A Rough Guide to Making Country Wines

Country wines are generally wines made with fruit other than grapes. Considering these wines are usually the output of my garden and I’m not located in the country, I sometimes refer to these as garden wines.

But whether you call them country wines or garden wines or something else, the process is still the same and the output is usually delicious.

I’ve learned over the years that fermenting—wines, kombucha, fermentation as preservation—is as much an art as it is a science.

Yes, there’s the obvious science stuff; fermentation is the process of using beneficial bacteria and yeast to produce a desired effect on foods. In winemaking, fermentation involves yeast turning sugar into alcohol.

However, once the basic science stuff is accommodated, art comes in. For winemaking that could mean tweaking a recipe to get a desired taste, upping the sugar content to increase the alcohol content, paying attention to the wine to get a sense of the fermentation stages and process (since I often find with country wines that the fermentation period varies wildly from the recipes I follow), and more.

So far I’ve tried:

  • Dandelion wine (now a regular summer project for me)
  • Lemon wine (a bit lemony, which I guess is to be expected, but it received mixed reviews)
  • Parsnip wine (surprisingly very good)
  • Rhubarb wine (a favourite of a friend of mine)
  • Apple wine (delicious and will definitely be making more)
  • Lilac wine (unbelievably good)
  • Saskatoon wine (recently bottled, haven’t tried yet)
  • Cherry wine (going to bottle soon, haven’t tried yet)
  • Grape wine (going to bottle in a couple weeks, haven’t tried yet)
  • Chokecherry wine (currently fermenting, haven’t had it before)
  • Corn cob wine (just started this batch yesterday, haven’t had it before)
  • Beetroot wine (just starting this batch today, haven’t had it before)

The Equipment You Need

While country wines are dirt cheap to make—the ingredients are often fruit, sugar, water, yeast, and a few additives—there is a start-up cost with the needed equipment. Even then, there are things you need, and things you can get by without.

Country wines are often small one-gallon batches, which means you’re using smaller (and cheaper!) equipment than if you’re making full five-gallon batches from winemaking kits. (There are even mason jar micro-batch wine recipes if you search the internet enough!) However, if you like a garden wine and have enough fruit, you can always quintuple a recipe and use the traditional five-gallon equipment.

Everything I’ll list here is on the assumption of equipment needed for one-gallon batches:

  • Fermentation vessels, which are a fancy term to mean jars or buckets. Ideally you have two because you have to transfer the wine from one to the other a few times to remove sediment, but you could get by only having one of you transfer the wine to a temporary vessel (like several jars or jugs) while you clean out your vessel, then return the wine to it.
  • Airlocks / waterlocks, which are important to control the flow of air and, more importantly, any unwanted yeasts in the air that could spoil a batch of wine. (There’s yeast all around us!)
  • Bottles and corks. Since country wines are typically small batches, I like to use 375ml bottles, so the wine spreads out a little better. 375ml is half a standard wine bottle. You’ll also need corks and a corker (a device to put the cork in the bottle). Bottles can be reused, corks cannot.
  • Siphon, to move the wine from one vessel to the other.
    • Here’s one on Amazon, and it’s made for one gallon vessels. If you’re doing bigger batches with bigger equipment, you’ll need a longer siphon.
    • I actually don’t use this. I have a siphon but it’s for the big 5-gallon jugs, making it quite oversized for a little one-gallon jar. I usually use a clean ladle and carefully ladle the wine from one vessel to the other, leaving most sediment behind. If I also have to filter out chunks of fruit, I set a fine-mesh wire strainer over the empty vessel to catch the fruit as I transfer the wine. When transferring the wine to bottle—usually done by siphoning directly into the bottles—I use a funnel and ladle the wine in. It’s not the best, but it does the job.
  • Yeast. There are different yeasts meant for different types of wine. To be honest, I’m not the best with planning ahead so I often just use the one I have on hand. **Do not use bread yeast as you’ll get off flavours.**
  • Pectin enzyme, which is needed to break up naturally occurring pectin that comes on some fruits. Pectin is what sets jam and jelly nice and solid, not something you want in your wine.
  • Acid blend, which is needed to acidify some wines.
    • Here’s some on Amazon.
    • Alternatively, you can use lemon juice at a ratio of one tablespoon of lemon juice in place of one teaspoon of acid blend. I use lemon juice.
  • Tannin powder, to add tannins to some wines. This gives the mouth feel we associate with wine.
    • Here’s some on Amazon.
    • Alternatively, you can brew a cup of black tea / English Breakfast tea, let it cool, and dump it in. I always go with the tea option.
  • Yeast nutrient, as not all fruits give the micronutrients yeast needs to thrive.

