When I was in college one of my old roommates used to like to brew his own beer. I always enjoyed watching him concoct his creations in our tiny apartment kitchen in Tallahassee and then watch over the coming weeks the water and sludge mixture turn into something more; to turn into a delicious tasting beer. I myself enjoy the occasional bottle but never enough to make my own.
Wine however, is another story. I’ve still yet to make my own wine, and I am not entirely sure why I have not attempted to. For first timers like me, it make more sense to purchase a wine making kit from a supply store because these kits have all the essential bits and pieces of equipment so you do not have to worry about forgetting to buy something.
Before getting started it is important to make sure that you have everything you need. Whether you are buying a kit or buying all the pieces individually, make sure that you have the following:
- Large nylon straining bag
- Food-grade pail with lid (2 to 4 gallons)
- Acid titration kit
- Clear, flexible half-inch diameter plastic tubing
- Two one-gallon glass jugs
- Fermentation lock and bung
- Five 750-ml wine bottles
- Hand corker
Once you have the equipment it is important to pick your grapes. What grapes you use will depend to a certain extent as to what is available in your area. Vitis vinifera is the classic choice for flavour and character. It is a famous European wine-grape family that includes varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the United States, to make a very broad generalization, vitis vinifera grapes thrive in California and the Pacific Northwest. However, they do also grow well in microclimates scattered all over the country. Don’t be discouraged if you live in a colder area where you are less likely to find them. There might be other hybrids which grow near you, although if you are not sure your best bet is to ask a local produce wholesaler or order some grapes from a wine making store.
Once you have your grapes it is important to inspect them. Take a large handful or two of grapes, squish them and strain the juice. Take your hydrometer and measure the sugar level of the juice. The level should be around 22 Brix which or 11 percent potential alcohol. The fruit should taste sweet and ripe but also mildly tart. Make sure the grapes you are going to use have been thoroughly cleaned and all stems, leaves, insects or other bits of debris have been removed as this will ruin the flavour of the finished wine.
It is important to mention at this point that it is not necessary to use fresh grapes, many homebrew shops sell a grape concentrate that you can use as well so do not get discouraged if you can not get the correct kind of grapes for the wine you want to make, the concentrates are available in many verities and some have sugar already added so you do not need to worry too much about fooling around with the Brix.
Like beer brewing, it is extremely important to make sure that all pieces of equipment are clean and sterilized. Clean everything with very hot water and boil anything that can be boiled. There are a lot methods that can be used for sterilization, some people like to use a bleach and water mixture, others like to use a sterilization powder which can be purchased at your local wine making store. Regardless of what option you pick it is important to follow the instructions and make sure that everything is thoroughly rinsed clean afterwards. There would be nothing worse than having to throw away your batch of wine because it was tainted with bleach that didn’t get rinsed out.
It is important to check the sugar levels of your juice, and to double check the levels if using a juice from concentrate. Using your hydrometer, the sugar level should be about 22 Brix. If for some reason the level is not around 22 Brix, the level is quite simple. If the level is too high and needs to be lowered, it can be done by diluting with water or juice. To bring the level up you can make a sugar and water mixture should by boiling 1 cup of sugar with a third cup of water. Once this mixture is cool (do not add hot sugar to the juice) it can be slowly added until the proper levels have been reached.
Using your acid titration kit you will be able to adjust the acid levels. This is very important because red and white wines have certain acid levels, which are essential. A dry red wine for example should be between 6 and 7 grams per litre while a dry white is between 6.5 and 7.5 grams per litre.
Overall temperature of wine is also important and being able to adjust the temperature of your juice is something everyone needs to know how to do. Fermentation for red and white wines vary, the average temperature for reds is usually around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit while whites fermentation is usually cooler around 55 to 65 degrees. If you find that your wine needs to be adjusted there are many methods that can be used. If trying to cool your wine the best method is to place a reusable ice pack from the freezer (if you don’t have these ice cubes in a zippered lock plastic bag will do the trick) into the juice and stir until the temperature is achieved. Take the pack out and continue as before. Warming wine can be a little tricky. Some people like to take a small amount of juice and warm it in the microwave before adding it back to the larger container of juice while other people like to wrap the juice bucket with an electric blanket. This second method takes longer but can yield a more accurate temperature as it is easier to control the warmth. Either method will work so it is more a matter of preference.
Transferring your wine from one container to another to separate the sediments is very important. Remember that the transfer container needs to be sterilized! Using a siphon hose (your clear tubing), slowly transfer the juice making sure to not to stir up the sediments and seal it with the bung and fermentation lock.
Bottling wine is similar to bottling beer. You fill your empty wine bottles with your wine, and use a hand corker to cork the bottle to seal it. This can be hard to do the first time so it is suggested that an empty bottle is practiced on first to get the hang of it. It is not important to purchase bottles if you have empty wine bottles at home you can sanitize and recycle those.
A common myth is that homemade wine is not capable of tasting as good as wine produced at a winery. The same methods are used to create wine at home as they are at wineries; the only difference is the size of the batches being made. Also don’t be afraid that making wine from home could cause you to go blind if it is not correctly made; this is another fallacy that people often believe to be truth. The alcohol made by the fermentation of sugar is ethyl alcohol not it’s deadly cousin methyl (wood) alcohol.
After doing this research on making wine at home, it appears that it is nowhere near as difficult or dangerous as many make it out to be. Perhaps in the coming weeks I will put my wine making skills to practice and make my first batch of vin de Finnigan.
Post time: 11-15-2017