Champagne Is So Over ...
What i’m bringing to your holiday potluck
Author Ann Hodgman shows us how much more enjoyable the process of making apple wine is over the actual consumption of the final product.
Photos by Douglas Foulke
Making wine at home is the kind of thing fussy old ladies do in books. “Vicar, you must try some of my famous nettle cordial.” Then, when his hostess isn’t looking, the Vicar pours the cordial into a flower pot. But homemade wine can’t be the sole province of fussy old ladies, because look at that big bucket of apple wine on my counter! Something’s gone wrong somewhere. I don’t think wine is supposed to smell like this. And if it’s in the process of fermenting, shouldn’t there be some bubbles or fizz or something? Whereas what we have here is—can liquid be dead? That’s certainly what it looks like.
But I know it will all turn out fine. These days, you don’t have to stomp on a pile of grapes and hope for the best. You can buy winemaking kits. You can buy winemaking cookbooks and wine buckets and demijohns with airlocks and wine yeast and premade tannin and wine yeast “nourisher” and a wine hydrometer for measuring the wine’s specific gravity. When there’s a lot of sugar, the hydrometer either rises or sinks—I can’t remember which—and when the sugar’s been converted to alcohol, the hydrometer does the opposite of whatever it did before.
For the past three days, my hydrometer’s been telling me the amount of sugar in the liquid is increasing, which doesn’t sound right. An hour ago, I threw in another packet of wine yeast. Let’s check it! Nope, the liquid (“must,” it’s confusingly called) is still inert. Better start checking it once a minute. And maybe I’ll add some raisins: raisins were sometimes used to make yeast in the days before we had all this science.
Why apple wine? For one thing, you can start with apple juice you get from the store; there’s no grape-smushing. Also, the rules about apple wine are pleasingly relaxed. According to my wine kit’s brochure, “Call it Hard Cider, Apple Jack, Cider Whiskey, or Apple Brandy—it’s all the same.” This wine seems more like moonshine! Oh, well. Mustn’t let it go to waste. But if I’d wanted to smush things, I could have made carrot or clover wine (you start with a gallon of red clover blossoms) or even onion. Originally I planned to make parsnip wine, said to be the most “surprisingly good” of all the wines made from questionable produce, but apple seemed more festive for the holidays. Also, I thought I’d be able to force more people to try apple wine than parsnip.
I’m looking forward to making coffee wine next. Coffee is my father‘s favorite drink and I think it’s about time he stopped drinking it. This will be the impetus.
Assuming the second packet of yeast takes hold, my apple “must” will sit around until it’s ready to be siphoned or “racked” into a second container. Though you use plastic tubing for this, my guess is that lots of the liquid will still spill into the silverware drawer. The musty old sediment from the bucket goes into the compost pile, a pleasant surprise for any possums poking around for treats. The cloudy liquid stays in the second container and miraculously clarifies. If you’re old-fashioned, you can cover the container with a plate you’ve weighed down with some dried beans or pennies or other heavy thing. When the carbon dioxide builds up to the point that it lifts the plate, a small burp of carbon dioxide will force its way out, to the joy of any kids in the room. Or you can use an airlock. Or you can cap the container so tightly that it will explode.
Then it’s just a matter of waiting for six months, which leads to a small problem: I started this wine last week, so as of this writing it won’t be ready until about Easter. Somehow I don’t think of apples as an Easter food. Still, it will have been a wonderful journey. I can’t wait to taste the finished wine.
Wait, scratch that last sentence.