On new hobbies

Like I don’t have enough to do, I have decided that 2010 is the year I will make wine too.

In my aim to make this a full-service farm, wine has intimidated me.  I have said for years that indeed I will do something more readily enjoyable (for grownups anyway) with those 50 grapevines.  And wine as we all know certainly doesn’t start and stop with grapes:  dandelion wine, anyone?  Strawberry, blueberry?  Plum?  Well.  The process intimidated me, that is, until another D.I.Y. someone I’m getting to know kind of stopped, looked me up and down and said, well, why AREN’T  you making wine, considering everything else you can do?  It’s easy, he said.

Easy!  Well, we’ll see about that.  In the meantime, Craigslist is again my friend, this time with finding glass carboys.

(Now I am wondering if anyone’s ever made wine out of winter squash….)

26 responses to “On new hobbies

  1. Winemaking is one of my goals for 2010, too, El. Apple wine, wild fruit. My friend Teresa Marrone lays out the basics for the latter in her excellent book “Abundantly Wild.”

    I think, like many fermented things, wine more or less makes itself. We’ve had good luck with cider so far, taking the natural approach.

    What sort of grapes are you able to grow in tropical SW Michigan?


    • Only the boringest kind (or rather that’s what’s here; there’s 12 acres of chardonnay and cabernet a klick up the road), Brett, as our farm used to supply Welch’s with grape juice. So, Niagaras and Concords. All vines that are pushing 90 years old, so…

      I hope what you say is true, and the stuff makes itself. I have made elderflower cordial for a couple of years now and that’s mostly true. We’ll see…hold on. And thanks for the book recommendation; gotta love that.

  2. My suggestion? Do all your experimenting in one gallon batches. That way, a disaster is less of a disaster, and you’ll know what to make more of the next year.

    And I’d respectfully disagree with the idea of the stuff more or less making itself. But I’m married to a former lab scientist, so…

    As for books, James recommends CJJ Berry’s First Steps in Winemaking.

    Good luck, El!

  3. I’ve been making wine for about 3 years; it does not _quite_ make itself. It is, however, only a couple of steps more complex than making sauerkraut, so it isn’t that difficult either. Main thing is being really, really clean and sanitary, using pectic enzyme to both clear and make more tasty fruit or some vegetable wines, and preventing fruit flies (even just one!) from getting into the must – unless you WANT to make vinegar.

    There is bunches and bunches of good forums for help online, many people who will give you advice and help, and it is a thing where you can start out making decent wine, and get more practiced and fussier with it until you are making very tasty wine. If you can have a cool cellar, you’re way up over me here in Gulf Central Texas.

    I don’t know about squash, but beets make some really very fine wine, with beautiful color. If you have bees, you can also make mead, or melomels (mixed honey and fruit wine).

  4. Hi El. I would love to make wine again but the time is not right for me, not yet… However, I keep up with interesting posts on this great topic and am posting you a link to a fabulous blog which has done 3 detailed posts on wine making… Here’s part 3: http://www.selfsufficientish.com/main/blog.php/2010/02/17/taking-the-fear-out-of-wine-making-part-3-cheating-and-improving/
    I hope it helps. Good luck with it all.
    We are still hanging on over here but still haven’t found a local gardener I can actually communicate with! I’m thinking there’s a reason for that – if I found one now I’d be COMPELLED to do more stuff & right now I don’t think I can cope. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other…
    Warm regards from a very soggy Monte… X

  5. I’m pretty sure what the Brits call “marrows” are what we call winter squash. They did make marrow wine, as Piers Warren outlines in his book _How to Store Your Garden Produce_. So if you want to pursue it, look to old time British recipes.

  6. I know just how you feel! I am also intimidated by brewing (cider in my case) bit feel I must get there eventually. My overwhelming new hobby this year is beekeeping.

  7. Sounds terrifically enjoyable. I’m sure you’ll have fun, learn a lot, and make some nice wine.

  8. I should hook you up with my brother in Baroda. He’s been making wine in his basement for ages now, and actually works at a winery north of there somewhere (Glen maybe?). He worked for a while somewhere near Baroda putting in the vines, then moved up to maybe apprenticing at the winery. Also, his buddy Wally, on Lemon Creek Road has a winery too, http://www.domaineberrien.com/index.html.

