If you are new to wine making, you have come to the right spot. My name is John Meyers and I have been making wine since 1999. I have also taught wine making classes at the Porter House Brew Shop and that experience is the basis of this page. These instructions will cover how to make home made wine and will include terms, equipment needed, proper sanitization, ingredients, and differences between kit wines, wine made from juice, and fruit wines.
Wine Making Terms
If you are new to wine making, then this sections will help you learn some of the lingo.
Carboy – Plastic or glass container resembling a milk jug in various sizes, 1, 3, 5 and 6 gallon being the most popular.
Ferment – In wine, the process where organisms known as yeast consume sugar in juice and leave behind alcohol and CO2 as waste.
Lees – Dead yeast and fruit particles that fall to the bottom of the wine container as sediment.
Must – Freshly pressed fruit juice containing skins, pulp and seeds of the fruit. This is the wine juice prior to fermentation.
Punt – The dimple in the bottom of the wine bottle.
Racking – The process of siphoning wine from one container to another to remove the wine from sediment (lees).
Wine Making Equipment
I often get asked what equipment is needed to start making wine. This section will cover the basic equipment list as well as the equipment that makes life easier. You may have some of these items around the house. The rest will have to be borrowed or purchased.
This is the first item you will need. Generally it is a food grade bucket with lid used to ferment the wine at the beginning of the process. Any food grade bucket will work. Wine making supply shops sell them for around $15. You can also get them at your local big box store. Be sure you get food grade plastic as well as a lid. Food grade plastic is denser than regular plastic and won’t harbor bacteria as well as regular plastic. Any bucket with lid that originally contained food such as a 5 gallon bucket of frosting from a bakery can be used. If it was not designed to ferment wine, you will probably have to drill a hole in the lid and add a bung and airlock.
This is where you rack your wine to after it leaves the primary fermenter. I prefer to use a glass carboy for this step. You can also use the plastic water cooler jugs. Glass is easier to keep clean, plastic is lighter. Choose which ever one you prefer.
An L shaped hollow plastic tube designed to siphon wine while leaving the sediment in the container. It usually comes with a cup that goes on the bottom so it won’t disturb the sediment as well as the siphon hose.
This is a S shaped piece of plastic you fill with water. It will let the CO2 gas from the fermentation process out, while blocking outside oxygen from getting inside and spoiling the wine. The bung is a rubber stopper with a hole in it for the airlock. This goes on the secondary fermenter. You can get bungs in many sizes. They can be small enough for a wine bottle and large enough for water cooler bottles and everything in between.
This is used to measure the amount of ferment-able sugar in a wine prior to fermentation. A hydrometer is calibrated to read 0 when floating in water. As you add sugar to water, the water become more dense and the hydrometer will float higher. This is how you figure out how potent you wine will be. You take a reading before fermentation and a reading after fermentation, subtract the two, then you know how much alcohol is in your wine using the PA scale on the hydrometer.
You will need something to keep your finished wine. Save your wine bottles. Have your friends save wine bottle for you. Ask local restaurants what the do with their old wine bottles and see if you can have some. You can also buy them at you local wine making supply shop.
These are used to seal your bottle of wine. Corks can be either synthetic, or natural. I have always used natural corks. Commercial wines seem to use synthetic. The most common sizes are #8 and #9. Most wine bottles are #9, most champagne bottles and #8. If you are not sure what size you need, take your bottle to the local wine supply shop and ask them. Only use new corks.
This is used to put the corks in the wine bottles. Hand corkers generally have two levers on each side. You put a cork in the corker, place it on top of the bottle, and push the levers down to push the cork into the bottle. There is also a floor model corker that is easier to use, but it is more expensive. If you only bottle one batch of wine at a time, you can use a hand corker. If you are going to bottle multiple batches of wine at one time, it would pay purchase a floor corker. Soaking corks for a 1/2 hour prior to bottling makes it easier to insert them in the bottle.
Additional Wine Making Equipment
That was the basic equipment list needed to start making wine. Other equipment makes the job easier. I will cover that wine equipment next.
- Auto-siphon – A tube containing a racking cane that starts the siphoning process with a pumping action. It also has a cup on the end to minimize the amount of sediment picked up. They come in different sizes, the 1/2 inch size moves wine the fastest.
- Bottle Filler – A spring loaded tube that lets wine flow into the bottle when pressed on the bottom of the bottle. Wine flow stops when the bottle filler is lifted. Does not work very well with wine bottles with a very pronounced punt. They come in different sizes, make sure it matches the tubing you are currently using.
