Wine - The Winemaker's FAQ

Welcome to the Winemaker's FAQ where you'll find answers to all your winemaking questions! I've grouped similar questions together to make it easy to find what you're looking for. I'll be adding to this hub regularly, to make it a comprehensive reference for the home winemaker. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, please add it as a comment. I'll answer, and also add it to the main hub. Thanks!

GENERAL QUESTIONS

What is the quickest way to make wine?

The quickest way is to let other people do the hard work for you! Buy supermarket grape juice, general purpose wine yeast and granulated sugar, and follow the step by step instructions in my beginner's hub, How to make Wine from Supermarket Grape Juice without buying Special Equipment. This will take 3 to 5 weeks, depending on temperature. Beware of Internet recipes for one-week or two-week wine. I've never seen one that wasn't seriously flawed. I've seen some that were positively dangerous!

What is the easiest wine to make?

Still dry table wine. Table wine is around 12% alcohol, well within the tolerance of a good wine yeast. Dry wines are easier because, when all the sugar is used up, the fermentation stops by itself. Sweet wines have to be stopped artificially. Strong dessert wines need special techniques to ferment beyond about 14%. Sparkling wines need particular care and attention. But this is all good news - the easiest wine to make is also the most popular type!

Is it legal to make wine at home?

In the UK, it is legal to make your own wine and beer, but not to distill the spirit from it. It is prohibited to sell it without a special license. Similar rules apply in most non-Islamic countries, but if in doubt it is best to check. It is no part of Paraglider's mission to land his readers in jail!

Does wine really improve with age?

Yes. The older I get, the more I like it! Seriously though, all wine will improve with a little ageing, but long ageing will only help a wine that has been specifically designed to be aged, and such a wine will often be pretty unpalatable until it has been aged. Red wines generally need a longer rest than whites, because of their higher tannin content.

Which is stronger, homemade or bought wine?

There is no difference if the home wine recipe is well designed and executed. So-called yeastless or sugar-free recipes turn out quite a lot weaker than bought wines. The folk tales of Grandpa's parsnip wine that was as strong as whisky have two explanations: 1) the stuff tasted foul and gave you a raging headache because it was poisonous, not strong; 2) the old man was secretly distilling it in the potting shed. Naughty Grandpa!




FRUIT & VEGETABLE QUESTIONS

What's special about grapes?

Wine grapes, properly grown and ripened, can contain the ideal balance of sugars, acids and tannins needed for a quality wine. Also, wine yeast is a cultivated form of grape yeast, so grapes are its natural environment. And a happy yeast makes a better wine.

What other fruits can I use?

You can make wine from most fruits, but you will usually need to add some sugar and possibly some acid (lemon juice will do). As no single fruit has the same balance as grapes, it is often a good plan to use pairs of contrasting types. E.g. Grapefruit is too acid and not sweet. Bananas are sweet but with no acid. Get the idea?

Can I use bruised or slightly rotten fruit?

If you must, but it's risky. The organisms that cause the rotting will compete with your yeast for colonisation. If the yeast wins, you might be ok, but if it loses, you'll end up with a pretty grim brew. It's always best to use fresh, ripe, sound fruit. If you wouldn't bake it in a pie, don't put it in your wine!

Can I use vegetable juices?

Yes, but not on their own. you will need to add sugar and acid because vegetables are very low in both. Or you can mix vegetable and fruit juices. Be a little careful with vegetable-based wines as they can sometimes contain undesirable alcohols as well as the ethanol. Even traces of methanol are dangerous to health.

How do I prepare the vegetables?

If you have a juice extractor, use that! If not, chop the vegetables fairly small, boil them in water (don't add salt!) but don't let them disintegrate. Strain off the liquid and leave to cool. Eat the vegetables (waste not, want not!) Remember to add sugar and acid to the vegetable juice, or blend with fruit juice. (Or both).

YEAST QUESTIONS

Can I make wine without using yeast?

No. A sweet fruit juice might start fermenting all by itself, but that's only because some airborne wild yeast has contaminated it. Some wild yeasts are capable of producing wine, but most are not. It is far better and safer to use your choice of wine yeast and be in control of the process.

Can I use baking yeast (bread yeast)?

It's better than trusting to luck with wild yeasts, but it's still not a good idea. Baking yeast will certainly start your fermentation, but it has a low alcohol tolerance, and will die before completing the job. This will leave you with a wine that is too sweet. It's much better to use a good quality wine yeast.

What exactly does the yeast do?

It does two things. At first, it multiplies by replication, vastly increasing its numbers, and in the process it uses up all the oxygen in the juice. Then it starts to release enzymes which break down the sugars to form alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. That is why fermenting juices froth and bubble.

