MARQUETTE - Adam Jones and Christy Budnick of Big Bay recently planted grape vines in the hope of someday making wine from the harvest. But the couple has been making wine from other flowers, roots and fruits for several years, starting with homemade dandelion wine.
"I'm into doing things myself. And we gave it a try five years ago," Jones said.
Jones said his father has memories of picking dandelion flowers at 5 cents a pint for his grandfather, whose recipe Jones and Budnick began using.
Homemade wine made by Christy Budnick and Adam Jones of Big Bay is transfered from a wooden barrel to a bottle. (Christy Budnick photo)
From that first batch, the couple has expanded to making wine from almost any fruit (cranberries to bananas), flowers and roots (potato and parsnip) and has expanded their volume to 250 gallons in 2010.
Although areas such as northern California, France and Italy might immediately come to mind when thinking of winemaking, the Upper Peninsula has its own unique wine heritage, and it's not just about grapes.
"A hundred years ago, where did you get wine?" said Rod Lizak, owner of SU&D Winery in Marquette. "Somebody would make it. A lot of people are following their family tradition. It's fun and if you treat it as a creative outlet, it's a good hobby."
Winemaking is a relatively simple process of converting the sugar in fruit to alcohol.
"You have fruit. You mash it up. You add water and some sugar. Add yeast and away it goes," said Chris Hutte, manager at White's Party Store in Marquette, a local source for winemaking kits and materials. "It can be very simple. A lot of people do one-gallon batches."
Beyond the basic process, however, winemaking is an almost endless variety of methods and bases that make it an art form.
Although grapes are the traditional fruit used to make wine, almost any fruit - from blueberries to rhubarb - can be used as a base, including root vegetables.
"Potato (wine) is ridiculously sweet," Budnick said.
Although Budnick and Jones usually match their wine making to what is in season, thanks to frozen fruit or fruit concentrate, winemaking isn't necessarily confined to the same season the fruit is grown in.
Both White's and SU&D Winery sell winemaking kits that provide all the necessary equipment for homemade winemaking, including the additives needed to help other types of fruit mimic the natural qualities of grapes.
"Basic kitchen equipment is enough to do it," Hutte said.
The first step in the process is to decide what fruit you will use as a base, Lizak said, who makes wines at SU&D directly from fruit (frozen or fresh), fruit juice or from fruit concentrate, using Michigan-grown fruit as much as possible.
Whether starting from whole fruit or fruit concentrate, the process of wine making is basically the same.
"The only difference is processing the fruit," Lizak said. "Good wine, it all starts with the fruit. For the home winemaker, it's an art form. There are so many ways of converting it into wine. The better home winemaker, to produce better wine, has just refined those processes."
After choosing the type of fruit to use as your base - for example, blueberries - Lizak said to sterilize the fruit to eliminate natural yeast and other unwanted contaminants and then press the fruit in a press several times to remove the juice.
"I'm trying to get as much of that blueberry juice and color and flavor as I can," he said.
That juice then goes into the primary fermentation tanks.
"It's a fancy name for a bucket," Lizak said.
For the large batches of wine made at SU&D Winery, Lizak uses 25-50 gallon food-grade garbage cans, but for home winemakers, something as simple as a 5-gallon bucket will work, Hutte said.
To the primary fermentation tank is also added the sugar and additives, like tannins and pectin, needed to mimic the natural properties of grapes, as well as yeast.
"Even the choice of yeast can have a big impact on the flavor of your wine," Lizak said, adding that the combination of sugar and yeast is needed to create the alcohol in wine.
The primary fermentation provides the bulk of the fermentation process needed to create wine, with the process controlled by equipment like a hydrometer, which measures how much sugar is in a liquid.
The wine is then transfered into a secondary fermentation tank, where the fermentation process is slowed down and carefully controlled. Depending on the size of the batch and its intended final use, the wine may also be filtered to remove the remainder of the fruit pulp, which can also improve the color of the finished wine.
Depending on the type of wine, the time from start to finish varies widely. Some of the wines Lizak creates are ready to be bottled in 6 or 7 weeks.
"Our red wine, I did not bottle that for 9 months," he said.
The SU&D Winery pinot noir was not bottled for two years and was started before the business officially opened in Sept. 2010. Budnick and Jones' wines also take about a year before they are ready to drink.
Alcohol does start to form earlier than that, but the results might not be palatable, Hutte said.
"After three weeks, you're going to have alcohol, but it's not going to taste too good," he said.
For Lizak and his wife Vickie, the SU&D Winery grew out of a home winemaking hobby that started when they were introduced to it by a family member in 2003.
"I made it at home and it turned into competitive wine making between him (Lizak's brother-in-law) and us," Lizak said. "People started asking if they could buy our wine."
For Jones and Budnick, the hobby has become a part of their largely sustainable lifestyle as they work to take their home - which they are in the process of building, wine cellar and all - off the traditional power grid and reduce their environmental impact.
"You can make it taste how you want. You made it, so you know what's in it," Budnick said of the attraction of homemade wine.
But mostly, homemade wine brings with it the ability to have a wide range of types of wine and to experiment with different flavors, or "diversity," Jones said.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is email@example.com.