In this article, we’re going to be discussing the winemaking process and exactly how to make your own wine at home.
Why choose to make your own wine
Winemaking, also known as vinification is the process of producing wine and dates back to long before archaeological records even indicate, with our estimates being that it may have started in the Paleolithic period, and not for the reasons we use it for today, but in a quest to develop new medicines!
Well, whilst it isn’t exactly a medicine, it certainly helps sooth the palette.
However, nowadays we choose to make our own wines for much more personal reasons, some choose to do it as a hobby, using it as an output to be creative and craft their own imagination in a bottle, and for others, it’s a full-time commitment, developed through sheer passion for the art.
None-the-less, we create our own wine to ultimately craft and taste our own creations from the grapevine.
Before going about wine-making, there are some legal topics that you should be aware of, these are as follows:
We are a blog, and therefore any information that we provide here is strictly advisory in nature, and should not be taken as the law, you will need to refer to your local state laws/regulations.
However, these serve as rough guidelines:
- You are limited to making 100 gallons of wine yourself, or 200 gallons if you live with other people (over the age of 21) per annum.
- You must be over the legal drinking age (21) to make and drink your homebrew.
- You are not permitted to sell your homebrew.
- You are not allowed to distill spirits
- Sharing your homebrew is a grey area, and therefore you will need to contact your local area/state government officials to discuss rules and regulations on this.
Ok, now that we’ve got the legal issues out of the way, let’s go into detail about the supplies and winemaking equipment that you’ll need to be making your homebrew wine.
Choosing the right equipment is of crucial importance when it comes to making your winemaking experience successful.
We’re going to assume that you’ll want to make a large batch of homemade wine, because you’re going to be putting in the same amount of effort to create the wine, so you might as well get plenty of the stuff! Therefore, we’ll be talking about how to make around 3 gallons of homemade wine.
You’re going to need the following equipment, all of which you can obtain here, in our best winemaking starter kits guide:
Wine Making Equipment
- One large plastic container/bucket (which will be used as the primary fermentation unit) – around 3 gallons
- Three Carboys (A glass container with a small neck, which will be used for secondary fermentation containers) – 1 gallon each
- Three airlocks (also known as fermentation traps)
- Three rubber corks/bungs (to fit into secondary fermentation containers)
- Nylon mesh or a large straining bag
- 15 wine bottles (5 bottles are usually used per gallon of wine)
- Roughly 5 feet of transparent plastic pipe/tube
- 15 pre-sanitized corks/screw caps for wine bottles
- Hydrometer for measuring viscosity and density of the wine
- A hand corker
- 3 Campden tablets (optional usage – 1 tablet per 1 gallon of wine) – Chemicals used to sterilize the wine (chemicals are usually used in most commercially available wines).
Wine Making Ingredient
- Wine grapes or any fruit that you desire (if it has juice, it’s pretty much fermentable) – You’ll need 3 gallons worth of juice, or however much you want to make in total
- You can use juice from the store, however, it must not contain any additive other than vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid). If it contains any kind of Sorbate, it will not work.
- Sugar – sugar is essential for the yeast to grow. The type of sugar and amount will help determine the overall flavor, experimenting with different sugars will help you refine your preferred flavor…. You can try brown sugar, white sugar, corn sugar and some even prefer to use honey. The amount of sugar really depends on the fruit used and the type of yeast used, but it will be around 2-3 pounds of sugar per gallon of wine.
- Filtered water – to make sure that excess bacteria is not present whilst the fermentation process is underway.
- Wine yeast – The yeast is the single most important aspect in shaping the overall flavor of your homemade wine. Feel free to try as many different types of wine and champagne yeast. However, we recommend not using any kind of high-alcohol or distillers yeast, as this will result in a taste that most will find repulsive. One packet of wine yeast will generally be sufficient for up to 5 gallons of wine.
Ok, so now that we’ve discussed all of the equipment and ingredients that you’ll need.
Cleaning your winemaking equipment and making sure it’s sanitized
Ok, so before we go into detail about the process, we’re firstly going to define the two terms so that you clearly understand the difference between cleaning and sanitizing.
Cleaning essentially gets rid of dirt and excess residue which has accumulated on the equipment since its last use.
Sanitizing is the process of treating the equipment with a chemical solution, which in turn helps to eliminate and prevent the growth of molds, wild yeasts, and bacteria. After all, this equipment will be interacting with the wine and in some cases will be stationary for up to one month, so we want to eliminate any bacteria that could jeopardize the wine’s taste.
For cleaning the equipment, percarbonates such as P.B.W. (Powder Brewery Wash), are a great solution. Ideally, you can soak your equipment in this 20 minutes and then lightly scrub the equipment to loosen any dirt/residue.
Now for sanitization, Campden Tablets are one of the most popular means to sanitize your equipment, although you may want to experiment using other forms of sanitization in the long run.
