Taking The Mystery Out Of Home Wine Making
By Ed Kraus
The toughest challenge you will ever face as a home winemaker is making the decision to become one. For many people wine is just one big mystery. For them taking that first step can often be the most intimidating hurdle to get over--a hurdle that unfortunately stops too many potential home winemakers from getting past "go".
I'd like to let you in on a little secret... the mysteries of wine are not so complex and any intimidation it portrays is highly over-rated.
This article is designed to help you get past the mystique of wine and see through its intimidation--to get the process out in the open so that you can see for yourself that making wine is not magic; it's not folklore; it is just a natural process that Mother Nature provides which happens to bring about the gift of wine.
The fermentation is the centerpiece to all other activities that occur when one makes wine. It is the process that actually turns the fruit into wine. During the bubbling and foaming of the fermentation yeast will eat any available sugars and turn them into both alcohol and CO2 gas.
It is a very natural process and one that can easily occur on its own--but only if the conditions are favorable. And, this is where you, the winemaker, comes in...
One way of looking at it is that the winemaker is not actually making the wine, but rather, making sure all the conditions are ripe for a healthy fermentation. Once the fermentation is underway there is not much for the winemaker to do except wait.
A typical fermentation will last anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. During this period the only thing that is required from you, the winemaker, is to siphon the wine off the occurring sediment every now and then--a process known by more experienced winemakers as "racking".
The first racking is typically done around the 5th to 7th day of fermentation. If any pulp is involved in the recipe this is the time it is to be removed. Up until this point the fermentation is left opened, exposed to the air. After the first racking the fermentation needs to be sealed off from the air in a closed container fitted with an air-trap or "air-lock" as we call it.
A second racking is usually done after the fermentation has completed. Once the wine has had plenty of time to clear up, a third racking is done and then it is bottled.
For the home winemaker who is making 5 or 6 gallons of wine, racking is a process that usually takes no more than 15 minutes to accomplish. So, as you can see it is Mother Nature that is really doing all the work during the fermentation. You are, for the most part, just an anxious bystander.
Before The Fermentation
As stated earlier, the winemaker's real purpose in all of this is to make sure that the conditions are favorable for a proper fermentation. So, how does one go about this?
Start With A Solid Recipe:
The recipe is one of the key components to setting up a successful fermentation. Without a clear, dependable recipe you will be traveling through your first batch in a fog.
There are many sources for reliable recipes. Firstly, you can check the recipes we have on our web site at the following link: Wine Making Recipes
There you will find different recipes for making wine using more common fruits. You can also find step-by-step directions for these recipes at the link listed below: "7 Easy Steps To Making Wine"
There are many other good sources for recipes: in the books we offer; across the internet... Also realize that all of the packaged juices we offer come with recipes and detailed directions.
If you want to see what really goes into a recipe, you might want to take a look at the following article on our web site: "Creating Your Own Wine Making Recipes"
It dissects the different elements of a wine recipe so that you can better understand them.
Having a sound recipe will allow you to prepare a healthy fermentation... with the right ingredients... in the right amounts... that will result in a wine with balance and surprising quality.
Start With The Right Equipment:
The second way to insure that you will have a sound fermentation is to have the proper home wine making equipment. It is not necessary to buy hundreds of dollars of equipment to make a batch of wine, but there are some essential pieces that you should acquire before putting together your first batch:
- A food-grade vessel for fermenting
- An air-lock for later sealing up the fermentation
- Hoses for siphoning the juice
- A hydrometer for checking the sugar level of the wine, and
- Something to stir with
These are the major pieces of equipment that should be obtained before setting out to start your first batch of wine. If you have these bare-essential items you can make wine.
If you are dealing with fresh fruits, as opposed to packaged juices, you may also want to consider getting a straining bag (fermentation bag) for managing any pulp that may be involved.
Consider Starting With A Kit:
One very simple alternative to collecting all of the above ingredients and equipment is to get one of the three wine making starter kits we offer. We call our kits "Necessities Boxes" because they come with the essential items and ingredients you will need. They include the same quality products we offer separately, but packaged together at a discounted price.
By starting with a Necessities Box you are not only getting a good deal price wise, but you are also getting recipes and directions that are specific to the kit. In other words, you are getting directions that guide you step-by-step through the process in a clear, understandable fashion. And, you are getting a recipe that will lead you to success.
You can find our Necessities Boxes at the following link on our web site: Sun Cal Necessities Boxes
After The Fermentation
Once the fermentation is complete your task is very simple. Give the wine a few days for the yeast and any other solids to settle to the bottom of the fermentation vessel; and then siphon the wine off of the sediment into wine bottles and then cork.
If you do not want to invest in a wine bottle corker just yet, you can use Mushroom Corks instead. These are corks that can be pushed in by hand as opposed to being mechanically pressed in, such as a commercial winery would do. You can find these Mushroom Corks listed at the following link our web site: Mushroom Corks
If you plan on drinking your wine over the next year or two just be sure to store it in a cool place--like on the basement floor, root-cellar or such. A professional wine cellar is not necessary unless you plan on keeping your bottles of wine for many years.
-- So, What Are You Waiting For?
Take the first step. Decide what kind of wine you want to make and then find a recipe. If you can't find one on our website or elsewhere, then send us an email or give us a call at 1-800-353-1906. We'll be more than happy to help get you started.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.