How to Make Wine from Grapes
- One 4-gallon food-grade-quality plastic bucket and lid to serve as the primary fermentation vat
- Three 1-gallon glass jugs to use as secondary fermentation containers
- A funnel that fits into the mouth of the glass bottles
- Three airlocks (fermentation traps)
- A rubber cork (or bung) to fit into the secondary fermentation container
- Large straining bag of nylon mesh (you can use a new nylon stocking — or buy a straining bag at the wine making store).
- About 6 feet of clear half-inch plastic tubing (siphon hose)
- About 20 wine bottles (you’ll need 5 bottles per gallon of wine)
- Number 9-size, pre-sanitized corks
- Hand corker (ask about renting these from the wine supply store)
- A Hydrometer to measure sugar levels
- Lots and lots of wine grapes
- Granulated sugar
- Filtered water
- Wine yeast
To the above basic list you can refine the process by adding such things as Campden tablets to help prevent oxidation, yeast nutrients, enzymes, tannins, acids, and other fancy ingredients to better control your wine production.
Basic Grape Wine Instructions
Get fancier with these (still quite simple) wine making recipes.
- Ensure your equipment is thoroughly sterilized and then rinsed clean. (Ask at the wine supply store about special detergents, bleaches, etc.). It’s best to clean and rinse your equipment immediately before using.
- Select your grapes, tossing out rotten or peculiar-looking grapes.
- Wash your grapes thoroughly.
- Remove the stems.
- Crush the grapes to release the juice (called “must”) into the primary fermentation container. Your hands or a potato masher will work here as well as anything. (Go to the end of this article for simple guidelines on crushing grapes, and also to learn the difference between crushing and pressing the grapes – don’t worry, you really don’t need to press them for home made wine). Or you could go old school and stomp with your feet (or maybe not). If you’re making a lot of wine and have far too many grapes to crush manually, you can rent a grape masher or fruit press from a wine supply store. Or buy one used on Kijiji.
- Add wine yeast.
- Insert the hydrometer into the must. If it reads less than 1.010, consider adding sugar. If you’re adding sugar, first dissolve granulated sugar in pure filtered water (adding sugar helps boost low alcohol levels). Stir the must thoroughly.
- Cover primary fermentation bucket with cloth; allow must to ferment for one week to 10 days. Over the course of days, fermentation will cause a froth to develop on top and sediment to fall to the bottom.
- Gently strain the liquid to remove the sediment and froth.
- Run the juice through a funnel into sanitized glass secondary fermentation containers. Fill to the top to reduce the amount of air reaching the wine.
- Fit the containers with airlocks.
- Allow the juice to ferment for several weeks.
- Use the plastic tube to siphon the wine into clean glass secondary fermentation containers. Again, the purpose here is to separate the wine from sediment that forms as the wine ferments.
- Continue to siphon the wine off the sediment periodically (this is called “racking”) for 2 or 3 months until the wine is running clear.
- Run the wine into bottles (using the cleaned plastic tubing), leaving space for the cork plus about a half inch or so of extra room.
- Insert corks.
- Store the wine upright for the first three days.
- After three days, store the wine on its side at, ideally, 55 degrees F. For red wine, age for at least 1 year. White wine can be ready to drink after only 6 months.
How to Crush the Grapes
Crushing grapes for wine making is simple.
Crushing is what’s done before the fermentation. It’s what changes the plump grapes from something you pop into your mouth to something you can slop around in a fermenter.
Crushing the grapes is a very straight-forward task. It’s simply a matter of bursting the skins so that all the inner solids can be exposed to the fermentation. Enough free-flow juice will release from the grapes to turn the crushed mix into something liquid we call a wine must.
All you want to do is burst the skin of each grape, don’t do much more than that. This is necessary to release the juice from the grape. It also allows the yeast and enzymes into the grape to further break down the fiber and release even more juice along with flavor and body elements that will make up the character of the resulting wine.
If you do not crush the grapes, you will discover that a significant number of grapes will not release any juice at all. They will stay whole when being pressed. Other grapes may only give up a marginal amount of their juice while being squeezed. This is true regardless of the type of wine press you are using.
On the flip-side, you do not want to over-crush the wine grapes. Doing so may release too much tannin. This could lead to a wine that is out of pH balance and bitter tasting. You just want to solidly burst the skins. As an example, don’t pull out the food processor. That is not how to crush grapes and would definitely be overkill!
Another aspect to consider is that you need to remove the stems from the wine grapes at some point. A few stems are okay, but you do not want all of the stems in the fermentation. This too will cause the wine to become overly bitter with excessive tannin.
