Urban Homesteaders Day Of Action: After All That, I Could Really Use A Drink, How ‘Bout You?

It’s been quite a week for the urban homestead community. We needn’t rehash the details; it suffices to say that as a group, we urban homesteaders could really use a drink.

So, in true urban homestead-y fashion, let’s make one, shall we? How about a nice glass of wine, something we can raise up in a celebratory toast to our own little homesteads in cities and towns across the country. There’s probably not a vineyard wedged in between your mini barnyard and your backyard, but that’s not a problem! We’re going to make country wine, the staple hooch of resourceful and grape-free quaffers since time began.

Country wine is made from a fruit or berry other than the grape. In my area, I take advantage of a resource so ubiquitous that Maritime Northwesterners have learned to hate it as an invasive weed: the Himalayan Blackberry.

Ah, yes, wild blackberry. In my neighborhood every unmanaged open space with even slightly moist soil is a thorny bramble mess. Within a ten minute walk of my house there are six or eight good little patches to pick wild blackberries in late summer. So you might say that the path to wine begins at your door. Once you’ve got your jam made and had some lovely wild blackberry tarts you’re going to be looking for something to do with that free, natural bounty of berries. This is where blackberry wine comes in.

We made our first batch of blackberry wine last summer and started drinking it a few weeks ago. I was  surprised by how good it turned out. I was expecting something…well…cheap tasting, somehow. Something you might drink while camping and describe as “unusual.” That’s not how our country wine turned out. It’s actually fantastic, like a medium-bodied, jammy Syrah with a nice dark cherry red color. It is a pleasure to drink.

First pour of blackberry wine. Great color.

I was pretty intimidated by the prospect of making my own wine, but it was much simpler than I expected. The biggest complication is the time: you do have to wait quite awhile between wine-making and wine-drinking. For people used to the two-week turn-around of homebrew beer, the 6 month waiting period of wine seemed like quite a commitment. However, 95% of that time the wine required no maintenance from us, so it was a pretty passive 6 months and it give us time to hoard old wine bottles.

We used the Blackberry Wine Recipe from Cellar Homebrew, our local (and excellent) homebrew, winemaking, cidering and cheese-making supply store. They are in North Seattle, and if you are too, you should pay them a visit.

The recipe below is taken from the Cellar’s instructions. It is designed to make 5 gallons of wine. We halved the recipe, which gave us 2.5 gallons, or about 12 bottles of wine. All these weird things, like Campden Tablets and Pectic Enzyme are available at any good homebrew supply store. If you don’t want to mess around with these things, there are more bare-bones recipes you can try.

Fruit Wine Recipe: Blackberry

  • 20 lbs. Blackberries
  • 3 gallons water (use to dissolve sugar)
  • 9 to 12 lbs. Corn Sugar (granulated sugar works fine too)
  • 5 Campden Tablets
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
  • 2 1/2 tsp. Pectic Enzyme
  • 1/2 to 1 oz. Acid Blend
  • 1 pkg. Pasteur Red Wine Yeast

The Cellar’s instructions on how to actually make the wine are very detailed. Before you go at it, I recommend you read over them. But don’t let the technical sounding stuff scare you. What it really boils down to is this:

In addition to all the ingredients, you will need:

  • A clean, food safe 5 or 6 gallon bucket.
  • A glass carboy with an airlock.
  • A big fine mesh bag.

All these things are also available at your local homebrew store.

The basic technique:
  • Sanitize everything. Your special wine yeasts can’t go to work if other wild yeasts and microbes have beat them to the punch. There is a time and place for wild fermentation, but our first batch of country wine is not it. Give your wine yeasts a clean slate to work with by sanitizing all your buckets, carboys, utensils, etc. We use Star-San to sanitize. Wash your hands really well too.
  • Put your blackberries inside the big fine mesh bag and set that inside your 5 gallon bucket. Mash and squeeze the blackberries like crazy to squeeze as much juice as possible out of the bag and into the bucket but take some care not to free the seeds or pulp from the bag. Preserve your bloody-hands look with a picture.
Crushing blackberries for wine (two weeks before giving birth to my son). 
  •  Bring 2 gallons of water to a boil. Measure out the sugar and dissolve in the boiling water.
  •  Add sugar solution to the blackberry juice and pulp in the plastic bucket.
  • Add enough additional cool water to bring the contents up to the 5 ½ gallon mark (remember we made a half batch, so in the picture our juice comes to just above the 2 ½ gallon mark. 
  •  At this point, if you have a hydrometer you can measure the sugars in your wine and adjust with more sugar as necessary. Or you can skip that step. Check the detail direction link for specifics.
  • Add in all that weird stuff from the homebrew store: Campden Tablets, Yeast Nutrient, Pectic Enzyme and Acid Blend. Stir really well.
  •  Cover your plastic bucket loosely and set aside for 8 hours (overnight is fine too).
  • Add yeast according to yeast package directions. Some need to be “proofed” in a cup of water and some can be added directly to the juice. Stir well and cover your bucket.
On left, homebrew beer being dry-hopped. On right, the beginnings of our blackberry wine

