The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Racking the rhubarb wine

Tonight Danny has gone to bed early and I am racking off the rhubarb wine. It has been in the airing cupboard for a couple of months and I want to move it to the barn, which is cool and perfect for storing fermenting demijohns. Racking the wine is good as it skims the wine from the leys, removes dead yeast and activates the live yeast.

It’s been a year since we started to make country wine. I’d noticed that our elder tree was in bud, swiftly followed by glorious creamy white heads of flowers. It was watching a client make elderflower champagne that tipped me over. I tried to find winemaking equipment locally, without success. There were winemaking suppliers on the internet but the equipment was pricey for the volume that I wanted to produce. A demijohn looks quite big but it only makes 6.5 bottles of wine. Poor Danny regretted throwing out some old Boots demijohns when we’d cleared out the barn in the spring.

As ever, I was drawn onto eBay and found a fantastic lot, including equipment, books and pans. There was even a small press. The most valuable part of the lot was the inclusion of the winemaker’s notes. If these notes were good we could avoid mistakes and save years of experimentation.

The only problem was that the seller lived in Somerset. Danny said not to worry, it was only about three hours away so we could easily drive there and back in a day and anyway it would be good to see Somerset.

We won the lot and left for Somerton the next Sunday, dreaming of bubbling demijohns and home pressed cider. The kit had belonged to the seller’s father, Ernst, who had been a German POW. He had met a girl and settled in Somerton where he grew fruit and vegetables in his garden to supply both local restaurants and his wine making hobby. He had sadly died seventeen years ago and they had only just bottled his last batch of morello wine.

The seller and his wife were delightful. They whetted our appetites with tales of Ernst’s delicious country wine and served us tea and cakes in a little bower that overlooked Ernst’s large fruit cage that had been cleverly converted into a retreat for their cats.

Eleven hours later we returned, exhausted, with a car full of kit including a marvellous laundry pan with a double base for boiling up tea towels which having seen, I was certain that I couldn’t do without.

It took ages to unload the car and to find places for two large vats for boiling up fruit, four fermenting buckets, twelve demijohns, sieves, three five gallon containers, pumps, endless yards of mysterious piping and two large boxes of corks, consumables and strange unfathomable winemaking equipment.


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