Archive for the ‘Wine Making’ Category

Saskatoon Wine – 2009 Batch 1 Update

Batch 1 of 09 Saskatoon wine was bottled this week, and I figured it would be useful for other would-be-saskatoon-wine-makers to have some thoughts in the otherwise gaping void of online information about tackling this.

First, I’m pretty sure this wine will mature nicely. For a long time, the wine had a tart cherry vibe that was awkward, nearly metallic, and generally less than impressive. I hoped that this would fade, and indeed it does. I’ve oaked this batch with medium plus toast infusion spiral, and the oak notes so far are stunningly impressive. I had no idea I would be able to oak a wine to such a quality level, and highly recommend using the spirals. Oak certainly improved the wine, and certainly brought it vastly closer to what most would expect in a red wine.

This batch is, unfortunately, due to a winemaker chemistry blunder, slightly overly acidic – and it’s a thin type of acidity. Fortunately on batch 2 I didn’t over shoot my TA adjustment by accident. Batch 1 is perhaps reminiscent of a Beaujolais: tart cherry and bright, light acidity. Makes it a good food wine, but certainly no sipper for the heavy-red-lover. It is a glass-sniffer though – the oak made the empty glass one of the most pleasant items of the whole experience.

Last thought for the day: cold soak, extended maceration, and a very slow, cooler fermentation made my second batch highly more concentrated, highly more extracted, and clearly a better quality wine overall if you value concentration. I ended up with 2 different syles of wines – which does not hurt my feelings.

Conclusion to date: I spent 2 mornings of 4 hours picking fruit. It yielded 3 to 3.5 cases of wine in addition to the few bags I used for baking, canning, etc. In hindsight, that seems like time well spent. I think after a couple years in bottle that I’ll feel that way even moreso.

2009 Red Sparkle Apple Wine Update

I’m very behind with posting. Fortunately my computer overlooks my smoking setup, so that I can type away while keeping watch on the now-smoking-bacon from this fall’s pig butchering event. Trying to avoid last time’s mistake.

I’ve been meaning to post about my apple wine, as it’s been a remarkable success. Phenomenal break through. It now seeming like a lifetime ago since harvest and crushing/pressing, the wine has since fermented to about 12% alcohol, undergone a spontaneous malolactic fermentation that took several weeks, and was aged with medium toast american oak for several weeks. The weather here tanked to -40C or colder, and my cellar dipped into 8C territory, inducing the wines to drop clear. So no fining or filtering.

What does it taste like? Honestly, it reminds me of a very well made old-world chardonnay. It has apple on the palate, but also canned pineapple, and smells of cheese, caramel, and smells shockingly like white grape wine. It has good concentration on the nose and on the palate. Shocking. I truly, truly love it. It has no resemblance to home-made plonk, which was certainly a possible outcome.

More excitement? My Red Sparkle apple tree has produced 100 kg or so of apples in the past two years – amounting to about 5 cases of wine. I made just over 2 cases this year – next year more.

Currently, I’m guessing this stuff will age respectably for few years. We’ll see. I have some safely stowed in bins for future consumption to do that research.

Who knew.

Saskatoon Wine – 2009 Batch 2

Batch 1 Update: has been hangin’ with medium plus toast american oak for a week now, and is showing enough wood to come off in the next few days for this batch. I think. Reality is that I have no guidelines to work with. The infusion spirals are fully extracted at 6 weeks. Where prior to that is a good balance for this particular batch of juneberry wine is completly up to winemaking style and taste. What I can say is that the oak has greatly aided the wine, bringing all kinds of aromatics and texture to the party – far more than I’d expected. I’m trying to allow those synergies to exist without overpowering the fruit with wood. A learning experience to say the least.


30L of must, TA 0.4, SG 1.050, and pH 3.85 was the original situation. Due to my previous success reducing the water/must ratio from 150% in traditional recipes to 37% in Batch 1, I pushed it further to 19% this time. Pre-fermentation post-tweaking chemistry: 32L, TA 0.7, SG 1.113, pH 3.66.

I also used my fruit crusher on this batch – which worked fantastically. The hope was that the crusher would allow more juice to be extracted right off the bat. Not so sure that’s the case. Seems it made a fine puree, and only a few days into fermentation did significant amounts of juice start to separate from the pulp.

