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Dandelion Wine, how to save a Wildflower Wine-part 2

I’ve noticed more questions regarding problems with Wildflower Wines are coming in via Google search terms.
Since I’ve had some challenges with my own batch of 2013 dandelion wine, it seems appropriate to address them here and share their solutions in case it is of help to anyone who feels stuck with the same problems.
My first piece of advice to everyone attempting to make a wildflower wine is “Don’t Panic“. And while I could be accused of using that approach far too often in life, I consistently find that a few deep grounding breaths do wonders for putting things back in perspective. There usually are solutions that are hidden by our perspective and panic.

Though we have tried to keep things sterile and control the environment as best we can to avoid obvious mistakes and “wine gone wrong” scenarios, I have found that wild wine making is a robust and forgiving process which allows for much improvisation and room for flexibility. If your intent is not to create a commercial masterpiece for sale to the public, something you can duplicate precisely year to year, but to explore the ancient art of wine making, for your own satisfaction, share a cool homemade wine with friends and family, and to enjoy the process, then you have come to the right place.

Dandelion wine-First "real" racking to 20 liter glass carboy.
Dandelion wine-First “real” racking to 20 liter glass carboy. Note the heavy glass pot lid holding the siphon in place, something improvised or a clamp keep the lees from getting stirred up and following the clear must to the fresh carboy. Racking the must off the lees keeps them from adding their flavour to the wine.

Any creative endeavor we pursue, is as much about our own process and working with ourselves as it is about the materials we are working with and the product we are creating. Our own transformative and Alchemical process.

Looking back I note how I have been affected by all the materials and processes I engaged over the years as an artist, craftsman and Apothecary, I have evolved and grown as an individual through all my creative pursuits, challenged and manipulated, coloured and shaped by them all, and in a way, they have all become parts of me. I have grown particularly through the challenges. Just as our Dandelion flowers are transformed into Dandelion Wine through processes of fermentation, clarification and patience at our hand. From a simple flower into something complex and sublimated, so too are we engaged and affected by the process, touched & transformed through the challenges of our creativity and our willingness to expand and explore outside ourselves. The real Alchemy and transmutation is what goes on within us.

If you don’t mind creating a slightly different version of wine each season, and perhaps a better one as well, if you are not trying to produce a commercial “fine wine” and treat it as an exact science, then it is important to remember to simply do your best with the resources you have, enjoy yourself. Embrace the process and challenges, let them change you for the better. Learn, grow and enjoy. Most importantly, enjoy.

Dandelion Wine 2013 first racking of 14 liters to 20 liter carboy
Dandelion Wine 2013 first racking of 14 liters to 20 liter carboy. 6 liters distilled water needs to be added.
Dandelion Wine-Primary fermentation, second run after racking.
Dandelion Wine- Second Primary fermentation, after adding distilled water.

It’s been close to two weeks since I added extra distilled water and decided to extend my batch of dandelion wine to make 20 liters from the 14 liter recipe, See “How to “Save” a Wildflower Wine) Since putting it back in the plastic bucket for primary fermentation it didn’t seem to be doing too much. I assumed that yesterday, after 2 weeks it must have finished its primary fermentation, so I racked it into the 20 liter glass carboy for secondary fermentation. (I nailed the quantity pretty much perfectly!)
Lo and behold, it started vigorously working!! Hissing, fizzing, bubbling away, working like there was no tomorrow. It had not gone through primary fermentation at all since I returned it to the bucket with the extra distilled water!

I can only assume that because of the cold snap we had for a week or so, (down to 2-4 degrees Celsius some nights!!), and because it was on the floor where it is always cooler, it did not have enough heat for the primary fermentation process to kick in properly. It must have sat close to 2 weeks not really doing much of anything. Funny as it may seem, I just assumed my hearing was at fault after fifty odd years, and that I was the only one that was not hearing the hissing of the process. It must have been the power of suggestion that compelled everyone who checked it for me to state that they definitely heard fizzing. There is a moral there somewhere.

I am going to say I was lucky no other organism got the jump on fermenting the must while the wine yeast was contemplating navels, (or the juice of the Navel oranges I added), as could have happened.
Racking it into the carboy on the second day of a heatwave really got it going! Perhaps the agitation of racking helped stir it to action, so I’m going to leave it loosely covered and wait till it stops hissing and bubbling and then rack it again and put the CO2 lock on it for a real secondary fermentation.

