So, would you like to try to make your first batch of homemade wine?
This article will give you an overview of the basic steps and some of the common mistakes to avoid in order to get your first batch one good enough to drink.
First you should think about how much you want to make. In my opinion, 5 gallons is an ideal quantity to start with. Why? Because beginners just cannot wait to taste their creation. Usually, you get the batch finished and then try a bottle or two. Then a few more the following week. Sooner or later, all will be gone before the wine has any chance to age and develop its full potential. Therefore, you need a sufficiently large quantity, but not too much so as to be able to experiment freely and easily. In this regard, 5 gallons is a good compromise.
The second step is to decide about your raw material, that is the type of juice. Contrary to professional wine makers, who almost exclusively rely on specially grown grapes, as a hobbyist you can use any type of juice you like and create a delicious original product. A part from grape juice, good choices for beginners include muscadine, cherry or cranberry juice. All will produce a rather classical wine, except for cherries which usually give a sweeter wine. However, sweetness can always be adjusted afterwards by adding sugar once the fermentation has stopped and the wine is stabilized.
The third step is to carefully sterilize all of the containers and equipment you use. This can be done using extremely hot water, or a sanitizer. Personally, I find the sanitizer more practical but both techniques are fine. The sanitizing solution should be poured over all surfaces, before rinsing with hot water.
Next step, you can put your juice in your bucket, but WAIT before putting your yeast.
First, it is necessary to sterilize the juice in order to avoid any unwanted bacteria development. This can be done using 4 Campden tablets, which contain sulfites and are able to prevent the growth of bacteria. Crush the tablets into warm water, mix well and pour them into the juice. Wait for one night in order for the sulfites to do their work.
The day after, you are ready to put the yeast. There are hundreds of different strains of yeast available, and any discussion about the choice of the yeast would be beyond the scope of this article. However, for our first batch, the usual baker?s yeast can be used without any problem and can be found easily at the grocery store. When you are more advanced in wine making, you will probably use some specialized strain, according to your taste and goals.
Now the yeast has been incorporated in the juice, you just have to wait 7 days and watch. You may want to cover your bucket with a cloth towel, or put a lid with an airlock in place. Remember however that during the fermentation process, the wine will always be protected from the oxygen of the air because of the abundant release of Carbon Dioxide.
After 7 days, and when no more fermentation activity is visible, siphon off the wine into another bucket, or into a glass ?carboy?. These are available online or at your local wine shop. During the siphoning, you should be careful not to transfer the gunk on the bottom of the bucket. This gunk is made up of dead yeast and is called ?lees?. It is safer to have these removed in order to avoid any risk of unwanted flavor.
The new bucket will be used to achieve what is called the ?secondary fermentation?. This one is much slower and does not release any significant Carbon Dioxide, so that you should put an airlock to avoid any contamination by oxygen. You will have to wait at least a month, which is in a way the hardest part. Every new home winemaker just cannot wait to taste the stuff, but be patient. The wine is still fermenting and is not finished yet.
After one month, you should repeat the same operation and transfer back the wine into the first ? clean ? bucket. In the same manner, try to leave most of the gunk at the bottom.
Now the wine is ready to be stabilized. A stabilizer inhibits yeast reproduction and stops them from doing their job. One reason for doing this is to avoid any future production of Carbon Dioxide once the wine is bottled. If that happens, you will get popped corks or exploded bottles or both. So, put the stabilizer, stir the wine well, and then transfer it back to the secondary fermentation bucket.
Now ? another hard period of waiting. The wine has to clear itself naturally, by simple gravity. All impurities will just slowly fall at the bottom of the bucket, but this takes another month. Of course, if would not hurt to bottle a cloudy wine, but a crystal clear wine is much more appealing.
Bottling time, at last! Make sure that your bottles are clean and sanitized, and just siphon the wine into the bottles. You will also need a corker, which can be found online or at your local wine shop.
Now the wine is finished and can be tasted, but again be patient. The more you let it age in the bottle, the better it will taste ? 6 to 9 months in bottle will greatly improve the taste of your wine.
I hope you have a great time tasting your first homemade wine!
I have been involved in professional wine making for several years in the south of France. I have produced and sold my own wine, as well as worked with other winemakers in the area.
On the website address below, you will be able to download an excellent free e-book about home wine making, written by a respected expert, Mike Carraway.
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