Wine making as a hobby
A hobby can be defined as “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation”. If you have wine making as a hobby, the pleasure and relaxation are guaranteed; you will soon sit down at sunset enjoying a glass of your own wine.
Wine making is not your main occupation so you can enjoy every moment of it. Nobody tells you what to do and nobody takes away the credit for your work. It is fun running your own mini winery, trying out or developing new wine recipes. It is exciting to wait for the moment when you can taste the first glass. And it fills you with pride when you can surprise your friends with your latest brewage.
In this website I will show you how to make wine and I will share some of my experiences and give tips on what to do and what not to do. You are welcome to read through the entire website, but if you are looking for some specific information, just browse this list of links which will take you straight to the desired topic.
| What is wine? | Grapes | What you need to make wine? | Basic equipment | More equipment | Basic ingredients | More ingredients | How to make wine | Hygiene | Yeast | Yeast starter | Yeast recycling | Fermentation | Clearing | Pectinase | Acidity | Acids | Racking | Air is a problem | Sugar | Honey | Mead |Alcohol content | Measuring alcohol | Adding taste | Bottling | Wine label | Water lock | Fruit wines | Other wines | Dry or sweet | Filters and sieves | Hops | Wine talk | Yeast nutrients | Not enough body | Mixing wines | Storing wine | Vinegar | Tips – Do | Tips – Don’t | Wine making diary | Recipes |
What is wine?
Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented fruit juice. Wine is often made from white or red grapes, but for the hobby wine maker almost any fruit can be used to make wine. Often the wine will be named after the fruit(s) that were used, for example cherry wine, mango wine or blueberry wine.
Not only fruits, but also other natural products can be turned into wine. Honey is used to make mead (honey wine). Other tasty wines can be made from ginger, roselle, rice or tea.
According to the French, only wine made from fresh or dry grapes can be called wine. But for the hobby winemaker there are no limits to what can be used, except your own fantasy.
As we have seen before, there are people who think that wine has to be made of grapes, and clearly most of the wines in this world are grape wines. So it is interesting to know a bit more about the grape.
The scientific name of the grape is Vitis vinifera. The first part of this name identifies the genus and the second part identifies the species within that genus. So we see that the genus name of the grapevine is Vitis, which is the type genus of the family Vitaceae. These are woody vines with simple leaves and small flowers and this genus includes a wide variety of grapes. The species name vinifera can be translated (from Latin) as: wine-bearing.
That’s why wine made of grapes is just called “wine”, while wines made of other products are called “fruit wine” or they are named after their ingredients (ginger wine, elderflower wine, etc.)
What do you need to make wine?
To make wine at home it is necessary to invest a bit of money in basic wine making equipment. And of course we need some ingredients, usually fruits. We will discuss below what equipment is essential and what equipment is nice to have but not really necessary for the beginning wine maker. We will also discuss the most common ingredients.
Here is a list of wine making equipment that is absolutely necessary when you want to start your wine making hobby.
- Big stainless steel or aluminum pan for boiling the fruits or other ingredients.
- Big plastic bucket (preferably white plastic) with a lid, for the first, open, fermentation.
- Big spoon for stirring the must.
- Big glass bottle (5 liter or bigger) for the second, closed, fermentation.
- Water lock.
- Cork or cap with a hole to fit the water lock to the fermentation bottle.
- Transparent plastic tube of about 1.5 meter length.
- Bottles for storing the wine.
- Tool for putting corks on the bottles.
- Notebook to keep a “wine making diary”.
It’s only a short list with simple equipment. Some of it you probably have already in the house, so with only a small investment you are ready to start your wine making hobby.
More equipment to make the work easier
Apart from this basic equipment there are other items that are very useful. If you are serious about your wine making hobby you will probably like to acquire the items in the following list.
- Graduated beaker (1 liter) for measuring quantities of water.
- Kitchen scale for measuring weights.
- Plastic sieve.
- Muslin cloth.
- Hydrometer (instrument for measuring the specific gravity of liquids).
- Glass measure cylinder (at least the same length as the hydrometer).
- Indicator paper to measure the acidity (for pH range 2,5 to 4,5).
- Labels for your bottled wine.
- Capsules to cover the cork.
While not absolutely necessary, you will probably soon feel the need to include this in your winery. Especially the hydrometer and the indicator paper are very helpful when you want to know what’s going on during the wine making process. They take your skills to the next level.
