Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Another Batch of Alaska Rhubarb Wine - 2016

I made my first batch of Rhu de Barb le blanc - Alaska Rhubarb wine back in 2005 from Rhubarb I purchased at a local you-pick-it farm. You can see the complete recipe in that blog post. It is way past time to do another batch from Rhubarb out of my home garden. I prefer to make dry wines as I happen to like a dry table-wine better with foods. To do this I start with about 26% sugar solution or 26 degrees Brix in my Must which the yeast will convert to alcohol and CO2 gas. The sugar should ferment completely out and leave no sweetness in my finished wine at about 13% alcohol by volume. I do not sweeten my finished table wines. Dry rhubarb wine can be quite sharp when new and needs time to mellow. It will be better after bottle aging a year. I think it goes very well with fresh grilled Alaska Salmon similar to a dry New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I was cleaning up my overgrown Rhubarb patch in my garden and ended up with a bucket full of giant stalks. Probably a little more than I wanted for making jam or sauce or pie.

I need about 15 pounds of chopped rhubarb to make my recipe for 5 gallons of finished Rhubarb wine. I thought I was very close to enough fresh Rhubarb for a batch.

Rhubarb grows very well here in Alaska and will keep producing all summer long. The plants will grow very large with giant stalks. Many people try to cut it at smaller stages for cooking. I think the larger stalks will be just fine for flavoring my wine.

Day 1 - Wed. July 13, 2016. I ended up chopping the washed stalks and then running them through my food processor. I usually just add the 1 inch chopped rhubarb and sugar into my primary fermenter. This time I turned the stalks into pulp and weighing as I go I ended up with right at 15 pounds. 

I added the pulp to my 10 gallon primary fermenter then mixed in 15 lbs of sugar. I will let it sit for 24 hours to extract the juice and then add water and tannin and pitch my yeast. The fermentation should last 5-7 days and should extract a nice blush Rose' color from the red pigment in the stalks.

I made a yeast starter out of organic white grape juice and 2 pkgs. of Red Star Champagne Yeast. I will let this culture grow for 24 hours before adding it to my Must.

Day 2 - July 14, after 24 hours the sugar was dissolved and plenty of flavorful Rhubarb juice had been extracted from the pulp making about 3 gallons in volume.

I added 1 1/2 tsp Grape Tannin and 3/4 tsp Sodium Metabisulfite and topped with about 3 gallons of water for a total of 6 gallons of Must. Starting Gravity was 1.110 or 25.8 degrees Brix.

I pitched my yeast starter, covered with a plastic sheet and moved the fermenter to a dark corner out of direct sunlight for primary fermentation. I will stir the Must daily to push down the pulp for good flavor and color extraction. In a week or so I will rack off the unfinished wine into a glass carboy and press out the pulp.

Day 22 - Thur. August 4. I pressed my rhubarb pulp. The primary fermentation took longer to get started than I expected. Probably because I added my Sodium Metabisulfite at the same time as I pitched my yeast starter and that may have inhibited active fermentation. It is recommended that you let the Sulfite work for 24 hours to inoculate the must before adding your yeast. Active SO2 will not kill wine yeast, but it can inhibit growth.

Using my small fruit press suspended inside a plastic bucket with attached faucet. A fine nylon pressing bag was used inside the press and the must was ladled into the press letting the free run new wine to filter through. The bag was then folded under the pressing plate and the pressing screw was attached. Pressing took about 60 minutes and you don't want to rush this process. Waiting several minutes between turns lets the wine percolate through the pulp. This setup works very well for my 5 gallon fruit wine recipes that require about 15 pounds of fruit. I had only about 5 pounds of dry pulp left at the end of this process from 15 pounds of fresh picked rhubarb that I started with.

I transferred the new wine into a 6.5 gallon glass carboy and attached a fermentation lock. The next morning fermentation was slow but steady as monitored by airlock activity.

Total volume of new wine was a little over 5 gallons and Specific Gravity was recorded at 1.038 and I will rack again in 3-4 weeks when fermentation is finished. I will then add fining and age 3 more months and bottle when clear. The new wine tasted sweet and fizzy, with a nice rhubarb flavor and no indication of anything unusual.

One of my favorite pieces of home wine-making equipment is a sturdy plastic and metal fruit press that I picked up many years ago. The entire press is designed to be suspended inside of a 5 gallon plastic bucket to catch the juice. I use a fine mesh nylon pressing bag to hold the pulp and this gives me a very good yield of juice, flavor, and color.

Follow along in my process and let's see how it goes...