Picking the desired fruit for your homemade wine
As we previously mentioned, you can pretty much use any fruit that provides juice to make your homemade wine. Now you’ll need enough fruit to provide 3 gallons worth of juice, and because of this, often winemakers will just go about buy fruit juice (from concentrate is fine) from the store.
However, it’s important that it does not contain any additive other than vitamin C, and definitely doesn’t have Sorbate. If you’re unsure about using a specific brand or type of fruit juice, use Google as it’s very likely that others will have searched and even asked/answered the question on forums.
Washing the fruit
For those who are using pre-made fruit juice, you can skip this section and the next section which is about crushing your fruit.
However, for those who have decided to use actual fruit, you now need to wash the fruit. This is an important step, as it will help eliminate any wild yeast from growing in your wine and producing foul smells and flavors.
Some more experienced winemakers decide not to wash the fruit, but we recommend that as beginner winemakers, you go about controlling as many variables as possible, and go ahead washing your fruit.
Crushing the fruit
Ok, so you’ve settled on the fruit that you’re going to use, now you need to crush this fruit to release all of the juices.
You can do this by using a potato masher, a bowl, and a sieve.
Keep crushing fruit in your bowl and use a sieve to make sure that minimal amounts of physical fruit get into your plastic container/crock. You want to fill the plastic container to roughly 1.5 inches or around 4cm from the top of the container.
If you don’t have enough fruit juice or fruit to be able to do this, use some filtered water, as tap water contains additives and will thus change the wine’s overall flavor.
Now, you can add your Campden tablet to your large container of fruit juice which will release sulfur dioxide into the liquid, killing off any wild yeast and bacteria.
This is an important aspect of the sanitization process and must be done 24-hours before adding any yeast to the mixture.
Adding sugar and yeast
Now’s the time to add sugar/honey and yeast to your mixture.
Sugar/honey essentially acts as food for the yeast and therefore is required for the fermentation process.
Remember, the amount of sugar/honey used will directly affect the overall sweetness of the wine, and therefore if you want a sweeter wine, add more sugar/honey.
You will also need to take the fruit that you’re using into account, with fruit such as grapes having a high sugar content, hence requiring less additional sugar to be added to the mixture before the fermentation process begins.
You can always add more honey and sugar to the wine if it’s not as sweet as you’d like at a later time.
Now you can add the yeast to your wine, and begin the fermenting process, and once you’ve poured all of the yeast into the mixture, stir for approximately 2 minutes to allow for degassing to take place before covering the container/crock.
Now before letting the wine ferment, you need to use the hydrometer. Generally, if it reads less than around 1.010, you should consider adding more sugar/honey, re-stirring and assessing the mixture again.
Fermenting your homemade wine
Once you’re happy, now’s the time to cover the wine container/bucket/crock with a cloth, to allow the wine to aerate without bugs being able to get in.
You want to place the container in a warm area, with a temperature of around 70°F. It can’t be too warm as this will kill the yeast, but a cool environment will not facilitate the growth of yeast.
The following day, you’ll want to uncover the container and stir the mixture; do this around every 4-6 hours for this day, this will allow the yeast to move into action, and you’ll begin to see the mixture start to bubble.
For the following three days you’ll want to repeat this process, of uncovering the mixture and stirring.
Straining and siphoning the wine
Finally, around day 4, when the mixture is not bubbling as much, you can begin straining the liquid and siphoning it into the 3 carboys for long-term storage. The reason for this is because the container will now have sediment from the initial fermentation process, so we want to separate this from the liquid.
Once you have siphoned all of the liquid into the three carboys (or however many you have), you can now attach the airlocks to the carboys. The airlocks will allow for gas to be released during the on-going fermentation process whilst preventing oxygen for entering the carboys (meaning the wine is not oxygenized and thus not spoiled).
Now’s the time where you can let the wine sit and rest for 1 month. If you’ve put a fair amount of additional sugar/honey into the mixture, you may want to leave this for longer as it will be too sweet to drink. Generally, this is where experience will play a large part in enabling you to know how long to leave the wine.
Bottling the wine
The liquid in the carboys should look clearer as the sediment begins to fall to the bottom. This means that the wine is suitable for siphoning into your clean bottles, where you can fill them to the top and cork them immediately, to help the wine maintain its freshness and prevent oxygenation.
Remember, dark bottles will preserve the color of red wines. Additionally, the wine will generally change its flavor over time as it ages, as even sealed bottles will begin to let oxygen in over months and years.
We recommend consuming wine within 1 year.
Key tips to successful winemaking at home
- Clean & sanitize all equipment thoroughly
- Make sure the wine ferments in a warmer environment (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Keep the second fermentation air & oxygen-free (filling the carboys to the brim).
- Keep the bottles air & oxygen-free (filling them to the brim & applying a good quality cork).
- Be sure to house red wines in darker bottles to maintain their color
- Keep a record of everything you do, the ingredients and timeframe, so you can refine the process
- Make the wines dryer to begin with since you can add additional sugar later
- Taste the wine at regular intervals during the process, to make sure it’s tasting well