Winemaking Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to start making wine at home?

Surprisingly, it is not as expensive as you might think to start making wine at home. The supplies and equipment necessary to make 5 or 6 gallons of wine at a time will cost around $100 to $200.  After that, each 5 or 6 gallon batch of homemade wine will cost about $50-$200.  That's a cost of between $2 and $7 per bottle of wine.  And, if you grow your own grapes or other winemaking fruits, that cost goes down even lower.  Now we're talking about a $1 per bottle.


Should I filter my wine?

Filtering adds the final polish to wine, but does not need to be done.  An unfiltered wine, even though clear when bottled, will usually develop a fine sediment as it ages.  The sediment is very small particulate matter that all wines contain. This sediment is what is removed by filtering. Several types of filters are available to the home winemaker, both manual and electric. Before buying a filter, be sure to discuss your needs with a supplier, as they will be able to advise you on the correct type of filter for your needs.  Never filter a wine that has not been fined first, as you risk clogging up the filters.


Do I need to bottle my homemade wine? How many bottles do I need?

Wine should be bottled, corked, and stored on its side for proper aging.  Some aging does occur in the carboy or barrel, but the final aging only begins once the wine is bottled and corked.  One thing that should never be done is to take off (or draw off) a portion of a carboy or barrel for immediate consumption and leave the rest.  This invites oxidation to the remainder of the wine.  Oxidized wine turns brown and bitter.  In general, 2 cases (24 bottles) of 750 ml bottles will be needed for each 5 gallon batch of wine. Used wine bottles are fine as long as they are clean and sterilized before use. Always use new corks.


Do I need a barrel to make wine? How do I use a barrel?

Barrels are used to ferment, age, and give wine an oak flavor.  They are the traditional container for winemaking, but are not necessary.  Winemakers making less than about 20 gallons of any one type of wine are not encouraged to use one.  Smaller barrels give the wine an oak flavor much quicker than large barrels (sometimes a matter of weeks as opposed to months).  Oak chips and oak essence (a natural liquid extract of oak) will give the same taste without the expense.  There are several types of oak barrels available.  Each imparts a different type of flavor to the wine. American oak gives a strong oak flavor and high astringency.  It is best suited for strong red wines. French oak is the most favored of all.


Which type of concentrate is best suited for making a sweet wine?

It really doesn't matter which type of concentrate you choose.  Any wine you make, whether it is made from concentrate or fresh fruits, is going to be dry when it is finished.  That is just part of having a complete fermentation.  When you get to the point where you are ready to bottle, that is the time to make your wine the sweetness you want.  Just add wine stabilizer, such as Potassium Sorbate to your wine. This stabilizer will keep the wine from re-fermenting.  Then add sugar back to your wine until you reach the desired sweetness you are looking for.  This gives you complete control over how sweet the wine is going to be.


Don't you need a wine press to be good at home winemaking?

Not at all. Wine presses are used by wineries to get every last drop of juice out of the pulp, not for quality reasons. When you make your own wine for $5.00 a bottle, getting every last drop of juice is not so important.  Home winemaking as a hobby is very flexible in this way.


Is home winemaking legal?

Since, 1978, the Federal Government has made home winemaking legal.  However, there are some limitations.  A household of two adults or more can make up to 200 gallons of homemade wine annually. Single adult households can make up to 100 gallons of homemade wine annually.  You may also want to check with your local and state authorities to see if there happens to be any other local restrictions in your are on home winemaking.


What do I need to make wine?

Basic equipment for a 5 gallon batch (2 cases of finished wine): a 5 gallon glass carboy, siphon hose, hydrometer, sanitizer (Potassium Metabisulfite), stopper, and an air lock. The ingredients can be as simple as a wine kit (all ingredients except water), or a more detailed recipe.  At the time of bottling, you will need 2 cases of bottles (regular 750 ml wine bottles), corks, and a corker.


What is the basic process to make wine?

Wine begins in a food grade plastic bucket (called a primary fermenter) that is slightly larger than the finished volume (i.e.: 5 1/2-6 gallons to yield 5 gallons).  After the intial fermentation, when it is halfway finished, it is transferred (racked) to the glass secondary.  When the wine is finished fermenting, it will be racked twice more (each separated by a month).  The wine will be clearer each time.  The wine may be bottled after this.


What is "topping off"?

Once the wine has been racked, to secondary, it should be topped off.  This means the wine should be within 1-2 inches of the stopper.  If a large air space is left in the carboy, the wine will oxidize, turn brown and taste bad.  When racking from primary, extra wine should be put into a smaller bottle (wine bottles with stoppers and air locks) and used for topping off after each racking.  This smaller quantity of wine should be treated the same as the larger one, as it is fermenting along with the rest. If extra wine is not available, a similar finished wine should be used.  Water should be avoided if the quantity needed is more than 1-2 cups per 5 gallons.  Adding water in greater amounts will thin down the wine making it taste watery and reduce the body.


What size cork do I need to bottle wine?

A standard wine bottle (375 ml, 750 ml, or 1.5 L) all take a #9 cork.  To use this size cork, you will need a corker.  A corker is the tool to insert the corks. The number of the cork refers to the size: a #8 cork is smaller, and is needed for some older and cheaper corners.  A #7 cork is used only if champagne bottles are used (they are not champagne corks) or the cork is being inserted by hand (no corker used).  The #9 gives the best seal.


What kind of cork do I need?

