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Home Wine Making 101 (long)
Doubting Thomas
Making Homemade Wine


Introduction

Making homemade wine can be a fun & rewarding hobby. Not only is it fun to drink a nice wine that you made yourself, but it can be a fun way to share your hobby with others at parties. If your wine is really good, they'll be impressed that you made it yourself. I enjoy making homemade wine as it gives me a connection to my childhood when we had our own grapevines. My mom would make homemade grape jelly & grape juice, while my dad would make wine. He was pretty good at it, too, since a few years back I sampled some that he made before I was born, and it was very, very good.

Contrary to what you might think, it is very easy to make wine at home. Making good wine, though, takes a little more knowledge, but is not really that complicated. We all learn from our mistakes, and learning the process will help us make wine that can not only rival that from commercial wineries, but may even be better. The best thing about home wine making is that we can make our wine however we want it. We don't have to keep trying different kinds to find one we like. The best thing is that you don't have to be a wine snob to enjoy homemade wine. Even if you don't know anything about wine at all, you can enjoy the wine you make at home.

Yes, it is perfectly legal to brew wine at home. Federal regulations state that in a household consisting of a single adult, you may make 100 gallons of wine per year. In a household consisting of two or more adults, you may make 200 gallons per year. This is a lot of wine. To make 100 gallons of wine in one year, you'd have to make 2 gallons almost every week for a whole year. This is far more than most people usually make. Don't try to make distilled spirits like whiskey, though, as this is still illegal. And while it is legal to make homemade wine, don't try to sell it unless you have a liquor license. This is known as bootlegging, and is still very much illegal. However, nothing says you can't give it away. This is, of course, just very general advice, and you may want to check local & state laws regarding making alcohol.

There are of course many resources of information on winemaking available on the internet. I will list these at the end of this article. There are also many wine recipes available. But the great thing about wine is that, like cooking, you don't have to follow a recipe exactly to the letter. Of course your wine will probably turn out differently, but you can experiment and find out what works for you. In this article I will explain the processes I take to make homemade wine. Not everyone does it the same way I do, and that's fine. I will just explain the way I do it so that you may try it my way and possibly make a few modifications to your own wine making process. Find out what works for you.

I normally make 1 gallon batches at a time, while many home vintners make 3 or 5 gallon batches at a time. The reason I tend to make 1 gallon batches is that it is much easier to manage a 1 gallon batch than a 5 gallon. A 1 gallon jug full of wine is not as heavy as a 5 gallon jug. I like to experiment with making different types of wine so I'm not afraid of messing up a 1 gallon batch as I would a 5 gallon batch. Also, I don't really go through that many bottles of wine, so 1 gallon at a time is fine for me. A 1 gallon batch of wine results in 5 750 ml bottles of wine. A 5 gallon batch would result in 25 bottles. So when I talk about my batches of wine, I will be referring to 1 gallon batches.

The most important thing to learn about home winemaking is that good wine will take time & patience. There is no instant gratification when making wine. Usually the wine will take a week or two to ferment completely. Then you will need to let it settle & clear for another few weeks or months, and once it's bottled will take about 6 months to a year to age. You can get in a hurry to make, bottle, and drink wine, but it won't be nearly as good as when you take your time.

How wine is made

The simple explanation of how wine is made is that you take some fruit juice, add some sugar, add some yeast, and the yeast eats the sugar and turns it into equal parts of alcohol and carbon dioxide, by weight. So if you add 1 lb of sugar to a batch of juice, the yeast will turn it into ½ lb alcohol and ½ lb CO2. So you see it is a very simple, natural process, and one that will take place with just a little bit of our help.

Definition of wine terms

Before I get into the how-to part of this article, I should go over some descriptions of different terms used when discussing wine.

Nose

Nose, or bouquet, means the aroma wine gives in the glass. The smell of wine is as important as the taste, since our sense of taste relies heavily on our sense of smell.

Body

Body refers to how heavy or light the wine is and how it feels in your mouth. Wine is referred to as full-bodied, medium-bodied, and light-bodied. A full-bodied wine will be thicker than a light-bodied wine. You can think of it as the difference between drinking water and milk.

Dry or sweet

Dry wine refers to wine that is totally devoid of sugar, and will obviously taste different than a sweet wine. Different wines will have different levels of sweetness. Terms used to describe the different levels of sweetness are dry, medium dry, medium sweet, and sweet. Of course these are general descriptions. Commercial wineries have different regulations as to what they can place on their labels depending on the type of wine & the amount of residual sugar in them. But for our home winemaking process, all we need to know are these general terms.

Most people new to drinking wine tend to prefer the sweeter wines than those who are more familiar with different types of wine and have a broad wine palate. The good thing about homemade wine is that we can make our wine just as sweet or dry as we like it. Not only that, we can also make our wine with as much body as we want, as well as with a good bouquet.

Different types of wine can enhance the enjoyment of a meal, typically with full-bodied reds going with heavier fare such as steak or other meat, and lighter whites going well with lighter food such as fish or poultry. Wines known as dessert wines are generally very sweet wines served with dessert or enjoyed alone. Of course you don't have to only drink wine with a meal, as it's nice to sip just about any time.

With this very basic understanding of wine, we can then decide what type of wine we want to make.
Winemaking Terms

There are a few terms used in winemaking which any home vintner should know.

Must

Must is what fruit juice is referred to when it's prepared for or is in active fermentation. It isn't considered wine until fermentation is complete.

Lees

Lees refers to the sediment on the bottom of a fermentation vessel. This usually consists of fruit pulp & dead yeast. Gross lees refers to heavy pulp & yeast sediment during primary fermentation.

Racking

Racking wine means to trasfer it from one fermentation vessel to another, usually by means of a siphon. This is done to get the must off the lees.