    He has been growing the family grapes since he took over the farm, most of them the concord type for Welchs. BUT, he also put in his own wine grapes and knows alot about the process and all.

    Let me know and I’ll hook you up.

  9. Hi El- as far as book recommendations go, you might want also to take a look at this blog http://www.honest-food.net/blog1/2010/02/16/raisin-wine-and-validation/ where he recommends the book The Joy of Home Wine Making by Terry Garey. Evidently, the blog writer made a batch of raisin wine from raisins he got cheap at Costco, which have mellowed into a nice sherry. He says that he’s always had good luck with the recipes and methods in this book. I just got it from Amazon for under $11.

    My husband has been brewing excellent beer since last autumn, and I mean delicious pilsners and everything, so since he’s better with the precision stuff than I am, I’m going to get his help (honestly- I couldn’t even pickle cucumbers properly until Steve got involved), at least for my first batch. Since I don’t have anything producing fruit in my back yard yet, I just might try the raisin wine first!

  10. Mmm, wine! That’s a great thing to make….

  11. You guys can’t talk about this stuff in February, I’m too susceptible to new hobbies right about now. I took an extension class on bees and REALLY wanted to do that, and we both have been considering the brewing too. But the (smart) husband keeps reminding me of how many projects we have going right now…and planned for the spring.

    A 1 gallon batch of, say, rhubarb wine, sounds reasonable though, doesn’t it?

  12. well, you certainly can make wine very easily, yes grape juice left to itself will ferment. Whether it’s good wine is another question.

    Years ago, as a hobby when we lived in the city and had a very small garden (too small to keep us well occupied), we made dandelion wine, apple wine, hard apple cider, hydromel. I also infuse plenty of fruit to make fruit liqueur. And we made beer then – enough for our own consumption. Wine from grape has always intimidated me however. Of course, if I had as many vines as you, I may just try it. However, those sweet grapes that make good grape juice, may or may not make good wine. But it may be good enough to drink every day – right? no way to know but try.

    We have recently started to make beer again, and are considering hard cider over the next few years, from fresh apples (when we made it years ago it was from purchased fresh cider). Just debating whether we want to spend the money on a good press or build one ourselves.

    Looking forward to reading about your wine adventures, El…

    and carboys. We were thrilled one day when we got to the yard sale and found three of those!

  13. Onward to Hubbard Hooch! Butternut Brew! Pink Banana Beaujolais!

  14. Hurrah! Hubbard Hooch is hilarious. I say give it a try! I’ve tried fermenting just about everything, and some of the weirdest experiments turn out to be the tastiest!

  15. “Making Wild Wines & Meads: 125 Unusual Recipes Using Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & More” is a fun book with easy to read recipes. I made one of the vegetable wines (intended for cooking, not table use) and it was fantastic.

    Mostly I’ve made meads and fruit wines, and I can’t wait to get back into it!

  16. My grandfather used to make concord grape, currant, crab apple and dandelion wines – or perhaps more accurately hooch. I remember helping him as a little girl and that it wasn’t really that hard, just detail oriented. How I miss it, but I don’t really need anything else to do around here right now…

    Good luck!

  17. I’m a home wine maker and it is a satisfing hobby if not completely relaxing to say the least when I get around to tasting all that I’ve fermented. It is the slowest of slow foods. There are some great how to books out there, and the one gallon at a time is a very good way to startout. Better start saving your wine bottles! you’ll need about 5 bottles for every gallon of wine.

    MY best suggestion is cleanliness at all costs. Whenever you dip anything into the carboys make sure its been sterilized. Off flavors will make you toss the whole batch and that is depressing.

    Good luck!

  18. If you ever get to the Lansing area, there’s a great brewing store in Grand Ledge, The Red Salamander, that sells supplies at great prices. All kinds of bottling equipment, yeast, etc. Not as cheap as Freecycle, but may beat Craigslist!

    VERY HELPFUL staff and inspiring shop.

  19. Mmmmm, I wish you much success!! We finally started two batches last month after a 5-year hiatus and I’m excited to have homemade wine again soon… we ended up with 10 pounds of fermenting blueberries from the local food shelf (their freezer broke down or something).