New cork types are now available for the home winemaker.  The home winemaker has the choice between traditional corks ("cork corks"), ALTEC corks (a mix of cork and synthetic resin), and Resin corks (synthetic). ALTEC corks are a relatively new material made by fusing the purest part of cork with synthetic cells.  This material produces a cork that retains all the best properties of a traditional cork, and does not leave an off-taste or odor, leak, defect in the cork surface, and can easily be removed by any cork extractor.  Resin corks are totally synthetic.  This material also does not leave an off-taste or odor, leak, and Chen easily be removed by any cork extractor.  Traditional corks are traditional in that the cork is harvested from the cork tree.  This harvest does not harm the tree and is also done at prescribed intervals to keep the tree healthy and productive.  The variations seen in the corks are natural and should be expected in a natural product.


How do I prepare the corks?

Traditional corks need to be soaked in water before using.  This softens them, making them both flexible and easier to insert.  The recommended method for preparation is:

1. Boil a quantity of water, and allow to cool. Put the corks in a container, pour the water on top of them, and let sit for 24-48 hours. Be sure the corks are completely submerged.

2. 10-30 minutes prior to bottling, drain off the water and add sterilent: sodium or potassium metabisulfite solution. Again make sure the corks are submerged. They do not need to be drained or dried before inserting into the bottle.

3. After bottling, keep the bottles upright for 24 hours, then put them on their sides for storage. 

ALTEC or Resin corks do not need to be pre soaked prior to bottling. They should be dipped into the sanitizing solution just prior to corking.  ALTEC corks are best inserted with either a Gilda corker or a floor corker (both use "iris compression", like a camera lens). Resin corks should be inserted using a twin over or a floor corker.  Wines with either of these corks can be laid down immediately.


Do I need to seal the bottles once they are corked?

No. The wine needs to breathe through the cork to properly age. Wax, plastic, or PVC seals may be added if you wish to give the bottle away, to dress it up.


How much fruit do I need to make wine?

For fresh fruit, other then grapes, figure 3-5 pounds per gallon.  The acid and sugar content will need to be adjusted, as fruit generally does not have the proper acid/sugar balance to make wine.  For wine grapes, 2 1/2 boxes (36 pounds each) will make 5 gallons of wine.


Why should I add yeast?

By adding proper wine yeast to a must (unfermented fruit/grape juice), control over the finished product is easier.  Wine made without using added yeast (using wild yeast) may not properly ferment, may develop off or odd flavors/aromas, or not turn out right at all.  Wild yeast by itself is very sensitive to sulfur dioxide and does not ferment when the alcohol content goes above 5%.    By adding yeast specifically designed for winemaking, the winemaker has better control over the finished product and the process itself.  A winemaker who depends on "wild yeast" to make wine is taking a gamble that there is enough "good" yeast around to make good wine.  By adding wine yeast, the winemaker knows that the wine will ferment the way it should, and will be good in the end.


Can I make wine without using chemicals or sulfites?

It can be done, but you need to be very careful about your sanitation and fermentation.  The wine also will not keep for very long. Sulfur dioxide is a natural byproduct of wine fermentation. It is also added during the fermentation process to help protect and preserve the wine from oxidation.  It inhibits or kills bacteria or wild yeast.  Other chemicals (acid blend, tannin, peptic enzyme, etc) are used as needed to ensure a good, drinkable wine at the end of the process, rather then leaving it all to chance.  Used as a sanitizer, everything that comes in contact with a wine (bottles, fermenters, siphon hose, etc) should be rinsed with a solution of 1/2 oz. sodium or potassium metabisulfite to 1 gallon of water.  Just rinse the item and let it drain - do not rinse with water afterwards.


What is an acid test kit? How do I use it?

An acid test kit allows the measurement of tartaric acid (the most important of the several acids present).  A wine too high in acid is sharp and tart.  One too low is flat or "flabby". The acid test kit usually contains a container to put a measured sample of wine in, a color indicator and a neautralizer. Follow the directions of the kit to determine the acid content, then make any adjustments, if needed.  The best time to measure and adjust is prior to adding Yeast, and also before adding any sulfite to kill wild yeast. Adding a measured amount of water can reduce a must that is too high in acid.  Adding acid blend (a balanced blend of tartaric, malic, and citric acid) can increase one too low in acid.  Consult a good reference book for further details.


What is an SO2 test kit?

An SO2 test kit measures the amount of sulfite in wine.  This measurement should be done on finished wine, at the time of bottling.  Follow the directions for sampling and measurement that are included in the kit.


What is fining a wine?

Fining is the removal of sediment (proteins and excess tannin among them) that can cloud a finished wine.  Several different types of fining agents are available.  They all work by attracting the sediment and forming heavy enough "clumps" to settle to the bottom of the fermenter.  Fining agents are added prior to bottling, and should always be used prior to filtering.  Bentonite is a very fine clay that is mixed with a small amount of water or wine.  Isinglass is a liquid made from fish bladders.  Gelatin is also used.  These are all available where Winemaking supplies are sold.


What are the crystals on the bottom of the wine?

This is precipitated tartaric acid.  It is harmless and is a natural byproduct of fermentation and aging.  The crystals that settle out soften the wine and are usually seen after the wine has been kept at cool temperatures for a long period of time. If they are in the fermenting vessels, they should be left behind after racking.  If in the bottle, they should be left in the bottle.  They are not harmful to drink, but don't taste good.


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