To make wine you will need a recipe which will tell you what ingredients to use and in what quantities. Especially in the beginning you will follow existing recipes, but as you get experienced you will start experimenting and you will develop your own new recipes with different combinations of ingredients. The basic ingredients for wine making are quite simple:
- Fruits (or other products such as honey, ginger, rice or tea)
- Yeast (not bread yeast but special wine yeast)
During the fermentation process, sugar is turned into alcohol. Most fruits don’t have enough sugars to reach the desired alcohol content (usually between 10 and 16%) which is why additional sugar (or honey) should be added.
More ingredients for better results
Some other ingredients are sometimes added to facilitate the fermentation process, to adjust the taste, or to help the wine getting clear.
- Yeast nutrient
- Citric acid (or lemon juice)
- Tannin (or some strong tea)
Which of these ingredients you need depend on the type of wine you are making. Many wine recipes include some of these ingredients.
How to make wine?
This is what it’s all about. You have your equipment and you have your ingredients. What is the trick to turn water into wine?
We have already seen that we use fruits, water, sugar and yeast as the main ingredients. The fruits will give the wine its flavor, while the sugar (present in the fruit or added) will be turned into alcohol by the yeast.
Wine making follows these steps:
- Extract the juice from the fruits. This juice contains the flavor and some sugar. Depending on the recipe, the fruits can either be squeezed or are soaked in boiling water. The boiling helps to sterilize the must (“must” is the juice before or during fermentation).
- Add sugar. Usually this is done while boiling the water (combined with step 1).
- Let it cool down to room temperature.
- Add yeast. Often the yeast has been started up already a day earlier (see: yeast starter) to make sure that the fermentation process will start quickly.
- Keep this in an open container (but covered with a cloth) for 2 to 4 days. This is the “open fermentation” where oxygen is present. Stir the most twice each day.
- Sieve the liquid, using a sieve and/or muslin cloth, to remove the solid fruit particles. Then pour the liquid in the fermentation vessel (usually a big glass bottle) which should be almost completely filled (add sterilized water if needed). Place the water lock on the container.
- Wait and be patient. The “closed fermentation” is now taking place without oxygen. The yeast is turning sugar into alcohol and CO2. The CO2 escapes as bubbles via the water lock. This closed fermentation can take several weeks.
- Watch how the wine gets clear and a deposit of dead yeast cells appears at the bottom of the container.
- Rack the wine. This means using a siphon to transfer the wine to another container while leaving the deposit of dead yeast cells behind.
- After 2 months rack again, and if needed repeat this once more to make the wine clear. When racking you may have to add a bit of sterilized water to compensate for the lost volume.
- Bottle the wine. This is usually after 5 or 6 months.
- Taste a bit of the wine, but store most bottles for a couple of months as this will improve the flavor. Preferably store the wine in a cool place.
It doesn’t look difficult except for the patience that is needed while waiting for the yeast to do its good work. More information about each of these steps follows below with tips on what to do and what to avoid.
Hygiene is probably the most important secret to successful wine making. If something goes wrong, it is usually a lack of hygiene that has caused the problem.
Yeast is a living organism. It is the only living organism that we want to deal with in the wine making process. Any other organisms such as bacteria and fungi are unwanted and we do everything to avoid this type of contamination. For this reason I always prefer to start with a sterile must to which I then add the yeast starter. There are two different methods that I use.
- In some recipes I boil the ingredients (water, fruits, sugar) together and let them cool down before adding the yeast.
- In other recipes I squash the fruits and put them in a container (white plastic bucket) and then dissolve the sugar in boiling water which I poor over the fruit pulp.
The first method is more sterile, but it has the disadvantage that the wine doesn’t clear easily (depending on the fruits used). It is the pectin in some fruits which can make the wine cloudy, especially when the fruits are boiled too long.
Note: Some wine makers use another method to sterilize the must. They add sulfite (so called Campden tablets) to sterilize the must before adding yeast. But I prefer to work without too many chemicals so I always use heat (boiled water) to sterilize the must and keep away unwanted bacteria and fungi.
Hygiene is not only needed when starting with a sterilized must, but during all the steps you have to avoid contamination of the wine. That means that all your equipment has to be very clean before it comes in contact with the wine. Every time when you use a bucket, bottle, spoon, beaker, plastic tube, funnel or sieve, wash them in hot water (with some soap or bleach) and rinse carefully with clean sterilized water.