Yeast: Lalvin RC212. The cap is seriously 90%+ of the depth of the must. I’m sure there are some inherent dangers with a cap that deep, but it has to be tried. I’m punching down every 2-3 hrs during the day if I can. I cold soaked each pail – one for 2 days, one for 4, with this technique. Fermentation temperatures have been lower than Batch 1 – simply due to the ambient temperatures. I’m going to have to intervene at some point to get the must temp up again into the high 20sC. Post fermentation I intend on doing an extended maceration using the same technique.

This wine should, in theory, be more concentrated [less water, cold soak, extended maceration], higher alcohol [higher SG], more complex in oak [it will see 2 toasts of oak], and generally ‘better’. Only time will tell…

Saskatoon Wine – 2009 Batch 1


As with quite a few other items lately, I’m posting about making ‘Saskatoon Wine’ because there seems to be a hole in online information about the topic. After doing some research, I realized that it’s partly because it’s very Canadiana to even call them saskatoons. Amélanche, juneberry, serviceberry, shadberry are more common names elsewhere. I’ll use the terms interchangeably, just to spice it up with a tsp of confusion.

Can a serviceable, decent wine be produced with these berries? I’m on the quest to find out.

First step. Pick lots of berries. How much fruit/yield of juice/yield of mature bottles? Unfortunately, that answer’s requiring a lot of R&D.

The water problem

The biggest issue I’ve had with serviceberry wines in the past is they taste watered down. The fruit character was solid enough – but watery. Doing research on the very few recipes kicking about, I found out why this may be: adding more water by weight than berries is the norm. WHAT?!?!? What sense does that make? If you did that to grape wine in France, I think they’d string you up in the town square. Well we found out one possible reason – crush juneberries and they yield little juice, so much so that making a slurry essentially doesn’t happen. I thought ‘okay, clearly there is a reason for the water.’ We added water until we had a nice runny mash, and ended up content at 0.55L/Kg of fruit. Traditional recipes are more in the ballpark of 2.20L/Kg of fruit. That’s a pretty severe difference. I felt baldy about the water I’d added until I did those calculations.

This being my first run at this, we used a giant potato masher to crush the previously frozen fruit. Worked pretty well. I also took it for a spin with my kitchen immersion blender – which quickly would plug up with the robust berry. But I’m going to use my fruit crusher next time in hopes of more juice yield right off the bat, so that I can reduce the water addition – working my way towards zero water/kg if I can. How else can a proper wine be made?


Adding large volumes of water to your must completely screws it up. The pH rises out of the mid 3 range that you want, into 4 territory. Titratable acidity is equally thrown off. So you have to intervene to adjust the acidity to avoid a limp, sickly wine. The sugars get dilute too – so in goes sugar to balance the water addition. And that’s with a quarter the water normally recommended. I clearly need to do some juice chemistry on un-watered-down juice, if for no other reason than to understand the juice’s innate chemistry better.


This is where my water gripes dissipate and it becomes a joy to punch down the cap of skins/berries 3-4 times a day. Post inoculation of yeast, the bubbles quickly lift the solids to form a 3” cap or so. In time, mine became about a foot thick. Reincorporating it prevents off-odors, keeps the must safe from oxidation and bugs, and helps with extraction of color and phenolics. I did as warm a fermentation as I could muster – getting the must up to 27C at the peak of fermentation. That heat is necessary for extraction of color and flavor as well – from the skins. I achieved close to my heat goal of 27-32C by sticking the bucket in a small bathroom upstairs with a light left on to generate some heat. It also happened to be warm outside – I can see having to get more creative if fermenting in the winter here. All of this proceeded as expected, and I tested S.G. daily, and temperature twice daily.


My fruit press did a fine job of this – far easier than pressing apples, as the skins have been…um…decomposed…party by the yeast’s party already. There was a lot less pomace than I expected, which is a promising sign that the berries really break down – implying potential for removal of more water.

Tasting Notes

Although yeast-laden, raw, and young, the wine actually tastes like a nice wine, and smells the part too. Bright fruit, good acidity on the palate – very optimistic of its matured, post-oak state. It’s quite bright red at this stage – rosy red, as opposed to dark or purple.


I will be oaking this batch with American oak, medium plus toast infusion spirals from the Barrel Mill. Try to get these things locally. Hah. I ordered mine direct online. One thing I’ve learned lately is that wine shops don’t know much about making wine around here. I went to two shops asking for malolactic culture and got blank stares, was asked if that was malic acid, or worst ‘is that for making beer?’. At a wine shop. Good grief. Praise online shopping.

More posts about this as things progress.

The new, AWESOMER, plunger assembly.


