Winemaking recipes are, at best, guides. In truth, I cannot know the precise chemistry of the grapes, blackberries, elderberries, apples, or peaches you might use to make your wine. But, having made wine from these bases before, I can tell you how I did it. In some cases the recipes originated elsewhere and in such cases I say so. In all cases the recipes worked and if you follow them precisely you will make decent to good wines. If you make adjustments as needed, you should be able to make very good to exceptional wines.
When I say I cannot know the precise chemistry of the base ingredients you might use, I mean this sincerely. Take strawberries, for example. Strawberry wine can be quite exquisite, but it can also be a huge disappointment. Commercial strawberries at your supermarket are picked 5 to 10 days before they ripen so they can be processed, stored, shipped, distributed, and displayed without rotting before you buy them. They typically are 5-7% natural sugars. Frozen strawberries were picked closer to or at ripeness and were frozen because they would not survive the trip to the supermarket any other way. They typically are 10-13% natural sugars. But if you go to a "U-pick-it" farm and pick fully ripe strawberries, they might be as high as 15-18% natural sugars.
If the recipe calls for "fully ripe fresh strawberries" and you buy yours at the supermarket produce department, yours will contain half the natural sugar that was intended in the recipe. Yours will also contain only a fraction of the flavor the recipe assumes will be present and the wine will suffer accordingly. And even if your strawberries are picked fresh from your own garden, their sugar, acid, pectin, and flavor components could still differ greatly from the strawberries I used because of different soils, average tempterature, rainfall, humidity, and variety of cultivar used. In other words, the chances are good to excellent that your strawberries and my strawberries will certainly be different. How then can the recipes be of any real value?
If you think of recipes as guides and you measure the variables you can, you will naturally find yourself adjusting ingredients to fit your circumstances. Bland fruit will compell you to add more fruit than the recipe calls for, but even this may not be enough if the flavor is really poor. This seems to be the case more often than not with peaches bought at the supermarket. You can usually add a pint of Peach Nectare per gallon of wine to a vigorously fermenting must and improve the flavor immensely. Frozen peach slices also possess greater flavor than most supermarket peaches. So, if the fruit lacks flavor, spike the must with more flavorful base. This may mean changing the character of the wine with, say, nectarines or kiwi fruit or fresh pineapple chunks.
If the must, when being transfered to a secondary, tastes insipid (weak, lifeless, flat), add more acid and/or tannin, as needed. Do this incrementally so as not to add too much -- 1/5 teaspoon per gallon of acid blend and 1/8 teaspoon per gallon of tannin. Add them, stir well, then wait an hour and taste again. Repeat additions if needed. If you have an acid test kit, measure the TA and adjust accordingly. See Acidity in Wines for help with acidity.
Many, many of the recipes on this website result in over-sweet or dry, high alcohol wines. There are several reasons for this. First, when the recipes are from another winemaker, I try to be true to their formulation and report the ingredients and amounts of each as published. Many winemakers, especially British winemakers, like to use 3 pounds of sugar per gallon of wine. This is way too much sugar for a 12% alcohol-by-volumn wine. It is better to reduce the sugar to 2 pounds and sweeten the wine later if it needs it. Better yet, let the must sit overnight before the yeast is pitched, then press out a cup or so of juice and measure the sugar with a hydrometer. Not sure how? See Using Your Hydrometer.
Many of the recipes call for using one or more crushed Campden tablets while others do not. Some recipes call for the use of potassium metabisulfite instead. So why is this? Indeed, all recipes should use potassium metabisulfite, but some authors list it and others don't -- even I often leave it out of my recipes because it is just something you should know you should add without being told. It kills almost all wild bacteria and fungus that ride in with the raw ingredients of wine, inhibits the early viability of wild yeast so that your cultured wine yeast can get a head start, and deters the oxidation of wines for a considerable period. But this compound is so strong that only 1/4 teaspoon is sufficient for treating 5 gallons of wine. Campden tablets contain both an inert binding material and an appropriate amount of potassium metabisulfite for treating one gallon of wine. Use crushed Campden tablets, dissolved in a little water, juice or must, for one gallon batches. Use potassium metabisulfite for 5-gallon batches and larger. If you can divide 1/4 teaspoon of the pure compound into 5 equal parts, then by all means use the potassium metabisulfite for 1-gallon batches instead of crushed Campden tablets.
Add the Campden or potassium metabisulfite (pot meta for short) when the fruit is crushed, unless you are going to use boiling water to extract the flavors, color and juices of the base. The boiling water will kill off the bacteria, fungus and wild yeast, but when you rack the wine you should add the appropriate dose of crushed Campden or pot meta. Some of the sulfur in the dose will bind with other components of the wine but some will exist as unbound sulfur in the form of a dissolved gas called sulfur dioxide, or SO2. This gas is the sanitizing and antioxidizing agent. As time progresses, the gas is slowly released into the atmoshere or breaks down and the sulfut in it binds with new components of wine created as the wine develops and ages. Thus, the dose of SO2 must be regenerated periodically. If you add the Campden or pot meta to the must at the beginning, add another dose at the 2nd, 4th, and 6th rackings and just before bottling (it must be added at the same time as potassium sorbate when stabilizing a wine, as the potassium sorbate will not effect the yeast without pot meta being present at the same time). If you add Campden or pot meta at the time of the 1st racking, add it again at the 3rd and 5th rackings and before bottling (when stabilizing the wine). This should be done whether the recipe mentions it or not.
Most of the recipes say to stabilize, sweeten to taste, wait 2-4 weeks, and then bottle the wine. This is very much a normal thing to do, so if a recipe doesn't specifically say this, do it anyway. Of course, you can NOT sweeten if you'd like. I rarely sweeten my wines, but I still add that step in the written recipe when I post it. "Stabilize" means to add potassium sorbate and potassium metbisulfite (or a crushed Campden tablet) at the same time, stir until dissolved, and then allow the wine to "rest" for 2-4 weeks to see if it referments. It shouldn't, but if it does you can wait for it to finish -- and it will finish because the two potassium salts render the yeast incapable of further reproduction. The potassium sorbate is not listed as a separate ingredient because some folks don't stabilize their wines and therefore don't need it, but if you "stabilize" a wine you'll need 1/2 teaspoon of the sorbate plus a crushed Campden tablet per gallon of wine.
Use the recipes as guides and measure and adjust any variables you can. If you do this, your wines will generally be better and you'll quickly learn the ins and out of winemaking more thoroughly than if you just followed the recipes.
However, if a recipe says to start fermentation in a primary, do it. Yeast need oxygen to reproduce rapidly, and for the first two or three days rapid reproduction should be all you want your yeast to do. If you start fermentation under an airlock, you are denying the yeast what they need and may or may not have problems. If you do this and have problems, I don't want to hear about it. If you won't follow my instructions and your wine doesn't like it, then take your problems to someone who recommends starting your fermentation under an airlock -- or whatever else you are doing differently.
Designed by Danna Carballo for the Internet Research class at Suffolk University