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How to make homemade wine

Home wine making can be a rewarding project if gone about in the correct way.

It started like this: I was 18 years old, on the beginning of a new life, in a new home, and too young to buy alcohol legally. The problem was, I really liked wine. I had been drinking it socially for years, but on someone else’s dime.

What to do, what to do?  That’s when teenage brilliance hit me, why not make my own? I had a plan, making your own wine is simple: A matter of a glass jar or pop bottle, a fruit juice, yeast and a balloon. Brilliant! I scrounged the kitchen and poured the dry active yeast into an empty pop bottle, then poured in the warmed up grape flavored koolaid. This was going to rock! With the balloon stretched to cover the top of the bottle, I placed it in a dark closet and waited for the balloon to inflate then deflate, before tasting my homemade wine. Oh the joy I felt accomplishing this feat. The day finally arrived, I poured the liquid into a nice goblet that was given to me the year before, and took a sip. Eureka! I had discovered the first fruit/whiskey cooler. Someone owes me some royalties.
The bottle was dumped and I forgot any thoughts about making my own wine. I don’t own a vineyard or a bucket large enough to stomp around in with my red headed best friend. No, there was no way I would ever go through that again. Or was there?

First steps to homemade wine

Wine is one of the easier alcohols to make, and can be made from grapes or other fruits, as well as vegetables, grains or flowers. First you should familiarize yourself with the language used in wine making.

Once you have accomplished that, the next step is acquiring the equipment. You don’t need too much equipment, and some things can be found already in your home. What you don’t have, will be available in wine making or home brewing stores. If you don’t have one in your area, there are suppliers online.

Now we can talk about ingredients.  No powdered water flavors here.

Three of the essential ingredients have long self life; these are acid blend, Campden Tablets and Grape tannin powder. The perishable ones are disinfectant, pectic enzymes, and yeast cultures- liquid or dry.

There are also a few optional ingredients like Finings, Glycerin, oak chips, pure unflavored grain or grape alcohol, sorbic acid and Vitamin C tablets.

The winemaking process

The wine making process will take you days, weeks and months, so there is time to master each step as you progress, patience is an essential here. Let’s start with your yeast culture, as it needs to be made two to three days before the must. You will need to swirl the solution every six to eight hours, once the solution reaches an active ferment, it is ready to be added to the must.

You must never use detergent when cleaning your equipment. You can use a chlorine solution but only on any stains, and a sulfite solution that you make yourself. Always rinse your glass with warm water before rinsing with the sulfite solution. If you are going to store the glass, stop it up while leaving a little of the sulfite in the bottom, if the glass is being used immediately, rinse again with warm water. All of your corks and screws should be sterilized by a total immersion into the sulfite solution, do not boil them. And if any fruit pulp sticks to your equipment use a plastic abrasive pad and hot water to remove it. For storing any of your primary fermenters, rinse with the solution and cover tightly with a plastic sheet, securing it tightly with string.

Once you have disinfected and cleaned all of your equipment, remove the stems and leaves from your washed fruit, they are now ready to be crushed. If you do not have a commercial crusher, you can use a plastic bowl, and a wooden mallet. Next press out the smashed fruit until there is nothing but juice left. You could use cheesecloth. Place the fruit into a cheesecloth bag and press. -If you are using red grapes, allow them to ferment somewhere between five and ten days before pressing them. -Add hot water and your other ingredients to the juice, now you have made must. Toss in the Campden tablets.

You will now need your hydrometer. The perfect measure for your must is between 1.080 and 1.095. If below 1.080 you will need to adjust with sugar. If it is above 1.095, you should cut it with plain water. The must needs to be between 60°F to 68°F in temperature to obtain an accurate reading. Next you will be using a titration kit. Acidity for red must is .65 percent while a white’s is .75 percent. If too low, add an acid blend, too high, cut with a water sugar blend of a weight of 1.090.

Now we add our yeast culture and start our first fermenting process.

The container that you are using needs to be covered with a tight fitting plastic sheet and tied tightly with a string. A rolling ferment will start in 24 to 48 hours, at that time it needs to be stirred and the cap -a crust that will form at the top-needs to be pushed down with a well-sterilized wooden spoon.  Weigh the must every day after the third day, a weight loss of .007 to .015 per day is good, any faster and you need to move the must to a cooler place. And keep your nose on alert for any signs of trouble.

When the weight reaches 1.025 to 1.030, it’s time to transfer the wine to glass carboys with a siphon and J-tube -if using red, now is the time to press your juice and straining out the residual fruit. Secure the carboys with stoppers -air locks filled with sulfite solution to allow the CO2 escape and prevent air contact with the wine. Leave the wine in the primary fermenter for five to ten days.

After the first fermentation has completed, we move onto the second. This step is about racking your wines into freshly disinfected carboys. To do this, place the container with the wine in it on a shelf or table at least 30 inches high, placing the sterilized carboy or jug on the floor. Using 5 feet of clear tubing with a J-tube in the end siphon the liquid out and into the jug. When the transfer is completed, wash and disinfect the empty carboy and change the disinfectants in the air locks.

Check the weight of your wine, the average is 1.005 to 1.010, but depending on what you starting weight was it could be well above or below this average. As long as the wine is sending up an occasional bubble, active fermenting is occurring.

You will want to rack your wine again in another six to twelve weeks adding one crushed Campden tablet per gallon. After three months, rack again and add tablets, you will want to do this every six months, changing the disinfectant in the air locks every three months. The SO2 in the solution is highly volatile, and fruit flies will be attracted to it.

About six months you may want to fine your white wine. The special gelatin, in a hot solution, is poured into the carboy. There it mingles with the wine and clings to the floating particles and drags it to the bottom of the bottle. The complete process can take one to 28 days to complete. Once done you then rack your wine, leaving the gunk at the bottom of the old bottle. The wine can then be stabilized by adding one tsp. of sorbic acid per gallon, or let it alone to age further.

Somewhere between the seventh and twelfth months you will bottle your whites, some of the reds and most of your fruits. You will be required to prevent renewed fermentation by one of two ways. You can keep it under air lock until it reaches a weight of .993 and .990, but you might have to wait a long while. Or you can add 3/4 teaspoon of sorbic acid per gallon. At the seven-month mark you need to add oak chips to your better reds for a month. It will add a barrel flavor to your wine that is beneficial, as if it had been stored in oak casks. Rack the wine to remove the chips. Sometimes a second round of oak is required.

Ready to bottle

The next step is bottling and corking. There are many different devices available to aid you in the corking process.

After bottling, your wine will still need to age a little longer, at least six more months. Store it away from light, direct sunlight or florescent can cause the flavor to be off. Store your corked wines on their sides so that the cork will not dry out. Never allow your storage area to get above 75F, and the temperature should be as steady as possible. Temperature changes should be made gradually.

After all this, you should be able to kick back, grab a nice thick novel and enjoy your home brewed wine.

Erin Phelan combines cooking, writing and talking about food with her love for the countryside. She has a modern homestead and raises her own organic food.

Erin lives in a lovely farm in Kansas, with her husband and young children. You can read about her adventures in her blog, A Homesteading Neophyte; her recipes were published regularly at All Foods Natural.

See all about wine or find more about making wines at home reading any of the following articles.

How to make homemade wine

Home wine making uncorked

Grapes for home wine making

Home wine making equipment and ingredients

Sulfites and home winemaking

Mistakes in home wine making