Author: Luke McNally


The first sparkling wine I made nearly took my eye out with the explosive force when we popped the cork. After Ms Gazette had stopped laughing and the cat was found we had a great strawberry champagne that was far beyond what I had imagined I could make and was better than the commercial bottle I used as a control. The second was a little nerve racking as it was 12 bottles for a friends wedding but that all went swimmingly too… he still talks to me at least.

Strawberry Sham-pagne

I already plan to make an elderflower shampagne and might make a dandelion fauxseco this year and have just turned last years gooseberry wine into the latest batch of er… sparkling wine. Crisp dry whites are probably best but I may well try and carbonate a second run medium bodied elderberry & blackberry wine about this time next year. You’re making it so go crazy as the world is your lobster.

I am assuming that like me you are making a small batch of champagne – six to twelve bottles using a British gallon or two of wine. If you are making a bigger batch have a read through this exhaustive guide by Jack Keller:

The process is surprisingly easy using a simplified “méthode champenoise” to create a second fermentation in the bottle. As the new fermentation happens the gas is trapped and dissolves in the wine creating all those lovely bubbles. As there is a lot of pressure created you must use champagne bottles. They are made with thicker glass, stronger necks and may well be shaped or have a domed base to deal with the pressure. Along with those you need some hollow plastic corks and cages. The bottle is stored upside down so that the yeast collects in the corks cavity and either compacts enough to be removed when opened or the bottle can be riddled – freezing the wine in the cap then swapping it for a new sediment free one. The cage and upturned bottle keeps the cork in place so the pressure does not create a wine time bomb popping the cork out.

Sparkling wine corks
Hollow plastic “corks” for sparkling wine.

There are a few yeasts that can be used for the second fermentation and the most popular is EC1118 though others like Premier Curvee, WLP715 or CL23 are all available. The yeast does not need to be used for the the initial fermentation when making the base wine so you can match two yeasts to make the best base wine and then carbonate with the sparkling wine yeast. Most people will just happily plough through with EC1118 as it is easy, dependable and tastes excellent.

The gooseberry wine was over six months old and at the age I normally bottle. When making it I did not use any campden after the primary fermentation so that there is little to hamper the new yeast as it is already being introduced to hostile alcohol rich environment. The wine was totally dry at 0.99 gravity so I know how much it will carbonate as the sugar is directly responsible for the carbon dioxide produced thus pressure created. No sediment was falling being nice a clear and almost totally degassed naturally. 17g of sugar will make an American style four atmosphere fizz and 25g creates a French style six atmosphere fizz. Sparkling wines are always more carbonated than bears that will be between one and a half to three atmospheres. If using a young wine with lots of carbon dioxide still dissolved plan for the US style four atmospheres for safety.

Sparkling wine kit and ingredients
All you need to turn your wine to sparkling wine.

Two days work will need to happen before bottling so make sure you have the nights set aside. Also kit needs to be scrupulously sanitised as you go.

First a starter needs to be made to kick start the second fermentation. Separate 750ml of wine from the demijohn into a sanitised litre bottle or jar. Reseal the demijohn and pop it away safely, as there is head space here is a slight chance of oxidation but unlikely. The wine needs 13g of sugar and perhaps a 1/4 tsp of yeast nutrient stirred in before adding the yeast. Some yeasts like Vintners Harvest/Mangrove Jacks have the nutrient already present so have a check. When the yeast is added seal the bottle as you would with any other fermentation with a bung and airlock and allow the yeast to sit and hydrate for a couple of hours. Some yeast may float some may fall but if it is happy it will start to swell and dissolve and it is then ready to stir in thoroughly.

Sparkling wine seperated
Starter and base wine separated. The yeast makes the starter look paler.

There will never be a heavy bubbling during this second fermentation as the yeast is really pushing towards its limits in an alcohol rich environment. There may be small bubbles rising, some may collect on the surface and there will certainly be gentle airlock activity. The must should be kept at more or less room temperature rather than in a cooler bulk ageing environment.

Sparkling wine starter
Happy yeast fermenting in the starter.

After 24 hours add 40ml of sanitised water to dilute the new alcohol and add another 13g of sugar to feed the yeast and leave for another 24 hours. This time will allow the yeast to acclimatise as much as possible and minimise the chance of a stuck second fermentation.

It might be a good time to start and clean and sanitise the bottles and caps at this point. The bottles should be spotlessly clean as always and the caps can either be boiled for ten minutes and left to cool or sanitised in campden or no rinse sanitiser. If boiling the caps to sterilise them be sure to make sure they are cool and thus strong enough to push into the bottles. Hot caps are soft and deform easily!