How much yeast should I add?

You don't need much, because it grows by itself. But don't just add it straight to the juice. Add about a teaspoonful of dried All-Purpose Wine Yeast to about half a pint of the juice. Shake it, cover it, and leave it in a warm place for about 24 hours. When it has come alive, you can add the rest of the juice.

Where can I buy wine yeast?

If you don't have a winemaking supplier near you, there are plenty that do mail order. Google for winemaking supplies. And choose 'all purpose' or 'general purpose' wine yeast.

ADDITIVES QUESTIONS

Why do I need to add anything to my wine?

In some cases, you don't. You can make dry table wine from fruit juice, sugar, yeast, and nothing else. And it's satisfying to do so. But there are two main reasons why winemakers use additives. 1) Not all juices contain enough natural nutrients to keep the yeast alive and healthy throughout the process. 2) Wine that is to be matured can benefit from added antioxidants to delay the natural oxidation process until ageing is well advanced.

What is yeast nutrient? When do I use it?

Yeast nutrient is the winemaking equivalent of garden fertiliser. Yeast is a single cell 'plant' that, just like garden vegetables, needs the right nutrition. In particular, it needs a source of fermentable nitrogen. If this is lacking, the fermentation may stop completely, or it may take a wrong turning and start producing hydrogen sulphide, the bad egg gas. You can obtain yeast nutrient from any winemaking supplier. For quantity, follow the manufacturer's instructions, and always add it to the juice before starting the fermentation.

What is DAP?

DAP is diammonium phosphate. It is the principal ingredient of yeast nutrient. Only specialists and professional winemakers would have reasons to use DAP on its own. Just stick to general purpose yeast nutrient.

What is pectolase used for?

Pectolase, or pectolytic enzyme, breaks down pectin in a wine must. Pectin makes jams and jellies set, but is not helpful im wine as it can form a haze that will not settle. Juice wines usually don't need pectolase, but pulp-fermented wines may extract too much pectin from the fruit, causing trouble later. Pectolase added to the pulp has two effects - it reduces the risk of pectin hazes and also increases the juice yield from the pulp, as the pectolase breaks down the cell walls and helps liquify the pulp.

What are sulphites? Do I need to use them?

Sulphites are added to wine as sodium metabisulphite or potassium metabisulphite. Both chemicals act as a source of free sulphite ions in the juice. The sulphite does two useful things. 1) It prevents contamination of the juice by wild yeasts and other spoilage organisms. 2) It acts as an antioxidant, by sacrificially oxidising itself, forming sulphates in the process. Without sulphites, white wines tend to go brown and flat, like a sliced apple.

If you are making table wine from supermarket juices, for early drinking, then you do not need to use sulphites. But if you are using fruit or vegetables, or if you intend maturing the wine, careful use of sulphites is recommended.

What are Campden tablets?

Campden tablets are aspirin-sized pills of potassium metabisulphite. They offer the most convenient way of adding a controlled quantity of sulphite to a wine. But they are not very soluble and should always be crushed (between two spoons) and dissolved in a little water before adding to the wine. Keep Campden tablets out of the reach of children.

Doesn't sulphite smell bad?

Sulphur dioxide is a poisonous gas with a sharp, pungent smell. If you sulphite a wine at the end of fermentation, to stabilise it and prevent early oxidation, then you should not be in a hurry to drink it. As the wine matures, the sulphite level drops steadily. When the wine is ready for drinking, there should be no discernable sulphur dioxide smell. Sometimes you can smell sulphite in commercial wines, and usually this is because they have been rushed to the market too soon.

Is sulphite the only preservative used?

No. Some winemakers add potassium sorbate at the end of fermentation. This forms sorbic acid in the wine, which is a yeast inhibitor. You don't need it in dry wines, but it can be used to prevent intended semi-sweet or sweet wines from continuing to ferment past the desired end point. Note that sorbate is genuinely a preservative, whereas sulphite is technically a retardant but still an active part of the winemaking and maturing process.

What are finings? Do I need to add them?

Finings help a wine to clear. Most wines will fall clear by themselves, especially if you refrigerate them for a few days. But some may form a haze which refuses to settle out. Finings added to the wine can help the tiny haze particles to coagulate and fall as sediment, or in some cases to adhere to the finings particles and settle out together. There are problems though. Different types of haze may require different finings, and the wrong addition can simply add to the haze.

In fact there are two broad types of finings: organic, and inorganic or mineral. Organic finings (e.g. egg white, casein) react chemically with the haze and therefore have to be selected and measured with knowledge and care. Mineral finings are little more than insoluble fine heavy particles that slowly fall through the wine collecting the haze in passing. They are much easier to use.

