Homemade Plum Wine, 2013

I learned a few lessons last year making plum wine for the first time (Plum Wine Results). I’m not sure which is most important, but the number one change I made this year was using ripe fruit. Of course, the plums ripening coincided with my family’s annual get-together, so before I left, I went through boxes of fruit on a daily basis, bagged ripe plums, and stuck them in the freezer, whole.

Juicing the plums

When I finally had time, I thawed the plums overnight in a big plastic crate and began juicing. As I did last year, I juiced by hand, squeezing fruit then tossing it into a fine-mesh nylon bag strapped over a 5-gallon bucket. When the fruit pulp had reached about the size of a soft ball, I held the mesh bag in one hand and squeezed and milked with the other until I felt satisfied with the amount of juice extracted. If you have help, you can wait till the pulp is bigger in mass before squeezing. I was working by myself, and the softball size worked well for my hand size.

Plastic crate to left; juiced plum debris for liqueur in middle; me and my softball-sized bag of squished plums to juice in foreground. I juiced directly into the bucket that I used for my primary fermentation.

Plastic crate to left; juiced plum debris for liqueur in middle; me and my softball-sized bag of squished plums to juice in foreground. I juiced directly into the bucket that I used for my primary fermentation.

Since last year’s plum liqueur was the true star of the season, I didn’t try to squeeze every last ounce of juice out of the pulp. I figured some juice would be useful in this year’s batch of plum liqueur.

Starting the wine

I ultimately produced about 5 gallons of juice. I ended up freezing half a gallon, and used the remaining 4.5 gallons for the wine. I added campden tablets, even though I had frozen the fruit, because the juice sat out for periods in the kitchen. The recommended rate is 1 tablet per gallon of ‘must.’

I have also semi-graduated to wine-speak, mostly so I don’t make an ass out of myself when I go ask questions at the brew shop.

One difference between the process I follow (courtesy of our friend Richard) and recipes I have found online is I use straight juice versus smashing fruit and adding water. It is recommended to allow the must and campden tablet mixture sit at least 24 hours – and no more than 48 – before beginning the process of making wine.

When I was ready to proceed, I added sugar at a ratio of one pound to one gallon of  must, again per Richard’s recipe. This time, instead of dissolving before adding, I added straight to the bucket, and stirred and stirred until the sugar was dissolved. After I added and dissolved the sugar, I scooped out some of the must and made my yeast mixture in a pint jar that I had sterilized.

Adding the yeast

Last year I used champagne yeast, and sure enough, my wine had an off-flavor of champagne. So this year, I used EC-1118, also recommended for fruit wines. While it is also a champagne yeast, I thought it might yield a wine a little less dry than the champagne yeast. At least, that’s what the guy at the brew shop lead me to believe.

Once the yeast started taking off, which took about 15-20 minutes, I gently poured it across the surface of the must, as I had read somewhere I should do, then covered my bucket with another mesh bag, bungee-corded in place.

If you want a clear wine, you can also add pectic enzyme. This helps break down the pectin in the juice, so that the resulting liquid is clear versus opaque. I didn’t add pectic enzyme because I’m ok with the opaqueness. It’s not a displeasing murkiness; it’s just opaque, and the color is vibrant. I used Santa Rosa plums, so the color is a rich magenta. If you want to use pectic enzyme, I think the recommended rate is 1 teaspoon per gallon of must.

The primary fermentation

Back to my bucket: I have read tons of talk on brewing and wine-making forums about yeast and oxygen and oxygen and oxidization. Richard’s original recipe had his must and yeast working away for a week or so in a bucket covered with panty-hose before he racked and transferred to a carboy. I did that last year, but this year, I let the bucket sit like this for 48 hours, before securing the lid and air-lock in place. It seemed like a good balance between letting the yeast proliferate in the presence of oxygen and sealing the wine off from oxygen.

As it is, the yeast went nuts before I secured the lid and airlock. I believe this is largely due to the location of the bucket – about 6′ away from the oven – and one 36-hour jam session. The must actually rose all the way to the top of the 6-gallon bucket before collapsing. Yikes. Some forums say the yeast going fast and hard can affect the flavor of the wine, so I am concerned about the eventual flavor. But it is also known that champagne yeasts go hard, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

After securing the lid and air-lock (my bucket has a pre-drilled hole that fits a #6 or #6.5 rubber stopper, into which an air-lock fits), I left the wine alone for a few days before looking into the bucket via the hole to monitor the activity. I believe it took about 6 days for most of the activity to die down.

