So you want to start making your own wine at home but have no idea how to get started? Don’t worry every winemaker started out where you are today. The process of making wine at home may seem foreign to you know but with our guide on how to make wine you will be making delicious homemade wine in no time. Let’s get started with a quick explanation of what wine is.
How to Make Wine – What is Wine?
The definition of wine is simple: an alcoholic beverage made with the fermented juice of grapes. Wine was originally made with grapes and the grape is the single best fruit to make wine with due to its characteristics. However, you can make wine with several types of fruits including apples, peaches, various berries, plums, and even tomatoes. Wine is different from beer in that wine is made from fruit and beer is made from grains.
Wine grapes are different than standard table grapes that are made for eating. Wine grapes are seeded and they are smaller and sweeter than their counterparts. Most wine grapes come from a single specious of grape called Vitis vinifera. This strain of grape has been cultivated and grafted with many other types of grapes to create a variety of grapes we use to make wine today.
The characteristics of wine are vast. Wine is very acidic. It’s on the higher end of the pH scale. This gives wine its a tart taste. Wines come in different levels of sweetness. Most of the wines that are considered to be “fine wines” are on the dry end of the scale. While other wines are semi-sweet with both a dry and sweet taste. On the other end of the range, you have very sweet wines. These are where most of the fruit wines come in. The alcohol content within wine also affects the flavor. More alcohol can make the wine “hotter” than lower alcohol wine. The level of alcohol in the wine also helps it to stay shelf stable. The average alcohol range of wine is between 10% and 15% alcohol by volume. Finally, the aromas of wine are just as important as the taste. A large percentage of our perception of taste comes from smells.
How is Wine Made?
This wouldn’t be our guide on how to make wine without talking about how wine is made. The most basic explanation of how wine made is really simple. You take fruit juice and ferment it by adding yeast. In fact, you don’t really even need to add yeast to grapes to create wine. In the old days, they would simply crush the grapes and let them sit. Natural yeast will start the process of fermentation. Today we use specialized wine making yeast that will ensure you get a quality result.
Yeast is really the most important element in turning fruit juice into wine. Yeast will consume the sugars within the juice and turn them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gas escapes the wine while the alcohol stays creating a delicious elixir from the gods. Yeast colonies will grow in the wine while it is fermenting. Eventually, there will not be enough sugar to feed the entire colony and some of the yeast will die off. The alcohol level rises while the yeast consumes the sugar. This rising level of alcohol also kills off the yeast as they can not survive in higher levels of alcohol. Eventually, all of your yeast will die off and you will be left with wine.
Different Approaches to Making Wine for the Beginner
There are a couple of different approaches that you can take as a beginner winemaker. One of the easiest methods is to purchase a winemaking kit. These kits can be purchased for about $50-150 dollars and generally produce 6 gallons of wine. That’s enough wine for 30 bottles. There are also one-gallon kits available that will make 5 bottles of wine but they are less popular. These kits include the concentrated juice, yeast, and all of the additives that you need to create your wine. They come with easy to follow instructions to ensure you produce high-quality wine every time. You can find more information about specific winemaking kits on our site here.
There is nothing wrong with taking the wine kit approach. In fact, I might recommend it for the first batch of wine you make. However, there is nothing quite as satisfying as creating your own wine from fresh fruits. There is much more involved in making wine from fresh grapes or fruit. First, you need to source the fruits. For wine grapes that is not as easy as it seems. There are places online where you can purchase wine grapes and/or juice frozen and have it shipped to your house. For other types of fruit, you can get them from a local farmers market or grocery store. You need a good quality winemaking yeast, that can be purchased from your favorite wine supply store. and you’ll need some equipment to get started.
Equipment Necessary for Making Wine
There is some equipment that you will need to make your wine. We will talk about the necessary equipment and the nice to have the equipment. There are winemaking equipment kits available to get you started making wine today. In this guide on how to make wine we’ll talk about some of the equipment you need to produce your wine.
First of all, when you are making wine you need to be able to crush your fruit to release the juice. Believe it or not, the skin on fruit can be very tough to break to release the juices. This is where a special machine called a fruit crusher comes in. Fruit crushers take the fruit and run them through metal gears that will mash the fruit into a pulp and release the juices so our yeast can feast on this delicious nectar. The fruit crusher is not entirely necessary for small batches. You can manually crush things like berries with a potato masher or your hands. You could even go the old-fashion route and mash your grapes with your feet. Either way, you need to release the juice from the fruit. You don’t need to purchase a fruit crusher right now but it may be something you will want to look into if you get serious about this hobby.
Fruit presses are also a way to extract juice from fruits or grapes. When making a white wine you will crush your grapes and then immediately press them to get only the juice for fermentation. For red wines, you want to ferment with the skins to extract the flavor and colors of the skins. Then after your primary fermentation, you will take the skins and pulp and put them into the press to extract the remainder of the juice. I press is another item you may want to purchase later on in your journey but it’s not 100% necessary for the beginner. You can put your fruit pulp into mesh bags for fermentation then squeeze the bags to act as a press. I’ve done this successfully with berries but I think you would have a tougher time with grapes.
