October 2012 – In the Lab

I haven’t found many wines I don’t agree with…unripe persimmon is one of them.”

This isn’t a famous wine quote.  This is a thought that I just had, because after thorough research, there are just not many decent quotes on persimmon wine.

As I have said before, these will not be posts about consecutive triumphs on the journey to a successful wine empire.  This is a story in the making with no clear ending and the hope that anyone reading can learn a little about wine and have some fun along the way.  A valuable lesson is that things can go terribly wrong.  Enter persimmon wine.

Asher worked away one chilly fall afternoon filling a bucket full of Morgan County’s finest persimmons.  To those of you new to persimmons, they can taste simply terrible if they are unripe.  To those of you new to Asher, he will attempt to make wine from anything he can get his hands on.


This was our first attempt at making wine using real fruit and we did great in theory.  The persimmons were crushed, yeast and sugar were added, and primary fermentation began working its magic in the food grade bucket.

Having the supplies readily available, we were not satisfied with stopping here.  Asher made a run to the local Dollar General for a few gallons of the most inexpensive grape and apple juice we could find, and we got to work turning it into wine, “Apfelwein”.  This is definitely a cleaner process, but more sugar needs to be added for the yeast to feed on and you lose the character you get from actual fruit.  But that’s not to say you can’t make a fine wine in this manner.  After mixing the juice, sugar, yeast, and acid, we now had two batches of wine fermenting.

This would not last long.  Primary fermentation occurred in the persimmon for about a week, when we popped off the lid to check the alcohol content and give it a taste.  Have you ever accidentally tasted deodorant?  Be honest, it happens.  I would call it dry to super dry with a hint of soapy bitterness.  These would applicable tasting notes to our persimmon wine.  With the bucket in hand and a few angry stomps out the door, the fruit went back to the earth from whence it came.  In many instances, wine can be fixed when problems occur during fermentation or aging.  There is no fixing unripe fruit and in hindsight, persimmons may not be the best training wheels for vinification.  Lesson learned.

On the other hand, the Apfelwein was coming along rather smoothly.  After about a week, primary fermentation ended, any remaining yeast was killed off, and it was time to start aging.  I should add that this is not a red wine made with a varietal combination of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot.  No, this was a mix of discount grape and apple juice and years of aging in an oak barrel wasn’t necessary.  Instead, we would be aging in a carboy for 2-3 months.  (Bonus points and a mention in the next post to whoever can be first to comment with the name of the wine that is famously made with the 3-varietal classic formula that I mentioned in this paragraph)

Carboy: Fluid containers that typically come in 3 -15 gallon capacities.  For wine, these are used for aging small batches and made of thick glass.  Carboys look just like a water jug you may have in the office.

Racking: Method of filtering wine by moving it from one container to another using gravity in order to separate the wine from the lees.  This process also cleans up the wine and eliminates any suspended matter you don’t want showing up in the bottle, such as dead yeast, tannins, grape skin, pulp, stems, etc.  Re-racking can be performed throughout the aging process to further clarify and stabilize the wine.

Lees: Dead yeast cells and various other particles that fall to the bottom of the container during fermentation or aging.  I would best describe this sediment as looking like gunk.  Re-racking gets the wine “off the lees”.          

These pictures show us racking our first batch of Apfelwein.  The tube is used for syphoning and then IMG_2057gravity does all of the work moving the fluid from one carboy to the next.

It is also during this step that we take a few ounces to test the alcohol content and of course, sample.  This early in the process, the wine was considerably dry.  We will get into the aging process more once we start making wine from grapes, but for now it is important to know that the six months to one year after fermentation are critical for developing the wine’s characteristics and taste.  As you can see from the pictures, we had at least conjured up a nice clear wine with good color.  Juice is easier to accomplish this without the worry of lingering tannins, stems, skins, and whatever else can be floating around when aging a wine made from real fruit.  If real fruit were the case, racking and re-racking would get the wine off the lees.

One thing was certain: the excitement was palpable.  We experienced one little mishap we were quick to purge from our memory, had a little bit of equipment, a field was freshly tilled and fertilized, and our Apfelwein was aging.

Apfelwein! and various other things essential to the process



8 thoughts on “October 2012 – In the Lab

  1. Pingback: GRAPEing News!! | Dale Hollow

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