What do fancy dinners, Wiccan rituals, Ernest Hemingway, and my favorite punch all have in common? Wine! Pagans and yuppies in particular seem to be fond of wine. For some reason, and I suspect that it goes back to mistaken thoughts about ancients and carry overs from Christian communion, many Pagans feel that they can only use wine for cakes and ale. This of course is ridiculous, but wine is still the most popular beverage in circle. Wine is incredibly easy to make, which probably explains why most of the world’s cultures have some version of it. Kordwainer, who has been Wiccan for 20 years, makes wine at home.
Several years ago he was looking for a new project to take on. ” A friend of mine suggested that I look into wine making. It was good timing too, because there were a couple of learning opportunities right around the bend. I ended up attending a workshop by the agricultural extension service and enrolling in a short class at a local farm just a month or so later. ” Since learning about wine making, Kordwainer has made several batches of wine, from both kits (like making a cake from cake mix) and crushed fruit (like making a cake from scratch), some of which have been used in rituals for cakes and ale and libation.
Wine holds a sacred spot in Kordwainer’s religious beliefs. “I am, in particular, a devotee of Dionysos, God of wine (among other things). He is the Divine aspect that resonates most deeply with me and I see His story played out in the actual wine making process itself,” explains Kordwainer. “In a body of Myth associated with Orphic cults, we are taught that humanity was originally made partly of the remains of the infant Dionysos and partly of the Titans who kidnapped and dismembered Him. When Zeus discovered that the Titans had killed the child and were preparing to make a meal of him, He showered the entire scene with His lightning, destroying both the attackers and the victim. Hermes swooped in and carried away Dionysos’s still beating heart, from which He was later reborn. The soot and ash that was left over served as the raw material from which Zeus formed mankind. The material was a mix of the remains of the baby and His murderers, therefore each of us has something of the God in us as well as more base and wicked impulses.
“Dionysos’s bodily destruction at the hands of the Titans is mirrored in the crushing of the grape, and the gradual separation of the new wine from the must and lees reflects His role in elevating our own spirits, drawing out more of our Divine nature and leaving behind our titanic influences.
“What I’ve enjoyed more than anything else has been muscadine wine. I love the flavor, and the grapes themselves have an untamed quality that I admire. I think of them as embodying more of the wild Dionysian spirit.”
As I stated above, wine is really easy to make. It is also completely legal to make at home, as long as you don’t sell your wine or make more than around 100 gallons. Of course, like anything, there’s always somebody willing to sell their sqeezings regardless of the law.Kordwainer said that his initial investment was about $200, which included yeast and fruit for his first batch and a bundled kit from a wine shop. The typical kit includes a primary fermenter, two secondary fermenters, a hydrometer (a tool that measures sugar/alcohol levels), and some tubing for racking. With this set up, you’re ready to start making your first batch.
According to Kordwainer, “You basically start with some sweet liquid, like fruit juice, and place it in a controlled environment where you can manage things like temperature and exposure to oxygen. Fruit pulp or whole crushed fruit is often left in the juice to help provide aroma and color. This juice/fruit combo is called “must”. Into your must, you introduce some yeast and give it time to convert the sugar into alcohol, making sure to keep an eye on the process.
”At some point you’ll have to separate the wine from the sediment (called the “lees”) or the wine will take on some unpleasant flavors or odors. The separation is accomplished by draining the wine into a new container, leaving the lees behind (this is called “racking”). You’ll probably have to rack a batch of wine at least twice before you get an acceptable level of clarity.
“When the wine is clear, and the fermentation process is complete, you’ll hopefully have a very dry wine. Any sweetness left at this point means that the fermentation process was halted before the yeast could eat all the sugar, and that can be a bad sign. Most winemakers will sweeten their wine at least a little after the fermentation process is done and before final bottling, but for fans of dry wines, it’s not strictly necessary. It is important to stabilize the wine (kill any remaining yeast) before bottling, though. If fermentation restarts after the wine is bottled, it can have explosive results (literally).
“You have to make sure the sugar level in your juice is high enough to get the potency you want in your wine, and you have to be careful about what strains of yeast you use and make sure that the risk of contamination from other bacteria is minimized. My best tip is Sanitation is king. Keep everything sanitized; even the slightest contamination can ruin a batch of wine. Next, I’d advise you to do your homework. Read some books, take a class or attend a workshop if you’re able to. Try to at least partially understand what you’re trying to accomplish on a chemical level. I’m no chemist, but the little bit I learned has really help immeasurably. Finally, I’d say to be prepared to exercise some patience. Wine takes a long time to mature. You’re looking at 3 or 4 months at least before a batch is drinkable, and letting it mature longer after bottling greatly improves its quality.”
Just as wine and ritual seem to be a natural pairing, food and wine seem to be quite natural as well. While many wine aficionados spend endless hours biting their nails over pairing just the right wine with their food, Kordwainer says that it’s not a big deal. “It’s a bit like magick, actually. In a way, wine/food pairing follows the law of attraction. Like calls to like. Red meats go with red wines; and white meats like poultry or fish go with white wines. Rich foods pair nicely with more robust wines, and milder food match with lighter wines. Of course, the most important rule is to drink wine you enjoy with food you enjoy, preferably in enjoyable company. “
Just as pairing the right wine to the right cuisine is important, pouring wine properly is also important. “There are differing opinions about that. There are a LOT of variables, honestly: the exact temperature at which to serve the wine, the shape of the glass, how long to let it breathe before pouring, whether or not to use a decanter, etc. Pouring a glass of wine can be an art, or even a science. To add to the confusion, it can all change for different varieties of wine. You pour a still wine into the center of the glass, but you pour a sparkling wine against the edge to keep it bubbly. White wines are more commonly served chilled than reds, although sweeter red wines sometimes break this rule.
”My own favorite serving method is highly unorthodox, but it does have some historical justification. The Greeks, in accordance with the edicts of Dionysos, always mixed their wine with water. To them, the drinking of unmixed wine was a sign of barbarism. I prefer to mix my wine with club soda and serve it over ice. I also favor sweet, full bodied wines which work out well with this method. I know that there are some cultured wine buffs who would have my head, but I pour it to drink and enjoy, and I think that’s the real secret to the perfect glass of wine.”
With that said, imbibe some wine and try not to act like a maenad (at least not too much!).