For the mere price of a dollar, how could anyone pass up a used book with such an enticing title? For a graduate student with money problems, how to make wine it was a roadmap to a continuous flow of nectar from the gods at low cost.
How difficult could it be? After all, Neolithic man made wine, without the help of a recipe from a second-hand book. With a little study and preparation, he could produce the same results as the illiterate ancient cave dwellers.
I read the book twice. A “C” in high school chemistry reinforced the need for a careful understanding of the process. By the end of the second reading, I was convinced that making wine paled in comparison to understanding Avogadro’s number, a method of measuring the number of molecules in gases. Why would this Avogadro guy care to know that anyway? He lived in Turin, Italy, one of the great wine regions of the world. He would have been better off spending his time drinking a Barolo or an Asti instead of messing with the heads of high school chemistry students. As they say, there is no accounting for taste.
The first part of my plan focused on evaluating the cost of the project. Although he suffered from an eternal optimism, he was not naive. The book listed a variety of fruits and vegetables from which wine could be made. Grapes were one of many options. That was a red flag. Better check the price of grapes.
A trip to the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles turned out to be a sobering experience. Book in hand, I checked the grape wine recipe and checked the price of grapes. The quantity that I needed raised the cost above what my limited budget could afford.
I made my way through the market, flipping through recipes and taking notes on the cost of a variety of fruits. The humble lemon, a final choice far short of my hopeful expectations, had superior quality and a winner: priced at five cents a pound.
The water, sugar, and yeast came from my kitchen pantry. I invested in a new plastic bucket and a piece of cheesecloth. He was ready to launch.
The initial stage required squeezing the lemons, combining the juice with water and sugar, and simmering on the stove. When the liquid reached the optimum temperature for yeast to grow, I added the granules, stirred, and poured the mixture into the plastic bucket, covering it with the cheesecloth.
The bubbly, foamy concoction required several weeks to settle down. The smell of yeast and alcohol permeated the apartment.
The next step, secondary fermentation, required a one-gallon glass container with a narrow neck, like an empty water jug. No problem. I had one.
An image in the book showed a device called a fermentation lock. It looked like it might have been plucked from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. An accompanying explanation described how the twisted plastic tube allowed carbon dioxide to escape from the container while blocking the entry of unwanted microbes that would spoil the wine. One end of the tube fit through a rubber stopper inserted into the top of the jar. The other end had a small water reservoir. The gas bubbles forced their way through a water barrier on the way out, but the microbes couldn’t get in. Witty!
I poured the yellow liquid into the pitcher, leaving sediment, and then placed the fermentation lock.
Now, the hardest part began: waiting six months. Though tempted to try the wine before then, delayed gratification trumped impatience.
When the day of the tasting arrived, I called my brother-in-law, Bob, who lived a few blocks away. A fun-loving guy who was up for just about anything, he happily volunteered to judge the product.
I set two shot glasses on the coffee table in the living room. When it arrived, I removed the fermentation lock from the gallon jug. The strong smell of alcohol assaulted our noses. This wine could be high octane. Since the size of the container made it unwieldy, I poured a pint into a smaller bottle before filling the glasses.
Bob already had his hand around the glass and brought it to his lips. “Wow! It tastes like lemon.”
“Do you think it’s too strong?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll have another taste.” He finished the glass.
I drank half a glass. My body felt the immediate effect of the alcohol.
“I think we should stop, Bob. I’ll put the rest back in the jar and let it develop for another six months.”
“I’ll have another drink.”
“It may not be a good idea.”
He raised the empty glass.
“Okay. I’m glad you’re walking home.”
He finished his second round and left.
Fifteen minutes later, my sister called. “What did you do to my husband?”
“He only had two shot glasses of my new lemon wine.”
The explanation failed to calm his irritation.
I replaced the fermentation lock and let the brew sit for another six months. The wine softened and took on the character of a cordial with a vibrant lemon flavor. At the end of a year, the spirits were fit for polite society.
The result of the great lemon wine experiment did not dampen my enthusiasm for home production. I found joy in using anything but grapes.
In my second effort, I used grapefruit which, when squeezed, produced a copious amount of juice. However, I found that the unusual flavor was not well received when it was offered to guests. “You have to develop a taste for it,” I told him. “Appeals to the sophisticated palate.”
For my third batch, I used carrots. You need to juice a lot of carrots to make a modest amount of wine. What intrigued me about the recipe was the addition of wheat halfway through fermentation. The grain fortified the wine, creating a wonderful drink.
When I brought out the wine to the guests, I asked them to taste it and tell me what they thought it was. They said it was sherry, a very good sherry.
Cheerfully, I said, “It’s carrot!”
“You’re kidding,” was the universal response.
“I’m not. It’s wheat-fortified carrot.”
Oh what a feeling. I had produced a wine equal in flavor to a fine sherry from the fields of Jerez, Spain, wines with a tradition of three thousand years. I was at the height of my wine glory, worthy of being mentioned at the same time as Ernest and Julio Gallo.
The lesson was clear: Even a graduate student who could only afford inexpensive products, a plastic bucket and a jug of water, someone who received a “C” in chemistry in high school, can rise above his position to compare. with the giants of winemaking. world. Hallelujah! Life can be so wonderful.