Recombining to make the sparkling wine
Recombining the base wine, starter and sugar.

Once the starter is viable and happy the remainder of the wine should be prepared. Decide on either a four or six atmosphered wine. Four atmospheres will need 17g of sugar added per bottle thus 102g per British gallon. A European style six atmosphere wine will need 25g per bottle thus 150g per British gallon. Add the sugar to the demijohn and stir into the wine thoroughly. Then add the starter and stir thoroughly again.

Filling the bottles

This sugar and yeast rich wine is now ready to pour into the champagne bottles and cap. Personally I choose to use a jug rather than an auto-syphon as it allows the wine to be stirred between pours dispersing the dense sugar and yeast evenly. Cages are essential should be used twisting to get a good tight seal – this may take a few attempts as the brittle wire will tear if over tightened. Once capped upend and stand on their heads and cellar. After a month give the bottle a swift twist to encourage the sediment to settle into the caps but resist the temptation to shake the bottles.


Sparkling wine cork and cage
Caging wild sparkling wine is not cruel.

Fermentation may take about a month but the originating fruit will determine how long the wine should be matured. Rhubarb and gooseberry will need at least 18 months from the initial fermentation, elderflower about a year and strawberry possibly as little as six to nine months.



Parsnip wine 7 days old
Parsnip wine entering secondary

Give people a glass of parsnip wine and they will be surprised to hear it is made from an albino carrot. The wine has a naturally sweet taste with an earthy undertone and reportedly tastes like a Medeira – oddly a wine I traditionally hate. Personally I do think it is a sherry like wine and this year I may thoroughly oxidise a few bottles to see if it can get closer to that style.

If you are making this with your own crop wait until the first overnight frost as this changes the starches into sugars. If the parsnips are shop bought they will be loaded with sugar already. When boiling to extract flavour and sugars do not over do it as the remaining starch will be liberated and take an age to settle in bulk ageing – it is not impossible but does take a number of months at least. Most recipes suggest boiling roughly chopped cubes but I have better success with grated parsnips as this takes less time to boil and less time exposed to heat that could potentially destroy flavour. The flesh will be soft but not mushy and if they are finely chopped almost see through.

Parsnip wine is cheap and easy to make with few ingredients. No tannin needs to be added and it is in good balance naturally. A little extra body is generally needed either from raisins or bananas but some people prefer to leave it au naturel with a more “whiskey” like flavour. Lemon zest, orange juice and zest or ginger can be added for various different flavour additions.  I was considering using lime juice as this pairs well with beetroot wine and I thought this may similarly benefit but that is an experiment for next year.

Parsnip wine fermentation
Primary fermentation at two and five days looks horrible!

Leaving the wine pays dividends and it will noticeably mature between the 12 to 18 month mark though it could be left for a couple of years I’m sure.

PARSNIP WINE 4.5 litres

1.75kg parsnips
1 to 1.3kg sugar to 1.09SG
4.5L water
500g raisins
1 lemon juice and zest
2 oranges juice and zest
1 tsp pectolase
1 tsp yeast nutrient
White wine yeast

Parsnip wine ingredients
Parsnip wine ingredients

Wash parsnips then chop and boil skins and all for 15 minutes, Flesh should be softened but not breaking up.

Parsnip wine slicing and boiling
Remove the woody tops but leave the skins when preparing

Strain the parsnips through muslin into primary fermentation and discard.

Add the raisins and zests while liquid is still hot.

Parsnip wine a
My giant industrial strainer got a chance to shine!

When cool add pectolase and leave for 12 to 24 hours to work.

Add sugar, lemon and orange juice and sugar to desired level.

Add yeast and nutrient then cover for primary fermentation.

Colour mellows with age. This is just before bottling from a previous vintage.

Rack into secondary fermentation when it slows and rack when over. More may be needed if starch was boiled from the parsnips.

Age for one year at least and 18 months if you can.


Rosehip wine at 8 days
Rosehip wine at eight days old.

Rosehips as every one tells you are packed 10000% vitamin C and can destroy the cold virus at a hundred paces. Natures little apothecary cabinet wrapped up in a little red berry thing. Screw that were making wine.

Picked Rosehips
Harvested rosehips.

Rosehips can be harvested around September onwards and have a decent sized window to grab them. Traditionally they were picked after the first frost as this changes starches into abundant sugar in the flesh of the hips. Now we have freezers that can be picked when they are plump with a slight give when squeezed but not wrinkled or squishy. The freezer will do the job of a frost and means they can be kept indefinitely. If you cannot wait till the autumn dried rosehips are common in mung been selling health shops and brew shops online. Dried rosehip wine is made with a different ratio of hips as the extraction differs.

