A number of things come to mind when one thinks of wine: a romantic evening, a relaxing day, a great accessory for a bath and a lovely drink for a much needed light buzz after a long day at work. It is the ultimate 'adult drink', the grape-based drink that goes well with virtually anything! Personally, I enjoy a light fruity moscato over red wines because I like sweeter flavours so herbal wine is definitely on the other spectrum of my taste scale. There has to be a logical reason behind the very existence of this subset of wine. And I am nothing if not adventurous so I gave it a chance and did my research (of course), and to make it more fun, I wanted to look into DIY wines. It won't be the easiest process but it is certainly highly rewarding! It isn't everyday you get to serve DIY wine at your cocktail parties, no?
Getting the poor elephant out of that tiny room, herbal wine is definitely far less common than the traditional grape wines and they are simply herb-based wines. Herbal wines are either a dry-herb infusion or a fresh-herb infusion. The former infuses at room temperature and for a longer period of time, while the latter infuses in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
On the archaeological record, the earliest wine-making activities go back to as far back 6,000 years ago across the globe. It has been used as a populist medicine that stimulates the nervous and circulatory systems and offers a strong boost to digestion. All types of herbs are used to achieve these results, as well as offering other health benefits such as improving one's mood, promoting internal movement, cleansing the organs and supporting various bodily system functions. Apart from the numerous health benefits, did I mention it actually tastes fragrant, floral and light? Much like a spring/summer breeze on a nice sunny day by the ocean. You're welcome for that spark in your imaginary dreamscape.
Now, moving on, I will share the process of making DIY wine or home-brewed wine and a recipe for you to kickstart at home. Your resulting wine should taste like a cup of quality tea with a slight alcoholic taste; basically the wine version of herbal fruit tea.
The Fermentation Process
Simply put, the fermentation equation for an aspiring winemaker is as follows:
Sugary liquid + yeast (and the occasional friendly bacteria) + time = delicious fermented beverage (Christensen, 2013)
Fermentation is what turns a regular fruit like grapes into an alcoholic beverage. Yeast is required to transform the sugars in the juice/liquid into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide (a by-product). The total duration for complete fermentation can take up to 3 weeks. Deliciousness and perfection takes time and cannot be rushed!
What equipment you will need
- Large stainless steel stockpot (6-8 litres)
- A weighing scale
- Cheesecloth (or thin cloth)
- Muslin drawstring bag
- Strainers: Large and small sizes, with fine stainless steel mesh
- Long-handled metal spoon
- Sanitizing solution
- Canning jars
- 6-litre food-grade bucket (it should have a rubber-lined hole to fit the airlock)
- 3-litre glass jar with a lid that can accommodate the airlock (you might have to drill and add a rubber grommet to the lid, in this case)
- Racking cane and tip
- Siphon hose with a clamp
- Glass bottles
- Bottle caps or wine corks
What ingredients you will need
- Fruits (depends on the recipe)
- Herbs (depends on the recipe)
- Campden tablets
- Yeast nutrient
- Acid blend
Lets start brewing!
Note: every recipe follows this basic procedure:
- Prepare a sweet liquid
- Add yeast and stir the mixture frequently and well
- Allow to ferment
- Serve and enjoy!
Once you have your equipment and ingredients ready, the creative process is relatively fun and easy. When you become more confident in mixing fruits and herbs, you can wean off known recipes and experiment on your own to find your very own creation. Here is a recipe to get you started on your wine-making journey:
900g granulated sugar
1360g fresh blackberries
113g dried hibiscus
2 Campden tablets
1 packet dry wine yeast
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
A pinch of tannin
- Sanitize your bucket, lid, airlock and spoon.
- In a stockpot, boil water and add and stir sugar until it dissolves in the water, then add the dried hibiscus and remove the pot from heat. Let it cool, then pour the mixture through a sterilized strainer into a bucket.
- Place the fresh blackberries in a mesh bag in the bucket. With clean hands, mash the bag so that the blackberry juice is extracted into the mixture.
- Crush 1 Campden tablet and stir into the liquid. Place the lid and attach the airlock, and let it sit for a day.
- Prepare the yeast starter by scooping out one cup of the liquid with a sterilized measuring cup into a canning jar. Add the yeast and cover the jar with plastic wrap secured with a rubber band. Shake it well and let it stand for about three hours.
- Add yeast starter, tannin, and yeast nutrient and stir vigorously, then replace the lid and airlock. Repeat the stirring for seven days using a sterilized spoon. (you can tell the mixture is fermenting because you will start to see bubbles appear in the airlock. Fun fact: the bubbles are carbon dioxide that are produced by the respiring yeast cells!)
- In a week, sanitize a gallon jar (and its lid and airlock), cheesecloth or muslin, funnel, and spoon. Line your funnel with the cheesecloth, then slowly pour the mixture from the bucket into the jar. Close the lid tightly.
- Let the mixture sit in a cool, dark, dry area for at least 4 weeks (you can age it for up to 6 months or more if you like!). If you age it for longer than 4 weeks, you’ll want to occasionally siphon it off from lees, or the sediment that collects at the bottom of the jar. To do this, sanitize a stockpot, racking cane and tip, and hose and siphon the mead from the jar to the pot. Then repeat the funneling step above, transferring the mead back into the jar from the pot.
- When you’re ready to bottle the mead, crush a Campden tablet into the jar, stir, and let sit for at least 24 hours, then siphon the mead into sanitized bottles and cap (or cork).
- Tip: Label your bottles with the dates they were made to keep track of the age!
If made right, this home brewed wine should taste almost like an herbal fruit tea and you'll be the talk of the party no doubt! Watch out wine stores, DIY wine just might be the next big thing.