Also when the wine is ready, it is essential that you use sterile bottles for bottling. This can be done by rinsing them with a sterilizing solution (some people dissolve Campden tablets in water to rinse the bottles) or by heating them. I personally prefer the heat treatment and keep the washed bottles in an oven at 120℃ (250℉) for 20 minutes. I put the bottles in the cool oven before switching it on to avoid sudden heating; when it reaches the desired temperature I keep it on for another 20 minutes.
The name “yeast” is used for a group of microorganisms which belong to the fungi. There are many species of yeast, but one of these (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is very important as it is used as baker’s yeast (a leavening agent in baking bread) or as brewer’s yeast in alcoholic fermentation when making beer or wine.
While baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast are the same species of yeast, they are not really the same thing. There are many different strains of yeast and each of these has different characteristics making them more or less suitable for beer, bread and winemaking.
Without getting too technical, we may conclude that to make wine, you need “wine yeast”. But even then, there are many different strains of wine yeast available and it is sometimes confusing for the winemaker. Different strains may give different tastes, some strains ferment fast while others are slower, and some strains are better than others to keep fermentation going when alcohol level is increasing.
For the beginning winemaker the best choice is to take a general wine yeast which is tolerant to high alcohol levels. Later you can experiment with other yeast strains. But, never use baker’s yeast.
Your task as winemaker is to create circumstances that are favorable for the yeast. The yeast is doing the most important work for you: converting sugars into alcohol.
When you buy wine yeast, this will usually be a small amount of dry powder in a small container or sachet. This dry yeast powder is still inactive; the yeast is sleeping an and before you add the yeast to the fruit juice (or must), you will have to activate it. The yeast cells first have to start multiplying so that you will have many more yeast cells that can be added to the must. We do this by making a “yeast starter”.
In theory it is possible to just add the dry yeast to the must and hope that it starts doing its work. But by making a yeast starter you are sure that you have an active yeast with many healthy yeast cells that can quickly start the fermentation of the sugars in the must. If any unwanted microorganisms are present in the must, your active yeast starter will be able to quickly take over. Personally I recommend to always make a yeast starter.
Making a good yeast starter takes time, usually one or two days, so you will need to plan in advance and prepare the yeast starter before you are preparing the must.
There are several ways to make a yeast starter. Usually the first step is dissolving the dry yeast in a bit of lukewarm water and let it soak for a couple of minutes. The sachet will probably have a label with instructions on how to do this. The water will wake up the sleeping yeast cells. But of course they now need something to eat, so you will have to add some sugar water (e.g. a 5 to 10% sugar solution) or fruit juice (apple juice is fine) to create an environment for the yeast to start multiplying.
I usually prepare a yeast starter from 500 ml apple juice with 1 teaspoon yeast, 1 teaspoon yeast nutrients and 75 gram sugar. Keep it at room temperature in a bottle which is closed with a bit of cotton wool. Make sure that the apple juice you use has no preservatives added, because that would kill the yeast cells.
After one or two days when you see that your yeast starter is very active you can add it to the must.
Tip: You may decide to keep a little bit of the yeast starter behind for your next wine so that you don’t need to buy wine yeast every time you start a new batch of wine. Just keep it in the fridge and when needed start it up by adding some lukewarm apple juice and sugar to prepare your next yeast starter.
A good yeast starters can also be used to restart fermentation when it has stopped too early. In this case you will have to make sure that the yeast can gradually get used to the must which already contains some alcohol. Prepare the yeast starter. First mix it with one liter of the must. When this mixture is showing good activity (bubbles rising) add another two liters, and when this is active you can add the rest.
It is not necessary to buy new wine yeast every time you are starting a new batch of wine. The trick is to recycle your yeast. An easy way to do this is to keep part of your yeast starter and save it for later use. Just keep it in a small closed bottle in the fridge, making sure that it cannot get contaminated with bacteria or other microorganisms.
Two days before you are starting your next batch of wine, take it from the fridge and add it to half a liter apple juice with some sugar and yeast nutrients. When the fermentation has started this new yeast starter is ready to use. And, don’t forget to save a bit again for next time.
