Home Winemaking - How To Make Wine At Home!
You may have been told that the word "wine" should only be used to describe the fermented juice of the grape. Not so! Many home winemakers produce wines of superb quality from fruits, flowers and vegetables. No wonder home winemaking is so popular! Even better, there's a big difference in price between home-made and commercial wine - you can make six bottles of wine at home for the price of one bottle from the wine store. But perhaps the most important reason for the popularity of home winemaking is the satisfaction involved in creating a truly enjoyable product through your own efforts.
Home-made wines are often called "country wines", presumably because the ingredients were originally obtained from the plants and trees of the countryside.
Although the natural harvest of elderberries, loganberries, blackberries, plums, rosehips, sloes and so on remain staple ingredients of home-made wine, many other cultivated fruits now feature in the winemaker's recipe book. And, surprising as it may seem, wines of excellent quality can also be made from ordinary root vegetables, cereals and flower petals - the most well-known of the latter being elderflower wine.
Even if you live in the middle of a town or city, making wine with "country" ingredients is easy: there are many home winemaking shops which supply both dried and canned ingredients, as well as equipment and free advice. And if you want your winemaking to be as simple as possible, you can use one of the high-quality grape-juice concentrates now available. These can be made into wine in their own right, or they can be blended with other fruit and vegetables to add a certain extra character to the finished wine.
Home winemaking is a fascinating, creative and enjoyable hobby - and one which has very few limits. Start by making a single batch of red or white wine, and before long you'll find yourself making wine in large quantities, or trying to match commercial wines, or exhibiting your wine at local or national shows, or joining a wine circle to meet fellow winemakers and make new friends.
In this website, I explain the basic procedures for making red and white wines from fruit, flowers, cereals and vegetables.
There are 120 new recipes, as well as sections on specialized topics such as making sherry and sparkling wines. Both the novice and the experienced winemaker should find this website useful. So wait no longer!
If you are wondering how to start, read this site, obtain the basic equipment, select a recipe and begin! Soon you'll be enjoying your first glass of delicious home-made wine!
Winemaking At Home
The basis of winemaking
The fundamental stages involved in the making of any wine are:
1 extracting the flavor from the ingredients
3 maturation and bottling
I shall explain these stages in detail later on, but an outline of the processes involved will be useful in understanding the equipment required for winemaking and the different ingredients and additives which go into all wines.
EXTRACTING THE FLAVOR
Commercial wines are made from fermented undiluted grape juice, perhaps with a little sugar added. But most of the fruits used in home-made wines have such a strong flavor that the pure undiluted juice obtained by pressing the fruit would produce an unpleasantly strong flavored wine. So instead, the juice or flavor of the fruit is extracted in one of several ways and the liquid obtained is diluted down with water to a suitable concentration. It is then called a must. The sugar is dissolved in the must, and yeast is added so that fermentation can begin. (Cereals, flowers and vegetables are all treated in a similar way.)
Fermentation is a natural process carried on by many kinds of fungi, bacteria, moulds and yeasts. As far as winemaking is concerned, though, fermentation specifically refers to the action of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae on the sugar dissolved in the must.
There are two ways in which yeast can use sugar as a food. In oxygenated or aerobic conditions, yeast builds up a large colony of cells and digests the sugar completely. In deoxygenated or anaerobic conditions, the yeast does not reproduce as quickly and can only partially digest the sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide gas as by-products. Fermentation takes place in two stages; the first or aerobic stage allows the yeast to build up a strong colony, and the second or anaerobic stage produces much alcohol.
Often the first stage of fermentation takes place in a bucket or similar vessel which contains the must and usually the "pulped" material of the basic ingredients. This process helps to extract the flavor. Thus you can see that the two stages "extraction of flavor" and "fermentation" may, at least to start with, be simultaneous. After a while, however, the solids are strained from the liquid, and the liquid is poured into a demijohn or some other fermentation vessel from which the air can be excluded.
As the yeast uses up the oxygen in the container, it froths and foams quite dramatically. But soon the carbon dioxide builds up, the oxygen is exhausted, and the slower anaerobic fermentation begins. When this has finished, the yeast falls to the bottom of the jar and the wine begins to clear. It is then racked (i.e. siphoned off the sediment) into a clean jar to mature.
A new wine often tastes rather unpleasant. But storing it for some time allows the flavor to mellow, and allows the ingredients to settle out and react with each other so as to form the subtle bouquet and flavor characteristic of a high quality wine. That is a brief outline of the theory; but what of the practical side of winemaking?
