The following 101, on making green tomato wine, comes from HOMEGROWN member Urban Overalls, the city gardener, home cook, and chicken keeper behind the blog Urban Overalls. Thanks so much, UO, for sharing your winemaking prowess with HOMEGROWN and please keep the good ideas pouring!
At the end of the growing season, gardeners typically make one last big harvest before the first freeze. One item that folks generally end up with is green tomatoes. Now, there are a variety of things you can make with green tomatoes: chutney, fried green tomatoes, mock apple pie, or you can simply store the tomatoes and let them ripen. But for a unique twist, I suggest making green tomato wine.
Making wine from green tomatoes is pretty straightforward. Even if you haven't made wine before, the steps are easy to follow. I’ll walk you through them below, but first, a few quick notes:
» This recipe makes about 3 gallons of wine . . .
» . . . but you won’t be able to drink it right away. Once you’ve gathered all of your supplies and ingredients, you can cross off steps 1 through 11 in one day, figuring three to four hours of active, hands-on time. Then the waiting begins. The entire process takes about a year—but it’s worth it!
» Why green tomatoes? Green tomatoes won’t add as much moisture as red, or ripe, tomatoes would. Plus, we always have bushels of green tomatoes to use up at the end of the season, so for us, it’s a win-win. (With red tomato wine, you would use less sugar, as red tomatoes are more acidic than green.)
» What does green tomato wine taste like? Green tomato wine has a soft mouthfeel, with no strong tannin presence. It’s a drier wine, rather than sweet, and finishes with a hint of tomato. We typically treat it as a white wine when pairing it with food, but don’t expect it to taste like a Chardonnay. Green tomato wine has its own subtle, distinctive flavor.
» 12 lbs green tomatoes
» 8 lbs sugar
» 2 tsp yeast nutrient (This encourages the growth of good wine yeast; more on where to find this and other ingredients under "WHAT TO DO," below.)
» 1o lemons, juiced
» 3 campden tablets (This kills bacteria and limits the propagation of wild yeast.)
» 1 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme (This helps break down the fruit and infuse flavor.)
» 6 lbs grapes (Black or red grapes add a nice blush color and some tannins.)
» 1 1/2 oz fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into large pieces
» 2 1/2 gallons distilled water
» 1 package fruit wine yeast (Not baker's yeast! We used EC-1118 Lalvin-brand yeast.)
» Fermentation bucket with lid
» Mesh bag, large enough to hold all of your tomatoes
» Stockpot large enough to hold 2 1/2 gallons of water and 8 lbs of sugar (We used a 12-quart pot.)
» Small cutting board
» Food-grade gloves
» Large spoon for stockpot
» Food-grade sanitizer, such as Star San
» Food-grade cleaner, such as Five Star PBW
» Siphon tube
» 2 carboys (This is a big glass barrel that functions as your secondary fermenter and conditioning tank.)
1. Gather all of your supplies. If you have a homebrew store in your community, they should carry all of the brewing-specific ingredients and tools. If not, do a web search for “making wine at home,” and you’ll find many online vendors to choose from.
2. Once you’ve gathered your tools, clean all of them (except the siphon tube and the carboy; we’ll deal with those later) using the Five Star PBW, following the directions on the container.
3. When your tools are clean, sterilize them using the Star San, again following the directions on the label.
4. Fill your sink with water and add 1 tsp Star San. Next add the tomatoes and the grapes and wash thoroughly. Trim any bruised or damaged areas from the tomatoes and remove any stems from the tomatoes and the grapes.
5. Place a mesh bag in your fermentation bucket. Drape the top of the bag over the rim of the bucket so that the bag forms a pouch inside the bucket. Crush one campden tablet and add it to the mesh bag.
6. Coarsely chop your clean tomatoes and add half of them, along with half of the grapes, to the bag. Add another crushed campden tablet. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes, grapes, all of the ginger, and the final crushed tablet.
7. Add the water to your stockpot and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, remove the pot from heat and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve completely. Pour the water/sugar mixture into your fermentation bucket.
8. Add the lemon juice to your fermentation bucket.
9. While wearing gloves, squeeze the mesh bag inside the fermentation bucket, thoroughly mixing the fruit.
10. Sprinkle the yeast nutrient and the pectic enzyme onto the fruit/water mixture. Stir thoroughly with your spoon to fully combine. Check the liquid volume inside the fermentation container. (There should be measuring marks on the outside of the bucket.) If the liquid volume is not at 3 gallons, add enough water to bring it up to that point.
