Why choose to make your own wine
Winemaking, also known as vinification, is the process of producing wine and dates back much further than archaeological records indicate, with our estimates indicating that it may have begun in the Paleolithic period, and not for the reasons we use it today, but in a quest to develop new medicines!
While it isn’t exactly a medicine, it does help to soothe the palate.
However, we now make our own wines for much more personal reasons. Some do it as a hobby, using it as an outlet to be creative and craft their own imagination in a bottle, while others make it a full-time commitment, developed through sheer passion for the art.
Regardless, we make our own wine in order to eventually craft and taste our own grapevine creations.
Before you begin the process of making wine, you should be aware of the following legal issues:
Because we are a blog, any information provided here is strictly advisory in nature and should not be construed as law; instead, you should consult your local state laws/regulations.
However, these are only guidelines:
- You are only allowed to make 100 gallons of wine per year, or 200 gallons if you live with other people (over the age of 21).
- To make and consume homebrew, you must be over the legal drinking age (21).
- It is not legal to sell your homebrew.
- It is not permitted to distil spirits.
- Sharing your homebrew is a grey area, so you should contact your local/state government officials to discuss the rules and regulations.
Now that we’ve gotten the legal issues out of the way, let’s talk about the supplies and winemaking equipment you’ll need to make your own wine.
When it comes to making your winemaking experience a success, choosing the right equipment is critical.
We’ll assume you’ll want to make a large batch of homemade wine because you’ll be putting in the same amount of effort to make the wine, so you might as well make a lot of it!
As a result, we’ll go over how to make a 3-gallon batch of homemade wine.
You’ll need the following equipment, which you can find in our best winemaking starter kits guide:
Wine Making Equipment
- A hand corker
- 5 feet of clear plastic pipe/tube
- Nylon mesh or a large straining bag
- Three airlocks (also known as fermentation traps)
- 15 pre-sanitized corks/screw caps for wine bottles
- Wine viscosity and density are measured with a hydrometer.
- 15 wine bottles (5 bottles are usually used per gallon of wine)
- Three rubber corks/bungs (to fit into secondary fermentation containers)
- One large plastic container/jug/bucket (to be used as the primary fermentation unit) – approximately 3 gallons
- Three carboys (A glass container with a small neck, which will be used for secondary fermentation containers) – 1 gallon each
- 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 Ingredients
- Wine grapes or any fruit that you desire (if it has juice, it’s pretty much fermentable) – You’ll need 3 gallons of juice, or however much total you want to make.
- You can use store-bought juice, but it must not contain any additives other than vitamin C. (Ascorbic Acid). It will not work if it contains any kind of Sorbate.
- Sugar – Sugar is required for yeast growth. The type and amount of sugar used will influence the overall flavor; experimenting with different sugars will help you refine your preferred flavor…. You can use brown sugar, white sugar, corn sugar, or honey if you prefer. The amount of sugar used depends on the fruit and yeast used, but it will be around 2-3 pounds per gallon batch of wine.
- Filtered water – to ensure that there are no excess bacteria present during the fermentation process.
- Wine yeast – The yeast is the single most important factor in determining the overall flavor of your homemade wine. Feel free to experiment with as many different types of wine and champagne yeast as you want. However, we do not recommend using any high-alcohol or distillers yeast, as this will produce a taste that most people will find repulsive. One packet of wine yeast will typically suffice for up to 5 gallons of wine.
So, now that we’ve covered all of the necessary equipment and ingredients, let’s talk about how to make wine at home.
Cleaning your winemaking equipment and making sure it’s sanitized
So, before we get into the details of the process, let’s define the two terms so you understand the distinction between cleaning and sanitizing.
Cleaning removes dirt and excess residue that has accumulated on the equipment since its last use.
Sanitizing is the process of treating equipment with a chemical solution, which aids in the elimination and prevention of molds, wild yeasts, and bacteria growth. After all, this equipment will be in contact with the wine and, in some cases, will be stationary for up to a month, so we want to eliminate any bacteria that could compromise the wine’s flavor.
Percarbonates, such as P.B.W. (Powder Brewery Wash), are an excellent choice for cleaning the equipment. Ideally, soak your equipment in this solution for 20 minutes before lightly scrubbing it to remove any dirt or residue.
In terms of sanitization, Campden Tablets are one of the most commonly used methods, though you may want to experiment with other methods in the long run.
Picking the desired fruit for your homemade wine
As previously stated, you can make homemade wine from almost any fruit that produces juice. You’ll need enough fruit to produce 3 gallons of juice, so many winemakers will simply buy fruit juice (from concentrate is fine) from the store.