THE BASIC EQUIPMENT
The three stages of winemaking all require slightly different equipment. Even so, it is not necessary to spend much money. You will probably have most of the hardware listed below in your kitchen; other more sophisticated items can be added as you wish.
Here is a list of essential equipment for making 1 gallon (4.5 litres), i.e. six standard wine bottles, of wine:
A hard white plastic bucket of 2 gallon (9 litres) capacity, preferably with a lid or suitable close-fitting cover; a plastic or wooden spoon; a large aluminum, stainless-steel or unchipped enamel pan (if the recipe indicates that the ingredients should be boiled); a medium and a fine nylon mesh sheet for straining the must; plastic or glass fermenting vessels of 1 gallon (4.5 litres) capacity, such as the easily obtainable glass demijohn; a rubber bung and air-lock; a plastic or nylon funnel; a second demijohn for storage; suitable bottles and stoppers for the finished wine; four feet (1.5 metres) of nylon or plastic tubing for siphoning the wine from one container to another when fermentation is over or when bottling; a bottle brush for cleaning jars and bottles.
Larger quantities of wine may require the following equipment: a steam boiler or a fruit crusher and press; an electric juice-extractor; large fermentation vessels such as a white plastic 5 gallon (25 litres) "Brewing Bin" and glass carboys for storage of the finished wine.
Other useful but optional equipment includes: electric heaters for fermentation vessels; a hydrometer and trial jar; a corking machine to drive corks into bottles. This equipment will all be available at any specialist winemaking and brewing shop.
By the way, there are also certain types of equipment which should be avoided. This includes any metal pan or utensil not made from aluminum, stainless steel or unchipped enamel, and any colored plastic, because the colorants may be toxic. Obviously this applies to vessels used for long-term storage or fermentation rather than to utensils used only briefly, such as spoons or jugs. The best way of avoiding this problem is to purchase your equipment from a specialist supplier, who will only sell material suitable for winemaking. It's also a good idea to avoid any unglazed stoneware or pottery, and any plastic container for long-term storage of wine. The alcohol may evaporate through the plastic, and the plastic may taint the wine. Last but not least, avoid any unsterilized equipment or utensil. This will help you avoid any wine going bad or turning to vinegar. The different methods of sterilizing equipment are explained later.
THE FERMENTATION JAR AND AIR-LOCK
Glass demijohns are cheap and readily available. They are by far the safest and best vessels for the home winemaker since they do not corrode, melt, taint wine or absorb its flavor and smell. Similarly, glass carboys can be used for larger quantities of wine.
While a wine is fermenting in these containers, oxygen in the air must be excluded so as to encourage the production of alcohol. This is achieved by the use of an air-lock, also known as a fermentation-lock or trap.
This piece of equipment prevents the outside air from gaining access to the wine and yeast, while allowing the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation to escape. It also prevents spoilage bacteria and fruit flies from entering the wine. (Small fruit flies carry the bacteria which turn wine sour or vinegary.) A thick cloth or lid over a bucket of must serves the same purpose as the airlock on a demijohn. All air-locks work on the same principle: a small amount of sterilizing solution is poured into the lock, the stem is pushed through a bung, and the bung is fitted to the fermentation vessel.
This means the external air cannot reach the wine, but the carbon dioxide gas produced by the yeast can force its way through the air-lock and escape without building up in the fermenting wine. Any air-borne bacteria which land on the air-lock will be killed by the sterilizing solution. However, most solutions lose their effectiveness after a while, and therefore need to be periodically renewed. Alternatively, a small plug of cotton wool may be inserted into the open end of the "bubbler" air-locks.
There is a large range of air-locks available; there are points for and against each model. Plastic ones are more robust but can be scratched easily. They are not cheap, either, costing almost as much as the glass bubblers. On the other hand, large plastic locks are the only ones which can cope with the gas produced by 5-gallon (25 litre) batches of wine. The glass bubbler, however, is ideal for small batches of wine - and entertaining to watch as the bubbles "blurp" through the liquid in the tube! One small defect with glass air-locks is that they are less robust than plastic ones: care must be taken when pushing them into a rubber bung or they may break and cut your hand quite badly. A drop of water on the stem acts as a lubricant.
With large fermentation vessels, it is possible to design your own air-locks. A small-diameter plastic tube, for example, can be cemented into a small hole bored in the screw-top lid of a plastic container. The other end of the tube can then be submerged in a jar of sterilizing solution, through which bubbles of gas will be able to escape.
