In Canada, there is a winery that produces several varieties of fine tomato wine. It is said that tomato is one of the most difficult wines to place in taste tests. Since Omerto does not ship to Idaho, I guess I will have to make my own. Our zone 3 garden doesn’t usually produce enough tomatoes to make a batch of spaghetti sauce, but it definitely gives us enough for a double batch of tomato wine! In 2017 we had a mix of ripe Sungolds, Sweet 100s, Tiger blushes, Amanas, and Paul Robesons, plus a few green ones for extra acidity (not that tomatoes need extra acidity). We started this batch September 14, 2017, and yields a little over 2 gallons.
7 lbs tomatoes, chopped
3/4 lb raisins, chopped
1.5 gallons lukewarm water
3 lbs sugar
1 cup strong tea (3 tea bags)
2 tsp acid blend
2 tsp yeast nutrient
1 packet Red Star Premier Cuvee yeast
2 tsp pectolase
Mash tomatoes, chop raisins, add to 19 cups water. Add sugar, tea, acid blend, yeast nutrient, and pectolase.
Day 3: 1 1/4 cups water added plus yeast. Brix tested at 7.5 (22.5-7.5)*.125 * 2 = 3.75lbs sugar
Day 5: Boiled 4 cups water plus 3.75 lbs sugar for 10 minutes. Added to fermentation bucket. Racked into 3 gallon carboy. Gap at the top, but bubbling vigorously. Started to rack from primary fermenter, then had to switch to straining due to the amount of stuff plugging up the racking cane!
Day 19: Racked out of 3 gallon carboy into 2 1 gallon carboys and a 32 oz jar. Tasted – sweet. Stuck fermentation, possibly from being to close to the woodstove this fall! Very mild tomato flavor behind the sweetness. Acidity seems balanced, but may need to test. Added 1/3 packet of Cote des Blancs to reserve juice plus 1 tsp yeast nutrient.
Day 21: Reserve cup only began fermentation after acidity was raised. Added 1/2 tsp acid blend to each gallon carboy. The first one exploded with foam! Didn’t lose too much liquid. Why did this happen? I still haven’t found an answer. Added to the second carboy much more slowly.
Day 39: I’ve been traveling and haven’t been at the house long enough to coax my tomato wine through its stuck fermentation. The carboys have just been lazing away in the spare room. I’m worried about contamination since their alcohol isn’t very high right now. I finally had the time to take some of the juice out of one carboy and mix it with a yeast that is good for getting a stuck fermentation going again, Premier Cuvee. I let this mixture get going and then slowly added more tomato wine to it over the next few days. The fermentation in both carboys finally got going again VERY slowly.
Day 61: The tomato wine taste like ALCOHOL. I calculated the sugar again, and I don’t think I made a mistake. It may be a result of how the fermentation happened, resulting in a harsher wine. Or it actually is really high in alcohol, and we will refer to it as tomato liqueur. I took the last of the reserve liquid and diluted it with boiled water in a 1/2 gallon growler. We’ll see if the yeast clean up after themselves.
Day 76: Opened the reserve juice, it was really carbonated! Shook it and left the lid cracked to let it offgas.
Day 78: Tasted Carboy #1, still extremely alcoholic, cough medicine-y. Researched causes: low acid with high abv, brettanomyces infection, or chlorine in the water. Since we are on a well I could rule out the chlorine, and the wine didn’t taste off…measured acidity, 0.5%! Added 1 1/2 tsp tartaric acid per gallon of wine to raise the acidity to 0.7%. I’m afraid I will still need to dilute this one. Carboy #2 slight cheesy flavor, added a pinch of k-meta along with the tartaric acid dose.
Added 1/2 tsp acid to the reserve juice, it foamed up immediately. It tasted very cheesy. Probably going to toss it, although it is really cloudy right now from the released carbonation. I think when I diluted it it no longer had enough abv to protect it from tiny opportunistic predators. The poor tomato wine has been through a lot of yeast stress in its short lifetime, but the flavor is so interesting and complex that I hope it will eventually make it safely into the bottle!
Day 94: Carboy #1: Tastes complex, hint of tomato aftertaste, may have a little residual sugar. Diluted with water…still has good flavor diluted, and the stronger characteristics fade. Racked into a new carboy and topped off with water, pinch k-meta, 1 Tbsp of French oak. Carboy #2: Racked, added a generous pinch of k-meta. Added 1/8 cup of French and American oak, equal portions. This is a different bag of American oak, and I think I will like these chips better. Topped off with water. Super ‘cheesey’ flavor. Diluted glass tastes much better.
More than likely both of the tomato wines have been exposed to Brettanomyces, a yeast that is often encouraged in sour beer making. It produces isovaleric acid, which in high amounts can taste like cheese or sweaty socks. However, at low levels (Carboy #1) it adds some complexity and I’m really enjoying it. I’m trying to manage Carboy #2 with k-meta and I will probably have to add Potassium sorbate to both of them before bottling to stablize them and keep any residual sugar.
Day 100: Carboy #2 is bubbling a little, Carboy #1 is producing no CO2 at all. What’s up? Is it because the second carboy had a little more water added, so it’s re-fermenting? Is Brett eating all the newly available sugars? I’ll be sure to measure the gravity before bottling!