The prickly pear wine is still far from transparent, so I decided that it’s time to try helping it along. Fruit wines (and melomels or other fermentations that use some portion of fruit) offer become hazy after fermentation due to the natural pectin in the fruit setting. Pectin is a compound found in plant cells that acts as a thickening or gelling agent – it’s generally added to fruit jams and jellies. In alcohol, though, it forms a haze that is reluctant to clear naturally.
The best way to avoid this problem is to use a pectic enzyme (readily available at any homebrew supply shop) in your initial must.This will break down the pectin in the fruit and prevent a haze from forming in the first place. I didn’t do this because I didn’t think the pectin would be a problem in prickly pear fruit – several times I’ve made jam from it, the problem was always too little natural pectin and a lack of gelling. But I was wrong – there is definitely enough to be a problem in the wine.
Well, sort of a problem. Pectin doesn’t actually pose any health problem, it just makes the wine hazy. The last tasting of the wine also revealed a slightly thick texture, which I think might be a result of the pectin.
Anyway, my first plan was to add pectic enzyme to the aging wine. I figured it might be able to break down the haze even after fermentation. So I added the recommended dose (3/4 tsp per gallon), and gave it about 24 hours. The result? Nothing – no visible change at all. The wine has been undisturbed in the carboy for about 2 months, and had not shown any accumulation of lees at all.
So my second plan was to use Super-Kleer. This is an additive also available at any homebrew supply, added to a finished wine (or mead, etc) in two parts. Basically, it bonds to suspended yeast and proteins in the must and then forms large clumps that will much more easily fall out of suspension (for a more detailed explanation, take a gander at this article from Winemaker Magazine). I added the first part, waited an hours, and then mixed the second part into a bit of warm water and added it to the wine. Literally within seconds strings of yeast and haze could be seen forming and falling to the bottom of the carboy. Eight hours later, there was a layer of lees between a half and three quarters of an inch thick at the bottom of the carboy. The wine is still not transparent, but this is an excellent start. My reading on a couple brewing forums suggests that it’s best to leave it sitting for about two weeks to make sure as much as possible falls to the bottom. Hopefully in the next few days I’ll start to see some visible change in the clarity of the wine!