Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Knotweed Wine

In case you haven't noticed, Other Ellen is very crafty. Give her a few foraged birch branches and voila! You've got art.

I'm not quite as aesthetically oriented...any creative energy I have left over after a hard day's work is devoted to investigating, preparing, and eating interesting food. Fortunately, I live in NYC where there's no shortage of interesting food. And some of the most unusual raw ingredients are free for the picking.

This time of year there isn't a lot to forage, but today I opened a bottle of homemade wine made from Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum aka Fallopia japonica) harvested in Central Park last April. Let me warn you, what I'm describing is illegal; you're breaking the law by removing any vegetation from NYC parks. I don't understand why, since knotweed is rampantly invasive and the USDA's National Invasive Species Information Center ranks it as a highly noxious weed.

Knotweed is a good beginner's wine for several reasons: It's ready to drink approximately 6 months after bottling (this is fast in wine-making time), it's tasty, and the raw materials are very plentiful. You'll find it growing in vacant lots all over the five boroughs, in addition to the aforementioned, off-limits parks!

Choose unbranched spears, between eight and 16 inches tall. They may be as thick as your thumb or as slim as a pencil. You can snap them off at ground level, but a pair of pruners speeds the harvest. In 15 minutes you can easily pick the 3 pounds needed for a batch of wine.

Knotweed Wine
Roughly chop 3 lbs. of knotweed stems (remove the leaves first) and combine with 8 oz. chopped raisins in a 2 gallon, plastic fermentation bucket. Crush lightly, then cover with a syrup made from 3 quarts of water and 2.5 lbs. sugar. Add a tsp. orange zest, 1/4 tsp. tannin powder, and a crushed Campden tablet. Stir, cover, and leave for 24 hours. Next, add 1/2 cup orange juice, 10 drops pectic enzyme, 1 packet wine yeast, and 1 tsp. yeast nutrient. Leave the mixture covered for 10 days, stirring daily. Strain the liquid into a one-gallon glass jug. Rack off the sediment every few months. Bottle when clear, and taste after 6 months (from bottling the brew).

If you'd like to learn more about wine-making, check out Making Wild Wines & Meads. It's a rewarding hobby (for obvious reasons) and even the smallest NYC apartment has room for a few gallon jugs.

And finally, in a bow to the ever-artistic Other Ellen, I give you knotweed in a vase. This is as close as I get to arts & crafts.


Anonymous said...

Ah, knotweed wine. I used to use mine whenever a recipe called for sherry since the taste was similar to me. Perhaps I'll make some again next year. My tiny apt. is too warm for winemaking--I tried, they turn to vinegar--but perhaps I could rig a holding place out in the garden.

Ellen Zachos said...

It's true, your apartment is always HOT! But I can't imagine how you'd make the outdoor space work unless you had some kind of insulated box (a mini fridge) that would keep the temp at about 55-65 degrees.

Robie said...

All this time I thought that knotweed was without a beneficial use!! I've got enough in my backyard to open a veritable winery!


Anonymous said...

Hi Ellen,
I discovered your blog over at the GW forum. I have to say you and the "other Ellen" deserve a round of applause! You both have energetic and engaging voices and a unique way of looking at things.

Anonymous said...

oh, I forgot to ask,...how did it taste? How much alcohol was in it? More than a beer? Wine?

Ellen Zachos said...

Hi Shirley,
I confess I don't use a hydrometer to measure the alcohol content of my wines. My guess is that it's about the same as regular wine (10-12%), with more alcohol than beer. I've had people compare the taste to sherry and to sauterne, and one friend says she gets tipsier, faster on my home brews than on store bought grape wines...maybe I should check on that alcohol content after all!

Unknown said...

you can get yeast that will produce alcohol levels from 18-24%. lavalin k-1 is a good one is used to make port and sherry codial types. you should let your yeast acclimate and use titrets and to regulate sulfur levels before bottling. filtering and coid stabilizing plus bumping sulfur levels will stop refermenting. you cab use outside in a small apartment to cold stabilize I know it gets cold enough in nyc. cool site.

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