As requested: the new plunger assembly. Notice the fine craftsmanship of the fir plate. Yes. Sarcasm. I was in a flap of excitement the day of crushing and pressing, and we were trying all kinds of quick things to see what would work best. That’s my excuse. I essentially chopped down and trimmed corners off a piece of 2×10 fir so that it would be smaller than the bucket diameter, but maybe only by an inch or so. That’s key. It needs air, as I’ve previous mentioned a thousand times. You want to maximize the spread of pressure while ensuring good airflow. Note: bricks don’t work. They just break.

Note that none of the pieces are attached.

Crush and Press Day – Part 2



What a breeze. How satisfying. Some comments on my setup.

Overheating. The unit did not overheat and shut down. The metal casing certainly got hot, but the pace of crushing, then pressing, and all the other things involved – picking, meal breaks, moving carboys about, etc – seemed to give it enough time to cool down. I can see that doing 3-4 bushels or more in one big long crush may create a problem for others. So pacing it out is perhaps important. All I know is 3 of us were wowed by its prowess and speed. Dimmer unnecessary, the on/off switch was enough.

The hopper. Unnecessary as a hopper, as you can’t really fill the thing up or a couple apples will jam side by side in a few seconds. But it’s still necessary – as a splash guard. It avoids some mess, and likely avoids the odd apple getting away on you. Also perhaps a safety device keeping hands away from their certain doom.

Surface warning. In the current setup, it is very portable, but also likes to dance around a bit while operating. If we had done this on a kitchen countertop, for example, it would have been very rough on it. I highly suggest NOT using a surface you value under the machine. Two man job. This jumping around also made having an extra body handy, if not necessary, to hold it all down while the other person threw apples into the machine. The apples liked to get hung up in the rubber throat of the crusher, and simply tossing another apple at it knocked it down into its demise. A pruned apple stick helped the job as a poker when apples were uncooperative.

Overall, crushing was the easiest bit for us, and opportunities for mounting the machine into something to hold/stabilize it are there.

The fatal flaw. The major problem I referred to in my press design was airflow. The hole at the bottom of the pail wants to drain juice. But if you press down hard on the plunger, it prevents all air from entering the system and the drain simply stops flowing for lack of air to replace it. The juice backs up the sides of the plunger and start entering it. You can push all you want on soggy cheeses and it simply does not work. I got bloody sick of pulling out the plunger, breaking the suction seal with a knife, then pulling like hell with needle nosed pliers. Do not do this. It sucks.

The problem was that it took a while to figure this issue out, and worse, that it simply wasn’t that simple. Having abandoned the plunger and noted minor possible improvement, we finally landed on the real issue: the cheeses themselves. We were making them too large and wide, and they’d do the same thing: squish out to the perimeter of the bucket, and with some pressure, prevent all air from entering the system. It needs air to flow. That simple.

The solution. The plunger assembly needed to change. The cut bucket bottom previously a plunger was now simply our cheese mold. We found that you need to distribute weight – so the base of the plunger base contacting the cheeses needs to be as wide as possible while letting air in. We cut a 2×10 chunk to a crude shape to do the job. Same lumber and blocks as the ‘beam’ worked fine. But the second part was smaller cheeses. We made them maybe half sized, twisted the bags tight to expel as much juice as possible by hand, and tied the cheese into a mass about half or less the diameter of the bucket – so that when it squished out, it wouldn’t fill all sides and create an air seal.

Other findings:
False bottom. We built a ‘false bottom’ to the bucket to allow the juice a place to go, and to prevent the cheeses from contacting and plugging the drain hole. It was our first incorrect idea for solving our flow problem – we thought it was simply getting plugged. It was entirely made with the destruction of a bucket lid. Necessary? Not sure, but it’s easy to slap together and may help the process.

Tipping. We found that the hole placement required there be quite a few ounces of fluid in the bucket prior to it reaching the drain [even though I drilled it as low as I could]. Tipping the frame towards the hole and bucket seemed to work well, especially at the end of the cheese. It allowed the juice to escape, which would otherwise be absorbed back into the cheese. It was easy to give the jack a turn with a free hand, and have the last of the juices run free.

3 Cheese. A full stockpot of pomace made us 3 small cheeses, which could all be pressed at once – providing that once squished flat, they were not touching the sides of the bucket, of course. I found the cheeses, once twisted & squeezed, then tied [kitchen string], were best squished a little flat for stability, then placed in the center of the bucket. Stacked all in the center, they seemed to avoid the sides [airflow], and avoid the plunger from going sideways as you pressed simply because of a balanced load, so to speak. Once you’ve made a few cheeses, this gets really easy. The fabric for the cheeses was simply a find at a local fabric store – the best I could find that had fine holes and a bit of stretch. I bought 2 meters, and it made enough fabric for 3 cheeses [correction, I then found fabric for likely 2-3 more cheeses while cleaning down, so 1m would likely suffice].