Dandelion Wine working at Primary Fermentation. Fizzing, hissing and in general purring contently like a cat.
Dandelion Wine “working” at Primary Fermentation. Fizzing, hissing and in general purring contentedly like a cat.

Gauging by some of the questions I’ve seen on the search stats I believe that others have experienced a similar problem so if you’ve had your wine not doing much of anything in primary fermentation, staying sweet, and wondered what you were doing wrong, this may have been the reason, and may provide you with a happy ending. Proper temperature is definitely necessary for primary fermentation. As far as I know, once the primary fermentation has kicked in, it creates its own heat which will keep the must warm and working till the sugar content has been completely consumed. Wikipedia has some of the basic information, and always is a great starting place for questions. This is also a good time to mention that besides sugar, wine yeasts need other nutrients to thrive. Adding some “Yeast nutrient” to your not fermenting wine is also something that should be tried if you are stuck, before you give up.

Before this last most recent racking, the wine was still tasting rather sweet though it was tolerable. Considering that the secondary fermentation would reduce the sugar a little further, it still would’ve made a nice wine with adequate alcohol. If after this current primary fermentation or during second fermentation, I find that it is too dry for my taste, I can add sugar or glucose to sweeten it without initiating the primary fermentation again. I will cross that bridge and share it here, if and when I get to it.

I will keep you posted.

Till then, remember to keep legible notes. Your future self will thank you.
Dan.

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Dandelion Wine, How to save a Wildflower Wine.

I racked the 2013 Dandelion wine yesterday. It had done most of its work so it was time for a change. The colour is deep yellow, it left a gummy bright yellow ring around the inside of the white plastic bucket. I assume this was created for the most part by the pollen in the flowers. It took a good scrubbing with hot water and soap to remove it.

First racking-Dandelion Wine 2013
First racking-Dandelion Wine 2013..Note: do not feel discouraged if your Dandelion wine is not as rich and bright a yellow as this photo,i think the purple background has made the yellow look much brighter than it actually is!!

The Dandelion wine smells good, musty,(yeasty), “winey” ,and the alcohol content is evident in the aroma. After you have done a few rounds of wildflower wines you will get to know what they should smell like at each stage and be able to tell by the smell whether all is well or not.

Drawing off a half cup full for a taste test, I found it did have a high alcohol content, warming my mouth and tummy as it went “down”.

It is obvious the sugar in the recipe was converted to alcohol, which has left the wine rather dry but potent. I am going to make some adjustments and I will share them here for the sake of showing the other side of recipes, which is that some things are simple, and some more complex. What can we do when things go wrong? Making cookies takes an hour, making wine much longer. Having a recipe is great, but it is only a starting point. With fermentation we are dealing with a process that takes months, influenced along the way by many factors. Lots of things can go wrong and I have seen numerous queries wondering if a wine is salvageable.

For this reason I am going to address some of the questions that have been coming in through the search terms in my stats area, there have been some really good questions indicating difficulties people have had with the process of making Wildflower wine. I will take this opportunity to address some of those questions here, at least for those in the future that may have them, and do a practical demonstration of some options of how to save your wine if it is save-able.

Search queries for dandelion wine.

“How to clean Dandelions for wine”. Yes it is important to remove the stems from the Dandelion flowers however, however it is not necessary to remove the green “crown” of leaf material that sits directly under the yellow petals. Don’t worry about this part. When cleaning the Dandelion flowers for wine, spread them all out after picking, remove all stems, debris, leaf pieces that got mixed in during harvesting but leave the rest.

Cleaning Dandelion flowers for wine 2013
Cleaning Dandelion flowers for wine 2013. remove the stems but leave the green”crown” that is directly under the petals.