    They not only made what looks to be an amazing 5 gallons of blueberry wine (or maybe that would be blueberry hard cider?), but the leftovers made really tasty additions to our daily homemade bread too (until we ran out).

    I’d agree with the comment almost everyone else has made; get some sterilizing solution and don’t put anything into your fermenting wine that hasn’t been sterilized! Our friend swears his grandmother made wonderful wine by sticking a 5-gallon bucket of water, sugar, and blueberries behind the stove for a few months… but I’d rather not have the extra plastic and banana-ey flavors in my wine… and all it really takes is a carboy with airlock, and keeping the utensils clean.

    Getting it in the carboy in the first place and then racking it (moving it from one container to another) every so often doesn’t really take that much time – for me, the kicker is always the bottling session. Sterilizing 50+ bottles, clearing out the kitchen enough to have room to fill them (and not get everything else sticky with the inevitable spills and drips), filling all the bottles and corking them, and then going back through and washing all the outsides so they’re not sticky… and washing the floor, and the counters, and the toddler…

    But it’s worth it! (I just have to keep repeating that to myself on bottling day.) I can’t wait to try beet wine this summer, and definitely Riesentraube wine. Another blog I follow documented their parsley wine – not sure I’m ready for that one, but who knows, maybe I’ll have too much parsley this year?


  20. hee hee, I am delighted that you are venturing into wine…we homebrew here, b/c hubby was a microbiology grad student and they ALL homebrew-ed when we were in school. We have shied away from meads, ciders and wine as too difficult. But just about anyone can handle a brown ale. And hops are pretty to grow.

    I need to grow me some hops!

    One time we tried an Imperial Stout (extra-high alcohol content, you need to use a champagne yeast for fermentation). I walked out of the bedroom one morning when I happened to be in a big hurry to get to school, we had a very improtant meeting about a grant that was being reviewed…and found that the airlock had become blocked and the top had literally blown off the carbouy. There was wort ALL OVER the kitchen. Hubby cleaned out the blowout tube, the beer turned out fine, and we called it…Stout Vesuvius.

  21. Thanks, everyone, for your wonderful book recommendations! It’s hilarious and perhaps a sign of how much this process intimidates me but I have literally a couple of row-feet of books on winemaking. Considering I have one slim volume on goats and only a few books on canning this tells you how freaked out I am by the whole process!

    Brett, as you can see, the more experienced home-vintners have obviously smacked you down on the “makes-itself” thing. Yipes! Maybe we’re moving from cooking to necromancy with the wine thing. That might be just fine.

    Lizzybits! I thank you for piping up; of course I bow to James’ fine experience in all things bottled. And of course I had to laugh to read Sam’s comment about beets. Has he repeated his beet brews? Probably, considering how much he likes them. Thank him for the recommendation, and your one-gallon experiments seem spot-on.

    Sam, thanks. Vinegar I can make, just fine, and intentionally too: wine has thusfar been too scary to try but this IS the year. And yeah, super-clean should be routine around here once we start milking the goat, and isn’t so hard a routine to hit once the canning season begins in earnest. But fruit flies. Bane of my existence: we’re really moist here and they seem to come from nowhere.

    Thanks for the link, Den! I wish you sunshine, and indeed, most things are one foot in front of the other, around here especially…I have a feeling I am biting off a lot this year and that might be okay as I seem to be happiest when I am busiest. (who needs sleep, right?) Keep looking for a gardening mentor, though. Who knows?

    Thanks, Kate. I think “marrows” are plain old zucchini and maybe someone will hop in and correct me: they call them that when they get to be baseball-bat sized (which they will as we all know). I do think it’s entirely fascinating that most anything can be turned to wine…whether it’s *good* wine is of course a debate.

    Ah, Aimee: with bees you can make mead! Add your fruit too and it’s something else! But I don’t mean to tease you. You’re like me in that sometimes it’s hard to say no to a challenge.

    Now Stef you DO have bees: any plans there, buzzbuzz, with something drinkable? I am sure you and Esperanza can work something out…

    Jules, that’d be great; I would love to meet your bro. The guy I got the carboys from is someone who’s moved from being a basement hobbyist to full production (he owns a fruit farm and so this wine stuff is “value-added crops”). Fascinating hobby to get into, I would think. Then, well, then it takes over? We’ll see!

