The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Homemade Wine

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1991

Issue: November, 1991

While there are some folks for it and some folks against it, a lot of people in the mountains have made homemade wine (and stronger spirits) for over a hundred years. It's perfectly legal to make homemade wine, as long as it's for your own consumption and the quantity you make doesn't exceed the legal limit. The science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, writes in his book titled "Dandelion Wine," that you can open a bottle of it on a winter day and recapture summer sunshine. For some, there is the taste of a memory.

There are many scientific ways of making wine, with such equipment as hydrometers, but you don't need to go to that much trouble. Homemade wine is usually sweet, not dry and has a heavy aroma of the fruit it is made from.

You can make wine out of practically anything. Dandelion wine is made from steeping the flowers in water. Any kind of berry makes good wine - strawberries, blackberries, raspberries. And of course, wild muscadine and scuppernong grapes are favored in these parts. I have even seen corn wine! You can even make a sassafras tea and by adding the yeast and letting it brew, have real homemade root beer.

The color of the fruit determines the color of the wine. If you take the hulls out of grape wine, you will have a lighter color. The longer you leave the hulls in, the darker the color. The white powdery substance on grape hulls is yeast. It is called "wild yeast spores." People who make wine the scientific way wash and heat the grapes to kill this unreliable wild yeast and then add a special wine yeast to make it ferment. Do not ever make wine with cooking yeast because your wine will have more of a yeast taste than a fruit taste. You can get the special yeast at some drug stores and winemaking shops.

Wine that is left to brew until all the yeast has been killed is still wine. If it still is working, it is sparkling wine, like champagne. Only bottle a working wine in special bottles designed to take the pressure. Ordinary bottles will explode under the pressure! Usually the cork will blow, but the glass itself could explode, making it a dangerous situation.

The amount of sugar content determines how much alcohol content the wines turns out to have. Usually wine varies from twelve to seventeen percent. Again, people who make wine the scientific way have a meter to determine this level.

You will need about a quart of fruit and a quart of sugar to make a gallon of wine. Mash the fruit thoroughly and add wine yeast, the sugar and enough water to dissolve the sugar. When this is mixed, pour it into a clean gallon container and add enough water to make a gallon. Leave a little room at the top as it will bubble up somewhat as it starts to ferment. If you are using a wide mouth glass jar or a crock, put a clean cloth over the top and tie it down or put a large rubber band around it. Check the wine after two or three days. If it is bubbling happily, skim the muck off the top and strain the fruit out of the wine. Cover the jar again and set in a warm place to work for the next week or two. If the temperature is cooler, it will take longer to work. If the temperature is too low or too high, it will kill the yeast and won't work at all.

When the wine stops bubbling entirely, it is finished. It will still taste green, and will need to age a little, but you can bottle it at this point. Store the wine in a cool place. Remember, if there is any yeast that is still working, it can turn hostile and explode.

This is only a simplified explanation of making wine. If you are interested in trying it, the methods described are hit-and-miss. Visit a wine making shop or your local library for more detailed instructions.