Headspace

This refers to the space in a fermentation vessel that is not filled with must, or the space in a wine bottle that is not filled with wine. Most of the time we'll want to keep headspace to a minimum.

Topping up

This refers to reducing the headspace in a jug or wine bottle by adding more liquid, such as pure water, juice, or more wine.

Backsweetening

Backsweetening refers to adding sugar to finished wine in order to sweeten to taste. Since the yeast will likely eat up all available sugar, most wine after fermentation will be completely dry. If we don't want a dry wine, it's a simple matter to add sugar before bottling.

Winemaking Equipment

Fermentation vessels

First, you'll need something to contain the juice while it ferments. Quite a few home vintners use a food-grade bucket for the primary fermentation vessel, and plastic or glass carboys for the secondary fermentation vessel. Food-grade means made of a plastic that will not be affected by the acid in the wine, and will not leach chemicals or anything else into the wine. Winemaking supply stores have food-grade buckets available. Personally, though, I just use 1 gallon glass jugs, both for primary and for secondary. 3 and 5 gallon carboys are also available to make larger batches of wine. 5 gallon water cooler bottles will work fine.

Airlocks

Your fermentation vessel will need an airlock. This is a plastic or glass device which is filled partway with water and allows gasses to escape while keeping bugs, dust, and other impurities out of our wine. Airlocks generally fit into the top of glass jugs by means of a rubber stopper with a hole in the middle. You stick the airlock into the rubber stopper, pour water into it, and stick it in the top of the jug. Airlocks come in two basic styles, the two piece which consists of a plastic tube inside which a plastic cup fits over another, smaller plastic tube which extends through the rubber stopper and into the jug. The plastic cup will move up & down as air bubbles escape from underneath it. The second type of airlock is the S-style airlock, which consists of a plastic or glass tube bent into an S shape with two small chambers. The gases push the water in the bottom of the airlock into one of the chambers and then escape through the top, while the water falls back down into the bottom. Either style is fine to use, though I personally choose to use the two-piece airlocks.

Another method which has been widely used is to place a balloon or rubber glove over the top of the jug and hold it in place with a rubber band. It's suggested to put a couple of pin pricks into the baloon or rubber glove so it doesn't pop. There is nothing wrong with using this method, but using an airlock with rubber stopper is a little more elegant. If rubber gloves are used, be sure to use ones without any powder. Or if powdered ones are used, be sure to wash it out before putting it on the jug. The powder is just talc used to make the gloves easier to put on, but we really don't want this in our wine.

Hydrometer

A hydrometer is a device which measures the specific gravity (SG) of a liquid. A hydrometer is a weighted glass tube with a scale which floats in liquid, and a reading is taken where the level of the liquid meets the scale. In winemaking, a hydrometer is used to determine the amount of sugar in juice and the amount of alcohol in finished wine. The best hydrometers to use are the triple scale hydromters which not only give you an SG reading, but a potential alcohol scale and brix reading. Brix is a scale of the amount of sugar in a liquid. For our purposes, the two main readings we'll be concerned with is the SG and potential alcohol.

The more sugar a juice has, the higher the hydrometer will float in it and will give us a higher reading. SG readings will be 1.000 for plain water, and most hydrometers have a scale which reads from around 0.990 to 1.170. The potential alcohol scale reads the amount of sugar available to the yeast to turn into alcohol.

To determine the amount of alcohol in our wine, you take a reading before fermentation starts, then again at the end, and subtract the second reading from the first. For example, if a juice has a potential alcohol reading of 12% before fermentation and we take a reading of 0% at the end of fermentation, then we know we have a wine that has 12% alcohol. You can take readings at any time during the fermentation process to see how far it has come.

You might want to get a hydrometer test jar to take readings. This is a small plastic jar with a base on it which you fill with wine or juice and take your reading with the hydrometer. You can stick the hydrometer directly into the fermentation vessel, but when a wine is nearly done fermenting, the hydrometer may sink to the bottom of a 1 gallon jug, making it difficult to take readings. A hydrometer jar, being smaller in diameter, makes it easier to take readings with less juice/wine.

Bottles

You'll need something to put your wine in when it's done. It's best to bottle wine in regular wine bottles. Used wine bottles work well if they've been cleaned & sanitized. If you are reusing screw-cap wine bottles, make sure you save the caps. You can get wine bottles from family & friends who drink wine, and they'll be apt to save bottles for you if you give them a bottle of your homemade wine. Another source for bottles are restaurants that serve wine. If you know someone who works at one, you can have them save the bottles for you. Or you may be able to convince someone there to save them for you. Commercial wineries may offer empty bottles for sale. Of course winemaking supply stores offer them as well, but best to get them for free if you can.

Most wine bottles come in 750 ml sizes, though I've seen 1500 ml and small 375 ml sizes as well. But the standard is 750ml. Each gallon of wine will require five 750 ml bottles.

There are two general types of wine bottles, cork finish and screw cap. Cork finish means they are specifically designed just for corks and won't have screw threads for caps. I prefer cork finish as they seem more elegant. Call it snob appeal, but it's far nicer to pull a cork out of a bottle than twist off the cap, and when you're giving wine away as gifts it appears far nicer. If you choose cork finish bottles, you'll need to buy corks. If you use screw cap bottles, you'll need to make sure the screw caps are with the bottles. If not, you can buy them from wine supply stores. Never try to cork screw cap bottles, as the screw cap-type bottles will not have the proper neck for a cork and it may not make a good seal. Corked bottles can be used to store wine for an indefinite amount of time depending on the quality of cork used. Screw cap bottles can be used to store wine for very long periods of time as long as the cap is on tightly and makes a good seal.

