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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write... I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Monday, May 27, 2013

Boat Wine

Luxurious Cabin Wine in three modes... note double boilers for warming on stove,
with Vaporlocks and Plastic Wrap in use.
We use the black Jerrycan (summer) or Bucket N Boiler (winter) on board.

Voiliers de la Monde Ronde,
Gouton voir, si le Vin et bon!

(Sailors of the Round World,
Let us taste to see if the Wine is good!)

-- Apologies to les Chevaliers Francais

Boat Wine

When we partake of the rituals of Wine, it may seem the very Hallmark of Civilization. That it denotes culture, refinement and sophistication.

But it is Dionysus -- not Apollo -- who is God of Wine. Child of fruit and ferment. Dark and seductive, shadowed in madness. Pagan to the heart. The ancient Greeks revered both Reason and Unreason. Neither alone, but together they formed the hot, driving heart-pump of life. They gloried in excesses of either... and feared them.

Like the sea, Wine is wild, beautiful and dangerous.

Boat Wine harkens back to that older tradition. To peasant country -- backwoods, freeholds, outlands, frontiers -- or the back alleys of civilization -- dives, speakeasys, houses of ill repute. 

Our galleys are small. Clean enough, but can hardly be called 'sterile'. Our equipment is limited. Temperatures may rise and fall through the day and night. And a wine cellar for aging our wine? A bottle or two, maybe. Maybe.

On SLACKTIDE we ferment it rough and drink it young. Very young. Boat Jolais, you could say. It might not achieve perfect clarity (though it often does). But really, if clarity is our goal, should we be drinking Wine at all? It tastes fine and is full of vitamin B-complex. And we sailors can use all the vitamins we can get!

Boat Wine is economical. Financially, it cost less than a third that of boxed wine by volume. The ingredients are dry weight... we can carry the equivalent of cases and cases, virtually adding water as we go. Instead of hoarding a few, precious bottles for the way, we enjoy table wine deep into a cruise far from resupply.

The experience of home made Wines -- robust taste, rough edges, intoxication -- I find in perfect harmony with our home-made, barge boats. The savor and satisfaction of one's own creation is not to be found in the best Sommalier's cellar, no matter what connaiseurs say. If it's a little rough and gritty, well... so are we. If it's surprisingly leggy, smooth and clear, all the better.

Wine making on board is a magical, fascinating process. Wine is alive, and I find that I'm drawn into the drama of its life arc. I find myself staring into its depths, anticipating the cheery bloop of its bubbling. I bond with the yeast, cheer it on and mourn its demise... celebrate its passing in a wake of Wine.


The Gist:

Wine starts as flavored, sugar water solution, called Must. This is a paradise for yeast, which thrives on sugar and nutrients in the flavoring. In a process called Fermentation, sugar is converted into CO2 gas (which bubbles off) and ethyl alcohol (the good kind). This is toxic to yeast and, in smaller concentrations, to ourselves. When it reaches critical levels in solution (from about 12 to 14% alcohol), yeast die off (for the most part), settle, and our Wine is ready to drink.

Ingredients (given on a per gallon basis... multiply as desired):

About 1 gallon of Water -- Best water available. Our favorite is from granite bed, mountain cascades. But anything you're willing to drink will work. This amount yields somewhat more than a gallon of Must, but you'll lose some at racking time. Avoid chlorinated water (toxic to yeast).

4 pounds Fresh Fruit, or 1 pound Dried -- Chop to release the inner fruit. May adjust for strength of flavor. Actualy, almost anything can be used; vegetables, herbs, flowers. Dried Plums have consistently produced a strong, tasty wine for us.

2 pounds of Sugar -- White, brown or honey. Brown (pure cane) sugar and honey add flavors which we like, but suit yourself. Depending on the sugar content of the fruit and whether you prefer a dry or sweet wine, you may want to raise or lower the sugar amount (see Notes). Honey alone produces a honey wine known as Mead.   

Yeast, amount as directed -- Though bread yeast works, wine yeasts produce a more consistant flavor and higher alcohol content. Champagne yeast gets to around 14%. Some varietys are more tolerant of low temperatures, handy on board.
To measure, we go by the old rule-of-thumb pint's a pound the world around. We pack fruit or sugar snugly into a pint jar and call it close enough. Water is simply added to target level, plus a little for loss. It can be topped off at any time during the process.

We make four gallon batches, which fit handily into five gallon containers. Larger batches have proportionally less loss from the various steps, which can get significant in one gallon batches.

Adjust any of the above to taste, of course.  8)


Pasteurize combined fruit and water by heating to so many degrees for at so many minutes (look it up for your favorite approach). This gives our yeast the jump on wild competitors, and helps break down fruit cells, releasing flavor. In practice, we near-simmer the dry fruit and water, add sugar and let it cool on its own.

As the temp cools to the fever side of body temperature (feels very warm but not hot to the inside of the wrist), dip out a cup or so. Add a tablespoon or so of yeast (without stirring) and give it about 15 minutes to wake up before returning it to the Must. Cover with some method that lets vapor out but not in (see picture, above and Notes, below) and secure in a warmish place.

And let the Wild Ferment begin! Singing, dancing, fertility rites and such are all traditional accelerants, not to mention toasting its health from a prior batch.

After a few days, the yeast will settle down. Remove the fruit at this point, lest it begin to mold (see Notes). In about 10 to15 days, fermentation will slow to an apparent stop. Siphon the Wine into containers of choice (this is called Racking), avoiding the muck at the bottom. Our Wine is now ready to drink, but will clarify over the next couple of weeks, growing more alcoholic the longer it sits.


