The reason your wine browns is because it is oxidizing. All wines oxidize, but well-made, well-protected, and well-balanced wines resist oxidation for many, many years, and exceptional wines can last for 50-100 years without doing so. To last that long the wine has to have three characteristics:
~ Well-balanced for age. This means the wine has more than normal tannin and acid and, indeed, would taste "rough" and harsh before being aged sufficiently. The average red wine, made well and balanced for taste, will require 1-4 years of aging to mature without oxidizing, all other things being equal. Good wines might go out to 10 years. Exceptional wines reach out for decades.
~ Exceptionally well-made. This means the wine is made from the very best grapes of a very good year, picked at the hour of perfect ripeness, and are crushed, pressed, fermented, bottled, and aged with perfection. The average wine may be well-made, but if it lacks the perfect fruit required for long age it will simply mature faster and then head downhill.
~ Well-protected against oxidation. To resist oxidation, a wine must be sulfited when the grapes are being crushed, its sulfite level maintained according to the demands of its pH during fermentation and bulk aging, its exposure to air minimized or eliminated during fermentation, racking and aging, and it must be bottled using only the finest (not the cheapest) corks.
The biggest cause of early oxidation in homemade wines is the failure to use sulfites at all or to use them properly when they are used. The second biggest cause of early oxidation is improper handling of the wine during fermentation, rackings, aging, bottling, and storage.
Sulfites are derived from adding potassium metabisulfite (or one finely crushed and then dissolved Campden tablet per gallon of wine) to the must and wine. Some of the potassium metabisulfite binds with various components of the wine but about half is "free" or unbound sulfur in the form of sulfur dioxide gas. This gas is initially trapped in the liquid but slowly escapes into the atmosphere. It therefore must be renewed from time to time.
It serves many purposes in winemaking, from killing spoilage bacteria that come into the wine on the skins of the grapes to destroying the enzymes that cause fruit pulp to turn brown (cut an apple and watch it turn brown). But it also scavenges oxygen, the enemy of wine, and keeps it out of the wine by filling all the spaces between the wine's molecules, the places oxygen usually saturates. By keeping the sulfur dioxide level "just right," one protects the wine and keeps it from browning.
When racking and otherwise handling wine, the less air contact allowed the longer the wine will last without oxidizing. Since sulfur dioxide is a gas, splashing the wine drives it out of the wine and oxygen in the air immediately rushes in and takes its place, dooming the wine to early oxidation. In commercial wineries, the best wines are not racked until the receiving container (tank or carboy) is "sparged" with carbon dioxide -- filled with carbon dioxide from a tank, which "pushes" oxygen-containing air out of the container so no contact is made between oxygen and the incoming wine. At the same time, potassium metabisulfite is added to the receiving container to make up for any deficiency in sulfur dioxide measured in the wine. This procedure eliminates contact with oxygen and raises the sulfur dioxide level to where it should be even while some of the sulfur dioxide it lost due to agitation of the wine.
Too many people simply don't understand what "sulfites" are and therefore don't use them in their wines. In eliminating a necessary chemical that has been used in winemaking for well over 300 years and is responsible for making "great" wine possible, they doom their own wine to early death. I'm not saying you do this, but some misguided people do.
Here is how I would go about blending Tokay and Zinfandel.
Take 4 wine glasses and label them as follows:
In the first glass put 1 tablespoon of Tokay and 4 tablespoons of Zinfandel. In the second glass put 2 tablespoons of Tokay and 3 tablespoons of Zinfandel. In the third glass put 3 tablespoons of Tokay and 2 tablespoons of Zinfandel. In the fourth glass put 4 tablespoons of Tokay and 1 tablespoon of Zinfandel. Stir the contents of each glass and taste. Select one or two glasses that taste best to you.
Suppose you selected T40-Z-60 and T60-Z40. Save these two glasses (remix the wine in them if you need to), clean the two glasses not selected, and add a fifth glass. The five glasses are labeled as follows:
In the first glass put 2 tablespoons of Tokay and 3 tablespoons of Zinfandel. In the second glass put 2-1/4 tablespoons of Tokay and 2-3/4 tablespoons of Zinfandel. In the third glass put 2-1/2 tablespoons of Tokay and 2-1/2 tablespoons of Zinfandel. In the fourth glass put 2-3/4 tablespoons of Tokay and 2-1/4 tablespoons of Zinfandel. Stir the contents of each glass and taste. Select the one that tastes best to you. The label is the percentage of Tokay and Zinfandel in the glass. Mix the two wines in that percentage.
You could also measure the quantities in milliliters for greater accuracy and range of variance. This would depend upon whether you have a small ml-graduated beaker, flask or measuring column.
The best topping up material in my opinion is a similar finished wine. If you are making cherry wine, another cherry wine is best. If it is your first batch of a type of wine, use a reserved amount of the original must. Make up a bit more must than you need and put it in a bottle with an airlock. Wine bottles (both 750 ml and 1.5 liters) use a #2 or #3 bung. Ferment it right along with your main batch, rack it, and after racking use it to top up. If some is left, pour it into a smaller bottle and reattach the bung and airlock. I keep the following sizes of wine bottles just for this purpose: 1.5 liters, 1 liter, 750-ml, 375-ml, 187-ml, and 125-ml.
Some recipes call for a "sweet reserve" for sweetening a wine after stabilizing but prior to bottling. This is simply the juice of the original fruit or berry, sweetened so it had a specific gravity of 1.050. Adding this intensifies the flavor and sweetens the wine, but if the wine is not stabilized it will cause refermentation in the bottle. Sweeten the excess juice and store it in a clear wine bottle in the refrigerator. After a few days, most of the suspended pulp will settle to the bottom. Carefully remove it and siphon the clear juice off into a plastic soda bottle. Do not fill to the top. Set the soda bottle upright in your freezer and let it freeze solid (if you use a glass bottle, it could break when it freezes). When frozen, screw the cap on it and store it until needed. Thaw it out the day before and use it to sweeten the wine.