What is Bentonite?

It is a mineral earth. It is the easiest and usually the most effective inorganic fining agent. If you want to use finings and don't have a degree in biochemistry, stick with Bentonite! Some winemakers add Bentonite to every fermentation, as a precaution, but I don't recommend this, because, though completely harmless, Bentonite will remove some of the more subtle flavours and scents. Note - Bentonite, though technically an additive, is not an ingredient, as it falls to the bottom and is not present in the finished wine.

EQUIPMENT QUESTIONS

What equipment do I need?

To get started, the only equipment you need is a plastic pouring funnel and a five litre (one gallon) drinking water container. But you do need a good reliable method. If you take up the hobby seriously, you will want a glass thermometer and a hydrometer (see below). You might want an electric heating mat to keep your fermentation warm, but it is really better just to make your wine in a warm place. When you start designing your own recipes, you should buy an acid testing kit.

What is a hydrometer used for?

A hydrometer is a weighted tube that floats upright, half in, half out of the juice. It has a scale on it which lets you read the Specific Gravity (SG), or density of the juice, as it floats higher in denser liquids. The SG of a juice depends on how much sugar it contains, so the hydrometer is effectively measuring the sugar content of the juice. During fermentation, as the sugar is converted to alcohol, the SG becomes less. The hydrometer is again used to monitor the progress of the fermentation. Finally, it is used to confirm when fermentation has stopped, and the comparison of initial and final SG is used to calculate the alcoholic strength of the finished wine. (For more details, see the section on Technique Questions)

What is a vinometer?

This is an instrument that is supposed to measure the alcoholic strength of a finished wine. It relies on capillary action - the tendency of a liquid to climb inside a narrow tube, or capillary, to a height that depends on various factors, including surface tension, viscosity and specific gravity. It works reasonably well with very dry wines, but with sweeter wines the dissolved sugar affects the result. Being a capillary, it is a difficult instrument to keep clean, and any deposits on the inside will also affect the capillary action. Don't bother buying a vinometer. The right way to measure alcohol content is with before and after hydrometer readings.

What is a fermentation trap?

This is a device to allow fermentation gases (carbon dioxide) to escape from the fermenting vessel while denying access to airborne micro-organisms, dust particles and even fruit flies and other insects that can be attracted by the aroma. There are several designs, but most rely on causing the gases to bubble through water (or sterilising solution). You need one if you are fermenting in the traditional glass demijohn fitted with a cork, but if you are using modern disposable plastic drinking water containers, it is sufficient to use the screw cap, backed off half a turn to allow the gas to escape through the screw thread. Nothing can enter against the steady stream of carbon dioxide.

What is the best kind of fermentation heater?

The two commonest types are electric mats and electric belts. The mat is easier to use. It is like a small electric blanket that you slip underneath the fermentation vessel. They can be quite useful, especially in the early stages when you want to help the process along, but later, when a sediment starts to form, applying heat directly below the sediment can release off flavours into the wine. The fermentation belt solves this problem, as it is wrapped round the outside of the vessel just above the sedimentation level. So, the belt is a better choice than the mat, but better still is simply to control the ambient temperature and use no heaters at all.

What is a fermentation jacket?

This is just a lagged insulating jacket that wraps around the fermentation vessel. It relies on maintaining a good temperature by trapping the heat generated naturally by the fermentation process. Unfortunately it can be self defeating as the trapped heat can lead to temperatures that the yeast can't survive. Also, the jacket takes away the pleasurable and educational experience of watching the fermentation. Lagging jackets are best left to hot-water cylinders!

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Comments 42 comments

norman bowry 8 years ago

Does sugar affect the action of pectolase.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Norman - I don't think so, but having said that, I'm not a biochemist or microbiologist. However, residual sugar does hinder clearing. Dry wines do fall clear better than semi-sweet or sweet wines.


Jerry Raley 8 years ago

I discovered a better yeast for my himalaya berry burgandy after it was started. I would like to add a Lalvin K1-V1116 to the batch I started with a Red Star, Montrechet. My objective is wine with a less sweet and higher alcohol content. Can I do that?


Paula Ferre 7 years ago

I've just moved to a small town in Ireland where there is no wine making supplies shop! I make a lot of wine from fruit jams, but am unable to buy Pectolase here. Is there a substitute I can use? It's been suggested that a couple of over ripe bananas will do the trick. Is this true?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Paula - bananas do help wines to fall clear, yes. But it's more by a natural fining action than an enzyme reaction. Instead of using fruit jams, why not use fruit juices? Jam has added pectin (to make it set) so it's a risky ingredient to use. My beasic juice method is here: http://hubpages.com/food/Make_Your_Own_Wine


mroconnell profile image

mroconnell 7 years ago from France

Neat FAQ, paraglider.

