Updated: Jul 21
Making wine at home can save you a lot of money, and is a great way pass the time while social distancing. Traditionally wine is made from fresh grapes (red wine) or fresh grape juice (white wine & rosé). In reality, wine can be made from all sorts of things though. When a wine goes off the beaten path and away from grapes it is called a "country wine". Country wines can be made from various fruits, flowers, herbs, and vegetables and there are many books that are chocked full of recipes. Today we are going to veer into the world of country wines with this tasty Lemon Wine or "Skeeter Pee".
This is an old recipe that I have made and adjusted over the years. When complete, the end product falls somewhere between a crisp riesling and a hard lemonade. The low pH of a homemade lemon wine allows it to age gracefully for many years, while developing more and more character. I recently opened a five year old bottle, and was extremely impressed with the wine quality.
The real beauty of a homemade lemon wine is the price though... at around $10-$15 per 6 gallons it can't be beat. At this price range, you can experiment a bit with very low risk to the wallet... (Lemon-Lime wine? Lemon+Black tea wine?). As we are a couple months away from summer, it is a great time to start a refreshing crowd pleaser of a wine like this.
-pH Meter (optional, but recommended)
-Hydrometer (Optional, but recommended)
-Seed Heater Mat (optional)
-6 or 7 gallon bucket
*Note: This is all pretty standard stuff that you will use frequently when winemaking and would come in most starter kits.
- 3 Quarts of 100% Lemon Juice from Concentrate
- 10 lbs Sugar (+1 to 2 lbs more if back sweetening)
- Lalvin EC1118 Wine Yeast
- Yeast Nutrient
- Pectic Enzyme (optional)
- Potassium Metabisulfite or Camden Tablets
- Potassium Sorbate (If back sweetening, which I would recommend doing. DO NOT ADD BEFORE FERMENTATION)
1. Dissolve 10 lbs of sugar in three gallons of warm water. Add directly to carboy.
2. Add 2 3/4 quarts of lemon juice.
3. Add water until carboy is filled to about 5.5 gallons.
3a. If you have a pH meter, pull a sample from the carboy and add 10% water to it. Measure the pH of the sample. If the pH is above 3.0 , add remaining 1/4 quart of lemon juice to carboy. If pH drops below 2.8, fermentation will be difficult to start.
4. (optional). Add 3tsp of pectic enzyme. This will help break down pectin in lemon juice, and assure that the wine will be crystal clear. If you do this step, wait 4-6 hours before moving on to step 5
5. Add 3tsp yeast nutrient to carboy. Stir vigorously.
6. Add 2tsp wine tannin to carboy. Stir vigorously until dissolved (easier if dissolved in juice sample before adding.
7. Create a yeast starter. Hydrate your yeast in warm water and increase the volume of the starter by about 50% every 10 minutes by adding juice mix from carboy.
8. Add yeast starter to carboy. Do not stir in. A little air will help the yeast multiply.
9. Place the airlock on the carboy. An alternate option is to place a loose towel over the carboy at this time.. Air is not your enemy yet.
10. Keep the carboy warm by using seed heater and loose towel wrapped around carboy, or by placing the carboy in a warm area. Because this wine is difficult to ferment, a temperature of around 80°F helps tremendously. The lemon smell is very stable, so there is no need to ferment cold for aroma retention.
-Monitor the status of the wine. Expect to see bubbling starting around day two or three. By day four, the wine should be bubbling vigorously. Gently swirl the wine once a day to loosen up any yeast that may have settled. Smell the wine once a day (don't be afraid to remove the airlock to smell at this stage... it really isn't needed yet.
Troubleshooting: If the wine will not start fermenting, check your temperature. You will really need a little heat to get this one going and about 80-85°F should do the trick. Every quart of lemon juice could be a little different. If your pH is too low (2.7 or lower), the fermentation will be very difficult to start. I ran into this on my last batch and had to add 1 tsp of calcium carbonate to nudge the pH up about .05 which was just enough to get things rolling. You could also raise the pH by adding a bit more water.
If the wine smells like rotten eggs, this is hydrogen sulfide which can be fixed with a little yeast nutrient and air. Remove about 1.5 gallons from the carboy before adding any yeast nutrient, or you could have a wine volcano, which easy to accidentally provoke when fermenting at 80°F. It is unlikely that you will experience hydrogen sulfide though with the warm temp and adequate yeast nutrient.
-Watch for the fermentation to stop (no more bubbles). Verify with a hydrometer if you have one (should read .993-.997 if compete). Once complete, remove the wine from the warm area and place in a cooler place. If your wine has less than 1/2 inch of yeasty pulp on the bottom, leave it be and add water until the wine is up to the neck. If it has more than 1/2 inch of sediment, rack to another clean carboy if you can, then top up with water to the neck.
After several days of no bubbles, it is safe to add some SO2 to the wine. This will protect against oxidation and spoilage. Because this wine is relatively acidic, you don't need much. Add 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite or 5 crushed camden tablets after dissolving in water. Stir in vigorously. This will be the last first and only SO2 addition needed for this wine.
The wine should be crystal clear by now. If it is not, wait until it is before this step. Give it a taste. It should taste like sour lemonade with a little kick. Add a little sugar to a test glass and try it again... It should taste like delicious hard lemonade mixed with white wine.
If you want to bottle it without sugar, I won't stop you. You can bottle it straight from the carboy, just be sure to keep the racking cane off of the sediment or "lees".
If you want to back-sweeten, which I highly recommend, make a simple syrup or invert sugar with about two pounds of sugar. Do this by simmering about a 2:1 sugar to water water mix until fully dissolved. Rack your wine to a clean 6 or 7 gallon bucket and add 3 tsp of potassium sorbate. This will coat the yeast cell walls to inhibit yeast multiplication. If your wine is not CRYSTAL CLEAR, the sorbate will not stop a renewed fermentation (think exploding bottles and a mess). Stir vigorously to fizz out as much CO2 as possible. After the sorbate addition and degassing, slowly stir a little bit of simple syrup into the wine and taste a sample of it. If it is not balanced yet, add a little more simple syrup and taste again. Once the wine is balanced to your liking, bottle it with your racking cane, bottle filler, and corker. You should now have 30 bottles of delicious wine to share with friends and family!
You can also help keep Smart Winemaking ad free by supporting on Patreon.