I use water whenever I don't have a similar wine or a reserve. It will dilute the wine, so I will typically start a wine at 1.095 to 1.100 gravity so the diluted wine will still have plenty of alcohol (12% is more than enough, and 11% is best for most fruit wines). I do not use simple syrup (sugar water), as this prolongs the fermentation (the yeast will welcome the sugar-food and take off again).
I get more inquiries about restarting stuck fermentations than any other subject. why fermentations stick would take a book to explain fully, but they sure do. Here is a 5-step procedure that will work 99 times out of 100 if your mead (or wine) is balanced.
1. Add 1/2 cup of must to a quart-sized mason jar and then add to it 1 cup of warm water. Temperature of this mixture should not exceed 100 degrees F. Sprinkle a new packet of yeast (any yeast recommended for restarting a stuck fermentation) on top of the mixture but do not stir it in. Let the yeast float on top of the liquid. Some or most of it will sink, but that is okay. It should activate, but allow up to three days. Meanwhile, cover the jar with a paper towel held in place with a rubber band.
2. If it DOES NOT activate, your yeast culture is dead (too old or got too hot or cold at some point in the past). If it DOES activate (the clumps of culture will swell, expand, and eventually form a layer on top of the starter solution; there may be foaming or small bubbles), stir the starter solution to get the yeast distributed throughout the liquid. Then add 1/4 cup of must to it. Check on it every half hour until you see clear evidence of activation (it really shouldn't take very long). Add another 1/4 cup of must and again check on it every half hour until it is actively fermenting. Continue adding 1/4 cup of must to the starter until you have nearly a quart of activately fermenting starter.
3. Take another quart-sized mason jar and put 2 cups of must in it. Add 1 cup of your starter to it. It should show active fermentation within a half hour. If it DOES NOT, then add another cup of starter to it. If it DOES, add 1/2 cup of must. When this is showing a vigorous fermentation, add another 1/2 cup of must. When this is actively fermenting, transfer your stuck fermentation back to a primary fermentation vessel. This is very important, because yeast need oxygen to reproduce and build up a colony adequate to support vigorous fermentation.
4. Add the second starter to your stuck fermentation. Pour it gently over the surface. DO NOT STIR. Cover the primary with a clean cloth. You should still have 1/2 or 3/4 of your original starter solution in a 1 quart mason jar. Save this for now.
5. It may take several hours for the stuck batch to get going. Allow 24 hours. If it DOES NOT start by then, repeat steps 3 and 4. If it DOES begin actively fermenting, add the remaining starter to it and stir deeply. Keep it covered with a cloth and check the specific gravity with your hydrometer every couple of days. When the gravity drops to 1.010, transfer back to a secondary and attach an airlock.
I suspect you simply started with juice or concentrate that wasn't as rich in nutrients as is desired. You may want to make a mental note to avoid that particular kit in the future. With kits, you pay more for better grape juice or concentrate.
My first suggestion is to draw off a cup of wine and dissolve into it 2 teaspoons of yeast nutrient and 1-1/4 teaspoon of yeast energizer. Make sure they are well dissolved. Then add this to the wine, stirring well with a wooden dowel to make sure it gets well mixed.
If you do not see an immediate improvement (within 2 hours), then rack the wine, allowing the wine to splash going into the new carboy. I know this isn't what conventional wisdom recommends, but your yeast may simply need oxygen as well as nutrients and energizer.
If this doesn't pep up the yeast colony, make a starter on the side in a sterile mason jar with 1/2 cup of warm water and 1/4 cup of the wine. Into this dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and sprinkle a sachet of Lalvin K1-V1116 yeast onto the surface (do not stir). Cover the jar with a paper napkin and go do something. Give it 15-30 minutes and take a look. You should see clear signs that the yeast is activating. Give it another 30 minutes and it should be foaming. Add 1/4 cup of your wine and stir it. In 30-45 minutes it should be very heady with foam. Add another 1/4 cup of the wine and stir again. Again let it sit 30-45 minutes and check on it. It should be as active as it was before, so add another 1/4 cup of wine. Wait another 30-45 minutes and add a final 1/4 cup of wine. You will now have just under a pint of starter. Let it sit as before to return to a vigorous fermentation and then do the following:
Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite in a cup of wine drawn from the carboy. When you are satisfied it is dissolved, pour it into a primary. Then either rack or pour the contents of the carboy into that primary. Let it sit a few minutes to settle the turbulence and very gently pour the starter onto the surface of the wine. You can use an inverted spoon just above the surface to break the splash of the starter and ensure it is at the surface. It idea is to distribute the starter on the surface where the most oxygen is. This will encourage the new yeast to bud and bud and bud, quickly overcoming the colony of champagne yeast in the same area. Cover the primary with a clean cloth, a lid, or plastic wrap. After 10-12 hours, stir the wine shallowly. After another 10-12 hours, stir it deeply. Stir it at least once daily for the next few days. When the renewed active fermentation subsides, return it to the carboy and affix an airlock. I have no doubt this will work.
The ideal temperature for fermentation is in the range of 65-75° F., but we don't live in an ideal world except that Texas is part of it. We keep our house at 80-82° in the summer, and that usually works just fine. Every now and then the South Texas sun beats our air conditioner into submission and then I have to cool down the wine fast. So what is one to do? Here's a secret, but don't tell anyone....
