Read an Excerpt
1 Getting Started
Our goal is to assist you in the process of making wine. We will present a simple method for attaining quality results with easy-to-understand recipes. Although experienced winemakers rarely use recipes, people who are just starting out find that if they follow instructions carefully, they will make good wines from the outset.
Modern technology makes it easy to make high-quality wines, as new methods for preserving freshly crushed grape juices, either by blast-freezing or through various pasteurization processes, enable them to remain stable and usable for a long period.
Wine, by the way, can be made from any number of things besides grapes, including a variety of other fruits and vegetables. Depending on where you live, many of the raw materials for winemaking may be available locally from vineyards, farms, wholesalers, and retailers.
Whether you make your wine from scratch or a kit, from juices or concentrates, you'll find that making your own wine is easy and fun!
Novices have produced excellent wines by using kits. These provide the necessary ingredients and instructions, and make it a simple matter for first-timers to create delightful wines. We'll explore this approach in chapter 3.
Using juices or concentrates also will enable you to produce wonderful wines. Thanks to the preservation techniques we mentioned earlier, it is possible for home winemakers to make wines from all of the world's great grape regions. There are separate chapters devoted to these methods.
Of course, the ultimate experience comes when you make wine from scratch. This requires more work, but the satisfaction you'll get makes it worth the effort.
Don't Be Afraid!
The process of making wine is simple, and we'll walk you through it one step at a time. This book is designed to meet the needs of many people - from novices to experienced winemakers eager to learn a few new techniques.
Some people will discover that they already know a great deal about the process, because they've learned how to brew their own beers and ales. Winemaking is the logical next step for home brewers, because they already have a lot of the equipment they will need and have learned the importance of cleanliness and patience.
Cleanliness is critical when you're making wine, and you'll find that if you follow our suggestions for keeping your work area, equipment, and bottles squeaky clean, you'll avoid many of the problems caused by unwanted bacteria and foreign matter.
Patience is also important. It's quite natural to want to taste your wine as soon as possible, but Mother Nature needs to be allowed time to work - alone! Often, the best thing to do is simply to stay away from your wine and let it develop on its own. In fact, oftentimes all you have to do is step back and let nature take its course.
Eight Steps to Winemaking
Winemaking is a fairly simple process and can be accomplished in eight steps:
1. Choose grapes.
2. Crush grapes.
3. Strain juice into fermentor.
4. Inoculate juice with yeast.
5. Allow wine to ferment. Be patient!
6. Rack wine (that is, move the wine to new containers as needed). Be patient!
7. Bottle wine.
8. Age wine. Be patient!
As you can see, during fermentation, between rackings, and after bottling, all you have to do is let the wine "work" by itself.
Using kits, juices, or concentrates lets you skip the pressing and crushing steps, which is why many beginners feel more comfortable with these winemaking methods. Some winemakers never get beyond these methods, because they enjoy producing their wines with relative ease. There's nothing wrong with this: Regardless of the method, every winemaker puts his or her own stamp on the finished product, and it's this variation that makes making and tasting wines such a delightful experience.
Earlier, we used the term kit when we talked about ingredients for making wine. Now it's time to look at another type of kit: the equipment you'll need to turn your ingredients into wine.
Becoming a home winemaker requires a small financial commitment for basic equipment. Over time, you may decide to experiment with different varieties of wine (including champagnes) and in greater quantities. In that case, you'll need to purchase additional equipment. If, however, you opt to continue making wine from juices and concentrates, the basic kit will serve you well for many years.
Pay a visit to your local wine supply store. Staff there are likely to have put together one or more basic winemaking kits, or they can create one to meet your specific needs. They're also a good source of information concerning equipment that you may not want to purchase at this point in your winemaking career, but that may be available for a small rental charge or even on loan from other winemakers.
For example, stemmer-crushers, which are used by people who make grape wine from scratch, are relatively expensive. Generally speaking, winemakers use these devices for only a few hours a year, so they're usually willing to share.
In any event, when you're starting out, it's best to purchase just the items you'll actually need for your first winemaking project. Therefore, we urge you to talk it over with a knowledgeable person at the wine supply store so you can put together a basic list.
The great thing about the equipment you acquire is that you can use it again and again. And if you've been brewing your own beer, you already have most of what you need!
The Essentials: Basic Equipment
Let's take a closer look at what you'll need to get started. You may already have some of these items on hand. We've included alternative equipment where possible.
Primary Fermentor. You'll probably use either a 6- to 7.5-gallon (23-28 L) glass carboy or a food-grade plastic pail in sizes ranging from 6 to 32 gallons (23-121 L). You'll need a container that's larger than the amount of wine you plan to make in order to allow for foaming and expansion. Stainless-steel and enamel containers with no cracks are also acceptable.
