A favourite in Asia, plum wine is easy and inexpensive to make, though it has a reputation for not always clearing fully, but this recipe gives you a good chance because of the inclusion of Pectolase. This recipe is also sound for peaches, nectarines and other stone fruits, so keep an eye out for seasonal and inexpensive sources of fruit.
Ingredients (To start)
These are the ingredients you will need to get the fermentation started, which takes about 2 hours over two days. Where a quantity is not given for an ingredient this means either:
- The quantity is not fixed and depends on taste or quality of the fruit, as explained in the directions OR
- You follow the directions printed on the container
- 2 kg plums
- 1 packet champagne or cider yeast (Wine yeast will work too)
- Tartaric Acid
- Malic Acid
- Citric Acid
- As an alternative to Tartaric, Malic and Citric acid you can use an acid blend for winemaking, though you will have less control of the acid profile.
- Wine Tannin
- 5 g / 1 rounded teaspoon Pectolase
- Yeast Nutrient
- Vitamin B1 (This is optional for fruit must, but won’t hurt)
- 100 ml concentrated red grape juice specifically for wine making (Optional but useful if your fruit turns out mealy or bland)
- 0.44 g Sodium Metabisulphite or a Campden tablet
Ingredients (During and after fermentation)
- If you need to top up the demijohn during fermentation you can use a sterile (Boiled) sugar solution at specific gravity around 1.100, but this should be a small adjustment if required at all.
- You might need a fining agent like carrageenan gum, but this is unlikely.
- You might need another dose of pectolase if the wine has a pectin haze at the end, though this would be unlucky.
- Sterilising Solution for cleaning containers (Boiling water may suffice)
- Stainless steel pot for heating steps, 6 l capacity minimum
- A medium to coarse sieve
- pH measurement strips or meter
- Demijohn and Airlock
- Kitchen basics like knives, spoons, bowl
Food grade syphon tube
- A stick blender (A potatoe masher may substitute)
- Bottles with stoppers or corks (You don’t need these until the end)
First day: Start the Must
Wash any visible dirt from the plums discarding any that are squashy, overripe, have mould or are otherwise bad. Holding each plum over the pot to catch any juice, cut it around and remove and discard the pit.
When all the plums are in the pot pour over 3 litres of water that has just boiled and purée with a stick blender. Cover and bring to 90 degrees then place the pot in a sink of cold water to cool quickly, which will pasteurise the must. From this point forward you should handle the must with great attention to cleanliness as it could become contaminated. This is unlikely to happen unless you are careless, but sanatise all implements that come in contact with the must and keep it covered with the lid as much as possible, both in the pot and later in the fermentation container.
Once cooled to 50 degrees add the pectolase, either 5 grammes or by the directions on the container and either 0.44 grammes of Sodium Metabisulphite or one crushed campden tablet, cover and leave overnight.
Second Day: Balance the Must
After 24 hours strain the mixture through a sieve into your fermentation container and add enough sterile boiled water to make the correct quantity that fills your container, less about one litre for headroom in the demijohn and the volume of sugar you will be adding. The must should be not hotter than room temperature while you balance the acid and tannin so you can taste the results effectively.
Remember to keep the must covered as much as possible to avoid contamination. A single vinegar fly entering the vessel now could lead to extreme disappointment in a few months when you discover you have a gallon of red wine vinegar! It is best to fill your airlock now and use it to keep the must sealed between the remaining steps. Otherwise use a normal lid or a clean tea towel and elastic band.
Check the pH
Now it is necessary to balance the must. First measure the pH. It should be about 3.5. If it is between 3 and 4 you should be fine. If the pH is below 3 then the must is too acid and correcting this requires addition of calcium carbonate, but this is very unlikely with this must because there is much more water than fruit. However if the pH is significantly above 3.5 pH you can adjust it down by adding more acid. If you are using testing strips they will only give you a very approximate reading, usually with no decimal places, so just aim for a reading of 3. With practice you will be able to do this by taste alone, and absolute accuracy is not necessary. You can always do a second acid adjustment (Very carefully) after fermentation if you need.
For this wine you should add mostly tartaric acid, then malic and very little citric in small increments and mix and sample each time. Alternatively you can use an acid blend, preferably with 40% or more tartaric. Be sure to check the pH with strips or a meter, and also taste every time so you learn what a pH of 3.0 to 3.5 tastes like and can reduce your reliance on testing strips with practice.
When I last made this wine I used:
- 5 grammes tartaric acid
- 1 gramme malic acid
- 1 gramme citric acid
Now start adding the tannin in small increments until there is a slightly perceptible dry tannin taste in the must. If you are aiming for a dry wine you may want to use upto a teaspoon, but you must judge by taste. If you add too much it is impossible to remove it, so go slowly, and err on the side of less, as you can add more after fermentation if you like. The slightest tannin dryness is all you’re aiming for.
I have successfully used 1 gramme of tannin per gallon for this wine.
