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Winemaking - 'For Medicinal Purposes'

For Sustainable Bungay's 10th Plants for Life event last Sunday, Winemaking - For Medicinal Purposes, Nick Watts invited a dozen of us to his house for a practical demonstration of how to make fruit wine, in this case (sic) from raspberries.

Nick’s front room was filled with people (including Sophie and Nick from Transition Norwich's Low Carbon Cookbook group),  funnels, demi-john’s with deep red liquid and when you opened the door of any one of the cupboards you would discover a large container filled with a fermenting fluid. One demi-john contains enough for 6 bottles of wine at 750cl per bottle. Nick calculated he had about 80 bottles of wine fermenting at the moment.

First we took a look at some of the medicinal qualities of  raspberries. I’d been aware of the raspberry leaf  as a uterine tonic during pregnancy and childbirth and have used it along with yarrow to make a salve for piles. But for me raspberry fruits were always a delicious sign of high to late summer, picked fresh or bought from a roadside stall, and eaten long before they made it home to be turned into anything else culinary, let alone medicinal.

Raspberries, in fact, are incredibly rich in anti-oxidants and vitamin C. Eating them can help boost a poor appetite and they are useful in arthritis. See Hedgerow Medicine, by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal,  for an excellent chapter on the many virtues and uses of  the raspberry, both leaf and fruit, with some great herbal recipes.

Penelope Ody in her book 100 great natural remedies has a simple recipe for raspberry vinegar: Soak 500g fresh raspberries in wine vinegar for 2 weeks, strain thick red liquid into a bottle and use in cough syrups, as a throat gargle or add to salad dressings.

Nick took us through the winemaking process in three stages, starting off a new wine and then using ones “I’d prepared a bit earlier.” He was keen to point out he was not an expert, having started about three years ago, but had really got into it and was happy to share what he knows with people.

This was the essence of not only this session but also a main impulse behind the whole Plants for Life project, and indeed Sustainable Bungay as a group and the wider Transition 'movement': If Nick could make so much and such decent wine (not to mention his delicious dandelion and burdock beer) from home and allotment-grown and foraged fruit by just doing it and immersing himself in it, then anyone with sufficient interest and initiative could. Watching Nick describe the process and go through it physically with a friendly group of people was absorbing and instructive, as well as good fun. It was a true skill-share.

What follows below is not necessarily the whole story, but what I learnt from Sunday's session:

STEP ONE

In a big bucket with 3lb raspberries (you can choose your own fruit, almost any will do), Nick poured on 5pts of water and added a teaspoonful of pectin enzyme to prevent ‘pectin haze’. He then mashed the raspberries with a wooden spoon and covered the liquid with a tea towel (very important esp. in summer to keep insects out).

This is left for two days.

STEP TWO 2 DAYS LATER

Add to the bucket between 1kg and 11/4 kg of sugar (preferably fair trade/organic, white) dissolved in 2 pts water off the boil. Add 1 tsp dried yeast with a little sugar all dissolved in some of the fruit liquid in the bucket.

It’s the yeast that turns the sugar into alcohol and the more sugar the sweeter the wine. Nick uses less (1kg) as he likes a drier wine.

This liquid is then stirred 2-3 times a day over the next four days, and the process is called ‘fermenting on the must’.

STEP THREE 4 DAYS LATER

This is the messy bit, where you strain all the liquid through a muslin sieve, before funnelling it into the demi-johns and putting an airlock on it. This is then left to ferment for between 3 and 18 months until there are no longer any bubbles to be seen in the airlock. During the fermenting process a stable temperature is important. Nick doesn’t worry too much about whether it's warm or cool, just that there is as little fluctuation as possible.

STEP FOUR 3-18 MONTHS later
Decant into bottles and leave for 1-2 years depending on the fruit. Raspberries need less time than elderberries, for example.

After the demonstration, Nick invited everyone to taste some of the wines he's made. My favourite was the dry and fragrant Elderflower and Rosehip. I took half a bottle home and tried a glass with a dash of elderflower cordial - for medicinal purposes only, of course. And it was the perfect antidote to the recent gloomy days of continual rain and lessening light.

Photos: Raspberry wine fermenting in demi-johns; Nick instructing; Mashing the raspberries; Straining the liquid; Cheers on a rainy day (Mark Watson)

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