For longer than I have been writing the columns in the Kings County Record, I have been making homemade wine. We are working on adding a new page to this site which will allow me to share some methods and recipes to help others who want to learn about making wine. Watch for that new page, coming soon (and subscribe to the newsletter if you want to be notified). Meanwhile, here is a post that explains how I got involved in winemaking in the first place...
We had had some experience of home-made wine, none of it exactly favourable, so we thanked Johnny and put the bottle where, if it exploded, it would do the least damage.
Sometime the following winter we had friends in and we realised we had nothing to serve them. I think my wife remembered Johnny’s bottle of wine, and, on the principle of any port in a storm, I opened it. The next day I went across the street. “Johnny,” I said, “ how did you do that?” And so a friendship ensued and a trip over to Avenue Road and an introduction to Eric Arthurs, who ran the Wine-Art store only several blocks away.
William Cobbett, the English pamphleteer and publisher and defender of the life of the small farmer that was already fast passing away in the early 1800's, wrote a wonderful little book called “Cottage Economy,” the early chapters of which were devoted to the praise of the cottage practise of brewing its own beer and an attack on the (false) economy of tea-drinking. Cobbett, who was a back-to-the-lander 150 years before that term became fashionable, believed strongly in what the small farmer could do for himself rather than spending money to get what he needed from elsewhere.
Tea and the equipment to make it (Cobbett called that the “tea tackle”), cost money, both to get the “tea tackle” and the tea, and time, to boil the water and to make the tea, whereas the farmer could make his own beer out of materials he had close by. The beer Cobbett had in mind was not a recreational drink but one that could be a mainstay, as well as nourishment. (Judging by his account I would imagine the beer would have been flat and much lower in alcohol than commercial beer these days but a much richer brew. I surmise that the alcohol that was present might have had a beneficial effect on water supplies that might not have been as clean as we would want now.)
For the rest of our time in Toronto we made kit wines supplied by Mr Arthurs. As I recall, for a long time the wine-maker had a choice of two kits: A Spanish red, and a Spanish white. That was enough to begin with, and so we began to collect what I suspect Cobbett would have called “wine tackle” and learned the difference between bread yeast and wine yeast and how to make a yeast starter out of a small vial of liquid yeast and orange juice. It was all rather mysterious but the end product in a wine glass at dinner time certainly was pleasing.
Then we left Toronto and came to New Brunswick. Not only were Wine-Art and Eric Arthurs far away, we couldn’t have afforded to buy kits even if a store had opened in Sussex. We needed to consider, as we struggled to remove ourselves as far from the commercial food chain as possible, how to use the equipment we had but without the outlay for kits.
And then, one day, I happened to pick up a small grey-paper- covered booklet, “Fruits of the Earth,” we had acquired at a craft fair in Stratford when we still lived in Toronto, and, lo and behold, a whole section, headed simply “Wines,” told us how to make wine from fruit at hand, rhubarb and strawberries and dandelions and chokecherries and on and on, with only the most basic additions.
The TV shows can keep their ancient Egypt and paranormal. There is much wonder to be had much closer to home.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.