As I had a full compliment of wines ageing in all my demijohns I was unable to start the wine when I picked the rosehips. I sliced the woody end off the top and then froze them for a couple of months. Topping them means that the woodier taste will not infuse when the wine is in primary fermentation and the softer flesh is exposed to the water to extract as much flavour and sugar as possible. Slicing the tops was labourious and I was contemplating slicing them down the middle and removing the fur covered pips too. This was basically impossible as it would have taken an absolute age to do. The seeds have tannins in them and this adds body to the wine naturally rather than adding it with a tannin or tea additive.

Thawing rosehips
The frozen hips were allowed to defrost over night.

Once a demijohn freed up I left the hips in a sanitised stainless steel pan to defrost over night. A blanch of boiling water was used to kill any wild yeasts and bacteria that might have clung on during the freeze. I have seen a few differing ideas on preparing the hips but personally I did not want to chop them in a food blender as this will rupture the bitter seeds and there was no need to strenuously mash or boil the fruit either as the soft flesh purées easily during the fermentation.As rosehips are high in pectin I added pectic enzyme to break this down allowing a generous 24 hours for it to do its work.

Fermentation was gentle with the VR21 yeast I selected with little foam and a nice perfume given off as it happily bubbled away A slower fermentation means that aroma will kept better than a faster more vigerous fermentation. Any white wine yeast would probably do and EC1118 may be another good choice if you like the classic champagne taste. The flavour is seems more suited for a slightly sweet or sweet wine and would probably be good for a sparkling rosé. It tastes good even at a young age entering secondary fermentation but almost all reports state to leave it 2 years to mature. I am hoping that this may challenge the elderflower wine as a versatile floral white with the advantage it can be made in the autumn and winter months rather than the elderflower’s springtime harvest and ferment. A nice easy wine to make this is ideal for a beginner.


ROSEHIP WINE – 4.5 Litres

Floral fruity white/rose wine suitable to back sweeten or make into a sparkling wine. White wine yeast needed and should probably be un-oaked. Batonnage may be good to provide a more complex flavour. 24 months to age.


1.5kg rosehips

About 1kg sugar to 1.08SG

Juice of 3 lemons

4.5l water


Pectic enzyme

Rosehip wine ingredients
With so few ingredients this is an easy wine to make.



Pick the rosehips and slice of the woody end and pick off any stems still left on. If before a frost has occurred freeze them for at least 24 hours (leave to defrost if frozen)

Mash the rosehips with a sanitised potato masher or rolling pin to break the flesh a little then pour over 4.5 litres of water and leave to return to room temperature. Add 1tsp of pectic enzyme and leave for 24 hours to allow pectin to be destroyed.

Pectolase and gravity
Pre and post pectic enzyme and hydrometer reading.

Add the juice of three lemons and the sugar until it hits 1.08SG and then pitch the yeast.

Leave to ferment to 1.01SG and then transfer into air-locked secondary fermentation by pouring through sanitised muslin/cheese cloth. The rosehips can be squeezed to extract maximum flavour if desired.

Fermentation at 1 day and 3 days
Top – fermentation begins. Bottom – day three of fermentation.

Rack if needed to remove the sediment that builds up at week five or six and then further if needed.

Bottle after six months – the wine is suitable to stabilise and back sweeten to your own taste. Drink two years after pitching the yeast.



Carbon dioxide is a friend when starting to make wine and unless making a sparkling wine like an elderflower or strawberry champagne an enemy when closer to bottling. As yeast ferments it creates carbon dioxide as well as ethanol as part of the process. These are made when the sugar molecule is broken to extract a little energy for the yeast cell and the new molecules are left

One molecule of fruit sugar becomes two molecules of alcohol and two of carbon dioxide.

We want to keep the ethanol to get us drunk and for while the carbon dioxide is allowed to bubble away out an air lock. Some carbon dioxide will dissolve into the young wine only to escape gently over time. It is said that wine takes at least nine months to fully degas but I imagine this is in ideal conditions and based on grapes. As an amateur it is difficult to tell when a wine will be fully degassed but any one from an amateur to professional drinker can taste carbon dioxide if it is still dissolved. It will leave a tingling sensation on the tongue or even a slight sparkling sensation if there in huge amounts. While some wines may benefit from this “petillant” character they will be rare, the only one I have seen so far was a Seville Orange wine I bottled too early. Generally we think of carbon dioxide as relatively inert and simply bubbling away during fermentation but carbon dioxide does however dissolve in water and thus the water in wine to create carbonic acid.

