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Barbara Pleasant: Clearing Cloudy

Apple Wine, Naturally

 
apple wine in glass

How Did This Happen?

I’ve made many batches of apple wine before, but never so late in the season. Temperatures during primary fermentation were cool, between 60-70°F. I also suspect that I moved the carboy downstairs to the basement too soon (58°F), slowing secondary fermentation. Lesson learned: keep the chill off the wine while it’s actively working.

bottles of homemade apple wine

Many of my first wine making projects begin with recipes in The Joy of Home Wine Making. It's still one of the first books I consult when I need a refresher course on a basic topic. 

Time cures many ills in the world of homemade wine, but it wasn’t helping with a 3-gallon batch of apple wine started in September 2010, using our Liberty apples. That apple wine would not clear, despite a move from basement to main floor to raise temperatures, and two extra rackings.

 

My time is in short supply right now, and Roger-the-wise pointed out that peasants have been drinking cloudy wine for centuries. I decided to bottle up two thirds of the batch, and subject one gallon to a selected fining procedure. In wine making, “fining” means using a substance or process to cause cloudy wine to clear by making fine particles drop out as sediment.

 

What Causes Cloudy Homemade Wines

In my home library, I found the best clues to my cloudy apple wine’s problem on Page 28 of Making Wild Wines & Meads, by Pattie Vargas & Rich Gulling. They say:

 

  • “Even with careful racking, a wine may remain stubbornly murky, and in that case the culprit is probably pectin, starch or protein.”

 

My notes for the batch looked more detailed than usual (I even checked the specific gravity), so I don’t think I forgot the pectic enzyme. If my fruit tended to set starch, I think I would have seen a jelly-like goo by now. This left me with a possible protein problem. The commercial cure, bentonite, is natural enough, but I’d have to mail order it and the idea of putting clay in my wine sounded dirty anyway.

Eggshells Cure Cloudy Wine

In today’s bacteria-phobic society people have become afraid of raw eggs, but I will boldly defend the integrity of the local free-range eggs produced by several of my neighbors. Because I have these excellent eggs, I decided to follow the general technique described by Vargas & Gulling:

 

  • “Our ancestors had an inexact but rather effective way of dealing with cloudy wine. They dried a broken eggshell in the oven for a few seconds and then dropped it into the wine. Many modern commercial wineries include albumen – egg whites – among their collection of fining agents. Some of that substance may remain on the eggshell, and the shell itself absorbs impurities (sometimes, unfortunately, including color). So if all else fails, try the eggshell treatment.”

 

I did this by washing a fresh egg very well. I cracked the egg into a bowl, and put both halves of the un-rinsed eggshell in a 300 degree oven for one minute. Then I crumbled the sticky eggshell into the gallon of cloudy apple wine, where it floated to the bottom.

 

A few hours later nothing had changed, but five days later the eggshells had risen to the top, coated with a brown scum. The cleared apple wine sparkled with a golden color, except for a sizeable cloud of sediment studded with eggshells at the bottom. I siphoned out four bottles and a tasting glass of no-longer-cloudy apple wine, bottled it, and ditched the rest.

 

It’s too soon to say how wine will taste. I could detect no off flavors, and certainly no egg, but the wine itself is still spit-out rough. The first tasting notes will be posted in summer 2012. Home winemakers are eternal optimists.

closeup of eggshell residue in apple wine
Close up of residue with eggshells
homemade apple wine

 

The 3-gallon batch of cloudy apple wine posed for pictures with Mr. Leon before the eggshell intervention.

After a week, the eggshell caused the cloudiness to let go and accumulate in the bottom of the jug of apple wine.

If you’re going to make apple wine or other country wine creations, Making Wild Wines & Meads  is one of the books you’ll need for looking up random topics, like how to clear cloudy wine.