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Herb Wines from Scratch: How To Make Wine

For cooking or drinking, these brews are worth the wait.
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December/January 1993
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Procedure

The recipes given below each will make about one gallon of wine. Terms peculiar to wine making are defined in the glossary. Now, go gather a mess of dried herbs, sterilize your equipment, and let’s make some wine.

Equipment

• Pot for boiling water
• Large crock or food-grade plastic pail (primary fermenter)
• Plastic trash bag (new)
• Jelly bag
• Large funnel
• 1- to 5-gallon glass jug (secondary fermenter)
• Fermentation lock
• Siphon
• Bottles
• Corking machine
• Bottle brushes, mixing spoons, measuring cups, and other utensils

Place the herbs in your primary fermenter, pour in three quarts of boiling water, and cover. Steep for 24 hours, then strain. Add half the sugar to one quart of water, bring to a boil, then add to the tea along with the chopped raisins. When the mixture has cooled to slightly warm, add yeast, yeast nutrients, and a commercial acid blend or citrus fruit.

The primary fermenter must be loosely covered during this stage so that carbon dioxide can escape but outside air and contaminants can’t enter. I open a plastic trash bag (a new one for each batch), pull it over the top, and tie a string loosely around it. Raisins and other fruits will form a “hat” on the top of the must; for complete fermentation, stir it in twice a day as long as the mixture is in the primary fermenter.

When fermentation slows in a couple of days, boil up half the remaining sugar in a pint of water and add it to the must after it has cooled completely. Fermentation will speed up again. After another 48 hours, boil up the last of the sugar in a pint of water, cool, and add to the must.

Primary fermentation lasts seven to ten days, depending on the ambient temperature and speed of fermentation. If left in the primary fermenter much longer than ten days, the must may become vinegary, and the resulting wine will not be good. Therefore, strain the must into your secondary fermenter through a jelly bag set into a large funnel. Plug the neck with a fermentation lock filled with sulfited water. (My grandmother used a balloon instead of a glass fermentation lock, but her results were uneven at best.) Watch your wine bubble as fermentation continues at a slower rate than before.

Secondary fermentation can last from six weeks to several months. As fermentation comes to a halt, the wine will begin to clear. At this point, aging begins, and the fermentation lock can be replaced with a solid cork or rubber stopper if you like.

Sediment that forms during fermentation and aging can be discarded by periodically racking, or siphoning, the wine into another container until the wine is finally bottled. There should be no rush to bottle; wine ages better in bulk, and wine bottled early will deposit more sediment in the bottle. Choose a container that will just hold the wine to be aged, as airspace above the liquid will promote oxidation to vinegar.

Eventually, you will want to bottle some of your wine for lengthy aging or to give away. You’ll need to purchase new corks from a wine-making supplier and soak them in sulfited water for two hours before corking. You’ll also need a corking machine to force the corks into the bottles. Used corks can be reused for wine that is to be stored for two weeks or less.

Richard Bender is a creative herb enthusiast and nurseryman in Fort Collins, Colorado, who is currently working on a book on herbal bonsai.
 
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