Carbon dioxide and a water molecule turn to a loose hydrogen molecule and a precursor to carbonic acid… I think…

This is not a huge issue and it is non-destructive and over time it will dissipate out through the airlock. If still present in a wine it will give an artificially acidic taste and dull the over all flavour profile reducing the “fruitiness” of the wine. It is often a reason wines are left to breathe a little before they are drunk… or left an age to breath if they were bottled too early. Its obviously best to de-gas fully before bottling to remove as much carbon dioxide as possible and thus any chance of carbonic acid on the tongue.

Carbon dioxide is a natural part of the wine making process so it has to managed. After secondary fermentation once fine lees starts to really build up a wine will be racked to clear it. At this point there is the highest concentration of carbon dioxide freshly dissolved from all the fermentation. As the wine is racked it is agitated and this allows dissolved carbon dioxide to escape. Splash back is a process that can add extra agitation as you rack by holding the end of the siphon tube at the mouth of the demijohn which allows the wine to fall into the demijohn from a height creating more splashes and bubbles.

There a many varied views on splash back and it may depend on the fruit, intended style and the current status of your wine to determine if you need to do it. There are no right and wrong answers in my view but some answers may be more right, more of the time in regards to this process. Generally it is though that white wines that naturally have a higher acidity (that’s oddly a lower pH) will potentially react with the oxygen that dissolves as you splash back so a white wine is better to roll down the side of the demijohn than splash in directly. The acidity of a white wine is believed to be more likely to oxidise and give the vinegary taste of ‘volatile acidity’

Again generally; it is thought that with the slightly lower acidity (that’s a high pH) of a red wine it reduces the chance of oxygen reacting with the acids present and that the oxygen is needed in a small quantities as it reacts with tannins allowing them to bind and mellow the wines taste and build mouth feel.

If you rack with or without a splash back the carbon dioxide liberated will collect in the demijohn so over oxidation does not occur as the wine continues to age. Carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen so in the few minutes after racking and the air lock in place it will form a protective blanket to keep oxygen out. The small amount of oxygen that may have dissolved can bind with sulphur to create sulphur dioxide and allow this also to dissipate out as the wine ages.

Some even say that the extra little bit of oxygen actually allows carbon dioxide to be created and aids de-gassing – the jury is out on that… no doubt I will get conflicting emails threatening to punch me in the face. If any one does have some info by all means educate me… gently.

The longer a wine matures the less carbon dioxide will be present as it naturally escapes the wine so there is probably less need to splash back in later rackings. This does not mean that a splash back is or is not needed though. Sulphur dioxide may need to be liberated and some wines may want a slight oxidation to aid their character – I have seen a Pinot Noir left to slightly oxidise as it sits.

The easiest way to allow a wine to fully de-gas is time. The longer the bulk ageing in an air locked demijohn the more chance it has to de-gas. As the wine is together in large volume it allows more flavours to develop so it is a win win in my view.

Many people choose to manually de-gas a wine either to bottle early or as a safety to ensure there is absolutely no fizz left. A wine should only be de-gassed “artificially” just before bottling and any earlier is just creating space for new carbon dioxide to dissolve into it or exposing it to oxygen or microbes that could contaminate it.

To aid or replace natural de-gassing there are several methods you can use to speed the process or ensure it has occurred. A method I have not used is mechanical de-gassing with a wine whip. This kinky method uses a large spatula on an electric drill to stir the wine. The agitation allows gas to escape but to allow this you are exposing the wine to oxygen and a great big dirty drill wobbling about above your precious hard work. It also requires at least 15 minutes work and possibly more in a few passes over a number of days. That seems like a lot of hard work and possible exposure to oxygen and contamination though that can certainly be minimised with preparation and sanitising.

The other method is via a vacuum created with an electric or hand pump. With no exposure to oxygen there is no chance of oxidation. There is sadly the change of explosion.. implosion… well implosion then explosion and much crying I imagine. The first consideration is your demijohn. They need to be strong enough to undergo the stresses of a vacuum – do not risk it with a demijohn that has air bubbles as it was hand blown, with differing thicknesses of glass in the walls or with any faults like a damaged neck. You should never de-gas a half filled demijohn ever. The pressure difference of the liquid and the air cavity will stress the glass and could cause implosion. Although glass is strong in compression it is weak if it is deformed – the differential between uncompress-able liquid and compress-able glass will cause the glass to flex then deform and shatter. Boom! You have not only lost your wine but have exploding glass everywhere. If the demijohn is not fill to the thickened glass reinforced neck do not vacuum de-gas!

