Home Wine Making With Fruits
By Ed Kraus
It seems as though when we think of home wine making, we think of grapes. Walk into your local liquor store. The racks are filled with countless wines produced from Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet and other notable grapes.
But what about wines made from fruits other than grapes? Since the development of home wine making as a hobby, it has become very easy for the individual home wine maker to make wines from affordable fresh fruits of the garden variety.
And, don’t equate these wines to back-shed hooch. Today, you can make tremendous homemade fruit wines, apricot wines that rival the complexity of any $20 Chardonnay, red currant wines that go just as good with prime rib as a hearty bottle of store-bought Merlot.
Fruit wine making is no more difficult than making wines from fresh grapes. The basic process is the same, and consideration is given to the same aspects as when preparing grape juice for home winemaking.
Grape juice is naturally well-suited for wine making and needs little adjustment prior to fermentation. In many parts of the world, California included, wine making grapes supply enough sugar and are low enough in acid to produce stellar wines without doing much of anything to them except to let them ferment, but none the less they are still checked and at times slightly modified.
With fruits other than grapes, adjustments are almost always necessary during the wine making process but are very easy to accomplish:
- the amount of fruit used per gallon needs to be determined,
- the amount of available sugars needs to be tested and adjusted.
- the fruit juice’s acidity needs to be tested and adjusted.
While this may seem like a lot to concern yourself with, in fact it is very easy and requires little time to do. The trade off is it allows you to take just about any fruit you can imagine and produce a notable wine that quite often will surprise the winemaker who made it.
FRUIT HOME WINE MAKING - HOW MUCH FRUIT TO USE?
The list of home wine making fruits you can use to create these wines is endless. Strawberries, plums, watermelons, peaches, blackberries, gooseberries, boysenberries, grapefruits, pears, pineapples, persimmons are all very suitable for fruit home wine making, but this list is far from complete.
As with any wine you must start the home wine making process by evaluating the fruit. No wine can be better than the fruit used to make it. Careful attention should be given to its quality. Doing so will repay you many times over in the form of consistently superior wine.
Molds and bruises should be minimal. The fruit should also be rinsed off before it is crushed; just as if you where cooking with it. In most cases the fruits used for home wine making should be fully ripe. When fruits are used too early they have a tendency to result in wines that lack that particular fruit’s character. For example, a homemade pear wine will taste more like an apple wine unless the pears are allowed to become slightly over-ripen.
Unlike grape wines which are usually made from pure grape juice, home-made fruit wines are usually diluted with water before starting the wine making process. The main reason is that certain fruits, such as elderberries, are simply too strong in flavor. The second reason is that some fruits are too high in acid and would produce a wine that is too sharp tasting. An example of this would be gooseberry and blueberry.
On the other hand, apple wines are made with pure apple juice, no water added, and they need additional fruit acid added back to them. So as you might start to gather, there is no general rule of thumb that can be applied when it comes to determining the amount of fruit or water to use when making a homemade fruit wine.
After having said all this, the following list gives some general ideas as to the amount of wine making fruit to use to make 5 gallons of homemade fruit wine.
- Apricots . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18 lbs.
Blackberries . . . . . . . . . . 15 lbs.
Blueberries . . . . . . . . . . . 13 lbs.
Currents. . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 lbs.
Elderberries . . . . . . . . . . 10 lbs.
Gooseberries. . . . . . . . . .11 lbs.
Peaches . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 lbs.
Pears . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 lbs.
Persimmons . . . . . . . . . . 15 lbs.
Pineapple . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 lbs.
Plums . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 lbs.
Raspberries . . . . . . . . . . 15 lbs.
Strawberries . . . . . . . . . . 16 lbs.
Watermelon (Centers) . . 18 lbs.
These are just guidelines. In reality, there is no single correct amount of fruit to use in home wine making. This is because you may like your fruit wines heavy like a dessert wine; or light and crisp. For example, if a home wine making recipe calls for 13 pounds of blueberries for 5 gallons of homemade wine, you might go up to 18 or 20 pounds if you feel you would like your wine heavier like a Burgundy. Or, you might use 10 pounds if you prefer lighter bodied Blush wines. But, deviating a fruit wine making recipe much beyond this would not be sound.
Just as can be the case with grape wine making, leaving the pulp with the juice for the first week or so of fermentation will also intensify the wine’s body, character and deepen its color. The pulp is where a lot of a fruit’s character lies.
During this fermentation period the pulp is broken down and a considerable part is liquefied with the aid of Pectic Enzymes. Natural tannins and other goodies that reside in the pulp are eventually released into the juice. By utilizing the pulp in this manner, not only are you producing a homemade fruit wine with more body and character. But, you are producing a wine that is more stable and will retain its flavor and color for longer periods of time.
