2013 Fig Wine (breba crop)

fresh figs

This is the third year we've made fig wine.  Hopefully we can improve upon previous vintages.  I was diligent about harvesting figs this year and wound up with over 30 lbs.  I was also very selective and chose figs that were very ripe and just beginning to shrink--these are the sweetest.  I'd read that the more fruit used, the stronger the fruit flavor, so this time I deliberately added more than the typical 4 lbs. per gallon to find out how it compared.  Here is the final recipe I used:
  • 24 lbs fresh figs
  • 4.375 gal Arrowhead spring water
  • 4.1 lbs table sugar
  • 8 tbsp acid blend
  • 5 tsp Fermax yeast nutrient
  • 6 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 5 Campden tablets
  • 1 sachet Red Star Montrachet yeast

August 20, 2013

chopped figs

To save space in the freezer, we decided to puree the first bunch of figs I picked, removing the skins first (I like to leave the skins in the fermenter longer to extract more color through maceration).  Removing skins from room temperature figs, however, just makes a big, pulpy mess.  Jed reminded me that it was easier to do after they were frozen so when I picked the next two bunches, we just stuck them in the freezer whole after washing and drying them.  I had to store three bags in the freezer at work (and only one made it back home).  So much for saving space.  Anyway, we ended up with 24 pounds of figs in total, which is still more than typically necessary for a batch this size.  We skinned the remaining whole figs and put those in a small mesh bag, while the pulp went into a larger bag.

fig purée

I emptied a 2.5 gallon spring water jug into the primary and stirred in a dissolved sulfite solution made from 5 crushed Campden tablets.  I stretched the mesh bag over the rim so that we could throw the figs in as we chopped them.  I expected the sulfite to prevent the fruit from oxidizing while we worked but the liquid ended up turning a brown color anyway.  I remembered from the last two years that it was the acid that brought out the red color of the figs but I didn't add it right away.  By the time I did, the must was not as vivid red as I remembered it.  Hopefully, the skins will mask the brown with purple.

fig wine before acid addition

fig wine after acid addition

I multiplied the amount of water in Jack Keller's recipe by 5 and added enough water to equal that amount.  At this point the primary was nearly full.  This might be a problem if the fermenting cap becomes thick (see the 2013 Grapefruit Wine log), although Jack's recipe indicates the pulp should be removed when about half the sugar has been converted to alcohol.  I emptied an entire 4 pound bag of sugar into the must and stirred until it was dissolved.  The specific gravity read 1.060, which I believe should give the yeast enough fuel for several days, at which point I can remove the bag of pulp and make room for the rest of the sugar.

measuring pH of fig wine

The pH was 4.27, so quite a bit of acid blend was needed.  I added it one tablespoon at a time, and stirring in between, until it reached approximately 3.6.  Unfortunately, it was still slightly brown and didn't taste as tart as I expected.  I cleaned and recalibrated my pH meter but its accuracy was not that far off.

pH meter calibration 7.0
pH 7.0 buffer solution
pH meter calibration 4.0
pH 4.0 buffer solution

I retested and added acid blend until the pH reached 3.5, lower than last year's wine but hopefully enough to bring out enough red color.  I still expected it to taste more tart, so perhaps I should check again tomorrow to make absolutely certain the pH is correct.

Once the gravity and pH were set, I took a sample of must and dissolved yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme in it.  Figs are relatively low in pectin but I added it anyway on the chance I could extract a little more volume when the pulp is removed.  I have a feeling the pulp accounts for a large amount of what's in the primary.  I closed the lid and let the must sit overnight.

August 21, 2013

I hydrated a sachet of Red Star Montrachet yeast in a half cup of 100° F water, then 15 minutes later added another half cup of water and two spoonfuls of fig must, securing a paper towel over the top with an elastic band.  An hour later, I added more fig must until I had two cups of starter.

August 22, 2013

In the morning, I checked on the must.  The first thing I noticed was that the color was now a vibrant red color--almost amaranth.  Perfect!  This is the color I remember seeing.  Perhaps it just took several hours for the acid blend to permeate the mixture.  The bag of pulp looked bloated and was now floating on the top among a slurry of red, pulpy matter.  The bag was most likely being suspended by gas, which may be a sign of spontaneous fermentation.  The cultured yeast needs to be added as soon as possible so that it can become the dominant microorganism in the fermenter.  We don't want any wild yeast or bacteria imparting unpredictable flavors to the wine.

fig must

I remeasured the specific gravity and pH, which were slightly different than on Tuesday night.

specific gravity of fig must
specific gravity: 1.064

pH of fig must
pH: 3.53

The yeast starter was looking healthy after a night of growth in the diluted juice solution.  The colony has probably multiplied several times.

Montrachet yeast starter

Using a spoon, I carefully poured the starter into the must so that it floated upon the surface, giving the yeast more access to oxygen.

innoculating fig wine

inoculated fig must

Less than a half hour later, the airlock began to bubble.  Here we go!

August 23, 2013

Last night, the bag of pulp swelled with so much gas that the lid buckled, just like our grapefruit wine did, forcing wine out of the airlock.  It's not under quite as much pressure as the grapefruit wine, so I think we can handle this until I remove the pulp in a few days.  I need a bigger fermenter!

Here's what it looks like under the lid.

fig wine - 2nd day of fermentation

The specific gravity is now 1.042, which translates to almost 3% ABV.  Not bad for only 24 hours.  I punched down the cap in the morning.

