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My venture into winemaking at home all started with two very prolific pear trees.

My mother had planted these trees and didn’t expect much from them. They were “Bargain Store Specials.” Mom just felt sorry for them, so she planted them in the backyard never expecting that, for 20 years, these trees would consistently return the favor.

Growing up, these two trees dominated our summers and falls. We were constantly trying to find things to do with those pears. Pear crisp, pear sauce, canned pears, pear pie… you name it, we tried it. Pears for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We even played baseball with them! My brother, the neighborhood kids, and I would pitch the rotten ones to each other and see if we could bat them over the back fence.

I developed a “love-hate” relationship with the pears.

My mother would get on the grapevine and neighbors, friends, and strangers would tromp through our backyard all expounding upon their particular pear preparations. They would take buckets. They would take bushels. We would fill the backs of pickup trucks! They never underperformed, as much as we would have liked them to. Then one year my aunt stopped by for her yearly pear pick-up. She said she was going to try making wine at home that year. She promised us a bottle, of course, and let me tell you…

It was good.

After trying the pear wine for the first time, I thought to myself, “I’m a reasonably intelligent human being. How hard could making wine at home be?” And truth be told, it wasn’t hard. Thus, I began down the path of winemaking at home from anything and everything I could find, and I have yet to stop.

Why Grapes? 

Wine is made from five ingredients. Water, acid, sugar, yeast, and plant matter. Grapes have all those things in abundance, which is why wine is easily made from them. They are filled with water. They are sweet and acidic, and of course, a plant. As for the yeast, it’s everywhere and on everything. (You just breathed in a bunch in your last breath.)

Other plants are not as well suited. Let’s take, for example, oh, I don’t know… pears.

Pears do have sugar and water, but that sugar and water are not as easily accessible as in grapes. You can easily squish a grape, but you need a press to do the job for pears. So, we add sugar and water in the process to make up for it. Pears also aren’t acidic enough, so we must add our own acid in the form of lemons. As for yeast, we don’t want to use the yeast that floats around in the breeze. (Who knows where it’s been!?) We use wine yeast (or in a pinch, bread yeast) to do the job for us. As long as you make up for what the plant is lacking, anything, within reason, can be made into wine.

Winemaking, wine making, making wine at home, homemade wine

Four Wines for Four Seasons

Once you start looking at things with the eyes of a winemaker, you’ll find there is a wine to be made in any season, from redbuds in the spring to sweet potatoes around Thanksgiving. The following recipes are guidelines for vegetable, fruit, flower, and yes, even sap wines.

All recipes make roughly one gallon of wine and I try to keep it as simple as possible for beginner at-home winemakers. One of the biggest obstacles for people starting to make their own wine is that they believe it is a complicated process that requires expensive, specialized equipment. That couldn’t be further from the truth. When possible, I will give substitutes and “workarounds” that should be easy to find and don’t break the budget.

Making Wine at Home in Spring

Flowers say spring to me. When I open a bottle of dandelion or redbud wine in the winter, it hearkens back to a bright, sunny day in a warm, spring meadow. I have to say, of all the wines I’ve made, flower wines are by far my favorite. They are also the easiest to make, so I will start with them.

For this recipe you will need:

  • 5 cups of edible flowers such as dandelion, redbud, rose petals, carnations, etc.
  • 2 lbs. of sugar
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 1 gallon of good-tasting water (if your tap water tastes good, use it. If not, use filtered or distilled water)
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • 1 handful of raisin or sultanas
  • ½ tsp of grape tannin, optional (Tannins are what make a wine “dry.” If you do not like dry wine, omit this ingredient. If you do not have grape tannin, toss in one or two black tea bags to get the desired flavor.)
  • Wine yeast
  • 1 Campden Tablet, optional (Campden tablets are a sterilizer and disinfectant made of sulfur dioxide. It kills unwanted yeast and bacteria that may lurk in the wine. Some people, including myself, can have issues with sulfates. I include it in this recipe as I like to think of it as an “insurance policy.” It’s great to have, but not entirely necessary if you make the wine right, and clean and sterilize as you go. I would recommend sterilizing anything that will come in contact with the wine using boiling water beforehand and, if possible, using glass, wood, or metal.)

Pick blossoms early in the morning on a sunny day when the blooms are open and the dew is evaporated. Remove extra stems and leaves as these can add off-flavors to the wine. Wash and clean the blossoms.

Put fresh-picked blossoms into one gallon of boiling water. Turn off the heat. Crush and stir in the Campden tablet if you intend to use one. Add the sugar and stir until fully dissolved. Leave the petals to steep in the water overnight, if possible, but at least for a few hours. The longer they steep the more flavor you will get out of them.

The next day, at room temperature, add the yeast, raisins or sultanas, lemon and orange juice, and optional tannin. Mix and cover well, and move to a warm place that will not see drastic changes in temperature so the mixture can ferment for five days. Stir twice a day with a wooden spoon.

After the five days, strain and put into an airtight fermentation jar or bucket. Install an airlock into the vessel to allow the carbon dioxide that is produced from the yeast to escape, but not allow air into the vessel. Allow to sit in a warm place until all fermentation ceases (when no more bubbles are being produced by the yeast). This can take around a month so watch carefully as you see fermentation slow.

Don’t have a fermentation chamber or airlock? Use several wine bottles with clean rubber balloons stretched over the mouths. Poke a tiny hole in the balloon with a needle to let the carbon dioxide escape. The balloon will inflate during the fermentation and deflate when fermentation ceases.

