A Family Builds a Homestead in the Rain

Making Plum Wine

 

After early blossoming, the plum trees already have surprisingly sizable fruit showing, and it has me thinking about last year’s wonderfully successful venture of country winemaking. Plum was my first attempt, and it’s been one of the best among apple, mint, nettle, pumpkin, mead, pomegranate mead, jujube, and rosehip.

Until last year, I was mostly unaware that wine can be made from pretty much any fruit or vegetable matter, from peaches to rhubarb, parsnips to zucchini, even nettles and flowers. And contrary to standard grape winemaking practices, the basics are, well, very basic.

Essentially: Prepare fruit or whatever you’re using; add sugar, yeast and (sometimes) water; ferment once; strain; ferment some more. There are other varying steps of straining or racking , boiling the fruit, and so on, depending on what your basis is, but for the most part, that’s the process.

The plum and other trees have faired poorly in the drought, and last year’s fruit failed to ever completely ripen.  The largest among them were tiny, greenish, and olive-like, many beginning to shrivel.

In spite of my husband’s skepticism, I picked the tree clean: six quarts of unappealing marbles. Then, while he was out of town, during our baby’s naptimes, I made them into wine.

Since  I gave absolutely no consideration to peeling and pitting the plums, I rinsed them and removed the stems, then dumped them into our 20-quart stainless pot. I poured in 14 quarts of water, then boiled them until they had plumped up like about-to-burst cranberries. I scooped many against the side to squeeze out the flesh, but didn’t bother with most. To my surprise, the aroma was wonderfully sweet and plummy.

I then waited a few hours, enough time to pop (start) the packet of liquid yeast that happened to have been sitting in our fridge and also have my husband purchase an enormous bag of white sugar. By then the plum mixture had cooled to room temperature, and I measured in 11 cups of white sugar and stirred it well to dissolve and aerate. Then I dumped in the yeast, stirred some more, covered it loosely, and set the pot on a large baking tray in an out-of-the-way place (a good choice, since it overflowed in a sticky mess as it fermented wildly).

I’d been worried that the yeast was too old to work properly, but after a day, the concoction came to life with frothy, foaming activity. It smelled lovely, and when I stirred it twice daily, a white fizz erupted from beneath the leavened plums.

Five days after cooking, the fermentation had slowed down slightly and I was excited to move along when my daughter went down for her afternoon nap. I filled a six-gallon brewing tub with no-rinse sterilizer solution and dropped in my stirring implements, strainers and syphoning hose. Then I syphoned the solution into a 5-gallon carboy.

Next, I scooped my plum must through a medium mesh strainer into the tub, pressing out liquid and depositing the solids into the chicken bowl (meanwhile wondering if the chickens would be staggering around with a buzz). I let the liquid sit overnight, covered.

In the morning, the surface looked like a freshly baked cookie.

At morning naptime, I again scooped the concoction through a strainer, our finer mesh conical style, and agitated it as the liquid slowly drained through leaving a saucy deposit that again went to the chickens. Then I added 10 more cups of sugar, the remainder of the 10-pound bag. I stirred it up and let that settle until afternoon naptime.

Finally, that afternoon, I syphoned the mix, keeping the hose below the surface but above the level of sediment at the bottom, into the carboy.

I racked the wine once more, after a month or so, then bottled it. The clarity had improved and the flavor was surprisingly marvelous– sweet, plummy, with well balanced alcohol. While I didn’t measure the initial potential alcohol and therefore could not measure the final product, I would guess by its effects that it contained as much as a strong zin: certainly a percentage in the high teens. When we drank it, we always used small glasses.

Plum wine was a wonderful inspiration that set me off into the world of country winemaking, and a fantastic lesson in the value of otherwise useless fruit.

Shared on the Homestead Blog Hop.

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9 Comments

  1. March 23, 2015    

    Love this! We discovered a surprise plum tree last summer on our new property, but it didn’t make much fruit…or we missed its earliest fruit, quite probably. It’s now been pruned and fertilized, and we hope to see more fruit. I bet I could talk Aaron into trying a plum wine.

    • March 23, 2015    

      Thank you Hope! I hope your plum tree has a good year! Fortunately it doesn’t take all that much quantity or even quality fruit to make wine. As for the yeast, I used the yeast we had purchased for making mead, so some sort of wine yeast. I normally use Red Star dry wine yeast and it works great! Much cheaper than the liquid one, and smaller quantity, which works fine.

      • March 23, 2015    

        Thanks. I’m looking forward to trying it. And maybe I’ll try a batch with something different, like rhubarb, too!

      • March 23, 2015    

        Let me know how the rhubarb works out! I have tried almost a dozen different wines. One easy, delicious one that you can make year-round is mint. Recipe linked in this post. Yum!

  2. March 23, 2015    

    Do you remember what kind of yeast you used?

  3. March 23, 2015    

    Looks like a lot of work, but looks delicious:) Have you tried making cider?

    • March 24, 2015    

      I have made cider with friends long ago. I found the apple wine to be more satisfying because there is more yield and more alcohol, and the flavor is just as sweet and apple-y. You can actually distinguish the Golden Delicious variety. I’ll post that recipe sometime. I don’t feel that winemaking is that much work for the payoff, mainly because it’s broken up over days and months. Worth it! 🙂

  4. homesteadingongrace homesteadingongrace
    July 7, 2015    

    This is one of the coolest things I have read! I’m planning on planting a few plum trees this fall, so I’m several years away from making my own wine, but now I’m so excited about trying. Thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop!

    • July 7, 2015    

      Great! The good thing is it’s a good use for early-year plums that are sparse and small. Have fun and thanks for reading!

Welcome!

I'm Kelly. Writer, crafter, forager, country winemaker, cook. Mama of an awesome toddler and married to my best friend. We recently returned to the Pacific Northwest, where we're setting out to grow, make, and learn as much as we can as the future unfolds.

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