Wine bottles come in different styles & colors. Claret bottles are generally high-shouldered bottles, while Burgundy bottles have a long neck that gently slopes outwards. The style of bottle is not nearly as important as the color. The general rule of thumb is that white & lighter color wine is bottled in clear bottles while dark reds are bottled in green, or amber bottles. The reason for this is to keep the light from affecting the wine once it's bottled. Light will affect darker reds more than lighter wines. However, there is no hard & fast rule that says you can't put a red wine into a clear bottle, or a white wine into a green bottle. I have even put peach wine into a champagne bottle because that's all I had on hand at the time.

Corks

Just as there are different types of bottles to choose from, there are also different corks. Most wine corks will be straight corks, which means they are a cylndrical shape. Most wine bottles will take either a #8 or #9 size cork. #8 corks are 7/8” in diameter, while #9's are 15/16”. #9's will seal the bottle better than #8's and will be better for longer term storage. Straight corks can be chamfered which means they are slightly tapered on each end to aid in insertion into the bottle. Straight corks come in various qualities, and how long you plan to age your wine determines what kind of cork you'll need. They also come in different lengths, which isn't nearly as important as the diameter.

Corks come in different types, such as regular, which is just cork bark cut into a cylinder, agglomerated, which consists of little bits of cork glued together and pressed into a cylinder, and synthetic which are of a manmade material. Synthetic corks are usually very dense and are probably best for long-term wine storage.

Mushroom corks are short corks with a plastic head which you can just push into the bottle. They also make the bottle easy to open, since you can just pull the mushroom corks out by hand and don't need a corkscrew. They should only be used for wine that will be aged for a year or less, since they are not really good for long-term storage. The good thing about them is that they are reusable.

Tapered corks should not be used at all for wine storage. Straight corks seal the whole length of the bottle neck in which they're inserted, while tapered corks can only seal a part of the neck. The only time I'd consider using a tapered cork is in a bottle that I've already opened and want to temporarily seal again until I'm ready to drink more. However, the mushroom corks would work better for this purpose.

Corker

We need some way to insert corks into our bottles. They won't simply slip in as they are generally larger than the bottle opening, and the compression of the cork is what makes it airtight. I use a hand corker which works fine for me since I'm usually filling only about five bottles at a time, but if you're making a 5-gallon batch, you will be filling 25 bottles. You may want a good bench top or floor model corker. These compress the corks to where they will easily fit into the bottle, and pressing down on a lever inserts them into the neck. The hand model relies on downward force, which you must supply yourself. As the cork is pressed downward, it goes into a slightly funnel-shaped area which compresses it, and then into the bottle. This model does work OK, however some muscle is required and most home vintners prefer the ease of the benchtop or floor model corkers. The advantage to the hand corker is that it is a lot cheaper than the others. For someone new to wine making, I'd suggest starting with the hand corker, and if they were serious about making wine, getting a better model in the future.

Bottle neck capsules

Bottle neck capsules are capsules made of heat shrink PVC which slip over the top of a wine bottle after it's been corked. They come in various colors and give bottles a professional look. They also keep dust out of the small crack where the cork meets the bottle.

Plastic tubing

Plastic tubing is needed to rack wine. This can be purchased at any hardware store in various diameters. I use 3/8” clear tubing. The length you'll need depends on your particular situation, but it needs only to be long enough to make a siphon from one jug to another.

Racking tube

A racking tube, also known as a racking cane, is a long tube to which the plastic tubing is attached for racking. The racking cane is inserted into the fermentation vessel and a siphon is started. The reason a racking tube is used is that since it is made of rigid plastic or glass, it can get to the bottom of the fermentation vessel better than a soft plastic hose that bends. Most racking canes have tips which suck the wine from the top rather than the bottom, which keeps the lees from being sucked into the tube.

It isn't necessary to use a racking tube, it just makes the job easier.

Wine thief or turkey baster

A wine thief is a usually glass tube with a hole on one end and a narrow hole on the other end. It is used to take samples from a jug of wine. You dip it into the wine, put your thumb over the hole, and lift out your sample.

Since I make 1 gallon batches, I get by with using a turkey baster. I simple squeeze the bulb, put the other end into the wine, and suck some into the baster. I can then squirt it into a glass or hydrometer test jar. The best thing about using the turkey baster is that by modifying the end, I can slip the 3/8” plastic tubing over it and start a siphon with it.

Acid test kit

An acid test kit may be needed to check the acidity of a wine or must. A wine should have the right amount of acid. Too much, and it tastes very tart. Not enough, and the wine tastes lifeless. A test kit can take the form of litmus papers or a titration kit.

A good way to test the acidity of wine is to simply taste it. One can usually tell by taste if a wine needs more acid or is too acidic.

Wine filter

A wine filter is used to filter tiny particles out of wine and make it really clear during or after the finishing process. Wine filters come in various styles, usually with either a gravity feed or a electrical pump. The advantage to the pump is that it works a lot faster.

Wine press or juicer

If you plan to make a lot of fresh fruit or grape wine, you might want to get a juicer or wine press. A juicer will turn just about any fruit into fresh juice. A wine press is mainly used for grapes, but could also be used to extract juice from berries or other fruits.

Wine Additives

There are a few additives we'll need to add to the must at different times during the winemaking process.

Yeast

Nothing is so important to wine making than yeast. Without it, we wouldn't have wine at all. Choosing different types of yeast will determine the flavor & nose of your wine once it's done, and of course different strains of yeast will have different characteristics. Most importantly is alcohol tolerance and flavor. I personally prefer Montrachet yeast since it gives grape wine excellent flavor and really brings out the flavor of fuit wines. It has an alcohol tolerance of 13% and ferments quickly. However, it can be tricky to use at times since it may give a stuck fermentation, or in other words will quit working before all the sugar is turned to alcohol. Lalvin EC-1118 is another excellent yeast to use. However, there are many different strains of wine yeast to choose from, and I've inlcuded a link to a chart describing the different types of yeast at the end of this article.

