazardous results)
• Wood or plastic stir spoon/stick
• Campden tablets (optional)
• Wine yeast
• Glass jugs or carboys
• Fermentation locks or water seals
• Siphoning hose
• Clean bottles
(Items can be purchased at a wine-making supply)
SIMPLE WINE-MAKING PROCESS
This is a generalized process for making wine that can be used with many types of ingredients.
Place the required amount of ingredients in the bottom of the pail or crock (Plastic is lighter and easier to maneuver. Pails must be clean and should be free of scratches to discourage bacteria. Do not use bleach to clean equipment as it is difficult to rinse away completely and will taint the wine.)
Boil water and pour over the ingredients. Add the required amount of sugar and stir to dissolve. (White sugar is usually used as brown sugars flavour the wine too strongly. You can use organic fine sugar although the taste will be slightly different from wines made with white.) At this point, some recipes call for the addition of raisins, oranges or lemons to add the necessary acids to produce good-tasting wine. Also, in some cases, you may choose to add a campden tablet at this point to kill any wild yeasts and prevent the growth of molds or other undesirable microbes.
Allow the mixture or “must” to cool for 24 hours before adding the wine yeast. This prevents the heat and the campden tablet from killing the added yeast. Once the yeast has been added, keep the must in a fairly warm area and cover it with cheesecloth to keep out the dust and dirt. Fermentation will begin and should be allowed to continue for the specified time in the recipe (usually seven to ten days). Stir the must once a day.
Once the primary fermentation is complete, strain the liquid from the residue into a glass jug, filling the jug nearly to the top. Place a fermentation lock or water seal in the mouth of the jug. This gadget, available at wine-making supply shops, allows carbon dioxide to freely escape the wine while preventing oxygen from entering. Place the jug in a warm place to allow fermentation to continue. Bubbles will rise out of the mixture for six weeks or longer. When the bubbles have ceased, the sugar is all gone or the yeast have finally expired.
At this point, carefully rack the wine into an aging vessel. Racking is the process of siphoning the fermented wine into another glass jug using a siphoning hose. Let the wine sit until it clears. When it does, carefully siphon the wine into clean bottles, cork and label as to type and date. You can taste the wine at this point to see if it is ready to drink. Most wines require six months to two years before they are palatable. Wine should be stored in a cool clean place (a dry, clean cellar is good). Keep bottles on their sides to prevent the corks from drying out.
Strawberry wine is one in which the flavour of the berries really comes through.
2 quarts of wild or store-bought strawberries
3 pounds of sugar
Gallon of boiling spring water
Wash and prepare berries by removing the green sepals and stems. Crush them in a plastic pail and add three pounds of sugar. (If a sweeter wine is desired, increase the sugar to 3 1/2 pounds.) Mix well. Pour boiled water over mixture. Allow to cool 24 hours. Add wine yeast. Cover with cheesecloth and stir every day for 10 days.
Strain into a fermentation jug and water seal. Fermentation should take two months. Rack into an aging jug and allow to age for one year. Bottle and label.
A sweet after-dinner wine revered by the Romans.
2 cups of fresh violet blossoms
(the stronger scented flowers are best)
Gallon of boiling spring water
3 pounds of sugar
Rinds of two lemons and one orange
Juice of one orange and one lemon
Place violets in the pail. Cover with boiling water. Add sugar and mix well. Add the fruit ingredients. When the mixture has cooled, add yeast and cover with cheesecloth. Stir daily for 10 days then strain into fermentation jug and water seal. After about two months, rack into aging vessel and age for about one year. Bottle and label.
MAPLE OR BIRCH SAP WINE
A delicious and above-average wine that clears easily.
One gallon plus one cup of maple or birch sap
2 1/2 pounds sugar
Rind and juice of one lemon
1/2 ounce of whole cloves
Mix one gallon of sap with sugar in a deep pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes. In a separate pan, place thinly peeled rind of lemon, 1/2 cup sap and cloves in a pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Place all ingredients in a plastic pail. Add juice of one lemon. Let cool. Add wine yeast and cover with cheesecloth. Stir daily for eight days. Strain into fermentation jug and water seal. Fermentation should take about six weeks. Rack into aging jug and age for one year. Bottle and label.
A lovely, traditional herbal wine.
6 quarts of dandelions, sepals and stems removed
3 pounds sugar
1 gallon boiling spring water
1 pound raisins
Put four quarts of dandelion heads in a pail. Thinly slice two oranges and two lemons into the pail. Pour boiling water over flowers and fruit. Cover with cheesecloth and place a loose-fitting lid over top to prevent wild yeasts from contaminating the must. Stir daily for 10 days. Strain off the liquid and squeeze remaining liquid from the pulp. Bring liquid to a boil then add sugar, cutting off the heat as soon as the sugar dissolves. Pour back into the plastic container and add raisins. Cool to room temperature. Add wine yeast. Cover with cheesecloth.
As soon as vigorous fermentation begins, add remaining two quarts of dandelion heads. This is done to replace the bouquet lost during the boiling process. Ferment seven to ten days, stirring daily. Strain into jug with water seal, leaving about two inches at the top of the jug. Ferment two weeks then begin feeding every five days with small amounts of sugar (about a tablespoon each time). When the jug is too full to keep feeding, allow wine to ferment to completion. Rack to an aging jug. Age six months. Bottle, label and age for six plus months before drinking. The longer the better, as aging reduces the acidity typical of dandelion wine.
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