I am making a gallon of chocolate mint wine! I have been collecting the leaves since I bought the tiny plant about a month ago. I have been cutting them off, washing them and adding them to the bucket in the freezer. I finally had about 3/4 of a gallon of leaves! Just enough for a gallon of chocolate mint wine!
The first thing I do when I have enough material for wine, is boil it for a minute. Not enough to cook it dead, just enough to make a strong tea, then let it steep. I add enough water to make the wine, usually about 3/4 of the amount of wine I am aiming for, to leave room for the sugar. I put this in a pot with the frozen or previously frozen material. I always freeze whatever material I am using to make wine. Freezing helps to break down the cell walls and release the juices.
I bring the water and chocolate mint to a boil and boil covered for just a couple of minutes. Then remove the pot from the heat and do not lift the lid. I leave the pot tightly covered and let it sit undisturbed for 24-48 hours. I usually aim for the two days but don't always make it. I have to work and have a schedule to keep, so I follow on to the next step when it is convenient. Really, overnight will do. The longer you can let it sit, the more flavour it will have, of course. I wouldn't leave it longer than 48 hours or you might run the risk of contamination with a foreign yeast or bacteria. This is organic wine we are making, after all. Care has to be taken. This is one reason why it is important that you don't lift the lid while it is sitting. Don't bake yeast bread or make vinegar mother while your wine must is sitting in the pots or the primary fermenter. If you are continually working with yeasts in the kitchen, you might want to consider making your wine in another section of the house.
48 hours later, I am ready for the next step: straining.
Before I start anything at this time, I usually "proof" the yeast and let it sit while I am straining the tea. This way I know it is still good yeast and this will give it a head start. To proof the yeast, put a little lukewarm room temp water in a sterile cup and add a pinch of sugar, then sprinkle in the yeast and let it sit for about 1/2 hour or so. It should be good and bubbly by that time.
If I had put the choc mint leaves into the water in a straining bag, the straining part would be easy. Even so, it's still not difficult. I use a very large, sterilized fine strainer to pour it through into the sterilized primary fermenter. I use a one gallon or four litre ice cream bucket for a one gallon primary fermenter. (The lid needs to be sterile too.)
When I say something is sterile, I have dipped it or washed it in a mild bleach solution and rinsed it very, very well in hot water. the rinsing is more important than the sterilizing!
Once the tea is in the primary fermenter, I add the other things: 1 teaspoon of pectic enzyme and 2 teaspoons of acid blend for every one gallon batch of wine. That's pretty much my standard recipe for all of them. These two have to be added to hot water in a sterile cup and stirred with a sterile spoon to dissolve, before being added. I used to also add a tablespoon of frozen white grape juice concentrate, for body, but have stopped doing that. I don't think the wines need it.
The pectic enzyme eats any pectin in the wine. We do not want pectin in the wine! (We are not making jam here.) Pectin makes it cloudy and throws the taste off. Once the pectic enzyme and acid blend are dissolved, pour them in and stir very well.
Now, everything is in there except for the sugar and the yeast. The amount of sugar that usually goes into a one gallon batch is around 4-6 cups, depending on the amount of sugar already in the material being used. I use a hydrometer when adding the sugar. I always start with 3 cups of table sugar. That's usually a minimum for just about anything. The more sugar there is, the higher the alcohol content will be. I like my wines to be about 12-13% alcohol when finished, so I test it with the sterile tube and hydrometer as I go along. The measuring cup you use for the sugar should also be sterile.
After pouring in the initial 3 cups of sugar and stirring it well, I add one cup of sugar at a time stirring well after each and testing with the hydrometer after each addition until it gets close to the 13%. It can go over a little without hurting anything. It doesn't have to be exact. The Lalvin EC-1118 wine yeast can handle up to about 18% alcohol before the yeast start to die, so there's a lot of leeway there with the sugar. I only add enough sugar to bring it up to about 13% for personal taste. You can make it higher with more sugar, if that's what you want in your wine. Just keep in mind that the sugar which the yeast don't use will be left in the wine to sweeten it and there will be no way to remove that extra sugar once the yeast die off. So I would keep it well below the 18% level if you want a dry wine. The yeast will continue to consume the sugar and make alcohol until all the sugar is gone or the alcohol level is high enough to kill them off (about 18%).