Bread yeast is widely available, but you should avoid using it if at all possible. I have used bread yeast in the past, and while it gave an OK flavor to white wines, it gives red wines an off flavor. It is still tolerable to drink, but did taste a bit funny. Wine yeasts work much better and were specifically bred for use in making wine. Various types of wine yeasts are available from winemaking supply houses and are not expensive.

Potassium Metabisulfite

Potassium Metabisulfite, or K-meta for short, is used to sterilize equipment or juice prior to fermentation, and to stabilize wine before bottling. When K-meta is added to liquid, it fills the liquid with sulphur dioxide gas which removes oxygen. K-meta comes in powder form, and a handier pill form called campden tablets. The advantage to using campden tablets is that they are pre-measured doses of one tablet per gallon.

Yeast nutrient

Yeast nutrient is used to keep the yeast healthy during the fermentation process. The yeast eats the sugar and turns it into alcohol & CO2, but the yeast also needs nutrient in the form of nitrogen which is provided by diammonium phosphate. This keeps the cell walls of the yeast in good shape after reproducing numerous times.

Pectic enzyme

Pectic enzyme is used when wine is made from fresh fruit instead of packaged juice or concentrate. It is used to dissolve pectin which is a natural part of fruit. If pectin isn't dissolved, finished fruit wine can have what's called pectic haze, which is a cloudy or hazy appearance. Pectic enzyme will prevent this from happening. It is generally not needed when using fruit juices or concentrates.

Potassium sorbate

Once a wine is done fermenting, if sugar is added to sweeten it any remaining yeast may eat the new sugar and turn it into alcohol & CO2. If this occurs after the wine is bottled, it may pop the corks or burst the bottles. Potassium sorbate prevents this from happening by inhibiting yeast growth. Wines that are left completely dry do not need potassium sobate.

Acid blend

Acid blend can be added before or after the fermentation process to increase the amount of acidity of a wine.

Tannin

Wine tannin is used to increase the body or flavor of wine, as well as the color. Tannin comes from the peel of grapes or other fruit, so crushed grapes could be used to add tannin to wine. The more tannin is added, the more body the wine will have. There are two types of tannin, red tannin and white tannin, which is made from the peels of red and white grapes, respectively. Wine tannin is available from winemaking supply stores.

Let's make some wine.

Now I will finally get into the how-tos of making a batch of wine. But first, I must stress how important it is to ensure that all our equipment is clean and bacteria-free. Certain types of bacteria if introduced into wine will eat the alcohol and turn it into vinegar. So to prevent this from happening, we need to make sure everything is clean. Normal kitchen cleanliness practices are usually sufficient.

The use of K-meta to sterilize all our equipment is a good practice. It doesn't hurt to have a jug of water with a couple of dissolved campden tablets on hand. This sulfite water can be rinsed through our fermentation vessels and other equipment, and can be reused up to a year. It will sterilize everything by removing all the oxygen and therefore all the bacteria.

A very important issue with making wine is to keep oxygen out of our finished product. Oxygen in wine can turn it brown over time and give it bad off flavors or odors. This is also why we keep an airlock on our fermenting must. It is OK to have oxygen in the juice at the beginning, because yeast needs oxygen to reproduce. But once the yeast is done reproducing and has started fermenting the sugar, we no longer need oxygen in the must. During fermentation this is not a problem because the yeast is busy producing CO2, and the CO2 eventually takes up all the space in the wine originally taken by free oxygen. Luckily, most of the CO2 leaves, and the escaping CO2 gives us a protective layer of gas which prevents oxygen from getting to the wine.

Before we put our juice into our fermentation vessel, we need to ensure that it is clean. If it was recently used, we should make sure that it was washed & rinsed well. If it has set somewhere for a while, we need to make sure that any impurities are washed out of it. It may be a good idea once it's been washed out to rinse it with sulfite water to kill any remaining bacteria, mold, or yeast.

Preparing juice

First we need some juice. Just about any kind of fruit juice can be turned into wine, with the possible exception of citrus due to its high acidity. If we are using fresh fruit, it needs to be washed to remove any dirt and possibly any bacteria, mold or wild yeast which may be on it. Rinsing under a faucet will be sufficient. It can then be pressed or juiced. If the juice is too thick, it can be thinned by adding pure water. Fresh fruit juice needs to be treated with a campden tablet which is crushed & stirred into the juice, one tablet for each gallon. This will kill any remaining bacteria, mold, or wild yeast. Let set in a refrigerator for 24 hours to allow all the sulphur dioxide gas to escape from the juice. SO2 is bad for the yeast we will add, so we want to get it out first.

Not only can we make wine from fruit, but flower wine is popular with a lot of home vintners. I'm sure everyone has heard of dandelion wine, and roses, lilacs, and a number of other flowers have been used to make wine. I personally have not used any flowers to make wine and focus primarily on fruits, particularly grapes. But flower wine recipes are available by searching the internet. If you do intend to make flower wine, be sure to not use any flowers that are toxic. You will need to do some research to see if a particular flower is poisonous.

If we're using store bought juice or concentrate, we can omit adding campden at the beginning. Most store bought juice is already pasteurized or otherwise treated to remove harmful bacteria.

Juice can be purchased from your local grocery store, and it's easy to find gallon jugs of grape juice. Other types of juice can also be used, such as apple, berry, or a blend of various juices. Just be sure that whatever juice you use is 100% juice. A lot of juice “drinks” contain anywhere from just 5% to 25% juice, and the rest being artificial color, flavor, with high fructose corn syrup for sweetening. It's best to get 100% juice.

