General Guide to Making Wine from Juice

Making Wine From a 6 Gallon Pail of Juice

Preparation and Primary Fermentation:

Cleaning/Sterilization:  Before starting make sure all equipment is clean and sterilized prior to use.  Dirty or contaminated equipment can ruin the quality of the juice and the ending product.  To remove dust or stains that may be present, clean with your brush and B-Brite or PBW (alkaline based cleaner).  Once cleaned, sterilize all your equipment, containers, bottles and corks with a Star San or potassium metabisulfite solution. Do this immediately to a few hours before use.  After sterilizing drain well but do not rinse, it does not have to be dry to use. 

Mixing and recording pre fermentation parameters:  Carefully remove the bucket lid by removing the safety seal and pry off the lid.  Apply the adhesive thermometer to the exterior of the bucket.  Let juice warm up to room or cellar temperature (around 70 degrees) and mix juice well from the bottom up with a long spoon or paddle.  Next, measure and record the Brix or Specific Gravity reading with your triple scale hydrometer and record temperature to establish a fermentation starting point.  Record your Brix (or S.G.) and temperature in a log.  Typical Brix readings will be between 20.0 and 26.0 (1.08 and 1.11 S.G.).  This reading will tell you what the % alcohol of your wine will be when fermentation is completed.  See attached sheet on how to read your hydrometer.  If you are looking to make a sweet wine, please refer to the last sections of this document.

Yeast Hydration:  Place 4 ounces of 95 to 104 degrees F water (preferably chlorine free) in a large cup.  Water above 105 degrees F will kill the yeast.  Gently stir yeast into warm water.  Let mixture stand in cup covered with a paper towel for 10 to 15 minutes.  Bubbling or increase in mixture size is a good sign of rehydration.  Add 2 ounces of juice to the yeast mixture and wait an additional 10 minutes.  Pour yeast mixture into bucket and stir gently.  Place juice bucket (primary fermenter) with lid lightly on.  For red wine fermentations place bucket in a warm environment, 70 degrees F.  For most white wine fermentations, cooler cellar temperatures (62 to 68 deg. F) are best when bright fruit flavors and aromas are the goal.


Primary Fermentation:  Fermentation is the process in which grape must (juice/crushed grapes) turns into wine.  There will be a lot of visible activity. There’s often foam on top of the must and your airlock will be actively bubbling. There may be a one or two-day lag time between adding the yeast and active fermentation.  Do not be alarmed by this.  Once fermentation is under way begin stirring the pail from the bottom up once per day.  Take a Brix reading very other day to monitor the progress of the fermentation.  Readings of Brix (and S.G.) will decrease with time as the yeast convert sugar to alcohol.  Optional: Approximately 1/3 of the way through the fermentation (ex. Initial Brix = 24.0, 1/3 fermentation = 16.0 Brix) it is advisable to add your yeast nutrient, Fermaid K, to the fermentation.  This addition will ensure the yeast finish their job of converting sugar to alcohol promptly and without trouble.  This nutrient addition can avoid a stuck fermentation or some off flavors or aromas being produced by the yeast as it struggles to survive in a higher alcohol lower nutrient environment near the end of fermentation.


Secondary Fermentation / Racking (Transferring):  Check Brix/S.G. every couple of days.  It is most ideal to rack once the Brix reading reaches -0.5 to 0.0 (S.P. 0.998 to 1.000).  Rack the new wine into a sanitized 6-gallon carboy with your sanitized pump style siphon and tubing.  When siphoning wine, elevate the bucket so it is higher than the 6-gallon carboy.  The siphon pump will start the wine flowing but gravity keeps it moving.  Once wine is transferred fit your airlock with drilled stopper in the opening of the carboy.  Be sure the carboy is filled within three inches or less of the top to limit oxidation of the new wine.  You can use any sound wine to top off the carboy if it is not filled enough to the top after racking.  At this point the yeast will finish fermenting the last remaining residual sugars so you may notice a very slow bubbling of your air lock for several days longer.  Let your new wine sit in the carboy for and additional 4 to 6 weeks to settle and allow secondary fermentation to take place.  Secondary fermentation is the process in which malolactic bacteria convert malic acid in to the less tart lactic acid.  You will notice the wine begin to clarify and some sediment accumulate at the bottom of the carboy by the end of this 4 to 6-week period.