“Looks like mold on top of my Dandelion wine” There have been a few queries through Google, searching for answers to this question. Sometimes a scum will form as part of the natural fermentation process, especially if one used a coarse filtering material when straining the cooked ingredients. You will find something similar on top of a natural brine when pickling cucumbers for instance. There is nothing wrong with this layer on top of your wildflower wine. When you use a siphon and do your first racking you will collect the liquid between the top scum and the bottom dross and toss the rest. If it really is mold,,? Normally not, but I guess it can happen. If it has added an unpleasant flavour or aroma to the wine then I would toss it and start fresh. I would proceed to check the status of your wine. Has it properly fermented? If so, no worries. If it still has a high sugar content and a low alcohol content a week or two after starting, then something is wrong, the fermentation did not kick in and other organisms may have got the lead in establishing themselves, if this is the case I would probably dump it and start fresh, though if you prefer, you can try to save it. Scrub and sterilize all your tools and vessels well, don’t forget to make sure the sodium Metabisulfite reaches the insides of hoses, siphons and funnels. Siphon the wine back into the pot and repeat the cooking process as described in the recipe. I would look back on the circumstances of the “botched” first attempt and see what I may have done wrong and what could be changed to avoid the problem again, (If it was indeed some kind of mold). Primary fermentation needs to be at a relatively warm temperature, secondary fermentation in a cooler spot like a basement. I don’t know what the exact temperature needed is, but I would say around 18-21 Celsius for primary fermentation, sitting at too cool a temperature could give other organisms a good growth environment and make it harder for our yeasty beasties to establish a healthy colony.- I would also wonder if I had all my tools and vessels thoroughly sterilized before making the wine. Again, this is an opening for other bacteria and organisms to hijack your wine. So make sure the must has boiled a good 20 minutes and make sure all tools and vessels are sterilized properly and thoroughly! If you like you can add a little yeast nutrient with the yeast to help kick start it again, (This is also purchased at the wine making supply store). Cover and put your bucket in a warm place to ferment and check after a day or two to make sure it is “working”, fizzing etc. If this does not get your Dandelion Wine back on track, then you will have to start from scratch.

  • Balsamic vinegar, red and white wine vinegar
    Balsamic vinegar, red and white wine vinegar. Maybe some cool Dandelion Wine Vinegar too?? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • “My dandelion wine tastes like vinegar”. Well,,, this does happen, and often it is because tools were not properly sterilized or contaminants were introduced to the wine must during the fermentation process. Rumor has it that fruit flies sneaking in for a drink can lead to this problem, so make sure your fermenting wine is covered tightly with a cloth that lets in air needed for primary fermentation and keeps out the bugs. If it really has produced vinegar instead of alcohol, I would either try to make a unique salad vinegar from it or pour it in the garden. I have heard that there might be ways to save a batch of wine like this if it hasn’t been allowed to go too far. But I would just let it go and start fresh. Dandelions are abundant and the rest of the materials relatively inexpensive, one could spend many hours trying to save it and it usually is not worth the time, stress and effort
  • “Can I add sugar to my Dandelion Wine after fermentation?” Another very good question! Yes! I have tried this on occasion with success. Adjustments can be made during primary fermentation. You can stretch out the primary fermentation for weeks if you like, you could double the quantity of your wine by adding more distilled or room temperature boiled water,sugar and flavourings, (or boiled flower heads), adjust it, baby it, fine tune it, nurture and nourish it for weeks. You can feed it regularly with sugar or other fermentable materials, raising the alcohol content of your wine until it won’t process any more sugar into alcohol and leaves the excess sugar unfermented. Each type of yeast has a ceiling as far as how much alcohol it can tolerate in its environment before it stops “working”. Reaching that point would usually be the indicator it is time to start your secondary fermentation and work on maturing your wine. Some specialty yeasts that can be purchased at wine making supply stores are designed specifically for flower wines, and some have a higher threshold or tolerance of alcohol in their growing environment. This is where you can do some improvising if you are not happy with your wine or if you think it has “gone bad”.
  • So, for the sake of illustrating this option of how to “Save” ones wine by working with it during primary fermentation, and for those that have had various questions about mishaps with dandelion or wild flower wine I hope what follows will present a bit of a practical demonstration of flexibility in the process. The original Dandelion Wine recipe makes 12-15 liters of wine, I only have a 20 liter glass carboy available at the moment, so instead of using 3 or 4 one gallon jugs for the secondary fermentation, I will increase the quantity of wine I am making to accommodate a 20 liter glass carboy. And I still hope to end up with a stellar homemade wild dandelion flower wine.
    Dandelion Wine 2013 Topping 14 liters wine to 18 liters in 20 liter carboy
    Dandelion Wine 2013. Topping 14 liters wine to 18 liters in 20 liter carboy. Note the ring of bubbles indicating fermentation of the new sugar.

    Dandelion Wine 2013 first racking of 14 liters to 20 liter carboy
    Dandelion Wine 2013 first racking of 14 liters to 20 liter carboy.

Since i used 3 kilograms of flower heads in my original recipe, It produced a very rich dandelion flower base, and I can afford to thin it out. I called for 3 kg. in the recipe but even 2 kg would have worked well, it would have just produced a “lighter ” wine. I am going to put my racked wine back in the re-sterilized plastic bucket after adding water and sugar to it and bringing the total volume to 20 liters. I have added 1 gallon, or 4 liters of distilled water and then 1 Kilogram of white sugar, it started working again immediately, (Note the ring of bubbles around the top of the liquid after adding sugar). I will check it in a few days to see if the sugar has been processed into alcohol, and may add more sugar at that time. If your wine shows no reaction to the addition of sugar you can add a little yeast nutrient, if that does not get it going and the fermentation still does not start, add a fresh package or tablespoon of yeast,(as per the recipe). This is the point in your wine making endeavor where you can get creative. When setting up this “re-fermentation” you can adjust and play with the flavour and fragrance of your wine by adding spices and other ingredients. The only cautions I would include are, go easy, better a little less of a flavour than too much, and make sure everything that goes into your fermenting wine must is sterile, which usually means boiling things and adding them after they are room temperature. Keep it in a warm place and check on it regularly to make sure it is working properly.

Dandelion Wine 2013-Racking back to bucket
Dandelion Wine 2013-Racking back to the bucket.

So, we have taken a 14 liter recipe for wild dandelion wine and are extending it so it will fill a 20 liter carboy, opening the door to adjusting the quantity and the qualities of our wine beyond our original recipe. We have made a pit stop in the process.This should provide an idea of where, when and how you can improvise with a recipe to save or improve a homemade, or wildflower wine that has gone awry, (or one you are just not happy with). Sometimes the best way to learn is by doing, and learning through our mistakes.

Remember, always keep (clear) notes, especially when improvising. Your future self will thank you.

Dan

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My Best Dandelion Wine Recipe

Happy Beltane, Mayday or whatever this part of the planetary and seasonal cycle represents to you. Spring really has sprung here in Southern Ontario!! The birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees, all agree. New beginnings, inspirations, insights, seeds, hopefulness and anticipation are in the air. Ahhh what a gift! Winter is finally really over!! This is the day, more often than not, I will visit forest and field to find Natures cornucopia spilling it’s first gifts, scattering them across the ground for the taking. Fiddle heads, Wild Ginger unfurling, Blood root flowers announcing Springs true arrival and the beginning of foraging season. Morels and chanterelles coyly hiding and teasing from under hedges and fallen forest leaves. I am yours if you can catch me. I know they are there, they know I know, and so our yearly courtship begins.

Bloodroot flowering Dundas Ontario April 2013. Harbinger of Spring
Bloodroot flowering Dundas Ontario Harbinger of Spring
 A field of Scilla. Dundas Ontario.
A field of Scilla. Cross Street Dundas Ontario.
Bloodroot flowering Dundas Ontario April 2013. Harbinger of Spring
Bloodroot flowering Dundas Ontario April 2013. Harbinger of Spring
Mayapple and Scilla 2013
Mayapple and Scilla 2013

Ok... So why have I named this post ” My Best Dandelion Wine Recipe”? I have a confession. I changed the recipe I posted with “9 Tips- for making a Kick Ass Wildflower Wine”. I did!. It is done.. Ever since I posted my recipe for Dandelion Wine, I have had a nagging vague feeling that just wouldn’t go away. Yesterday I saw the seasons first bright YELLOW flush of Dandelions peppering green fields, and I knew I had to change some details in the recipe for my own peace of mind. There is an art to sharing recipes publicly and I am discovering, simpler is better.

English: Various common fermentation vessels f...
English: Various common fermentation vessels for homebrewing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of the old fashioned wild wine recipes are for a simple, single fermentation wine. You leave the must in the bottle and cork it after it has fermented in the bottle. You could say it gives you a “Rustic” style wine. Which is fine. It is a simple process and people have been making it and very happily drinking it that way for centuries.

However,, Now days the art of home wine making, is very popular and offers much more sophisticated recipes, equipment and processes. I was trying to do both in that recipe, to bring together the traditional rustic, single fermentation approach with a secondary fermentation twist. It is do able, but challenging to do it in a simple straightforward way. And I feel simplicity is important here. I want to make it as easy as possible for anyone to enjoy making, drinking and sharing this classic wild wine.

So, please find below, “My Best Dandelion Recipe” .It will have a higher alcohol content than the rustic type, and my earlier recipe. It will have a smoother and more refined flavour, and I hope you will find, like I have, that it really is a kick ass wild wine recipe. Thanks to all for bearing with me. I hope you will find it worthwhile.