Once we had our shit together, it took us 2 hours to pick, crush, and press 100 lbs of apples from my tree. But the day in its entirety was 8-4, so it took a lot of pissing around to work out the kinks. Happily, I can say that we succeeded. The carboys are downstairs awaiting.

Crush and Press Day – Part 1

Oh, how I am proud of the item in the photo. What we ended up calling a veggie burger. Or cheese. It is a very dry puck of apple pomace. The reason it’s an accomplishment is that it took a bloody long time to figure out that a) my press design had a major flaw and b) how to fix it. Once we had it sorted out, it took us 2 hrs to pick, crush, and press 100lbs of apples from my tree.

More on the major flaw to come. I TOLD folks to wait until we tried the gear out. :) The good news is that it’s a logical oops that is readily solvable. We also learned a lot of tricks along the way by doing that I will share shortly.

My brother-in-law-chemist just left – we completed the pH, sg, and TA testing. Tomorrow some tweaking occurs, and the yeast gets to come out of the fridge and charge to a blissful death for our benefit.

Next post: details

Apple Harvest Day 2009

Apple Harvest day. A big deal in my little world as it means my first adventure in scratch wine/cidermaking begins now. We picked roughly 75kg of apples today of 4 varieties. Tomorrow we’ll pick from our tree hoping for an additional 40kg. For all those hitting my blog looking for crushing/pressing help, tomorrow will be a big day to find out whether things work as they should or not. Fingers crossed.

Tomorrow will also be the big chemistry day. With 6 musts [doing a batch of saskatoon wine as well] being created, there will be a lot of tweaking going on. I’ve designed a spreadsheet that takes 4 inputs: pH, titratable acidity, volume, and specific gravity – and it outputs the necessary amounts of SO2, tartaric acid, sugar, yeast nutrient, tannin, and pectic enzyme for the must. After much research and cross-referencing sources, I’m really stoked to take it for a spin. My brother-in-law who happens to be a chemist will be here bright and early to share his brain.

Newbie-note-to-self: all the apples are in different stages if ripeness. Some underripe, some overripe, and some on the money. My ratio of optimal ripeness is lower than I expected. Partly a consequence of not having the trees on your property and being able to monitor them properly for maturity – which I have been doing on the ones in my yard. Plus fruit varies widely based on position on the tree relative to the sun. Of course. Lastly – the crab apples have vastly more aromatics going on than the others.

How to Build a Serious Apple/Grape/Fruit Crusher on the Cheap

As with the last post, I felt compelled to share the following so that others may have an easier time sorting this out than I. I was an hour or two away from purchasing an old fashioned apple crusher. $350. Once again Herrick bailed me out, putting me on to a variety of different ways to use a standard-issue garbage disposal as a fruit…well…destroyer. It doesn’t really crush the fruit so much as purée it – which is a highly desirable result when you’re trying to press fruit to make wine or cider of any kind.

Being the cheap ass that I am, my disposal is a 3/4 HP erator that I picked up on Kijiji for about half of the cost of new. But it was new-in-box, which is important to me as I’m not keen on putting my fruit through someone elses’ former garbage. The modifications required:

A hopper. Something to direct the fruit of choice into the machine. The coolest idea I’ve seen was a guy using a stainless steel bowl. I intend on going down that road, but needed a solution that didn’t involve the shitty task of cutting a nice hole in stainless. Plastic. Tried a cheap plastic bowl from the dollar store. It cracked. I needed softer plastic. Result: Costco potato salad container. Nice. It fit beautifully, cut easily, was free, and will do the job nicely until I can develop something a little more…sophisticated.
Electrical & Cooling solution. This unit had electrical coming out the bottom, which wasn’t very handy. Feeling slightly awesome, I proceeded to disfigure the machine with a drill to punch a hole that would be more convenient. Used spare home electrical wiring into the box. Bought the cheapest dimmer I could find. Cut up a scrap power bar thinger to obtain a handy plug and cord. Wired it all together. Why the dimmer? Apparently these things can overheat and auto-shut-off when used in an unconventional manner like this. My stepdad can be credited with this modification idea. I’ll blame him if it doesn’t work. :) [ps. this failed. the dimmer fried first time I fired it up. apparently need something with more load capacity to do the job. I've got a switch currently, and will be looking for the part to do the job]

The tailpipe. Once pulverized, the fruit has to go somewhere. Somewhere I want it to go, preferably. The unit came with the elbow at the top which is supposed to be hooked up to a trap and then into sewer. I bought a coupler to go 1.25″-1.5″ ABS, used a scrap coupling and pipe from our reno, and cut the pipe so that when the unit sits on a table, the pulp will exit at the top of a 5 gal pail.