FRUIT WINEMAKING - TESTING AND ADJUSTING AVAILABLE SUGARS
The second factor you should give consideration to when preparing a fruit juice for home wine making is its beginning sugar level.
Fermentation is when yeast consumes the available sugars in your juice and turns that sugar into half alcohol and half CO2 gas by weight.
The amount of sugar you start off with determines the amount of alcohol you’ll end up with, minus any sugars that didn't ferment. It’s that simple.
This is where a wine making hydrometer turns into your best friend. The hydrometer helps you to determine how much sugar you have in your juice, as well as, how much alcohol that sugar can make. Furthermore, it helps you to determine how much sugar to add to your fruit juice.
The wine making hydrometer is simply a glass tube with a weight on one end that floats. You take a sugar level reading with it by observing how high or low it floats in the juice. Most wine making hydrometers have a scale on them called “Potential Alcohol”. By reading this scale at the beginning of fermentation, you will know if you need to add more sugar, depending on the alcohol level you desire.
Now we come to the question, “What type of sugar is best to use when adjusting your juice’s sugar level?”. This is somewhat of a loaded wine making question that wineries have been able to dodge for the most part. This is because they have the luxury of obtaining all the sugars their juices need naturally from the grape. So, there hasn’t been much research done on the subject. But, there have been many opinions expressed.
My opinion is, “Consider all of them!”. Different sugars add different characters. Cane sugar, corn sugar, beet sugar, brown sugar, rice sugar, fructose, even powdered malt and sugars I can’t even think of, all have a place in fruit home wine making. It depends on the person's preference and the situation in which the sugar is to be used. If your not sure what to use, stick with the cheapest -- cane sugar or corn sugar. But, by all means feel free to experiment.
Honey, is a whole ‘nother ball of wax when it comes to fruit home wine making. “Pyment” is a term used for fruit wines with a little honey added to them. Honey in its simplest form, has the advantage of adding an “herbal” finish to a homemade wine. And, when using honey that’s spun off a particular blossom, the resulting creation can be tremendous. For example, raspberry juice with Raspberry Blossom-spun honey can make an extraordinarily well rounded fruit wine.
You can also use concentrated fruit juices along with your fresh fruit juice as a source of additional sugar. This method will also increase the body of the wine and intensify the wine’s fruitiness. So, if a lighter fruit wine is desired, this would not be appropriate. Concentrated fruit juice also will increase the acid level of a juice. This may be good or bad depending on whether the juice needed the acid or not. Which takes us to our next fruit wine making topic.
FRUIT WINE MAKING - TESTING AND ADJUSTING ACIDITY
Having the proper amount of acid in your wine has two distinct benefits. Not only will it enhance the wine’s overall character and balance, but it will also significantly aid the fermentation process.
Acidity varies drastically from fruit to fruit. You’ll never pucker eating a banana, but it has acid just as raspberry or lime. . . only less of it. Couple that with the fact that the amount of fruit you use for each gallon of fruit wine varies too, and it starts to become clear that adjusting your acidity is a necessity to fruit home wine making.
There are two basic ways to check your juices acidity level. The cheapest and quickest way is to use pH testing strips (litmus papers). They are, for the most part accurate enough for the home winemaker. However, it is not the most accurate way to check acidity levels. pH strips test for all acids in the juice regardless of how tart they are to taste. So, you can get deceptive readings from time to time when it comes to pH verses imparted flavor.
The second and most accurate way to test a juice’s acidity is by doing a titration. With just a few minutes of practice you can easily master the procedure. A wine making titration kit measures acid in relation to how sharp it actually tastes on the tongue.
If a wine has too much acid, it tastes sharp/sour/bitter. If a wine doesn’t have enough acid, it tastes flat/bland/lifeless. As one of my customers put it, “it tastes Kool-Aidy.” After testing and adjusting your juice’s acidity level it should taste naturally fruity.
The three fruit acids commonly used for adjusting a juice’s acidity are: tartaric, citric and malic. You can buy them individually or buy them blended together as an Acid Blend. The later is most commonly used in fruit home wine making and is what is called for in most fruit wine making recipes. All of these wine making fruit acids come in a granulated form that is easy to dissolve.
FRUIT WINE MAKING - READY TO FERMENT
Once you have prepared your juice with the appropriate amount of fruit, and have adjusted the sugar level and the acid level as well, you now have a juice that is very similar to grape juice. In fact, the home wine making process from here on is exactly like making wine from grape juice. And, you can now call your prepared fruit juice a “Must.” This is just a fancy wine making term used by winemakers for a juice that is ready to ferment or is currently fermenting.
