How to Brew Country Wine
Brewing Country Wine is a craft, an art and a pleasure. It involves the sourcing of fruits (typically indiginous fruits harvested from hedgerows & orchards), the extraction of the fruit flavours, and following traditional processes to create wonderful, unique wines - table, social, dessert, the whole spectrum - for very very little cost at all!
Fruits particularly well suited to country wines are apples, damsons, blackberries, red and black currants, elderberries. All of these can be grown in British gardens or foraged from the hedgerows and woodlands.
Country Wine brewing requires no extra equipment compared to kit wine brewing, but the additional ingredients supplied in kits need to be bought separately (see "Other Ingredients..." below).
- A Fermentation container of at least 23 litre (5 gallon) – known as a 'bin' or 'bucket'
- At least 2 demijohns
- Bung and Airlock
- Stirrer – 18” Paddle
- Sterilising Powder
- 2m Syphon tube, or bottling tube.
- Straining Bags (large, fine) or Muslin Cloth
We also strongly recommend you start with CJ Berry's First Steps in Winemaking for detailed recipes and an introduction to the craft.
Other Ingredients Used in the Brewing Process
This section covers the miscellaneous potions and powders commonly referred to in making good country wine. There's no need to feel that use of these is in anyway detrimental, whilst some of them have very "chemical" sounding names, they don't prevent your home made wine from being organic!
Pectolase / Pectic Enzyme
In certain fruits, a helping hand is required in ensuring a clear wine without any haze. Hazes are caused by naturally ocurring pectin causing a very fine "gel" to appear in the wine.
Adding a teaspoonful of Pectic Enzyme (also known as Pectolase) will cause this pectin to break down and disperse with no other effects on the young wine. Your recipe will tell you whether or not to add any to your must.
At the start of every fermentation it always helps to give the yeast a little assistance. This is known as "activation". Yeast recieves a boost from the nitrogen-based compounds (e.g. Ammonium Sulphate) which act like a fertiliser
Again, there is nothing to fear regarding whether this will taint your wine, or affect the taste in any way, as a very small amount (typically a teaspoon per gallon) will activate the yeast. A little yeast nutrient is always a good way to combat the troublesome stuck ferment.
We recommend Tronozymol nutrient.
Citric and Other Acids
The acidity, or pH, of the wine during the fermentation is very important. Fortunately, it's easy to manage - and almost all recipes will describe whether or not to add acid - the main factor is the fruit involved.
In the main, the acid will be added in the form of powdered citric acid, or in some more fanatically organic recipes in the form of lemon juice. In large-scale or commercial brewing maintaining the exact pH is the subject of great precision. However, in home country wine brewing adding a dash of lemon juice, or a teaspoon of citric acid will do the trick nicely.
Campden Tablets / Powder
Campden Tablets have 2 roles, they are important in sterilisation, and also can be used to ensure a fermentation has ended. This is desirable when you wish to seal and store your wine away for maturation. Any residual yeast may begin fermenting away any remaining sugar, and after sealing demijohns or bottles this can cause bursts. Campden tablets prevent this from happening by killing any remaining yeast.
The Brewing Process
1. Infusion / extraction of flavour from the fruit. The first task is to extract the flavour from the fruit. Any one recipe will tell you best way to do this - it generally depends on the fruit. For example, Damsons, should be stoned and placed into a fermenting bucket, and poured over with Boiling Water. This sterilises the fruit and kills off any wild yeast. The fruit and water is stirred for a week, with added pectolase to ensure extraction of the fruit flavours and tannin from the skins. Other infusion methods involve cold soaking (apples), or even extraction by steaming the fruit.
2. Addition of Sugar. Typically, after straining off the bulk of the broken fruit, sugar is added to the fruit and water, to bring the SG (or gravity) up to the desired starting point. A typical country wine might achieve in excess of 13% a.b.v, so approx 3lb of sugar per gallon of fruit water will bring the SG to 1090 - 1100. Your recipe will give you an SG to aim for, or a set weight of sugar to add.
3. Initial fermentation might take place in the fermenting bin, however in some recipes, the initial fermentation takes place in demijohns. A bucket fermentation will take the SG down to between approx 1015-1040 before transferrign to demijohns. Once in demijohns, under bung and airlock, the yeast will get down to the serious business of converting sugars to alcohol. After a period of up to 12 weeks in demijohn the fermentation will cease and the wine will begin to clear and drop sediment.
4. Racking your wine off the sediment into fresh, sterilised, rinsed demijohns, is critical. This prevents long-term sitting on sediment from tainting your wine. After racking the wine will continue to clear, or ferment very slowly, to maturation. Once the wine is perfectly clear (this will happen naturally over time, but can be aided by fining or filtering), it can be stored away in sealed demijohns, stabilised or bottled.
5. Country Wine can be bottled or served from polypins as per kit wines, however in some recipes laying down for a year will create a wonderfully balanced and smooth brew, which gives a great sense of satisfaction as well as a wonderful drinking experience.