Go to Wal-Mart or Target and get a few of those black plastic pans meant to drain your motor oil into. They come in different sizes. Get the ones that are big enough to set a carboy in and still have 2-3 inches all around. Then go to the Goodwill and buy some really cheap bath towels or old sheets. Put a carboy in a pan and fill the pan to within an inch of the top. Wrap a towel or piece of sheet around the carboy and perhaps tie it at the top with twine or something. Let the towel hang in the water. It will wick the water up along the side of the carboy. As it evaporates, it will cool the wine down at least 5°, and if the humidity is low, much, much more. If you aim a small fan at it, you can get the temperature to drop 10-15° with average humidity -- all the way down into the low 40s (or lower) if there is no humidity. You'll have to add water every day, but that beats making ice 24 hours a day.
If, like me, you just need to cool the wine down for a while, just set the carboys in the bathtup, run a few inches of cold water, and wrap thos carboys in towels. It works.
The reason your corks keep popping out is because you are bottling your wine too early and it is continuing to ferment in the bottle. As the yeast consumes sugar still available in the wine, it produces both alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. In your carboy, the CO2 escapes through the airlock as bubbles. Once you bottle the wine there is no place for the gas to go. Some of it is absorbed into the wine and the wine changes from a still wine into a sparkling wine. When the wine has absorbed all the CO2 it can absorb and the pressure continues to build, either the cork is blown out of the bottle or the bottle explodes.
You should never bottle a wine that has not been stabilized or at least has a specific gravity lower than 1.000 and shows no sign of refermentation for 30 days after racking. Here are some tips to keep this from happening again.
1. When apparent fermentation has stopped, rack the wine into a clean, sanitized secondary and reattach the airlock. Look at the wine 24 hours later. If there is positive pressure in the secondary (i.e. the liquid inside the airlock is being pushed away from the part of the airlock connected to the bung [stopper]), the yeast is still working. Racking allows the wine to absorb oxygen and this extra shot of oxygen often rejuvenates a wine that previously seemed finished.
2. When the pressure inside a carboy appears to go negative (i.e. the liquid inside the airlock is being pushed toward the part of the airlock connected to the bung), check it daily for two weeks to see if it swings back to positive. When high pressure weather fronts pass through an area, the liquid in an airlocks will tend to be pushed downward by the high pressure and it will appear that fermentation has finally ended when in fact it hasn't. The only way to know is to wait and see.
3. When you are sure all fermentation has stopped, check the specific gravity of the wine. If it is not dry (1.000 or lower), repeat the procedures in tip 1, above. If it is dry, crush one Campden tablet per gallon of wine (or use 1/4 level teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite per 5 gallons of wine -- do not exceed this amount) and dissolve it and 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate per gallon of wine of in a half-cup to full cup of the wine. Stir very well to ensure it is completely dissolved. Pour this into a clean, sanitized carboy and rack the wine into it. Reattach the airlock and wait 10-14 days minimum (I usually wait a full month). Then rack the wine into bottles, cork them, and 3-4 days later lay them on their sides in a wine rack or cellar bin.
4. Read my page on "Finishing your Wine" for other ways to stabilize your wine.
Hydrogen sulfide does much more than impart off-smells and flavors to wine. Hydrogen sulfide can be detected by smell in quantities as low as 2 parts per billion. It can usually be dissipated during the first 2-3 weeks after its production begins by racking and aerating the wine. After several weeks, it tends to react with other components in the wine to form less volatile mercaptans, which themselves can be further oxidized to disulfides. These latter compounds are almost impossible to remove from wine by stripping methods, and their presence in the wine makes it undrinkable. Both mercaptans and disulfides have a notable skunk-like smell.
Hydrogen sulfide is usually formed after fermentation has concluded and detected when the wine is racked. If the hydrogen sulfide has not sat in the wine too long, it can be treated with a maximum measure of 0.5 ppm of copper, the amount contained in 0.75 ml of a 1% solution of copper sulfate pentahydrate added to a gallon of wine. The hydrogen sulfide should be gone within two days and the wine can be treated normally. However, it will take about 3 rackings, 20-30 days apart, to remove all excess copper from the wine. If not removed, the copper itself can taint the wine.
The amounts of copper sulfate pentahydrate used are so small, and the risks to fatally damaging the wine by adding too much are so real, that it is impractical to treat small amounts (less than 5 gallons) of wine. The preferred treatment is still to add sulfur dioxide in the form of potassium metabisulfite solution (see Measuring Additives in Winemaking) and then rack the wine with plenty of aeration to drive off the H2S.
A proprietary compound called Sulfex can also be used to treat hydrogen sulfide formation. It comes as a 10% slurry in water and is added to wine at the rate of 0.5-5 grams per gallon. It is insoluble and settles out without leaving any traces in the wine if subsequently racked properly at least twice. I have never used it but have heard it works well.
Befor I answer your question, let me tell you why we use Campden (or the purer potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite salts). Initially, we use it to kill off any potentially harmful bacteria that may have hopped a ride in with the base ingredients we use in winemaking, and to discourage any wild yeast from gaining a foothold. Campden will not kill yeast, but it creates an environment inhospitable to them. As SO2 released into the must and atmosphere above the must dissipates, the environment slowly changes and the yeast can grow, but by then our cultured wine yeasts, which are more tolerant of SO2, have gotten a good start and "crowd out" the wild yeasts, use up all the dissolved oxygen, and consume all the fermentable sugar and nutrients. In the end, there is nothing left for the wild yeasts and they die without propagating.
When we rack, we add oxygen to the wine and expose it to airborne microorgamisms we'd rather keep out of the wine. In the first case this causes the wine to oxidize if antioxidants are not present to prevent it from happening. SO2 is a powerful antioxidant but it dissipates over time, so we add more Campden (or a metabisulfite salt) to the wine when we rack to prevent oxidation. In the second case, the same antioxidant protects the wine from airborne bacteria and molds.
