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“Ain’t but three things in life that’s worth a solitary dime, that’s old dogs and children and watermelon wine.”- Tom T. Hall
Nothing says summer more than a cold juicy slice of watermelon, so I decided to bottle it and pop it open on a cold blustery day in the winter. Here is the recipe I used to make 6 gallons of wine this past summer.
18 pounds of watermelon
42 pints of water
12 pounds of sugar
12 teaspoons of acid blend
6 teaspoons of nutrient
3 teaspoons of tannin
1 package of yeast
I use a clean and sanitized primary fermenter which is basically a 7.5 gallon food grade plastic container that comes with a lid. This size of container allows me to make up to 6 gallons of wine at one time. Inside of this container I add 15 pints of water. To the water I add the sugar which I stir in well with my large 28 inch long food grade plastic spoon. Next, I add acid blend, tannin and nutrient. I blend these ingredients in well. I purchased these ingredients from a local homebrew supply store. Most homebrew supply stores are very informative and will help you solve any wine problems or questions you may have.
I then rinse the whole watermelon under running water, slice into wedges, remove rind from the wedges, cut the watermelon into chunks, and blend it in the blender. Next, I got a nylon straining bag and placed it inside the primary fermenter where all of the other ingredients had been added. I then put the 18 pounds of watermelon inside of the nylon straining bag and tied the top of the bag.
At this point I will cover the primary container. It will stay in a corner in my kitchen because it will need to be in a handy place because I will have to check it daily for the next few days. After 24 hours I will add yeast. I will also eventually add more water. At this point there just is not enough room for the other water needed. I will add it when I finally remove the straining bag of watermelon.
After I add the yeast I need to spend the next few days giving it a daily stir, pressing the watermelon pulp lightly to aid in the juice extraction, and checking the specific gravity of the wine. To check the specific gravity I use a wine thief. A wine thief is a hollow plastic tube with a hole in each end. It is used to remove a sample of wine from the container. Once I have my wine sample I drop in the hydrometer to read the results. The hydrometer is used to measure the specific gravity in the wine. The hydrometer is basically a glass thermometer like instrument that is used to monitor the progress of the fermentation. When the hydrometer reads 1.040 I will remove the watermelon straining bag and move the wine to a carboy. It takes about 3-5 days for the wine to reach 1.040 specific gravity.
To remove the watermelon straining bag requires a second pair of hands to do the job. My husband holds the straining bag that contains the watermelon over the primary fermenter as he does this I squeeze the bag with both hands to get out all of the juice. If you do not have a second pair of hands to help in this part of the process you could use an extra large pot and a colander. Place the colander upside down in the extra large pot and then place the watermelon straining bag on top of the upside down colander and press gently to release the watermelon juice. Keep pressing till you get the last bit of juice possible out of the watermelon. Discard the leftover watermelon pulp. I just usually add it to my compost. Then add the pressed out juice back into the primary fermenter.
Now I will siphon the wine from the primary fermenter to the secondary fermenter. My secondary fermenter is a glass carboy. This is called racking the wine. To siphon or rack the wine you need to let gravity help you to do the work. I put the primary fermenter on top of my kitchen counter and the secondary glass carboy on the kitchen floor right below. I used a siphon hose. The end where the wine will come out of goes into the glass carboy and the other end that has the siphon pump is submerged into the wine in the primary fermenter. I hold this end a little from the bottom of the fermenter. I then pump it about two or three times and then gravity takes over and moves the wine from the top container to the glass carboy container on the floor. I want to pump as little as possible because I do not want to get oxygen into my wine.
Once I rack the wine. I fill up to about within 2 inches of the airlock rubber bung with water. This is the rest of the water I needed to make the wine that could not fit into my primary fermenter because there was not enough room. I filled the rubber bung halfway with water. I then attach the airlock rubber bung to the top of the carboy.
I attach a brew hauler so that I can move the wine. A brew hauler is a sturdy polypropylene material that creates handles for the carboy. Once that the wine, 6 gallons of it, is in a glass carboy it can be quite heavy to lift. The brew hauler gives you a good grip on the carboy to let you more easily move it, but it is still pretty heavy.
The wine still needs to ferment more. Fermentation is complete once the specific gravity has reached 1.000, which should take about another 3 weeks. At that point I will add stabilizer to the wine. In the meantime the wine needs to continue to ferment. The temperature for fermentation can vary. Some ferment at 55 or as high as 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The lower the temperature the longer it takes to ferment. What is more important than the temperature, is the temperature fluctuations. The temperature needs to be constant because the yeast really cannot handle much wide variance in the temperature; hot one day cold the next. If this happens the yeast will go dormant. In about 3 weeks I will add the stabilizer and siphon off the sediment again.
