Author: Luke McNally


Blackberry port bottled
500ml bottle of blackberry port.

I started the blackberry port as bit of a joke and not really expecting anything of real quality but sadly its turned out a real treat and will only continue to get better. It has surpassed my expectations and Ms Gazette happily sipped through the last drips I could not squeeze into a bottle. I am thinking of it aging for another year but she may sneak a bottle earlier. Two bottles are intended as gifts and I may try to limit myself to just one bottle a year to see it really mature. As the alcohol is 20% ABV so it should last until it is five years old. Once opened it may need to live in the fridge though.


As it is almost pure juice the blackberry gives a rich fruity kick with a lot of oak tannins from the 20g of chips it sat on for about 6 months. Colour is rich and deep and the texture matches a true grape port feeling syrupy and velvety as you drink. Light malt usually used for beers was added which bumped the sweetness to an almost destructive level when first added at the end of fermentation.  The tannins now compliment the sweetness bringing it into balance. I will certainly keep a closer eye on the incremental sugar additions next time… and there will be a next time making this! Possibly another blackberry though I may be able to forage a small fortune of damsons or try a white greengage port form a friends plum tree. Actually I think I might do at least two this year.



Elderflower champagne
Elderflower champagne at 10 days old.

The Novocastrian Vintners Gazette is now two years old and making elderflower wine inspired me to start making wine and eventually writtering aboot it azwell! Elderflower is a nice familiar ritual that kind of kicks off the year as fermentation starts I need to think about bottling the older wines I made last year to make way for any new plans I have now. The wine has a few detractors but almost all sane people know it is an easy delicious wine to make, has a refreshing fresh summery taste and is excellent for the beginner.


This year I am making my first elderflower champagne rather than my more traditional still elderflower wine. It will have less punch using only 25 flowers rather than the 30 or even more I use usually as the bubbles will be the main attraction. Another difference is using 250ml of white grape concentrate rather than raisins I  use for body. Substituting citric acid for a more wine like tartaric acid which I plan to do for all my wine form now on will hopefully give a mellower less “artificial” sour taste. There is certainly nothing wrong with using citric acid if that is all to hand though.

Identifying Elderflowers
Look for white floral flowers on shrubby looking trees with leaves in sets of five.


Flowers were picked and plucked of their petals on a hot morning to maximise the pollen content and then steeped in boiling water and left to cool. The CY17 yeast is a white wine yeast so I have used a large metal pan as my primary fermenter to dissipate heat and keep the yeast from over heating and boiling off aroma and flavour. To further keep it cool and create a long(ish) ferment it was kept in the coolest part of the house – the cupboard under the stairs. As elderflowers are so aromatic and delicate I wanted to keep as much as I could in the wine. With the grape concentrate substituting the raisins for vinocity there was only a small crown of petals that did not need a stir to agitate back into the must. A small shuffle of the pan soaked the leaves without a need to open the lid and expose it to possible oxidation and contamination.

Elderflower secondary ferment 2
Slower fermentation in secondary.

Initial fermentation took a leisurely 10 days and it is now gently rolling along in an airlocked secondary demijohn. Racking in two months will remove the finer leas as the exhausted yeast settles the the bottom. When the wine is six months old I intend to add an EC1118 yeast and sugar solution to get a traditional “Methode Champenoise” carbonation in bottle. If you want this chemical additions like campden should be kept to a minimum and as I boiled my must and opened it only a few times without the need to stir my wine has no sulphites so far.



Suitable yeasts – white wine yeasts like EC1118, CY17, SN9, CL23

25 elderflower sprays
1kg-ish sugar to 1.08SG
250ml white grape extract (or 250g of raisins roughly chopped)
1/2 mug tea
1 and 1/2 tsp tartaric acid (or zest and juice of 3 lemons (no pith)
1 tsp yeast nutrient
White wine yeast (plus another for chaptalising at six months)
4.5L boiling water

Elderflower picke plucked
The more green stem removed the better.


