Wine and dandy

“Peapods,” says Kelly Coyne, pausing for emphasis. We’d just told her and her husband, Erik Knutzen, about making wine with peapod hulls.

“It’s just boggling my mind,” she says. “Does this mean you could make wine out of cantaloupe rinds, or hay, or … Erik’s socks?”

This is in 2015, and Kelly and Erik, the homesteading legends at Root Simple, are interviewing us for their podcast.1

It’s in that awkward space, where I have no ready response, that I realize exactly how much of an in-the-moment bloke I am. It has never occurred to me to consider what other grape alternatives might be out there from which to make wine.

Which is all well and good for the next few years, until our supply of organic peapods runs out.

Grandfather pinched his chin. “Five hundred, a thousand, two thousand easy. Yes, yes, a good supply. Pick ’em easy, pick ’em all. A dime for every sack delivered to the press!”

The boys bent, smiling. They picked the golden flowers. The flowers that flooded the world, dropped off lawns onto brick streets, tapped softly at crystal cellar windows and agitate themselves so that on all sides lay the dazzle and glitter of molten sun.

— RAY BRADBURY, “DANDELION WINE”2


When there were no more organic peapods to be found locally, we were without question going to continue making wine. We’d grown to love our homemade stuff, and I needed a reason to still make poorly drawn labels for the bottles with pun-filled names. Barnyard Wine. Pinkeye Tuscadero. Peason of the Witch. Mantra Chez Nous.

Somewhere among the cobwebs that span the synapses in my brain, there was a memory of Jenn once making an offhand reference to dandelion wine. I got to googling, and I eyed the big field of yellow flowers near our house.

I started picking.

“Every year,” said Grandfather. “They run amuck; I let them. Pride of lions in the yard. Stare, and they burn a hole in your retina. A common flower, a weed that no one sees, yes. But for us, a noble thing, the dandelion.”

—RB


The good news is, dandelion wine is a lot more popular than peapod wine. Thanks for your roll in that, Mr. Bradbury. I found a score of different recipes online.

(By contrast, when we started making peapod wine, we stumped the folks at our local homebrew supply store. We were able to only find two recipes for this traditional English wine, and those two recipes were vastly different. So we cobbled together our own. If anyone’s curious for The Dew Abides’ official peapod wine recipe, we’ve given it to the world.)

The bad news is, most people seem to make small batches of dandelion wine. Most recipes were for a gallon at most, compared to a wine or beer homebrewer’s typical batch size of 5 gallons.

Straining the dandelion flowers.

I soon realized why dandelion wines were scaled down.

Three gallons of wine takes an enormous pile of dandelion flowers, and they must be gathered both meticulously — with none of the green stem or pappus at the base of the flower attached — and quickly, as they wilt and wither soon after being picked.

The harvesting can chew up an entire afternoon. But it’s time well-spent, outside in the sun. There’s an inherent, slightly perverse joy to meandering through our neighborhood’s uncut park strips and pinching off the yellow flowers.

It’s gleaning, but from Mother Nature’s own fields. It’s guerilla foraging, but for stuff that will eventually turn into booze.


The neighbors who know us drive by and honk and wave. One couple of friends drive by and roll down the window. “Are you making wine again?” she asks. “Yup,” says I. She laughs and smacks her husband. “See? I told you, honey!”

I promise them we’ll have a neighborhood party to pop the first bottle’s cork with them and with anyone else whose house we gathered flowers near. It’ll be like a beaujolais nouveau reveal sans grapes. Pissenlit nouveau, oui?

Our newest neighbors, in our hamlet’s newest house, also drive by. We wave, but they seem like they are doing their best not to make eye contact. I’m guessing they’re still not sure what to think of us — that kooky couple with the plastic barrels around their house (Those are rain barrels and a solar composter, thank you very much!), who are now, inexplicably, wandering around all the spaces between street and sidewalk, mason jars in hand. We’ll win them over to the dark side.


You may be asking yourself, “Self, how many dandelions does it take to make three gallons of dandelion wine?”

The scientific answer is, a crap-ton. Five-hundred, a thousand, two-thousand easy. Or, in more practical terms, it takes about three quarts full of just the yellow flowers, and those yellow flowers compress a lot.

Luckily, there’s a lot of unmowed park strip around. It takes most of an afternoon to harvest, but I never have to go more than a block away.

Last year was my first experiment with dandelion wine. It showed promise, but the nose was a bit skunky and the liquid and didn’t ferment any stronger than beer. The vat of dandelion flowers, water, and citrus sat suffering too long before fermentation could get going. The pre-fermented soup is called “must” in winemaker terms, but it should’ve been called “musk” in this case. The delay in fermenting came thanks to two inciting facts:

  • Fact 1: I miscalculated how much wine yeast I had in the fridge. (The answer was, in fact, “none.”)
  • Fact 2: I didn’t realize our homebrew supplier had closed up shop, meaning I couldn’t just pop in for some more yeast. (In truth, they were just barely in business for years. The stock was unfailingly dusty, and they only took cash money — which meant you would typically have to first go in and have them add up all the stuff you needed to give you a price, then drive to an ATM to withdraw the money.)

In the end, once properly de-funked through decanting, the wine showed enough promise to give it another swing this year.

I had the yeast ready this time.

Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.

—RB


The last batch of peapod we made, we switched from the uber-dry champagne yeast we were using to a strain called “premiere classique,” or, formerly, Montrachet, with very good results. So we tried the same yeast with this new batch of dandelion. We’ve just now gotten it in the bottle, but I was able to achieve a much better fermentation, with a final ABV about 14-percent — firmly in wine country.3

It should age, ideally, about a year before hitting its peak flavor profile. But the sips we had at bottling were very, very good.

I think it might be better than our peapod wine. That may sound like a low bar, but we’re actually quite fond of that stuff. We like it better than most affordable red wine. I’ve often pondered if we like it so much just because we made it. While that might be an element of what’s going on, it isn’t the main one. Our favor comes from, I think, its bold, natural-wine profile and its strong citrus notes. It’s also thin and dry, making it great for Georgia summers.

I’ll share the dandelion wine recipe down the road, once we’ve ascertained that it’s as good as the early taste promised.

But one thing I can share now is the new label. That’s it there, in that photo just above. If you haven’t already looked, I’ll warn you, there’s a pun.

À votre santé.


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Footnotes:

1You can hear the entire chat on Root Simple. We talk about … a lot.

2Bradbury’s semi-autobiographical, highly sentimental, book came out in 1957. Not only do the boys collect dandelions, but they also collect fox grapes!

3This:

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