Glass or Plastic Carboys. You'll need at least one 5- to 7-gallon (19-27 L) carboy for aging and racking your wine. Two containers would be better because you're going to have to lift and handle them when they're filled with wine, and this can be cumbersome and awkward. You may even want to consider 3-gallon (11 L) glass carboys for greater ease in handling.
Siphon. A 6-foot (1.8 m) piece of K-inch (0.95 cm) or H-inch (1.3 cm) polyvinyl tubing will do nicely. A J-tube is another type of siphon. There are also bottling siphons that can do the job - these are inexpensive and efficient, as they will pick up virtually every drop of wine.
Stirring Spoon or Paddle. These are particularly helpful when you are making a red wine (more on this later). Spoons or paddles should be of food-grade plastic, stainless steel, or wood. If you have a lathe, you can turn out your own paddles at minimal cost.
Bottle Brushes. You'll need two, one for carboys and the other for bottles. They should have nylon bristles and heavy-gauge wire handles. You can then bend them to reach into tight corners and realign them as necessary.
Fermentation Lock. This device may also be called an air lock, bubbler, water seal, or fermentation trap. Whatever the name, it serves a dual purpose - to allow gas to escape during fermentation and to keep air from getting to the wine. This lock fits into the carboy bung.
Carboy Bung (Rubber Stopper). This is a rubber stopper with a hole drilled through it to allow for the insertion of the fermentation lock. The bung is made of sulfur-free, pure gum rubber, and is usually sold in combination with a fermentation lock. You'll need several of these units.
Funnels. Buy several plastic or polypropylene funnels. A large one, 12 inches (30 cm) across, used with a strainer, will help you to fill carboys or barrels. You should also have one that measures 7 inches (17.8 cm) across, and a smaller funnel with an outside diameter of G inch (6 mm). We'll discuss their uses later. Funnels are readily available at the supermarket, hardware store, and wine supply shop.
Measuring Cups. You probably already have a standard-size measuring cup in your kitchen, but you'll also need at least a H-gallon (1.9 L) cup. There are times when you'll find the larger one particularly useful, especially if you're making red wine from grapes and have to scoop the must into a pressing container.
Hydrometer (Saccharometer). This is a necessity for all winemakers. The hydrometer eliminates guesswork and ensures accuracy. It measures the sugar content of the juice and describes the potential alcohol content. There are a number of different types, but we advocate purchasing one that measures the sugar percentage (Brix temperature; see page 22), alcohol potential, and specific gravity.
Hydrometer Jar. The hydrometer floats inside this container, which contains either wine or must. The jar is cylindrical and can be made of glass or plastic. Graduations will be marked in milliliters (100 mL, 250 mL, 500 mL, for example).
Floating Thermometer. A mercury column and scale encased in a I-inch (1.9 cm) glass cylinder, the thermometer floats upright in liquid and is used to measure the temperature of wine.
Acid Test Kit. After the test for sugar content, the test for acidity is the most important measurement a winemaker takes. Although it is a relatively simple procedure, many home winemakers object to learning how to do it and find myriad excuses to avoid it. Perhaps they are intimidated by the fact that chemistry is involved. Whatever the case, without determining the amount of acidity, a winemaker is prone to make one mistake after another.
It is important to perform this test because your sugar and acid counts should be in harmony before you inoculate for fermentation. It is very difficult to make adjustments later. A complete acid test kit is reasonably priced, and worth every penny! Most kits include
a 25 mL burette with a pinchcock; a 5
mL pipette, burette stand, and clamp; 16 ounces (474 mL) of N/10 sodium hydroxide; 1 ounce (30 mL) of phenolphthalein; and a set of instructions.
You should also purchase a 250 mL Erlenmeyer flask to hold your samples. A 250 mL Pyrex beaker is also handy, and you'll need a supply of distilled water in order to perform the tests. Buy a gallon (3.8 L) bottle (they're usually cheapest at the supermarket) and keep it with your testing gear.
Bottles. Generally speaking, we recommend using the bottle type traditionally used for the wine you're going to produce (see page 10 for illustrations of standard bottles). Still, there really aren't any hard-and-fast rules, so you can be flexible. The main thing is to make sure that your bottles are properly cleaned and sanitized before filling them (see page 10) and that they are tightly sealed.
Corks or Caps. Corks, either plastic or natural, are perfectly fine for sealing your bottles. For that matter, so are plastic-capped push corks and screw caps, unless you're making champagne! (See page 9 for more on bottle closures.)