Pick 25 elderflower heads as early in the morning as possible on a warm day.

Pluck the elder flowers from the stems removing as much green as possible.

Place the elderflowers, (and the chopped/minced raisins & lemon zest if using) in pan and pour over the boiling water, add half of the sugar and stir in thoroughly so the flowers are submerged.

Elderflower start and end steep
Swirling in initial steep and just before racking into secondary fermentation.

Leave to cool to room temperature then fine tune to the desired starting gravity of sugar at 1.08 or Add the wine concentrate, citric acid and a cup of strong tea made with one tea bag.

Ferment in a covered primary container in as cool an area as you can. Agitate to submerge the flowers once a day (if using raisins a stir with a sanitised ladle will need to be done)

Rack and filter to secondary though muslin to remove the solids when fermentation starts to really slow. This will be at 7 to 10 days after pitching the yeast. Squeeze the muslin thoroughly to get all the taste you can!

Rack at about five weeks then another 10 to 12 weeks after that.


When six months in age syphon 750ml of wine into a sanitised jar or bottle and add a packet of champagne yeast, half a tsp of nutrient and 13g of sugar. Leave for 20 minutes then stir in the yeast.

After 24 hours add another 13g sugar and 40ml of boiled and cooled water and leave for a further 24 hours.

Mix thoroughly into the elder flower wine with 102g of sugar and bottle in sanitised champagne bottles immediately (That is the equivalent of 17g per bottle)

Ready to drink six months later at 12 months in age.


Nocino as it infuses 2
Nocino – walnut liqueur as it infuses.

When I was young conker trees used to be my favourite but as I am now older and wiser elder and walnut trees probably tie for first place as you can make booze from them. Walnuts come from a tree with many names “Common Walnut,” “Persian Walnut” or “English Walnut” which are all the same and in Britain there is the even rarer Black Walnut tree imported from America. Last year I started a walnut leaf wine that promises to be not only unique but far better than my oak leaf wine I have previously made. The leaf can also be used in bitters and liqueurs.


Best of all the young fresh nuts can be used to make an assortment of liqueurs too. The French make Vine De Noix with a red wine base and also created nocino that has travelled to Italy to be perfected into its own regional variation. Nocino is part of a larger family of liqueurs that use a spirit rather than wine to infuse the walnuts. Similar drinks can be found with walnut Ratafia from Spain, or Crotian Orahovac that is brandy based, some recipes even use rum. Both common and black nuts can be used to make Nocino but the Black Walnut is probably too tough to pickle and eat – I have only ever seen them off limits to foragers in parks anyway.

English walnuts
The English walnut tree.


With its neutral base of vodka Nocino has an unmistacably rich warm walnut taste with a hint of rounded spices and zest. Cloves are sometimes used but I prefer to use allspice that pairs better with the walnut and vanilla and moves it away from the more mulled wine style spice mix. The nuts give a rich first run, then they are recycled for a lighter second run both in taste and colour, then the almost spent nuts can be crushed into a chutney maximising their use.

English walnuts just before harvesting.

British green walnuts are generally in season in late June and maybe into July if you can find trees to forage or a specialist farm to get them freshly picked, packed and delivered. I foraged half of mine and picked them around the 20th of June though the traditional day to harvest is the 24th – St John’s Day. The other half were bought mail order though some Turkish supermarkets do get them occasionally. If foraging keep an eye on the growing nuts and occasionally pick one and slice open. The nut inside should be distinctive but with no hard shell forming inside. To do that you will need to find a walnut tree so look out for a stout tree with small trunk with sets of long symmetric leaves in sets of about eight with a single leaf on the end. The leaves have a distinctive nail varnish aroma when rubbed.



1 Litre of 50% ABV vodka
30 green walnuts
1/2 vanilla pod
zest of 1 lemon
4 all spice berries
1/3 of a cinnamon stick
125 sugar
250ml water

Nocino ingredients
Nocino ingredients.