If using concentrate, we can add as much or as little pure water as we want to provide enough body. More water means a lighter bodied wine. Generally two cans of Welch's grape concentrate provides a medium-bodied wine. Three cans makes a full-bodied wine, while about a can & a half make a good light-bodied wine. Jugs of grape juice off the shelf are fine to use as is, or some concentrate or water can be added to give it more or less body.

If water is used to thin juice, such as with concentrate, be sure to use pure water. Distilled or bottled water is fine to use, and probably better than using chlorinated water from the tap. Distilled water will be low in free oxygen, which the yeast will need at first to reproduce. It can be oxygenated by splashing around while pouring into the concentrate.

Once the juice is ready, we can add it to our primary fermantation vessel. I use a 1 gallon glass jug. Using a funnel, I pour the juice into the jug, filling it about ¾ full. The reason I leave some space is that when we add sugar, it will take up some of the volume. The juice will be needed to be tested with a hydrometer. Most grape juice will probably start around 8 or 9 percent potential alcohol.

To be preserved well, wine should have an alcohol content of anywhere from 8 to 13 percent. I prefer 12-13 percent alcohol when making wine. This is typically what commercial wines contain, and makes a good wine. Some vintners enjoy making high alcohol wines up to around 18% to 20%. High alcohol wines, though tend to taste watery due to the alcohol numbing the taste buds. They will also obviously have more of a kick. If a high alcohol wine is desired, more sugar must be added and a good yeast which has a high alcohol tolerance must be used, such as Lalvin EC-1118 which will produce up to 18%.

In our example, we'll make wine with an alcohol content of 12%. To do this, we simply keep adding sugar to our juice until the potential alcohol scale on our hydrometer reads 12%. We can also use the specific gravity (SG) scale to get a reading of 1.090, but it's far simpler to use the potential alcohol scale. This is why it's important to get a hydrometer that has this reading.

Usually when using store bought grape juice, only about two cups per gallon of sugar is needed to get the SG reading we want. But it is very important to check the juice beforehand, and add sugar a little bit at a time, no more than ¼ cup. Pure table sugar can be used. I pour it into a funnel set in the mouth of my gallon jug. It's important to stir the sugar into the juice until it dissolves before taking another reading. Use whatever clean instrument you have to reach into the jug and stir the juice.

Once we have enough sugar in our juice to get a reading of 12% potential alcohol, we will next need to add some yeast nutrient. Most yeast nutrient requires one teaspoon per gallon. Stir it in until all the crystals have dissolved.

If there is a lot of headspace in the jug, I'll add a bit more juice. Don't fill it all the way to the top, as this will give any foam some space to dissipate. If there's not enough room, the foam will come through the airlock and spill down the side of the container. Put any leftover juice into the refrigerator and save it, we'll need it to top up the jug later.

The fermentation process starts

Now it's time to pitch our yeast. Simply open the packet and sprinkle it on top of the juice. Once that's done, cover the top of the jug with a piece of paper towel or cloth. This will keep any impurities out while allowing oxygen to reach the yeast. Yeast will need oxygen at this point in order to reproduce. Yeast will reproduce about 200 times the original volume so that millions of yeast are busy fermenting the juice into wine.

After about 24 hours you should notice that there are some bubbles forming and floating to the top. This is good, because it means the yeast has taken off and begun the fermantation process. You'll also probably notice quite a bit of foam on top of the must. This is normal, and the amount of foam varies depending on the type of yeast used. This is why I don't completely fill the jug full of juice before adding yeast. After a day or two, the foam will go down and the must will keep bubbling vigorously. At this time we can add more juice to top up the jug, but be careful. Adding more juice at this point can make the must bubble up like soda, so add just a little at a time until you have just a little headspace. We can then fit an airlock to the jug and let it sit and ferment for about a week. Be sure to keep your must at anywhere from 65-75 degrees. Too cold and the yeast will become sluggish, too hot and they may die. In either case, you'll get a stuck fermentation, which means the yeast quit and die before all the sugar is turned into alcohol.

Some vintners make sure to cover their fermantation vessel to make sure that no light affects the must. This can be done by simply covering the jug with a blanket or putting it in a dark room. I personally haven't noticed any problems with light affecting the must, but it's probably best to keep light out of it.

Here I must stress that at no time should you ever cap a jug full of fermenting must. Some have erronously done this with explosive results. The yeast are producing a lot of CO2, and capping the jug will result in a lot of pressure inside the vessel. This is why we add an airlock, to let the gasses escape while keeping impurities out. Capping a jug full of fermenting juice is called making a wine bomb.

After about a week, you'll notice that the bubbling of the must has slowed down a bit, and bubbles coming through the airlock have slowed down. You can then check the fermantation process using the hydrometer. You'll notice that the SG reading will be lower than it was before. You can also take a potential alcohol reading and see how much alcohol has been created so far. If the SG reading is from 1.020 to 1.040, you can rack the must into a secondary fermentation vessel.

To rack the wine, you want to place the full jug higher than the empty one you're racking to. I place the full jug on a popcorn tin and the empty one into a sink. This aids in the siphoning of the must or wine. To start a siphon, I place the plastic tubing onto the end of the turkey baster, then squeeze the bulb before I insert the other end of the tubing into the must. This ensures that when I squeeze the bulb I'm not blowing air into the wine and oxygenating it. When I release the bulb, it sucks wine into the tube, at which time I quickly pull the tube off the turkey baster and put it into the new jug. Another way of starting a siphon is to fill the tube full of water and use a large plastic hose clamp (available from winemaking supply stores) at the lower end to hold the water in. Stick the other end into the wine, and release the clamp. The water running out of the tube will siphon the wine out of the jug. Using the clamp, you can stop the wine from escaping until you put the tube into the empty jug. It's not really recommended to start a siphon the old-fashioned way with your mouth. We want to keep all bacteria to a minimum, and you wouldn't want to drink a wine that someone else sucked out of a tube.