Yeast feeds on sugar and while doing this it breaks down the sugar and turns it into CO2 and alcohol (ethanol) in about equal amounts. So 100 grams of sugar will produce about 50 grams of CO2 and 50 grams of alcohol. This fermentation process is visible as the CO2 are the small “gas bubbles” that you see rising up.
The fermentation process in wine has two stages. The first stage is the “open fermentation”, which is generally a very active process and you may see a lot of foam forming on top of the must. When stirring the must you will hear the hiss of all the bubbles of CO2 rushing to the surface. During this open fermentation the must is kept in an open container (white plastic bucket) covered with a cloth. Oxygen is present and helps the yeast cells multiply. This rapid open fermentation usually takes 4 to 6 days, and is followed by a much slower “closed fermentation”.
The closed fermentation takes place in a fermentation vessel which is closed with a water lock. The CO2 bubbles can escape through the lock to prevent build up of pressure and at the same time the lock prevents oxygen coming inside the container. The lock also prevents contamination with other unwanted microorganisms such as bacteria. This second stage of the fermentation process is much slower and can take several months. Especially in the end you may see that the process is very slow, with the water lock releasing just a bubble of the CO2 every few minutes.
One of the factors that are important for the fermentation process is the temperature. At very low temperatures the process gets very slow or may stop completely. At very high temperatures the yeast may die, which ends the fermentation process. Some yeast strains are more tolerant to higher temperatures, but generally the temperature should not rise above 35℃ (95℉). Ideally the temperature should be around 21℃ (70℉) during the first, open fermentation, and about 16℃ (61℉) during the second, closed fermentation. But of course it is very difficult to control the temperature so exactly. I have made good wines at a wide range of temperatures.
Try to buy yeast which is suitable for the temperature you will be working at. If you live in a warm country, use yeasts that are tolerant to higher temperatures.
Eventually the fermentation will stop. This could be because all the sugars in the must have been used, in which case you will have a dry wine, or it could be because the yeast is dying because of the ever increasing alcohol content. If the percentage alcohol in your wine gets too high (16% or more) the yeast dies and any sugar that is still present in the wine will not be converted; the wine will have a sweet taste. Some types of yeast can tolerate higher alcohol levels than others.
You expect to produce a clear wine with a beautiful color. But during the fermentation process you will often wonder if that is ever going to happen. Especially during the first few weeks the must has often an ugly muddy appearance caused by the floating yeast cells. Eventually however, most wines will become clear. Dead yeast cells and other solid particles sink to the bottom of the container and the wine becomes more and more transparent.
To make sure that you get a clear wine, you will have to “rack” the wine several times. Racking means that you siphon the clear liquid to another container while leaving the sediment behind. Most wines will need to be racked two or three times to get them perfectly clear.
In some cases it may be more difficult to get a clear wine. Some fruits contain a lot of pectin and this may result in a certain cloudiness of the wine which will not easily disappear. This happens especially when the fruits have been boiled. In these cases it is recommended to use an enzyme (pectinase) which helps break down the pectin. Other ways of clearing wine involve the use of bentonite, which is a kind of clay that helps the clearing of cloudy wines.
Pectinase is an enzyme which is often used when making wine. The pectinase helps to break down pectin, which is present in the cells walls of plants. Some fruits contain a lot of these pectins and this may prevent the clearing of the wine.
Adding pectinase to the must has two advantages. When the pectinase breaks down the pectin it helps the break down of plant cells so that flavors are easily released. The other advantage is that it promotes the clearing of the wine. That’s the reason why many wine recipes often include a bit of pectinase.
The acidity of the wine is very important. When the acidity is too low, this may result in a poor fermentation and your wine will have a weak taste with not much character.
In your wine you are aiming for a balance of flavors. Acidity and sweetness are both important for the final product. Depending on the sweetness the wine will need more or less acidity. Therefore it is important that you take control of the acidity of your wine.
Acidity can be easily measured using indicator papers, which change color depending on the pH-value (acidity) of the wine. Pure water has a pH very close to 7. Solutions with a pH below 7 are acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline. Wine is supposed to have an acidity or pH of about 3.5.
Some wines have already enough acidity because of the fruits you are using, but in some cases it is necessary to adjust the acidity of the must. This can be done by adding acids (for example citric acid) or by adding juice of some lemons. Often 1 or 2 lemons in 5 liter must will be mentioned in wine recipes.
