Monday, June 07, 2010

Uncharted territory

So I've been homebrewing beer for 14 years now, and mead (with varying degrees of success) for about 7, give or take. In all that time, I've never tried to homebrew wine. Until now.

We've got two plum trees in the back yard--one Santa Rosa, and one Methley. This year is the first they've ever produced in significant numbers, and try as we might to harvest them all, there are many plums rotting on the ground because we can't keep up with them all. The Santa Rosas are on the smallish side, and even when fully and dropping off the tree they tend to be firm and tartish. The Methleys, on the other hand, are sweet even before turning a dark, almost black purple, and are juicy like you wouldn't believe. There're too many for eating fresh, so I initially thought I'd try a batch of plum melomel/mead. Trouble is, it soon because obvious there were too many plums--a mead would hardly put a dent in them. Plans changed, and I'm in the winemaking business.

The initial recipe I settled on--a hybrid of two plum wine recipes from Making Wild Wines & Mead--called for 3 pounds of plums per gallon. I ended up with 6 pounds of pitted, crushed plums per gallon before I realized it. That's 30 pounds of plums for the 6 gallon fermenter if you're keeping track. That's a lot of plums--and there's at least 15 pounds more in the deep freeze, bagged up for future use, not to mention many times that number still out on the tree.

To get the fermentation started, I needed yeast. I had two packets of wine yeast in the refrigerator already, but I'd picked those out for specific mead recipes and with this being my first actual attempt at wine, I wanted a yeast strain that would accentuate the fruitiness of the plums. I didn't want to drive all the way in to Austin for a few packets of yeast, but San Antonio Home Brew supply keeps erratic hours at best, and the last few times I've gone by there, the yeast selection has been sparse. I Googled them to try and get a phone number to check if they'd even be open, but to my surprise, a website for a place called Home Brew Party turned up. A new homebrew supply store in SA? And on the north east side, close to me? And open on Mondays? It was too good to be true, so I drove over with some skepticism.

I have a new favorite homebrew supply store. Folks, this place was great! It was clean, incredibly well-stocked and impeccably organized. Not only did they have my first choice for yeast, they also had my second and third choices as well, so I bought them all. They had anything you could possibly want for homebrewing beer or wine, but they also carried honey and other specific materials for mead makers. Whew! I was so giddy I picked up a new hygrometer while I was there, as my previous one had gotten broken about six month back or so.

Back home, I started the yeast in a cup of water with the juice squeezed from two oranges. Then I combined the plums and water, tannin, pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient and yeast energizer to the fermentation vessel, along with a little more than 7 pounds of sugar. I actually didn't have enough sugar at first, due to a miscalculation on my part, which necessitated another trip to the store, but that's neither here nor there. I'll probably have to add a little more when I rack it to get the alcohol content up around 12 percent (which is the magic number for fruit wines, because that level kills off any bacteria or other infections that can ruin the wine as it ages).

In any event, the plums are happily fermenting now in my office. It's not an aggressive fermentation, but I've never tried this before so we'll see how fast it gets going by tomorrow. For anyone interested, in such things, here's the basics of what's in the mix at this point in time: Lavin 71B-1122 yeast, juice from 2 oranges, 30 pounds of pitted and crushed Methley and Santa Rosa plums, ~7 pounds sugar, 1.5 tsp grape tannin, 6 tsp pectic enzyme, 6 tsp. yeast nutrient, 1.5 tsp. yeast energizer and (to come after initial fermentation is complete) 6 tsp. acid blend. I don't know how this is going to turn out, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I am thinking of going back to Home Brew Party and picking up another large fermentation vessel. I've got a bunch of prickly pear fruit in the deep freeze waiting to be made into a melomel at some point, and it seems a shame to have to wait until the plums are finished before starting it...

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