Degas set up side
L to R – wine, vacuum chamber, pump

To create a vacuum you need a a pump and a chamber. The resulting pressure differential means the wine pushes the gas from itself into the lower pressured chamber. The better the vacuum the quicker the de-gassing though the minimum seems to be -12inHg (inches of mercury) The sweet spot is about -18inHg and any higher than -22inHg has the potential to destroy a glass demijohn as that is approaching more than the container can take. I’m sure you have worked it out but a plastic PET bottle will simply collapse.

inHg – Inches of mercury… obviously!?

A motorised vacuum pump is probably the only way to create anything above -22 inches of mercury while a hand pump like I have used is more gentle and unlikely to exceed the maximum tolerance. The hand pump I use is a car mechanics break bleeder – brand new rather than covered in oil and from reports Mitivac models have been used to great effect. Another ingenious version used large syringes and one way aquarium valves. I imagine it is similar to this on the Instructables site: The stronger the vacuum the better it is at de-gassing and if it is quite gentle it can be left over night to work. As a home wine maker it is nigh on impossible to de-gas too much though in an industrial setting an over de-gassed wine will have a flatter taste.

Brake bleeder
Mechanic’s break bleeding vacuum pump.

Once a high vacuum is maintained and bubbling has virtually stopped your work is done. A sight test is best to monitor the progress. Younger wines will bubble more vigorously with larger and more numerous bubbles. A wine that is seven or eight months old may just have a few small bubbles as it de-gasses. Some people choose to give the wine a shake test to see if more bubbles are produced or see if pressure builds against their hand once the wine is off the de-gassing kit. If so there is still carbon dioxide present.

Pig nose
Two hole bung – This little piggy was the hardest kit to source!

Always allow the pressure to stabilise back to normal before removing the bungs and tubes to stop any splashing from the pressure change or cracking of the demijohn if catastrophic. After de-gassing the wine is ready to either bottle straight away if it is a dry wine or it can be stabilised and eventually back sweetened if desired. If you want to de-gas and stabilise a wine always de-gas first. A de-gassed wine allows any fine sediment and the sediment from campden and stabilisers to be settle easily after being stirred in as fewer carbon dioxide bubbles cause less agitation keeping particles in suspension.

Errors, omissions or poems about de-gassing please throw it my way, but remember I’m not a scientist so no long words!

The Wine Makers Companion – B C Turner and C J J Berry
Big shout out to “TheLoneCabbage” who wrote about the syringe vacuum!


Seville Orange Tasting
Seville orange wine at 11 months

After the bountiful harvests from July to October for various wines and infusions, the hungry months of December to February can be a fallow time for fruit wine makers. I tend to alternate each year making a quince or a parsnip wine which provides some surprising good tastes despite their rarity in drinks. Quince has a nice delicate fruitiness and the quince is a dryer more sherry like wine.

All you need…

Last year the Seville orange wine was an afterthought when I had some space in demijohns. Initially I was not impressed when it was fermenting as the smell is almost non-existent and the colour was pale but upon opening a bottle after a year it has really improved. The colour is richer and a deeper orange than when it was bottled – the exact opposite of what I was expecting. The taste has developed into something really unexpected and delicious. It is orangey but towards the savoury if that is possible with the profile more like Aperol minus the botanicals as a lot of zest was added to create a more complex base. This is certainly not like an alcoholic Fanta or a glass of sweet orange juice. Serving the wine as cold as possible really adds to it.


As the oranges are juiced and the skins are large zested strips there is very little sediment to fall out so the wine clarifies quickly. When opened the wine had a little fizz as it was bottled young. Usually I would be disappointed by this as there has not been enough time for a natural degas but the slight sparkling effervescence really suited the character and Ms Gazette is interested in a fully sparkling version like a prefab Buck Fizz! This may be a good wine to add some rhubarb to build a little more depth.

Seville orange wine during primary fermentation

There are several sniffy reports that citrus wines taste like vomit, which may be true, but certainly not for this. Using Seville oranges has given a richer depth of flavour than fermenting some Sunny D and it has come out a genuine triumph. I am hoping I can keep these until the summer months for a nice cold spritzer in the evenings.


Strawberry and rhubarb wine bottled at six months

Strawberry wine is a bit of an oddity. Easy recipe but labour intensive at the start though a dream when it clears and matures. It can be chaptilized into champagne easily and excellently. Good as a sweet or dry wine it stands as a good fruit wine that does not need to be compared to grape based rosé. The still wine though lovely (and quick and easy… did I mention that?) leaves a little to be desired.

I have not been able to push strawberries past good to great except when it becomes champagne. As I have plans for sparkling wines made from gooseberry and possibly the grapes I stole I want a top notch still strawberry wine that can stand on its own. Strawberries are not like other berries or grapes with tannin rich skins and a long period of maceration.