I anticipate modifying this thing further down the road as it gets some use and parts make themselves available. So consider this ‘Part 1′. Hope you make some use of the idea, and please weigh in in the comments if you have any ideas to share to improve the setup.

NOTE: See notes on using this setup here, which includes design commentary and revision

How to Build a Cider or Wine Press

I almost did it. I almost spent $350-500 on a juice press. It would last me a lifetime, and be an infrastructure-esque purchase worth the splurge. I needed to get geared up for making wine now that my grapes are here. One of my newest obsessions is making apple wine, cider vinegars, and other unmbentionable biproducts. More on that soon enough. Last winter was spent researching what kinds of presses were out there, how much they cost, who supplied them, shipping costs, etc. I thought I’d done my homework.

Then, somehow, I tripped on this man. He singlehandedly saved me about $700 as I was going to buy an apple crusher too. Herrick presents the idea of there actually being a better way to do the jobs associated with cider [and wine] making, for a fraction of the cost. He had me at fraction of the cost. My inner cheapass had me glued to my seat. I read. And read. And read. And after all my falling asleep with design ideas in my head, I came up with my own fruit press concept.

First. The economics. Average anvil-screw-type-press costs a few hundred. My build costs: ~$32. And I’m guessing others could do it with yard-scrap. I used food-grade plastic pails – primary fementers sold at a wine shop. Most of my cost is in those two buckts. 1 whole 2X10. – went bigger to provide a broader base for the bucket. 1 stainless valve. 1 car jack from my Corolla. Some scrap 2×4 and incidental screws, nuts, washers, etc. $32. Bargain. I’m posting this more than anything in hopes that some uninformed sucker like me can trip on this post and save themselves a lot of cash and a lot of reading to end up with a functional juice press.

This valve had a threaded ass end and a 1/2″ pex front. I have spare pex from the house reno, so I can run a line to juice-receiving bucket/pot wherever is convenient. The threaded bit allowed me to pick up two rubber washers in the odds and ends bins for a few cents to create a water tight, high quality tap. It works. I leak tested it. The crappy plastic shitter version from the wine shops costs $10. This was half, and is a whole lot better quality. Note that a lot of valves turn towards the pail side, making them not feasible – otherwise I would have gone with a 90 pointing down. This was the only one that had the valve turn away from the bucket, therefore not getting in the way.
This is my ‘plunger assembly’. A food grade plastic pail, cut to about 8 inches [eyeballed clearances on press to determine ease of use], and some scrap 2×4 screwed together with construction screws to create a 4×4 plunger post. The jack connects to the top, the bottom connects to the pail bottom – which is of course perfectly sized to fit into the bucket containing the fruit. The extra blocks are to get deeper down into the bucket if need be simply by lifting the jack back up, and inserting it between the plunger post and the jack. I’ll likely stain them with the spare stain that I used for the body of the press. I debated fixing them in place to the jack so that it looked better, but the fact is that it will function better if they’re mobile. PLEASE SEE MORE RECENT POSTS UNDER THE CIDER AND WINEMAKING TAGS, AS THIS PLUNGER FAILED AND I’VE POSTED A NEW DESIGN THAT WORKS.

A view of the rear of the frame. I cut some 1×6 scrap into corner braces to prevent any side sway when under pressure [THIS TYPE OF BRACING IS IMPORTANT - OTHERS HAVE TWISTED APART THEIR FRAME BY UNDERBUILDING]. You can also see some framing brackets in the corners I figured may provide some additional stregnth. That jack is powerful, and I don’t want the frame ripping apart. The jack’s attached with a couple bolts [took me three tries to get the right length], washers and nuts on the top of the frame.

The bottom line is that a car jack and some figurin’-shit-out is a whole pile of genius in this situation. Comment if you have questions about the build of have ideas for improved design.


**It’s key to note that this method requires cheese-forming-style pressing, and if you don’t know what that is, I’ll leave that homework to you.