Monday, March 21, 2011

Making a German White Wine

The box came with all of the ingredients, and even served to hold the bag of must while pouring.I've spent the last few years making alcoholic beverages out of a lot of different things at home (grains, sugars, fruits etc...).  Mostly beer, but I've also dabbled in mead, sake, ginger beer, and kombucha as well.  Wine is the only major class of undistilled alcohol I'm missing (although I've added wine grapes to a couple beers).  It probably took so long because I really don't drink wine more than once a month, and then only because someone else buys it or I open a bottle to cook with.  It's not that I don't enjoy it, I just enjoy beer much more (and great beers cost the same as cheap wine)

A year ago I read From Vines to Wines a book on making wine from grapes, but for my first batch I decided to go as fool-proof as possible by using a kit. Making a kit wine is about as simple as you can get, the juice has already been separated from the grapes, and the acidity and gravity of the grape juice (must) has already been adjusted.  Similar to mead making, adjusting these variables before fermentation is important because they allow for a healthy and complete fermentation (unlike brewing where the correct mash pH and the buffering power of the malt keep the pH in a healthy range for the yeast).

White wine before the start of fermentation.The WinExpert (Selection Original Liebfraumilch) kit I used suggested dissolving potassium sulfite (campden tablets) in warm water for sanitizing equipment, but after the first stage I switched to my usual Star-San.  Sanitation seems to be less of an emphasis in wine making, probably because you end up adding stabilizing chemicals to the wine which kill Brettanomyces and other spoilage microbes.

"Brew" day is easy, the kit I bought called for diluting the concentrated must with water, stirring vigorously to dissolve oxygen, and pitching the dried wine yeast.  One of the fining agents, bentonite, is hydrated in warm water and added to the must at this point as well.  I decided to rehydrate the yeast (Premier Cuvee) in warm water to give them a healthier start even though the kit didn't call for it.  It is important to note that six gallons seems to be the standard for home wine kits, so if you go that route you'll have more must than can comfortably ferment in a 6 or 6.5 gallon carboy (I bought a 7.9 gallon bucket).

Weird looking krausen, the low protein prevents it from growing as much as it goes on some beers.Fermentation started quickly and was bubbling rapidly after fewer than 24 hours.  Unlike wort, the must contains mostly simple mono- or disaccharides that the yeast make quick work of.  Just like beer the wine yeast have different suggested fermentation temperature ranges, white wine strains tend to be cooler while reds are fermented hotter (the ambient temperature for my batch was in the low-60s).  There was a great interview with Shea Comfort on the Sunday Session where he discusses the complementary fruity flavors that wine yeast can produce (I've been thinking of brewing a Flanders Red with BM45 since I listened to it).

After fermentation calmed down, but before the attenuation was complete, I racked the wine to a keg.  This seemed like the best option because I could flush the keg with CO2 so the amount of head space wasn't important.  I took the extra wine that didn't fit in the keg and used it to make white wine vinegar.

All of the chemicals that went into making this wine did bother me a bit.In a few more weeks the wine was completely attenuated and read to stabilize.  Unlike beer, which is protected by hops, wine is almost always guarded by sulfite and/or sorbate.  My kit came with these as well as another fining, isinglass (purified collagen extracted from fish bladders, which is also used to clear some English cask ales).  This is also the point that the wine is back sweetened, this is much easier to control than attempting to arrest fermentation at the right level of sweetness.  Being a German white the kit came with a large "F-Pack" of sweetened must (that tasted a bit riasiny), after adding about half of it a sample told me that it was sweet enough for my tastes.

The instructions called for me to rack the wine again a few weeks later before bottling, but I didn't get around to it.  At this point I'm a bit late to bottling, but it has taken longer than I intended to round up the 30 delabeled wine bottles, corks, and corker required to give it the "proper" treatment.  My initial plan was to just bottle/cap in bombers, but I decided to go that extra mile.

The samples of the wine have been good so far, nice tropical fruit aromatics, clean, and crisp.  The sweetness is subtle, chilled it should be a good summertime wine.  It certainly has been an interesting process, but I feel more like I've put together a bookshelf from Ikea than actually created something of my own.  Even brewing a kit extract beer feels like you are more involved (steeping, boiling, hopping etc...).  Making great wine is more about what leads to making the must (growing conditions, harvesting, crushing) than what the wine maker does during fermentation.  One of the things I love about brewing beer is that I can buy the same ingredients as the best breweries in the world.

WinExpert Selection Original Liebfraumilch

1/16/11 Sanitized with Campden tablets, 24 g in 1/2 gallon.

Microwaved 1/2 gallon of filter water for 4 minutes, added to primary with the packet of Bentonite.