How you tackle the crushing of the grapes will depend on the amount of grapes you are dealing with. If you have just 10 or 20 pounds it wouldn’t be a bad idea to crush them by hand or use a sanitized potato masher. With 100 pounds you might get away with crushing the grapes by beating them with the butt end of a 2×4 while in a bucket. But anything beyond this, and you are going to want to start considering an actual grape crusher.
Many beginning winemakers think crushing and pressing is the same thing, that the terms are interchangeable, when in fact both mean something very different. To understand just how different you must first know a little bit about the wine making process.
When making wine from grapes it is important to realize that you are not only dealing with the juice from the grapes. You are also dealing with the pulp, the skin, and all the fiber that make up the grape. It is from these organic solids that the grape is able to provide body, color and certain flavor characteristics to the wine. Without them all you have is clear grape juice with very minimal qualities.
This is why when a winery makes a red wine, the skin and pulp are actually in the fermentation along with the grape’s juice. Once the fermentation has almost completed, all the fibrous solids of the grapes are then removed.
But how do these grapes become a soupy mix that is fermentable? Then later, how is the skin and pulp removed? This is where crushing and pressing come into practice.
For the home wine making making a small batch, pressing the grapes with a grape press is really optional (crushing is the necessity); wineries, however, always press the grapes.
Once the wine must has fermented for around 5 to 7 days it is then time to remove all the solids. This is when you’ll see a winery pull out the grape presses and start pressing the wine must. The must is dumped into the pressing basket. Immediately, free-run juice will start flowing from the grape press spout. What’s remaining in the basket is then pressed to extract even more juice.
As a home winemaker you do not necessarily need to use a wine press. If you are dealing with a small batch and have only 2 or 3 pounds of pulp, you can press it by hand as best as you can. A fermentation bag can come in handy for this process (or you can use a brand new nylon stocking). Collect the pulp into the bag. Then hang it over a fermenter while you squeeze it. The biggest drawback to this is you will not get nearly as much juice from the pulp as a wine press can.
If you are dealing with a little larger amount, a wine press is almost a necessity.
Grapes can be kept frozen until you are ready to make wine. Wash them first and allow them to dry completely before freezing. The freezing process may actually cause the grapes to release more juice (it does when freezing rhubarb, which you can also use to make wine).
Tips For Losing Less Wine When Siphoning (Racking)
Losing too much wine when racking is something that is concerning to many home winemakers.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to decrease the amount of wine you lose when racking (siphoning) your wine. These are simple little techniques that will allow you lose less wine. I’ll go over them one-by-one:
- Use An Actual Wine Yeast
By using a wine yeast verses baker’s yeast, you will be able to get more wine with less sediment. Wine yeast is bred to pack more firmly to the bottom of the fermenter. This creates a sharper line between the wine and the sediment. This makes it easier for you to get all the wine.
- Tilt The Fermenter
By tilting the fermenter towards the end of the siphoning you can cause the wine to roll off the yeast, into the corner, giving you a deeper area to siphon from. This is very helpful. Again, an actual wine yeast will help in this regard. If the yeast doesn’t pack firmly, this method is not nearly as effective.
- Save The Murky Stuff
If you are in a situation where there is a lot of cloudy wine towards the bottom, save it in a separate container, like gallon jugs. Give it more time to clear up on its own. Then siphon off the sediment.
- Rack (Siphon) The Wine More Than Once
Rack the wine right after the fermentation has completed. Wait a few weeks and then rack the wine again, right before bottling. And here’s the secret part. When you do the first racking, get as much of the wine as you can, even it if comes with some sediment. But when you get to the final racking, before bottling, do whatever it takes to leave all the sediment behind. What you will find by doing this is that you will have very little sediment at the last wine racking, maybe a dusting, causing you to loose hardly any wine at all.
Tips for Clarifying Wine
There are chemicals you can buy at wine making stores to help clarify wine, but some people want to avoid adding chemicals. One old trick is to set the wine outside when it is below 0 degrees F, and that will help it to clear.
Experts recommend adding wine makers bentonite to your wine to help clear it out faster and pack more firmly on the bottom. Bentonite is a natural clay that attracts particles such as the wine yeast and fruit fiber, and drags it to the bottom. Wine making stores sell it in a food-grade form. It does not permanently mix with the wine and does not affect the wine in any way other than to clear it. The bentonite settles out and is left behind, just like the particles. This will help a lot.
Here is a blog post that is also helpful: How Do I Get The Wine From The Sediment? This blog post provides ideas on clearing and racking wine.
Tips for Cleaning Wine Bottles
More helpful wine making tips: