Volume IV, No. 4, Summer 1977
by Vickie Massey
Except for the Italian and German settlements, not too many people in the Ozarks made wine. The strong religious influence was against drinking any alcohol beverage, and those who did usually preferred something stronger. Though they would not make huge quantities, some families in the past did make wine from fruit juices like grape and blackberry, and some today preferring the rich natural taste of homemade wine, continue the tradition.
The old timers made it rather simply. In the summer they would get their buckets and fight off the chiggers and briars to pick the berries to make enough wine to fill their keg for winter evenings. They would bring the berries home, crush them, add sugar to taste, cover them, let them ferment and hope their finished product wouldn't taste like vinegar.
Today wine making, like almost everything else, has become modernized with special yeast and handy gadgets available to aid in the process and guarantee perfection.
Lyn Marble, who showed us how to make white oak baskets (Winter, 1975, p. 46) had his doubts on whether to show us "youngsters" how to make wine. However, he agreed to and the Marbles soon made us. feel right at home. Once, while showing us a sample of grain alcohol, Lyn said, "Now that's your drinking alcohol, but I don't use it for drinking. I use it for cleaning. Some people take a shot glass full of that and mix it with some other juice and they drink it. People like to get drunk and I don't know why. But you know, one day I was a single boy walking down the beach of Galveston and I saw the prettiest woman I ever saw in my whole life put together. I asked her for a date and she said, 'I don't go with a guy that drinks.' So I said, 'Well, I'll prove it to you, I can leave it alone.' She laughed and said, 'Let me see you.' You never challenge a Marble. She's working on a quilt in the other room now."
"Wine is made to be enjoyed," Lyn told us, but Mrs. Marble added a medicinal purpose. "The doctor told Lyn when we first moved down here he was subject to colds. He was low of blood and everything and the doctor said, 'If you can get some good homemade blackberry wine that's not all alcohol, that wine would build your blood up.' And so he takes a little every morning and it helps him; He made his own. That's the only way he could get any that was homemade."
Lyn added, "If you have any trouble at all with your blood, in the morning when you get up, the first thing you put in your stomach would be a six ounce glass of blackberry wine, and forget about it until the next morning. When I had surgery last year, my doctor, he's a young man, too, said he wished his blood was as good as mine. That's what a little of that wine a day can do for you!
"To make something that requires more than two things, you need a good recipe," Lyn said. "This is the one I use all the time. This recipe we're using makes a 'Lady's wine.' It's a wine like the ladies like." For those people who prefer their wine on the tart side a Burgundy yeast will leave a litter higher alcohol content of about fourteen to sixteen percent.
To make one gallon of blackberry wine, you need four pounds of very ripe blackberries, four pounds of sugar, seven pints of water, a plastic pail (metal shouldn't be used because it gives the wine a had taste), one campden tablet, a package of brewer's yeast, jugs, and either a vapor lock, cotton wool (raw cotton) or a balloon.
First crush the berries. This may be done in the pail by hand or by a blender. If the crushing is done by hand, simply use a jar or glass to mash the berries. Lyn prefers to use the blender because it uses the whole berry and makes more juice.
Boil one quart of water. While allowing the water to cool, crush the campden tablet in about three tablespoons water. Add the cooled water and the crushed tablet to the pulp. The campden tablet is used to kill the wild yeast in the berries. Wild yeast is yeast that is in the air and can cause canned and other foods to spoil. If the wild yeast is present in the wine during fermentation, it may cause the wine to turn out somewhat sour. The campden tablet won't harm the brewer's yeast because the brewer's yeast is cultured. A substitute for the campden tablet is four grains of sodium metabisulphite which may be obtained at a drugstore.
Let the pulp with the campden tablet in it stand for one or two hours. The pulp may bleach or lose some color, but this is nothing to worry about. To make a clearer wine the pulp may be strained now. However, if the seeds and skin are left a week, the pulp will yield more juice.
Next boil one third of the sugar (one and one-third pounds) in three pints of water for one minute. Let the water and sugar cool to about body temperature and add it to the pulp. If there is no thermometer handy, use a silver spoon to tell the temperature because it conducts heat and will keep fingers dry. The syrup needs to be cooled so the heat won't kill the yeast when it is added.
Add the brewer's yeast. If the yeast is dry, simply sprinkle it over the pulp and stir. Cake yeast should be dropped in the bottom of the pulp and left to dissolve by itself. The pulp may be stored in the plastic pail or any nonmetal container. Cover the pail with a cloth, store it in a dry place and let the pulp ferment for seven days.
A week later we tasted the pulp. It was awful! It tasted a lot like spoiled fruit and, for a minute, I wondered how successful we would be! Then Lyn said it was just the living and reproducing yeast causing the bad taste. At that point the alcoholic content was so small only instruments could measure it.
Yeast which creates the alcohol which makes the wide, is a plant which needs food to live and reproduce. So the sugar added to the pulp and to the juice is used as food for the yeast as well as to sweeten the drink. The yeast causes a chemical change that produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide bubbles out, but the alcohol, a waste product of the reproducing yeast, remains in the juice. The percentage of alcohol builds up until it finally kills the yeast. When the yeast is dead, the wine is ready. The alcoholic content also keeps wild yeast from infecting the wine because it kills the wild yeast also.
The pulp is now ready to be strained to get pure juice. Pour the pulp through a fine muslin, cheesecloth, or similar material to strain it like you would strain juice for jelly. Be careful to hold the top of the cloth firmly while squeezing the juice out. We had to strain ours twice because the pulp squirted out the top and mixed with the juice. Squeeze out as much juice as possible and throw the pulp away.
There may be a white sediment in the bottom of the bucket that the pulp was in This is the remains of the dead yeast. But don't worry. Some of the yeast is still alive and reproducing.
Again boil one pint of water and another third of the sugar (one and one-third pounds). Before adding to the juice, cool this syrup to about body temperature, to prevent the heat from killing the yeast. This time after adding the syrup, pour the juice in galloon jars. Plastic milk jugs will work fine. Then seal the jug by using either a vapor lock, a plug of cotton wool, or a balloon fitted over the opening.
The vapor lock is filled with water to prevent the wild yeast in the air from reaching the wine. The lock is made so the carbon dioxide bubbles that the brewer's yeast produces escape through the water which prevents air from entering. The clear vapor lock lets you see the bubbles of carbon dioxide going up through the water so you can tell when the yeast stops working and it is ready to be bottled. In less than a day, the carbon dioxide bubbles should start, and according to Lyn, by the second day they will be going "hog wild".
The cotton wool is fitted in the neck of the bottle tightly so the air can't enter, the carbon dioxide will filter through to escape. The uninflated balloon is stretched over the neck to seal out outside air. The escaping carbon dioxide inflates the balloon and can be released by taking the balloon off the jug. The only trouble with the cotton wool and the balloon is that the only way to tell when no more carbon dioxide is being produced, indicating that the wine is ready to be bottled, is by tasting. This may not sound bad, but until this point is reached, the wine doesn't taste very good.
Let the juice stand for ten days. The pipe in the vapor lock which releases the carbon dioxide may sink on cool mornings, so the juice should be left the full ten days to give the yeast time to use all the sugar before adding more.
After the ten days, there will be a sediment of dead yeast in the bottom of the jug though there will still be enough live yeast to finish the fermentation. Siphon the wine out of the jug, once again being careful not to get any sediment. Then throw the sediment away. Boil the remaining sugar (one and one-third pounds) in one pint of water. Cool to body temperature and add this to the wine for the third time. This amount makes a sweet wine, so you may wish to add less sugar this last time. Rinse out the jugs and pour the wine back into them and refit the vapor lock, cotton wool, or balloon. Let this ferment until there are no further traces of carbon dioxide, meaning the wine is ready. This will be approximately three months.
The next step is bottling. Sterilize the wine bottles and pour in the wine. Again, the wine will need to be siphoned from the jugs to keep any sediment out of the finished product. After the bottles are filled, they can be stopped with either a tightly screwed on lid or with a cork. If a cork is used, make sure it is clean. Though the wine is now ready to drink, it will mellow if it is aged. All the harshness will leave, but the alcoholic content will never rise. Our wine turned out a little tart because some of the berries we used were red-ripe, but we drank it anyway!
Wine for home use may be stored in a keg drawing the wine as needed. If bottles are used, they should be stored on their side and then set upright a couple of days before serving, so if any sediment is left, it will sink to the bottom.
To make champagne from the berries follow these directions through. Then watch closely and right before the carbon dioxide bubbles stop, bottle it and seal tightly. Champagne should be bottled when the carbon dioxide bubbles have slowed down with only a few evident. If bottled too soon, the cork will blow or the bottle may explode because the yeast is still alive and producing carbon dioxide, creating a pressure greater than the bottle can stand. Champagne bottles are made extra heavy to withstand the pressure. If the champagne isn't bottled soon enough, it won't have the sparkling effect created by the presence of carbon dioxide. It won't be champagne but a still wine. Champagne is stored bottoms up to prevent popping the cork prematurely.
Homemade wine usually seems to be sweeter and fruitier than commercial wine, because, as Lyn said, "They take the wine and add distilled water and alcohol. You take two quarts of this wine and it will make two quarts and a pint of the wine you buy."
Wine making is fairly simple, but when Lyn called and offered to teach us, not very many members of the Bittersweet staff volunteered to pick the berries and make the wine. But, when Beverly Barber and I came back with the finished product, everyone wanted to help! We told them to read Bittersweet and make their own. We hope you, too, will make your own if the thought of a sparkling red glass of sweet blackberry wine appeals to you.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.