August 24, 2013

Punched down the cap in the morning.

specific gravity: 1.010 (about 7%ABV)

August 25, 2013

The swelling has stopped and fermentation is much slower now.  I punched down the cap in the morning.

specific gravity: 1.002 (about 8% ABV)

draining fig pulp

Around late afternoon, we suspended the bag of pulp from a door-mounted pull-up bar, using a  sanitized piece of nylon string, and let it drain into the primary for several minutes.  We left the bag of skins in the primary to allow the color, tannins, and phenolic compounds to continue leaching out.  The resulting volume was just shy of six gallons, which was a relief--we'll be able to fill the 5-gallon carboy after all.  The pulp appears to have been macerated by either the yeast or the pectic enzyme (or both), yielding more liquid than I expected.  Lately, I've been aiming for a slightly higher volume than the recipe calls for so that when I rack the wine off the gross lees and into the secondary it will be completely full, minimizing exposure to air.

The wine was just about dry at this point, so it needed additional sugar in order to raise the alcohol content.  To determine the amount of sugar needed, I started with a target of 12% ABV and used my hydrometer to find the corresponding specific gravity measurement for that, which was 1.090.  Up until this point, the wine has changed by 0.062 so I subtracted that from 1.090, leaving 1.028.  I created several batches of simple syrup, using a total of 8 cups sugar and 4 cups water, and stirred them one by one into the wine until it reached 1.028.  Then I resealed the primary and set it aside.

August 26, 2013

primary fermenter with fig skins

specific gravity: 1.020 (about 9% ABV)

I punched down the cap in the morning but didn't get around to it at night.

August 27, 2013

specific gravity: 1.004 (about 11.25% ABV)

I punched down the cap in the morning and at night.

August 28, 2013

specific gravity: 0.996 (about 12.5% ABV)

I punched down the cap in the morning.  In the evening, I bought a vial of malolactic bacteria (and got a second one free because they were a few months past the expiration date).  Since their viability were in question and I had no use for a second vial, I added them both to the wine.  My reasoning for using the malolactic bacteria was:
  • MLF is common for red wines
  • initial pH was lower than previous batches, lactic acid might soften it
  • primary fermentation is complete, so less competition for nutrients
  • late innoculation should yield less acetic acid, more diacetyl

September 10, 2013

I received a pack of Malic acid test kits and ran a test.  As usual, interpretation of the results is highly subjective, even under bright 5500K lighting.  I guess it looks closest to 160 mg/L, the same as previous batches did.  I don't taste a difference yet.


September 15, 2013

Not satisfied with the subjectivity of the Accuvin free SO2 test kits, I bought a Master Vintner Free SO2 Test Kit from Midwest Supplies.  This kit works via vacuum aspiration and is much easier to interpret.  Either the solution turns green or it doesn't.  No ambiguous shades of pink as is the case with the more affordable Accuvin kits.  I ran the pump for ten minutes but the SO2 indicator solution did not turn green, meaning it's safe to assume there is no free sulfite in the wine.  It's time to get some sulfite in there before anything spoils.  The malolactic bacteria have had a good couple of weeks to do their thing but they don't seem to have made any difference and I can't leave the wine unprotected forever.  I racked the wine into a sanitized carboy, crushed five Campden tablets, dissolved them in a small amount of wine, and stirred it back into the carboy.

While reading about sulfite levels in Jon Iverson's book on home winemaking, I inadvertently happened across a section about malolactic fermentation.  He says that artificially added malic acid (as found in acid blend) has a different chemical composition than the natural malic acid found in grapes.  The malolactic bacteria can only convert about half of this into lactic acid, therefore paper chromatography tests will always indicate an incomplete malolactic fermentation.  Aha!  That's why these test kits always look the same shade of purple.  Apparently, I'm stuck with the acid balance, whatever it is.  Maybe I should concoct my own blend of acids in the future, without malic.  At least I won't have to buy any more of these test kits, unless I decide to make an actual grape wine one day.

October 9, 2013

Seeing as a complete malolactic fermentation was probably not possible (see previous post), I decided I had better add some lysozyme and put a stop to any bacterial activity in the carboy.  Naturally, I drew a sample for tasting.

fig wine sample

It looks nice and clear, but something about the flavor and odor is definitely off!  When I smell it, I think of savory food.  Jed says it tastes salty.  I don't know which wine fault that might be, but a dose of lysozyme won't hurt.  I prepared a large amount of lysozyme solution (to treat all our currently bulk aging wines) and added 1/2 cup of the solution to the fig wine.  It clouded up immediately, as expected.

My guesses as to the cause of the flavor/aroma are either prolonged exposure to oxygen or expired malolactic bacteria.  This wine did sit in the primary for almost a month, which may have exposed the surface to oxygen for a prolonged period.  Also, the malolactic bacteria was past the expiration date, so it's anyone's guess how that might have resulted.  However, it didn't taste bad when I racked it.  Hopefully, the lysozyme will eliminate these flaws.

October 16, 2013

I extracted another sample using my wine thief.  It smells fruity.  So far, so good.  At first, it tastes fine but, after a moment or two, there is an aftertaste as if I just took a bite of something fatty and greasy, like a hamburger.  I feel like the lysozyme may have attenuated it slightly but... only slightly.  I'll have to get Jed's opinion tomorrow.