It is important to note, however, that it does not contain any additives other than vitamin C, and it definitely does not contain Sorbate. If you’re not sure whether to use a particular brand or type of fruit juice, use Google because it’s very likely that others have searched for it and even asked/answered the question on forums.
Washing the fruit
If you’re using pre-made fruit juice, you can skip this section and the next one about crushing your fruit.
Those who have decided to use actual fruit, however, must now wash the fruit. This is an important step in learning how to make wine at home because it prevents wild yeast from growing in your wine and producing unpleasant odors and flavors.
Some more experienced winemakers choose not to wash the fruit, but as beginner winemakers, we strongly suggest that you control as many variables as possible by washing your fruit.
Crushing the fruit
Now that you’ve decided on the fruit to use, you must crush it in order to extract all of the juices.
You’ll need a potato masher, a bowl, and a sieve for this.
Continue crushing fruit in your bowl, and use a sieve to ensure that only a small amount of physical fruit enters your plastic container/crock. You want to fill the plastic container to about 1.5 inches (4cm) from the top.
If you don’t have enough fruit juice or fruit to do this, use some filtered water instead, as tap water contains additives and will change the overall flavor of the wine.
You can now add your Campden tablet to your large container of fruit juice, which will cause sulfur dioxide to be released into the liquid, killing any wild yeast and bacteria.
This is a critical step in the sanitization process and must be completed 24 hours before adding yeast to the mixture.
Adding sugar and yeast
Now is the time to incorporate the sugar/honey and yeast into your mixture.
Sugar/honey serves as food for the yeast and is thus required for the fermentation process.
Remember that the amount of sugar/honey used has a direct impact on the overall sweetness of the wine, so if you want a sweeter wine, use more sugar/honey.
You must also consider the fruit you are using, with grapes having a high sugar content and thus requiring less additional sugar to be added to the mixture before the fermentation procedure begins.
If the wine isn’t as sweet as you’d like, you can always add more honey and sugar later.
Now you can add the yeast to your wine and start the fermentation process. Once you’ve poured all of the yeast into the mixture, stir for about 2 minutes to allow for degassing before covering the container/crock.
You must now use the hydrometer before allowing the wine to ferment. In general, if it is less than 1.010, you should consider adding more sugar/honey, stirring again, and re-evaluating the mixture.
Fermenting your homemade wine
Once you’re satisfied, cover the wine container/bucket/crock with a cloth to allow the wine to aerate without bugs getting in.
Place the container in a warm location with a temperature of around 70°F. It cannot be too hot because this will kill the yeast, but it cannot be too cold because this will also kill the yeast.
The next day, uncover the container and stir the mixture; do this every 4-6 hours for this day to allow the yeast to move into action, and you’ll notice the mixture begin to bubble.
For the next three days, repeat the process of uncovering and stirring the mixture to allow the fermentation reaction to begin.
Straining and siphoning the wine
Finally, around day 4, when the mixture is no longer bubbling as much, strain the liquid and siphon it into the three carboys for long-term storage. This is because the container will now contain sediment from the initial fermentation period, which we want to separate from the liquid.
After siphoning all of the liquid into the three carboys (or as many as you have), attach the airlocks to the carboys. The airlocks will allow gas to be released while preventing oxygen from entering the carboys during the ongoing fermentation chemical process.
Now is the time to let the wine sit and rest for a month. If you’ve added a lot of extra sugar/honey to the mixture, you may want to leave it for a little longer because it will be too sweet to drink. In general, experience will play a significant role in determining how long to leave the wine.
Bottling the wine
As the sediment settles to the bottom, the liquid in the carboys should become clearer. This means the wine is ready to be siphoned into clean bottles, where you can fill them to the brim and cork them right away to help the wine keep its freshness and prevent oxygenation.
Remember that dark bottles will keep red wine’s color. Furthermore, the wine’s flavor will generally change over time as it ages, as even sealed bottles will begin to let oxygen in over months and years.
It is critical that you store your wine bottles in a cool place. This is why we recommend investing in a wine cooler, about which we have a number of articles. However, we recommend that our readers select one of the kitchen wine coolers reviewed here. Otherwise, a dual-zone wine fridge would be ideal for storing multiple types of wine.
We recommend drinking wine within one 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 colour
- Keep a record of everything you do, the ingredients and the 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
If you want more detailed instructions on how to make wine, check out The Total Wine System, created by Michael James, who has been winemaking for over 22 years. It is a 122-page, fully illustrated PDF guide to growing and producing your own wine.
We certainly hope you’ve gained some useful insights into how to make wine at home, and we wish you the best of luck in your winemaking endeavours!
Roseanne is an avid wine enthusiast, and has been our expert wine connoisseur since day 1. She’s extremely informed about all varieties of wine and different types of wine fridges.