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How to Make Your Own Wine
Making Your Own Wine From Grapes
Making your own homemade wine from grapes is not difficult, but getting it through the winemaking process and into the bottle can be fraught with little difficulties.
But 'no worries', as they would say in Australia, 'anyone can make wine'!
When I mention 'difficulties', what I mean is, that between picking and pressing your grapes, right through to bottling the wine, there are a number of critical processes. Get any of these wrong, and you could have trouble and end up with the following problems:
French word 'vin aigre', meaning "sour wine."
A wine that has absorbed too much oxygen. In extreme examples, the wine has started to turn brown.
Get it right, and you will have some wonderful nectar to consume, made all the better as you have made it yourself. Now, you can call yourself a real Home Winemaker!
Q How do winemakers not only make good wines, but also make consistent wines?
A Good hygiene, good grapes, good equipment and the best winemaking practices.
SO, LET'S MAKE WINE!
Image credit: Rob Hemphill
Testing Equipment - Useful Items
Get the right kit for the job!
You do not necessarily need one of these, but they make the job of testing grape ripeness so much easier.
A refractometer is an optical instrument that is used to determine the refractive index of a substance.
Most commonly, refractometers are used for measuring fluid concentrations such as the sugar content (Brix level, for example, in carbonated beverages, fruits, juices, honey and or vegetables, etc).
TRIPLE SCALE HYDROMETER
A hydrometer is an important bit of kit used to measure the specific gravity (or relative density) of liquids; i.e. the ratio of the density of the liquid to the density of water.
It is usually made of a cylindrical glass stem with a mercury weighted bulb at its lower end, which ensures it floats upright. The liquid to be analyzed is poured into a tall measuring cylinder or similar container. Next, the hydrometer is lowered gently into the liquid and given a slight spin enabling it to find its level easily. The exact point at which the liquid's surface comes into contact with the hydrometer is called the meniscus; this is where the reading is taken from. A paper scale inside the stem of the hydrometer enables easy reading of the graduated Specific Gravity figures.
This can be used for both wine and beer. Taking regular SG readings allows one to monitor the progress of a fermentation with great accuracy and so determine the product's alcohol content. By taking readings before and after fermentation allow you to calculate how much alcohol has been produced, and how much residual sugar remains. Also, it allows you to check when your batch is ready to be bottled. Shows Specific Gravity scale from .990 to 1.170, Balling degrees scale from -3 to +35 and Potential Alcohol scale -2 to +22%.
The same method as used by professional wineries to determine the acidity level of a must before fermentation, and again at bottling time. Measured amounts of reagent is added to a measured sample of juice or wine that has been prepared with indicator solution. When the sample changes colour, the acidity is determined by measuring the amount of reagent used to obtain the colour change. The kit includes: a test tube, measuring syringe, reagent, indicator solution and complete instructions.
Where We Start - The Grapes
Important to have clean, disease free grapes
Whether the grapes come from a local vineyard or your own backyard, you can make impressive grape wines with remarkable flavour, body and character.
There are two important factors to take in to consideration before picking your grapes:
- The grapes must be fully ripe, and good to taste.
We look for a good balance between the natural sugar content and the acidity level within the grape.
Where there is an imbalance between sugar and acid, we may have to intervene by adding an acid ingredient. However, if the natural sugar level is found to be too low, by adding granulated sugar will only contribute to the overall total alcohol level, and not the sweetness.
A refractometer is used to test the ripeness of the grapes. (see above)
- There must be no debris or disease in the grapes.
Any stalks, leaves or other part of the vine mistakenly cut off will add unwanted bitterness to the sample which we don't want. While any diseased fruit will be detrimental to the clean, youthful flavour we are looking for in the must* prior to fermentation.
CLEAN GRAPES MAKE CLEAN WINE
*must = grape juice before fermentation
Image credit: Rob Hemphill
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Would you like to make your own wine?
Processing The Grapes
Destemming and pressing
When it comes to the actual processing of the grapes, red grapes are handled differently to white grapes.
With white grapes, the stems are left on and pressed immediately after picking. The skin and pulp do not become a part of the fermentation as with red grapes, and by leaving the stalks on they act as a good filter system during the pressing cycle.
However, red grapes are de-stemmed several days before pressing. The reason for removing the stalks is that as the grapes are fermented on their skins, this enables the red color to be extracted in to the juice.
THE RED COLOR OF WINE COMES FROM SKIN CONTACT ONLY.
WHITE WINE CAN BE MADE FROM RED GRAPES.
The stalks contain tannin, and if left on would be extracted into the wine causing a bitter taste. With red wines, we are looking to make a style that will soften with age.
De-stemming & Crushing
Not all grapes need have their stalks and stems removed, it really depends on the color of wine to be produced. For white wine production, the grapes can be left on the stalks as the time they are in contact with each other is minimal. However, with red wines it is different. By leaving the stems and stalks on would result in excess tannin extraction during the contact period - which is required to extract the color from the skins. Therefore, de-stemming prior to crushing is vital.
When making wine from grapes, whether you have a small quantity i.e. 60 to 80 pounds and aiming to end up with 5 gallons of wine, or a larger amount of say 600 to 1600 pounds hoping for 50 to 100 gallons, you will definitely need some mechanical assistance. The smaller quantities can easily be de-stemmed and crushed by hand.