The Stages of Winemaking

Once you get all the ingredients (which may include fruit/flowers, sugar, nutrients, acid, water, yeast, etc.) into your fermentation vessel, these are the general stages:

Primary Fermentation

Fermentation at the stage can be fast and furious, and sometimes the contents can shoot up the airlock and spill over.

The yeast is hungrily and greedily consuming the sugar and converting it to alcohol.

The fermentation vessel used here—even if it’s the same vessel you use throughout the process—is often called the “primary”. So if a recipe calls for stirring your primary or putting everything in your primary, it’s referring to the stage.

Secondary Fermentation

After a while, usually a few weeks, the speed of fermentation slows. The bubbles in the airlock are slower-paced.

At this point, you’ll usually rack the wine into your secondary. This is a fancy way of saying to move the wine into a new vessel, leaving sediment (or even fruit or flowers) behind.

This is typically done by siphoning the wine from one vessel to the other—or using a ladle like I do.

If you move the vessel before racking it—I usually keep mine in the corner of the counter and have to move it closer—it’s a good idea to let it sit for half an hour or more before racking. Moving can stir up the sediment, so you want it to settle before you rack it.

Racking and Clarifying

Recipes will often have you racking the wine—transferring it to a new vessel—a few times. As the yeast continues to work, sediment continues to accumulate. Some wines produce a lot of sediment (like dandelion wine) and others not so much (my saskatoon wine, currently fermenting, seems to give little sediment).

Bottling and Aging

Eventually the wine will finish fermenting. Regardless of the timeline given by the recipe, figure this out for yourself. Watch the airlock closely; if there are no bubbles in a five to ten minute period, the wine is likely done and the yeast has died off.

The risk of bottling too early is that if the yeast is still active and producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct of fermentation, pressure builds up in the bottle and it could explode. I once bottled a batch of dandelion wine too early—it ended up coming out sparkling like a moscato, but could have easily exploded. I was lucky!

Transfer to bottles, either with a siphon or a ladle and funnel, and then insert a cork.

Most wines need to age, which means just sit around in their bottles, for anywhere from a few weeks to a year. You can certainly drink it before it’s done aging, but the taste might not be as good. The difference aging makes can sometimes be drastic. I tasted my apple wine while bottling, opened and drank a bottle midway through aging, and enjoyed some fully-aged—and each of these three tastes were wildly different.

Learning the Process

Learning to make wine feels intimidating. However, the way to learn is to just dive in and do it.

If you can invest in the equipment necessary, a good starter is a full wine kit from a wine store. Those have easy to follow instructions and very little goes wrong. That’s how I got my start, and it gave me the confidence to move on to country wines. (The downside is that these kits are made for five-gallon equipment, not the one-gallon equipment you’d be buying for country wines.)

If you’re a first timer or have never been comfortable with the process, but want to try it, find a country wine recipe with clear instructions and that tells you how to identify the steps, such as knowing when primary fermentation is over and it’s ready to rack into the secondary. The resource section below will help you find such recipes.

Country Wine Resources

This website will be a resource as I get recipes uploaded. Click on Recipe Index in the menu and look for the wine section. (As of writing this, the wine section doesn’t exist yet… but it will!)

Practical Self-Reliance—this is my go-to homesteading resource and highly recommend it. Ashley has several wine recipes with clear instructions, including information on substitutes for special ingredients and what to do if you don’t have all the equipment. Her Dandelion Wine recipe was my first country wine.

I now do five-gallon batches of dandelion wine because it’s so well loved.

Jack Keller’s archive—Jack was a leader in the country wine community online and wrote a very popular blog filled with recipes. After his passing, his community archived all of his country wine recipes in a downloadable PDF meant for sharing widely. I’ve got a copy saved here that you can download for yourself. These are more for the experienced winemaker, or at least for the brave soul that likes to experiment, because some of them feel like fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants directions.

Tasty Experiments

Country wines don’t usually taste like store-bought wines, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less enjoyable. You’ll find out which ones you love and which you don’t care for. My husband loves my dandelion wine and a friend of ours loves my rhubarb wine.

But it’s the experimenting that makes this extra fun and the final product extra rewarding. It’s looking at something in your garden and six months later pouring it into a glass to impress your friends. It’s about making something special and unique, something you can’t buy, something that can only come from someone putting in the time and effort to create something delicious.

4 thoughts on “A Rough Guide to Making Country Wines

  1. This is very cool! You should make a list of all the different kinds of garden wine you have made and rate them based on your favs – I’m curious!

    1. Good idea! I’ve added a “so far I’ve tried” list to the top of the post. Of all of the ones that I’ve already tasted (as some of the ones I’ve tried aren’t ready for tasting yet), I personally prefer the lilac and apple wines. My husband’s favourite is the dandelion wine. A friend of ours prefers the rhubarb wine and loves when I crack open a bottle.

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