Once the wine reaches a specific gravity of 1.000 I stabilize the wine. To stabilize the wine I added 1 ½ teaspoons of stabilizer to the bottom of a clean and sanitized carboy. I put the empty carboy on the floor and moved the watermelon wine filled carboy to a counter. To siphon or rack the wine you need to let gravity help you to do the work. I used a siphon hose. The end where the wine will come out of goes into the empty carboy and the other end that has the siphon pump is submerged into the wine. I hold this end a little from the bottom, so as to not suck up any of the sediment. I then pump it about two times and then gravity takes over and moves the wine from the top container to the carboy container on the floor. I want to pump as little as possible because I do not want to get oxygen into my wine.
Once I rack the wine. I filled up to about within 2 inches of the airlock rubber bung with water. I make sure that the rubber bung is filled halfway with water. I then attach the airlock rubber bung to the top of the carboy and place it to the refrigerator. I will siphon the wine every 2 -3 weeks until the wine in clear for bottling which will take about 3 more months. At that time I will be ready to sweeten the wine to my taste and bottle it. I usually rack my wine about 5 times total from the start of the wine making process till the bottling process.
Bottling Watermelon Wine
Each time I rack the wine I had a bit of a sample. I check the wine over a few months for appealing aroma, color, clarity, and taste. Since my husband and I will be the ones mostly consuming the wine we develop the wine to our taste or liking. We decided we wanted to sweeten this wine at bottling time which means we are going to add a bit of sugar to it.
Bottling wine is not an intimidating task instead it is quite simple. I make sure that my wine bottles are cleaned and sanitized before bottling. The size of bottles I use is 750 ML. I buy wine bottles for about $16 a dozen from a home brewery supply store or I pick up wine bottles free from a local restaurant that I eat at on a monthly basis. Either way new or recycled the bottles have to be cleaned and sanitized.
Besides the wine bottles I will also need wine glasses to sample the wine, sugar to sweeten the wine, and a wine corker. Other bottling equipment also needed includes the corks, potasiumsorbate (is used to stop refermentation in bottle), measuring spoon, funnel, large stirring spoon, siphon hose, and large 7.5 gallon food grade bucket.
The most important step to bottling wine is to recheck the wine before bottling for aroma, clarity, color, and taste. The taste is so important because it lets me know how much to sweeten it, which I have decided to do. Once you are happy with those 4 characteristics of the wine it is time to bottle it.
I set my wine filled carboy on top of the counter and let it warm up just a bit because it has been sitting in my refrigerator and for sugar to dissolve better it should not be so cold. Since I am sweetening the wine at bottling time I will need to add ¼ teaspoon of potassium sorbate per gallon of wine. Potassium sorbate keeps the wine from refermenting in the bottle with the sugar I am adding to the wine. I put this potassium sorbate at the bottom of the large 7.5 gallon food grade bucket. I insert the siphon hose into the carboy and the other end into the bucket, and then pump it twice. Then the wine starts flowing. As the wine flows, I am stirring the wine with my large plastic spoon so as to mix in the potassium sorbate. I then add 2 cups of sugar and stir in as well. After the wine empties into the bucket, I let it stand covered for 15 minutes and then I taste the wine.
If I like the wine then I will bottle, if not I will add more sugar making sure to blend in well. I add small amounts of sugar at a time, taste, and then add more if needed. You can always add more sugar, but once it’s added you can’t take it out. I ended up adding a total of 2 cups of sugar to my watermelon wine at bottling time. This measurement should by no means be a guide for you in your own winemaking. Making wine should be made to your taste, which is definitely one thing I have learned over the years of making wine and visiting wineries. I like my blackberry and blueberry dry, but I like the pear wine a lot sweeter. It is all about how you like it. You are the one making it and most likely will be the one drinking it. Make it to your taste!
Once I, well my husband and I, are content with the taste it is time to bottle it. I then place the large bucket on the counter. I insert the siphon hose into the bucket and the other end into a wine bottle, and then pump it twice. Then the wine starts flowing. I let the wine fill up to a tiny bit over the neck of the wine bottle. I use the funnel to fill up bottles that seem a little low in wine, so that the amount of wine in each bottle is a bit more uniform. Once all of the wine bottles are filled up I cork the bottle. Then I wipe down the bottles with a clean paper towel that is lightly spritzed with diluted bleach to wipe off any accidental spillage of wine on the bottle.
I filled up about 30 bottles of wine at 750 ML in each bottle. I even have enough extra wine to fill up my wine glass, so that I can enjoy the fruits of my labor.
I made wine labels and add them to the wine bottles and I also add a decorative foil shrink wrap over the cork of the bottle. After all of that the wine bottles will be transferred to a hall closet where they will be stored until I get ready to drink them. When I am ready to consume a bottle of wine I will chill it in the refrigerator and serve it chilled.
Making your own wine is a wonderful artisan skill. Like everything in life it takes practice, patience and perseverance. I hope you enjoy making and drinking homemade wine as much as I do. Have a wonderful wine making day!