Fruity brews back on the menu

Fine wine: Waikanae’s Hanley Hoffmann in his winemaking laboratory with a bottle of homemade gold kiwifruit and elderberry wine.
Fine wine: Waikanae’s Hanley Hoffmann in his winemaking laboratory with a bottle of homemade gold kiwifruit and elderberry wine.

Hanley Hoffman keeps his laboratory in a wood-panelled downstairs office.

The blinds are drawn, and a row of 30-litre plastic drums - each labelled with a handwritten number - crowd his bench space.

A hip replacement last year stopped Mr Hoffmann, of Waikanae, from working in his lab, but this year the convener of the Kapiti Winemaker Club is fermenting again.

It will, he said, mark a welcome end to store-bought wine.

Mr Hoffmann spoke to the Kapiti Observer about the ''loose social club'', which meets half a dozen times a year.

''We don't have any minutes, we don't have any money. We make wine and enjoy it, and there's no competitions.''

Mr Hoffmann said he mostly makes plum wines, and that an essential part of the process is keeping a diary, which he flicked through to find the recipes for his latest batches.

Formatted like baking recipes, they included the expected elements such as sugar and the fruits, as well as chemistry-project ingredients like malic acid, and pectolase. The batch of gold kiwifruit wine included one frozen banana.

''I've done that with a couple, because bananas give wine a bit more body,'' Mr Hoffmann said.

Discussing winemaking - and effective ingredients is part of the club's focus, followed by a savoury supper and tasting session.

''We don't want to compete with each other. We tell each other truthfully at a meeting whether it's good, bad, or whatever.''

He said members learn to accept criticism of their wines, which, good or bad, aren't quaffed in large volumes at the tasting.

Plums are Mr Hoffmann's favoured wine fruit because they are cheap - free, in fact.

''I have about four or five varieties down the garden. There are lots of people on the Coast, everywhere, that probably have plum trees in their garden and it probably goes to waste.''

Plums may be cheap and plentiful but some his best batches have come from gold kiwifruit.

He has made one batch since his hip recovery but that is likely to be the last, because the PSA bacterial infection of crops in the Bay of Plenty pushed kiwifruit prices through the roof.

Plum or kiwifruit, Mr Hoffmann is adamant that fruit wine can be as good as the grape varieties.

''I can assure you that some people make wine that's comparable to some of the wine you buy. And some of ours [the club's] would be too.''

If someone set out to do it, a determined and skilled fruit winemaker could challenge the wine industry, he said.

''Fruit wine is nice drinking. And there's such a variety of stuff you can use; you can use all the fruits, just about.''

Mr Hoffmann made his first batch in 1989, from the plums at his Waikanae property.

''I served it up at dinner one night, and my wife said 'well that's alright, that's rather nice, if you're going to start making them like that, I'm happy for you to keep on making it'.''

Since then he has recorded every batch, and every recipe, and numbered every drum in chronological order - his latest, number 163, is on the bench.

Mr Hoffmann's hobby has been very satisfying, he said, and of course over the years it has saved visits to the wine shop.

''Once it's reorganised again I'll be able to stop buying commercial wine.''

The club holds its first gathering of the year on February 18.

People keen to find out more about the Winemakers Club can call Hanley Hoffmann on 04 904 3276.

Kapiti Observer