Sometimes yeast takes a day or two to get going. What's happening in there is exponential growth. If only a few cells activate, it will take longer for them to reach the big numbers with satisfying fizzing and roiling. Warmth speeds growth. You can also add yeast nutrient (a little goes a long way), available from wine-making suppliers. This helps stack the deck in yeast's favor. We often mix a pound of chopped raisins in with whatever other fruits we're using, since grapes have all the nutrients wine yeasts require.

Yeast can be dried and reactivated. I've read of using a birch 'log' to shelter the yeast between batches (dried out between uses and added to Must... don't pasteurize it!). Next time we sail north into birch country we'll try it out! Meanwhile, drying it in sheets and crumbling into an airtight container works, too. It activates slowly, compared to fresh yeast, but so far has been reliable.

Consider stuffing the chopped fruit into a nylon stocking and tying off the end. That or a perforated container. This makes 'removing the fruit' very easy. Just squeeze drippings back into the Must. Can use the spent fruit for cobblers and other goodies (Anke calls this 'spawned out fruit'). Alternatively, wine must be siphoned off the must, or strained to remove fruit.

Stainless steel can be used for processing, but if the Must sits in it too long, building acid starts to add metals to the Wine. Consider glass (best) or food grade plastics and wooden utensils for that organic je n'sais pas quois.

Black containers give us an edge for Fermentation, since they absorb heat quickly. Sitting in the sun or by the fire, they do much better at warming the Must. White works, too, just more slowly. Clear containers are as mesmerizing as lava-lamps.

Vapor-locks are fun, but not really necessary. Any cover which allows gas to seep out but keeps airborne schmutz from falling in will work. One fun cover for buckets is plastic wrap, held on with elastic (string+rubber band works great). Drum tight to begin with, it will swell to a beautiful, mammalian shape. A condom (non-lubricated) is amusingly effective for bottles. May need a single pin-prick, though, to keep it humble.

We reuse bladders from boxed Wine for the final product, rather than bottles. Bottles can explode if racked before Fermentation is completely finished, a small disaster, on board. Keep an eye out for ongoing fermentation... gas can easily by bled off via their spigots. They keep the wine very fresh, too, for serving by the glass. Their original boxes work okay to contain them, or you can make a sturdier, more attractive version from wood.

If you can store wine over longer periods, consider Racking several times, between settling periods. The wine will get clearer and clearer. At each racking, there is some 'loss' as we avoid sediment. Me? I drink it like a Wine Smoothie.

Whatever Container you use, secure it well! Sugar water spills are bad news, below. Molds love sugar every bit as much as yeast. Consider doing all fluid transfers on deck.

Our rate seems to work out that we start one four gallon batch as we start to drink from the previous Wine. This gives it a little down time to settle between Racking and drinking. If we're among many friends, we'll start a little sooner and drink it overcast.


When the Ferment seems done (before Racking), try a taste test. If the wine is...
  • Dry and low alchohol, the yeast ran out of fuel. Add more sugar.
  • Too sweet and low alchohol, the yeast stalled. Add new yeast and/or nutrient.
  • Too sweet but high-alcohol, we started with too much sugar. Add water.
A practical method:
  • Drizzle a bit of sugar into the dry end of a ferment... if it fizzles, add more...
  • Drizzle a bit of nutrient into a stalled ferment... if it fizzles, add more...
...and continue Fermentation.
  •  If the wine is too 'dry' (not sweet enough) but alcohol is high, add sugar to taste. Rack immediately.
  • If permanently stalled and low alcohol... well... you can always 'spike' it with vodka, whiskey or rum. Or simply enjoy for what it is.

Remember that Wine impairs judgement and balance, two very essential items in our lives aboard. Plus, Wine is addictive. It can ruin us if we slide too deeply into its embrace.

As with the Wine-Dark Sea, approach with caution and respect.


  1. Sound fascinating Dave. I like making sourdough bread myself, there is a bit of the esoteric same processes going on, playing with wild yeasts and fermentation! Do you make bread on board too?

    I have not thought about making wine before, thinking it a bit too much like hard work, but reading your post makes me want to have a go! After all I enjoy the stuff..but not too much though!

  2. Hey Joel,

    Anke makes good yeast bread, while I (lazily) tend to quick-breads. We've not done much sourdough, though keep intending to start. Thinking of a warm-box to keep the starter from freezing in winter (not willing to sleep with it or carry it under our clothes 8) ).

    Boat Wine IS easy. Easier, even, that Boat Beer, seems to us. And not only easy, but FUN!

    Bon Bibelage!

    Dave Z

  3. Miss your wine and mead! Good times were had....

    1. ARRRGH, Matey!

      Tippin' a glass in your direction!

      Dave Z

  4. Love this, Dave, and am going to try a batch of plum wine myself! To contain the fruit, visit a paint store (or many good hardware stores) and look for a paint strainer bag. They come in several sizes, including one for a 5 gallon bucket, and last much longer than nylon hosiery.

    1. Oooh... good idea!

      Around here, crab bait containers (pitcher sized) work well, too. Or you can modify and repurpose any number of plastic containers for no cost at all.

      Dave Z

  5. Love this! One question... How do you reuse the bladder from a wine box?

  6. Hi Ixnay,

    Sorry for the very long delay!

    We pour hot water over the spigot collar (the female part attached to the bag to soften it a bit, then pop the spigot out. If it's stubborn, a butter knife's back edge between spigot and collar makes a good prise bar.

    Rinse the bag and spigot and dry before storage. Rinse again before use.

    After filling, pop the spigot back in, and 'burp' any excess air.

    You can save any left-over bottled wine in these, too, eliminating the air which quickly sends it downhill.

    Dave Z