First of all cover everything. Walnuts used to be used as a dye and they will stain everything – Fingers, benches, clothing, the cat, antique flooring and partners. Use rubber gloves if you can.

Wash a two litre kilner jar then chop the walnuts into quarters and throw them in. Add the vanilla pod, all spice (no need to crack or grind) cinnamon and the lemon zest as long strips. Pour over the vodka and then seal the lid.

Leave for eight to ten weeks giving an occasional shake to disperse the flavour and aid the slight oxidation needed to darken the liqueur.

Nocino as it infuses
Macerating green walnuts at various stages over eight weeks.

After the eight weeks pour through muslin to separate the solids from the vodka. Sweeten the nocino with a simple syrup. To make this gently heat the water and sugar with a squeeze of lemon juice and stir for 10 minutes on the gentlest of simmers. Leave to cool and then add two thirds and stir in. Taste and add more if you want to sweeten further.

Seal the nocino and leave it to age until December when it can be decanted into bottles. Coffee filters and a funnel can remove much of the tannin that settles in this time.

This will keep indefinitely due to the high alcohol content though it mellows creating a more subtle flavour as time progresses.


1-ish Litre of 50% ABV vodka
the 30 green walnuts used earlier
1/2 vanilla pod
zest of 1 lemon
4 all spice berries
1/3 of a cinnamon stick
125 sugar
250ml water

Simply repeat the process but only use enough vodka to cover the walnuts this time. When it is time to sweeten use less of the simple syrup initially as there is less bitterness to match with sweetness.

The second run nocino is lighter than the initial one made but the flavour is subtly different. The walnuts have naturally lost a lot of flavour so the second run is not as dark or so powerfully nutty and as such needs only enough vodka to cover the nuts. I chose to remove the old spices and zest and replace with a new ones to give a fruitier punch which Ms Gazette prefers to the dark almost treacle like first run, other people simply reuse all the ingredients.



Originating in India chutney was morphed by the British into a preserve used to keep fruit for the lean winter months. It may look unappetising but it is a rich thick spiced sweet “jam” that can be paired with all kinds of cheese or used in sandwiches. There are hundreds of recipes and it is infinitely malleable to your own tastes. Generally the rule is that 1kg of fruit and vegetables should be mixed with 300g of sugar and 300ml of vinegar. The fruit and vegetables give the flavour and texture, the vinegar preserves the fruit and the sugar also preserves and counters the sourness. My recipe already has the spices present from the nocino maceration and preserving power of the alcohol so it has relatively little spice added.

The 30 green walnuts used earlier
3 apples
3 pears
2 red onions
zest of half an orange
1 inch of ginger
1tsp cumin
½ tsp ground corriander
300g light brown sugar
350ml cider vinegar

Use a blender to mince the green walnuts into a small chunks and add them to a thick, heavy bottomed pan. Add all the ingredients with the onion diced as thinly as possible, the apple and pear pealed cored and diced similarly. Stir the sugar and vinegar through until it dissolves and then start to heat the ingredients.

Making walnut chutney 1
Various chutney ingredients being added. leave the apple till just before the vineagr is added so it does not brown.

Once the vinegar starts to simmer adjust the heat to keep it at this temperature and stir every couple of minutes to turn the solids. The heat should allow a light simmer which will reduce and pulp the apple and perhaps pear. The mixture will reduce as the vinegar penetrates the fruit and vegetables to preserve them over the course of an hour.

Making walnut chutney 2
Sugar and vinegar added, stirred and the chutney simmered for an hour.

Five or six jam jars and lids should be boil sterilised for 10 minutes to store the chutney. I find placing the jars submerged in a pan of cold water and bringing it to a boil 30 minutes into making the chutney is best.