Two experiments were started last year and the first I thought would be best for a still wine. This added banana to add some body with polyunsaccharide sugars that are unfermentable by wine yeast. As they are long chain sugars they act like tannin adding mouth feel. This was made as a still wine and stabilised with metabisulphate so totally unable to be made into champagne but on reflection this would make a great sparkling wine. Arse.


The second experiment was cutting the strawberry with rhubarb and adding a small amount of raisins. This I thought would be an even better base for champagne as the oxalic acidity would move it towards a traditional champagne taste. Just as with the banana I got it all wrong and the rhubarb addition seems to make a better still wine. Luckily this has happily been bottled as a still wine. Though it needs to mature further the taste is smoother with the rhubarb complimenting the strawberry. Ms Gazette who is far smarterer than wot me is described the rhubarb as “cutting through the implied sweetness of the strawberry creating a more complex taste.“ Acids seem balanced with a less puckering taste and the overt fruitiness of the strawberry is tempered by the floral addition of the rhubarb.  It seems nice and complex rather than lacking sweetness due to over domineering strawberries of traditional strawberry wine.

Oddly a better colour despite less red fruit 

So the moral of the story seems to be never trust your instincts and always ask your partner to describe tastes. All I have to do now is work out how long it takes to mature to perfection. Strawberry can mature in nine months while rhubarb can take up to two years. If any one has any experience send it my way.


Full bodied blackberry wine
Full bodied black berry wine. 15 months old.

This year has seen an abundance of blackberries that has been made into a port, wine and mixed with elderberries to make Elder and Black with a few left over added to gin. The year previous it was rather slim pickings as a lot of the blackberry bushes had been trimmed back and the weather damaged a lot of them remaining, I did get enough for a gallon of wine making 6 bottles though.


Earlier traditional blackberry wine

As this was made in a small batch I nothing to lose and decided to try and modify my recipe. Most recipes just use blackberries and rely on them totally for tannin and acidity. This means that blackberries make a medium bodied wine and it is probably better suited to a 12% ABV so that the alcohol does not taste too hot. To add more body I upped the blackberries adding 200g extra to 2.2kg as well as 100g of raisins.


The effect has been dramatic pushing the wine from medium to full bodied. More tannin has added from the extra skins and raisins creating more mouth feel and the wine is thicker with a velvet feel as you drink. Colour is far darker compared to last years changing from a bright red that allowed light through to a thick black gloss. The taste is also deeper and richer with a less pronounced blackberry base though there is certainly more than a hint being joined by a cherry and slightly nuttier addition. This seems to handle the alcohol creating a more balanced wine.

As the wine is more tannic I gave it longer to age. Usually a blackberry wine is matured for 12 months and it can even be drunk at 9 months. This has taken 15 months and will continue to mature possibly up to 24 months. It is not that this is necessarily a better wine though I do think I prefer it as it is more complex and like a traditional grape wine.


Sloe gin
Two year matured sloe gin

This year has seen a decent harvest of sloes by friends and I plan to forage a few to get the ripest I can. It compares nicely to the terrible harvest last year when I collected none. Two years ago was sloe nirvana with big fat sloes on every bush. I harvested enough for two types of wine that are fruity and suited to a Christmas tipple and great added to champagne. I also made two litres of sloe gin.


Sloe gin 2
Sloe work

Sloe gin is the best flavoured gin you can get. Warm, sweet, slightly nutty with a deep taste that gets better if drunk slowly with a good tonic. The depth of taste is matched by the simplicity of the recipe and the hardest issue is leaving it long enough to mature. If the sloes are picked now it could be ready for Christmas, if left maturing another year it becomes deeper and richer and another year after that it becomes exceptional and far better than any commercial sloe gin I have drunk.

SLOE GIN – 750ml
250 to 400g sloes
750 ml gin. Best supermarket or Gordon’s. No need for anything more expensive.
125g white sugar (more to taste if you want once mature)
Rind of 1 orange (no pith)
1/4 cinnamon stick (recipes use too much in my view so that is why I only use half the amount)

Optional – I don’t think you need them as the sloes have a complex taste that improves with age – but this is your drink so tailor it to your tastes.
Cloves – no more than 3
1 blanched almond (boil a raw almond for exactly one minute)
3 coffee beans
Vanilla pod
1/4 star anise
Lemon zest

1. Freeze the sloes over night to bust the cells (it’s a myth that it needs to be done to turn starch to sugar, or that sloes need a frost to be ripe.)
2. Use a potato peeler to zest the orange – make sure there is no pith. Add all the ingredients together in a cleaned Kilner jar – about 1.5l does it. Shake it vigorously to get the sugar to start to dissolve.
3. Over the next two weeks little shake every day.
4. Leave it to sit happily in the dark at a cool temperature (the cupboard under the stairs is ideal)

Ready to drink by Christmas but can be left for up to two years. No need to remove the sloes if you bottle it.