So, we add Campden initially when we constitute a must. Dandelion petals are steeped in boiling water, so it is unlikely that many wild microorganisms will survive to infect the must, but we add the Campden anyway "just in case" and to protect against airborne critters that could sneak in when we stir, sample or just look at the must.
We also add Campden at the time of the 1st racking, the 3rd racking, the 5th racking, and so on. We skip the 2nd, 4th, 6th, etc. rackings unless one of them is the last racking before bottling. We always add Campden (or metabisulfite salt) at the last racking because the wine is particularly vulnerable to infection (from the air, inside the bottle or on the cork) when we bottle it.
Some people vary the above schedule and add Campden initially, then at the 2nd, 4th, 6th, etc. and last rackings, but not at the 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc. rackings. Their theory is that enough residual SO2 and dissolved CO2 will be in the wine at the time of the 1st racking to protect the wine from oxidation and microorganisms. I could easily buy into that, but out of habit I've done it the other way and continue doing so just to be consistent. Whichever schedule you adopt, stick to it forever and you won't accidently over-sulfite your wine.
Initially, I crush the Campden tablet with a glass mortar and pestle and stir the powder directly into the must. Before racking, I crush the tablet and pour the powder into 1/3 cup of HOT water. I use a sanitized bamboo whip or a stainless steel fork to beat the powder into the water. It may take a few minutes, but it will all dissolve if you work at it. This cools down the water quite a bit. When dissolved, I then use a wine thief (or siphon tube) to draw off a cup or so of wine and mix this with the sulfited water. This sometimes caused small lumps to form where I was certain there were none, so I whip the mixture a little more and then pour it into the receiving jug or carboy. I then rack the wine into that secondary.
Campden tablets contain a good deal of inert material along with the beneficial metabisulfite salt. You might ask why use them when the pure salts are readily available and very inexpensive. The reason is because it is very easy (and potentially disastrous) to add too much of the pure metabisulfite. It only takes 1/4 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite to impart 45 ppm of SO2 to five gallons of must or wine. Treating one gallon with the pure salt is very difficult if you do not have a fractional gram scale and know what you are doing. One crushed Campden tablet per gallon is easy for anyone to manage.
The only cures to oversweetness are (1) to continue fermenting or (2) blend with a dry wine. I ALWAYS choose the first option unless I also want to alter taste.
If fermentation has stopped on its own, you'll probably have to change yeasts and cultivate a starter solution to get it restarted. If you are not sure how to do this, search back through earlier pages of these questions and answers until you find a post entitled "Wine Won't Ferment" or read my reply to an even earlier post entitled "Yeast Problem."
I recommend using one of the following yeasts for restarting a stopped fermentation: Lalvin K1V-1116 (Montpellier), Lalvin EC-1118 (Prise de Mousse), or Wyeast 3347 Eau de Vie - (Water of Life). The latter is a liquid culture I have twice used with cranberry and I like it very much, although it is considerably more expensive than the Lalvin dry culture packets.
The short answer to your question is that I don't know. If it is mold, it probably can be treated and salvaged. But if it is "flowers of wine," it may very well have eaten up most if not all of the alcohol in the wines (see "Wine Problems" at http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/problems.asp). "Flowers of wine" are usually white or nearly so and will not grow if the wine is over 10.5% alcohol. So, if the wines were at 12% alcohol (as all of my recipes achieve), the chances are that it is mold.
Carefully rack the wine into a sterilized secondary, being careful not to transfer any of the mold. Dissolve two crushed Campden tablets per gallon and one teaspoon of lemon juice per gallon in a cup of the wine. Add this to the wine, top up and refit the airlock (after sterilizing it and changing the water inside it). Let the wine sit a day or two and then draw off a sample and taste it. If it tastes all right, it probably is, but only a microbiological assay of the mold can guarantee you of this. You have to make the decision to drink the wine yourself.
The only way that mold can grow on wine is for the mold spore to be introduced into the primary or secondary fermentation vessel. Always sterilize your primaries and secondaries with an appropriate metabisulfite solution, allowing at least a two-minute surface contact of the solution with the equipment.
You also need to sterilize your siphon hoses really well, as they are difficult to dry inside after use and molds can infect them easily. After use, wash them thoroughly and let drip drain until the outer surfaces are completely dry. Then use a hair drier to blow hot air through the hose until all moisture inside has evaporated. Then coil the hose up and place it in a gallon-size ZipLoc bag until needed again. At that time, fill a large bowl with sterilizing solution and place the coiled hose in it, turning it until it fills up with the solution. Leave it in there until you need it, but in any case not less than two minutes. Then drain the solution out of it and use it at once.
Primary fermentation should always take place in a covered primary. I have several primaries of varying sizes. My wife has made elasticized covers for them out of muslin. These are washed after use, dried, and placed in ZipLoc bags until needed. Then they are soaked in sterilizing solution for 3-5 minutes, wrung out thoroughly, and placed over the primaries still moist.
Secondary fermentation should always take place under an airlock, and the liquid in the airlock should be 10% metabisulfite solution. I have had several people write and ask about making "balloon wine" or making wine without any "fancy" equipment. I don't like to talk about "balloon wine" because it is inviting trouble, and there is nothing "fancy" about a $1 airlock or $5 hydrometer. If you can't afford those two things, you shouldn't be making wine.
Alcohol is a wonderful preservative. Always make your wine 12% or higher in alcohol content by volume. Even then, there are microbes that can attack the wine or live in it -- especially sweetened wines -- so sterilize everything and minimize air contact.