In the closing minutes reduce the heat and stir more often so that the thickening mixture does not stick or burn. When there is no free running liquid and the mix is nicely bound remove from the heat and ladle into the boil sterilised jam jars. The chutney will cool and contract the lids to form an airtight seal.

Leave for the flavours to merge for 3 months and then serve as an accompaniment to a well earned cheese board. Once a jar is opened it will keep in the fridge indefinitely. A sealed jar can live happily on a shelf for 18 months of more.



If you have spare walnuts after starting the Nocino they can be pickled for another potent accompaniment to cheese.

1kg walnuts
150g salt
500ml malt vinegar
250g light brown sugar
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cloves
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp whole peppercorns
½ tsp fresh ginger
1 garlic clove

Brining walnuts
Walnuts picked, pricked and brined

Just like using walnuts anywhere else. Cover all work surfaces and use gloves if you can. The juice stains giving you tramp fingers.

Give the walnuts a rinse and remove any remaining stems. Prick with a fork and drop into a glass bowl. Use half the salt to make a brine that will cover the walnuts and then leave covered with cling film for a week in a cool dark place. After a week pour the dirty water away and then cover again with a newly prepared brine and leave for another week. (The walnuts may turn black – this is normal and not a bad sign.)

Pour the brine away and rinse the excess off. Cut the walnuts into thick slices and leave on a tray to dry for a few days – they will certainly blacken now but the salt will have preserved them.

Pickling Walnuts 2
Walnuts brined, chopped and simmered.

Pop the walnuts in a heave pan with the spices and vinegar and get to a low simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes. Ladle into cleaned jam jars (jar and lid boiled for 10 minutes) and cover with the vinegar mixture. Close lips tightly and then leave at least three or even better six months before eating with a luxurious cheese board.


The very excellent Urban Huntress:



Very young dandelion wine
Very young dandelion wine

I have made dandelion wine before but it was a disaster. The flowers were damp and the taste once I eventually opened a bottle was a bit like licking a carpet. It has taken a few years for me to pluck up the courage to return to it. Having started this new batch I have a bit more understanding in wine making and a bit more of a willingness to experiment with the recipe.

The dandelions seem to be more of an undertone to the wine providing a gingerish base that is quite subtle and certainly less pronounced than an elderflower wine. Nettle, birch sap and rhubarb are also meant to be similarly subtle. To add a bit more depth lemon and/or orange zest and juice are added and some even add an inch of ginger for a kick. Body can be added with tea, raisins or white grape concentrate and I have an old recipe that threw in whole plants so the bitter roots would create a more beer like taste.

As the recipe is more of a guide I went with equal measures of lemon and some Seville orange juice and zest I had frozen. 500G of raisins added body and I relied on calyx rather than tea or tannin extract for the tannin content. As I plan to make this into a sparkling wine in 6 months I added enough sugar to get to SG 1.08 so that the extra EC1118 yeast and sugar ferments when added just before bottling. This is the first wine where I have added demerara sugar as a quarter of the ratio rather than just plain white table sugar and I imagine it will compliment the dandelion flavour.

Dandelions 3
Picked piddleybeds – took about an hour

Dandelions are the most well dressed of flowers with their mop top of yellow petals that turn into an wig of doom when the seeds blow off to disperse the seeds. Because their seeds are an indiscriminate carpet bomb that can take over a garden or allotment my neighbours were more than happy to let me pick all the fresh dandelion heads I could get my hands on. I try to stay away from parks that might have sprayed with weed killers or worse dog pee.


Try to hunt them out in a warm spring morning when the pollen is at its highest to get as much flavour as possible. Bees love dandelions as they are one of the first flowers to blossom so try not to take them until a range of flowers are in season. If you see any that are not perfectly round give them a miss as slugs will have nibbled them. An equal volume of loose petals to the demijohn you will ferment in are needed though you can get by will a few less or a few more.

Once the flowers are picked the petals need to be saved and the green calyx thrown away. A few bits of calyx will inevitably be picked and these add a little tannin but try to remove as much as possible. There is a knack to efficient separation and this needs a firm squeeze of the base of the flower to pop the petals off as you feather them away. This is long hard work so get some good music playing or practice your Zen And The Art Of Wine Making mantras. I sadly had the neighbours kids arguing for a solid hour. At the end you will have stained fingers like a chain smoking tramp – probably best not to do this on an unprotected work surface.

Pick pluck steep
Picked, plucked and steeped

As the taste is light and subtle I wanted to keep as much as possible for the bottle. Some choose to boil the dandelions twice once at the start and again at he end of the steep but I chose to simply blanche them with the boiled water and let them steep. I also fermented in a stainless steel pan (don’t use aluminium as the acid in the must will oxidise the metal!) to dissipate the heat and slow the fermentation so that aroma does not “boil off.” Once in the demijohn I am placing it in the cupboard under the stairs which is the coldest part of the house to keep a long slow and cool ferment. In six months I will turn it into a sparking wine and hopefully next spring it will ready to drink.



Light floral white wine suitable to turn into a sparkling wine. EC1118, CY17 or any white wine yeast is suitable. Alternatives: Divide the lemon content between lemon and oranges. Ginger can be added for a kick, tannin or tea for more body and sugar can be divided between light demerara and white table sugar.

The petals from enough complete dandelion flowers to loosely fill a gallon container
4.5 litres of boiling water
1kg-ish sugar to 1.09SG
Zest and juice of 4 lemons
500g chopped raisins
Yeast nutrient
Pectic enzyme



Pick enough flowers that would loosely fill a demijohn.

Picked dandelions
Took an hour to pick

Remove petals. Some green is good for taste but remove most.


Picked and plucked
Took two hours to pluck!

Boil four litres of water and pour over the petals. Cover and leave for 2 days for flavour to seep. When the water is cold pectic enzyme can be added to destroy pectin and reduce haze.


Boil another half litre of water and add the lemon/orange juice, zests and chopped raisins.

Sieve out the petals then combine them

Petals seived out
Petals removed

Stir in the sugar until 1.090SG.


SG 1.08
SG1.08 will make an 11%ABV wine. Increase to SG1.09 for 13%

Once cool add the yeast and yeast nutrient and cover in primary. Stir twice a day.


Rack into secondary when fermentation slows and rack again when it has totally stopped at about five weeks.

Day one and seven of fermentation
Fermentation at one and seven days and in secondary.

Rack again if sediment builds and bottle after 6 months


Drink after about a year after pitching the yeast


Elderberry 2016a
2016 Elderberry wine

Elderberry wine seems to be the hardest to master but the most rewarding in terms of flavour that I have tried. The berries give a very grape like taste and seem very dependent on process as well as recipe and I imagine they can be made into a range of dry to sweet, medium to full bodied wines.


Opening the 2016 “vintage” was an opportunity to test the changes I had made to the recipe to reduce the harsh tannin content. To do this I pressed the berries earlier than previous attempts so that the rising ethanol during fermentation did not extract the harsher tannins from the seeds. A cold maceration has always been part of my elderberry recipe to allow lots of colour to be extracted so an early press still gives a deep almost black wine!


The wine certainly seems to have benefited with this early press with less harsh tannins giving a more balanced wine with a fruitier taste than previous. I may increase the ratio of fruit to push it from a medium body to a full bodied wine. It does need to breathe a long time after being opened so this could mean I need to leave it longer in bulk aging to allow even more carbon dioxide to dissipate out.

Elderberry 2016b
Easily the darkest wine I have made.

Another aspect I plan to do is a double splash back on the first rack to encourage a little oxidation to promote more complex tastes to develop. The subsequent racks will be less energetic to allow as little oxygen exposure as possible. This is partly influenced by one of the 2017 demijohns having an airlock that totally dried out and rather than damaging the wine it seems to have helped it and compared to the other fully enclosed demijohn it seemed more balanced. I have no idea how long it was exposed but I am hoping the double drop when racking can simulate this again as a controlled and repeatable process.

Acidity continues to be an issue and I intend to change from citric acid that really seems to retreat over time to either a blend or tartaric acid as found in grapes. Sadly, this means I need to get my feeble brain around how acids develop tastes and what acids are present in elderberries. 2018’s experiments will happen before I open another bottle as I plan to age at least another 6 months or maybe even 12.


Grape vine in situ
Teeny tiny Pinot Noir wine tree.

October to March is apparently the best time to plant a grape vine in Britain. Unfortunately I missed this window when I ordered the vines.  They did arrive earlier than expected when I was still building my greenhouse that will house the Pinot Noir vine. The Pinot and Chardonnay have been sitting in a pots patiently but as Titus Amdromadon sang, “Pinot Noir, leather bar. Oh, so close and yet so far. Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, Pinot, Pinot, Pinot, Pinot Noir, you’re a star,” it seamed I might never get things sorted and have two dead vines on my hands and have to wait till next season.

Both the Chardonnay and Pinot vines are self fertile so they can be divided between two locations. The Chardonnay will be outside in my back garden against an ideal wall. The Pinot Noir will be grown under glass in a green house on my allotment. If you are lucky enough to have two vines together plant them 1.2m apart. If you are spoiled rotten and have lots of vines then the rows need to be 1.5 to 1.8m apart.

Greenhouse almost finished but preplanting.

The greenhouse faces into the morning sun so the vine will have the maximum sunlight to get the maximum sugar from the grapes. Sunlight rather than heat is needed for the grapes to mature. Temperature will be controlled though ventilation in the base opened to allow cold air if needed and roof vents to allow warm air to escape if the greenhouse becomes too hot. These vents can also be used to control airflow for pollination and moisture control too. The vines will have to be trailed using a Guyot system over the next few years but I already have allotted a space for them with 2.2 x 1.8m of wall then the roof as space for them to trail against. Although the training system is not yet in place I intend to get this done well before it is actually needed and may start building the base next month.

While the vines are inside the roots are not and have been planted externally with the vine slanted to grow into the greenhouse through a hole in the wall – a method favoured by thinking ladies man-crumpet Monty Don. This allows the thirsty roots that were grafted to the fruiting vine to get all the water they need externally and not have a complicated watering schedule to screw up if I planted wholly on the interior. The roots will fan out and downwards searching for all the water they can spanning for at least a meter and a half and maybe far far more if they are happy.

Soil ingredients
Left: Compost and wood chips. Top: One bag of grit. Bottom: Original soil saved.

At least two other vines are within three allotments of mine so it seems it is possible to grow them but preparing the ground was a back breaking work. My soil is thankfully acidic as grapes prefer a pH of about 6.5 to 6.8 though can tough it out in a range of soils but the drainage was not as great as I was hoping. Although grapes are thirsty they need to be in freely draining earth so they roots do not get waterlogged or promote botrytis – a wine hating fungus that ruins the fun.

Preping for the vine
Preparing the ground.

Rather than just double digging the soil I dug down till I hit clay and then lined this base with gravel so water could soak through. If you do this go at least two feet (60cm) deep and further if you can. A mixture of the original soil, extra compost and a little well rotted manure was added for nutrition as well as horticultural grit to aid drainage further. After the earth was level a small depression was made with blood and bone meal added to give the newly establishing roots a good feed as they acclimatise to their new home. The vine had a dark mark where it had been planted previously which acted as a handy guide. A further thick layer of compost was added and compacted around the base to keep it stable with a layer of wood chip to keep moisture in the soil and away from the graft where the top reaches the root stock which could rot. Manure was not used as a top dressing as this could “burn” the young stem though well rotted manure or compost will be added next season.

