Herb Wines from Scratch: A Wine-Making Glossary

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ACIDS. Components of wine which help balance flavor and preserve the wine during aging. Grape wines naturally contain a balance of acids, but a purchased acid blend and/or small quantities of citrus fruit must be added to herb and flower wines.

AGING. Curing following fermentation ­either in the secondary fermenter (bulk aging) or in bottles. Bulk aging is preferable to minimize the amount of sediment that will settle out in the ­bottle.

ALCOHOL. A by-product of yeast fermentation. Wine that is to be stored for any length of time must reach at least 10 percent alcohol to prevent the growth of bacteria or fungi.

BOTTLE BRUSH. The best tool for cleaning glass containers before sterilizing them with sulfited water. Brushes are available in various sizes to fit different-sized bottles.

BOTTLES.  The ultimate destination of the wine. New bottles in various sizes may be purchased from wine-making suppliers, or used bottles may be cleaned and reused.

BULK AGING.  Aging in the secondary fermenter or other large container. Wine may be racked during bulk aging either into bottles for drinking or into smaller containers to minimize airspace above the wine and consequent oxidation.

CORKING MACHINE. A device that forces new, water-soaked corks into the mouth of a wine bottle. (If the corks are new, you cannot do this by hand.) Rent or purchase one from a wine-making shop, or reuse old corks that have been boiled in sulfite water (but only for short-term storage).

FERMENTATION LOCK.  A cork or rubber stopper fitted with a valve that allows carbon dioxide to bubble out of the fermenter through a sterilized water filter without letting air in.

HAT. The layer of floating raisins and other fruits on the surface of the must.

JELLY BAG. A bag woven from nonabsorbent fibers such as nylon or polyester and used for straining the must. Cheesecloth can release fibers into the must, and clean cotton cloth can be used only once because it absorbs liquids and becomes a source of contamination.

MUST. Fermenting wine or fruit mash.

PRIMARY FERMENTER. A ceramic crock or food-grade plastic pail, at least 25 percent larger than the batch size, in which ingredients are mixed and initially fermented. I use five-gallon plastic buckets that I obtain from restaurants.

RACKING. Siphoning wine from one container into another.

RAISINS. Adding chopped raisins—up to a pound per gallon—to herb or flower wine dramatically improves body and character and provides some of the necessary acids and sugar. I use fewer raisins for dry wines and more for sweet wines. Dark raisins darken the wine; I think that golden raisins give flower wines better color.

SECONDARY FERMENTER. A one- or five-gallon glass jug sealed with a fermentation lock to protect the must from air during the slower second stage of fermentation. When fermentation stops, this becomes the storage and aging container. This container need not be much larger than the batch size. I get five-gallon glass water jugs from health-food stores for the price of the deposit.

SIPHON. A plastic hose of 1/4 to 3/8 inch inside diameter used to transfer wine from one container to another while leaving the sediment behind. A 3-foot hose is needed for racking a gallon jug, a 6-foot hose for a five-gallon jug.

SODIUM METABISULFITE. This com­pound when added to wine stops fermentation and preserves the finished product. It is also used in a rinse for sterilizing equipment, fermentation containers, bottles, and corks.

SUGAR. The substance converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide by yeast during fermentation. Fruits naturally contain large amounts of sugar, but herbs and flowers contain little. Sugar must be added to the must in stages to control fermentation. Larger amounts of sugar—as much as three pounds per gallon—increase alcohol content as well as sweetness.

YEAST. Single-celled organisms that feed on sugar and transform it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Early wine makers depended on the presence of wild yeasts in the air, but today we can purchase reliable, consistent wine yeast from wine-making suppliers. I recommend that you start with all-purpose wine yeast, then try a champagne yeast for a special drinking wine.

YEAST NUTRIENTS. A mixture of ammonium salts found in grapes and other fruits (but not in herbs) that regulates yeast growth. These nutrients, available from wine-making suppliers, are added to herb wines along with raisins and other fruits to increase the rate of fermentation.

To read more about herbal wine-making, see “How to Make Wine from Home.” 

Richard Bender is a creative herb enthusiast and nurseryman in Fort Collins, Colorado, who is currently working on a book on herbal bonsai.

Inspiration for edible alchemy.