Making Wine at Home
For people who are genuinely interested in wine, few activities bring greater fulfillment than making wines at home. Wine making is not an activity for the impatient – it takes months of loving care to produce a bottle of good wine.
Home made wine used to be an integral part of old English hospitality. However, today, wine making is a popular hobby. Wine aficionados across the world brew their own wine from a variety of fruits, flowers, roots and herbs.
It is important to keep two things in mind when brewing or consuming wine – first, in most states in the US, you must be over 21 to legally make wine or beer. Second, home made wines have surprisingly high alcohol contents, varying from seven to eighteen per cent. So never underestimate their headiness!
Did You Know?
- Home brewed wine is surprisingly very potent -- it is advisable to sample a new bottle slowly and in small quantities.
- Wine can be made with sweet fruit, flowers and even tea!
- If using berries from your garden to brew wine, try picking them on a dry day. Or else, they would have absorbed enough moisture to render them relatively flavourless.
What Can Wine be Made of?
Technically speaking, wine can be made with any substance that contains sugars in sufficient quantities. It may even be made with tea leaves, lemons and other foods that do not contain sugars, just by adding currants or raisins to the brewing mix.
Experts recommend that first time brewers start with home brewing kits that use grape concentrate. Available in hobby stores and online, these are easy to use, and almost fool-proof, if one follows the directions to the tee. Another advantage of kits is that these usually take lesser time to mature, and are relatively hassle free as there is no choosing, crushing and pressing of grapes involved.
To see wine kits available online, visit Home Winemaking For a discussion on the merits and demerits of using juices, concentrates or starter kits, go to Should I use Juice, Grapes or Concentrate to make wine?
Wine may also be made manually from grapes, as well as from most fruits with high juice content. Here are some things to look out for when choosing the fruit for wine-making –
- Remember, the best quality fruit produces the best quality wine.
- Carefully pare all brown or rotting parts of the fruit, if any.
- Certain fruits, such as gooseberries, blackcurrants and pineapples, need "topping and tailing" before use.
- The stones may be left in smaller fruits - it would be an impossible job to take them out - but are best removed from plums and peaches.
- Do not use electric pulpers or juicing machines on peaches, apricots or plums as their kernels may also get crushed. Their kernels will impart a pronounced and irremovable almond flavor to the wine.
- The pips of citrus fruits and grapes do not affect the flavour of the wine. However, carefully remove all white pith – this will make your wine bitter.
- Wines made from apples are better if the apples are sour or acidic. This is perhaps surprising until you realise that when fermentation takes place, the sugar is removed. What's left after the sugar has gone gives the wine its taste.
- If using grapes, try starting with vinifera grapes (cabernet, chardonnay and merlot) – they are best for wine making.
The Principle of Winemaking
When the sugars in the fruit juice interact with yeast, they ferment. The yeast converts the sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. While the carbon dioxide escapes into the air, the wine is left behind.
What, one might ask is the wine makers task, if the yeast does all the work? The wine maker needs to create the right conditions for the fermentation process – the equipment needs to be squeaky clean, the temperature needs to be controlled, the liquor after the first fermentation must be checked for the right balance of tartness and flavours. Choosing the right ingredients is also important – a wine maker may do everything else right, but if the grapes he has used are not suitable for wine, the net result will not taste good. What also comes after a lot of wine making experience is the ability to judge a brewing wine by its colour and clarity.
There is no one time when the wine becomes ready to drink. Some grapes ferment faster than others, and as a rule, whites peak faster than reds. A light, fruity white could be ready for the table in merely few months, while a heavier red wine could take as long as two years or even more. For the home winemaker, the trick is really to keep tasting the wine to evaluate whether it is ready to be drunk.
To buy a video on home wine making, seeThe First Video For The Home Winemaker
Basic Wine Making Equipment
Here is a list of the basic equipment that is needed to make wine at home.
One heavy container for the primary fermentation, and another similar one for the secondary fermentation. Use old Oak contaiers for greater flavours, although most hobby stores also stock plastic versions.
A long stick or rod for stirring (even a long chopstick works well).
Rubber cork that fits tightly into the mouth of the container for the. secondary fermentation
Nylon mesh straining bag.
Wine bottles with corks.
Making a Basic Wine with Grapes
You will need the following ingredients –
3.5 kilograms black grapes 250 grams granulated sugar I sachet crushed campden tablets (these contain potassium metabisulfite, which kills all naturally occurring wild yeasts and undesirable bacteria in the crushed grape mixture) 80 grams wine yeast 1 Tsp of Pectic Enzyme -- Pectic enzyme eats the pectin, naturally present in fruit which often makes wine cloudy. The enzyme helps clear the wine as it ferments.
The basic recipe is as follows –
- Wash the grapes well.
- Sterilize all the wine making equipment
- Crush the grapes and remove the seeds. This mixture is called a `Must’.
- Add the campden tablets to the Must.