Lastly, adding sulfur to the wine itself will make it that much more difficult for microbes to gain a foothold. Each time a wine is racked it should be dosed with one crushed Campden tablet per gallon of wine dissolved in a cup of the wine and stirred in well. This procedure is not written into any of the recipes, but rather is stated elsewhere. Be sure to sterilize the dowel or rod used to stir the wine.
If you follow these procedures, you should not experience a repeat of this problem.
There are numerous authorities that cite different ingredients and proportions. Proprietary yeast nutrients usually contain DAP (diammonium phosphate), which supplies nitrogen and phosphorus; urea, which supplies nitrogen; citric (and perhaps other) acid; trace amounts of biotin; and yeast hulls. The formulations of these nutrients are not generally public knowledge.
Less secret are the formulations of yesteryear. Pre-World War II recipes used malt extract and lemon juice as nutrient, while many post-war recipes used to use ammonium sulphate, magnesium sulphate, potassium phosphate, and citric acid for yeast nutrient. Both, I am told, worked well enough, but not as well as today's formulations. I would suspect that it would be easier to order a packaged nutrient from an out-of-country supplier and pay shipping than to find DAP and the other constituents locally and experiment with proportions. Still, a chemist (druggist) might be able to mix the following nutrient for you without problem:
This makes an ounce of nutrient, enough to make four gallons of non-grape wine or two gallons of mead. While not as good as commercial formulations, it still should work well enough. The absolute against-the-wall substitute is malt extract and citric acid (lemon juice) mixed half-and-half.
The crystals you see in the scuppernong is not sugar, but potassium bitartrate. This is excess tartaric acid that is precipitating out as a more complex compound. Potassium in the grape combines with tartaric acid to form a sparingly soluble potassium bitartrate. The solubility is reduced further by increased alcohol and the result is precipitation of crystals. Tartaric acid has two available H+ ions and the potassium ion replaces one of these. Thus, the potassium bitartrate is still acidic and is actually lowering the acid of the wine surrounding it. If you chill the wine for a week or so, even more crystals will form.
These will not actually hurt the wine, but are unsightly and a nuisance to get out of the bottles once emptied. You have two choices. One, you can open the bottles and very gently transfer the wine to new bottles, or two, you can leave the wine alone and decant it before drinking. If you do the first, chill the wine first for a week or two to encourage as much of the excess tartaric acid to precipitate out as potassium bitartrate. Transfer the wine with as little disturbance to it as you can manage, as at this point the risk of the wine taking up oxygen and oxidizing is very high. A chilled wine will take up less oxygen than a room temperature wine.
To clean up the bottles with the deposits in them, fill them with very hot water and let them soak for a couple of hours. The crystals should dissolve, but a bottle brush may be necessary to aid the process.
To prevent this from happening next year, cold stabilize the wine for two weeks or so before bottling it. Wine does not freeze until it reaches about 25 degrees F., so you can actually bring the wine to a 30-degree chill without worrying about it freezing up in the carboy.
Bentonite is added according to the need for it. That is not a very precise answer, but let me explain. A dose rate of 1-6 grams per gallon is usually desired. The lesser amount is for wines that are almost clear, but a slight, unsightly haze persists. The greater amount is for wines that have real clarity problems. You have to judge the degree of severity yourself, but do not want to use more than necessary as it will impart an "earthiness" to the wine if over-done. The best thing to do is give the wine plenty of time to clarify on its own. I never add bentonite to a wine that hasn't been given six months and three rackings to clear.
Bentonite must be hydrated before being used. Measure out the desired quantity (say, 2 grams). Pour 3/4 cup of boiling water into a small bowl (for 4 grams of bentonite, use 1-1/2 cups of boiling water) and add the bentonite. If you do not have a gram scale, one measured teaspoon of bentonite weighs 5.4 grams. Use a small whisk and mix the bentonite-water into a slurry. Mix for at least two minutes, working out any lumps that form. You want a creamy consistency. Cover and set aside for 24 hours. Do NOT skip this step! The bentonite will settle, so grab the whisk and whip it into a slurry again.
The wine should be recently racked before adding bentonite, as you do not want a lees deposit present when you add the slurry. Sterilize a wooden dowel or glass rod. Remove the airlock from the wine. While slowly adding the bentonite, use the dowel or rod to stir the wine. The bentonite has to be thoroughly mixed with the wine to work, so stir well. Clean the mouth of the secondary to remove any bentonite that may have gotten on it and refit the airlock. Keep the wine at room temperature (moving it into a cold garage will cause some of the bentonite to go back into suspension). The bentonite will attract positively-charged particles as it settles out. When the wine is clear, give it another few days and carefully rack it off the bentonite deposits. A treatment should take no more than two weeks.
I rarely use more than one to one-and-a-half teaspoons of bentonite per five gallons of wine.
The problem you have with dryness is certainly correctable. If the wine were too sweet, your options would be severely limited. A too-dry wine should be sweetened, but by what method and how much is a judgment call you have to make.
The first step, however, is making sure the wine is stabilized and will not referment in the bottle. I also add one crushed Campden tablet per gallon to the wine and let it sit 24 hours before sweetening or bottling--to keep the wine from absorbing oxygen during the process. Next is choosing the method. You can either (1) add sugar or (2) blend with a too-sweet wine. The choice is yours.
If you add sugar (by far the easier method), boil a measured amount of water and slowly dissolve a double-measured amount of sugar into it. The 2 to 1 by volume ratio is still the best. Sweetening a too-dry wine does not give immediate feedback. It takes a couple of hours to a day for the wine to fully absorb the sugar and integrate it into its character. The following procedure is but one way to do it and doesn't require a degree in mathematics to perform.