When racking, it's important to fill the container we're racking to from the bottom. What this means is putting the hose at the bottom of the jug and leaving it there, letting it fill up from the bottom. Racking this way prevents oxygen from getting into our wine. Keep all splashing to a minimum.

Once the siphon has started, we'll keep it going until almost all the must has been transferred from one jug to the other. There will be quite a bit of sediment at the bottom of the primary fermentation vessel, and for a first racking it's OK to suck some of this up. Since we still have quite a bit of active yeast, the must will still be cloudy. Only during later rackings will we worry about keeping all sediment out of our wine.

There is a very good reason we want to rack off the gross lees. Live yeast will tend to feed off dead yeast in a process known as autolysis. When this occurs, it can produce off flavors in our wine. So racking off the dead yeast sediment every so often will prevent this from occurring.

Once we've completed our first racking, we'll want to put the airlock back on & let the must continue fermenting. This may take two or three weeks, depending on the yeast. There is nothing we really need to do now but wait. You'll probably notice at the end of this period that the wine has started to clear somewhat, and will become less cloudy. This is more noticable near the top of the jug. If our SG reading on the hydrometer is near 1.000, this is a good sign. If the wine starts to clear with a higher hydrometer reading, it may be an indication of a stuck fermantation. If this is the case, you can pitch more yeast and hope it takes off where the other yeast quit. A good yeast for restarting stuck fermentation is Lalvin EC-1118.

You may notice an SG reading of less than 1.000. This is a good sign which indicates that fermentation is complete. The reason it reads less than 1.000 is because the alcohol in the wine has less density than water. This doesn't mean, though, that a starting potential alcohol reading of 12% and a final reading of -1% means that we have 13% alcohol. It just means that we're getting a false reading because of the alcohol. You can't end up with more alcohol than the initial potential alcohol reading.

Once fermentation is complete and the wine has started clearing, we can check it once in a while to see if it is completely clear. You should be able to see through the wine if it's in a glass jug, and there will be a layer of sediment on the bottom of the jug. We will want to rack the wine off the layer of sediment. This is done by racking the same way we did our first racking, only this time we will want to take care to not stir up any sediment. Yeast sediment can be very fine and will easily be sucked up into our siphon tube. The best practice is to leave the tube near the top of the wine and slowly work it downward as the level of wine falls. Then when we get near the level of sediment we can stop the siphon before we suck up the lees. You will leave some wine in the original jug, and this is OK. You will need to sacrifice a small bit of wine in order to keep from getting lots of sediment in our finished wine. You also may need to rack several times to get the wine completely clear and off the lees.

Finishing wine

After we've finished all our rackings and we're left with a jug of clear wine, it will be time to finish it. First, we'll need to degas the wine to some extent. Fermentation will leave the wine full of CO2 which will take some time to leave the wine if we don't help it along. A good way to degas the wine is to stir it very vigorously. A good way to do this is to get or make a stirrer which you can connect to an electric drill and run at high speed. The end in the wine should be flat in order to stir up the wine, and perhaps a few holes in the flat side would help. A second way to degas wine is to pull a vacuum on the jug with a vacuum pump. Creating a vacuum in the headspace will force CO2 out of the wine. Whichever method you use, you will be getting a lot of gas out of the wine but don't feel bad if it seems like you can't get it completely out. Leaving the wine sit for several weeks after we've finished it will allow the remaining CO2 to leave on its own.

If we didn't degas the wine, when it is opened after it is bottled it will have a carbonated appearance. While carbonation is OK for sparkling wines like champagne, it may not be desired in regular wine. Usually what happens is that wine that hasn't been degassed ends up being a “crackling” wine. This is wine that shows a little carbonation once it's first poured, but which quickly dissipates and is not nearly as carbonated as champagne. There's nothing wrong with making a crackling wine, but most people prefer their wine non-carbonated.

During finishing, backsweetening the wine is done if desired. The amount of sugar added depends on the level of sweetness we want, but it's important to add sugar a little bit at a time so we don't make it too sweet. Regular sugar can be added, or commercial wine conditioner can be used, which are a concentrated form of sucrose sugar. I've found it easy to use regular sugar.

Be careful adding granulated sugar to wine that hasn't been degassed yet as this will cause the wine to start bubbling up & foaming, and could bubble over. Even after

If sugar is used to sweeten our wine, we will need to add potassium sorbate to prevent any remaining yeast from fermenting the new sugar. Wine conditioner usually has potassium sorbate added to it, so no extra is needed. I normally add enough sugar to get the desired sweetness, then right afterward I add potassium sorbate and a campden tablet. It is important to add a campden tablet when adding potassium sorbate, since if we don't the wine can take on a foul odor. This is because if any bacteria are present in the wine, they may start a malolactic fermentation. If potassium sorbate is added during a malolactic fermentation, it will give wine a foul odor, often described as a ripe fish smell. The campden will kill any bacteria in the wine and prevent this from happening. If you want to leave your wine completely dry, no potassium sorbate is needed. You may or may not want to add campden at this point, which we'll need to add it once before bottling.

After we've added potassium sorbate & campden, we should leave the wine to sit for several weeks to a month or more. Some leave their wine age in the jug for several months before bottling. It's entirely up to you, since the wine will age in the jug or in the bottle. There's no concensus that one is better than the other. However, it's best to leave the wine in the jug for at least a few weeks. This will allow any extra tartaric acid to form crystals and fall to the bottom of the jug. These crystals are known as “wine diamonds” and are completely harmless, but we probably don't want them to form and settle in the bottom of our bottle. It's best to let them form in the jug before bottling, since we can rack the wine off the top of any crystals left in the jug. I've found in my experience the drier a wine is, the more acid falls out & forms crystals. I believe this is due to the sugar balancing out the acid, and any extra acid falls out of solution. The good thing is that when the acid crystals form, we know the wine will have mellowed and will have a smoother taste than it does just after fermentation.

