Made at home

For the mere price of a dollar, how could anyone pass up a used book with such an attractive title? For a financially challenged graduate student, How to make wine it was a roadmap for a continuous flow of nectar from the gods at low cost.

How hard could it be? After all, Neolithic man made wine, without the help of a recipe from a second-hand book. With a little study and preparation, you could produce the same results as the ancient, illiterate cave dwellers.

I read the book twice. A “C” in high school chemistry reinforced the need for a careful understanding of the process. By the end of the second reading, I had convinced myself that this winemaking stuff paled in comparison to understanding Avogadro’s number, a method for measuring the number of molecules in gases. Why would this Avogadro boy care to know that anyway? He lived in Turin, Italy, one of the great wine regions of the world. It would have been better to spend his time drinking a Barolo or an Asti instead of messing with the principals of high school chemistry students. As they say, taste does not take into account.

The first part of my plan focused on evaluating the cost of the project. Although I suffered from eternal optimism, I was not naive. The book listed a variety of fruits and vegetables that could be made wine. Grapes were one of many options. That was a red flag. Better check the price of the grapes.

A trip to the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles turned out to be a sobering experience. With the book in hand, I went through the recipe for the grape wine and checked the price of the grapes. The amount I needed raised the cost above what I could save on my tight budget.

I walked through the market, flipping through the recipes and taking notes on the cost of a variety of fruits. The humble lemon, a final choice far from my hopeful expectations, had a dominant and winning quality: a price of five cents a pound.

The water, sugar and yeast came out of my kitchen cupboard. I invested in a new plastic bucket and a piece of cheesecloth. I was ready to launch.

The initial stage required squeezing the lemons, combining the juice with water and sugar, and simmering on top of the stove. When the liquid reached the optimum temperature for the yeast to grow, I added the granules, stirred, and poured the mixture into the plastic bucket, covering it with the cheesecloth.

The bubbly, frothy brew took several weeks to cool down. The smell of yeast and alcohol permeated the apartment.

The next step, secondary fermentation, required a one-gallon glass container with a narrow neck, like an empty water jug. No problem. I had one.

An image in the book showed a device called a fermentation lock. It looked like it might have been taken from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. An accompanying explanation described how the rolled plastic tube allowed carbon dioxide to escape from the container while blocking the entry of unwanted microbes that would ruin the wine. One end of the tube fits through a rubber stopper inserted into the top of the jug. The other end had a small water tank. The gas bubbles made their way through a water barrier as they exited, but the microbes were unable to enter. Witty!

I poured the yellow liquid into the jug, leaving sediment, and then put the fermentation lock on.

Now, the hardest part began: waiting six months. Although tempted to taste the wine earlier, deferred gratification prevailed over impatience.

When tasting day came, I called my brother-in-law, Bob, who lived a few blocks away. A fun-loving guy who was up for just about anything, he happily volunteered to judge the product.

I put two shot glasses on the coffee table in the living room. When it arrived, I removed the fermentation lock from the gallon jug. The strong smell of alcohol assaulted our noses. This wine can be high octane. Since the size of the container made it difficult to handle, I poured a pint into a smaller bottle before filling the glasses.


Bob already had his hand around the glass and raised it to his lips. “Wow! It tastes like lemon.”

“Do you think it is too strong?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll take another taste.” He finished the full glass.

I drank half a glass. My body felt the immediate effect of the alcohol.

“I think we should stop Bob. I’ll put the rest back in the jar and let it develop for another six months.”

“I’ll have another drink.”

“It may not be a good idea.”

He raised the empty glass.

“Okay. I’m glad you’re walking home.”

He finished his second round and left.

Fifteen minutes later, my sister called. “What did you do to my husband?”

“I only had two glasses of my new lemon wine.”

The explanation failed to calm her irritation.

I replaced the fermentation lock and let the infusion steep for another six months. The wine mellowed and assumed the character of a cordial with a vibrant lemon flavor. Within a year, the spirits were ready for an educated society.

The result of the great lemon wine experiment did not dampen my enthusiasm for home production. I found joy in using anything but grapes.

In my second effort, I used grapefruit which, when squeezed, produced a generous amount of juice. However, I found that the unusual flavor was not well received when it was offered to the guests. “You have to develop taste,” I said. “Appeal to the sophisticated palate.”

For my third batch, I used carrots. You need juice from many carrots to make a modest amount of wine. What intrigued me about the recipe was the addition of wheat mid-fermentation. The grain strengthened the wine, creating a wonderful drink.

When I made the wine for the guests, I asked them to taste it and tell me what they thought it was. They said it was sherry, a very good sherry.

With joy I said: “It’s carrot!”

“You’re kidding,” was the universal response.

“I’m not. It’s a wheat-fortified carrot.”

Oh what a feeling. He had made a wine with the same flavor as a good sherry from the fields of Jerez, Spain, wines with a tradition of three thousand years. I was at the peak of my winemaking glory, worth mentioning at the same time as Ernest and Julio Gallo.

The lesson was clear: Even a graduate student who could only afford inexpensive products, a plastic bucket, and a pitcher of water, someone who received a “C” in chemistry in high school, can rise above their position to compare themselves. with the giants of winemaking. world. Hallelujah! Life can be so wonderful.


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