First racking

At this point, I racked the wine into my glass carboy, which I had sterilized. I didn’t have a racking cane, which I do now, so I aimed the spigot at a funnel seated in the carboy and lined with a mesh bag, and turned ‘on’ the spigot. The spigot was about 6-8″ away from the funnel to minimize splashing and oxygenation. There was a lot of debris!

Last year’s wine also was not sweet enough, which I did not realize until we had bottled it. So, after racking into the carboy, I added 2.5 more pounds of sugar directly into the carboy. I swirled this around until it was dissolved, then wrapped the carboy with a towel to protect it from light and put it to rest under the dining table.

The secondary fermentation, second racking & first taste test

After a few days, more yeast activity showed. This went on for about a week and a half or two weeks, until the yeast dropped to the bottom of the carboy. I ultimately let the wine sit in the carboy for about a month before racking again. That’s where it stands now.

As I mentioned, last year’s wine was not sweet enough for us. And, after tasting some of this year’s batch during this second racking, I can say it still isn’t sweet enough. This year, however, I know to back-sweeten BEFORE bottling, which is my plan. I think I’ll let the wine sit for awhile before adding sugar, on the off-chance that any yeast might still be present, and hungry.

Always more to learn

Next year, I think I’ll double the sugar ratio, say, two pounds per gallon of must vs. one pound per gallon. I hesitate to make too sweet of a wine, and it’s also possible that the wine, once aged, will be tasty enough as is. The learning curve continues.

12 Responses to Homemade Plum Wine, 2013

  1. Kelly, when my gooseberry wine exploded during our summer heatwave I took the opportunity to do a bit of tasting and found it incredibly sour so the surviving bottles have been left to mature, probably for another year at least. Last year’s blackberry wine had at least 6 lbs of sugar added to a gallon and that too needs more time. About 20 years ago I made a batch that was gradually drunk after a year except one bottle that got tucked away in a corner mostly because I wasn’t impressed with its flavour. When it was finally poured during a dinner party (does anyone have those anymore??) it had turned into the most beautiful mature fruit wine I’d ever tasted and I immediately regretted drinking the other bottles after just one year. You might consider building up a collection of one bottle per batch over a few years and note what difference if any maturing the wines makes.
    P.S my damson plum supplier let me down this year so no plum vodka ~ the bottle I made last year has unfortunately just been emptied. I’ve a few raspberries in the freezer so may give raspberry gin a try!

    • Hi Jackie:
      Wish you lived closer for liqueur and fruit wine tastings. I remember you offering this advice last year – to just be patient, that some of the wines you thought failures turned out to be some of the best upon aging. While patience is not my strong suit, I’ll try harder. Hopefully, it will pay off. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I’ve been searching the web for some tips on back sweetening and happen across your posting. I’m in the process of my first plum wine attempt and it sounds like my batch is somewhat similar to yours. I’m guessing I started out with about 30 pounds of ripe plums (I probably threw about that same amount away as they were over ripe). I have a masticating juicer so I juiced the plums the same day I picked them. Beyond that I’ve been kind of following a recipe in the Home Winemakers Companion book. I put in a 10 pound bag of sugar to the juice which brought the volume to 4 gallons, then I added a gallon of water. I don’t expect any of this initial sugar will add sweetness, because my hydrometer showed it was all gone after fermentation was complete ( which I’m told means it was converted to alcohol). It started out with what I showed as about 14 to 15 percent alcohol potential. I’ve racked twice so far and topped off with water so I expect the wine to be in the 11 to 13 percent alcohol range. It’s been almost 3 months since the last racking. I plan to taste the wine tomorrow then back sweeten and stabilize the batch or maybe part of the batch. I wish I would have save some of the juice for back sweetening. I’m toying with simple syrup (cane sugar), pomegranate juice, raspberries and watermelon as candidates for adding some sugar. After I add the sugar/juice during a third racking, my plan is to let it sit another month, bottle in beer bottles for smaller sake size servings, then let it sit at least another three months. I’m going to seek input at a nearby wine making shop tomorrow to see what thought they might have. Thanks for your post. Cheers!

    • Hey Sean – It’s a little hard to find clear directions for back sweetening, but I really like your idea of using fruit juice, which, now that I think about it, is what what they do to some hard apple and pear ciders. I did save some of the juice from my plums, but I used Santa Rosa plums, which are sweet-tart, so I’m not sure if that would add the amount of sweetening I desire. On the other hand, it might be perfect. My wine has been racked twice now, and will undergo another racking in about a month – I’d love to hear back from you about what you decided and how you went about it. Jackie, who frequently comments on our posts, has also suggested being patient with fruit wines, and has experienced some fruit wines needing upwards of two years to properly mature. Thanks for writing – you really have me thinking now!

