Wine, there’s a certain, mystique about it. Its richly complex reputation precedes it when fancy restaurants line their menus with expensive bottles and suggest pairings with exquisite dishes. While wine absolutely dominates its ancestral, epicurean niche, the iconic drink is rapidly taking root in a more, accessible venue. Yes, the winemaking craze has finally arrived, and domestic vintners are becoming as common as garage brewers!
While the wine making blueprint is relatively simple and straightforward, there isn’t necessarily an obvious choice for the beginner in terms of approach. It’s easier to use malt extract rather than only grains when brewing beer at home, but with wine, it’s not quite so cut and dry. The base for a batch of wine can be pure juice, concentrate, a juice-concentrate hybrid, fruit puree, or even intact fresh fruit! Using intact fruit for the base might barely edge out the other options in terms of difficulty but not by much. Essentially, there’s no overly complicated, outrageously difficult choice when it comes to making wine at home, just go for it!
One last thing to get out of the way is the importance of cleanliness to the wine making process, it would be irresponsible not to mention it. Everything used in the wine making process must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, otherwise serious health hazards may arise! Good wine making kits provide their own sanitizing solution, but iodine works great as well. Remember, everything that gets used must be cleaned and sanitized properly!
So, what type of equipment does it take to get going on making wine at home? A primary fermenter of some kind is the logical place to start. Wine making kits will definitely include one of these, but a six-gallon food grade bucket will do the job as well. The benefit to using one from a kit is it will likely come with a grommet already mounted in the lid for an air-trap to fit into.
Hydrometer’s are important too; they help measure the original gravity of what will eventually become the wine. That’s the number of fermentable sugars present in the primary fermenter before the yeast gets added. Without the original gravity number, it’s impossible to calculate the alcohol content of the final product.
It’s also necessary to have a couple of carboys, or at least one, depending on batch size. For those that don’t know, a carboy is a large plastic or glass jug. When it comes to wine making, glass or plastic carboys are not any better or worse than each other. Plastic carboys are porbably a bit safer; they don’t tend to shatter when accidentally dropped! Most winemaking kits do come with a carboy because, unlike beer brewing, the winemaking process mandates two fermentation vessels.
Winemakers also need a bung and a fermentation trap. The bung is essentially just a stopper that seals off the top of the carboy. It will have an opening that fits a fermentation trap to allow CO2 to escape while keeping air out.
Next up on the shopping list is the racking cane and siphon setup. It’s the best method of getting wine from the primary fermenter into the carboy or secondary fermenter. Buy a kit with a stainless-steel racking cane, if possible, as the plastic ones tend to break. A bottle filler is necessary too and will easily attach to the other end of the racking cane-siphon set up when it’s time to bottle that fresh wine! If possible, find one that isn’t spring loaded because it makes dispensing the wine easier to control. Good wine making kits will come with a long stirring implement too, nothing complicated there, and a tube-shaped device known as a wine thief for extracting and testing developing wine. Empty bottles, corks, a corker, and as mentioned above, plenty of sanitizing solutions round out the equipment list. Our Home Brew dial thermometer, hydrometer and trial jar is a great place to start looking.
There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing the base for a batch of wine. They include pure juice, fully concentrated juice, partially concentrated juice, a juice and concentrate combination, fruit puree, or intact fresh fruit. A pure juice base doesn’t need extra water, concentrate bases do, and if fresh fruit is used as a base it needs to be contained in some type of straining cloth. Most wine kits will come with an option on the pure juice to pure concentrate spectrum. Pure juice kits tend to be more expensive and should definitely be refrigerated. A great rule of thumb is that price will always correlate with juice purity. The purer the juice, the more expensive the kit will be. A good winemaking kit will also include things like yeast along with yeast nutrient, acid blend, pectic enzyme, campden tablets, wine tannin, and potassium sorbate. Kits do vary, so don’t stress if some of the aforementioned nutrients and chemicals are not present. Whatever the recipe needs will be included! Wine making kits should also come with a recommended sanitizing product too. Don’t forget to keep some extra sugar on hand as well because if the kit being used is even partially concentrated, it will likely require some extra sugar.