Citric acid is often used in wine recipes to adjust the pH (or acidity) of the wine. Other acids that are sometimes used in wine making include: succinic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid and tannin.
Tannin is important in winemaking as it improves the taste. Wine that lacks tannin can be tasteless and lacks character, but wine with too much tannin may taste bitter or tart. Many fruits contain tannin, so depending on the recipe you may have to adjust by adding a little bit of tannin to the must.
Instead of adding these acids you can of course experiment with other ingredients to adjust acidity and tannin content. Lemon juice will make the must more acid. Some fruits, such as the elderberry have a high tannin content and can be used in moderation to increase the level of tannin in your wine.
During the fermentation process the yeast cells that die will form a sediment at the bottom of the vessel. Removing this sediment is necessary and very important to get a clear wine, and because it can spoil the taste.
Removing the sediment is called “racking” and it is done with a flexible tube to siphon the wine to another, clean container. The trick is to siphon and keep as much as possible of the good stuff while leaving the sludge behind. This can only be done when your wine is fermenting in a transparent container. You have to be able to see what you are doing.
Before starting the racking you will have to place the container high enough (e.g. on a table) so that the empty container can be placed at a lower level (otherwise the siphon won’t work). Don’t disturb the container for at least 24 hours before racking.
While siphoning, make sure to not disturb de sediment with your tube. I always find it easier to use an inflexible piece of tube in the top container, because it is easier to manage, while the outlet to the lower container can be a flexible piece of tubing.
Keep the tube in the middle of the liquid while sucking on the other end to start siphoning. Then gradually lower the tube until just above the sediment, making sure that no sediment is passing through the tube.
Consider using a tube which is closed at the bottom but which has an entrance hole just one centimeter higher. Even when the tube touches the sediment, only the clear liquid above it will pass through the siphon.
Instead of sucking on the tube to start the siphoning (which can contaminate the wine) you could buy a so-called auto-siphon, which has a simple pump mechanism that will start the siphoning.
When you are done siphoning you will find that you have lost a bit of volume. As you don’t want any air in the fermentation container, you will have to add some water, or sugar solution to fill up the container. Then close it again with the water lock. Throw away the sediment and clean that container.
Air is a problem
You have to avoid as much as possible that your wine comes in contact with air. One reason is the oxygen in the air, which can spoil your wine, and another reason is that air contains all kinds of microorganisms, which can also spoil your wine.
Of course, some contact with air cannot be avoided. When racking the wine you will have to open the container. But make sure that you work fast and store the wine again as soon as possible under a water lock. Fill the container as high as possible with wine to minimize the volume of air.
During the fermentation process, yeast converts sugar into alcohol and CO2. About 50% of the sugar is converted into alcohol.
To reach an alcohol content of 12% we need about 240 gram of sugar per liter. When you prepare the must you will find that most fruits will not have so much sugar. Therefore we have to add sugar to reach the required level.
More sugar gives more alcohol, but there is always the risk that fermentation stops before all the sugar has been converted into alcohol. That would leave you with a too sweet wine. It is very difficult to correct a wine which is too sweet, because restarting the fermentation is usually not so easy (the alcohol which is present is toxic to the yeast). Therefore it is better to try making a dry wine. If a wine is too dry for your liking it can always be made sweeter by adding some sugar or mixing with a sweet wine.
Instead of sugar you can also use honey to make wine. Wines that are made of honey are called “mead”. When calculating how much honey you need it is important to realize that 1 kg of honey does not represent 1 kg of sugar. A rough guide is that 1 kg of honey contains 800 grams of sugar.
If you use honey to make wine it is also important to realize that the honey does not contain many nutrients that are necessary for the growing of the yeast. Always make a very active yeast starter and add yeast nutrients when you are making honey wine.
There are two ways of indicating the alcohol content of wine. Usually it is expressed as percentage alcohol by volume (ABV), but it can also be expressed as grams per 100 ml.
A volume of 100 ml wine is equivalent to about 100 gram. If 100 ml of wine contains 10.6 grams of alcohol then this is the same as 13% alcohol by volume.
Wines can have varying levels of alcohol, but most wines you make at home will be somewhere between 10 and 14% alcohol by volume. Often it is recommended to aim at 12% or more because that is better for unrefrigerated preservation of the wine.
