By Amy Crowell
Long before I drank my first glass of pinot noir, I knew country wine. “Country wine” is a fairly loose phrase used to describe wine made out of just about any fruit or flower grown or found in the countryside. I first tasted it when I was barely 16 and spending the night with a friend in Quihi—a tiny, South Texas Alsatian community where the tradition of home winemaking was alive and well. My friend’s parents were out and we were bored teenagers so, naturally, we found the stash of homemade mustang-grape wine on the back porch.
I still remember the thrilling sting of that first taste on my tongue.
I grew up hearing stories about my Alsatian-German relatives making wine when they arrived here in the mid-1800s. Agaritas and mustang grapes were two of the more popular fruits used, but it wasn’t uncommon to find wines made out of prickly pear fruit, juniper berries, elderberries and dandelions on back porches in my hometown. County fairs always revealed the creativity used in producing wild-fruit wines—mulberries, dewberries, blackberries, Texas persimmons and beautyberries all made appearances.
My foray into country winemaking began in the summer of 2001. As part of our courting ritual, my boyfriend (now husband) and I spent our days stalking wild fruits for pie making, pickling and winemaking. On a hike along Turkey Creek in Northwest Austin, we stumbled upon a sea of overripe Mexican plums covering the ground below the tree. Inedible and overripe fruits can sometimes make the best wines, and we imagined that this was how some of our earliest ancestors learned about fermentation—you can indeed catch a buzz if you eat enough fermented fruit!
Country winemaking is easy—much easier than resources on winemaking would have you believe. Commercial winemaking tends to be a precise science that relies on killing wild yeasts in order to produce a consistent product. Yet early winemaking relied primarily on wild yeasts. At home, you can be less finicky and still produce a delicious drink.
If you decide to let wild yeasts colonize your brew, the technique is called “open fermentation” and can produce a young wine in about a week or two. Soon after your first sips of the wild-yeast-fermented wine, the organisms that turn wine to vinegar will act quickly, so drink it young and in one sitting! You can also sweeten your wild ferment to taste.
Here’s a basic recipe and resources to guide you.