Thursday, December 26, 2013

Making wine

Many beginning wine making books say, once you start making wine, you cannot stop.  I can attest to that being the truth.  Oh, I'm sure you can dabble in it and then quit, but if you are the kind of person who takes pride in your work, you will strive to make each batch better than the last.  And along the way, you will progress from just following someone else's recipe to learning what components give the wine it's desirable characteristics, and then you will strive to use all natural components to balance your wine to make it perfect and all your own.  That has certainly been my progression.

A good wine is balanced in every way.  They don't all have to be the same flavor to be perfect, but it needs the right amount of tang (acidity), body (provided by your fruit), and zing (tannins).  And on top of that, you can change the sweetness to suit your tastes.  When I began wine-making, I thought I liked deep dry red wines like merlot, cabernet savignon, and shiraz.  I knew that wild fruits that I was going to be using to make wine couldn't really taste like a red grape wine, but I was willing to experiment.  I also knew that I didn't like really sweet wines, so I entered into it with the thought of making my fruit wines the way I like them.

My wine making journey began this summer.  A friend of mine gave me a book on making homemade wines as a thank you for hosting her wedding on our land.  I had helped her pick fruit for wines (and taste a few wines) in the past, but I wasn't ready to begin for myself then.  The right circumstances had to present themselves.  Mid-summer, I was home for a week vacation and was presented with a bounty crop of wild black raspberries on our land (we also call them black caps).  I was also desperate for a way to connect to the land and grown crops again, since I'd started my fourth year of school, which meant I was in clinical rotations all summer and wasn't able to grow a garden and was only home on certain weekends.  Wine making became a perfect hobby to become involved with to bring me back to the land.  All the fruits I've used were harvested either wild on our land or directly from local growers (cranberries).

Wine recipes are by the gallon.  One gallon makes 5 bottles of wine.  When I first started, I wondered how I was ever going to drink all this wine.  I'm not really a big drinker.  I often open a bottle of wine to enjoy a glass, and the wine turns bad before I get a chance to finish the whole bottle.  At this point, I don't know how I'm going to possibly be able to make enough to share with all the people I'd like to taste my wines!  I'm even up to using 3 gallon carboys (which make 15 bottles at a time!).

Needless to say, I've gone from just trying it out, to researching more in depth about acidity (I even got an acid titration kit), and striving to make a deep rich wine that is balanced enough to rival those deep red merlots I used to like so much.  And you know, I don't like the merlots and shiraz so much anymore.  I have learned to really appreciate a fruit wine, especially since I made it myself from wild grown fruits like those tiny sour grapes, black raspberries, blackberries, elderberries and so on.  My elderberry made with toasted oak chips it currently bottled and aging.  I'll let you know next year how it turned out!  So far, it is drinkable! 

If you ever want to try a good commercial elderberry wine, I highly recommend Three Lakes Winery in Wisconsin.  They do ship, so try it!  They have some other really fantastic semi-sweet fruit wines.  Their elderberry is sweeter than mine, though has the same flavor and is very unique.  It is said that a good elderberry wine can rival a deep red grape wine.  I've found our Wisconsin elderberries to lack acidity so I had to experiment to blend with other acidic fruits.  My first elderberry wine is just straight elderberries and I added powdered acid blend to give it that body and zing.  My second is combined with cranberries and it definitely has a zing combined with the tannins from the elderberries.  I can't wait for them to finish fermenting.

That is the one difficult thing about making wine...waiting for it to be ready to drink!  I of course have been sampling the wines all along the way and know how much they change from the primary fermentation with active bubbling and raw yeasty sharp flavor, to the mellowed smooth flavor of a more mature aged wine.

This last weekend, I had to make another batch of black raspberry wine.  It has quickly become the favorite of the ones I've made so far.  It is also the sweetest one and I want to try to fine tune it now.  I used all frozen fruit picked this summer.  The bulk of this wine is black raspberries, but it also had a good share of red raspberries and blackberries, with cranberries, crabapples, and raisins to balance the acidity and add tannins.  I added less sugar and used yeast that had settled to the bottom of one of my other wines that is currently still fermenting slowly.

I poured boiling water with the sugar dissolved in it over the thawed berries in a stainless steel pot and let it sit overnight.  In the morning, I added pectic enzyme that will help the wine clear when it reaches that point (pectin from fruit can make wine hazy, especially if the fruits were boiled).  Later that afternoon, I added the yeast drawn off from my other wine, in addition to yeast nutrients.  Then I poured the must (what you call the baby wine) into a food grade bucket and covered it to prevent fruit flies from weaseling their way in (fruit flies carry bacteria that will turn wine into vinegar..thankfully they are not very abundant at this time of year - this can be a hazardous process when the fruit flies are thick and they are definitely drawn to the smell of fermenting fruit!). 


It took a couple days for the yeast to reproduce enough to make lots of bubbles and float the fruit pulp to the top of the bucket.
During this time, I stirred the pulp down into the liquid several times a day.  This blows off gasses and aerates the must so the yeast can really reproduce in the beginning.  After a few days, the wine really starts to smell like yeasty alcohol.  I LOVE this smell.  It makes me happy.  This newest batch was my first batch in several months, and I hadn't realized how much I missed the smell of wine fermenting until I smelled it again!
 After 5 days, I poured the must through a jelly bag (a bag with a bit courser mesh might work better) to strain off the pulp.

I had to squeeze the wine out of the pulp and I think it would be better to have a bit courser mesh for this part.

I made enough wine for 4 gallons, though I did run a little short and had to use a half gallon for the last jug.

I can't figure out how to get this picture to load upright.  The other one worked!  It's frustrating and I edited this picture exactly the same way as the previous picture.

 This can be a messy procedure, especially if you are a little careless.  I just wipe the rims well.
 The final step is to add the airlock that will let carbon dioxide from fermentation escape, but not let any oxygen in.  Now I place the carboys in a warm dark place (my side hallway), and let them sit.  In a month, the yeast will start to settle out and the wine will clear.  At that time I'll rack (move) the wine off the sediment into a new carboy, and let it sit for another month or two.
I usually taste it along the way and I also might add more sugar if I feel like it needs a little more sweetness when it gets close to done.  I might rack it again before I bottle it, but I basically wait until there is no more fermentation occuring and the pressure inside the carboy has equalized (you can tell by the position of the airlock).  Then I know I can safely bottle it without worrying about it exploding later.
  The last step, I bottle it!  I use recycled bottles that I've removed the labels from (hot soapy water and an SOS pad or a knife work pretty well for the stubborn ones).  At first I used wine bottles with screw caps, but I graduated to using corks.  I got a decent corker that makes life easier and is much more versatile than waiting for enough screw cap bottles to use. 
I kept thinking I need to make labels to complete the package.  I even told my mom I was going to call my wine operation "Wild Spirits Wine".  My mom has also gotten into the wine making spirit.
Imagine my surprise when I opened my Christmas gift this year from my photo editing sister to find my own wine labels!  She used a picture I'd painted a while back, and designed a label around it.  It looks awesome!  Now my wine is complete! 
It is really fun to bring a bottle of my own wine to a get-tegether to share with friends and family! 

Well, if being a veterinarian doesn't work out for me, I'm all set for my second career!  I wonder what kind of process it takes to get a license to sell wine? 
I highly recommend making your own wine.  It really is a simple process, but you can make it as complicated and specialized as you want it.  You won't be bored with it!
The books I started with were:

I used both books and have gleaned and combined recipes from both.
This is my very first wine recipe that I used mostly from the first book:
For 1 gallon:
4 lbs of black raspberries
8 oz of raisins
1 1/2 cups orange juice
2.5 lbs sugar
1 teas acid blend
1 teas yeast nutrient
Yeast (can't remember which variety I used)
It turned out really well, though was a little sweeter than I wanted it.  Most everyone else just loves it though.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Christmas was a big hit this year in our house.  Our daughter is now 3.  When we asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she said, without any hesitation, a dollhouse.  And repeated asking always yielded the same thing, a dollhouse!  "Just like the one in my book", she said!  So, Daddy, oops, I mean "Santa", got to work on building one.  And we modeled it in part after the dollhouse in her book.

I think it turned out pretty well!  And the cat likes it too!

We have had some really up and down temperature here, and lots of snow.  During the "warm" days (temps around 20 degrees F) I have been able to take some really nice snowy trails rides with my mares.  Those rides were so heavenly...just the quiet rustling of the hooves in deep powdery snow.  The mares have been pretty cooperative despite not having been ridden since before I got Stormy.  I'm looking forward to the high of 30 degrees on Saturday and another ride!

In between meals, the horses are always digging through the deep snow for more grass morsels.

Stay tuned...I'm planning a post about wine making very soon!  I have some pictures all ready for it!

Sunday, November 24, 2013


I've been missing my horses.  I've spent the last week at home, but I'm gone all day on my latest externship and I leave early and don't get back until after dark.  So it's been over a week since I've seen my horses in the daylight.  Without a barn with lights, it makes it hard to really check on them...but they are all there and upright for every feeding.

And this weekend marks the last cram session for an exam that I hope I'll ever have to do.  I take my national board exam tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

And I'm going to post the transition collages I made for Chico and Catlow that show their progression since I adopted them as yearlings until now.  Can you believe they are 9 years old already!?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Together at last (2)!

Cody trots to catch up with Catlow, who moved down the valley to graze.

After separating Stormy out, Chico hurries to catch up with Cody and Catlow.

Stormy makes it back down to the others after I shoo her away, and Chico right away sets in to chase her.  She's not to happy about it...with a swish of her tail.

All the activity gets Catlow riled up too, so she launches into a gallop!  If Catlow is going to run, the whole herd will run!  I love the power in Catlow's launch!

They are all feeling a little sassy!  Well, Catlow and Cody are...I think Stormy is just trying to stay out of Chico's way!

 Catlow is really digging in!


My dogs think they should chase the horses as the horses run past and my poor cruciate ligament tear/repair dog, Jasper, trips himself up in the grass and goes head over heals!

Don't worry, Jasper is okay.  It just hurts to see him so debilitated.  I'm pretty sure catching Lyme disease set off his cranial cruciate ligament tears.

The horses get separated.  Stormy ran into the lower pasture and whinnies pitifully to her separated friends.

So they all head down to be together.

Once together, they are still riled up!  I love the tails in the air!

 Then they settle down, with Chico and Cody standing side by side, like they used to.  Stormy looks on like she'd really like to be next to her Cody.

I do think that Cody missed Chico.  She touches him affectionately here.

Stormy decides she's had enough of them for awhile and trots up to visit me again.  Sure, maybe she thinks I'll feed her, but she really does seem to be bonding to me!  Every time I come outside, she looks up and stares at me with this penetrating look.  None of my other horses do that!  Griffin used to always notice me and acknowledge me too.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Together at last!

This will be a two parter, just because I have lots of photos to share.

And because I know that it is probably hard to tell all my dark horses apart , especially since they all get darker when their winter coats come in, I'll describe them all quick before we get into it.  Catlow is the easy one...she is the sorrel with the big blaze face.  Then Stormy is the only other horse with any white - she is dark brown (seal brown) with a small crescent on her forehead, a snip, and a white right rear pastern.  Stormy has the darkest coat color and true black mane and tail.  Cody is very similar in color to Stormy except she is more of a smokey color (due to the cream gene on seal brown) and her mane and tail are very dark chocolate.  She is also bigger than Stormy and has no white.  And Chico is the simple bay with no white.  He is actually a little bit of a sooty bay, but compared to the others, he is quite light.

Chico's wound is really healing nicely.  It's hardly even thickened around the fetlock anymore.  It has a nice scab over the ever-shrinking granulation tissue.  I'm so pleased at the stage it's at.

So I decided to turn the horses back out together.  It's easier to manage them when they are together.  As it was, the two out in the big pasture weren't getting any mineral because the mineral feeder is in the barn.
I knew there would be drama, and of course there was, but not nearly as much as there was the first time I turned Chico out with them all.  That time he was also full of energy from being cooped up in the barn.  This time it was much less excitement, but still a lot to see in the herd interactions.
Stormy has this disgusting habit of peeing at horses when she is kicking at them.  I thinks it's a bit of submission thing, but she also tends to show extremely strong heats, especially to horses she hasn't been with.
Here she is kicking at Chico and peeing at him at the same time, as he threatens to kick her.
Chico tries to go down and chase after Stormy, again, but Cody (dark chocolate colored horse) steps in front of him and cuts him off, threatening to kick him.  Remember, Chico and Cody are usually best buds.
I love Cody's face in this and Chico's reaction.  She is clearly telling him to back off. 
And he does.  Cody is the boss mare afterall.  He behaves himself for a few minutes, following Cody apologetically.  This picture is good for showing the colors of the "dark" horses.  Stormy is furthest in the background here, then Cody (you can really see her smokiness), then Chico last.
But that doesn't last long.  He's back to chasing Stormy again.
He tries to keep her on the outside of his herd, while Cody looks on with a watchful eye.  Catlow couldn't care less what was happening.  She was just happy to be out in the big pasture grazing (she was the one in with Chico in the little pasture).
Chico succeeds in isolating Stormy and she looks at me hoping I might save her.
Chico takes off at a strong trot to catch up with Cody and Catlow.  You can see his leg really doesn't hinder him much at all!  I'm so excited that I might actually have my riding gelding back when he's all healed up from this.  I don't think this ruined him!
 He's catching air here.  Someone said that he probably is okay because mustangs are tougher than other horses.  I sort of had to giggle at that because really, Chico was just one lucky horse.  Lucky that he happened to miss all those important tendons, joints, and everything else down there!  And I like to think he had good care.  Without all the bandaging, he certainly wouldn't have had this good of a cosmetic effect, and it may have scarred bad enough to hinder motion in his fetlock.

After Chico isolated Stormy, she came right over to hang out with me.  She just stood next to me and walked beside me in the pasture as though I was leading her.  I finally shoo'd her away telling her to go interact with the others, and as she left, she stopped and looked back at me with this expression "Do I really have to?"
I'm really becoming quite attached to the newest member of my herd.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


It's been confirmed with video.  Stormy does the foxtrot, a gait where at the trot (a diagonal gait), the front foot hits the ground just before the opposite hind foot hits.  It results in an extremely smooth feeling "trot" since the concussion is spread out rather than on the exact same point in time.  It's been described as sounding like "a chunk of meat and two potatoes"...if you say that with rhythm, the foot falls will fall into that time.  The following video shows her doing her thing, and while it looks like her hooves may be hitting at the same time, when I advance the video one slide at a time, you can clearly see that her hind foot lags and hits the ground just after the opposite front.  And you can also see how smooth she is and easy to see...I'm hardly moving at all and I'm bareback!

I rode Stormy bareback today and even at a fast "trot", she was extremely easy to sit...very smooth and no bounce.  She doesn't seem to get air with her trot.  We also cantered.  She was a very good girl.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Still healing, and a LOT of wine!

The healing on Chico's leg is still going slowly, but this weekend, for the first time, I can't detect the cleft in the granulation tissue!  And the seepage from the wound is suddenly remarkably less.  I'm taking that as a great sign that we are finally closing up, but he still has a ways to go.  Starting last weekend, I've been taking the bandage off during the day and on at night.  During the week, that was spotty, as my Dad had to change his bandage, so I just had him change it everyother day and not worry about off in the a.m., on in the p.m.  But I started that back up this weekend.  His leg still swells up just a bit when it is not bandaged.  With a bandage on, it stays much less swollen.  So, we are trying to get the best of both worlds (air to the wound and decreased swelling) with our current methods.  I just don't want Chico's leg to heal up all thick after all the work we've put into it.  Chico has also been out in the small pasture (no longer cooped up in the barn) for the last couple weeks.

Chico is such a good boy though all this.  When he sees me enter the pasture, he comes over to greet me immediately and stands stock still while I check out his bandage and remove it.  To put it back on, I always take him out and tie him near all my supplies.  He seems to enjoy all the attention.  Nothing has been a bad experience for him.  He comes right up to me for scratches and love.  I think a lot of that has to do with being separated from the rest of the herd.  He's with Catlow now, but he REALLY wants to be with his best bud, Cody.  He's lonely for the whole herd.

And I must show the pictures from my wine exploits.  I got into wine-making over the summer.  So far I've done Black Raspberry, Peach, Peach/Blueberry, Elderberry, Grape, Grape/Apple, Crabapple, Cranberry/Elderberry.  They are in 1 gallon carboys (each gallon makes 5 wine bottles full), but some I have between 2 and 4 gallons of.  I think that's about all I'll tackle for this year.  The wines need to finish fermenting and aging.  My first ones are supposed to be ready to drink around Christmas.  I've been sampling them along the way during the whole process and I really like most of them (in the beginning they didn't taste the greatest but they did change as the fermentation proceeded).  Some have required some tweaking, but I won't go into it...I could spend a whole separate blog writing about wine-making!  All I'll say is it is so fun, and I'm so glad I got into it.  The most fun part is I get to harvest wild fruit (most of what I've picked grows wild around our land), and tweak it all to the tastes that I like.  I don't like my wine sweet, like most fruit wines are made, so I get to make it just the way I like it.

Some of the wines in this picture are cloudy because they are really young and still actively fermenting.  From left to right: Black Raspberry (the deepest darkest color I've made so far), Elderberry, Grape, Grape/Apple, and Crabapple.
Not all the wines I've made are in this picture.  Some have been bottled and but away in my cold room.