This extra time in the jug will also allow any fine yeast to fall to the bottom and can be left in the jug rather than in our bottles. At any rate, it's certainly not going to hurt the wine to sit for several weeks or months in the jug before being bottled. This goes to show that having patience helps when making wine.

At any time after the wine has been finished & is aging in the jug, it can be run through a wine filter if so desired. This will filter out very tiny particulate matter and give the wine a very clear appearance, making it really shine.

The bottling process

At long last, after our wine has been finished and aged for a while in the jug, we can go to one of the most fun stages which is bottling our wine. If our jug of wine is completely clear and has been racked off any fine yeast sediment or acid crystals, we can begin the bottling process.

First, we should prepare our bottles. It's best to remove all labels, which may require soaking for a while. Some wine labels will come right off after soaking, while others can leave very stubborn glue on the bottle. Something stronger than water may be needed, such as alcohol or in some cases even paint thinner to remove all the glue. There is a product called Goo Gone which works quite well in removing stubborn glue from hard surfaces.

Next, we need to ensure the bottles are clean. A good way to do this is to run them through the dishwasher on a sanitize cycle. This will heat them up long enough to kill any bacteria. However, you can sanitize them by washing in the sink with ordinary dish soap, rinsing, and then rinsing with sulphite water. It's a good idea to use sulphite water to rinse the bottles with if they have not been run through the dishwasher on a sanitize cycle. The idea is to make sure that any remaining water in the bottle does not have any free oxygen. Again, oxygen is very bad for wine, so if we can keep it all out it will be best for the wine.

If the wine has not previously been treated with campden, it's a good idea at this time to add some, one tablet per gallon. You can wait up to 24 hours to bottle, as this will allow most of the suphur dioxide gas to escape. But it's probably best to bottle within that period as the escaping SO2 gas will fill up the headspace in the bottles and prevent oxygen from harming the wine.

To bottle our wine, we will use the same siphon technique as when racking and filling each bottle from the bottom. It's best to use a tubing clamp to control the flow of the wine into each bottle. Also be sure to raise the tubing from the bottom of the bottle. The tubing will displace a surprising about of wine, and by slowing down the flow we can fill each bottle to the neck. The amount of wine in each bottle depends on the length of the bottle and the length of the corks we're using. It's best to have as little headspace as possible between the top of the wine and the bottom of the cork, but an inch or so is OK. If we've added campden, this headspace should fill up with SO2 which will protect our wine from oxygen.

After we've filled our bottles, if we are using screw cap bottles we can simply screw them on at this point. You can wipe any dripped wine off the side of the bottles and set them aside. For corked bottles, we need to prepare our corks. The easiest way to do this is to take a small saucepan and boil some water in it. Once it's got a good boil going, turn the heat off and add the corks, then cover it. This will steam the corks and will soften them up enough for us to insert them into our bottles. They only need to be left in the hot water for about two minutes. If they're left too long they may become too soft and will fall apart as we insert them. The amount of time needed depends on the quality of the corks. To tell if a cork is ready, it will give slightly when squeezed.

To cork a bottle, the cork is placed into the corker which compresses the cork to fit into the bottle opening while pressing it down into the bottle. The hand model I use requires me to hold it on one hand and press down on the other with firm, steady pressure. Of course, how you use each corker will depend on the type you have.

Once the bottles are corked, they may be wiped off to get rid of any spilled wine. Next, the PVC capsules can be added. Take the pan of water we used to steam the corks with and heat it up again until the water is boiling. Place a capsule on each bottle, and then dip the top of it into the boiling water until it shrinks around the top of the bottle. If you do it right, it will shrink to form completely around the top of the bottle. I have used PVC capsules on screw cap bottles also, though some caps may be too big for the capsules. If you can't get the capsule completely over the cap before heating it, then it won't fit right.

Once that is done, the bottles should remain upright for a few days to allow the corks to seat properly. After that, the bottles should be stored on their sides so that the wine comes into contact with the cork. This keeps the cork moist which causes it to swell, thereby sealing the bottle. If the cork becomes dry, it may allow air to pass through. Screw cap bottles do not need to remain on their sides. They should be tightly capped so that a good seal is made.

Once our wine is bottled, it is important to put some kind of label on the bottles so that we'll know what kind of wine is in them. There are many various types of labels available from wine supply stores. All that needs to be done is write or print on them and then stick them onto the bottles.

I designed my own labels using a computer program and print them out on plain paper. I then cut them out and glue them onto my bottles using standard white Elmer's glue. I prepare the labels by putting a generous amount of glue onto the back, then smoothing it out with my finger. I then carefully place it onto the bottle and carefully smooth it out with my other hand, being sure not to smudge the printing or get glue onto it. This makes nice labels which easily come off after being soaked.

If you don't want to go through the mess of dealing with Elmer's glue, there is the option of using Avery labels. The Avery 5164 labels are 3 1/3” by 4” and are about the right size for wine labels. Avery also has a free program you can use to design & print your labels. All you have to do is come up with a design and then print them out to the labels. Then it's an easy matter to peel & stick. The labels come off fairly easy in water.

There's not a lot that needs to go onto the label, but you should put what type of wine it is and the year it was bottled. You might even want to put the date it was bottled so you'll know when it's ready to drink. After you've made numerous batches of wine, you won't remember when each one was bottled. The fun part is that you can come up with your own names for the wine you make. You can even design your own logo, as I have done. Your label will look much better with some sort of picture or logo.