- Then add sugar and yeast. This is the first fermentation of the wine.
- Let the fermenting Must stand for three days. Then strain to remove the pulp.
- Place the strained liquid into the other sterilized tank for the second fermentation.
- Carefully decant it after a few days into a clean container to remove the residue. Keep changing containers until the wine is clear of residue (this process usually takes several months).
Note: At this juncture, experts usually add compounds known as Finings, usually bentonite, gelatin or isinglas, which are natural agents that accelerate the settling of residue and the clearing of the wine. When the wine is decanted from one container to another, the residue along with the fining agent, get left behind.
- When the wine is ready to be drunk, you could filter it for a nice polished feel. Or else, simply pour the clear wine into bottles and cork tightly. Your homemade wine is now ready to be drunk!
For more details on home wine brewing, go to The Joy of Home Winemaking
Making Wines from Flowers and Herbs
Old fashioned wine makers, especially those who live in the country, believe that making wine from grapes and wine kits is not really as exciting and rewarding as making wines from flowers and herbs from their own gardens. Flower and herb wines have a distinctive nose, flavour and feel to them which can not be replicated by store bought wines.
Some flowers commonly used in wine making include dandelion, red clover, rosemary, calendula, violet, elderflower and rose. Different flower wines are reputed to have different medicinal benefits – for example, dandelion wine aids the digestion and liver, cowslip wine helps you sleep while clover wine is a tonic and mild euphoriant.
The procedure of making flower wines is pretty similar to making wine from fruit. A basic recipe is given below –
Ingredients -- two quarts of the heads of the flower of your choice, one kilogram of sugar, three lemons, four ounces raisins or sultanas and one packet Champagne type wine yeast.
Pick the flowers on a sunny morning after the dew has dried. Remove all green parts at the base of the flowers for these make the wine bitter. Clean the flowers well, put them into a large container along with lemon juice and washed raisins or sultanas. Pour six pints of boiling water into the container, stir with a sterilized spoon, cover and leave to stand for twenty four hours. Then strain the liquor and add the sugar and two pints of boiling water. Stir in the yeast and put the container in a warm spot (about 70-80 degrees F) for a month. Siphon the liquid into a container with a tight cork, and let it rest in that warm place for another six months.
For more flower and herb wine recipes, go to Recipes for home brew wine making
Mistakes Home Brewers Commonly Make
Here are some of the pitfalls that commonly strike the home brewer.
- The single biggest reason that home-made wine goes bad is the lack of cleanliness! All equipment, anything that comes in contact with your must or young wine, has to be sanitized (including your hands). So use cleaning chemicals for removing visible dirt and residue from your equipment, and sanitize it to eliminate, or prevent the growth of, spoilage organisms.
- The winemaker is often tempted to recycle winemaking equipment such as pails and spoons. However, the fermenting pails, for example, make a lot of difference to the final taste of the wine. So it is important to consider the materials from which they have been made (old oak is best while non-food grade plastic buckets could leach harmful chemicals into your wine), what other uses they have been put to (old food odours could possibly spoil your wine) and how large they are. It is probably best to not use your wine making equipment for anything but making wine. And saving a few dollars by using suspect equipment is not worth it.
- Failure to follow instructions is another common error. Wine kit instructions may seem to be long and complicated, but that’s wine making for you. Remember, there are no shortcuts to perfection!
- You do not pay attention to the water you use. If the water you use is too hard, or it has a high mineral content, it could lead to permanent haze or off flavors. If in doubt, use bottled water to make your wine. You will appreciate the difference.
- Poor Yeast Handling could turn your wine yeast sulky and uncooperative. Sprinkle the yeast directly on top of the juice instead of rehydrating it like a bread maker would. Also, it is important not to disturb the fermenting Must.
- Poor Temperature Control can ruin your wine. The recommended range is 65°F to 75°F – no more, and certainly no less. Temperature fluctuations are is detrimental to fermentation. Remember, if the fermentation area is too cool the wine will ferment very slowly. clear at all!
- Campden tablets must be added at a very precise juncture – added too soon, the sulfites in them could inhibit yeast activity. And if you forget to add them at all, the Must will oxidize and spoil in less than 4 weeks, and be undrinkable in less than three months. Some liken the smell of rotting Must to which sulfites were not added, to the smell of rotting fish…
- Getting impatient could ruin months of waiting. Even if you are using a wine kit, your wine will be ready for drinking only one month after bottling. It will take this much time to get over the shock of bottling, and to open up to release its aromas and flavors. It might even be better to be patient and let them sit for three months or even six for them to become really smooth. Heavier red wines will continue to improve for at least a year, rewarding your patience with delicious bouquet.
For a detailed glossary of all wine-making equipment and ingredients, go to
- Descriptions of Winemaking Chemicals and Additives
- Home Winemaking
- Making Wine--An Overview
- To calculate the quantities of additives you will need for the amount of wine you are brewing, go to Welcome to iWinemaker.com