Nothing says German summer to me quite like domestic winemaking (Well, German-style BBQ maybe, but that’s a different chapter). July to September is the season when we make wine from whatever fruit we can get our hands on for cheap – ideally we use our own harvest or berries collected in the wild. Observing the fruit juice as it ferments in the 10-gallon glass carboys over the next few months gives me an odd sense of satisfaction. By the time it gets dark and cold outside, the wine has settled and is ready to drink. And while I’m pretty picky when it comes to “real” wine, part of the excitement over this kind of homebrew is not knowing exactly what you get in terms of sweetness, acidity and alcohol.
I got quite excited when my parents surprised me during my last visit to Germany with 25 pounds of white, red and black currants that were waiting in the freezer to be processed by my dad and me.
Making wine is pretty simple, although it can be quite a mess. Since it was very nice outside, we did all of it in the backyard, which also makes it easier to hose down all the buckets and instruments afterward and in between the steps – and you want to be quite meticulous with your cleaning to make sure you don’t bring in any dirt and germs that could spoil the wine. The first step is to mash the berries. Currants, much like gooseberries, have a lot of pectin that hinders the development of the juice. So we added anti gelling agent (from the winemaking shelf at our pharmacy) and let it stand over night.
The next day my dad and I used a press to extract the juice out of the mash. Our 25 pounds of fruit yielded about 9 liters (2.4 gallons) of juice. Unlike grapes, currants have little sugar and too much acid, which is why we added water and sugar. This would be quite an abomination if we were making “real” wine, but homemade fruit wine plays by different rules.
Finally, we filled everything, about 35 liters (9.2 gallons) into two carboys, added the yeast, yeast nutrients (also from the pharmacy). We sealed the containers with airlocks to make sure the CO2 that develops can come out and no oxygen and contaminating spores make it into the wine.
And that’s pretty much it. We put our future wine away in not too cold a room in the basement. All that remains to be done for now is wait and tend to the airlocks. In about two months, the fermentation should be completed. When the yeast has sunk to the bottom of the containers, we’ll take out the wine and let it rest for another month or two. Adding sulfites helps stabilizing it and sometimes we clarify the wine if there is too much trub. But I’ll keep you posted on the process.
Here’s the base recipe for black-white-red currant wine [in parentheses, they amounts we used in parentheses – mostly because my dad asked me to document]:
- 4 kilos/8.9 pounds of currants, yielding about 3 liters/3.2 quarts of juice [in our case: 13 kilos, yielding 9 liters/2.4 gallons]
- 2.5 kilos/5.5 pounds of sugar [7.5 kilos]
- 5.5 liters/1.5 gallons of water [16.5 liters]
- 5 yeast nutrient tablets (check the instructions of the brands available to you) [15 tablets]
- 1 yeast culture [Since we prepared two separate demijohns, we used two cultures of “Portwein” of the German brand Kitzinger. Here too, I suggest checking with the brands you have available.]
- 1 gram of Potassium metabisulfite per 10 liters/2.6 gallons of wine – to be added after fermentation to stabilize the wine
After blending the juice with water and sugar, you can measure the sugar content with a must weight scale. Must weight, i.e. sugar content is measured in Oechsle. Ours had 110 degrees Oechsle, which translates into 257 grams of sugar per liter pre-fermentation and 15,3% of alcohol once the wine is ready. That’s a good amount for a fruit wine. To produce more alcohol we could have added more sugar. However, there’s only so much sugar you can add: at around 19% alcohol the yeast will die and you’ll end up with a sweet and strong wine that will guarantee you a lot of headaches – quite literally.