What are Country Wines?
Country wines are generally defined as fermented alcoholic beverages made with ingredients other than grapes. These ingredients can be fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
I grew up in a log home in rural Connecticut where my grandparents were farmers and homesteaders. I watched them raise chickens, ducks, and dairy cows, garden, cook from scratch with homegrown foods, forage wild mushrooms, and make their own wine with whatever ingredients they had available to them. They were so resourceful, weren’t they?
I’ve been reviving some of these recipes and “old ways”. I truly believe there is such simple beauty in doing for ourselves, don’t you?
I must point out that I am using many of the recipes passed down through generations of country winemakers, but I am using more contemporary techniques and equipment in order to produce the best homemade country wine I can, and ones that likely surpass in taste the recipes of the past.
I absolutely love country wines for the range of possibilities, as nearly any edible fruit, vegetable, herb or flower can be made into wine. It might not always turn out to be what you want it to be, but that’s part of the fun!
I have learned much about making country wines in the past 10 years or so and I intend to share with you the do’s and dont’s of country wine making, including the equipment needed, basic wine making principles, and best practives in making country wines.
Equipment Needed for Making Country Wines
- Primary fermenter – this is simply a food grade bucket with lid –Ideal for preparing a ‘must’ in and for serving some fermentation purposes. Choose a size depending on the scale you wish to brew. Bear in mind you should attempt to reduce air space when putting must or wine in a fermentation vessel to reduce the chance of spoil. For small batch a 1 or two gallon bucket should be fine.
- Glass Carboys/demijohn – You’ll need two to start in order to provide extra space for transferring or ‘racking’, in order to clear and mature your wine.
- Airlocks – Allows carbon dioxide gas to escape without allowing any air or bacteria in.
- Bungs – a rubber stopper that goes in the opening of your carboy. The airlock gets fitted into this. They come in different sizes according to the diameter of the opening on your carboy.
- Syphon Hose – used for racking your wine. In other words, this hose is used when transferring your wine from one container to another. Racking helps to eliminate any cloudyness or sediment from being included in your finished product.
- Bottles – To store your wine in.
- Corks & Corker – to cork your bottles.
Other Useful Equipment
Choosing Your Ingredients
The thing about country wines is that they are made based on what is available at the time. Right now, as we are entering springtime, I will soon be making spring wines such as lilac, rhubarb, and dandelion. In the summer, I will make blackberry, strawberry, blueberry and elderberry. In the fall, apple and meads from local honey are ones I like to experiment with.
Other country wines to consider are peach, honeysuckle, and rose. Some people even make beetroot, carrot, or parsley wines.
Country wines require that there be sugar added since the ingredients in these wines don’t have the high sugar content that grapes do. Some people prefer to use honey instead of sugar, making a mead rather than ‘wine’.
Unlike grape wines that have everything naturally occuring for fermentation, non-grape wines need to have yeast added to the mash to induce the fermentation process. You can use plain bread yeast if that’s all you have, but it tends to produces a rather “heavy” tasting wine. I prefer to choose a wine yeast that has been especially created for the fermenting of wine.
Some country wines also require you to add other additives depending on the type of fruit, vegetable, herb, or flower you are using. These additives might be tannin powder (or strong black tea), acid powder, or pectic enzyme. These added ingredients can help to improve the taste or flavor of the wine or create a non-cloudy end product.
Tip: If recipes require Tannin or Citric acid, you can substitute (respectively) a mug of strong black tea or lemon juice instead.
Common Additives and Their Uses
As you get into country winemaking, you’ll see tons of recipes that call for one additive or another. While these can often be omitted and still produce a palatable bottle of wine, these ingredients are recommended to make up for whatever the main fruit ingredient is lacking.
Campden tablets — Campden tablets are a sulphur based compound made of either sodium or potassium metabisulfite. Their usage in wine making is to kill bacteria and to stabilize the wine and prevent it from oxidizing and turning brown. It also helps to preserve the fruit’s flavors.
Pectinase — Some fruits are high in pectin, and pectin can lead to hazy wine. The enzyme pectinase (sometimes called pectic enzyme) can be added to high-pectin fruit musts to break down the pectin into simple sugars. It is usually added at a rate of 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.
Yeast nutrients — Simply put, yeast nutrients help ensure the health of the yeast. There are two popular kinds: diammonium phosphate (DAP) and complete yeast nutrients. DAP is a source of nitrogen for the yeast, while complete nutrients also supply key vitamins and minerals to the yeast.
Potassium sorbate — If you prefer a sweet wine, you can accomplish this by lettng your wine initially ferment to dryness, and then add sugars in. Potassium sorbate — added at 1/2 teaspoon per gallon after the wine has been fermented and dropped mostly clear — can be added along with sugar to prevent the yeast from fermenting it.
Tannin – Tannin also known as tannic acid is a compound found occuring naturally in grapes. Country wine ingredients typically lack the appropriate amout of tannins, so it needs to be added, sometimes just in very small amounts. As mentioned earlier, adding strong black tea is a simple way to introduce tannin to fruit wines that have low levels of tannins.
What Kind of Yeast Do I Use?
Basic Process for Making Country Wine
If you did a Google search of how to make country wines, you’d likely find thousands of sites showing a thousand different techniques.
I’m going to share the basic process I learned in making these simple kitchen wines. Once you’ve been making wine a while, you’ll find that there are many advanced techniques you can incorporate into your brewing.
But, let’s start with this simple 6 step process that’s perfect for the beginner winemaker.
Preparing Your Fruit, Vegetables, Herbs, or Flowers
Prepare your fruit by peeling, coring, chopping etc.. depending on the fruit or plant you’re using. Individual recipes will typically tell you how the fruit should be prepared.
Pour your ingredients, i.e. fruit, herbs, grain, etc., into the pail, add about a gallon of boiling water, add sugar or honey (as required and in the amount specified per your recipe) and stir with a long handled spoon.
Note: This is the stage where you may add your campden tablet which will stop any vacteria or moldfrom growing in your wine. I highly recommend adding the campden tablet.
Allow the mixture, now called must, to cool for 24 hours.
Activate Your Yeast
Add your yeast to the cooled mixture. Stir it in gently with a long spoon.Cover your bucket with cheesecloth and let sit in a warm place for about ten days (or as specified in your recipe), stirring at least once daily.
This is referred to as the primary fermentation period.
Attach Your Bung and Airlock
After the required time has passed, it’s time to strain your liquid of any pulp, fruit bits, or plant material and pour into your 1 gallon carboy/demijohn.
Next, you’ll fit your bung and airlock onto the carboy to allow co2 (carbon dioxide gas) to escape, whilst keeping any air and bacteria out.
Keep your carboy with airlock in a warm environment and keep an eye on the bubbles for between 4-6 weeks. When the bubbles have seemed to stop, it means the sugars have all been consumed and the yeast has died.
This is referred to as the secondary fermentation period.
Racking Your Wine
When you’re sure that your wine has stopped fermenting (the bubbles have stopped), it’s time to rack your wine.
You’ll want to transfer your wine into a clean, sterilized aging bottle. I syphon my wine from one glass carboy into another one. When syphoning, keep your filled vessel on the counter and place your empty vessel down lower (I use a kitchen chair). Use your syphon hose to transfer the liquid from one vessel to the other. Avoid transferring any of the sediment by keeping your hose from touching the very bottom of your vessel.
Bottling Your Wine
Let it sit until it clears, and then again siphon off the wine into wine bottles. Cork the bottles, label them, and then lay them on their sides in a wine rack.