Measuring alcohol content
It is possible to measure alcohol content of a finished wine directly using a vinometer. A vinometer is a small glass tool that uses surface tension of the liquid.
However, most wine makers are using an indirect method to determine alcohol content of their wine. By measuring the sugar content before and after fermentation the volume of alcohol can be calculated.
Measuring the sugar content is done with a hydrometer, this is a glass instrument that floats in a liquid to measure its specific gravity (or relative density) (i.e. the ratio of the density of the liquid compared to the density of water). The density of water with sugar is greater than the density of water with alcohol. The wine maker can therefore use the hydrometer to measure the change in specific gravity (SG) of the solution before, during and after the fermentation. Based on the difference in SG it is known how much sugar is converted and the volume of alcohol in the solution can be calculated.
While a vinometer is nice to have, it is for the wine maker much more important to have a hydrometer. During the entire wine making process the hydrometer is used to measure sugar content. It helps to know how much sugar is present in the original must and you can decide if more sugar should be added. The hydrometer will also tell you when all sugar has been converted (SG will be 1.000 or even a bit lower).
Here is a table that shows the S.G. for different sugar levels and the potential alcohol content.
|Potential %vol alcohol
|Sugargrams per liter
When you aim at making a wine with an alcohol content of 12% you will have to start with an SG of 1.090 and ferment it until all sugar is converted, which is at SG of 1.000 (or even a bit below that). An SG of 1.090 corresponds to about 240 gram sugar per liter. But to reach exactly 12% alcohol you may need slightly more because when racking some sugar/alcohol is lost.
If you aim at stronger wines, for example with an alcohol content of 14%, it is not wise to add all the sugar at the beginning, because the high sugar content will hinder a good fermentation. It is better to start with part of the sugar and later add a bit more.
Here is an example calculation:
- We want to make 10 liters of wine with 14.0%vol alcohol content.
- We have measured the must and it has an S.G. of 1.035.
- An S.G. of 1.035 corresponds to 95 g/l (see table) so in our must we have already 950 grams of sugar.
- To reach 14% alcohol we would need sugar about 275 g/l so in 10 liters that would require 2750 grams of sugar.
- That means we have to add 2750 – 950 = 1800 grams of sugar.
- If we would add this right at the beginning, the sugar content of the must would be very high and our yeast would not be happy, so we decide to add this in stages.
- A good sugar level at the start of the fermentation is S.G. 1.080, which corresponds to 208 g/l or 2080 gram in 10 liters.
- Therefore we start by adding 2080 – 950 = 1130 gram sugar to the must before we start the fermentation.
- The remaining 1800 – 1130 = 670 grams will be added later in one or two steps during the fermentation. You can use the hydrometer to decide when to add this extra sugar.
It is expected that wine will have a taste that originates from the ingredients used. An apple wine will have a flavor of apple and in a ginger wine you will clearly taste the ginger. While this may be what you want, it is also interesting to start experimenting with different tastes. Mixing more ingredients may give an interesting and more balanced palate to your wine.
For example I have made meads (honey wine) where I used a little bit of elderberry flowers or a little bit of hop to create interesting results. Instead of a flat mead, I suddenly tasted flowers or got the bitterness of beer.
When your wine is ready you will have to bottle it and then keep it for a couple of weeks. As usual you will have to work as clean as possible to avoid microorganisms contaminating your wine.
You can bottle your wine in wine bottles or beer bottles which you have been saving just for this purpose. Wash the bottles thoroughly and then sterilize them in an oven at 120℃ (250℉) for 20 minutes. Usually I just put the bottles in the still cool oven. I set the temperature to 120℃ and when it has reached this temperature (the light goes out) I keep it for another 20 minutes and then switch it off.
Be careful when you take the hot bottles out of the oven. Use a clean towel, folded several times, to avoid burning your hands. When the bottles are cool you can fill them with wine. Fill the bottles to about 1 cm below the cork because you don’t want to trap too much air with the wine.
Wine bottles should be closed with corks. Don’t recycle corks but buy new ones. Soak the corks 24 hours in sterilized water with a few drops of glycerin. Then use a corking tool to put the corks on the bottle. To make it look nicer you can use capsules to cover the cork. Plastic Heat-shrink Capsule are easy to use.
If you use beer bottles you use crown corks (always new ones) which you can place on the bottle with a special crown corking machine. Simple hand operated tools are available to cap the bottles.
