Blackberry Wine

August 4, 2008 at 8:00 am (Airlock, Bees, Blackberry, Books, Bungs, Carboy, Fermentation Lock, metabisulfite, Potassium Metabisulfite, Sue Hubbell, Sulphited, Uncategorized, Wine Making, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

By Eydie Wight

SWEET!

Sammy and I had been noticing a prime crop of blackberries that were growing in the fallow meadow temptingly close to the roadside about a mile from our house. We kept wondering if anyone would pick them, and, it getting near the end of the season, decided they should be ours! I have an old wine making book written by a British gentleman who talks about getting carboys from the “chemist” for “20 pence or so”. This chemist, for a few more “pence” will also supply siphon tubing, sodium metabisulfite, bungs, and nearly all other materials. I get the idea that the chemists in Britain of that time were a bunch of wine swilling mad scientists. My kind of people! My wine “Bible” suggested several kinds of recipes for blackberry wine. The wine could be made in port style, claret style, as “light” table wine, sweet or dry. Sammy and decided on a port style. This called for four pounds of blackberries.

We loaded up a bucket, a couple of smaller containers (Chinese egg drop soup containers which we have a surplus of), a “snake” hoe (Sammy is always sure that copperheads will just naturally want to be anywhere we want to be), and some bug spray and headed out. We were both wearing shorts and t-shirts which I do not recommend. Blackberries have vicious thorns and they’re not afraid to use them. We started picking berries, Sammy in his selected section and I in mine. His method was to first beat the underbrush to death to mangle or scare away any snakes, then use the hoe to pull the canes toward him to pull off the berries. I trusted that any snakes were well out of my way by the time I had gotten snarled up in the first canes I came across, untangled myself, had three or four more canes attach themselves to my anatomy, dropped the hand full of berries I’d just gathered, cursed a bit as I wiped off the blood, ate a berry or two to see if they were good, and generally wallowed around ripping my clothes and skin to shreds. But, by the time I had picked my first quart, I found my berry Zen. I would carefully move a cane to the point where I could anchor the thorns against my clothing (or skin) to hold the cane where I wanted it and then, by this method, work my way into the patch to collect the berries.

We picked berries until our bucket was half full and the berry patch was picked over. We weren’t sure we had enough, not having any idea how much we needed to make four pounds. I remembered a couple berry patches I had seen while jogging and we checked them out, only to find they were pretty scant in the berry department. Sammy remembered seeing a patch right across the road from home so we decided to make that our last stop. As we walked over to the patch I felt my mouth drop open in awe. The patch was loaded, absolutely loaded with huge, ripe berries as big as a thumb tip. They were so ripe they were falling off into our hands. We picked more, juicier, plumper berries in 15 minutes than we had in an hour. We had a little concern with a yellow jackets nest that was apparently about five feet from where we were picking. We were a little more concerned when the dogs came down to keep us company and started snapping at a few stray yellow jackets.

Back at the house Sammy started picking over the berries (culling unripe berries, bits of leaf, a few aphids and inch worms, that sort of thing) and I started preparing my “tools of the trade”. Now these were, for the most part, new tools of the trade for me. I had only ever made dandelion wine in the “hillbilly” way, bakers yeast, citrus peels for nutrient, allowed to ferment right in the bottles so that the lees settled to the bottom and came as part of the wine. Don’t get me wrong, it was good wine. Good enough that Sammy and I chose it as our wedding toast. In fact, at one point in our post nuptial celebration, I was walking around in my wedding dress with a bottle of dandelion wine under one arm, a mason jar of moonshine (compliments of a certain Uncle), in one hand, and a bag of jello shots in the other. Just so you know, I was sharing these items.

Back to the blackberry wine. The first thing I did was scrub out the sink and fill it with a few gallons of sterilization solution. Potassium metabisulfite at about 2 oz. per gallon of water. What a stink! I think the fumes actually made my voice a little hoarse the next day. I had also boiled a big pot of water which I allowed to cool to use for rinsing. Everything that was used was sterilized in this fashion, soaked in the sink, rinsed with boiled water. Sammy had finished picking over the berries and we tumbled them into our large six gallon bucket. I mashed them with my potato masher until they were a liquid mash. (I found later that using your hands works much better and doesn’t run the risk of scratching your bucket. Scratches can increase the risk of places to harbor contaminants.) Into this mash was added an eighth teaspoon (per gallon) of the metabisulphite and a pint of sterile water. Fruit wines can naturally harbor stray “bad” bacteria which can make the wine taste off. So they can be “sulphited” to minimize this. The mash was allowed to sit for a couple of hours. The metabisulphite causes a little bleaching of the color as it sits but doesn’t harm the color of the wine. While that was sitting I mixed one third of the total sugar to be added (1 1/2 lbs. at about 2 cups of sugar to the pound) into 2 pints of water. I boiled this for one minute and let the mixture cool to about 80 degrees. (Important! the mixture to which the yeast will be added can’t be too hot or the yeasties won’t like it!) I mixed up 1 package of wine yeast in about 2 oz. warm (not hot!) water and let that sit for about 15 minutes. Once the sugar water was cooled enough I added it to the mash with 1/8 tsp. of yeast energizer and 1 tsp. of yeast nutrient, then the prepared yeast. This I stirred vigorously for five minutes. Well, part one was finished! The lid went on the pail. The hole in the pail lid can be fitted with a fermentation lock (not necessary at this point) or taped over. We didn’t have a lock for the pail (ours reserved for our mead) so Sammy found a metal tube which fit and we put a balloon over the tube. We did this rather than tape out of simple curiosity to see how much the first stage would ferment. We ceremoniously carried the bucket downstairs and placed it in the bottom of an old cedar wardrobe I have. The basement temp. stays at about 70, the wine likes 60-80 range. Fruit wines like to be kept in the dark or be in dark glass bottles or they can bleach in color like Grandma’s old sofa.

Sue Hubbell's A Book of Bees

Sammy finished out the evening by having a little of last year’s dandelion wine. I went straight to the apple jack and the warm smooth glow of accomplishment. Tomorrow, mead, stage one. I relaxed for the rest of the evening and began reading Sue Hubbell’s wonderfully written A book of Bees.

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5 Comments

  1. Peanutt said,

    This is a great blog!!! It’s already bookmarked! Kelsi J is just waiting for one more week for her wine to sit before i’ll let her drink it but I would love to go out and pick some fresh berries and really make it from scratch! I’ll be back to read more of these stories.
    Peanutt

  2. Brother John said,

    So very glad to know you like the site Peanutt! I told Kelsi I thought you just might enjoy it. Puts a big old smile on my face that you even took time to comment! My sister Eydie and brother-in-law Sammy are two very lucky people who are having the great adventure! They are living (and loving) the life I would have chosen for myself had I never ventured forth into the big city (Philadelphia). But I still get to live it a little, though vicariously, through them! Please feel free to give us suggestions to help make it a site people will really get a kick out of!

    Brother John
    Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA

  3. Riverstomp said,

    My husband and I have also launched our own blackberry wine project. We live in Western Washington, in the Cascade mountains, where blackberries are abundant. Today we finished picking the 20lbs of blackberries needed to make 5 gallons of wine. We were told by a local wine maker to freeze our berries for two weeks in order to kill any molds–perhaps because we get plenty of wet weather here and molds are as common as blackberries. We’re new to wine making, so I think we’ll just try a small batch for starters.

    Well, as a fellow veteran of the Blackberry Wars, I wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your warm and funny story about picking berries and making wine. It was well-written and engaging. I have bookmarked your site and will return to see how your wine is coming along.

  4. Brother John said,

    Riverstomp,

    That’s a very good tip about freezing the berries to kill off molds! Thank you for sharing that! And thank you for bookmarking the site. We want all our visitors to feel welcome here and comfortable. Please be sure to keep us posted on your own blackberry wine project! If you have a site please be sure to share that with us as well. Say "Hello" to your husband for us!

    Brother John (Blog Master)
    Lansdowne, Pennsylvania USA

  5. Eydie Wight said,

    Dear Riverstomp,

    Thank you for your comment! I had a friend call me the other day who is also embarking on her first batch of blackberry wine. Her husband freezes their berries as they ripen for the season so they can make a nice big batch from the berry bushes they have available. I’m bottling our blackberry wine this morning, I’ll let you know how THAT goes, first time with a corking machine! Good luck and good drinking!

    Eydie

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