Winter Winemaking for Easy, Enjoyable Homemade Wines

We usually think of home winemaking as a summer or early fall project, primarily because that is the time of year when grapes, berries, fruit, and other country winemaking crops are being harvested. But the warmer months are certainly not the only time of year right for making homemade wine. In fact, for many of us, winter is a far better time for making simple, delicious country wines at home.

–> Make wine in winter when you have the TIME!
–> Frozen fruits and berries are excellent, easy winter winemakers.
–> Meads, metheglins, and melomels can be made fresh at any time of the year.

Why is Winemaking in Winter Better?

To be sure, winemaking is a great hobby any time of the year, and in-season when the produce is fresh can turn out some outstanding wine. But making wine in the winter is better for one major reason: In winter, we have time.

There’s really nothing like a good homegrown or locally-sourced crop of fruit or berries. The ripeness, the freshness, the variety, the flavor…it just can’t be beat. Even when preserved, these are characteristics that come through in your product. The fact that local and homegrown produce goes from vine to freezer (or whatever your preservation method of choice may be), means that the produce experiences less stress and degradation in its “travel” to you.

The problem that many of us have is that time is a very in-demand commodity in the warm months. Vacations, activities, pressing preserving of fruits and crops, so many other landscape and maintenance issues that demand our attention…it all adds up to finding yourself with many great options, the best of intentions, but only so much a body can do. Sometimes, something has to give.

In winter, though, we slow down. Sure, time is still a precious resource, but we seem to have more of it. Frankly, at this time of year we are more apt to want to spend it inside on a project of interest. And so, winter can be the perfect time to take on something like making easy, simple wines we can enjoy in just a few months and throughout the coming year.

What Produce is Best for Making Wine in Winter?

What holds a lot of people back from making wine in winter is that we think wine must be made with fresh fruit and produce. This really is not at all true. Yes, there are tastes and nuances that can only result from making wine with a product that just came out of the patch or vineyard, but there are also benefits to making wine from fresh-frozen, preserved fruits and berries:

  • Frozen produce is often higher in quality if it has been quickly prepped and preserved, especially as opposed to summer produce that has had to sit and wait for us to have the time to deal with it, and perhaps experienced a loss of quality in the meantime.
  • Frozen fruit can be easier to handle, because the freezing and thawing process actually does a lot of the work of crushing and preparing the produce for you.
  • Frozen fruit and produce, whether your own fresh-frozen harvest or frozen purchased at a local grocer, is already prepped, peeled, cleaned, and ready to go, making short work of putting a batch of homemade wine together.
  • Good fruit is readily available in both fresh and frozen forms at local grocery stores throughout the winter months.
  • With the variety of produce available through good grocers, you can make wine out of all sorts of fruit and produce, including some that you might not otherwise be able to grow or access locally.

More Than Just Fruit Wine

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that winter winemaking is limited to only frozen fruits, though. Many things are excellent winter winemakers; top of the list is, in fact, one of the easiest possible things you can make wine from, straight from Mother Nature’s most ambitious of helpers:

Homegrown Honey for wine

Honey is PERFECT for Winter Winemaking!

• Honey! Mead is wine made from honey and is quite possibly the BEST ingredient to make real, natural wine in the winter, solely for the reason that there is no difference between fresh-harvested honey or honey you tap a month or two or three later. Mead (honey wine) can be made very sweet or just barely so, and so can easily be made to your own taste when you make your own.
• Flavored meads are also perfect for winter winemaking. Technically called melomels (mead flavored with fruit) or metheglins (herbed/spiced meads), nicely-balanced flavored meads can be made with ingredients such as dried elderberry or elderflower, citrus, spices, apples, berries, or other frozen or fresh fruits of virtually any imaginable variety.
• Frozen or preserved fruit juices you may have put up earlier in the year are also ideal for making wine in the winter. Maybe you put a little something aside to enjoy later? Or prepped some juice that you never had time to make into jelly? That juice is just the perfect thing to make a homemade wine with!

What Other Options are there for Winter Winemaking?

But wait, there’s more!

Yes, there are still other products and ingredients that you can use for winemaking in the off-season. These are ingredients you can find readily either at your local grocery store or through winemaking suppliers, online and off:

• Juice from concentrate. Yes, you can actually make some fun homemade wines with frozen juice concentrate from the freezer section of your grocery store.
• Vintners juice. Vintners’ juice is concentrated fruit juice designed for winemaking. It is sold in bulk sizes ideal for making wine at home, and is a perfect base for making wine in the winter. You can add fresh or dried fruits or berries to vintner’s juice to make a more robust and flavorful wine, or you can simply add ingredients to the juice to ferment it.
• Rehydrated dried fruit and juice. Similar to how you might rehydrate a dried fruit or berry for cooking or juice-making (such as for elderberry syrup from dehydrated fruit), you can make a juice from dried fruit or berries and then add the necessary ingredients to ferment that juice into wine. It’s a fair option that works best for smaller batches (around one gallon). The juice can benefit from further flavoring by adding more dried ingredient into the batch when preparing for the first fermentation.

Is Making Homemade Wine Hard?

In a word? No. But it’s easy to see why home winemaking has that reputation.

The reason?

