Autumn Wines

Saint Matthew’s Day, September 21st is a traditional weather marker associated with the grape harvest:

“Saint Matthew’s Day, bright and clear, brings good wine in the next year.”

Well, crap. Not this year, not in our region last Monday.

I’m not deterred, though. We don’t grow our own grapes. We’re enjoying the fruits of our wine making, even as we move into another season of more intense activity.

A glass of Homestead Red and "termination dust" (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

A glass of Homestead Red and “termination dust” (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

We are coming to the end of an awkward period in home wine making. Since we heat with wood, we transition between fairly steady summer temperatures when we have no need to heat the cabin, to late autumn and winter, when more or less daily fires keep us warm. I try not to start any wine batches in the transition period, when the house often cools below optimum wine making temperatures.

This creates a bit of a problem some years, as the apple harvest falls into this transition. This year’s newly started batches of Anway apple wine may not get the steady warmth recommended. However, since we’re now enjoying last year’s batch, and finding it excellent, I’m not too worried.

Besides apple, birch wine warms and brightens our autumn days. According to my reading, birch wine isn’t considered much of a keeper. It develops and matures from the spring through summer, and can be enjoyed young. Which we do (see The First of the Cabin Wines).

We have two distinct batches of birch wine this year, differentiated by their order of ferment. We follow a recipe that calls for adding chopped raisin must. From our earliest efforts with raisin wines, we’ve noticed that the first batch from a bag of raisins comes out dry and a bit harsh (see “Raisin Riesling”). The second batch made with that same bag comes out lighter, sweeter, far more pleasant.

Such is the case this time around with the birch. The first batch is strong and dry, the second light, crisp, and delicious. We enjoy the dry birch well enough, but we plan to try spicing it, as we did with some of our spruce wine in the past.

At the same time, many of our grape wine batches are passing a year of cellaring lately. We notice considerable improvement for the aging, and in the process in general. In a week or so, I’ll start new batches of grape wine to replace these in the next year or so. In the meantime, we also have other varieties in smaller batches, including sour cherry, rhubarb, white currant, spruce, and blackberry (from store bought juice, blackberries don’t grow here). We hope to pick high bush cranberries soon, and might get a batch or two of wine from them after our other uses for the berries are met. Beyond that, we might make more ginger perry, but mostly grape concentrate wine, or “Homestead Red”.

So, even though our Saint Matthew’s Day was anything but bright and clear, we anticipate much good wine in the coming year. And, we have plenty of wine now to cheer our autumn days.

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