Add various amounts of sugar-water to your sterilized wine bottles and mark them with a Post-It note. For example, you might put 1-1/2 tsp in one, 2 tsp in another, 2-1/2 tsp in a third, 3 tsp in a fourth, etc. Fill the bottles and seal them with a tasting cork (t-cork). Allow the bottles to sit about one hour and then measure the specific gravity of a sample from each bottle. Write this on the Post-It notes. Now taste each sample. If they still retain the harshness of the dry wine despite having been sweetened, let them sit overnight and taste them the next day. Decide which one you like best and add that amount of sugar-water to each bottle before filling it. Be sure to replace the t-corks with regular corks.
If I have to sweeten a too-dry wine, especially one with lots of tannin, I always put aside a few bottles of the dry wine to taste in a couple of years. They do mellow out, and once the sharpness mellows they are quite often excellent wines. If not, I can blend them in the decanter with a too-sweet wine when I drink it. I also like to bottle a few semi-secs and the final sweetness determined by the method above. Quite often the semi-sec turns out to be the best of the lot after aging a while.
This is one of those questions one could write a book to answer, but I'll simply list those variables I regularly deal with and let you contemplate the details not supplied.
The majority of wine recipes are essentially the same. The variables that must be resolved and therefore make the recipes different include: (1) flavor extraction methodology and procedures; (2) acid content, modification and supplementation; (3) natural sugar content and required supplementation; (4) the presence or absence of pectin and determination of how much pectic enzyme to use, if any; (5) presence or absence of tannin; (6) length and method of aerobic fermentation; (7) length of anaerobic fermentation and racking schedule; (8) clarification expectations; and (9) aging optimization. Additionally, there are some other considerations that enter the equation: (10) color stability of the wine; (11) vinous quality of the wine; (12) body and body-building additives; (13) bouquet; (14) blending considerations; and (15) serving optimals. Each of these variables differ in importance and complexity and may or may not be addressed directly by the recipe itself. For example, a wine that naturally clears by itself will not address clarification in its recipe, but one that resists clarification may have quite a lot to say about finings and procedures.
Resolving these variables may take years for any one recipe. A new recipe that does not produce expected results will be modified until the results satisfy expectations. A friend of mine has been making black cherry wines for 12-14 years and has not perfected his recipe yet. Part of the problem, he claims, is that the quality of the cherries differ from year to year. Thus, if you follow a recipe and the results are disappointing, suspect the quality of the fruit before you question the recipe itself.
I usually tend to use Bourgovin yeast (Lalvin RC212) for my blackberries, dewberries, marionberries, and salmon berries. However, when I started my last 6-gallon batch of marionberry wine, I discovered I was out of Bourgovin and used Montrachet instead. It fermented fast, as Montrachet is wont to do, so I killed off the ferment at S.G. 1.005, racked to a 6-1/2 gallon carboy, added 1/2 gallon of fresh Kiowa blackberry juice, and restarted with Montpellier (Lalvin K1V-1116). The result is, in my opinion, very nice. This wine won first in its category and took the Grand Reserve in its first competition.
Lalvin K1V-1116 (Montpellier) is a very good yeast for retaining natural fruity flavors and aromas. It is a slower yeast, but capable of very high alcohols. I sometimes use it when making port the natural way (without adding brandy) or making dessert wines.
Lalvin 71B-1122 (Narbonne) is a good yeast for high-acid musts. Because it metabolizes more of the malic acid during fermentation than most other yeasts, it produces rounder, smoother wines, but wines that retain the fruity overtones and aromas of the base. I use it almost exclusively for my native grape wines.
Generally speaking, most vegetable wines accept spices well. Grain wines also tend to work well with spices, but some grain wines are so unique in themselves that you really wouldn't want to alter them by spicing.
Of course, apple, crabapple and quince wines accept spices graciously, as do citrus and pear wines. If you want to make single spice wines--ginger or vanilla, for example--you can follow a developed recipe or simply add the spice (ginger root or vanilla bean) to a neutral white grape concentrate wine--Niagara, for example--during fermentation. Monitor the taste daily and remove the spices when the flavor is subtle, but recognizable. You do not want to overdo it.
Other spices (and herbs) that can be added to wines include allspice, angelica root, anise, balm, basil, bay leaves, cardamom, cassia, chamomile, cinnamon stick, cloves, coriander, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, jalapeno peppers, juniper berries, lemon grass, nutmeg, peppercorns, rosemary, sage, thyme, tonka beans, yarrow, and vanilla beans.
Minimizing the use of sulfites can be done, but you know this comes at a cost. You must either ferment to absolute dryness, which can be harsh, or you must take the finished wine to one temperature extreme or the other. I have the ability to bring my wines to 28 degrees F. and hold them there for 6 weeks or more. This certainly stabilizes them, but everyone can't do this.
Using an electric bottle wrap, I can also raise the temperatures of my wines to 130 degrees F. and hold them there for 24 hours. This is NOT pasteurization. To pasteurize, you must attain 140 degrees F. I have never failed to stop the ferment dead using this method, but it is not all that good for the wine, especially over the long term. However, if you intend to drink your wine fairly rapidly, it shouldn't matter too much. Also, if you are making a Madeira, you will take the temperature to 130 and hold it there for wekks and weeks.
Using a protein-bonding fining agent will also remove a good deal of the yeast, but probably not all.
Potassium sorbate will stop the reproduction of yeast, but will not really kill it. However, potassium sorbate is not effective without the simultaneous use of potassium metabisulfite -- which is eactly what you are trying to get away from.
You can also heat treat by microwave. I have never done this, but understand the procedure. Essentially, you test your microwave to see how long it takes to raise 750 ml of water to 160 degrees F. This is usually about 3 minutes. Once the time is established, you heat wine in the same container (NOT in a wine bottle) to 160 degrees, stopping twice to stir (the two stops usually means a slight adjustment in heating time to attain 160 degrees). The wine is removed and immediately covered with plastic wrap while a plastic funnel, an empty wine bottle, and a cork are heated in the microwave oven for several seconds. The wine is then poured through the funnel into the bottle and immediately corked. The sealed bottle is then stood in a bucket of cold water to cool it down to room temperature. While this works, it does forever alter the flavor of the wine.
