A Wine Fermentation Tip for Home Winemakers

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Illustration by MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
Whether with grapes or rhubarb, make sure you use the right container for wine fermentation.

Folks say that experience is the best teacher, and I suppose they’re right. There’s no reason, however, why we can’t share our lessons with each other. That way everybody saves a little bit of the usually expensive “tuition” that the school of hard knocks charges.

For instance, I recently had an educational experience that I’d like to pass along to you now (before next summer’s fruit comes in).

You see, two years ago I made up a four-gallon batch of rhubarb wine. I bought a brand-new crock for the project, and — let me tell you — that brew turned out just great!

With a whole heap more confidence, then, I decided to mix myself up seven gallons of the tasty concoction last year. My little crock, of course, wouldn’t hold that amount. So I borrowed a larger container from a neighbor, washed it out well, and filled it with my new batch of fixings.

A couple of days later I found the crock full of smelly, mold-covered liquid.

Now, I couldn’t just throw out all of that potential rhubarb ambrosia, so I consulted the local vintner for advice on wine fermentation. And he had the answer. It seems that my neighbor had made pickles in the crock that I’d borrowed, and pickles — the vintner told me — leave a brine that’s nearly impossible to wash out of the slightly porous material of which most crocks are made. That residue prevents fermentation in the wine and turns it moldy.

All was not lost, however, the old winemaker assured me. He suggested that I scoop all of the growth off my batch, strain the liquid through a coffee filter into a clean crock, and add some more yeast.

I followed his advice, and two days later the brew took off, just bubbling like mad. The wine isn’t done yet, but its flavor is well on the way to recovery … and no new mold has formed.

I was lucky, all right, but all you home winemakers can avoid the problem that caused me all that worry (and extra work) entirely. Just remember what my knowledgeable friend says: “Pickles is pickles and wines is wines, and never the twain should meet.”