12. Now you are ready to add the yeast. (Remember: Fruit-wine-specific yeast only! No baker’s yeast!) Following the directions on the yeast packet, add the yeast to some warm water, allowing it to bloom. Once the yeast has bloomed, pour it into the fermentation bucket. Place the lid back on the fermentation bucket and fix the airlock to the hole in the bucket lid. The mixture will begin to ferment, as indicated by the bubbles in the airlock.
13. For the next five days, remove the lid and stir the mixture once each day. After stirring, replace the lid.
14. On day six, remove the mesh bag and all of the fruit within the bag from the fermentation bucket. Squeeze the bag to extract as much liquid as possible into the bucket. (It’s OK if some pulp falls in, too.) From this point on, you’ll be working with the liquid, so you can dispose of the fruit and wash and save the mesh bag for your next batch of wine.
15. Clean and sterilize a siphon tube and carboy, following the directions on the Five Star PBW and Star San containers.
16. Elevate the fermentation bucket so that it is higher than the carboy. (You might set the bucket on a box or a counter, for example, and leave the carboy on the ground.) Place one end of the siphon tube in the fermentation bucket and the other end in the carboy. This begins the siphoning process.
17. Once siphoning is complete (that is, once the fermentation bucket is empty and the carboy is full—about 30 to 45 minutes), affix the airlock to the carboy. Let the developing wine sit in the carboy for three months in a cool, dark place. The basement is perfect.
18. At the end of the third month, transfer (a.k.a. “rack”) the developing wine to another carboy that you’ve cleaned and sterilized. To do so, elevate the full carboy so that it is higher than the empty carboy. Place one end of the siphon tube in the full carboy and the other end in the empty carboy. Note: Do not let the end of the siphon tube come to rest in the sediment at the bottom of the full carboy. This sediment is fruit pulp and yeast, and you don’t want to transfer it to the empty cloudy. (Your goal with the racking process, or transferring from carboy to carboy, is to obtain clear, not cloudy, wine, so you want to make sure to leave the sediment behind.) When the empty carboy is full and vice versa, affix the airlock to the top of the now-full carboy.
19. Repeat this transfer process three more times at three-month intervals. Alternative between two carboys should suffice; just be sure you’re cleaning and sanitizing the empty carboy and siphon tube just before each transfer.
20. Now you’re ready to bottle your wine. For a 3-gallon batch of wine, you will need approximately 18 bottles. You can either save old wine bottles or buy new ones from a homebrew store or online. If a store carries bottles, they will also carry corks. You’ll need those, too. Corks are generally sold in packages, rather than individually. Make sure you buy enough that you will have a few more corks than bottles. You never know when you might encounter a bad cork.
21. To ensure cleanliness, you’ll want to sterilize your bottles, corks, siphoning tube, and nitrile gloves. (After all of that time spent aging your wine, you don't want to risk contaminating it with dirty equipment.) Although there are many sterilizing agents on the market, we use Star San for this step, too. Following the label's directions, pour the liquid concentrate into a large bucket then add the required amount of water, followed by all of the items you wish to sterilize.
22. To transfer the wine into bottles, set up the carboy with a siphon tube and place the other end of the tube inside the neck of a wine bottle. Elevate the carboy above the bottle to ensure proper draining. Be sure you have your next empty bottle waiting by the time the wine level reaches the bottom of the neck of the bottle you are currently filling. Lift the siphon and place it into the next empty bottle. Set aside the newly filled bottle and grab your next empty. This process is simpler than it sounds; we usually treat it as a one-man job.
23. After all of the wine has been siphoned into bottles, it’s time to cork. Although very few people have their own corkers, most homebrew stores carry them for purchase or rental. We generally go with a one-day rental. If you have never used a corker, ask a store employee for a quick tutorial. It is pretty easy to use. Cork away!
24. And, folks, that is it. Making green tomato wine from scratch is not hard. With good ingredients and patience, you can be enjoying wine of your making in just a little more than a year. Believe me: This is time well spent.
Got a question? Or a wine making tip to add? Or another use for green tomatoes? Post your comments below and keep the conversation rolling! You might also be interested in 101s on making homemade coffee liqueur (think Kahlúa), mead, and extracts, and you might consider joining the Brewers Pub group. You can always find more things to cook, preserve, plant, grow, make, craft, and ferment in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
ALL PHOTOS: URBAN OVERALLS