Sloe Chutney
Sloe chutney

But wait! The sloes from sloe gin can be recycled into a kick ass chutney. What can be better than a sloe gin, cheese and some home made chutney on a cold winters night? I have paired the sloes with quince, another winter fruit and they compliment each other with one aromatic and one sour. The spices used compliment either one or the other main fruit. Apples are used to provide a sauce as floury apples like Pink Lady will puree as they are cooked.


Sloe chutney ingredients
Sloe chutney ingredients

The chutney needs a little time to prepare the sloes by squeezing the flesh off the stones. The easiest sloes are ones that have macerated in the gin for longest – another reason to leave it to mature for two years. Squeeze them top and bottom and most of the flesh pops away.

Sloes from sloe gin
3 quince
2 apples
2 red onions
2tsp cumin seed
2tsp mustard seed
1tsp coriander seed
½tsp fennel seed
½tsp cayenne pepper
½tsp pepper corns
1cm of cinnamon stick
2 oranges – juice and rind but no pith
400ml cider vinegar
300g demerara sugar

Chutney is not an exact science and ginger, lemon rind, raisins, apricots, cardamom, paprika and any number of other ingredients can be added or substiuted. The general ratio is 1kg of fruit and vegetables need 300ml of vinegar and 300g of sugar to preserve.


Prepping sloes
Preparing the sloes

1. Rinse the sloes removes from the sloe gin. Give a quick rinse to remove any tannin that has built up on them. Squeeze them holding the top and bottom to pop the flesh from the stones.
2. Throw the stones away and then use a food processor to mince the sloes to a reasonably fine mix. It does not need to be a puree.
3. Pop them in a heavy bottomed pan and then finely dice the onion and add, then the grated zest of the oranges.
4. Use a pestle and mortar to crush the spices to a fine powder and add to the pot.
5. Juice the orange and add along with the cider vinegar.
6. Peal and quarter a quince and cut out and discard the hard woody cores. Dice them into small pieces and stir them into the vinegar to stop them browning in the air. Repeat for the rest of the quince.
7. Repeat for the apples.
8. Add the sugar and stir all the mixture so that the sugar dissolves.


Prepping sloes 2
Sloes and orange zest awaiting other ingredients, fully mixed, simmered for an hour.

9. Turn on the heat and start to simmer the mixture. Stir regularly once it starts to bubble. Never boil but keep it lightly bubbling and stir every now and again so it does not stick to the base of the pot. Once the mixture becomes thick and there is no free liquid but a fudge/toffee like sugary coating remove from the heat.
10. Store in sealed sanitised jars and leave to mature for at least a month and preferably three before opening to eat. The chutney can save for at least two years if kept air tight in a cool space. If a jar is opened refrigerate.



First grape wine 6 days old
Grape expectations… well moderate ones. Grape wine at 6 days old.

Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa Valley, The Lewisham-Blackheath Boarders are all considered the top wine producing areas in the world. The LBB area was designated about a week ago when I traveled to an old family friends to steal their grapes from their lovely garden hiding behind a impressive Victorian house. A vine planted 20 or more years ago possibly with the intention of making wine had grown into a total monster stretching half the gardens length as it was now purely ornamental. It had never been trailed or pruned to produce managed wine grapes though it had been well looked after by Alan the gardener. He had thought the grapes should be picked earlier but my schedule and work had not allowed us to meet up and when we eventually managed to get there some clusters had withered slightly. I still easily managed to pick 15kg and have no complaints at all with mother nature and her dastardly end to summer. Free grapes and a chance to practice making “real” wine!

Grapes on the vine
Vinis Sarflondonis. If any one can identify give me a shout.


Picking the grapes was easy especially with help from Ms Gazette as whole bunches of grapes are harvested quicker that picking individual blackberries or even the most bountiful clusters of elderberries. In a little under 30 minutes we had climbed over plant pots and navigated terraced flower beds to fill 3 bags. Back north of the river in Walthamstow I started to sort the grapes with only 3 bunches out right rejected and all the browned, shriveled or split berries rejected as well as the odd spider and one dare devil snail. The whole bunches were then dipped and shaken in the sink (well cleaned) to rinse any bits of leaf, twig and dust away and they were ready to be picked and crushed.

Preping grapes
Picked over, rinsed, destemed and crushed then draining through to the primary fermenter.