Winemaking has entered into some very scientific fields, both commercially and for home winemakers. But the truth is that it does not need to be as complicated as it often is. It is very possible to take home winemaking back to the basics the way many generations did before us—before all the added sulfites, preservatives, and chemical profiling. You just need a good resource that steps back from the “rules” of today, and gets you back to good, basic home wine making.

easy home winemaking

There are many good resources online, and a few good books on the subject. In Wine Making Made Easy: How to Make Easy Homemade Wines from Grapes, Fruit & More, you will find instructions and recipes for cheap, easy home winemaking without over-investing in equipment, and without getting overwhelmed with the process (in fact, much or all of what you need you may already have at home!). It’s good, honest home winemaking, taken back to the basics for good, honest, cleaner, preservative-free wine.

Pick up a copy today, and enjoy your new winter winemaking hobby!

Creamy Homestead Hot Chocolate

Homemade hot cocoa mixWe’re in New England. Hot Chocolate is an absolute “must” for us. And with four kids, I go through a lot of it. The only trouble is, because we grow nearly all of our food here (with the exception of those staples like flour and sugar, etc.), I don’t actually go to a store all that often. In fact, I hardly ever do even for those things; I actually order most of my staples online from WalMart.com. I know we all have a love-hate relationship with Wal Mart but let’s face it – their prices beat almost everyone else, they employ large numbers of Americans, and if you spend $50 you get free shipping – so my staples cost me no more than a trip to the store; probably less considering the time I don’t lose and the gas I don’t burn.

But I digress. The short story is that I always seem to be out of hot cocoa mix. And then there is the added issue that I am buying something with unnecessary ingredients like dry milk, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and artificial flavors, amongst other things that you personally may or may not be concerned with (for an example of what you’ll find in a leading brand hot cocoa mix like Swiss Miss, check this out).

And then there is the issue that I have this abundance of milk from those over-achieving little backyard Jerseys. An awful problem to have, I know. At any rate, it seems silly to me to be paying for a product with dry milk in it, which I’m not overly thrilled about, and wasting the perfectly good, healthy that milk I need to do something with anyway. And so I decided to go old-school and find an easy homemade hot chocolate recipe that is made with milk and minimal extraneous ingredients. After tweaking a few, below is what I came up with. It’s great for homesteaders, but of course it’s great for anyone who is just looking for a simplified homemade hot cocoa recipe. It uses only a couple common pantry staples, so odds are excellent that you already have everything you need at home.

Homemade Homestead Hot Cocoa Recipe

What we’re basically looking at here is a 2:1 ratio of powdered sugar to baking cocoa (powder). Using this basic ratio, you can make up your hot chocolate mix ahead of time in as large or small a quantity as you want for easy make-ahead use (a great recipe to add to your Make-Ahead Mix arsenal!).

The following recipe is enough to make a prepared half-gallon batch of homemade hot chocolate with milk. But what I like to do is crack out a quart or half-gallon mason jar and just keep alternating and filling until I have a jar full of mix ready for later use.

Creamy Homestead Hot Chocolate
Author: 
Recipe type: Hot Beverage
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
An easy, creamy homemade hot chocolate made with real milk and a couple common staple ingredients.
Ingredients
  • 2 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar
  • 1 cup powdered baking cocoa
  • ½ gallon milk
Instructions
  1. Pour milk into a large saucepan. Add powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Heat and stir over medium heat until steaming. Do not boil!
  2. *You may also prepare this in a crock pot (on high or low, but obviously low will take longer and do keep an eye on it so that it does not boil when on high) and keep warm on the "Warm" setting.
  3. **You may also add a teaspoon of vanilla extract if desired.

Make-Ahead Creamy Homestead Hot Cocoa Mix

If you want to make a prepared make-ahead homemade hot cocoa mix, simply combine 6 cups of powdered sugar and 3 cups of powdered baking cocoa in a large (2 quart) canning jar or large container (yes, it will fit, but you may have to shake gently as you add ingredients to settle them). Shake to combine through until the mixture appears evenly distributed throughout.

This recipe will make 2 quarts of mix, which stores nicely in Ball Half Gallon Mason Jars.

Hot Chocolate Mix RecipeAlternatively, if you are giving as a gift and you like the “sand art” appearance of the layers, alternate the cocoa and the powdered sugar, but do not shake. Do be sure, though, to include shaking as the first step in any attached instructions you give. You can cut the recipe in half to prepare in one-quart canning jars.

To prepare hot chocolate by the cup from the prepared mix, add 2 to 3 large teaspoons cocoa mix to a cup of hot milk. To make a batch, use 3 cups mix to each 1/2 gallon hot milk.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, and it brings you many warm winter mornings and afternoons! Incidentally, this is an excellent recipe to use with any of the grown-up hot chocolate recipes in A Drink for All Seasons: Winter and the Holidays.

Enjoy!

Just Published: A Drink for All Seasons: Winter and the Holidays

A Drink for all Seasons – Now Available For Kindle and Kindle Apps

I’ve done it again! Published, that is.

Top Winter Drink Recipes and great Christmas Cocktails, too

My new book is titled, A Drink for All Seasons: Winter and the Holidays.

This is the first in a new books series of four featuring selected cocktails and adult beverages (including party-worthy punches and eggnogs) that fit the tastes and moods of the season. It’s available right now on Kindle, and also in paperback via Amazon or the CreateSpace eStore just in time for all your holiday entertaining!

Please don’t think that it will only last you through the rest of this month, though. This is not only a book of Christmas drink recipes; it’s truly a collection of adult winter drink recipes to see you through the whole long winter.

Get your copy of A Drink for All Seasons: Winter and the Holidays now while the price is still a very low 99 cents through book launch!