I will not go into much detail on the fermentation process as it is outside the scope of this article, and also because there is nothing special to fruit wine making in this area. Add a suitable wine making yeast and appropriate wine making nutrients and let the must ferment just as you would any grape wine. For a good condensed look at the winemaking process see The Seven Easy Steps of Wine making.
FRUIT WINE MAKING - FINAL ADJUSTMENTS
To me, one of the most enjoyable parts of home wine making is getting it ready to bottle. This is a time when a average homemade wine can be molded into something spectacular. Yet, I see many home winemakers, even very experienced ones, gloss over this procedure. The impression many home winemaker’s have is that once the home wine making process is complete, they have no further control over outcome. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
There is a vast array of things you can do to adjust a homemade fruit wine’s flavor for the better. While it does take time to learn what to adjust and why to adjust it, you’ll never learn by ‘not’ experimenting.
You can sweeten your fruit wine a little or a lot. You can blend it with other fruit wines. You can do a final acid adjustment by taste. You can add spices such as ginger or cinnamon. You can add oak chips for a barrel aged affect, flavor enhancers, or body enhancers. You can even fortify your wine with Vodka or Grain Alcohol. This may sound a little like cheating, but when it comes to home wine making, if you don’t consider these options you’ll only be cheating yourself.
There is one critical rule I highly recommend following when making these adjustments, that is “test in small amounts”. For example, if you have a 5 gallon batch ready to bottle, take a measured half gallon off and experiment with that.
If you don’t get the results you want. blend it back with the other 4 1/2 gallons and move on. If you like what you did, duplicate the adjustment to the other 4 1/2 gallons. Not only is using this method less likely to ruin the wine, but is also makes it less intimidating for the beginning fruit winemaker.
One of the primary things you can do to a fruit wine at the bottling stage is to sweeten it to taste. If the home wine making process went as planned the wine should be dry tasting. Typically garden type fruits do not do well extremely dry so at least a touch of sugar before bottling is recommended. You’ll find that a little bit of sugar will enhance the fruity character of the wine significantly. A wine making stabilizer such as potassium sorbate should also be used when sweetening a wine. This is to help eliminate the chance of re-fermentation in the bottles.
And, as mentioned before you can experiment with the type of sugar(s) used to do the sweetening. Just as when you where preparing your wine making juice for fermentation.
The correct amount of sugar for sweetening a wine cannot be determined by a wine making hydrometer but only by taste. “Balance” is the key word here. And only experience will help in obtaining balance in a wine.
The same holds true for other flavor adjustments. Balance should be the focus. If for example you have made a pumpkin wine and come up with the idea of adding pumpkin spice to it before bottling, adding too little pumpkin spice will only complicate the wine’s flavor to an annoying degree. It will be detected as a slight off-flavor. Adding too much pumpkin spice will turn the pumpkin wine into spice wine with an annoying amount of pumpkin in it. The pumpkin spice should compliment the pumpkin flavor not complicate it or overwhelm it. Blending fruit wines can be fun. Just like Robert Mondavi's Opus wines which is a special blend of grape wines produced annually and consistently considered one of the top wines on the market. You can make your own specially blended fruit wines. With blending, it is possible to take two or more average wines and blend them into something of remarkable taste.
I’m personally not a big banana fanna, but I always have some banana wine in bulk storage. The reason is it blends quite well with many fruit wines. It adds significant body without imparting an assertive flavor of any kind. So, you could take a homemade blackberry wine, for example, and increase its body and cut its astringency by blending a little banana wine with it.
Elderberry wine also blends well with other fruit wines. It tends to deepen the berry character, and can add a Nouveau-Beaujolais twist, so to speak, to a wine such as raspberry. That’s a couple of examples of why you should consider blending. Another reason is maybe you accidentally ended up with a blueberry wine that is to sharp or sour tasting. Don’t pour it down the drain; make another batch of blueberry wine, but only make it lower in acid this time and then later blend the two together.
The real point here is to have fun; be creative, and don’t be afraid to try what’s on your mind. The most it could cost you is a half gallon of wine. The benefits will most assuredly be experience and quite possibly a wine that will dazzle you, your friends, and even the winery down the road.
In summary, fruit home wine making can open new doors to the individual wanting to make a little wine but is unable to obtain the wine making grapes to do so. By understanding a few basic wine making principals, you can easily turn readily available garden fruit into stupendous wine that can be shared with family and friends. And have a little fun along the way.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.