- Acid Test Kit – Used to test the acid in your wine prior to fermentation. If you make wine from fresh fruits, including grapes, you will need an acid test kit. Not needed for kit wines as everything has been adjusted for you.
- Floor Wine Corker – Larger wine corker good for large batches of wine and much easier to use than a hand corker. This is what I use now.
That is the basics of wine equipment. You can find this equipment at your local wine making supply shop or online.
Wine Making Sanitization
Now I am going to go over sanitization in wine making. But first, a little history. I started my journey making wine completely by happen-stance. One year, my father decided he wanted to make some pear wine because he had lots of pears from his fruit trees. One of his buddies decided to help him with this project. Now, my dad likes to jump right into new projects and since he had so many pears, he decided to make 55 gallons of pear wine! He got an old plastic 55 gallon barrel, put in the pears, some water, 25 pounds of sugar and a brick of bread yeast.
He stirred and stirred, it bubbled and fermented, this went on for a few weeks. After a couple months, we had this barrel full of nasty, vinegary, pear flavored concoction. It certainly was not wine. We had to dump this stuff down the drain.
After this first failure, I figured I would try to make a batch of wine. One of the first batches of wine I tried to make was a Strawberry wine. I did a little research on the Internet, borrowed an old crock pot, bought some wine yeast and tried to make strawberry wine. I boiled some water, added some sugar, added the strawberries, fermented it in a old crock pot, and it failed spectacularly. It was the most terrible thing I ever tasted!
For the record, don’t try to make wine in a crock pot that has been used to make sauerkraut… EVER!
Other than the fact that I should not have used an old crock pot that had been used for sauerkraut, the other big mistake I made was not to sanitize my equipment. Which leads me to the point I am trying to make here.
KEEP EVERYTHING THAT TOUCHES YOUR WINE SANITIZED!
I can’t stress this enough. Proper sanitation will solve 90% of your problems before you have them. Wine spoilage is almost always the result of not properly sanitizing something along the way. Make sure your equipment, buckets, carboys, siphon hose, and anything else that touches the wine are all properly sanitized. Sanitizing involves more than just washing your equipment with dish soap, so I will explain how to do it properly. In fact, you don’t want to use dish soap to clean your equipment, you want to use a cleanser like B-brite.
Types of Sanitizers
There are 2 types of sanitizers that I have used in wine making. The sanitizers are Sulfite solution and Star San. Star San and Sulfite solution are no-rinse sanitizers. What that means is that you can use them with out rinsing the solution off the equipment with water. Star San is an acid based sanitizer and will not harm your wine. Sulfite is found naturally in wine and also will not harm your wine.
I mostly use Star San for sanitization now. I mix my Star San at 1/4 ounce per gallon, the directions say use 1oz for 5 gallons. Leave your equipment stand for a few minutes to give the sanitizer time to work. You do not have to rinse your equipment after using Star San. Another no rinse solution you can use is sulfite solution. You can make this by mixing 2 ounces of Potassium Metabisulfite into 1 gallon of water. You can then spray your equipment and give it a few minuets to work.
I clean my equipment with B-Brite after each use and then let air dry. B-Brite is an oxygen based cleanser. You can find other brands of oxygen based cleansers at big box stores. When I am ready to start another batch of wine, I’ll sanitize the bucket, spoons and any other equipment by spraying everything down with Star San. Then I will make my wine. After a week or two, I rack the wine out of the bucket. I will then rinse the dirty bucket with cold water. This will remove any sediment, fruit, and wine still in the bucket. Once the bucket has been rinsed, I will use B-Brite to wash out the bucket. I make sure to get B-Brite on every surface of the bucket, inside and out. I use it like dish soap and clean the whole bucket. To make a B-Brite solution, mix one table spoon into 1 gallon of water.
In the past I used a sulfite solution to clean my bottles prior to bottling. I would fill the bottles with the sulfite solution, give them a couple minuets to soak then pour the solution from one bottle into the next. Then I would leave the bottles wet to add a little sulfite to the wine to keep the wine from spoiling. The one downside is that sulfite solution has a bad sulfur smell. I have switched to Star San to sanitize my bottles because it is odorless.
That is how I clean and sanitize my wine making equipment. Keeping your equipment clean and sanitized will solve many wine making problems before they happen. Take it from me, it is a sad thing to dump 5 gallons of wine down the drain because the equipment was not sanitized!
