Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Making Wine at Home

Brewing and fermenting are some of humanity's oldest skills. Beer and wine have been produced at least as far back as ancient Egypt, possibly even further back in history.

A close friend is especially skilled in home brewing and has won several awards with his beers. He’s the one who got my wife and I started with winemaking.

While there is an initial equipment investment, it’s a one-time cost. The continuing expenses are in cleaning supplies, ingredients, corks, and labels if you choose. Bottles are infinitely reusable unless they break.

LEGAL NOTE: Brewing beer and fermenting wine are absolutely legal for individuals. Distilling spirits is not.

A glass of the author's homemade mead

There are a number of wine making kits on the market, such as this one or this one, which provide everything needed in regards to equipment. Consumable supplies are purchased separately, however.

A basic kit will contain at least some variation of the following items:

  • 7-8 gallon primary fermenter with a tight fitting, drilled and gasketed lid
  • 6 gallon glass carboy (secondary fermenter)
  • Drilled rubber stopper for the carboy
  • Airlock
  • Bottle brush
  • Hydrometer
  • Siphon with tubing
  • Plastic mixer
  • Cleaning and clearing chemicals
  • Some variety of corker
  • Usually some corks

The consumable ingredients are water, some sort of fruit juice or honey, and the proper yeast for the type of beverage being made. Additional additives may also be used.

Equipment Prep
One of the most important elements is sterilization of equipment. Washing with soap and water may not be sufficient, and it's generally preferred not to use bleach as it can affect flavor. There are a variety of brewing and fermenting cleaners on the market, many of them based on some form of potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite. They’re sold as a white crystalline powder, mixed with warm water, and sprayed on the fermenting equipment, even inside the bottles.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If the primary fermenter has a spigot, make sure it’s properly tightened and doesn’t leak.

Once all the equipment is clean, the fun begins. As with baking, wine making can be fairly simple, but does call for a certain amount of precision.  It also involves bursts of activity interspersed with long waits.

ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: What follows is a general overview of the process. Always follow the directions for the specific recipe.

Primary Fermentation
After cleaning the equipment and letting it come to room temperature if necessary, the primary fermenter is filled with a mixture of clean water, concentrated fruit juice for wine or honey for mead, and any additives called for in the recipe. This will usually come to between five and six gallons of liquid.

Use the hydrometer to measure and record the initial specific gravity. This will help determine when fermentation is complete.

Dry yeast is sprinkled on top of the liquid and the lid is sealed in place. The airlock is filled to the appropriate level with water and inserted in the gasketed hole. The purpose of the airlock is to release gas produced during fermentation but prevent contaminants from entering the mix.

Allow this to sit in a 68° to 76° area undisturbed for about two weeks.

Use the hydrometer to check the specific gravity of the mix again to see if initial fermentation is complete. They come with a chart to help calculate this value. If the value is in the “wine range” primary fermentation is done. If not, give it a couple more days and check again. 

Once done, siphon the wine into the glass carboy. Be very careful not to disturb or suck up the sediment that has collected at the bottom of the primary fermenter.

Using the sterilized stirring spoon, agitate the wine vigorously for about ten minutes. This de-gasses the wine and removes any remaining carbon dioxide left over from the fermentation process.

Insert a filled airlock and let sit for 24-48 hours.

The author's mead stabilizing in the carboy.

Add the clarification chemical and stir thoroughly. Replace the filled airlock and let sit for another ten to fourteen days.

If the wine isn’t perfectly clear, let it sit for another seven to fourteen days. If it is, siphon back into the sanitized primary fermenter or a similar container. Again, be careful not to disturb the sediment. Let the wine sit for a minimum of two days to allow settling.

Siphon the wine into clean and sanitized bottles. Most recipes will produce twenty four to thirty bottles of wine. Cork the bottles and leave upright for three to five days to allow the corks to expand. After this period, store the wine on its side to keep the corks moist.

The author's mead, bottled and corked.

Most wine needs to sit in the bottle for six months or more to develop full flavor, but some may take over a year.

You have now learned the basic process for making your own wine. Enjoy, and drink responsibly.

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