Finally, there are very fine filters you can buy that will remove every trace of yeast and render the wine truly brilliant. These, I'm sad to say, are very expensive, affordable by commercial wineries but not the average hobbyist. Perhaps it is just as well, for they do remove more than a little of the character of the wines thus filtered.
Of the methods mentioned above, I only recommend the first (cold stabilization).
The main sugars in grapes are glucose and fructose, both of which are reducing sugars. A small amount of sucrose and other sugars are also present, but these are decidedly minor. Sucrose is not a reducing sugar, so it must be hydrolyzed to the two simpler sugars (glucose and fructose) by the acids in the must and enzymes in the yeast. There are also a few nonfermentable sugars present, usually in trace amounts, such as pentose.
When adding sucrose to a must, it really is a good practice to add hydrolyzed (or "invert") sugar so that the yeast can easily and quickly consume the resulting glucose and fructose. You can do this by dissolving two parts sugar in one part water, adding 1-1/2 % citric acid (by volume) to the solution, and storing this for 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator. Or, you can mix it as above and heat it almost to boiling and hold it there for about 30 minutes.
The invert method should speed up the ferment. Effect on the finished wine will be minimal, but there nonetheless--mainly from less exposure to the lees, better flavor capture, and overall smoothness. Yes, you'll be able to taste it, but whether it will elevate a wine from excellent to exceptional is another matter. But, that's what we all strive for.
I have not actually found any scientific basis for the bias for sucrose over dextrose. Indeed, I happen to know that commercial wineries prefer dextrose because, in bulk, it can be purchased more cheaply than can be sucrose. Dextrose is also a 6-carbon sugar, as are glucose and fructose, and can be purchased in a "high fructose" concentration that is more easily fermentable. For the home winemaker, similar bulk savings (for buying tons of sugar) are not possible and I have never seen the "high fructose" concentration available in manageable quantities.
Tannin is usually added to the must before fermentation begins, but this is not absolutely necessary and, in your case, not even desired. I add it to most of my non-grape wines before fermenting, but often adjust it upward by taste just before bottling. This can be a delicate process.
When the wine has cleared and has stopped throwing sediments, taste it. The tannic bite is on the tip of the tongue and easily identified. If not adequate to your taste, add just a bit (1/16 of a tsp per gal) and gently stir with a glass rod or wooden dowel. Refit the airlock and let set about an hour and taste again. If still not adequate, add another 1/16 tsp per gal, stir, and let set another hour before tasting. If you think you're almost but not quite there, add even less next time. By adding just a bit at a time, you'll soon be able to taste the threshold you seek without a high risk of overdoing it. With most grape wines, it shouldn't take too much to boost the tannin to your taste.
Another technique I've used a few times to boost tannin and aid a sluggish finishing fermentation at the same time is to add a few (10-20) young, green oak leaves to the wine as its specific gravity drops below 1.000. I crush the leaves into a ball, put them in a sterilized jelly bag with 2-3 marbles, tie the bad closed, and drop the bag in the carboy. I pin the tie-string between the carboy and bung for easy retrieval later. I leave this in the wine for about 10-14 days, removing when the taste is right. The leaves seem to reactivate the yeast and the wine usually ferments to dryness during that time.
Yes, you should add Campden when racking. Crush the Campden (one tablet per gallon), dissolve it in a half-cup of the wine (I draw the wine off as I'm racking), and VERY slowly add it to the clean carboy while racking, only finishing when the last pint or two is going through the siphoning tube.
There are several benefits to this, but the main one is to kill off weak yeasts that are consuming oxygen and nutrients and allow the stronger ones to propagate more quickly and get the racked wine bubbling again. It also helps prevent any stray microorganisms from gaining a foothold during this procedure when the wine is vulnerable to airborne pests.
Freezing the strawberries concentrates the sugar, breaks down the cell walls and aids the pectic enzyme considerably. Thaw completely, then cull through the strawberries, discarding any unsound ones and removing any stems and greenery. Chop them roughly and put in a sterilized nylon straining bag tied closed. Crush them with your hands inside the primary. Ferment 7-10 days, gently squeeze, and discard. Continue fermentation as instructed with your kit.
If you have a grape or fruit press and additional strawberries, do the following. As the wine is finishing, stabilize it, wait 7-10 days for dead yeast to fall out, then rack. Using the fruit press, press the juice from another 2 lbs of strawberries, add the juice to the wine and bottle immediately. This will dilute the wine a bit, but will add a bouquet to the wine like you can't imagine. But, you MUST stabilize the wine first or you'll pop your corks (or worse, your bottles will explode).
First off, I would be interested in which yeast your suppliers refer to as a "general purpose" yeast. Red Star's Montrachet, Epernay and Premier Curvee and Lalvin's Prise de Mousse and Montpellier are all considered "general purpose" wine yeasts by many, but they certainly don't make the best wines from all ingredients and don't make certain styles or types of wine at all. You really do need to use certain specialized yeasts for certain wines.
Take Port yeasts, for example. Port has 18-20% alcohol, and few yeasts can tolerate more than 14-16% alcohol and continue living. In other words, you'd never be able to make Port through natural fermentation if you didn't use a specialized port yeast. Sherry is another example where the yeast makes the wine and no other yeast will work as well. Should I even mention Champagne?
If MY supplier didn't carry the yeasts I need (and he doesn't carry them all), I'd find another supplier. There are many on the internet and certainly you can find one that serves you in Australia.
Anyway, I hope this answers your question. For more on yeasts, see my essays on The Miracle of Yeast and Strains of Wine Yeast. Remember, choose your yeast as you would choose a tool, because that's what it is.
Like you, I had always thought poke to be poisonous, except for the young greens. I went to three authorities and all agree that the very young greens are not poisonous if cooked, but are toxic if eaten raw. This is good enough for me.
Delena Tull, in "Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest" (1987), says, "...poke is a deadly poisonous plant. The toxic compounds, including an alkaloid called phytolaccatoxin, concentrate in the bark, root, green berries, and older laves of poke. All plant parts contain some degree of toxicity, however, including the uncooked shoots and the tempting purple berries. Though the purple berries reportedly have been cooked in pies, a few raw berries can cause severe poisoning or death in infants. Consider the cooked berries potentially toxic also."
I also found this: "Fernald, Kinsey, and Rollins (1958) report that in the 1780s the Portugese intensified the color of poorly made red wines by adulterating them with pokeberry juice." I can only ask, if this had been a good thing to do, why has it not been repeated in the 200+ intervening years?
I hope the above persuades your lady friend to stick to elderberries, mulberries, blackberries and other proven wine fruit from the wild. I recommend she obtain one or more of the excellent books on wild edible plants and/or poisonous plants from the selections in The Winemaker's Library. These will keep her out of trouble in the future and expand her winemaking horizons considerably.
The easiest way to make wine with grapes is as follows.
You probably don't have a grape crusher, so fill a 5-gallon bucket (these are plastic paint buckets available in any big home improvement store such as Home Depot) with 4 gallons of grapes and crush them with a 4-foot length of 4X4 wood. This will take a little work, but you have to do it. It goes easier if you have two buckets and crush 6-8 inches of grapes in one and then pour these into the second and repeat the process until you have 4 gallons of crushed grapes. Leave at least 8 inches of space between the top of the grapes and the top of the bucket. If you have enough grapes, prepare two or three buckets of grapes. Pour 4-5 cups of crushed grapes into a nylon straining bag sitting inside a bowl. Tie the bag and squeeze it until you get a cup or two of juice. Pour he juice into a hydrometer test cylinder and measure the specific gravity of the juice with a hydrometer. You want a specific gravity of at least 1.090, so if you don't get that high a reading you're going to have to add sugar later. Write down the specific gravity reading and save it. Set aside 1/2 cup of the juice and return the remainder and the pulp from the nylon straining bag to the bucket.
Crush 5 Campden tablets and dissolve them in a cup of warm (but not hot) water. When completely dissolved, pour this into the bucket of grapes and stir the grapes with a long wooden (NOT metal) spoon. Cover the bucket with cloth and let it set for 24 hours. Meanwhile, put the 1/2 cup of grape juice in a sterilized jar with 1/2 cup of warm (not hot) water. Sprinkle a 5-mg packet of wine yeast into the jar and cover with plastic wrap secured with a rubber band. Set this aside also. After 24 hours, pour the yeast mixture into the crushed grapes and replace the cloth covering. Stir this two or three times a day (the pulp will rise, forming a "cap" of pulp on top of the juice), punching down the cap each time.
After five days, you have to press the grapes. You need a grape press for this, but if you have a local winemaking club you can probably borrow one. Press the grapes and save all the juice. You'll get more juice if you press them once, knock the compressed pulp out, fluff it up, and then put it back in the press and press it again. When done, measure the amount of grape juice and pour it into a sterilized glass carboy suitable for it's volume. Carboys come in 2-1/2, 3, 5, and 6-1/2 gallon sizes and cost between $13 and $19 each, depending on size. Do not completely fill the carboy. You need to leave 4-6 inches of space between the top of the juice and the top of the carboy. Put a bung with an airlock on the carboy and set it aside. When the fermentation dies down to just a bubble every 15 seconds or so, add the sugar required to bring the initial specific reading (the one you wrote down) to 1.090. Calculate this amount using the chart on my hydrometer page.
Let's say, for example, that your juice had an initial S.G. of 1.075. Using the chart, you'll see that this represents 1 lb 10 oz of sugar per gallon. To get it to S.G. 1.090 (2 lbs even per gallon), you'll need to add 6 oz of sugar per gallon (2 lb minus 1 lb 10 oz equals 6 oz). To add the sugar, measure it into a bowl and add to it 1/2 its volume in boiling water. To do this, measure the sugar by weight and then measure it again using a measuring cup. One lb of sugar, you'll discover, is almost exactly 2 cups. So, if you were going to add 2 cups of sugar, boil one cup of water and pour it into the bowl of sugar. Stir this until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it cool to room temperature (about two hours). Add it to the carboy and refit the airlock.
When the fermentation has completely run its course and the S.G. is around 0.095 to 0.090, you should have a thick layer of sediments on the bottom of the carboy. Rack the wine into another sterilized carboy, top up if required*, and refit the airlock. Set it aside for 3 more months. Rack into bottles and enjoy it.
*If you are making a 3-gallon batch, you will probably be able to rack the wine into a 2-1/2 gallon carboy without having to top up. However, if you make a 5-gallon batch, I recommend you go ahead and make a 1-gallon batch too. This will allow you to top up (after racking) the 5-gallon batch from the 1-gallon batch. The advantage is you are topping up with wine, not water (which will dilute your wine).
You can get more information on commercial wines than you'll ever want at Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Discussion Group. Or, you can sign up for Smart Wine's Personal Wine Advisor for wine recommendations, or you can go to Vintage Watch, click on "All Vintage Watch Entries" about a screen down from the top of the page, and that will take you to a list of over 700 wine reviews. There are many other online resources as well, but these are the first that came to my mind.