Stills prepping the ground
A more sedate view of the earth works. Dug out/gravel base/infilled with soil, compost and grit/blood and bone meal fertiliser/planted vine/wood chip protection.

Over the next few days the exterior of the greenhouse will be finished to enclose the vine as it enters the greenhouse and I may build a drip guard to ensure that too much water does not drip down the greenhouse sides onto it encouraging botrytis. Ms Vintner then added few bricks to demarcate the lovely prepared earth and keep us from stepping onto it. Now all I have to do is get the Chardonnay planted next to the wall, create the supporting structures for both and then prune, nurture and love them enough to get fruit!

Click here to read about choosing a wine grape for a British climate

Resources used:


Last year I got my hands on some grapes grown in South east London and started to make my own sparkling wine which is yet to be bottled never mind tasted. The grapes were pretty much feral but it has so far been a success with sugar and acidity adjusted. This prompted me to think about growing my own wine tree for a regular supply of grapes. With almost perfect timing Ms Gazette and I inherited an allotment – lots of nice space and as it was so over grown it was hacked back to be a blank canvass.

Grapes on the vine
South London Grapes

Growing grapes in London may seem folly but my little corner of Walthamstow did used to have a a vineyard (and dolls hospital!) in the 1660s with notorious party animal and parmesan burier Samuel Pepys saying of Lady Batten’s wine “the whole company said they never drank better foreign wine in their lives.” I doubt Lady B had an allotment and it was reputedly grown on the less soggier parts of Walthamstow to where I am but it seems the climate is suitable.

Both white and red grapes can be grown in Britain but the general consensus is that these only make decent white wine. Red wine is still not possible but difficult in Britain though climate change may make it possible in the future – lets hope it doesn’t though. Grapes can be grown in pots or freely in the ground, few can happily sit exposed in a garden so they either have to be trailed against a south facing wall to warm and protect the vine or be grown under glass in a green house or conservatory. Choosing how to grow them will be determined by the variety you grow.

Two grapes delivered.
Only three years until the first harvestable grape and even longer for enough for wine.

Due to the cool climate early harvest grapes are best suited with champagne grapes like Chardonnay, Pinots Noir and Meunier being popular. Wrotham Pinot is a British variety descended from Roman grapes brought over to Britain 2000 years ago. A vine was found at the start of the post war wine revival in Wrotham and it has since become recommended due to its disease resistance and suitability for the English climate. Fragola grapes are an oddity as they taste like strawberries and are the only that will grow in an exposed location but I am unsure of the suitability for wine.

I found choosing the grapes to be difficult as many are advertised with a name that does not correspond to to any particular wine I recognised with names like Boskoop Glory sounding intriguing but ultimately of no use in helping me choose. I eventually chose online form a supplier with more traditional grapes. Vitis Vinefera are grapes for wine and have seeds making then unsuitable for eating, some grapes can be suitable for both the table and wine making but they are usually suitable for one or the other.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir chosen

My aim is to grow two varieties so make a blended champagne and I have gone for the two classic grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sold as a “kit.” The grapes are both self fertile so they do not need to be grown next to each other to pollinate. Because of this they are being grown by two different methods. The Chardonnay will be against a wall in the back garden and will be exposed to the elements unless I need to build a cold frame around them. The wall offers shelter and will keep them warm as heat radiates off it. The Pinot Noir are better suited to being grown in a green house with higher temperatures to keep them happy – these will be down on the allotment.

Bare root stock
Bare root stock

A vine can be delivered either bare root stock or in a pot which gives a little extra time to get them planted. The ideal time to plant is between October and March so I am a little behind in getting them in their final spot. Growing a grape vine is an investment with pruning and trailing needed to get the best results. The eraliest retuen in investment will be three years with more growth and grapes for 20 years to come. Over the next few weeks I will have the ground prepared, green house completed and vines planted.




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.