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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Oak leaf wine and how to clean a demijohn

One of the things on my list of wines to try is oak leaves. We have a rather magnificent oak tree right at the top of the garden as well as a couple of stumps that have put out lots of shoots and leaves.

oak tree
Oak tree at the top of the garden

John Seymour says that, In their first flush of spring growth the leaves of the mighty oak tree provide the raw material for a very fine country wine. However, he doesn't include a recipe, so I looked for one online. I was puzzled that the recipe I found (in several places) includes oranges and lemons. Oak leaves are highly acidic* when fresh (tannic acid, the same as in tea), so why bother adding citrus fruit? I decided to ignore the recipe and guess.

First, I gathered a fair quantity of oak leaves.

oak leaves in basket
Not quite a gallon of oak leaves

I was aiming for a gallon, but when I put them in the jamming kettle they came up to the six pint mark, or four pints when pressed down. Oh well, never mind. I'm never sure, anyway, when a recipe says a gallon of leaves or flowers, whether that's with the stalks on or not. These leaves would have taken up a lot more space if I'd left the stalks on.

Oak leaves are pretty tough, so the next step was to boil them for a while to help extract the flavour, hence the jamming kettle. I can't remember how long I simmered for - probably about an hour. After that I put the hot liquid, complete with leaves, in the sterilised fermenting bucket, added a bag of sugar** and topped up to eight litres, or however much it is that the bucket holds. When it had all cooled down to a temperature unlikely to kill yeast, I added a couple of teaspoons of wine yeast, as per instructions on pot. I could probably get away with less than that - I'll try less next time.

I gave it a few days in the bucket, then strained it into demijohns. Yes, actual demijohns - I'm moving up in the world of home-brew! Actually, I'm skipping a bit here. The demijohns were obtained via freecycle, and when we collected them the giver said, You'll have to give them a good scrub and sterilise them before you use them. Well yes, of course, I thought. It was only when I tried cleaning them that I discovered this is easier said than done. How do you clean out a huge bottle that is way too huge for the bottle brush?

Cleaning a demijohn

This is how. You - well, I - tie something to the bottle brush so as not to lose it in the bottle, then poke it in, followed shortly by a wooden spoon handle which is inserted into the little loop on the brush handle. Viola! One bottle brush with extended handle. No, it wasn't really quite like that, but it kind of worked.

Oak leaf wine in demijohns with actual airlocks instead of balloons!

Thanks to some advice on the 'ish forum I boiled the rubber bungs before using them (thanks to the bottles being different sizes, I first applied a sharp knife to trim one of them down a bit) and have put the demijohns in the kitchen rather than the conservatory. Apparently fermenting at high temperatures produces some of the heavier alcohols (propanol and butanol) that give you hangovers. I also learnt that beer is photosensitive, so light can produce some peculiar flavours.

I don't know how this guesswork wine will work out, but the syrup I started with tasted nice, which has to be a good sign. Now that gives me an idea...


*For this reason, many people avoid using leaf mould made from oak leaves on alkaline-preferring plants. Apparently this caution is unnecessary, as the mould becomes less acid as the leaves decompose. This is good news for me, as the soil here is fairly acid already, and I wouldn't like to make it worse by adding oak leaf mould, which is an otherwise excellent compost.

**I've been using one kilo of sugar per bucket since the first wine I made, which was elderflower. Elderflower champagne is fairly low in alcohol, but I thought that was because not all the sugar was fermented by the time you drink it (I'm not sure whether this is even true or not generally - it was true for mine). Now I know that this quantity of sugar is never going to produce a very strong wine. This is fine by me. I'm making wine because I like drinking it, not because I want to get plastered every time I have a few glasses. I'll stick with one kilo to the bucket.


  1. We've now made some rhubarb wine which looks and smells very good. I found that the rhubarb when strained out is still qite firm so cooked it with sugar and ginger. Fine to eat as stewed rhubarb, or for crumbles etc. Oak leaf sounds a bit ambitious for me this year..let us know how it turns out.

  2. Rhubarb was on my list, too, but ours looked a bit pathetic, so I decided to leave it alone for this year. It probably didn't appreciate being dug up and replanted just at the start of the growing season.

    We'll exchange notes on wine experiments - if yours turns out well I'll try some next year.

  3. Note to self: When checking the recipe next year, don't forget that cordial was added after this had started fermenting.

  4. I'm really curious to know how the oak leaf wine turned out! Any updates?


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