A Toast to Watermelon Wine…you heard right, watermelon!

The media is full of neat articles on fruit wines these days. Obviously the time of the year. This particlular one written by Brice Stump of the Daily Times in Del mar is about a local winery thinking outside the box and producing something totally different. I have never made watermelon wine but I am sure its a yummy thirst quencher. Enjoy!

Photo By: Brice Stump

Layton’s Chance Winery is making watermelon wine, perhaps the first time ever that watermelon juice has become the basis for a commercially produced beverage in Dorchester County.

It’s a specialty item, a little taste of the Eastern Shore to accent picnics and all al fresco social events, a wine to be sipped and savored for those moments of relaxation.

“I see it as a snack/desert/ relaxation wine,” said vintner William Layton. “An end-of-the-day kind of wine.”

The idea had been fermenting for a while, Layton said.

“We wanted to make and add a fruit wine along with our grape wines. I had considered strawberries, too,” he said, “but I had an offer from a local farmer to work with his watermelons, so that’s what we are trying this summer. I have about 600 melons and hope to make 500 gallons of wine. One watermelon gives me about a gallon and a half of finished juice.”

It’s the watermelon juice that’s important, not the hard, bland rind, Layton said. So that means all the red out of each melon was scooped by hand, a chore handled recently by a team of 15 people, including friends and family, who were rewarded with free pizza and wine — and all the free watermelon they could eat. Buckets of the sweet flesh were dumped into bins and allowed to ferment with help from yeast for four days at room temperature.

“It’s surprising, but as sweet as most people think watermelons are, I have to add sugar, because they have little sugar,” he said. “Grapes have about 22 percent sugar; watermelon has only 8 percent. Since sugar is converted directly to alcohol, I have to add sugar to have enough alcohol for my wine. It doesn’t have as much acid either, so I have to add that to keep it from spoiling.”

Layton then pumps the pink frothy mixture, still holding seeds, into stainless steel tanks chilled to about 50 degrees, where the wine will be held for four months.

“The last step just before bottling is filtration,” he said.

By shifting the liquid from one tank to another two times in the first month or so, most of the solids will settle to the bottom. “That’s important, because all that stuff would clog up filters constantly if it was just pumped, without having settled, immediately through a filtration process,” Layton said.

According to the vintner, watermelon wine is “tricky,” as it has a tendency to spoil before it can be bottled.

“I have been really impressed by the sample taste of a batch I experimented with earlier, as it has kept the watermelon flavor in it,” Layton said. “The finished product has very little color, if not almost clear.”

The 500 gallons of juice will be enough to fill about 2,500 bottles.

“We don’t have a name for it yet. My daughter, Alison, wants to call it ‘Alison’s Wonderful Watermelon Wine,’ ” he said with a laugh. “My goal is to have the wine available by Thanksgiving. We hope it will be on the Thanksgiving table, but it is not simply a ‘holiday wine.’ Ideally, I think it would have even better sales if it were introduced in June. But as this first wine will take me four months to produce this year, by next summer, we should be on a year-round availability as we go right into our next fruit wine summer bottling season.”

Marketing data indicates consumers like fruit wines.

“We wanted to make a wine using a local fruit, and watermelon was the choice this year because they were made available to the winery. The grower and I hope this works out, because he will be able to sell us locally grown fruit and we will be able to make a little money as well and the public gets a locally produced product,” Layton said.

Grapes wines are already for sale at the winery, but Layton said it will probably be the first of November before the watermelon wine is ready. Visit www.laytonschance.com to keep up-to-date with the wine.

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