After your bottles have been labeled, you will need to store them preferably in a cool, dark place. If they are corked bottles, they should be stored on their sides to keep the cork moist & the bottle sealed. A wine rack is a nice way to store your wine, especially if you make a lot of it. Of course we can't all have wine cellars, but a dark corner of a basement or a closet may be a good alternative. Ideally wine should be kept at about 60 degrees to age well. It may not be possible to keep our wine at this temperature all the time, and it probably won't hurt it too badly if it gets warmer or colder than that occasionally. But it's a bad idea to store it somewhere that is not temperature controlled, as very high or very low temperatures will not be good for the wine. We do want to keep it away from light, as light can cause oxygenation to occur. Of course this won't occur too much with green or brown bottles, but best to keep it out of the light as much as possible. You just need to find a place where the bottles won't be disturbed much for the 6 months to a year that they'll need to age.

Finally, after the long wait, we can open our wine and enjoy it. It may test your patience, but properly aged wine will taste much better and be far more rewarding than wine that is too young. The only thing more satisfying than hearing the pop of the cork being pulled out of a bottle of your homemade wine is finally being able to savor it after waiting so long. When the wine is exceptionally good, that makes the wait all the more worthwhile.

Online resources

http://winemaking.../index.asp – Jack Keller's excellent home winemaking website with lots of good information for home vintners, not to mention a large collection of recipes.

http://www.eckrau... - The website of E.C. Kraus, a supplier of home brewing & winemaking equipment & supplies.

http://www.midwes... – Midwest Supplies website, another excellent winemaking & home brewing supplier. Prices tend to be cheaper than E.C. Kraus.

http://www.brew-w... – An online discussion forum for home beer brewers & wine makers, sponsered by Midwest Supplies.
Edited by Doubting Thomas on 09/03/2008 14:46
 
catman
DT: Interesting stuff. You're right, it is a long post, and I confess not have read every word, but I got the gist of it. I don't drink wine very often because it makes me want to take a nap, but I do like a good dry red wine very much, a Pinot Noir or Merlot usually. What the hell, I think I'll have a glass now! I have a bottle of Australian Grenache/Shiraz that is quite tasty.

Maybe I'll give winemaking a whirl one of these days. It sounds intriguing!
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
 
Doubting Thomas
It's a lot of fun. Right now I've got about 3 bushels of pears from our tree that need to be juiced so I can make some pear wine.
 
neilmarr
All good fun, TE. Used to make my own wine years ago in the UK. Now, living in the south of France on the frontier with northern Italy, where good local wine costs a couple of bucks a bottle, it's not so attractive a hobby as it once was. Cheers. Neil
 
Doubting Thomas
I thought I'd add a recipe in case anyone wants to give it a try. This is the recipe I usually follow. If anyone tries this, please post here and let me know how it goes.

Easy Beginner's Wine

This is for a 1 gallon batch, increase all amounts by five for a five gallon batch, except for the yeast.

1 gallon Sam's or Welch's red or white grape juice
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. yeast nutrient
1 packet Red Star Montrachet wine yeast
1/2 tsp. potassium sorbate (if wine is to be sweetened)
1 campden tablet (potassium metabisulfite)

Pour most of the gallon of juice into a clean 1 gallon glass jug. Add sugar a little at a time and stir until it dissolves. You may need more or less than 2 cups to get an SG reading of 1.098 on a hydrometer, or 13% potential alcohol reading. Once enough sugar has been added, add the yeast nutrient and stir in. Add yeast by pouring onto top of juice, it is not necessary to stir in. Cover mouth of jug with dry cloth or paper towel. After about 24 hours, the must should start bubbling. Once it is bubbling vigorously, top up with remaining juice, add airlock & ferment between 65-75 degrees for 7 days. Rack into a second jug and let set for about two weeks or until clear. Rack again being careful to avoid picking up yeast sediment on bottom of jug. Add sugar if desired for sweetness, or leave dry. If sugar is added, add 1/2 tsp. potassium sorbate to prevent refermentation. Add potassium metabisulfite (campden) tablet by crushing tablet between two spoons & stirring into wine. Let set for about three or four weeks until acid crystals form & settle in bottom of jug with fine yeast residue. Rack again (filter if available or needed) into clean jug. Degas wine if needed by stirring vigorously or by creating a vacuum in jug. Wine may be bottled at this time or left to age in jug several months before bottling.
Edited by Doubting Thomas on 09/17/2008 14:55
You're just jealous because the voices are talking to me and not you.
 
neilmarr
If you're really keen, DT, why not consider a grape-picking holiday here in France? Lots of folks do it and move in a bunch (sorry) from vineyard to vineyard as the grapes ripen.

The wages are pretty basic but easily cover accomodation and spending money, and there's usually great communnal meals thrown in and as much wine as you can drink.

I've never actually tried it, but I've visited local vineyards dozens of times while the pickers are there, and there's great fun and friendship between everyone from students to pensioners. Pretty hard work, though. You need a strong back.

Cheers. Neil
 
Doubting Thomas
I wouldn't mind visiting some wineries on a vacation in France, but I don't really have the time to actually work in one for a while. I'm getting ready to start a new job managing a new business which will take up quite a bit of my time.

When we eventually move I'd like to plant some grape vines. We had them at my childhood home and I always loved drinking fresh grape juice & eating mom's homemade grape jelly. But with as much as I enjoy making wine I'd like to try some using fresh grapes.
You're just jealous because the voices are talking to me and not you.
 
neilmarr
A pal of mine just over the border in Italy makes rosese every year, the traditional way, with him and his wife actually treading the grapes with old-fashioned footwork. It ferments in open vats with the natural yeast in the air around that neck of the woods. Lovely stuff. Neil

PS: Good luck with the new job, DT. N
 
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