Paula, you're just a little flight away from my vineyard in Carcassonne where you can make it with me without bananas!


sue 5 years ago

Has anyone ever heard of the yeast just simmering not frothing up. The airlock is bubbling like crazy. What's happening


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Sue - That's no problem. If the airlock is bubbling the juice is fermenting. Frothing just means that the bubbles aren't bursting at the surface. This happens with lighter bodied wines. When the bubbles stop rising, it's finished, ok?


Tom 4 years ago

Made a similar recipe, almost exactly the same, from Grape cranberry juice, and 2 cups sugar... Fermentation stoped, racked into new container... Now the hydrometer says .99 and fermatation stoped, wine clear.. Haven't refridged it yet.. Not sweet at all.. How can I sweeten the taste?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Method 1 - don't sweeten it. Enjoy it as a dry wine.

Method 2 - use artificial sweetener (saccharine) which will not referment.

Method 3 - add sulphite (1 Camden tablet per gallon) and sweeten with sugar syrup. Leave for 6 to 8 weeks before drinking. Only try this if the wine is clear before you start.


Tom 4 years ago

To reply back... I found out recently I was alergic to campden tabs.. I read you can filter instead but it needs to be about 1micron (aka water filter expensive).. Can I just refrigerate at 40f and (kill) the yeast, then add sugar, or corn syrup or more concentrate? Or will it start to ferment again, when it gets to 58f, in my wine cellar? I like the idea of Splenda or saccharine too.. Does 40f kill yeast or put it to sleep?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Refrigeration stuns the yeast, stops the activity and reduces Brownian motion, so the wine starts to fall clear, but if you sweeten with sugar at this stage the chance of refermentation is quite high as the clearing is not complete. A good technique is: refrigerate it, rack it off the lees, cellar it for a couple of months, rack it again and sweeten at this stage. Cellar it again, for another month or two before use. (Also, the stronger the wine, the more stable it will be too, as alcohol is itself a yeast inhibitor).


Tom 4 years ago

That's what I thought.. The yeast doesn't die, but "goes to sleep" and falls "out of solution", in which I can rack off, aka refrigerator at 40F.. This is great advise, because I would like to have some "aged wine".. I also guess, as you posted in the tutorial, that you possible could go from primary fermentation (10-12days), rack to new gallon container, then go directly to the frig at 40f for 3 to 5 days, then rack again to 1/5 glass wine bottles, refrig them, and drink.. Would this super fast method work, or would it be "to fizzy", or just taste like garbage? Your opinion.. Cause I think it would be better to wait 30days, for aging, then refrig for 5 days, then bottle..??? Look for the best overall average??


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Best is to ferment to dryness, refrigerate, rack, store, rack again, store, bottle, store, enjoy. But every wine is different. Superfast methods never give best results. If you doubt this, try some Beaujolais Nouveau.


Tom 4 years ago

Again, I agree... My wine is now .99 on the hydrometer.. It has been sitting (secondary fermentation) for about 35 days at 70F.. I figure its time to refrigerate at 40f, for about 5 days, then bottle, age for another 2 months in wine cellar(58F)(small room under porch:american nickname) then rack, bottle,drink.. I was just wondering what would happen IF you went to refrigerate DIRECTLY after primary fermentation? Would it be TOO SWEET, Fizzzy, yucky too much to drink.. aka give the "wino" friends the quicky stuff, and save the good stuff for "family...


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

That's right. If you refrigerate too soon it will just waken up again unless you inhibit it chemically. And it will be sweet, cloudy, and frothy. Hardly a wine at all.


Tom 4 years ago

Thanks for all the help... Will let you know when I have my first bottle ready.. Your input has been invaluable...


Tom 4 years ago

Hello again... Wine is done, racked and refrigerated... I noticed the GRAPE/ cranberry juice, being cranberry made a TOO acidic wine... So, To let you know, I added a pince(now being 1/4tsp to .75liter) of baking soda, shake well, and left sit for 2 days... Relieve cap for co2... Also addes 1/2 gram(1/2 packet of splenda)... Wine is absolutely delicious!! Any comments?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Baking soda can certainly be used to reduce over-acidity. I've used cranberry in a 3 grape to 1 cranberry blend with no acidity problems, but on its own cranberry is very acidic. I had to google splenda - never heard of it, but any food grade sweetener can be used in moderation, if you don't like very dry wines. Glad it worked out well.