A bespoke machine such as this crusher/de-stemmer combination is worth its weight in grapes!
Red and white grapes go through a slightly different pressing action, red grapes are pressed after they have been fermenting for a certain length of time (depending on how much color is to be extracted). White grapes, on the other hand, are pressed before they go into fermentation. The size of press you aim to buy is determined by the amount of grapes to be processed.
A small press is ideal for handling 50 to 100 pounds of grapes. It can press about 15 pounds at each press load. For larger quantities, a great press is the E.C. Kraus R-25 Double Ratchet Fruit Press.
Collection of the juice
While the grapes are being pressed, the 'must' (juice) is moved into a container as soon as possible. In commercial setups, a wine pump is used. It is important to get the 'must' out of air contact immediately if no sulphites have previously been added to the grapes.
Use sulphites by direction pre-fermentation, as what we want is to kill off any wild yeasts before we add our known yeast culture. Add too much and the fermentation will be slow to start; add too little, and it starts too soon from the natural yeasts.
BE PRECISE WITH MEASUREMENTS AND CALCULATIONS
Preparing For The Fermentation
Once the grapes have been pressed, and the acidity and sugar levels have been checked and adjusted as necessary, it is time to prepare the must for fermentation.
The must should now be in a fermentation vessel of some type - but not filled right to the top. You will then want to add to the must the following ingredients:
- Yeast Nutrient: add at the rate of 1 teaspoon per gallon. This is not yeast, but an energy source for the yeast which will be added later.
- Pectic Enzyme: add at the rate of 1/8 teaspoon per gallon. This enzyme is used in fruit to help with the clarification of the wine. With red musts, it helps to break down the pulp matter enabling better flavor extraction.
- Potassium Metabisulfite: add 1/16 teaspoon per gallon or 1/4 teaspoon to every 4 gallons. This is one of the most important of products to anyone making wine and is used to sterilize the must. It kills off bacteria and any wild yeasts prevalent on fresh grapes. Over a 24 hour period, the metabisulfite will sterilize the must (juice) and then dissipate into the air.
- Yeast can then be added after waiting 24 hours. If the yeast is added before the metabisulfite has dissipated, the new yeast will also be killed. Just sprinkle the yeast onto the surface of the must at a rate of 1 package for every 5 gallons.
Once the fermentation gets under way, try to ensure that the temperature is cool and stable.
MONITOR FERMENTATION TEMPERATURE.
TOO HOT: YEAST MAY OVERHEAT, AND DIE QUICKLY.
TOO COLD: MAY END UP WITH A STUCK FERMENTATION.
Racking The Wine
Racking = 'remove clear liquid off sediment'
Once the fermentation comes to an end, - this can be after as little as a few days or as much as several weeks, - the yeast cells have done their job and form a thick residue at the bottom of the vessel (the lees). It is now time to 'rack the wine' off the lees so that no nasty flavors are picked up.
This is where we transfer the clear wine into another vessel. Insert a clear, half-inch diameter plastic hose into the fermenting vessel and siphon the clear wine into another vessel. Then top it off and fit it with a sanitized bung and fermentation lock. This can be a delicate operation, and it's important to go slowly. You don't want to stir up the sediment, but you don't want to lose your siphon suction.
The wine is filled completely to the top of the vessel (to exclude any air) and left in a cool place for some time. This allows the wine to settle out all sediments, so the colder the better.
Once the wine is completely clear, and you have verified with a hydrometer that it is finished fermenting, it is time to bottle.
Bottling The Wine
A very rewarding stage of the process!
You might want to filter your wines before bottling them, this is advisable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it removes any particles which could cause a problem later on (bacterial spoilage or secondary fermentation). And secondly, it cleans up the appearance of the wine, so it has that it is 'star bright', clear look.
Many home winemakers don't bother filtering their wines as they expect to be drinking them soon. I would advise that if you plan to lay a wine down for a year or more, then it's well worth making sure that the product is clean and stable through filtration beforehand. It's your peace of mind. Another method of clarification is cold stabilization. The wine is kept in a cold environment for some weeks to enable solids to settle, then the wine is racked off the sediment.
There are several different sorts and sizes of wine filters, and buy the right one depends on the volume of wine you have to filter. Bottling the wine is very straight forward, just a matter of siphoning the wine from vessel into bottles then corking them.
Equipment needed: wine bottles, corks and a hand corker, and perhaps bottle labels and neck capsules.
Share with us your winemaking experiences, problems or difficulties. If I can help, just ask a question and I'll do my best to answer it for you.
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Bottle Presentation - Labels and Capsules
This is where you can have fun and design it all yourself
In the wine industry, bottle presentation is a very important part of the entire winemaking process. If you wish to give away some of your bottles of wine to friends, wouldn't it be great to have a stunning label and capsule (the foil on top of the cork) to show your wine off?
You can easily graphically design a label, and so long as your wine is for home consumption only, you don't have to worry about all the legal jargon that must be on all commercial wine labels. However, it is good practice to stick to the usual proper info such as:
- wine name
- bottle size
- alcohol %
- description of the wine
- and any else you want to convey to your own consumers.
Have a look at what one of the worlds top wine estates does with its label design. Over the years, Mouton Rothschild has come up with some amazingly different, artistic and colorful labels for its wines - and they certainly help to sell the bottles!
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