    Paula, thanks for the link: that’s one of the books on my shelf. I have been reading Hank’s blog for a while now and I feel sometimes he has terribly (impossibly) high standards but then again his blog is his job, as in, it makes him money, so that bar MUST be high. Me, I’ve got standards, but mostly just dabble in most everything I do. I am glad to hear your hub is into homebrewing. What you mentioned is exactly what intimidates me most: the exactitude of it all. I mean, I can make consistent loaves of bread now and cheese too but goodness, I leave a lot to chance (and happy microbes). I am hoping to not lose too much of the magic when I step into homebrewing.

    DGG, don’t you think? I mean, with all this bounty…why not drink it up too?

    Sara, SORRY! Frankly just dipping one’s toe with one measly gallon of rhubarb wine surely won’t hurt, will it?

    Sylvie, sounds like you had a fine system when you were city dwellers! Again I hear you on being stretched thin in areas. I figure the winemaking thing will be a few hours of hyperactivity followed by weeks of inactivity…which fits my schedule just fine. I can always wipe out a day with bottling, no problem. If I took on something else as daily-challenging, like I don’t know more animals or bigger gardens then indeed I would be setting myself up for failure. So look at Jules’ link; maybe the hub could make one himself. Cider pretty much rocks.

    I’m telling you, Emily: with such a glut it would be something worth trying. Why not? Butternut cooking wine sounds fine…

    Milkweedy, indeed. Maybe I can get you to come up to Michigan to guide and inspire me.

    Lyssa, good for you! I do use cooking wine fairly regularly to deglaze a pan for gravy and the like, so…why not add to the arsenal already in the pantry by making my own. Glad to hear you’re among the many!

    Oh Laura, surely one gallon of dandelion wine won’t hurt, right? But I hear you: no more hobbies to keep you out of that saddle this summer. I rather envy your plan to get the chickies in the freezer by summer.

    Sandy, thanks! Yeah I am all about “slow” with some things…though I am itchy to sample it all. I already have been getting friends and family to keep their bottles for me…why not. I appreciate your seconding the one-gallon-at-a-time thing too. And the cleanliness issue. Sigh.

    Kirstie, glad to know! Goodness I never get up there but maybe I could use a roadtrip: I usually find MS’s greenhouses/gardens so inspiring. And I could always use suggestions and help.

    Wow, Meghan, what a fortuitous find with those blueberries. Considering we’re in the Fruit Belt of Michigan I can score almost any fruit grown around here for pennies, and sometimes often for free if I glean, so…having the stuff is certainly no obstacle. I had to laugh about you washing the floor AND the toddler: so true, and so nerve-wracking. Every new jam-canning session is always such a sticky arduous day that I do swear I will never do it again, until next week of course, so yeah I hear you on the bottling too. And I am glad to hear you’re getting back into it! (Life has a way of edging out some worthwhile hobbies, doesn’t it?) And my goodness, parsley wine: parsley I have, right now…got. to. stop.

    Karen, that’s so hilarious about your husband. I do swear it’s a guy thing, home-beer-making: every single guy I knew in Minnesota would start to do it once he bought a house with a basement. Then he’d stop once he got married. Then he’d start up again. But maybe you guys could give wine-making a try, now that you’re so experienced? Fodder for the show, surely, right? And I agree, hops are gorgeous. They do well here. We’re working with a local brewery to take over some adjacent brownfields to actually grow their own hops, and using local kids to help (it’s a pretty depressed area, even by Michigan standards) as part of a huge initiative to get people gardening. Walking through a hops arbor would be just gorgeous, I think. But thanks for the laugh about Stout Vesuvius, ka-POW!

  22. Not sure about wine but lots of homebrewers (me included) use plastic carboys. they’re a lot lighter when full 😉

    For sanitizing I can recommend Star San. Its a no-rinse sanitizer. Very easy to use. A bottle rinser would also be recommended. (http://bit.ly/9cMlso)

  23. Ok El. Email me your info (like name, where you are, etc)and I’ll call him and make sure he’s cool and then hook you two up. He never used to talk much, but you get him to talking wine and grapes and winemaking, and now he’ll talk your ear off, and give you tours of vineyards too!

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