Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wine Making

There are a handful of Palestinian wine producers such as Cremisan and Taybeh, but their price and quality are often not able to compete with imported products. Also, in many parts of Palestine (e.g. Gaza, Jenin, Hebron, etc.), wine is hard to obtain in shops generally. Northern West Bank relies on the shops of the Samarian village on Mt. Getsrim. Central West Bank buys in Ramallah, and southern West Bank in Bethlehem, while in Gaza you have to know your sources.

As my experience from Saudi Arabia shows, the fact that alcohol is not sold officially, doesn't seem to reduce the demand for it, which then is often met by some very low quality products from the black market (Saudis call it "sadiqi" or "sid"), sometimes dangerous for your health.

As a more healthy, more tasty, and possibly much cheaper alternative, this blog post describes a method to produce wine at home from grape juice. There are many sophisticated recipes around on the internet. The instructions below are designed to get started quickly with a very simple but good recipe.

Getting Started: Equipment Needed

Those 20l water jugs have proven to be well suited for small batches of wine

Next, get a large funnel to fill the jugs.

Furthermore, you will need a plastic hose to fill your wine to bottles after fermenting. A 1.50m long, 1cm diameter vinyl hose serves well, which you can, for convenience attach with a cable strap to a stick, so that the stick will keep one end of the hose approximately 4cm above the ground of the water jug.

Then, you need condoms (natural, no flavour) as a cap during fermentation. You will punch a small hole into the tip of the condom with a fork, and mount them on top of your wine jugs to prevent oxygen from coming in while letting fermentation gas go out through the hole.

A Simple Recipe

16 liters of grape juice, 100% juice, no preservatives (!)
half a kilo of sugar, dissolved in hot water
one teaspoon of yeast (baking yeast works, but better is wine yeast)

Pour all ingredients into the jug, tap it with a condom, and leave it in a moderately tempered environment (15-20 degrees is good). After 1-2 days you should see some bubbles, and the condom slowly going erect. Make sure you have punctured the condom well, otherwise it will blow off.

After 2 weeks the fermentation process is mostly over, the condom will deflate, and the yeast will settle on the ground. Let it mature for another 2 weeks, and then fill it to airtight bottles.

Put the wine jug onto a high surface. Be careful not to shake the wine, because you don't want the yeast spoiling the taste. Use the plastic hose to fill the wine into bottles. Close them firmly. Voila, your first batch of self-made wine!

This wine without preservatives has a shelf-life of approx. 10 weeks, or longer if put in a fridge. For longer conservation, you will need small amounts of Sulphur. Your local pharmacy might have one of the following chemicals: K2S2O5 or H2SO3 or NaHSO3 or Na2SO3. 

Troubleshooting and Refining Your Recipes

There are ways how you can tweak to optimize the wine according to your taste, for example:
  • Wine too sour: The most common problem is that the wine gets sour. This happens because of too much oxygen exposure. Make sure to minimize air exposure, and have airtight containers for storage. Some add a tea spoon of baking soda to get rid of the acidity.
  • Try different juices -- different brands of grape juice, or even freshly pressed grape juice from Hebron grapes. Also Raspberry, Cherry or Apple juice can be mixed in to add some extra flavour.
  • "Barique" taste -- some people like the taste of wooden barrels. You can add a handfull of woodchips of oaktree to the fermentation tank. Some people like different flavour.. they are adding a Lipton teabag instead.
  • Try different yeast. Imported from Israel or overseas you can find special wine-yeast which will ferment slower, and give a better taste. You can recycle yeast -- just take half a liter out of a running, bubbling production, store it in the fridge, and add it to your next batch.
  • If your wine tastes awful, don't throw it away. You can still make a nice Cognac from it using a self-made pot still (see instructions). Make sure to throw away the first half glass full of distilled booze-- it might contain poisonous methanol. After distilling, add some oak tree wood chips, and leave it to mature for several months. If you are impatient, you can drink the freshly distilled brandy and mix it with Strawberry juice, or lemon and sugar as a Caipirinha-style drink.
  • Check and compare with other online resources, e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiiSh8vLo54 or  http://www.homemade-wine-making-guide.com

The Culture of Drinking

The culture of responsible use of alcohol is passed from the parents to the children's generation in most parts of Europe. As such tradition is hardly present in Palestine, I'm giving an executive summary:
  • Never drink alone
  • Never drink to kill the pain
  • Watch yourself, and listen to others. If you notice first signs of your character becoming rude, your voice becoming unclear, or movements becoming uncoordinated, you had too much. Water for the rest of the night!
  • Don't sign contracts when drunk. It is a well-known trick of salespeople to make their customers drunk. Look at early islamic history -- even Khadija, the wife of Mohammed, used this trick to convince her father Khuwailid, who was hesitant to let her marry Mohamed, Mohamed having lower social status being just an employee of the Khadija's logistics company. After making her father drunk, he finally accepted Khadija's desire to marry her lower ranking and much younger employee. At least this is what was narrated by Islamic historian Al-Tabari.

The Business Side

Starting your homebrew wine factory can go in three directions. Either
  • You will brew it just for yourself and your friends without commercial use.
  • You will brew it in small batches and sell it among trusted friends. This is the preferable business model for Gaza.
  • You will upscale production, make your own brand, eventually buy a fermentation tank and a botteling and labelling machine, increasing the variety and quality of Palestinian wine available on the market.. this is possible probably only in Palestinian christian areas such as Ramallah, Bethlehem, Taybeh, etc.
For sure there is a lot of added value through the fermentation process. Grape juice costs maybe 7 Shekel a liter, while the cheapest wine around costs 20 Shekel per 0.7 liter. So the value goes about fourfold by fermenting (or much more, if you were in Gaza, due to the shortage on the supply side).