Crushing was by hand rather than any machine and with a firm grip a whole handful of grapes could be pulled away from the stems. When three or four clusters of grapes had been stripped I literally crushed them further by punching them with a fist. Grrrr! The free run juice drained through a giant catering sieve into the primary fermentation bucket. It is surprising how fleshy grapes are to other fruit and crushing them was certainly a good work out. Once the majority of the juice had dripped into the primary fermenter I could press the skins to get the absolute maximum of juice out of them. The press was sanitised and a clean muslin held the grape skins together. There were 2 passed done with the first press getting to about half the volume and then the rest added to allow them all into the drum. The press was an even bigger work out and over 30 minutes the pulp was pressed and pressed to extract ever clearer juice. Pressing has to be incremental with a couple of turns every 30 seconds to be successful and any ideas of pressing it like Hulk Hogan all in one go is pure fantasy. I probably pressed about one to one and half extra litres of juice out the skins to manage 10 litres of juice in total. 12 bottles of wine to divide between me, Alan the gardener and Naida the owner… maybe my mum too as she was the intermediary that got me the grapes… and maybe my dad as he was also friends with sadly missed “Uncle” Dennis the planter.

Cake of pressed skins
The solid cake of pressed skins.

The juice was sweet and fruity with a melon and lemon zest flavour. Ms Gazette and I were impressed that such a taste could be grown in Britain never mind a garden in Sarf London. The true identity of the grapes remains a mystery as they were rumoured to be Chardonnay but several genuine wine growers on message boards said the clusters and leaves did not match. It was agreed that they were Vinis Vinerfera – wine grapes and they were white. Some suggested Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Viognier. Maybe when the vine is pruned with less stress producing so many grapes it will give a few more clues. The grapes were not perfect for wine making with a gravity reading of 1.06, I think that is 15 brix and acid was slightly too low so I had to adjust it with some calcium carbonate. With some management pruning the total size, cutting back leaf cover and maybe pruning a few grape clusters there is no reason to think that grapes of 22 brix and perfect acidity could not be produced in London… as if I know what I’m talking about!

Active fermentation
Active fermentation at four days.

CY17 yeast was added as I want to keep as much of the flavour as possible and I may choose to make a sparkling wine by adding some EC1118 yeast before I bottle. Fermentation took a worrying 48 hours to kick off but it was vigorous once it got going. The chance to practice on real grapes has been a real eye opener and has solidified plans to get my own vine… vines as I have a perfect spot with south facing brick wall to warm the vine during the British winter and spring. I may consider setting up a kind of collective if other people wanted to devote a spot in their garden for a vine. Grapes given to me and half returned as sparking wine handed back to them. Its bad enough I want to make my own wine but now I want to start growing it on a wine tree too – good thing Ms Gazette likes the idea too.


2017 bottled
Beetroot, seville orange and strawberry wine 2017

The wine making glut of the end of summer is over and the elderberry, blackberry and elder and black wines are not well into secondary fermentation. I may return to make a few last winter wines of rose-hips and parsnips but this years work fermenting is now out the way.

Shrink capping the wine tops.

Wines from earlier in the year are starting to be bottled as the early strawberry, beetroot and pomegranate & blueberry wines cleared beautifully. After they were safe in bottles with some decent corks they stood upright for a few days to allow them to swell and totally seal the bottles. One or two of the beetroot fizzed for a minute or two as some extra carbon dioxide decided to escape from the wine. After that a cap was shrunk over the cork to keep it from drying out over the next year as the wines mature. I have seen some wines use a wax top but I am more than happy with the plastic shrink caps to crown them and melting wax seems like a recipe for disaster with me.

Lino cuts
Various lino cuts from over the years.

The only thing left to do was make some labels. Each year has a different label so I can easily recognise when I made them. I am not a magnificent artist so my skills are limited but I do like to dress a bottle so it looks like a welcoming drink rather than a some horror show with a post it note. This year I lino cut a label and printed a few attempts onto card. The best was photographed on my phone with a few effects on the inbuilt editing aps to clean them up and create a few unique colours.

Prepped Seville orange wine labels by Andy Warhol.

Printing is easy onto standard A4 blank stickers that get cut out by hand. These labels are ideal as they glue easily and most importantly are easy to remove when I eventually recycle the bottles after drinking. The best way I have sound is to fill the bottle with hot water to soften the glue then wet the actual sticker. It peals off easily with no residue left. The interior can be easily cleaned with out wasting any water.

Wine cellar
Cool steady temperature is help in the “zero drop wine cellar”

The wine will live on its side in a rack under the stairs as it has a constant cool temperature. On its side it allows the wine to keep the cork moist so it does not dry out – probably hard if a wine sits for a year but the quince and elderberry will be there for potentially three years.