  3. Kelly,
    To follow-up on my earlier post, we siphoned off a 11 oz bottle from the carboy and made some adjustments with a Wine Conditioner that was recommended by the wine shop near my house. It has the sugar and stabilizer mixed together as a syrup. (I included the link to the product above.) We adjusted the one bottle using the dosage ratio suggested on the wine conditioner bottle which is 2 oz. per gallon. I put the syrup in the new carboy before we racked the wine. We’d used glass beads/marbles to fill up the carboy after we siphoned off the bottle. Because of the added syrup, we didn’t need to use as many marbles after racking. We played around adding more sugar to the test bottle, but decided to keep it more semi-dry. We’d tested some Japanese plum wines and they were sweeter than we prefer, so I’m going for more of a rose type finish. I plan to bottle in a month. I started with a beer making kit and it came with a capper, so I plan on bottling in Guinness bottles. Measuring the specific gravity with the hydrometer from the kit, the specific gravity rose from 0.990 to 1.000 when I added the sugar. I plan on measuring it again when I bottle. Other than the juicing, I’m pretty much following a recipe that is similar to the one for plum wine in this book: http://www.winebook.webs.com/. That manual also says dry white wines tend to have a finished Brix reading of -1.8 to -2.4. My plum wine was a bit dryer, and measured at -2.6 degrees Brix before sweetening and 0 degrees after. After bottling, the plan is to wait 3 months before we taste the wine to see how it’s aging.

    • Hi Sean:
      Thanks for the detailed update! I have read that you can use Sodium bisulfate and Potassium sorbate to stop yeast from growing once fermentation is complete and you want to back-sweeten your wine. I have wanted my wines and meads to be fairly ‘clean,’ so, for example, have used yeast nutrients sparingly, preferring raisins instead or black tea for tannins. However, I do need to back-sweeten my plum wine. It’s due for its next racking (which will be its third) in a few weeks – and this will mark three months since the last visible fermentation. I am tempted to add sugar at this point, but I should probably be prepared to stop any yeast activity. On the other hand, I have been intrigued by the traditional process of making applejack: making apple wine and then repeatedly freezing it and skimming off the alcohol. Maybe I’ll make plum brandy in a similar fashion?? I’ll be sure to post when I back-sweeten, and I really appreciate you commenting and being so specific about how you back-sweetened.

  4. It’s been my experience that most yeasts will ferment wine dry, meaning adding more sugar won’t result in a sweet wine just higher alcohol content. What I have done over the years is just use plain bread yeast, I used about 2 to 3 pounds of sugar per Gallon of wine. It would ferment dry. After 2 to 3 weeks when initial fermentation was done I would transfer to a carboy and then add Caden tablets to kill any yeast that might still be alive or dormant. When ready to bottle I would pour off some of the wine into apt and add sugar as a back sweetener, and bring to a quick boil and add back into the wine. Satisfied with the sweetness I would then bottle.

    • Jim, thanks for sharing. I had also read about using a combination of potassium sorbate and sodium bisulfate, but I didn’t want to complicate the process. Jackie, a regular here, also suggested I was being impatient and that the key to a flavorful wine (sweet or dry) is age. So, I am aging both my 2012 and 2013 batches. Your suggestion is simple and I may just try it some time. Thanks!

  5. Wondering how the bottles turned out! Just happened upon this post looking for a plum wine recipe for my Santa Rosa plums.. 🙂
    A bit complicated so I will be sticking to my liqueur recipe this time, but I would love to hear how the process is going. Any tips for a beginner?

    • Sorry for the late response, Hannah. Wine-making does seem to be more complicated and have more variables than making liqueur. If you are a patient person – and I am not – you will give yourself many years to experiment, using different amounts of sugar/sweetener and trying different yeasts. It is a process that kind of commands a learning curve!

  6. How did the back sweetening go? Your last response leads me to believe that it still did not turn out like you would have liked?

    I am jumping into this wine making process and after all my reading have not found satisfactory results. Lots of people have recipes but not the finish product they would like. 🙁 Would love some more advice as to the sweetening and if you ever found a yeast that you like?
    Thanks for all the great info, yours was the best by far.

    • Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words! So sorry for the extremely delayed response. I haven’t done a lot of experimenting with back sweetening, despite wanting to. What I have been trying is aging my wines longer than the recipes recommend, which has improved the flavor of some of the wines. I did recently add sugar to 2016’s plum wine after the fermentation had stopped. I let that sit for 4 weeks to ensure no further activity, since I don’t want to add more Campden tablets to kill the yeast. No further fermentation was observed, so I racked again and am due to bottle the finished product. Don’t yet know how this will all work out!

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