Mixed in the concentrated must. Topped off with cool filtered water to 6 gallons. Stirred vigerously for a couple minutes. OG 1.088.

Hydrated the Premier Cuvee yeast and pitched. Low to mid-60s ambient temp.  Strong fermentation by the next day.

1/28/11 Racked to a keg for secondary. A bit late, was supposed to rack at 1.010 it was down to 1.004.

2/10/11 Gravity down to .998 (just under 12% ABV), just what is supposed to be. Added sulfite and sorbate and stirred vigorously. Added about half of the "F pack" since it was extremely sweet and tasted a bit raisiny. Added the Isinglass and stirred again, no CO2 coming out of solution by the end. Topped off with CO2 and resealed to allow to settle/clear.

3/27/11 Bottled, yielded 25 corked 750s.  Easy since there was no priming or racking needed, wine looked crystal clear.  Last two bottles got a a bit of air in the line, so i stuck them in the fridge for early samples.  I was a few weeks late on bottling, but the wine seemed to be fine.

4/27/11 A month out from bottling it is clear, clean, and plenty fruity.  I wish it wasn't quite so sweet, despite the 1.004 finishing gravity (the simple sugars kill me).


  1. Great post, Mike! I appreciated the perspective of wine making versus beer making. Now that wine.woot has sucked me in (I love the forum comments about different nuances of the wines they sell), I have taken a lot more interest in wine and how it is made, even though beer will always be my first love.

  2. nice experiment but get back to brewing

  3. Mike,

    I have made two wine kits and I feel the same way. The wine comes out nice, but not like my beer and I don't feel real active in the process. Wine is about the agriculture, beer is about the process!

  4. I have made quite a few wine kits, I know what you mean about the process, it's a bit like paint by numbers.

    I have made some country style wines out of fruit I have collected like blackberrys or elderflowers which are a bit more satisfying.

    There are a lot of country wine recipes on the internet and I've made things like ginger wine which turned out pretty good, but it's more like relying on sugar as a fermentable and ginger as a flavour. If your interested though it's well worth experimenting.

  5. I've never made wine from a kit, but I think I understand where you're coming from. The wine (like the beer) becomes yours when you put lots of time and effort into it.

    Find a local wild raspberry patch and spend hours collecting berries whilst being attacked by mosquitoes. Then make wine from those berries, you'll be much more satisfied with the results ;)

  6. well I make wine and beer both never from a kit and have to say that to my opinion wine making is a lot about the process as well. Making it from a kit is really IKEA style. Don't think it's even remotely similar to the work of a real winemaker...

  7. With the country fruit wines, my instinct is to just add the fruit to a beer rather than getting the fermentables from sugar. Maybe I’ve just never had a really well done one.

    I’ve got a big mulberry tree in my backyard that produces loads of bland fruit, maybe I’ll try making something with just those (I’ll probably add some to a sour beer as well).

  8. I just had a Hop God from Nebraska B.C. this weekend, and IPA aged in French Chardonnay barrels and it was great. No I have been thinking about blending homebrew with wine but have never made wine. Thanks for the intro. What do you think about blending that with a Triple or and IPA?


  9. I think some white wine character in an IPA or tripel could be great. As long as you are using a small percentage of wine (homemade or commercial) you shouldn't have an issue with the preservatives since they will be diluted. I would start by blending beers in the glass to figue out what flavors/ratios work well together for you, I had some fun doing that with a Gueuze and a French Riesling.

  10. I'm recently brewed a beer with BM45 as the primary yeast strain. It took a 1.054 wort down to 1.022 (I mashed high - 158F) and left a clean, slightly fruity flavor. It was cloudy as hell though - certainly not much of a flocculator. A real slow starter too - to the point that I was worried it wasn't going to work at all.. The beer is currently sitting on some cranberries with some Brett. Not sure how much of the BM45 contribution will be evident in the end.

  11. Mike,

    Similar experience on this end, except that I began as a home wine-maker before discovering the joys of homebrewing. These days I limit my wine "making" to the occasional port or sherry kit. Your IKEA image is spot on: I've often made the analogy that if homebrewing is akin to baking, then home wine making is like a high school chemistry experiment. Those who regularly do the kit-wine thing tell me that their real joy comes from blending different kits in various proportions and combinations.

  12. Mike, did you degas the fermented must or are you shooting for fizzy?

  13. Re: paint-by-numbers, I've enjoyed aging with different oaks and times to change the character of the base wine. The wine kits are formulaic, though. I did it more to correct flaws than to experiment.

  14. I degased as best i could with repeated vigorous stirring.

    Bottled on Sunday, smooth using the corker.