Aging Your New Wine:  After the 4 to 6 weeks, it is time to rack your wine off the sediment into another clean sanitized carboy.  During this racking it is also time to add a dose of potassium metabisulfite to the wine to protect it from any spoilage organisms that may be present.  Simply dissolve ¼ tsp. of the potassium metabisulfite, per 6 gallons of wine, in an ounce of water and add to the wine during the racking process so that it is distributed throughout the entire 6 gallons.  Place the drilled stopper with airlock on the carboy (Optional: At this point it is also the time to add any oak chips or staves to the wine if a kiss of oak flavoring is desired in your final product.  Oak is seldom used in white wines but is often used in reds to add structure, mouth feel and flavor.).  Age your wine in a dry cool place for 6 to 9 months.
 After the 6 to 9 months of aging your wine will likely have matured and mellowed sufficiently and be ready for bottling.  This is the time to evaluate the clarity of your wine and decide if it needs to be further clarified before bottling.  Clarification is done with a fining agent or through filtration.  The decision to clarify is personal and is usually done for aesthetic reasons only.  For the beginners and for smaller lots, it is usually best to clarify with an appropriate fining agent.  The most common are gelatin for red wines and bentonite for white wines.  If you decide the wine did not clarify enough on its own and want to use a fining agent, contact Northeast Winemaking and their staff will guide you through the clarification process.


Bottling:  Once your wine has aged and clarified to your satisfaction it is time to bottle.  Wine should always be racked off any sediment or fining agent used at bottling time.  Rack off into a clean sanitized carboy or pail.  Always add a protective dose of potassium metabisulfite to the wine during this pre bottling racking at the rate of ¼ tsp. per 6 gallons of wine.  If making a sweet wine (see immediately below) you must also add 0.3 tsp of potassium sorbate per gallon of wine.  Clean, sanitize and drain your bottles prior to filling with wine.  Get your hand or floor corker ready. To ease the corking process and sanitize the corks, put your corks in a cool bath of a gallon of water with a ¼ tsp of potassium metabisulfite.  Get your auto gravity fed siphon going with your bottling wand attached and fill and cork your bottles promptly.  After corking let bottles stand upright for three days to allow corks to re-expand.  Thereafter, store wine bottles on their side in a cool dark place.  It is advisable to let your wine rest for a month before drinking to get over the shock of the potassium metabisulfite addition and bottling process otherwise known as bottle shock. 


Sweet Wine: Some white wines and occasionally a red may want to be bottled with a little sweetness based on personal preference.  Below are two options to make a sweet wine.  Option 1 is simpler, but option 2 is preferred. By allowing the wine to finish and then back sweetening as in option 2, you will have much greater control on the sweetness of the wine. Instead of saying I want the wine to finish at a specific gravity 1.010, as in option 1, you can actually sweeten the wine to taste.

Option 1: Making a sweet wine by stopping fermentation.  When at 0 Brix, rack immediately, add the stabilizing packet (Potassium Metabisulfite and Potassium Sorbate) and chill the wine as quickly as possible to below 50 degrees F for 5-7 days.  Rack the wine again to a 6-gallon carboy and age 4-6 weeks.  Then follow steps for aging and bottling. 

Optional 2: Making a sweet wine by back sweetening:  Before adding yeast to your pail of juice, freeze 5% (38 oz per a 6 gal. pail) of the juice for each 1% of residual sugar you want in the finished wine.  Be aware that 1% residual sugar will give a mild but noticeable sweetness to the finished wine. Put the juice in the back of a refrigerator and let settle for several days.  Pour off the juice into another container leaving the sediment behind, then freeze the juice for later use. Make, age and clarify your wine normally as you would for a dry wine.  Several days before your dry wine is ready for bottling, thaw out the reserved juice in the back of a refrigerator and do not disturb during the thawing process.  When thawed, let juice sit and settle out any remaining particles in the juice.  Carefully pour off the juice into another container and leave behind any sediment that settled to the bottom.  The juice should be clear before adding to your wine.  On bottling day pour the juice into the clean sanitized carboy or pail your wine will be racked into for bottling. In addition to the ¼ tsp. of potassium metabisulfite you must also add 0.3 tsp. of potassium sorbate per gallon (1.8 tsp. for 6 gal.) to the carboy at this time or use the stabilizing packet which contains the appropriate amount of both.  Then follow remaining steps for bottling.





How to Read a Hydrometer


Example of how to take S.G. measurements: