The first lot is bottled. Yes indeedy. Bottled. I cannot believe it.
Last autumn was the first time I had ever attempted to make fruit wine. And the primary prompt for the exercise was the overflowing plum tree at Home Farm. And since there was no longer anyone around to harvest the fruit, Mr Midlife and I went with boxes, bins and bags. There really was a lot of fruit on Mum’s old plum tree last year.
I had to learn quickly how to make wine from fruit as it doesn’t keep fresh very long. And once again the internet came in very handy.
There are different methods for different fruit; and various recipes from all over the world. I started out confused and almost didn’t bother. I’m awfully glad I did now. Winemaking is obviously a very precise science in some parts of the world. It’s also a haphazard and satisfying rural pastime in others. I decided to go with the rural pastime brigade. As you would expect.
It tends to be a rather mucky pursuit too. My hands were brown and disgusting for weeks; should have worn gloves I know, but the feel of the fruit on my hands as I cut and stoned and peeled and chopped was lovely. It reminded me of the days years ago when I used to help my grandmother peel and chop the fruit from her trees for pies and to make preserves. As children my little sister, brother and I spent many happy hours picking blackberries for pies and jams. We were very good at it as I recall. And we didn’t mind one bit going to school with purple finger nails.
It wasn’t just plums that we gathered in August and September last year. Once I got started fruit picking I almost couldn’t stop. It was like turning the clock back; I became a dedicated hedgerow forager. I even got Mr Midlife involved. We had a supply of bags in the car just in case we should spy a good crop of hedgerow fruit worth pulling over for when we were out and about. We came across a bountiful supply of elderberries in a field near Louth which found their way into one of my large fermenter buckets by the end of the day. We found ourselves unable to pass by a heavily loaded bramble bush without stopping. Come late October the pair of us were harvesting the sloes from the blackthorn bushes around the fields at Normanby. Those sloes are quietly fermenting in their bottles of gin right now. They’ll be good to go by about Christmas time 2015.
So on the high up shelves in the boiler room there are a good number of demijohns wrapped in brown paper and dark coloured Christmas wrapping paper to keep the light out and the rich colour in. It really is quite a sight. I keep on taking them down and racking them off to a fresh demijohn from time to time as advised, and then putting them back up again. Each glass container has a sheet of notepaper taped to it, saying what is in there and when it was started and so on.
Which leads me to tonight. I was serving up a rather tasty bolognese for dinner which deserved a decent glass of red.
There was no red. It was freezing cold outside and I couldn’t face a trip out to buy a bottle of wine for dinner. Check out the wine is what I thought. I looked at a balloon of plum – it was a bit cloudy still. And then I recalled reading that a blackberry wine can be drunk really quite young, and when I stripped the paper back I was amazed to see that the wine had cleared beautifully. So what could I do? It had to be done really – some tipped into a couple of glasses, the rest into sterilised bottles for the wine rack. Have to say it was a pleasant surprise. For a young wine. A tad sweet maybe. But very good; it tasted and smelled of summer.
So I stand by my initial thoughts on winemaking. You can make it a precise science or you can make it a hobby and have fun with it. It was great fun this evening trying my hedgerow blackberry wine. Roll on next summer I say, and fruit picking time again.