Step one is to clean everything! Use the product that came with the winemaking kit and follow its instructions carefully. When that’s done, it’s safe to get started. Basically, all winemaking recipes involve combining any one of the aforementioned bases, sugar if necessary, nutrients and other ingredients to produce a balanced, finished wine. When using a concentrate or fruit puree base it is important to add sugar which isn’t actually for sweetness but to feed the yeast during fermentation. If necessary, follow the recipe and dissolve the prescribed amount of sugar into the recommended amount of warm water in the primary fermenter. Now come the additives. Things like acid blend to balance flavour, yeast nutrient to ensure a smooth fermentation process, or maybe pectic enzyme to ensure the wine clears on time are examples of the nutrients that typically get added at this time. Additives like these and the others mentioned above are recipe specific though so follow those instructions and stir everything thoroughly!
The Base and the Yeast
Now it’s time to add the base. Whether it’s pure juice, concentrate, a combo of the two, puree, or fresh fruit, mix the prescribed amount into the primary fermenter. If fresh fruit is being used it needs to be contained in straining material so it can be removed later, just bag it and drop it in. Top up the primary fermenter with lukewarm water, but make sure to take an original gravity before doing anything else! An original gravity reading determines if the mixture is in the right sugar range and at this point in the process it’s not too late to add more sugar. If no reading is taken before the yeast gets added, the original gravity will be forever unknown which makes the finished wine’s alcohol content impossible to calculate. Speaking of yeast, some recipes give instructions for assembling what’s known as a yeast starter while others allow for it to be pitched right in. Either way, once the yeast is in there, secure the primary fermenter’s lid and attach the air lock by inserting it into the grommet.
Time to Wait
Now it’s time to wait, five to seven days will do. Keep in mind that red wines like to ferment between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit while whites prefer a range between 45, and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If temperature control is an issue, it may be necessary to purchase some modest heating equipment to maintain it. It will also be necessary to open the primary fermenter once a day and give the mixture a thorough stir to make sure everything is fermenting properly. When the mixture has the desired gravity reading as called for by the recipe, it is time to transfer it into the secondary fermentation unit, ideally, a carboy. A good trick to accomplish this smoothly is to fill the racking cane and siphon set up with water, place the racking cane in the primary fermentation jug, the free end of the siphon into the carboy, and let it flow. The little bit of extra water won’t hurt anything. When the secondary fermenter is full, use the bung and airlock to create a fermentation trap. Make sure the air lock has water in it now, this keeps the air out, but lets CO2 escape. Now it’s time to wait, again, this time for about four weeks. Store the fermenting wine in a dark place with a consistent, optimal temperature range.
After the four week long fermentation period, before the wine gets bottled, things like campden tablets and potassium sorbate are added to prevent re-fermentation. They get dissolved in a small amount of warm water and simply added to the carboy, or whatever is serving as the secondary fermentation vessel. When filling the bottles make sure to leave enough space to get the cork in! The bottle filler attachment comes in very handy at this point. Seal the bottles with a good quality cork and leave them upright for three days. This will allow the pressure to equalize. After three days, turn them on their side to let them age, or drink them! While the wine is drinkable right away, even just an extra two to three months of aging can dramatically enhance the taste, so patience will pay dividends.
Helpful Wine Making Tips
A really good, but not necessarily mandatory investment for making wine at home, is a laser thermometer. Temperature is key when it comes to fermenting wine and heat is a catalyst, not too much of it though. As mentioned above, red wines like to ferment between somewhere 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit while whites prefer a range between 45, and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s too cold then there might be problems with the yeast and the overall process will take longer. Taking a couple seconds to point a laser at a carboy to get a temperature reading is the best way to ease anxiety about the status of a fermenting batch. A PH meter will also come in handy and is a must have for the dedicated winemaker. Here’s another link to Thermometer World, a great place to start looking for kits and equipment!
Keep a wine journal too, otherwise good recipes will be forgotten and the bad recipes that might all of a sudden taste good, won’t be rediscovered! Get in the habit of recording everything, especially as a beginner. Those rudimentary notes might become the foundation for a new and original recipe one day!
Ultimately, wine making does have some innate, unavoidable intricacies. Nothing overly complex or high-brow, but it does involve a little more care than brewing beer for example. Having said that, making good wine in the comfort of one’s own home is absolutely doable as there’s no need for extravagant amounts of space. Just be sure to purchase a kit(s) with all of the equipment and ingredients mentioned in this guide. Beginners should probably avoid using fresh fruit as a base. Some experts defer to kits that use a juice-concentrate hybrid base because they are a bit easier to keep closer to the desired essence and character of the wine being made. Remember though, the most important thing is to make a choice and follow the recipe!