You can obtain an idea of the progress of a fermentation by watching the rate at which bubbles pass through the air-lock. And of course, when fermentation is complete, no carbon dioxide gas is produced and no more bubbles pass through the air lock. (The levels on the inner and outer sides of the lock may not equalize, because the gas pressure inside and outside the jar varies differently with temperature. But so long as no gas actually passes through the lock, you know that fermentation is complete.)
Incidentally, the first stages of fermentation in a demijohn may produce so much froth and foam that the wine is actually forced right up and through the air-lock. This problem can be avoided by using a cotton-wool plug rather than a bung and air-lock for a few days until the fermentation has died down.
HYGIENE AND STERILIZATION
Before you do anything, be aware of the importance of hygiene in winemaking. Bacteria can infect a wine and turn it bad at any stage of production if dirty equipment or bottles are used; and the wine (not to mention all your efforts) will then be wasted.
In fact more wines are lost through off-flavors and foul tastes produced by bacterial infection than through any other cause. The most well-known infection is that of Acetobacter, which turns wine into vinegar (acetic acid) by a process of acetification. The wine can then only be poured away or used for cooking.
Similarly, "wild" yeasts abound on fruit and in the air. Unlike cultured wine yeasts, these yeasts can only produce small amounts of alcohol; they also taint a wine with all kinds of unpleasant flavors. You don't want them in your wine!
This means that all the ingredients, utensils and equipment which come into contact with your wine at any time must be first washed or rinsed and then sterilized. This includes even small items which might be overlooked, such as spoons, straining bag, hydrometer and siphon tube. Otherwise sooner or later you'll produce an infected wine with a nasty taste and smell.
There are several effective methods of sterilization:
1) Boiling water. The water must be poured over the ingredients or equipment whilst it's boiling or it won't work effectively. DO NOT pour boiling water over or into cool glass or it will inevitably break.
2) Household bleach solution. A very effective sterilizing agent is household bleach, diluted at the rate of one cupful to a gallon (4.5 litres) of water. This solution is ideal for sterilizing plastic and glass equipment only, as it corrodes metal. Jars and bottles can be filled to the neck, while smaller pieces of equipment can be placed in a bucket containing the solution. In both cases, leaving the equipment overnight should ensure it is thoroughly sterilized. Be sure to rinse everything before you start, though, as any traces of bleach will certainly spoil the wine. The bleach solution can be used several times. If you decide to use this method of sterilization, do remember that bleach can be dangerous, so keep it off your hands and, above all, don't leave it where children can get at it.
3) Products which are designed for sterilizing babies' feeding equipment are very suitable for use with winemaking equipment. Follow the instructions on the bottle or packet.
4) Chempro SDP. This product cleans and sterilizes at the same time and can therefore be a useful timesaver. It is certainly effective (it is used by breweries). Use it as directed on the packet.
5) Sodium metabisulphite or Campden tablets. (The latter are simply a compressed form of sodium metabisulphite powder.) Metabisulphite dissolves in water to form a solution of sulphur dioxide gas; the sulphur dioxide sterilizes any equipment which it comes into contact with.
When you use either sulphite or Campden tablets, follow the instructions provided. Usually one teaspoonful of sulphite powder is dissolved in one litre of water. Like bleach solution, sulphite is only suitable for non-metallic equipment. The sterilizing solution does not need to fill the container, but it should be shaken and rolled around the surface several times so as to cover the entire area of the vessel.
A solution of sulphite can be used more than once kept in a screw-topped jar or bottle with no air-space. Always check the potency of the solution by sniffing (very cautiously) for sulphur dioxide gas. If you can't detect it, make up a new solution. Once a jar or bottle has been sterilized, it can be kept sterile by corking it with about half an inch (10 mm) of solution in the bottom. Fermenting equipment should be well drained, or rinsed with sterile (i.e. boiled and cooled) water before use. Otherwise the traces of sulphite may inhibit the wine yeast, and if that happens, a hydrogen sulphide (bad egg) smell may develop. Similarly, if the sulphite used for sterilizing equipment gets into a finished wine, it may spoil the color, so rinse out any jars and bottles before you use them.
Contact the author, Rod, on rod"at"home-winemaking.com (change "at" to @ to make it work)
Please note I get a small commission if you buy
any of the products I recommend for home made wine and home wine making.
But I want you to know that I only recommend things I truly believe in and would use - or have used - myself.
My twenty years' home wine making experience means I know a thing or two about home made wine and the problems
that we all face from time to time! Cheers! Rod.
Original posting date
01 January 2018