One tomato, two tomato
It’s official. I may have gone over the edge with this whole tomato thing. As you might have gathered from this site, I love all things tomato. But wine? It makes my feet tingle just thinking of the possibilities! For anyone who has canned or made fermented things like sauerkraut, home winemaking is totally within your reach. The real difference? It takes a lot of time to age, often up to a year or more before your wine is ready to drink. But the amount of work you actually put into the endeavor is small. Prepping, fermenting and bottling really only take a few hours input and output. The rest is waiting. Patience is a virtue, darn it!
It all started with me giving my honey a beer brewing package for his birthday from Northern Brewer, who also has winemaking supplies. So I bought myself a wine kit, too. While he made a batch of American Wheat beer, I read up on wine. I tried my hand at some homemade wine back in my college days, but it was hard to get all the supplies, and frankly my experiments really sucked. They tasted like bad cough syrup. Home brewing and winemaking have come a long, long ways since then. It’s now quite easy (and affordable) to gather equipment and whip up a batch of something quite good. So of course I skipped all that and went right for the crazy stuff. Grapes? Boring. Tomatoes? Now we’re talking.
The process of starting the wine was quite simple. I used yellow heirloom tomatoes from my garden, mostly Kellogg’s Breakfast variety with a few sungolds and ground cherries thrown in for good measure. I added sugar, herbs, lemon juice and zest, and water to the mix. Then I added some specialty stuff that you’ll need to get from your local or online winemaking supply store (but I’ve also given you some home substitutes.) I added yeast energizer, which is like a vitamin for yeast (or substitute raisins), tannin (or black tea), a campden tablet (more on that later) and wine yeast. Most people advise against using bread yeast. Specialty yeasts have developed over the centuries for specific things, like bread, beer, wine, bourbon and whiskey, to name a few. These yeast have special properties, like holding up to low or high heat, acid, alcohol or sugar, and producing unique flavors. There are also wild yeasts, which are in the air or on your produce. If you want to try bread or wild yeasts, go for it. But know that your wine may be funky as all get out.
Below you will find a complete, detailed recipe, equipment list and instructions for making tomato wine. There is definitely room for improvisation in this recipe, like red tomatoes for yellow, or all cherry tomatoes, or honey for sugar, different herbs or wine yeasts. But just like canning or charcuterie, cleanliness is super important. This is a product that sits around for up to a year. No telling what could happen if you don’t work clean. This project will have several updates as the wine develops and is finally ready to drink. So start your batch now and count the days until tomato wine-o-clock!
Yellow Tomato Wine
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Yellow Tomato Wine Recipe
By Tammy Kimbler
Adapted from a recipe in The Joy of Home Winemaking, by Terry A. Garey
5 lbs yellow heirloom tomatoes
2 lbs sugar
1 tsp yeast energizer or 25 yellow raisins
1/4 tsp tannin or 1 black tea bag
juice of 2 lemons
2x1” strips lemon zest
1 bunch lemon verbena
1 bunch thyme
1 gallon water
1 campden tablet
1 package Montrachet wine yeast
2 gallon plastic fermenting bucket with airlock
1 gallon glass bottle with airlock
nylon straining bag or cheese cloth
Clean all of your equipment, buckets, bottles, countertops, knives, spoons, etc (anything that will come into contact with the wine during the process) with dish soap and hot water, and rinse well. Then rinse everything, including surfaces, with either StarSan sanitizing solution (per package directions) or a very week solution of 1 tbs bleach to 1 gallon of water. Leave wet and/or air dry. Make sure your hands are clean, too!
Wash your tomatoes well, making sure they are free of dirt, mold and debris. Cut out any bruises or bad spots, core and dice. Leave the peels on. Line your fermenting bucket with cheese cloth or the nylon straining bag. To it add the tomatoes, tea bag (if not using tannin), raisins (if not using yeast energizer), lemon zest, and herbs. Tie the cheese cloth or bag tightly so there are no holes and place in the fermenting bucket. With clean hands or a sanitized masher, squish the bag of tomatoes. It’s OK if pulp comes out. You’re just trying to keep the skins, seeds and big stuff in the bag.
Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil with the sugar. Pour over everything in the fermenting bucket. Put the lid on and let cool. Add the lemon juice, yeast energizer, tannin and crushed campden tablet and stir well. This brew in your bucket is now called wine “must.” Prep your airlock by filling it with StarSan solution or vodka. Put the lid on the bucket, add the airlock and let it sit for 24 hours until the campden dissipates.
(A word on Campden tablets. Campden creates a sulfur gas in your wine must that kills wild yeast and bacteria, and also bonds to chlorine in water, removing it so there is no off taste. Campden has been used in commercial winemaking and beer brewing for years. It’s perfectly safe and organic, but if you’re sensitive to sulfur, don’t use it. Just know that you run the risk of wild things in your batch that may turn it to vinegar. Not bad, but not wine either.)
After 24 hours, open the lid and add your wine yeast. Stir with a clean spoon. Close the bucket back up, add the airlock and swirl the juice in the bucket for a few minutes to aerate it. Yeast needs lots of oxygen, so this helps it out. Place the bucket in a location that’s around 68-72 degrees. Fermentation should start within 24 hours. You’ll know because your airlock will start bubbling up gasses that smell very pleasant. Fermentation at proper temp should take about 1-2 weeks.
When fermentation has subsided and your airlock barely bubbles (maybe once a minute) you need to “rack” your wine. This basically means removing the liquid from the sediment. Open the bucket and take out the bag of tomato pulp. Resist the urge to squeeze! Just let the liquid drain a bit and remove. Prepare your 1 gallon glass bottle with an air lock (make sure it’s washed and sanitized!). Using either an auto syphon (fabulous, inexpensive equipment to have) or by very carefully pouring or ladling the wine through a funnel, decant the wine from the sediment into the glass bottle. This is called your “secondary fermentation.” Taste the wine, just to see where it’s at. Mine was pretty harsh and boozy, but still had interesting flavors going on and is a good comparison for later. Add your lid and airlock filled with StarSan solution or vodka. The airlock is there just in case a little fermentation is still occurring.
Your wine should be stored in a cool dark place for at least 6 month. You may want to rack your wine again into another glass bottle if lots of sediment accumulates. The wine will continue to clear as it ages. Taste it periodically to see if you like it yet. If not, put it back in storage. I’ve been told that it really gets better with time. When you decide it’s ready, you can bottle it, or you can just place a regular clean screw cap on your bottle and use as needed. Please note that wine and oxygen don’t mix. Oxidized wine can become vinegar. So if you choose to drink your wine from the bottle, you may want to have some smaller bottles handy to pour off the unused wine to reduce it’s exposure to oxygen. A great guide to all things brewing beer and winemaking, including bottling, can be found at Northern Brewer’s video library.
A chronicle of my adventures growing, preserving, cooking and eating from my garden and everywhere.
Known to many for my incredible ability to organize, I tackle gardening and life with equal verve. Obsessive, is that a bad thing?