And then of course you design your own label to stick on the bottles.
Of course your wine looks best if you have bottled it in a real wine bottle with your own wine label. There are no rules, so you can design the label exactly as you like best.
However, it makes sense to mention the main ingredient on the bottle (e.g. ginger wine, orange wine), and don’t forget to mention the date or at least the year. You should also consider writing a batch number on the label so you can always refer back to your wine making diary.
During the second phase of the fermentation process (the closed fermentation) you keep the wine in a bottle which is closed with a water lock. The water lock allows CO2 to escape from the bottle but prevents oxygen and microorganisms getting to your wine.
It’s possible to make your own water lock from an S-shaped piece of tubing, but it is much easier to buy one. The water lock fits to the bottle with a rubber cap or with a cork.
Important: The water in the water lock should be sterilized.
When making a fruit wine it is always best to buy fruits of the season when they are most abundant and when the price is low. Almost any fruit can be used to make wine and of course it is possible to mix different fruits together to get a more balanced taste.
Here is an alphabetical (but incomplete) list of fruits that could be used to make wine:
- dog rose
- grape (red or white)
- passion fruit
- red currant
- sour cherry
But any other fruit can also be used. It’s fun to experiment with new fruits and see if you can develop your own recipe.
Instead of fruits there are many other ingredients that can be used for wine making. Here are some examples of possible ingredients (not fruits):
- elderberry flowers
- honey (to make mead)
- sugar beets
This shows that not only fruits but many other ingredients are available to the wine maker. The list is just an example and you may find all kind of recipes with strange and unusual ingredients.
Dry or Sweet
During the fermentation process, yeast converts sugar into alcohol. When all the sugar has been converted the fermentation stops (the yeast has no food to go on) and you will have a dry wine. The term “dry” is used for wines that have almost no residual sugar, although there are always a few unfermentable sugars left in the wine, but in very low concentrations.
Wines that have residual sugars of 45 or more grams per liter are called “sweet”. However, the sweetness of a wine does not only depend on the residual sugars but also on levels of alcohol, acids and tannins.
For the wine maker it is usually a good idea to aim for a relatively dry wine. A wine that is too dry can always be made sweeter with some sugar or honey, but a wine that is too sweet is very difficult to correct. If you have made a wine that is too sweet, often the best option is to mix it with a very dry wine.
Filters and sieves
Often you will need sieves or filters to remove separate the fruit juice from the more solid particles and pulp. Nylon or plastic sieves are easy to use and can be cleaned easily with soap and hot water.
To squeeze the last drop o f liquid out of the fruit pulp it is good to have a piece of folded muslin cloth. After use the cloth should be washed carefully. Before reusing it I always prefer to dip it in a pot with boiling water to make it sterile.
Hops are of course used when brewing beer, but also for the wine maker it can be interesting to experiment with a bit of hop.
Use dry hop flowers or use hop pellets that are available in small packages. The hops can be added to the must before starting the fermentation.
An interesting combination is to use honey and hops to make a slightly sweet-bitter tasting mead.
When tasting your wine with a couple of friends it is always fun to use the right language or jargon. Practice yourself in using wine talk which includes terms such as “body”, “nose” and “legs”.
The “body” of the wine is its mouth feel. The body of a wine can be light, medium or full-bodied.
The “legs” are, as usual, something to look at. When you swirl the wine in the glass you can see tiny streams of wine clinging to the glass. these are the “legs”. Wine with more alcohol and more sugar have longer legs.
The “nose” refers to the smell of the wine. Wines with a pleasing aroma have a “nice nose”. And it’s better not to try wine that has a “bad nose”.
Mmmmmmm, yesssss …. nice legs and a good nose … mmmmmm … a perfect body with a hint of lemon and a suspicion of cloves. Get out of here !!!!
The main food for yeast cells is sugar. But yeast also needs some vitamins, minerals, acids, etc. to form an ideal diet. Many fruits contain these ingredients, but sometimes (for example when making honey wine) the must lacks some of these substances and the yeast will not be healthy.
It will be needed to add so called “yeast nutrients” to the must. Yeast nutrients can be bought in shops that specialize in wine making materials. It’s cheap and you need only very small amounts of it.
Yeast nutrients are often already added to the yeast starter but can also be added to the must at the start of the fermentation.
