Winemaking supplies are available locally at The Cellar Ltd., 10314 Main St., Fairfax, Va. (591-4668).
"Every year . . . They run amuck . . . Pride of lions in the yard. Stare, and they burn a hole in your retina. A common flower, a nuisance that no one sees, yes. But for us, a noble thing, the dandelion . . . Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered."
Ray Bradbury in "Dandelion Wine"
To the uninitiated dandelions are just another nuisance. But in the profusion of flowers dotting lush green lawns in April the home vintner sees yet another harvest of liquid gold to savor when spring and summer have been transformed into other seasons and even other years.
A gallon of flowers is needed to make a gallon of wine. Invite friends, neighbors and children to the picking spot and make it a party. With a few people to help, you can cover a lot of territory and amass large numbers.
Pick only the flower itself, and use paper bags to collect them.
The best places to pick are open grassy areas such as parks, highway medians and around the memorials. But you have to move quickly. Since this plant comes up with the grass, it is often a question of who gets there first, the vintner or the mower. Once it has been mowed, you have lost your harvest. If you covet your neighbor's crop, check with him first to see whether he has sprayed them with any herbicides. If the answer is yes, leave them out of your wine. A reasonable amount to collect and make is about five gallons.
Blooms last only for a three-week stretch in the end of April. The flowers must be dry when picked. This means they should have had at least two or three days of sunshine prior to picking day. If at all damp, the natural yeasts will start working and you will not obtain the wine you hope for.
Ideal conditions include a heavy rain to wash the blossoms and then about three days of sunshine to dry them off. They are best picked at midday when sun and flowers are at their fullest.
Terry Robinson, a local homebrewer, has been brewing beer and wine since 1957 and dandelion wine since 1970. He suggests that when brewing wine at home, the best way to start is with a minimum of equipment. The important thing is the process of making the raw material, flower heads, into clear, bright wine.
Robinson claims that there are "as many dandelion wine recipes as there are eccentrics who blew it," but has evolved a basic recipe for beginners or vintage home-brewers to start with.
He advises that record-keeping is an important part of the process since the fun really begins when "you understand winemaking enough to play with it and you design the wine to your own taste."
(Makes about 1 gallon) 1 gallon of dandelion flower tops 3 oranges and 1 lemon, quartered and minced 1 pound of seedless raisins, minced a1 small ginger root, minced, or 2 teaspoonsful ginger powder Water (about 1 gallow) Montrachet wine yeast
place flower heads in fermenting container. Pour boiling water over them, just enough to cover. Let steep for three days or more ar room temperature.
Using a sieve or colander, remove the blossoms from the dandelion extract by squeezing out as much of the liquid as you can with your hands. (A grape press can be used if one is available.)
Heat a small amount of the dandelion extract in a pot and dissolve half of the sugar in it. Then add the raisins and ginger root.
Take this mixture and add it, along with the oranges and lemon, to the fermentation container.
When the liquid is at room temperature, add a packet of Montrachet wine yeast and stir the mixture. Cover the fermentation tank with a piece of plastic that is taped or tied over the tank and set the container aside to ferment for five to seven days. Continue to stir the liquid two or three times a day with a wooden spoon.
In about a week, when the bubbling of the fermentation slows down, add the remainder of the sugar.
When the fermentation process has slowed down a second time, use a colander or sieve to press the fruits and remove them from the liquid. (For fuller body, you can leave the fruits in the liquid for up to a month.)
Measure the amount of liquid you have, and add the water necessary to make the solution equal one gallon.
If you are using powdered ginger, add it at this time.
Pour or siphon the mixture into a clean gallon jug. Fill all bottles close to the top, leaving 1 1/2 inches space. Attach the water-filled air locks and allow to rest in a cool dark place for a month (or two), until it appears clear.
Siphon off the supernatant (the liquid) from the lees (yeasty sediments) into a clean jug. This is the first racking.
If, when tasting the wine at this time, you find it to be very dry and medicinal, you can add a little more suger per gallon. Add only enough to bring it up to the level of sweetness you want. Start with a half cup of sugar per gallon and taste it before adding any more. When you add more sugar at this stage, you must add sulfite to each gallon of wine. The sulfite stops the yeasts from using up the added sugar.
If the wine is clear, you do not have to rack it again. But if it is still a bit cloudy, siphon it off after it has settled for two or three months.
When the wine is clear, it can be racked into regular-size wine bottles, labeled, and stored in a cool, dark place. Or it can kept in bulk in gallons.
The wine can be drink after it has fully cleared. However, it improves for some time with aging, provided you can keep it around. It is a good idea to brew a little more than you think you need, so you can keep a few bottles from year to year.
EQUIPMENT: The basic equipment includes a 10-gallon garbage can with a snap-on lid, to use as a fermenting container (buy this size to allow enough room for fermentation); a piece of clean plastic; a scale to weigh sugar, or alternatively, buy sugar in multiples that are easily judged (use 1/2 of a 5 pound bag); a siphon, about 6 feet of 1/4-inch rubber or plastic tubing; several glass jugs with screw-on tops (bulk wine jugs are fine); and air-lock stoppers for the gallon jugs; wooden untensils; a plastic funnel; and a large sieve or colander.
To prepare the garbage can for use, fill it with very hot water and add a one-pound box of baking soda. Let it sit for several hours, then scrub the plastic vigorously and rinse with very hot water. Use this container only for making wine. Do not use any soap or detergent in cleaning it since these would leave an aftertaste.
OTHER RULES OF THUMB
Always fill bottles close to the top, leaving 1 1/2 inches of space at the top.
Cleanliness is of paramount importance. Before use, clean fermenting container, clean all gallon jugs and wine bottles with a bottle brush and very hot water, and rinse all equipment with hot water. By taking this precaution, you guarantee good quality wine.
At each racking after the first, you can guard against spoilage by adding sulfite (it acts to prevent vinegar formation) but this is not essential. If careful consideration is given to cleanliness, the addition of sulphite many not be necessary.
Use a wine yeast only. Montrachet yeast is the best choice for this wine.
Use only galss, stainless stell, ceramic or enamelware pots. Wooden untensils, plastic funnels, and glass bottles are also correct choices.
Keep a record of your winemaking: when and where flowers were picked, ingredients used, any changes made to recipes, the reactions observed, dates racked, etc. Good notes help you to improve your wine from year to year, to understand your failures and to repeat your successes.
Using masking tape and Magic Marker, label your bottles at each stage: kind of wine, date and racking number.
Racking stabilizes a wine and it should be done at two- to three-month intervals. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Margaret Thomas and Ken Feil-The Washington Post