Winemaking

Wine aging in carboys

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Cherry Chocolate Almond primary fermentation

The pictures show wine aging in carboys, a bottle of Jalapeno Lime wine and Cherry Chocolate Almond wine in primary fermentation.

This has been a busy season for winemaking. I’m currently writing a home winemaking book for Story Publishing and have been creating new recipes to add to the list of wines I describe in the book. I have created 144 different wines in over 30 years of winemaking and only four of those are made from grapes. I will discuss all of these wines in the book as well as describe my method of winemaking which doesn’t seem to be very common among other home winemakers. Most of them use chemicals such as sulfites as well as other additives and are in a hurry to bottle and drink their wines. I use no sulfites or any other additives and age most of my wines in bulk for a least a year before bottling. I have become active in three Facebook home winemaking groups to share my experiences and see what other winemakers are doing. A few grow their own grapes, many use winemaking kits with canned grape juices to make traditional wines and most venture into making what are called “country wines” which are wines made from ingredients other than grapes. Some people are wildly experimental, including making wines from crushed candies like peppermint sticks and skittles.

I’ve used a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices and herbs to make my wines. My most unique wines are fermented from citrus and hot peppers, starting with Jalapeno Lime in 1992. I’ve since made more than 30 different hot pepper/citrus wines, some of them several times. Perhaps the most unusual wines I’ve created are Burgundy Kale and Garlic Chive Flower. I like flower wines and my favorites out of more than ten varieties are Dandelion, Elderflower, Jasmine and Vanilla Rose Petal. The oldest wine in my cellar is a 1986 Lavender. Out of more than 10 different herbal wines, my favorites are Sweet Basil, French Tarragon and Double Lemon Lime Basil which was fermented from lemons, limes, lemon basil and lime basil. The most unusual herbal wines I’ve made include marijuana … I do live in Colorado. I’ve made several wines with chocolate. The first ones were made with cocoa powder but I’ve since switched to using cocoa bean hulls which give a much better chocolate flavor. My favorites so far are Blueberry Chocolate Chocolate Mint and Orange Mole. There are several tomato wines in the cellar. The best one is called Tomato Italiano, made from heirloom tomatoes, onions, garlic, celery, bell pepper, basil and oregano. It is a beautiful wine that tastes like marinara sauce and is also a good cooking wine which can be used as a substitute for vinegar in making salad dressings. I served it once with an appetizer sword piercing a cherry tomato and a venison meatball calling it a Meatball Martini.

My recent wines since signing the contract to produce the book include Plumbarb(plum rhubarb,) Burgundy Kale, Mandarin Chocolate Chocolate Habanero, Cherry Chocolate Almond and Mary Jane’s Grapes, made with grapes and cannabis. I have several new wines planned including Tangerine Brainstrain(a superhot pepper I grew) and Chocolate which may become Chocolate Coffee. I will be growing several new hot peppers this year to use in hot pepper citrus wines: Brazilian Starfish, Volcano and Count Dracula.

I name all my wines after the main ingredients. My favorite names so far are Buddha’s Hand Cherry Bomb and Kumquat Kung Pao, both of which are hot pepper citrus wines. Home winemaking has enriched my life. I’ve given many friends the opportunity to stomp fruit. I have a large variety of wines to share with friends and always have at hand a much appreciated homemade gift for almost any occasion. I would recommend a home winemaking hobby to anyone interested in wine.

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The Season has Changed.

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Chocolate habanero

Chocolate habanero

The weather is dramatically cooler and we have had our first snow.  After a warm weekend over the next couple of days, we are facing a week of serious cold and predicted snowfall.  We had the first hard freeze, near 20 degrees.  We harvested all the tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers which are ripening all over our kitchen.  Our salad greens are doing fine.  We are still harvesting lettuce, curly blue/green and burgundy kale, spinach, mild mustard greens, curled and flat parsley, rainbow chard, garlic chives, carrots and peas.  While we have only picked a few pea pods, the entire pea plant is edible and we have been adding leaves and shoots to our salads.

