If you’ve ever visited a wine estate, you’ve probably left with the impression that it’s a high-tech process best left to the professionals. That’s really not so. People have been making wines with a minimum of equipment for thousands of years. You don’t have to be a scientist or shell out hundreds of dollars on special kit to make your own wine at home.
Basic equipment for home wine making
Home wine making in a nutshell is simply fermentation of your grapes, fruit or other ingredient of choice. Your number one home wine making requirement is something to ferment it in. The standard container for small quantities is the glass demijohn, which holds one gallon (4.5 litres). Expect to pay around $30.
A couple of glass wine jugs should be adequate for beginners starting out on a small scale, but if you’re looking to make larger quantities, go for a large, sealable plastic bucket. You should be able to find these in the size you require. 10, 15, 25 and 60 liter sizes (that’s 2, 3, 5 and 13 gallons) are typical. Make sure they’re food grade, and don’t buy colored plastic. The dye in the plastic can leach out during the fermentation process and can be toxic.
Wine bottles are something most wine drinkers will have lying around already. Remember that they’ll need to be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized before reuse, unless you want to end up with vinegar. You’ll need to seal them with corks, stoppers or bungs of some kind. For corks you may need a corking machine. Don’t forget the labels!
Airlocks for your glass demijohns keep the outside air out but allow air to be released as the fermentation process gets going. They are only a few dollars each, and along with other hardware, like plastic tubes for siphoning, won’t break the bank.
You can get away without one if you’re confident, but a hydrometer is the home winemaker’s best friend. You can get fancy ones and simple ones, but one way or another, they all measure specific gravity. This is what you need to know when monitoring the conversion of sugar to alcohol in the fermentation process.
There are other odds and ends that will come in handy in your home wine making that you may already have lying around at home. Items like funnels and sieves (or muslin) to strain your proto-wine are not going to cost you much even if you don’t have them.
This short list is all you really need for basic home wine making – plus your fruit or other ingredients. There are a few extra purchases of ingredients you may have to make, like citric acid, sugar, yeast, wine finings (to clarify your wine) and stabilizers (to stop the fermentation process when you’ve reached the ideal alcohol level). These shouldn’t set you back more than ten dollars or so for a smallish batch.
If it sounds simple and economical, that’s because it is. All you need is some common sense and some patience while your wine matures to become ready for bottling – and drinking.
One of the first questions beginner home winemakers will be what to make their wine from. A little further reading reveals that a few extra ingredients are needed, for various purposes.
Grapes are the favorite produce for wine making because they naturally contain the balance of components needed. A huge range of other produce can also be used to make wines at home, including most fruits, as well as root vegetables, flowers and herbs. A good recipe is always vital so that you achieve the right mix and combinations of other ingredients to ensure the process works.
Yeast is one of the most important elements in wine making. This is the key to fermentation, or turning the sugar in your main produce into alcohol. You can’t just use any old yeast. It must be wine yeast, specially cultured for wine.
You can buy standard wine yeast, but since different strains impart slightly different character to the wine and ferment at different speeds, you can also buy specialist wine yeasts. These have been created from different grape cultivars.
Under the right circumstances, your yeast interacts with another vital ingredient of your wine-to-be: the sugar. Getting the sugar content right is extremely important. The yeast turns your sugar into ethanol (alcohol). If you’re using your own grapes you’ll want to pick them at the right time, depending on how sweet (and how strong) you want your wine to be.
To make sure that the yeast has enough food to keep the fermentation process going at maximum efficiency, you may need to supplement your wine with yeast nutrients. Whether you have to supplement with nutrients will depend on what your main produce is.
Acid is another important element for home wine making. The yeast likes a certain acidity level and correct pH will also inhibit the growth of bacteria that can spoil your wine. Acidity also affects the flavor of the wine.
You will come across other ingredients commonly used in home wine making. Pectic enzyme is used especially where your main produce is high in pulp. It helps break down the fiber of the fruit.
Campden tablets are another frequently used additive. These are added to the must before you add your wine yeast. They kill bacteria and any wild yeast occurring naturally in or on your fruit, and neutralize chlorine (for example, from household water supplies). They are also sometimes added before bottling.
If you’re making red wines, tannin is something you need to know about. Tannin affects the flavor of the wine and also how it ages. Some fruits contain natural tannin. The reason some wines are aged in oak barrels is because this wood contains tannin that infuses the wine with flavor.
The final ingredient for home-made wine is water. Some fruits, like apples and grapes, have enough water in them to start with. Water can also be added to dilute wine and adjust the intensity of the flavor. It may also be added to dilute wine when the acidity level is too high.
Basic wine making isn’t rocket science, but it is a delicate process and for the best results, you need a trusted recipe and a good understanding of how the ingredients work and interact.
Home wine making kits, the simple option
People get into home wine making for all sorts of reasons – although most have the common goal of wanting to drink the end result. Some people are looking to make wine at a fraction of the cost it costs in the stores. Others may have garden produce to make use of or a desire to make organic or specialty wines.
Once you’ve got the basic equipment – which means jars, bottles, airlocks and a few other vital odds and ends - a quick and easy way to start out is to buy a home-winemaking kit. These are carefully compiled to give you most of the essential ingredients for your wine.
Depending on the kit you choose, you may only have to buy sugar and water to add to your ingredients and wait for fermentation to take place. Some kits also include the basic equipment that you need, including jars, pails, airlocks, tubing. More expensive kits will have everything you need, including a hydrometer and even bottle brushes to clean your wine bottles.
Consumables in home wine making kits include grape juice concentrate, wine finings and other essential additives. Most wines take a minimum of four to six weeks to produce, and sometimes more. If you’re in a hurry, there are new combination yeast and nutrient mixes which allow you to really speed up the wine making process.
It’s almost incredible but with some kits you may only have to ferment your wine for four days. It will take an extra day to stabilize and clarify it, but you could have wine to drink in less than a week. If you’re making a red wine you may want to lay it down a while to age and mature. White wines don’t generally improve with age. So you could be drinking your own wine almost before you can say ‘Cheers’!
The great thing about a kit is that you can be drinking wine made from French or Italian grapes, selected and blended to create the taste you want. Home wine making from scratch can be a bit of an adventure, or even a gamble. Kits with tried and tested ingredients mean you know more or less what you’re getting, as long as you stick to the easy-to-follow instructions to the letter.
Whether you want a Chardonnay or a Shiraz, a crisp white wine or a hearty, full-bodied red, there’s a kit somewhere to help you create what you want. A kit is excellent for beginners or people who don’t have the time to do the whole process from beginning to end.
Home wine making Kits aren’t quite as economical as using your own produce and assembling your own ingredients, but if you want to venture into this fun hobby, it’s probably the simplest way to go. If you shop online you can have everything you need in front of you in a few days.
If you’ve heard horror stories about hours invested in home wine making, but with foul results, then a wine kit can also be the safest and most reliable option for novices.