Making wine doesn’t need to be overly confusing. All it takes is a little time and effort to get acquainted with the terminology and overall process. Some people use pre-packaged kits which are a great way to create drinkable wine, but be aware – kits make large batches. If you prefer to create your wine from scratch, by following a few basic rules you too can reap the rewards of enjoying a glass of wine created in your own home.
The first rule of thumb is to sanitize, sanitize, sanitize – this can not be stressed enough. Cleanliness can make the difference between making a palatable wine or something you’d rather pour down the drain. Start by utilizing the dishwasher to clean all bottles and utensils. Be sure to use the heated dry cycle as this will ensure further sterilization. For items too large or complicated for the dishwasher such as buckets, carboys and hoses you can wash them by hand in mild soapy water.
After inspecting all items for cleanliness, a chemical oxidizing agent can be used to ensure all ‘tools’ are ready to use. Campden tablets are a popular choice as they are readily available and used to protect against wild yeast and bacteria without affecting wine flavor. Use as outlined below.
- Sanitizing Instruments 14 crushed tablets per gallon of water
- Killing Wild Yeast in Must 1 crushed tablet per gallon of wine Must
- De-chlorinating Tap Water 1 crushed tablet per 20 gallons of water
Must – Primary Fermentation in a Bucket
‘Must’ is a term used for the fruit, sugar and yeast mixture used to start your wine. There’s no exact science to making a proper Must as there are many recipes out there.
Fruit & Juice – When making fruit wines the ratio of crushed fruit to liquid can range from equal amounts of each to 1 part fruit and 2 parts liquid. For easier removal of fruit solids later in the process, place it in a straining bag within your Must. By adding preservative free 100% juice or juice from concentrate as your liquid component, your wine will have a more intense flavor as compared to using strictly water.
Sugar – As many successful wine makers would agree, one of the most important fermentation rules to follow is having proper sugar levels for yeast to thrive. You can get technical by utilizing a hydrometer to test the existing sugar levels of the Must prior to and after the addition of sugar. However, I’ve found great success in following the 11% alcohol yield noted below.
- 3.5 cups of sugar per gallon 11% alcohol yield
- 4.75 cups of sugar per gallon 12% alcohol yield
Pectic Enzymes – This enzyme is used to break down the cell wall of fruit being used in your wine Must. Especially in the case of apple based wines, its use is highly recommended to extract the most flavor and natural juices possible. As an added bonus, Pectic Enzymes assist in breaking down and clearing wine with a high natural pectin presence. In the end, the addition of Pectic Enzymes will also result in reduced cloudiness of your overall product. Refer to your bottle directions as enzyme mixtures can vary.
- ½ tsp per gallon of Must
Yeast Nutrient – Think of Yeast Nutrient as a potent fertilizer for ultimate yeast survival. Contrary to popular belief yeast need more than just sugar, water and heat to survive – they also need nitrogen. By adding Yeast Nutrient prior to any addition of yeast, you will help ensure its survival and reproduction rate. This in turn will dial-up the rate of fermentation and production of alcohol in your wine.
- 1 teaspoon per gallon prior to fermentation
Acid Blend – Typically, this component is also added prior to the addition of yeast. Acids have a direct influence on the growth of yeast, wine color and the overall balance and taste of your finished wine. It is not required in all wines but by adding Acid Blend to non-fruit wines you can make certain the sweet flavors balance with a pleasant tartness. This is especially important in Meads (fermented honey wine) and flower tea based wines such as dandelion or chamomile.
- ¼ tsp per gallon of Must
Yeast – The key component of making juice into wine. Yeast can be pretty fickle creatures but if the environment is right, these little buggers will eat up sugar relatively quickly. A crowd favorite is Montrachet yeast. It can be used for both white and red wine fermentations and is a great choice for the home winemaker. When adding yeast into a Must treated with Campden tablets be sure to wait 24 hours before the addition. If added sooner, you run the risk of killing off your yeast before it can start fermentation.
- ¼ tsp per gallon of Must, adding more can produce an off-putting sulfur taste
Timing – Once all components of your wine base have finally come together, you can sit back and let the yeast go to work. It’s best to run Primary Fermentation in a food-grade bucket as you will need to stir the mixture twice daily for 5-7 days. Gently prop the lid open on your bucket or cover with a fine mesh cloth to allow air flow and to prevent bugs or other contamination from entering. During this time you may notice a foamy, bubbling quality to your wine Must – this means your yeast are devouring the sugars you are feeding them! Optimum room temperature for this step is approximately 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
Secondary Fermentation in Carboy or Jug w/ airlock
Follow the sanitizing tips as previously outlined, prepare all items you will use in the wine transfer from bucket to carboy. Once Primary Fermentation has slowed, you can strain out the fruit solids. Carefully, without disturbing the yeast lees at the bottom of the fermentation bucket; siphon off the remaining liquid. It’s best to sacrifice a little wine to avoid siphoning the bottom sediment as this is also an initial step to clearing your wine.