  • For the first week, give your wine-to-be a good stir once in the morning and once at night.
  • After a week, remove the mesh bag with all the pulp in it from your plastic bucket. Squeeze it like crazy to get as much liquid as possible into the bucket. Try not to let any pulp get into the wine.
  • Transfer the wine into your sanitized glass carboy. Use a syphon or pour through a funnel to get the wine into the carboy. Dry the neck of the carboy and apply the airlock to keep out any molds or yeasts that might be floating about.
  • Forget about your wine for a month.
  • At this point, you are supposed to transfer your wine into another clean carboy. Then you are supposed to transfer it again after another 4-6 weeks and a final time after another 4-6 weeks, for a total of three transfers after the wine initially goes into the carboy. The purpose of each of these is to give you a clearer, more attractive wine. Well guess what? I had a 3 week old baby when that first transfer was supposed to happen. I have no idea whether that transfer happened or not, but I know for sure that the subsequent ones never did. The moral of this story is that this stuff is not as brittle as the instructions imply. Let the wine hang out and mellow for several months and it’ll probably be just fine.
  • When your wine is fully fermented and clear, bottle it into clean sanitized bottles (screw tops are easy if you can save them, but you can buy corks and a relatively inexpensive corker if you prefer. If you have a Homebrew Husband, as I do, you can also transfer your wine into a stainless steel corny keg.

  • Lift a glass to a homegrown wine revolution and enjoy!

There’s a lot of reasons you should try your hand at country wines: they are economical when you can pick pounds upon pounds of blackberries for free every summer, they are a great way to make your own fermented beverage without dedicating a lot of garden space to grape or cider apples and – perhaps most importantly – they’re fun!

Country wines really are the urban homesteader’s best bet to reject commercially made wines, resist beverage standardization and revolt against wine snobbery. And when you have one of those weeks, the kind that makes you feel like someone is littering all over your path to homesteading freedom, a glass of homemade country wine can be an elegant and delicious passport back to the peace and calm we strive to create.
I’ve liberally sprinkled forbidden (or near-forbidder) phrases throughout this post. Can you find them all?
Weekend Inspiration: The Joy of Potential
Heat Lovers in A Cool Clime: Tomato Dreams and Tomato Delusions

Comments

  1. Mmm, I'd love to join you in a glass of that! We've thought about getting the equipment and supplies to make wine but haven't at this point. A couple of years ago, I learned how to make my own liqueurs and it's a much easier process, although it does require buying vodka already made. Still, you just steep whatever (blackberries would be good) in the vodka for a while, strain, and add a sugar syrup. Voila!

    The best one I've made yet is probably the pomegranate and it was just an experiment to avoid waste. I'd already juiced the pomegranates for jelly, then dehydrated the seeds, and ground and sifted them for an Indian spice ("anadana"). The chunky bits left in the sieve were what I steeped in the alcohol and the result was amazing.

    Happy Urban Homesteading Day!

  2. Love your blog and now I am a faithful follower. Go Urban Homesteaders!

  3. I love it! I have such fond memories of my grandfather making wine and really want to start! Fantastic post! Keep resisting!

  4. Chile – there must be more to it than that! I tried making lemongrass infused vodka once. I don't know what the result was, but it was neither lemongrass-y nor vodka-y nor good in any way at all.

  5. @Just Nick – here is the post I did about making liqueurs for more details. It also contains links to two very useful sites with much more information as well as specific recipes.

  6. Kristen Ward says:

    You are amazing! LOVE LOVE LOVE Northwest Edible Life!!!! SO SO MUCH!!!

  7. I could still use a good glass of wine! :) Your wine looks amazing, good job.

  8. Stone Cottage Mama – thank you for reading! I really appreciate it!
    Chile – Great post, thanks, we'll check those links out!
    Urbanhomesteadmama -We'll see what happens with the EFF letter and we might all be raising a glass together yet. :) Thanks!
    Kristen Ward – NW Edible loves you too!

  9. My mother has been making country wines for decades. Don’t overlook your veggies! One of my favorites wines she made was an End of Season wine – it included blue potatoes and beets as well as rhubarb and the typical wine fruits. You could taste just a hint of earthiness but you would never guess there were so many diverse ingredients! Delish!Right now she has a batch of pear and batch of rice wine going and we just brewed our very first beer together this week! Should be a tasty holidays :)

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