So, you want to start making your own wine at home, but you don’t know where to get started? Every winemaker has to start somewhere. Making wine seems complicated, but it really comes down to a few basic ingredients and tools.
Before beginning your winemaking journey, you should be aware that making your own wine is an investment. There are a variety of special tools and ingredients you need to invest in to make wine successfully. But if you want to make the investment, this guide will give you everything you need to know to get started.
How is wine made?
Wine is usually made from the fermented juice of grapes. However, wine can be made from several types of fruit, apples, peaches, plums, berries, and even tomatoes. Wine differs from beer because wine must be made from fruit, and beer is made from grain.
Wine isn’t made from just any type of grapes. Wine grapes are typically seeded, as well as smaller and sweeter than the grapes grown for eating. Most wine grapes come from a species of grape called Vitis vinifera. This strain of grape has been cultivated and grafted with many other types of grapes we used to make wine today.
The flavor characteristics of wine will change depending on how it’s made and what type of grapes you use. Wine is usually very acidic and on the higher end of the pH scale. This is what gives a wine its tart taste. Wines come in all different levels of sweetness. Wines can be dry, sweet, or a combination of both.
The alcohol level in a given wine also affects its flavor—wine with a lower ABV will taste lighter, while wine with a high ABV will taste full and heavy. A higher ABV% also helps the wine stay shelf-stable. The average wine has an ABV between 10% and 15%.
At the most basic level, winemaking is very simple. It begins with fruit juice that is fermented with the addition of yeast. Technically, you don’t even really need yeast to make wine. In the old days, wine was simply made by crushing grapes and letting them sit for a long period of time. Natural yeast would develop and begin the fermentation process. Today, we use specialized winemaking yeast to ensure quality results.
Yeast is the most important element when it comes to turning fruit juice into wine. Yeast consumes the sugars in the juice and turns them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gas escapes the wine while the alcohol stays. Yeast colonies continue to grow in the wine while it ferments. Eventually, once the yeast has eaten all the sugar, it will die off.
The alcohol level in the wine rises while the yeast costumes the sugar. The rising alcohol level also helps to eventually kill off the yeast, as they cannot survive when high alcohol levels are present. Eventually, all your yeast will die, and you’ll be left with wine.
Equipment needed to make wine
There are a few different approaches you can take to purchasing wine-making equipment. If you’re a complete beginner, we recommend purchasing a beginner’s winemaking kit. This will come with almost everything you need to make your first batch of wine and will give you a foolproof way to learn about the winemaking process.
However, if you want to make a more serious investment to control the wine you make, you should invest in some basic equipment.
When you begin the winemaking process, you first need to crush your fruit to release the juice. It can be fairly difficult to break through the tough skin and release the juice, especially when working with a large quantity. This is where a specialty machine called a fruit crusher comes in handy.
Fruit crushers take the fruit and run it through a series of metal gears. This mashes the fruit into a pulp and releases the juice so the yeast can eat the sugar. A fruit crusher isn’t completely necessary for small batches, but if you’re making a large quantity of wine, you’ll definitely want to invest in it.
Fruit presses are another way to extract the juice from your fruit. Fruit presses are really only necessary for white wine, as you need to press your grapes after crushing them to separate the juice from the skins. When making red wine, you’ll want to ferment the juice with the skins for added flavor and color, so a fruit press is unnecessary.
Bucket and towel
You will need a large, food-grade bucket, as well as a towel large enough to cover the top of the bucker. This will be where your wine does the majority of its fermentation. This bucket is where you’ll add your wine-making ingredients and your yeast, then leave it to sit so the yeast can work its magic.
You’ll need a glass container called a carboy. Carboys come in various sizes, usually to hold one, three, five, or six gallons of wine. You will need to match the size of the carboy to the amount of wine you’re making, as the amount of air left is crucial to the winemaking process. You’ll want a minimum amount of space left for air, as too much air can cause your wine to oxidize and turn brown.
An air-lock is a simple but effective tool that makes the winemaking process so much easier. 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.
A siphon is necessary to transfer your wine from container to container. You don’t want to pour wine at this stage, as you’ll have a lot of sediment from the fruit pulp and the dead yeast built up at the bottom of your container. Separate this stuff out of your wine before you drink it.
Bottles and corks
Obviously, you’ll need to have some bottles and corks on hand for storing your wine. You can even save old wine bottles and wash them out thoroughly to store your homemade wine in. It’s not recommended to reuse corks, but you can purchase corks, as well as a corking machine, for fairly cheap.
The final tool you’ll need for making wine is a hydrometer, along with a hydrometer test jar. The hydrometer measures the level of sugar present in your wine as you make it. This will determine if you need to add more sugar for your yeast to eat and tell you when the wine is finished fermenting.
Ingredients needed to make wine
In addition to your grapes or other fruit and yeast, you can put a few other additives in your wine to help improve the quality, flavor and make the whole process much easier.
A common additive is potassium metabisulfite, sometimes referred to as Campden tablets, to keep your wine from spoiling. This adds extra sulfites to your wine and helps keep the wine stable. Using these tablets will help give you more consistent results.
Other common additives you may choose to use are potassium sorbate, pectic enzyme, tannins, and yeast nutrients. Potassium sorbate is another method of stabilizing your wine and is added before bottling. The pectic enzyme helps break down the pectin in your fruit, so the fermentation can do its job. Tannins can be added to get some of the flavors of the tannins without the grape skins themselves. Yeast nutrient is a compound you can add to help your yeast thrive.
How to make wine: basic steps
- Begin by crushing your fruit, using either your fruit crusher or your hands. If making white wine, use your fruit press to separate the juice from the skins. Place your juice into your bucket for fermentation.
- Add enough water to make your desired amount of wine. For a home winemaker, this is usually about five gallons.
- If using, add your pectic enzyme and tannins, then stir. Add your potassium metabisulfite and let sit for a day at room temperature.
- The next day, take a measurement with your hydrometer. Pitch your yeast, then cover the bucket with a towel. Let the mixture ferment for about five to six days.
- Siphon off your mixture into your carboy, and secure with your air-lock. Let the carboy sit for about a month.
- Siphon the mixture off into a second carboy, this time adding your potassium metabisulfite. Secure with an air-lock, and let it sit for another month.
- Once your wine is clear, you’re ready to bottle. Take a measurement with your hydrometer, and use this to calculate your wine’s ABV%.
- Taste your wine and determine if it’s sweet enough. If not, add some sugar.
- Add more potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate. This step is very important if you add more sugar, as it stops further fermentation.
- Bottle your wine, secure it with a cork, and let it sit two to three months before drinking.
While winemaking can be expensive and time-consuming, it can also be extremely fun and rewarding. Getting to customize your wine to your exact specifications, and impressing your friends with your winemaking prowess, is an amazing feeling.
If you can’t wait for your wine to finish aging before enjoying a glass, try Saucey. We offer speedy delivery and no order minimums on a huge variety of wine, beer, and spirits. Shop our wine offerings and treat yourself to a bottle today.