Not enough body
Your wine has “not enough body” when it is tasteless and weak. This happens when you don’t use enough fruits to prepare the must. To get wines with more body it may help to add bananas or grains (wheat, rice) to the must.
It’s fun to make many different wines and try out different recipes. Some will turn out perfect but often you will have a wine that is too dry, too sweet, too sour, too dark, too light, too strong or too weak. Or something else.
When a wine is not perfect you can start correcting it by mixing with other wines. Mixing a wine that is too sweet with another one that is too dry could create an ideal level of sweetness. Try to make a perfect blend.
Storing the wine
It is best to store wine at a relatively low temperature away from the light. A wine cellar with a constant temperature of 13℃ (55℉) would be a good place to keep your bottles, but I have never been lucky enough to own such ideal conditions. When kept at higher temperatures the wine will age faster but will also spoil faster.
If wine gets contaminated with certain bacteria it will turn to vinegar. Of course you will try to avoid this. Hygiene is very important. Try to work as clean as possible and if you see small “banana flies” you have to be extra careful as they can easily transmit these bacteria to your wine.
Especially during the “open fermentation” your wine can get easily contaminated, so always cover the bucket carefully with a clean cloth.
Sometimes a cloth is not enough. I have had ants invading the bucket, so now I always put the bucket in a tray with water.
Tips – Do
Here’s a short list of things you should always do:
- Work as clean as possible to avoid contamination with bacteria and other microorganisms.
- During the open fermentation always cover the container with a clean cloth.
- During open fermentation stir at least twice each days.
- Use a water lock (closed fermentation).
- Use a hydrometer to track the sugar content in your wine.
- Keep a diary and note down what you use and what you do.
- Always make a good yeast starter to start fermentation.
- Aim for dry wine.
- Rack the must when needed.
- Be patient.
Tips – Don’t
And here’s a list of things you should not do:
- Don’t use too much sugar.
- Don’t add all sugar at once; add it in stages.
- Don’t use bread yeast.
- Don’t be afraid to try out new recipes.
- Don’t bottle wine when fermentation has not yet stopped.
Wine making diary
When making wine it is a good idea to keep a winemaking diary. This can be a notebook, or you use your computer to record each step in the process. The diary is useful to note down your plan or recipe, to keep track of ingredients, and to record what is going on.
When I make wine I always start with a plan which I write down in the diary. This could be an existing recipe or it could be an entire new idea.
Then I make a list of ingredients, and usually I also write down how much money was needed. Later I can then calculate how expensive my wine is.
On a daily basis I then note down whatever I do to the wine and I record all my observations. Especially my readings from the hydrometer are very important as they help me keep track of the sugar content in the must.
When I bottle the wine I usually conclude the diary with a judgment of the wine (e.g. good color, weak taste, strong smell of ginger, etc.) and I give the wine a score on a scale from 1 to 10.
In the diary, each wine has a batch number, which I will also put on the wine label.
How much wine to make?
How much wine you make in one batch depends on the size of the fermentation vessels which you use for the second, closed, fermentation. These bottles have to be filled up almost to the top so that no air can remain inside. A good size to try out new recipes is a clear glass 5-liter bottle. This will yield about 6 wine bottles (750 ml) or 7 large beer bottles (640 ml).
If you want to make bigger quantities, try to get hold of larger glass bottles (carboys) of 10, 15, 20 or even 30 liters. Bigger containers have relativily less losses during racking, but they are more difficult to handle when they are full. Remember they will have to be lifted up on a table or other place for racking.
Try to get different sizes to work with. Use the smaller ones for trying out new ideas, and use the bigger ones for your favorite recipes.
Whatever the size, always use transparent bottles. When racking you need to see what you are doing (remove the clear liquid while leaving the deposit behind).
In the beginning I used to follow wine making recipes very strictly, but as I got more experienced in wine making the recipe became just a starting point for experimenting with new ideas.
When you use a hydrometer to follow sugar content in the must there is no need for a recipe that prescribes exact amounts of fruits and sugar. But it’s good to look at exisiting recipes to get an idea on how much fruits to use. I will now show a few wine recipes as examples. If you are a beginning wine maker, just try a few of these recipes and then start developing your own.
All recipes are for 5 liter of wine.
Recipes coming soon!!
Don’t drink too much
Have a look at this website which contains a Blood Alcohol Level Calculator