You are a purveyor of great tasting wine and everything about it, right? You wouldn’t be reading this newsletter if that were not true. You buy the good stuff. You go with friends to drink wine. You might even limit your friendships to fellow wine drinkers. If someone calls you a “wineaux” it’s a complement!
So why haven’t you taken the next step and start making your own wine?
In my case, making wine was thrust upon me. Back in 2009, my exceptional son, knowing my strong interest in wine, set it upon himself to give me a basic home winemaking kit as a birthday present. Except for when I lived and worked in the Middle East, I have been making wine at home ever since. I did get even with my son though. I gave him a beer making kit, which he used for several years.
And on that note, with my many years of experience with kit wines, this article is for those who want to give it a try. If you are fortunate enough to have a neighbor or friend that makes wine, you are way ahead of the game, but if you’re venturing out on your own, let’s talk. And keep in mind OCWS has a subgroup of very experienced home winemakers that can support you along the way.
So, here it is. With all that comes with a kit, making wine at home is actually very easy and it does not take up that much space. For years, I started it in my kitchen, then moved the fermenter/carboy to a location in my spare room for further processing and aging. Just make sure you work over a big plastic sheet because you are going to spill some!
After the first day of effort to get everything clean, sanitized and the fermentation started, your time commitment is anywhere from around ten minutes to about an hour per day for the first seven to ten days. Then occasional time to check, filter and, when ready, bottle your product. If you get fancy, you can take a little more time to create your own special labels.
So let’s get you your first kit. I happen to get my supplies at a company out of Massachusetts called Beer and Wine Hobby, Inc. (beer-wine.com). A closer option is More Wine Professional in Pittsburg, California (morewinepro.com). In both cases, shipping is involved. In Southern California, there are a number of places to get supplemental equipment and replacement supplies.
A quick online search will help you find something near you. A local provider might even have starter kits and there is the added advantage of getting some additional advice.
Although one-gallon kits are out there, the five bottles of wine you make will not satisfy you. I recommend going right to the six-gallon/23-liter kit as once you fall in love with winemaking, besides making thirty bottles of wine, this will be your basic size from then on. The image shows a complete starter kit available from Beer and Wine Hobby that comes in at $180. It’s very good quality and will last you for years. I still have much of my original equipment, which I have supplemented from time to time.
This kit I am showing will have everything you need including corks and a corking tool. But it is missing two items: bottles, which you can reuse from your own wine consumption, and the grape must itself! FYI, in the winemaking parlance, “must” is the resulting grape juice after being pressed.
And what about that? This is where the challenge begins. There are so many choices out there for red, white or other wine preferences such as dessert wines, port-style wines and some amazing fruit wines. Again, these kits are readily available from online suppliers and, very likely, from your local supplier. The selection is huge.
For a six-gallon kit, you have two size choices. You can get a fully ready-to-go six gallon bucket of must or you might want to start with a 2½-gallon box of grape must concentrate. To this, you will add about 3 ½ gallons of drinkable (but not distilled) water to make up the difference. The advantage here is that it is cheaper if you are shipping it and the must itself tends to be less expensive. So if it’s your first time, you might not want to go all out in this grand experiment.
One thing to keep in mind down the road – the more expensive the kit, generally the better the quality of the must. As any winemaker will tell you, you can only make really great wine from really great grapes. But if you are a novice, you might just want to begin with less costly must and learn from your experiences.
Both kit sizes will also come with detailed instruction as well as all the necessary supplemental items, such as metabisulfite for sterilization, potassium sorbate to finalize fermentation, a recommended yeast, and filtering agents. As you get familiar with the process, you might do like I do and experiment with different yeast options… but again, that’s later.
One other piece of equipment that I highly recommend that you will never find in a kit is a squeeze bulb food baster. This is a clean and easy way to take samples from your fermenter or carboy. I stole my wife’s baster early on and still use it extensively to this day. They cost as little as $2, but, like the iPhone, you will wonder how you could have lived without it.
While you can make your wine from kits anytime of the year, here in Southern California, I recommend you do like the professional winemakers do and wait until October or November. You want the coolest environment for both the fermentation and initial aging. But if you do everything in your air conditioned home, you could do it whenever you want.
Here are a few more words of advice: First and foremost, clean, clean, clean and then clean again. Follow all cleaning and sterilizing directions provided with the must. And by the way, about half your winemaking efforts will be spent in cleaning your equipment and bottles!
And second, take copious notes of all your actions and results. Winemaking tends to be an annual event. As you begin a new effort each year, you will tend to forget some of those valuable lessons from those great or educational years. It’s a lot easier to go back and look at your notes before you get started on your new batch. I continually refer to prior years’ notes as I plan my next vintage.
Lastly, a book that came with my first kit has been my home winemaking bible: The Encyclopedia of Home Winemaking by Pierre Drapeau and André Vanasse. If it doesn’t come with your kit, or something like it, I urge you to find a copy on line. Of course, other winemakers will have their favorite books so do ask around, which brings me to my concluding encouraging comment.
When I started, I was wholly on my own. I didn’t know anyone that made wine at home and I did not learn of OCWS for many years after I started. But if you are just getting started or have a ton of questions, you are in the right place. The OCWS Winemakers’ Group is here to help and they very much want to help! I did not have that when I started. But several of us in the group would love to offer advice, help out, and even share the tools to get you through your first effort.
Talk to any of us in the months to come, but for right now, you can reach me, Scott Harral, for any questions you might have about kit winemaking.
I can best be reached at email address Winestuff@scottharral.com.
– W. Scott Harral, Winemakers’ Group