Wine Making from a Kit
Kit wines are by far the easiest method to get started making homemade wine. A kit wine can be purchased at your local wine making supply shop or on-line. The manufacturer of the wine kit has done all the measurements and adjustments for you. It includes all the ingredients you need to make good wine, all you need to add is water. The instructions are not hard and if you can follow a cooking recipe, you can make a kit wine.
Different manufacturers may add or subtract items from this list, but generally a wine kit will include concentrated wine juice, wine yeast, bentonite (a clarifier), Sulphite & Potassium Sorbate (both used together for stabilization), Kieselsol & Chitosan (for clearing) and may also include oak chips\dust and a flavor pack (depending on the type of wine kit).
Each wine kit will include a set of instructions on how to make the wine. For your first kit I would suggest you follow the wine kit instructions. The general process for making wine from a kit is as follows:
- Clean and sanitize all your equipment!
- Open the wine juice and either pour or siphon it into the primary fermenting bucket. I leave the bag in the box, open the lid on the wine juice, and use my auto-siphon to rack the wine into the bucket.
- Some wine kits will have you add water to bring the total volume up to 5-6 gallons, some will include enough juice that no additional water will be needed. Check the instructions. One thing I will do differently on some of the 6 gallon kits that I buy is only add enough water for 5 gallons. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, I have lots of 5 gallon carboys and not too many 6 gallon carboys. It is easier for me to keep 1 batch of wine in 1 carboy. Second, doing a 6 gallon kit as 5 gallons will change the profile of the wine. By not adding as much water, the sugar level will be higher which will lead to a higher alcohol content. The wine will have more body but also a higher acid level. The down side is that you only get around 25 bottles of wine instead of 30. I have been happy with every kit wine I did this way, but keep in mind, its not the profile the manufacture had in mind.
- Add the bentonite by slowly stirring it into the wine.
- Take a sample of wine with a wine thief, place it in the flask with the hydrometer. then read the Specific Gravity (SG) reading on the hydrometer and record this number.
- Sprinkle the yeast on the top of the wine and attach the lid, airlock & bung.
- Place the bucket in a warm spot with a temperature range of 18-22C\65-72F.
- After 7-14 days, the SG reading should be close to 1.000, at this point you can rack the wine into the carboy. Note: This reading does not have to be exactly 1.000 to be racked into the carboy. Anything below 1.020 should be fine. If you are at day 14 and a long way from getting below 1.020 you have a problem. Call your retailer, call the manufacturer, or shoot me an email.
- Clean and sanitize the carboy and siphon assembly.
- Rack the wine from the bucket into the carboy. Try not to disturb the lees (sediment) very much during this process. If you get some sediment into the carboy don’t worry, you will be racking again later.
- Add the Sulfite and stir. Add the Potassium Sorbate and stir. This is the stabilization step. The Sulfite and Sorbate work together to inhibit the yeast so it will not start fermenting again once it stops.
- If your wine kit came with a sweetening blend, this is generally where it get added.
- Degas your wine. You will need to VIGOROUSLY stir the wine at this step. I mean beat the crap out of it either with a stirring spoon or a drill mounted stirring device.
- Add the Kieselsol and stir gently for 1 min, wait 5 minuets.
- Add the Chitosan and stir gently for 1 min. (These two ingredients work together to clarify the wine.)
- Top up the carboy to within 2 inches of the airlock. I use wine that is similar to what I am making. You can also use water, but it will dilute your wine. Keeping the carboy topped up helps prevent oxidation of your wine.
- Between day 30-42 (depending on your kit), your wine should be ready for bottling. Prior to bottling the wine should be clear and still (no fermentation). The airlock should not be bubbling.
- Rack the wine off the lees to prevent sediment from getting in the bottles. If you get sediment in the wine during the racking process, you should wait a few days for the sediment to fall out before bottling your wine.
- Clean and sanitize your bottles. Rack the wine into the bottles and insert the corks. The corks will go in easier if you soak them in a mild sulfite solution for 1/2 hour.
- Let the bottles stand for 1 day, then lay them on their side to keep the corks wet.
That is the basis for making a kit wine. It is pretty easy and as long as you can follow the recipe, you should not have any problems. If you have any problems, call your retailer or the manufacturer of the wine kit.
Making your own wine from a kit is a very frugal way to get wine. A standard 6 gallon kit will make around 30 bottles of wine. If you pay $60 for the kit, that is wine for $2 per bottle. That is an 80% savings from a $10 bottle of wine. The wine you make will be better than the $10 wine you can buy in the store. Plus you get to tell your friend that you made that bottle of wine!
More to come soon!
Enjoy a glass of wine!