How to Make Wine and Mead at Home - Buying the Equipment
Before You Start
To start off, there are tons of ways to break into this hobby. Whether you want to start off spending nearly nothing and making some OK tasting wine, or if you want to start off whole hog spending hundreds (or even thousands!) of dollars on equipment to make the best wine you can, is all up to you. Here I will tell you how to start off with a little investment ($25-$100) and create some pretty fantastic wines. To top off the great wine it is also a very exciting hobby to get into. Before you begin you may want to familiarize yourself with some wine making terminology in my Wine Making Glossary. So if you are all set, here is the guide for making great wine and mead at home easily and cheaply!
The Basic Process
The basic process of wine making may seem mystical and magical if you don't really know what is going on. However, it is really very simple and natural. In fact early alcohol was produced by sugars naturally fermenting by wild yeasts. There are three things you need in order to create alcohol:
- A Suitable Environment
You can use any yeasts to create alcohol and some people even produce wine using wild yeasts found in the air and on the fruits used to create the wine. However, most people will use a special strain of "Wine" or "Mead" yeast that is best suited for creating a certain flavor or style of wine. These yeasts cost about $1 a pack and work very well.
The sugar used in the process is whatever sugar you want to use. Whether it is fruit, honey, or simply cane sugar (sometimes referred to as a sugar wash to create other liqueres), they all will create consumable alcohol. Some people will use wine kits that are simply grape wine juice in a 6 gallon package or they will use completely fresh fruits to make something of their own. It's all up to you!
The environment can be one of the simplest and hardest parts to maintain. There are many chemicals and compounds that will affect the flavor and fermentation of your wine. As a beginner you don't need to worry too much about these as you will probably just follow a recipe. Temperature and light can also be an important factor. However, when you decide to branch out and begin creating your own recipes you will need to learn more about this. I recommend either The Compleat Meadmaker for mead or The Way to Make Wine if you are looking more into wine. Both books are great reads for the hobby as a whole.
It can be just as simple or complicated as you want to make it. The fun in this hobby is that you can make fantastic wine by just mixing up some juice and some yeast, and you can also fine tune exactly how you want it to taste and look with a lot of fiddling. It is all up to you!
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Step One - Equipment
This will be the biggest investment in your wine and mead making adventure. Depending on what kind of wine you will be making and how big you want your operation to be will set your budget for this. I highly recommend the website Midwest Supplies for your wine making supplies. They are the top google result and all products they sell are of great value and quality. I will break the equipment I recommend into two groups: Essentials and Nice to Haves. If you are planning on making kit wine you will need to invest in the larger equipment as they come in large quantity kits. But if you are just looking to start making small batches of fruit and other wines then what I have laid out will work perfectly!
Wine Making Kits. Mostly for Large Batches and Perfect for Kit Wine
- Primary Fermenter - Usually a food grade plastic bucket. These come in many sizes. Usually these will be 1-several gallons larger than your secondary fermenter. Prices vary by size. On Midwest Supplies website prices are:
- 2 Gallon: $4.95
- 6.5 Gallon: $13.50
- 7.9 Gallon: $17.75
- Secondary Fermenter - Usually a glass jug (sometimes called a carboy) to let the wine further ferment after its first vigorous primary fermentation. Prices vary depending on size. On Midwest Supplies website prices are:
- 1 Gallon: $4.25
- 3 Gallon: $23.95
- 5 Gallon: $29.95
- 6 Gallon: $37.99
- Measuring Cups – Used to measure ingredients. You can use the ones you already own! Pretty cheap anywhere.
- Long Handled Wood or Plastic Spoons – Again, you probably already own these. You can buy these pretty cheap at Walmart or anywhere else for about $1.
- Plastic Tubing – This is used to transfer wine from primary to secondary fermenters. It is very cheap and can be found in nearly any fish or wine supply store. About 50 cents a foot.
- Air Locks or Fermentation Lock – These keep oxygen out during fermentation. It is essential to have at least one, if not a few, of these. They are very cheap. About $1.
- Wine Bottles - It is ok to use recycled bottles as long as they are cleaned and sanitized before use. Also you will want to use corked only bottles. Sometimes the necks on threaded bottles are too weak to stand the pressure of a cork You can buy them new for about $1 each.
- Corks - There are many varieties from natural to synthetic and everything in between. These start at about 15-16 cents a cork and go up to nearly 50 cents a cork for expensive synthetic corks. Never ever reuse corks as it can lead to tainted wine.
Assuming you want to get started as cheaply as possible here is the rundown. You will need a Primary Fermenter, Two Secondary Fermenters (for ease of transferring it is possible to get away with one, though), Plastic Tubing, An Airlock and stopper, Wine Bottles, and Corks assuming you have measuring cups and spoons.
A two gallon primary fermenter is: 4.95
Two one gallon secondary fermenters are: 8.50
Eight feet of plastic tubing is: 4.00
One airlock + stopper is: 1.60
12 Wine Bottles (1 case): 11.99
30 Corks: 4.89
While that total isn't too expensive it is possible to cut down on these costs by having your own wine bottles (usually easily obtainable from friends and family). You only need about 5 bottles per 1 gallon batch. These are all one time investments (except for the bottles if you give them away) so once you buy it you can use it forever or until it breaks!
Nice to Haves
- Hydrometer - Allows you calculate the amount of sugars and alcohol in your wine. It also helps you calculate when your wine is done fermenting.(This will probably be your second Nice to Have investment.)
- Wine Corker – Helps you get the corks into the wine bottles easier (This will probably be your first Nice to Have investment.)
- Wine Filter – Clarifies and “cleans” your wine before bottling.
- Fruit Press / Juice Extractor – Helps you get fresh juice out of your fruits for wine.
- Wine Thermometer – Helps you regulate the temperature of your fermenting wine.
None of these items are necessary to creating good wine but they are essential to great wine. However, you can get by just fine without these to begin with. But, if you decide to pursue this hobby further many of these items may be on your wish list (and luckily many of them are cheap!).
So You Have Your Equipment
So you have all these buckets and jugs and tubes. What do you do with them? Well you read on to see how to put everything together and create some really fantastic wine. You can see the complete process in my next hub in this guide or go back and review my glossary of wine making terms!