Once it is done fermenting, bottle into vessels of your choosing, leaving the sediment on the bottom of the fermentation vessel. This is dead yeast and other leftovers from the winemaking process. It won’t hurt you if you do end up drinking it, but it is better left out if you can. It is handy to have a siphon for this process, but pouring the wine through coffee filters can work in a pinch.

Leave the newly made wine to age for a few months for best results. If bottled in an airtight container it will last for several months to years. But all wine does go bad eventually and will turn to vinegar. You can slow this process by storing it in the refrigerator after opening. If it turns vinegary or off-putting, remember the old saying, “when in doubt throw it out!”

Summertime Wine

Of course, I’m going to have to do pear wine here.

This was my first foray into the world of winemaking at home and I have to say the first time didn’t turn out so well. It went to vinegar very quickly because I didn’t store it properly. But that’s okay. Again, when in doubt, pour it out! I’m glad I stuck with it, though. I’ve had a lot of fun over the years with winemaking at home and if I gave up on the first go-around, I wouldn’t be here encouraging you to take the plunge, would I?

For this recipe you will need:

  • 4 ½ lbs of not-quite-ripe pears. (This is great if you have a windy day and a lot of unripe pears just fell off the trees.)
  • 2 lbs. of sugar
  • 3 lemons, juiced
  • 1 gallon of good tasting water
  • Wine yeast
  • 2 Campden tablets, optional
  • 1 tsp pectin enzyme, optional (Pectin helps thicken jams, but in wine, it makes it cloudy and murky. The cloudiness won’t hurt you, but if looks matter to you, add this enzyme to destroy the pectin.)

Press or juice the pears if you can, but if not possible, a coarse chop with a food processor will be fine. Pour one gallon of boiling water over the pear mince and let cool. Add in the Campden tablet and pectin enzyme, if desired. Cover and leave for 24 hours.

Strain the liquid and press the pulp to extract as much juice from the pears as possible. Discard the pulp. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Add the juice of three lemons and the yeast.

Cover well and move to a warm place to ferment for five days, stirring twice a day with a wooden spoon.

After the five days, strain and put into an airtight fermentation vessel. Install an airlock (or that balloon) onto the vessel. Allow to sit in a warm place until all fermentation ceases.

At this point, bottle your wine and store it for several months before drinking for the best results.

An Easy Wine Recipe for Fall

I volunteered at a farm that grew sweet potatoes. Like a lot of sweet potatoes. They always had an abundance and were more than glad to find someone who had a use for them. So, I made wine from them. The best part about this recipe is that you only need the water that the sweet potatoes are boiled in, so the boiled and mashed remains can be turned into sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving.

For this recipe you will need:

  • 6 lbs. of sweet potatoes
  • 2 ½ lbs of sugar
  • 1 lb of raisins
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 gallon of good tasting water
  • ½ tsp. grape tannin, optional
  • Wine yeast
  • 1 Campden tablet, optional

Clean and cube the sweet potatoes and boil in one gallon of water. When the potatoes are soft, turn off the heat and mash thoroughly. Pour off the water into another pot and store the mashed sweet potatoes for some other application. Add the sugar and crushed Campden tablet to the potato water until dissolved. Once the water has cooled to blood or room temperature, add in the raisins, the juice of one lemon, wine yeast, and grape tannin, if you choose.

Cover well and move to a warm place to ferment for five days, stirring twice a day with a wooden spoon.

After the five days, strain and put into an airtight fermentation vessel. Install an airlock. Allow to sit in a warm place until all fermentation ceases.

At that point, bottle and store for several months before drinking for best results.

A Sap Wine Recipe for Winter

My uncle and I are kindred spirits. We do a lot of experimenting and tinkering together. One of our experiments was maple sugaring. He provided the trees and I provided the manpower. (Hauling five-gallon buckets through the snow in the woods is less than fun, but the fresh maple syrup sure is!)

Unfortunately, this is not a wine that works well south of the Ohio River. It just doesn’t get cold enough for sap to “run” as it does in more northern climates. That’s why maple syrup is such a big thing in New England, and of course, Canada, eh. But for my fellow Northerners, this is a wine that is reason enough to get out in the wintertime!

For this recipe you will need:

  • 1 gallon of sap (maple sap is the obvious choice, but walnut, birch, and sycamore can work as well!)
  • 2 lbs. of sugar
  • 1 handful of raisins
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • 1 tsp grape tannin, optional

Identify the tree of your choice. The tree should be at least 10-12 inches in diameter and healthy. Drill a hole and insert the tap into the tree at chest height. (Tapping supplies can be bought in the winter at most hardware stores in the north. But they can also be procured online easily and cheaply as well.) Let the sap collect into a food-safe container until you have a gallon of sap. This is completely dependent on the weather, the tree, and the time of the year. It may take a few hours to a few days to collect the necessary amount. If you need to do several batches to get the amount required, sap freezes and keeps very well. Do not tap the tree if you see buds opening on the tree. The sap changes at this point to reflect the changing needs of the tree and will taste bitter.

Once you have your sap, boil with sugar and chopped raisins for 10 minutes. Let cool to blood temperature, and add in the remaining ingredients.

Cover well and move to a warm place to ferment for five days, stirring twice a day with a wooden spoon.

After the five days, strain and put into an airtight fermentation container. Install an airlock. Allow to sit in a warm place until all fermentation ceases.

Bottle and store for several months before drinking for best results. Remember, if any wine you make turns vinegary or off-putting, “when in doubt throw it out.”

A Toast to the Pear Trees

The pear trees are long gone now. We eventually just had to say enough is enough. (Plus, they just grew too close to the house). But as I pour a glass of redbud or walnut-sap wine, I like to think that those pears trees still live on in every sip, and even though I grew to dread them every year, I can honestly say… I miss the pears.



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