By now will notice the aroma is starting to become more reminiscent of wine versus just being juice. To get an idea of the overall alcohol content you can use a vinometer. If you feel the percentage of alcohol is too low, you can add more sugar which will most likely kick-start a secondary round of fermentation. Topping off or reducing air volumes at the top of your carboy or jug may not be required if you’ve added sugar or your wine has continued to bubble. Stopper your container fitted with an airlock to allow for the escape of gas and to prevent air from entering back into the vessel. Allow to sit 7-14 days undisturbed until all bubbling ceases completely.
Rack & Clear
Time is drawing near to wine completion! This possible last step will take 5-7 days before enough settling has occurred to technically render your wine ready for bottling. At this point it will be important to completely fill your holding container to reduce the amount of head space exposing wine to the air. Sanitize all ‘tools’ you will use in siphoning off the clear wine from any sediment. If you need more liquid to top off your vessel, you can use water if the amount required is small. If a larger amount is needed, utilizing a complementary store-bought wine is acceptable. A stopper and airlock will again be used.
Campden Tablets – We know Campden has many uses but it also works great in conjunction with Potassium Sorbate to kill off wine yeast.
- 1 crushed Campden Tablet per gallon 2 hours prior to Potassium Sorbate addition
Potassium Sorbate – By addition, Potassium Sorbate will render any remaining yeast unable to multiply. This will allow the fermentation process to come to a halt and ready your wine for sweetening and final bottling.
- ½ tsp per gallon of wine
Clearing Agents – Calcium Bentonite is used for clarifying wine. Since most everyone is put off by cloudy wine, this addition can help rectify fine particulate matter that has not settled out naturally.
- 1-2 tsp per gallon, using less is best when your wine isn’t very cloudy
Sweetening – It’s a personal preference but playing it safe at this point makes sense to me. Some sweeten their wine now but if there’s any remaining live yeast the outcome can be unpredictable. Any yeast still living as the Campden and Calcium Bentonite set to work, continue to feed on the sugars existing in the wine. If you’ve made a small batch for immediate consumption, by all means sweeten now and drink to your heart’s content. For larger batches you intend to store longer, I’d recommend waiting. By adding a few more days to the entire process, you can opt to rack it once more and sweeten when all the yeast have had time to die off.
Optional Racking & Sweetening
Again, following the same sanitization rules previously noted, siphon off the cleared wine into a clean carboy. Although your wine is ready for bottling, you may have chosen to delay final sweetening until well after the Campden and Potassium Sorbate have done their job. The amount of sweetness you add will be dependant upon your own tastes. Sugar can be used, concentrated fruit syrups and even honey. Honey can add minimal cloudiness back into the wine but the depth of flavor accomplished by its use is something wonderful. Wait another 5-7 days, taste & bottle!
It may sound as if I’m repeating myself but the first step if you haven’t guessed it, is sanitizing! The dishwasher and Campden tablet method works well for preparing wine bottles. Soak your corks in the Campden solution as it will kill bacteria as well as act as lubrication when corking. Siphon wine into each bottle, cork, label and store bottles on their side until you are ready to partake!
Wine Making Tools
All buckets, carboys or jug sizes can be adjusted according to the batch size
5-6 gallon food grade bucket with top
Long handled non-metallic spoon or stir stick
2 Carboys (preferably glass but plastic will work – see Tips)
Stoppers to fit Carboys or Jugs with insert hole for Airlock
6 ft of food grade siphon hose
1 straining bag
Montrachet wine yeast
Fruit & 100% fruit juice
750 ml Standard Wine Bottles
• Wine pump/filter is an optional expense. If you clear your wine well enough by racking then you will have no need to filter your wine at bottling time.
• Visit a local wine bar or restaurant and ask if they have any bottles in the back. It’s a free way to get bottles for winemaking!
• Dissolvable canning jar labels make bottle reuse a snap!
• Plastic water dispenser Carboys are a great alternative to glass. Smaller sizes can be found and by trading them in every few batches of wine, you can avoid imparting the last wine batch flavor into your new batch.