Finally, the wine you made last summer is still. There hasn't been a bubble in the bung for weeks, so fermentation is complete.
It is time to bottle.
And then bottle some more. It was a great fruit year at my house, so we turned lots of apples, plums and Asian pears into wine. We will be bottling it all in the next few weeks, which sounds romantic until you do it. Here's an intimate look at what home winemakers really do during the dark days of late winter.
1. We soak off labels.
One gallon of wine fills 5 standard wine bottles, so there never seems to be enough of them.Re-used wine bottles provide cool variations in shape and color, and they're free. To soak off the labels, stand the bottles in a cooler or other deep container, and fill both the bottles and the cooler with hot water. Patience pays: wait at least 3 hours to start peeling.
2. We scrub out bottles.
Only uncompromising cleanliness will do, so no bottle gets by without a stiff swish with the bottle brush. We get cross-eyed from looking down bottle necks for lingering bits of anything.
2. We cook corks.
Corks go in easily if you soften them in steam for 3 to 4 minutes first, which releases a distinctive aroma. Wood for dinner again?
4. We try not to make a mess.
Old towels come in handy for wiping up sticky drips, and finished bottles deserve a good wipe-down with a clean cloth before they're labeled. We keep the bottles upright for a few days, to give the corks time to dry into the necks. Then they are set to rest on their sides.
5. We practice patience.
The little tastes we take each time we rack or bottle remind us of how far the wine still has to go. But all is well, because we can tell the wine is getting better. Three more months and it should taste good. Six more months and it should taste great.
And then the trees and vines bear their fruit, and the cycle begins again.