Category Archives: Homesteading

Home-Made Wine From a Kit: Degassing, Stabilization, and Clarifying

If you’ve been following along with this little adventure then you’ll notice it’s been quite some time since the last post. If you’re just joining us you can check out part 1 and part 2 first.

The wine has finished it’s secondary fermentation over the last two weeks and is ready for the next process: degassing. If this sounds like something you need after Thanksgiving dinner then you’d be close. All of the fermentation has produced millions of carbon-dioxide bubbles that remain suspended in the wine, and we’ll need to get rid of those to prevent corks from popping out or bottles breaking. The bubbles also help to suspend particles that we are trying to get out of the wine to clarify it. The “Wine Expert” kit we’re using has you mix all the sediment in the carboy back into suspension as you stir very vigorously. I use a special paddle with a long rod that attaches to a power drill. Before stirring I add a couple chemicals: potassium metabisulphite kills off the yeast to stop fermentation but also is a powerful antioxidant that prevents discoloration and spoilage, and potassium sorbate which is basically a preservative. These chemicals stabilize the wine to prevent further fermentation and get rid of harmful acids or bacteria. These are added to water first and then stirred into the wine. By stirring rapidly, all of the gas bubbles are released and the wine foams up just like soda poured into a glass. After stirring for a couple of minutes I add something called isinglass clarifier, which will clump together all of the solids suspended in the wine and make them drop to the bottom of the carboy. Then the wine gets more stirring until all the trapped CO2 bubbles escape.

The last step is to put an airlock on the carboy and wait. It’s fun to watch the wine clear. First it’s all cloudy, then the cloudy layer slowly moves toward the bottom of the carboy over the course of about a week. When it gets to the bottom the wine is almost clear.

The cloud of gunk getting near the bottom of the carboy

The cloud of gunk getting near the bottom of the carboy

After about two weeks the wine is totally clear but still has a nice color. The instructions tell you to bottle it from here but I like to transfer the wine into another container and leave the sediment behind. Next I’ll wait another week for any sediment to settle again before bottling.

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The Most Hurtin Christmas Tree Ever

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My wife has a thing for “Charlie Brown” Christmas trees. This year she insisted that we (I) cut down a tree from our back woodlot and bring it in. This was in the middle of an ice storm.

“Can’t we just go up the street and buy the littlest and cheapest tree they have?” I asked.

“Get your saw,” was her reply.

So I trucked out to the woods, which was no small feat since there was a crust of ice over about a foot of snow. I kept falling through and my boots would get hung up on the ice so that I was constantly about to trip. I came across some big moose tracks, how do they stay warm and dry on a day like this?

I located a beautiful fir tree that was about the right height. It was completely encased in ice. When I cut down the tree about half the needles came off. By the time I got it back to the house it was mostly sticks. The wife still wanted to put it up and decorate so in it came, still about half encrusted with ice. We had a nice puddle going where the presents are supposed to go.

That’s the tree this year, anyone else have a soft spot for ugly trees?

 

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Ice Sculptures

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I have a professional grade luge course in my driveway. The temperature has been below freezing but somehow instead of snow, it has been raining. The entire house, deck, and yard is covered in ice. This is looking out the kitchen window at the lovely shrubbery.

So I dumped a bag of rock salt on the driveway and started hacking away with a metal spade. It was nice to be outside, and out in the woods I could hear branches snapping and giving way under the ice. After an hour of chopping the wife was able to drive up the hill and into the garage, success!

Luckily the power is still on. Is anyone else out there covered in ice too?

UPDATE: We lost the power about a half-hour after I posted this. Figures.

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Secondary Fermentation–A Quick Update

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Not wine yet. It looks more like runny peanut butter. Yum!

Chardonnay anyone? At this point the primary fermentation is done and the unfinished wine is transferred from the primary fermenting tank to the carboy (that’s a fun word isn’t it? It’s just a big jug). I first tested the specific gravity with my hydrometer. It’s supposed to read less than 1.010 before you can start the next phase. My sample read about 1.000 so it was fine. Specific gravity is a measure of the density of a liquid. The more alcohol, the lower the reading, so you can tell about the progress of the fermentation by the specific gravity. End of science lesson. You can read more about the hydrometer by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.

This step is simple, you just transfer the wanna-be wine from one container to the next, leaving behind the heavy sludge at the bottom of the primary fermenting tank. This is made up of dead yeast cells and the oak wood chips that you put in during the primary fermentation.

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Yeast sludge and oak chips at the bottom of the primary fermentation tank

You don’t need to add any chemicals or anything at this point. I put an airlock in the top and let it sit at around 72 degrees Fahrenheit for two weeks. Yawn, boring. The next steps get a little more exciting.

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We Have Fermentation!

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My wife and I just started a new batch of Chardonnay from a Wine Expert kit.  The primary fermenting tank is sitting in our living room and the whole place smells like baking bread from the yeast doing its thing. In the picture you can see the bubbles of carbon dioxide that are given off by the fermentation. There are several stages involved in wine making starting with the primary fermentation, which in the case of this white will be about a week. Next the wine is transferred to a carboy for a couple of weeks to finish fermenting. Finally, the wine goes through a stabilization and clearing process. In only about six weeks, if I don’t screw something up, we’ll have twenty-seven bottles of excellent wine for the cellar. I’ll update as we go from stage to stage.

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I Am the Thermostat

Thirty four degrees outside. The fire is just a small bed of coals that I keep raking into a pile. This old farmhouse with all it’s little rooms ranges from fifty six degrees in the back storeroom/laundry room, to a comfortable 72 in the dining area where we have the stove. Usually this room is lava hot and you need a fan, but I’m letting the fire die so I can shovel out some coals.

I have a new respect for the humble thermostat. It does it’s job quietly, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week without fail. With some kind of technological sorcery the temperature in the house stays where you set it. This isn’t the case when you heat with a wood stove. I have become the thermostat.

The only real advantage that I have over that small device is that I can anticipate the change in outside temperature. The thermostat never knows it needs to get ready because the sun’s going down and it’s going to start getting colder. The little fellow is totally blindsided when a front moves through and the day warms up quickly. I know these things and that little gadget doesn’t, hah!

Oh but wait, there’s programmable thermostats. There goes that argument.

In any case they don’t work with wood stoves and so I’m stuck with the job. Fortunately we’ve developed an ingenious system of strategically placed fans to pump the cold air into the hot stove room, and let all that hot air convect out into the rest of the house. It works pretty well and all the way upstairs in the bedrooms it stays around seventy. That is, it stays that way if I dutifully keep shoveling wood onto the fire.

When it’s just about freezing outside our stove can handle it no sweat. I just need one log cooking away or even just a bed of coals and the house stays toasty. Problem is when the temperature plummets, and I’m zonked out in bed dreaming of barbecued ribs, it get’s darn chilly! This happened the other night when it got down into the teens and I let the fire die out.

You gotta give a guy a break, I’m still new on the job and I’m sure I’ll get a handle on it.

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Avalanche of Eggs

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My girls–eight New Hampshire Red Hens–are about seven months old and churning out eggs like they were getting paid. Even after several quiches, some baked goods, omelettes in the morning, and a couple dozen deviled eggs, we’re starting to get a surplus. My doctor will probably not like my cholesterol numbers when we next get together either!

I bought 100 new cartons from Amazon and started trying to sell them down at the end of our driveway in a cooler where we had our little farm stand this summer. This is something they do up here in rural Maine, they sell just about everything you can imagine out in their front yards by the road. Zombies aren’t attracted to eggs, so I have no worries that we’re going to lose any to them. The first Saturday my wife and I put them out we sold three dozen, wow! It seemed like we were onto something good. But for the past two weeks we haven’t sold anything, despite putting them out by the road everyday and pricing them at the local going rate of only two dollars a dozen. I even advertised them on Uncle Henry’s, a down-homey alternative to Craig’s List that we have up here in the frozen North. No response. So now the eggs are starting to pile up. The growing stacks of cartons are squeezing out the vegetables at the bottom of the fridge.

I guess from my research on the internet that most of the eggs in the supermarket are anywhere from seven days to several weeks old. They keep well as long as you keep them cold, but everyday I add to the pile and everyday it grows.

Tomorrow I resolve to stop procrastinating and call a local church to see if they have a soup kitchen or food pantry that can use them. Boy this post is boring. There aren’t any car crashes or things exploding or anything. I’ll add them to my tags anyway, just to mess with people.

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