Sometimes it happens that the fruit you used wasn’t as sweet and juicy as you would have hoped, and in that case you can always add 100 ml of a concentrated juice blend specifically made for winemaking. Concentrations vary so use your judgement as to the quantity to use. Where a bottle is recommended to make a gallon of wine on its own, you’ll want to be adding not more than half that quantity, and even then only while carefully sampling the must. The must should taste more dilute than fruit juice you would drink, so don’t over-enrich it. Also if your fruit had lots of flavour then you can skip this entirely and enjoy a more naturally made wine.
Now add 800g of the table sugar and stir or shake to dissolve. Once the sugar is completely dissolved (This is important) then take the specific gravity reading. The specific gravity will have increased significantly but you will need to add more sugar carefully in small increments to get to the desired specific gravity.
You are aiming for a specific gravity of 1.096, and ideally the temperature of the must should be close to the calibration temperature printed on your hydrometer. If the difference is more than 4 degrees you can use an online converter. Accuracy will help the wine to hit the desired 13.5% alcohol by volume at which it is well balanced.
When I last made this wine the total added table sugar was 1,020 grammes, though this will vary with the sweetness of the fruit.
Add a level teaspoon of yeast nutrient, or as directed on the container. Optionally you can add a small dose of Vitamin B1 to assist in building the yeast colony, but if you don’t have any it’s not essential.
Pitch the Yeast
Begin to hydrate your yeast according to the directions on the packet or as described next. Put 30 ml of freshly boiled water into a cup or glass and place it on a little cold water in the sink until it cools to 30 degrees, then sprinkling the yeast over it and leave for 10 minutes, then add a half teaspoon of table sugar and the yeast should start to foam and ferment within a few minutes. While it is important to hydrate the yeast, it is not absolutely necessary to activate it with sugar, but this step does give you confidence that the yeast is alive and fresh. If fermentation does not start you may need to obtain fresh yeast. You can, of course, repeat the pitching process with new yeast after 48 hours if the must does not begin to ferment.
Now double check that your wine is below 30 degrees celsius then pitch the yeast into the must, using a little must to wash the glass clean and apply an airlock correctly filled with a suitable sterilising solution.
Allow to Ferment
Put the wine in a place that maintains a relatively stable temperature between 18 and 28 degrees on a tray to catch any spillover. in eight to 24 hours it should be bubbling merrily, though sometimes it takes 48 hours.
Troubleshooting when Fermentation does not Start
If fermentation has not begun in 72 hours then double check that your seal is airtight. If the cap or bung is loose then the produced carbon dioxide may pass out the leak instead of through the airlock making it appear that fermentation has not started when it really has. Remove the bung and smell for carbon dioxide. Look for any motion or frothing in the wine which would indicate fermentation. If it is clear that the wine has not begun to ferment then you have either added something incorrect to your must (Like inadvertently adding sterilising solution), the temperature is significantly outside the range of your yeast (18 to 28 degrees typically), or most likely of all, your yeast was dead or incorrectly hydrated. Try adding another dose of yeast, carefully following the directions on the packet. As a last resort, just pour your dried yeast directly into the must, this should work too.
Allow to ferment until bubbles have slowed to less than one a minute. This may take anything from one to three weeks. Once fermentation stops your wine should start to clear.
This is a good time to take another hydrometer reading to see how dry your wine became. Ideally it will be at 1.000, which will give you an alcohol by volume of 13.5%. If it is more than 1.002 then it may be better to add a quarter teaspoon of yeast nutrient and see if it ferments further given another couple of weeks.
Once the specific gravity is at 1.000 (Or at least less than 1.002) and the wine is starting to clear you can syphon it into another clean container to remove the lees that might taint the wine once fermentation stops. The wine can now be placed in a cooler location. Because fermentation is not completely stopped, restore the airlock and wait for the wine to clear. If it has not cleared within two weeks you may wish to use a fining agent like carrageenan according to the directions, but if the wine is almost completely clear this step can be skipped. It will clear a little further in the bottle.
Troubleshooting a Cloudy Wine
In the unlikely event that your wine is cloudy but fining doesn’t help then it may have a haze caused by pectin. This is unlikely because the pectolase added on day one should prevent this. If pectin haze remains after fining and sitting in a cool place for a month then you will need to gently warm the wine to 30 degrees by placing the demijohn in warm water or a warm place and add another half teaspoon dose of pectolase, mix thoroughly and return to a cool place for some months. However, even with a mild haze the wine will taste just as good. It is nearly certain that, provided you use the day one dose of pectolase (And you add it below 50 degrees) your wine will need no special treatment to clear, not even wine finings or filtering should be necessary, just two careful rackings (Syphoning between containers) should suffice.
A month after fermentation has stopped you can syphon your wine again to remove any new sediment and transfer it into suitable sterile bottles. You also have the option of leaving it in the fermentation container for a few months to improve if you wish, but this wine will bottle early just fine. You can obtain plastic corks which require no special equipment, or you can invest in a corking machine for real corks. Plastic works fine and is easily sterilised.
Rest the Bottles
Place the bottles in a cool place for some months, and don’t be surprised if a tiny bit more sediment falls out of the wine, especially if it wasn’t brilliantly clear when bottled.