I’ll never forget the first time I helped my granddad make wine. In my grandfather’s Italian neighborhood every home had a small grape arbor out back and every fall the residents would harvest grapes and put up their barrel of wine. The fall winemaking was a ritual, and the wine made and shared at family dinners and at holiday celebrations, was special because it was the product of a labor of love and made by the family for enjoyment by the family. There are few things in life more satisfying than sharing the wine you made together from grapes you grew from your own soil.
If you’re intrigued with winemaking, you’ll be surprised at how straightforward it is. Though there are definitely some tricks to it, if you follow instructions and the recipe you choose, you’ll be enjoying your own delicious homemade wines. Here’s an overview.
To get started you’ll need the following equipment:
- A large container with a lid, suitable for food. How big should it be? At least two gallon capacity, but even bigger is better. This will be your fermentation tank.
- A hydrometer.
- A thermometer, which you may already have from candymaking or meat roasting.
- Nylon net bag for straining.
- Acid titration kit.
- Some clear plastic tubing.
- Two glass gallon jugs.
- Fermentation lock and a bung.
- Wine bottles.
- New sealed corks.
- Bottle corker.
- Potassium metabisulfite, aka sulfite powder
- The grapes.
A glossary of the terms you’ll need to know:
Brix: The amount of sugar in your mixture, whether from the grapes themselves, or from sugar you add to bring the fermentation mixture to the proper brix level.
Hydrometer: The device that measures the sugar level, or brix.
Must: Your grape mixture.
Titration: Measuring the acid level of your must. Use a titration kit.
Press: The process of mashing the grapes.
Fermentation: The action of the yeast on the sugar, which turns the sugar into alcohol. In winemaking there is primary fermentation, and secondary fermentation.
Sediment: That which is not liquid and has settled to the bottom during your first stage of winemaking, prior to bottling.
Tannin: A substance found in the skin, seeds and stems of grapes. It gives red wine its color, and imparts a certain flavor. Oak also contains tannin, and oak barrels are often used for aging certain types of wine to give them their character.
Cap: When you leave the skin and pulp in the fermenting must, it floats to the top and is called the cap.
Clarify: Achieving a clear and transparent liquid.
The basic steps for home winemaking:
Harvesting, cleaning and destemming the grapes
Getting your equipment ready: Sterilize all equipment. IMPORTANT!
Create the must by mashing the grapes in the nylon bag, then adding a teaspoon of nitrate. Cover with cheesecloth.
Start the primary fermentation by adding the yeast. Recover and let it ferment. When it’s reached 0.5° brix remove the nylon bag and squeeze to release any juice within. Let settle for a day.
Rack off the sediment. This involves using that flexible tubing as a siphon and transferring the liquid to those gallon glass jugs. Be careful not to stir the sediment up. Top the bottle up with a bit of boiled and cooled water to fill it to the top. Fit with the sanitized bung and fermentation lock. Keep this topped up with grape juice or a similar wine. After ten days rack off the sediment again by siphoning into the second gallon jug, and top up with wine or grape juice. Let sit for six months.
Rack off sediment and bottle your wine. Use sanitized wine bottles. Cork with the hand corker. Store in a cool dry place. Age for at least six months.
The grapes you choose, the recipe you choose and the choice of whether to leave the skin and pulp in during first fermentation all taken together is what determines the type of wine you make. There are a lot more things that can be done to change the flavor, ie using an oak keg for aging, adding a flavoring, what substance you use for clarifying your wine, and more. As you experiment you’ll find what works for you.