Because I have sterilized both the tube and hydrometer, the wine used for the test can just be poured back into the bucket each time. There's not enough there to keep testing it and pouring it out! When the wine has reached the level of potential alcohol that I want, I stop adding the sugar and stir it all together vigorously. Stir until everything is well blended.
Then add the yeast, which should be bubbling by now. If it is not, just lightly sit the lid on the bucket and wait an hour or so. If you proofed the yeast with lukewarm room temp water and a little sugar in a sterile and well rinsed cup, it should be bubbling by then. If there is no action from the yeast, I'd get new yeast. If the packet of yeast is new, just purchased, and you know your supplier gets it in fresh every week or two, you can just sprinkle a little on top in the bucket and leave it. I have done that on many occasions.
Once you have everything in the bucket and well stirred, lightly sit the lid on and leave it to sit in a fairly warm, room temp place. Don't securely fasten the lid. The yeast is so active during the first week that the amount of carbon dioxide produced will blow the lid off or bust the bucket. It doesn't need much protection during that first week because there is enough carbon dioxide being produced to protect it from any contamination by foreign yeast or bacteria. (It is not a good idea during this time to keep lifting the lid to look at it.)
After about 5-7 days, it should have slowed down enough to go into the sterile secondary fermenter (glass jug) with a sterile air lock. Siphon it from the primary fermenter bucket into the secondary fermenter jug with a sterile plastic tube. This is better than just pouring it in because pouring would expose it to too much air. The air lock lets the carbon dioxide bubbles escape without letting air in. It's a very simple little cheap plastic thing. I buy the bung (stopper) and air lock set for less than $2 at my wine supply store. You can use a baloon for this, but you can't watch the bubbles escaping and know that it's working with a baloon.
It will sit in there, bubbling slowly away for a few months. After three months, rack (siphon) it into another sterile jug, leaving the lees (sediment) behind. It can be racked every three months until it is finished. You will know when the wine has finished by the air lock. The little plastic cup will be sitting on the bottom, no bubble will have come up for days and the wine will be clear, if you are lucky. At this time, test it with the sterile hydrometer again. The reading should be below 1.000 if the yeasts have used up all the sugar, stopped working and sunk to the bottom. Time to bottle it!
If the hydrometer reading is less than 1.000, the yeast have finished and your wine is cloudy, you will have to clear it before you put it in bottles. There are several ways to do this. There are a few things on the market used to clear wine, all work fairly well. Bentonite clay will work but should be added sooner than this. It takes time. Some people just put it in at the beginning, to be on the safe side. I have only ever had to clear one wine, the dandelion from last year. I used chitosan for that. It's a gel made from ground diatoms, sort of like DE in gel form. It worked very well. You can also buy islinglass finings or Sparkaloid. (Not had good luck using Sparkaloid to clear beer, btw.) All of these things are put into the secondary fermenter and shaken/stirred until well blended. They are then left for a couple of weeks to clear the wine. Most work with negatively charged particles that attract the particulate matter making your wine cloudy and settle it all to the bottom. You then rack the clear wine into another sterile container to bottle it, leaving the lees in the bottom.
You can use a filter to clear wine and I have an electric one. I don't use it. It is far too much trouble, especially for just one gallon and much of the wine is lost, absorbed by the filter pads. I also think the filtering exposes the wine to the air too much, as well, so I don't use it. If you are putting sulphite and sorbate in your wine, you don't have to be quite as careful. I make organic wine because we are unable to drink wine with sulphite in it. Hubby and I get severe migraines form the sulphite and he also gets a rash.
Make sure your bottles are clean, sterile and well rinsed, as well as the siphon hose. Boil the corks for a few minutes and leave them in the boiling water while bottling. Sterilize and rinse the corker, as well. Keep it all sterile and well rinsed and you won't have a problem.
Wine, especially organic wine, should be stored in a cool place on it's side. This keeps the corks wet so they swell and seal the bottle. The cold is to keep the wine stable. I have an underground fieldstone cold cellar where our wine stays cool all year. This is important if you are not using chemical stabilizers and preservatives, like sulphite and sorbate.