Hunting season was a success. With a deer added to our garden produce, our deep freeze is packed with the overflow filling the fridge freezer in the kitchen.  I did not bring home an elk, but the deer is enough red meat for the 2 of us during the coming year.  I still consider my elk hunt a success.  It was a busy week for me that included 2 book signing events for Bountiful Bonsai that limited my time in the woods to only 3 of 9 days in the season.  I hunted in fresh snow, up to knee deep for those 3 days.  I found a great new place to hunt with plenty of tracks, droppings and rubs.  I felt close to elk but just not in the same time, same place.  With more time to hunt I’m sure the outcome would have been different.

Now that hunting season is essentially over, it is wine season for me.  I signed a contract last month to write the book, Craft Wines for Story Press.  I have until August 1 to write the manuscript and have several new wines I plan to make as well as write about for the book.  At last count, I have 138 different wines to write about for the book.  Most recently, we pressed out Burgundy Kale, Plum Rhubarb and Orange Ghost wines.  Hot pepper/citrus wines are always a favorite among my wine drinking friends.  There are more than 30 different hot pepper/citrus wines in the cellar.  I always look for new hot peppers with interesting names to use in wines.  This last summer I grew chocolate habaneros to be paired with Mandarin oranges and cocoa bean hulls as well as a pepper called brainstrain which will become Tangerine Brainstrain.  I’ve already ordered seeds of 2 new pepper varieties to grow next year, Count Dracula and Volcano.  I also plan to make a Chocolate Almond Cherry wine this winter.

Summer of Salads

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Burgundy kale, garlic chive flowers and peppers.

It has been a great summer for salads.  We have been eating a large fresh salad every day for months.  It started with spinach, lettuce and rainbow chard leaves from last year’s fall garden that overwintered.  I even picked spinach on Valentine’s Day.  Early in the spring we planted more lettuce, curly and burgundy kale, carrots and large leaf basil indoors(in late February) that we were picking for salads before it was warm enough to plant that basil outside.  When the lettuce and spinach was done by early summer, we continued with kales, chard leaves, carrot greens, basil and garlic chive leaves.   By midsummer, we were adding grated carrots and ripe tomatoes, starting with heirloom cocktail varieties that ripen early and peppers, especially the varieties that ripen early like Gypsy and Jimmy Nardello.

By late summer we were adding tomatillos and a large variety of ripe peppers including a new favorite, Chocolate bell.  A couple of larger varieties we like that ripen earlier than bells are Aconcagua and Giant Marconi.  Not only are they delicious raw in salads, but when they ripened in quantity, we stuffed some of them with a mixture of onions, garlic, herbs, nuts and shrimp mixed into a soft cheese and baked them in the oven.  One of my favorite dinners with, of course, a large salad on the side.   A bonus in late summer was the flowers from garlic chives.  Garlicky yet sweet, they are delightful sprinkled on top of a salad.  We even sautéed garlic chive flower buds with shishito peppers as an appetizer.

As someone who doesn’t like vinegar or ranch dressings, it has always been hard for me to find any salad dressing I can enjoy.  We had been using an organic tomato-based dressing that was okay when my wife Cathy decided she could do better.  She started making our own dressing in the blender using fresh tomatoes as a base but also adding onions, garlic, various peppers, tomatillos and herbs, adding a fresh mix every time the dressing container got low.  With a little sea salt and olive oil added after blending, we’ve discovered a thick, fresh tomato-tasting dressing that is superior to any other dressing we have ever tasted.  We also enjoy sprinkling some grated cheese over our salads and have even added grated parmesan to the dressing sometimes.

In the first week of August, we planted a fall cool season crop of lettuce, spinach and edible-pod peas.  We were already picking spinach by late September.  Here in the first week of October, we hope to continue our fresh salads for a couple months with those crops as well as the kale, rainbow chard, grated carrots and garlic chives which will tolerate cold temperatures below freezing until we hit very cold winter temps.  I’m also about to start basil indoors to grow in the bright south-facing window in my office that should give us fresh basil until well after the fall garden freezes.  This has easily been the best summer of salads I’ve ever experienced.