I have tried to make watermelon wine… I had started the process back on 5/26/16. On 7/11/16 I racked off the wine after it quit working and it had a SG of less than 1. But it tasted really bitter. Is there something that I can do to give it a better watermelon taste or add another fruit. I am open to suggestions, so I don’t have to dump 6 gal of what should be a good flavored wine.
Kevin S. — IL
I’m sure this wine is far from being dumped. You are in the same boat that many other fruit winemakers have been in — that is the fruit wine has no sweetness, therefor it taste nothing like fruit.
Some of the bitterness you are referring to could be from microscopic yeast still floating around. Some of it could be because the wine simply needs some time to maturate and age off its rough edges. Then there’s the fact that the wine is dry. All three of these things will need to be considered when removing the bitterness from any homemade fruit wine.
I would strongly suggest that you age the wine in bulk for a while before trying to make any adjustment or take any corrective action. The reason for this is to make sure all the yeast has had plenty of time to drop out, and also to allow the wine time to take advantage of the benefits of aging. At this stage every 30 days of maturation should add some noticeable improvements.
During this bulk aging it is important that the head-space be eliminated as much as possible. You want the wine exposed to very little oxygen. Not doing so can cause the wine to oxidize. You will also want to add another dose of Campden tablets at this time. This will help drive out any free oxygen that may be saturated in your watermelon wine. It will also destroy any wild microbes that may have floated onto the wine. Campden tablets will make sure these little nasties don’t have a chance to grow and spoil the wine.
Kevin, you want the wine to improve as much as possible before you take steps toward removing the bitterness. The reason for this is twofold: 1) Hopefully, the actions needed after aging will not need to be as drastic if aging has improved it enough. 2) If you try to remove the bitterness now, you may be trying to fix or coverup things in the fruit wine that won’t be there later once it does age in the bottle or wherever. In other words, you might end up over-compensating with too much of a corrective action.
Now that we have that out of the way. The most common thing for removing the bitterness from a homemade fruit wine is sweetening it. One of the fundamental characters of any fruit is sweetness – including watermelon. When you take out all the sweetness through fermentation, it no longer tastes like that fruit.
In my experience, a little bit of back-sweetening can bring out a lot of fruitiness. You don’t necessarily have to add so much sugar as to make the wine sweet, just enough to take the try edge off. It is important that potassium sorbate be added at the same time. This is a wine stabilizer that is added so that a re-fermentation does not occur from the newly added sugars. You can find more information on this process in the article, Making Sweet Wines.
Normally regular, store-bought cane sugar will do just fine for sweetening. It also provides the most predictable results, however there is some room for experimentation by sweetening with honey, corn sugar, fruit concentrates, etc.
By far, aging and sweetening with cane sugar is the most common remedy for a bitter homemade wine. It is all that needs to happen most of the time, but there are situation where it just isn’t enough. The fruitiness still isn’t there or what have you. In these instances experimentation may be necessary.
You can try flavorings to intensify the wine’s flavors. You might also want to experiment with blending the wine with another. Wines that are too high in alcohol tend to have less flavor. The tongue is numbed by the alcohol giving the impression that the wine has no flavor. Dilution with a low alcohol wine could be appropriate.
Regardless of the experimental path you choose, it will be important to test the results on a sample of the wine. Do a bench-test before committing the entire batch. Step cautiously when experimenting with your wine.
My hope is that aging is all that is needed for removing the bitterness from your wine. But just this same I have laid out these additional, more-extensive options, just in case more radical measures are needed.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.