MY BEST DANDELION WINE RECIPE

(Makes about 12 liters of Dandelion Wine)

  • 3 Kilograms of cleaned Dandelion flowers.
  • 12 Liters, (quarts) of water.
  • 4 Kilograms sugar, brown or white.
  • 2 cups white seedless Raisins chopped fine, (or an extra cup of sugar).
  • 2 whole large washed Oranges, seeded and either put through the blender or chopped fine.
  • 1 whole, washed Lemon,same as above.
  • 6 whole clove pieces
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons dried and powdered Wild Ginger or 60 grams,(2 oz.) fresh & chopped.
  • 1 packet wine making yeast, or 1 tablespoon regular bread making yeast.
  • 1 cup lukewarm water.
  • 1 food grade white plastic bucket 15 liters capacity,(standard restaurant size used for liquids and muffin mixes, grape juice for wine etc.
  • Large pot that will boil 15 liters.
  • Old and clean Pillowcase.
  • Clear plastic hose for “racking”,(transferring the wine out of containers without the must).
  • Large funnel, and or colander that will sit firmly on top of your bucket.
  • one medium wine making carboy 12-15 liters.
  • or -3 to 4-1 gallon narrow mouthed glass jugs. The kind hot sauce and vinegar come to restaurants. Easy to find on recycling day.
  • Beer or wine bottles with corks or caps.
  • Sodium Metabisulfite for sterilizing. Available at most brew your own shops and anywhere that wine making supplies are sold. Follow directions!
  • All vessels and tools must be sterile.
  • Collect and prepare your Dandelion flowers as directed in my post” 9 tips for making a kick ass wildflower wine”.
  • Bring water to a boil,
  • Add flowers, water, sugar, oranges, lemon, cloves, wild ginger, raisins
  • Bring back to a boil for 1/2 hour, simmering on low and covered.
  • Let it sit covered to cool, until it is just cool enough to handle.
  • Pour and strain into plastic bucket through a clean washed pillowcase, or through a colander lined with doubled cheese cloth, nothing beats a pillowcase especially for wringing out the liquid and keeping larger particles from passing into your wine. the colander is just a precaution, and to support the weight, ( ideally find one that your bucket supports, or put the colander in a funnel that sits firmly on the rim of your bucket, or just use a large funnel and sit your nylon stocking in it.)
  • Press whatever liquid you can through the pillowcase or cheese cloth. (Make sure your hands are washed and clean first).
  • When liquid is room temperature or a little warmer. Take one cup of liquid, (using a clean or sterile utensil), add it your cup of lukewarm water and stir in the yeast. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until yeast starts “working”, (it will start creating fizzing or frothing).
  • Add yeast mixture to liquid in plastic bucket, cover with a clean cloth or a clean towel, (tie or use rubber band around the rim so it does not sag and come into contact with the liquid), and let sit for 1 or 2 weeks at room temperature undisturbed or until you can hear no more fizzing.
  • Note, if you do not hear fizzing within 24 hours of adding yeast. Put your liquid back in the pot, boil for 10 minutes, cover, wait for it to cool enough to just above body temperature and go through the process of adding your yeast again.
  • After a week or two, when your wine has stopped “working” or fizzing, “rack” it to a sterile carboy or to your sterile one gallon glass jugs if you don’t have a large narrow necked glass carboy. Racking in wine lingo means siphoning off your clear wine from the must that has settled on the bottom. Pouring it out would just mix in the must and carry its taste over.
  • Keeping a minimum of space between the top of your liquid and the top of the bottle is helpful. If needed add room temperature boiled water to bring liquid level up to 3 to 4 inches from the lip in a gallon jug and 6 to 7 inches in a large carboy.
  • Add CO2 locks, From a wine supply store, about $1.00 each. Or a piece of balloon rubber pulled tightly over the opening and tied, with a couple of pin holes in it for gas to escape and keep organisms out. Let sit, undisturbed in a cool dark place for secondary fermentation. Cool basements are ideal for this.
  • Wait 4-6 weeks, then siphon the wine off the must again, but this time into your sterile bottles.( Note; For those more experienced with wine making, you can do whatever you like at this point. You can put it back in a sterile carboy and continue your secondary fermentation, rack it as often as you like, pump it through a filter, play with the sugar/alcohol content, flavouring etc.)
  • Cork, cap and set aside till December at the earliest.

In December, open, decant, and have a taste of Spring in the middle of Winter.

Remember to keep CLEAR notes. Your future self will thank you.

Dan