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:
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.
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.
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!