Rob 4 years ago

I left my wine kit in the Primary for 3 months. Can I still go ahead with next steps? Looks ok but smells a little vinegary. Should I just dump it out?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

If you've left it to ferment right through and had an air space above it for 3 months, with a partially open lid then the chances are it has oxidised and spoiled. Taste it but don't swallow it if it isn't good. If it tastes off, ditch it and start again.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Great hub, very easy to understand and well explained. I am hoping to make some wine at home soon in an attempt to live more frugally. I quite like the idea of using fruit from my dad's allotment but it sounds a bit more complicated than your juice from a shop version.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Jools - you can get better quality from fresh fruit than from shop juices, but I'd still recommend learning the basic techniques on the easier juice wines before branching out into fruit.


ds23 3 years ago

we have not stopped fermentation do to family emergencies it's been almost two months can I still salvage this wine


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Two months is not excessive as long as it's not been open to the air. Rack it off the lees into a fresh (sterile) container and leave it sealed for a couple more months.


Tony M 3 years ago

My latest attempt at fruit wine has been fermenting quietly for 12 months I have racked it several times and it tastes ok but still only 10% alcohol does this mean a serious problem or can I let it continue. cheers


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Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Tony - wine shouldn't ferment for 12 months. A well balanced must should take one to two months, depending on temperature, sugar content, presence of nutrients, etc. Also, the first racking should happen around the two month mark, at the end of fermentation, when all the sugar is used up. The alcohol content doesn't increase after that.

I suspect your wine may have been very low in nutrients. I'd suggest drinking it this Christmas and starting another batch, taking care to balance the must better. (See my other wine hubs for how).


Tony M 3 years ago

Thanks for that I will do as you suggest.


thor 3 years ago

hi paraglider, are there disadvantages of using Baking Soda to decrease acidity of wine? What else could i use?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Yes. It does neutralise some of the acidity, but it doesn't go away, except for some CO2. Its formula is NaHCO3. The HCO3 part is no problem. It ends up as CO2 and water. But the Na+ ion hangs around. Excess Sodium is not good for us. That's why we're told to reduce salt in our diets. Besides which, it can leave a taste. Baking soda tastes salty/soapy. Best to get the acid balance right from the start. But if you have an over-acid finished wine, blend it with one with lower acidity.


RHINO MODO 3 years ago

will my homemade wine still work if I used table sugar and baking yeast, but the store bought juice contained splenda?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

It might work but it will be sweet because the splenda is an artificial sweetener that does not ferment. Baker's yeast also works up to a point but the taste is never so good and it doesn't always clear well. Better to use pure juice with no artificial sweeteners or preservatives.


Gene R. R. 2 years ago

When should you add oak chips to the wine, and can I use oak chips from a piece of oak I bought to make a stirring paddle?


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Paraglider 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

You can add some oak chips to the maturing vessel , but sterilise them first either by soaking in sulphite solution (then rinsing with boiled water) or by heating them in the oven while cooking your dinner! Not too many. Young unseasoned oak can impart too much tannin to the wine.


Gene R.R. 2 years ago

About the oak chips, should I or could I char them as they do with oak barrells? Will change the flavor and in what way?


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Paraglider 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

If you char them it will change the flavour but whether for better or worse would be entirely personal. You'd have to run a control experiment to decide!


Gene R.R. 2 years ago

How can you determine if fermentation has stalled, and what do I do to correct the situation? Also, how do I determine the alcohol content of this wine?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

For alcohol content, read my hub on how to control the strength of home made beer, wine and cider. There's a link at the bottom of this hub. If the wine is still sweet but there are no bubbles rising it might have stalled. It's quite rare, unless you added too much sugar. screw the cap down and leave it for a few hours. Then open the cap gently. If no pressure has built up, it has probably stalled. Attempting restart with an actively fermenting yeast starter can work but often doesn't. Better is to add the stuck wine to a larger batch of fermenting wine.


Jaymore 2 years ago

I have a batch fermenting but after two months it has slowed right down and started to clear up. I tasted it ant the alcohol content is low and pretty sweet yet can I re mix with more guilt and start the fomenting again or if I bottle it will it become less sweet with age


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Paraglider 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

As long as it has not gone off, it's better to add it to a strongly fermenting batch. It won't become less sweet with age,


tobbys 2 years ago

When making wine from grape juice and making a bigger batch do you also increase the amount of yeast proportionately

.


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Paraglider 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Yes, and you should always start the yeast in a little juice first and add it to the bulk when it is actively fermenting.

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