Other Wine Equipment
In our guide on how to make wine, we talked a little bit about wine equipment kits above but I wanted to get a little bit deeper into what you really need to make your wine. You can find everything you need in our comprehensive article about winemaking equipment kits here. To start you will need a food grade bucket and a towel to cover this bucket. You will use the bucket to do your primary fermentation. This is where you will mix all of your ingredients, add the yeast, and let the magic happen.
Next, you will need a glass container called a carboy. You can get this in 1, 3, 5, and 6-gallon sizes. You will need an appropriately sized carboy to the amount of wine you are making as air space is very important in the carboy. You want a minimum amount of “headspace” in the container because wine can oxidize and turn brown if it comes in contact with too much air. You really want to buy a glass carboy as plastic is porous and could lead to more air coming in contact with your wine.
The next piece of equipment is a simple but ingenious invention known as the air-lock. An air-lock is a plastic or glass device that fills with water and allows CO2 to escape the carboy but doesn’t allow air to enter. This is essential for keeping your wine from spoiling.
You’ll also need a siphon to transfer your wine from container to container. We don’t pour wine because you will have a lot of sediment that is made up of fruit pulp and dead yeast at the bottom of your container. You use a siphon to transfer only the juice and leave the nasty stuff behind. I recommend an auto-siphon, which is a siphon with a built-in hand pump to get it going but you could also just use a plastic hose.
Obviously, you will need bottles when it comes time to bottle your wine. You can save old wine bottles and wash them out and remove the labels. Make sure to rinse the bottle immediately after finishing it so no residue is left over. You need corks for the bottles. It’s not recommended to reuse corks as they could harbor bacteria and spoil your new wine. Then you will need a corker to push the corks into your bottles. There are several types but a hand corker is cheap and will do the job for most home winemakers.
A plastic stirring utensil is necessary to stir your wines when adding ingredients and daily. I mentioned mesh bags earlier in this article but they can also come in handy if you are adding fresh fruit to your wine. A wine thief is a nice tool to have as it can take samples of your wine for you to test.
A really important tool to have is a hydrometer and a hydrometer test jar. The hydrometer is used to measure the level of sugar in your must (the mixture before it becomes wine). This is known as the specific gravity of the liquid. You use this to determine if you need to add sugar or not. You can take a reading of your must and then your wine after fermentation and use this to calculate the amount of alcohol in the beverage.
The winemaking process includes several additives that help ensure we make great wine. Before the invention of these additives, it was a guessing game to whether or not the wine would turn out. It’s estimated that 20% of the Roman Empire’s wine was spoiled. Fortunately for us, we have additives to stop this from happening. We will talk a little bit more about this in our guide on how to make wine below.
One common additive is potassium metabisulfite, sometimes referred to as Campden tablets. There is some controversy over the use of sulfites in wine but it has been used for centuries. All wines produce a small amount of sulfites as part of the fermentation process. We add an additional amount to help stabilize the wine. You can technically make wine without sulfites but you will have more consistent results if you use them.
Other additives include potassium sorbate, pectic enzyme, acid blend tannins, and yeast nutrient. Potassium sorbate is another method of stabilizing the wine. It’s important to add before bottling, especially if you back sweeten your wine. The pectic enzyme helps to break down the pectin in fruit wines and allow fermentation to do its job. Tannins are added to get some of the flavorings of grape skins without adding the skins themselves. Yeast nutrient is a compound that helps the yeast to thrive in your wine. These additives are not 100% necessary but can give you much better results. There are also other types of additives that you can add such as clarifying agents that help the wine to clear faster. You can clear your wine by simply letting it sit for months or you can use this agent to speed up the process.
How to Make Wine – The Basic Steps to Making Wine
We’ve talked about what wine is, how it’s made, what equipment you will need, and what additives you can add. Now let’s talk about the basic process of making wine. I’m going to list this as some easy to follow steps.
- Acquire all of the ingredients necessary to make your wine. This includes fruit, equipment, additives, and yeast.
- Crush your fruit using a fruit crusher or hands. Place them into the fermentation container or mesh bags then place the bags in the container.
- Add enough water to make your desired amount of wine. Usually, this is 5 gallons for the home winemaker.
- Add in your pectic enzyme, tannins, acid blend, and stir.
- Add in your potassium metabisulfite and let the must sit for a day
- Wait until the next day and take your measurement with your hydrometer.
- Pitch your yeast. Cover the bucket with a towel.
- Let the mixture ferment for about 5-6 days
- Siphon off the mix into a carboy
- Let the carboy site for about a month
- Siphon into another carboy, this time add potassium metabisulfite and let it sit for about another month
- Once the wine is clear you are ready to bottle
- Take a measurement with the hydrometer. Use it to calculate the amount of alcohol in the wine.
- Taste the wine and determine if you need to add any sweetener. Sweeten with sugar to taste.
- Add potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate (very important if you add sugar to stop further fermentation)
- Bottle your wine.
- Let it sit for 2-3 months before trying it.
You’re probably thinking that all of this is great but what about some real wine recipes? We have some on our site but there are also some great books on Amazon that contain all kinds of wine recipes.
I hope our guide on how to make wine has been helpful to you. We wish you the best on your quest to become a master home vintner.
Wine Making Kits
Getting started making wine at home is simple with these great winemaking kits!