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Home Winemaking

It is quite easy to make really delicious home-made wine. There are just a few things to remember.

Cleanliness is everything to avoid tainted flavours and health risks (apart from drinking too much wine!)

It is possible to make wine for $1US or 50p a bottle. The equipment shouldn’t cost more than $20US or about £10.

You will need a new bucket/ large saucepan (if using fruit and/or veg), one glass demijohn (two are preferable!)[ie fermenting jars], large cork with airlock, a funnel, a siphon tube (preferably with a simple valve), wine yeast, Campden tablets, possibly some wine finings, bottles, corks, labels and a hand corking machine.

The ingredients may be a concentrate kit bought in the shops, or a wide range of fruit or vegetables, perhaps supplemented by some added grape juice. The latter is suggested as not all wines are palatable without some vinous (hint of grape flavour) quality.

Avoid anything poisonous such as daffodils, rhubarb leaves and the like, as winemaking concentrates the ingredients, so for instance spinach wine would not be a good idea!

You may be able to buy fruit that is just past normal selling condition cheaply from markets or stalls. Vegetables need to be in prime condition though. They will also need to be peeled and cooked until soft. Some fruits eg blackcurrants, gooseberries,  will benefit from being partly cooked.

Traditionally, Elderberry Flowers and Elderberries make exceptionally good wine.  Gooseberries, Plums, Peaches and Rhubarb stems are some popular base ingredients.  Bananas are often added to give the wine some ‘body’.  Ginger roots and Dandelion are some more unusual ingredients.

Sources can include fresh, tinned, dried or frozen fruit or vegetables, fruit juice (non-vitaminized!), fruit syrup and even some cereals (though read up on recipes and techniques with these!).

Flower petals (usehttp://winemaking.jackkeller.net/flowers.asp as a check via the internet that they are suitable!) eg rose petals can be soaked in hot water to provide additional flavour and bouquet to the wine.

Fruit is mashed (don’t overdo this or too much skin/ seeds can enter the mix) and boiling water added to sterilise everything eg in a CLEAN (Don’t use it for anything else!!!) bucket, fill to 1 ½ gallons.  Add 2 -3 Campden tablets. Stir well and leave for 24 hours.

Now add about two teaspoons of wine yeast. Add some orange juice or yeast nutrients and some lemon juice. Cover with a clean towel and leave in a warm place for 5 to 7 days, stirring thoroughly twice daily to maintain a healthy fermentation. I usually make a yeast starter first 12 hours in advance by adding some wine yeast to orange juice, grape juice and sugar in a clean bottle and add this to the must.

Next you strain the must through a muslin cloth into another clean bucket. Add and stir in about 2lbs of sugar, and carefully siphon the must into the demijohn trying to avoid siphoning any sediment. Half fill the airlock with water and fit securely onto the demijohn.  Place somewhere warm about 70o F or 23o C. and leave for about 7 days.

{If you have a concentrate kit, you start straight away with the demijohn, adding the 1lb of sugar, a little orange juice and water to the base of the curved top. Add the yeast and place somewhere warm about 70o F or 23o C. and leave for about 3 days before fitting the airlock.}

When the fermentation has slowed to a bubble every few seconds, you add more sugar mixed with water. Repeat after about a further 5 days, by which time you may have added 2-3lbs of sugar in total. Leave for a further 7-10 days depending on the temperature. Siphon into a clean demijohn at this point, again carefully avoiding siphoning sediment. It is MOST important that you siphon the young wine off the dead yeast immediately the main fermentation is nearly over. If you forget to do this, the wine’s flavour though perhaps drinkable will be far less than perfect!

Check regularly to see if you need to top up the airlock!

You can now let the wine complete it’s fermentation over a further 4 – 6 weeks.  If you want sweet wine, you may wish to stop the fermentation slightly sooner.  The wine should be siphoned again, and stir in 3-4 crushed Campden tablets to stop fermentation completely and help clear the wine. Leave for 3 - 4 weeks to clear and settle out any remaining yeast. If the wine isn’t completely clear after this time, you may need to use some wine finings (follow the instructions with it) before siphoning into clean bottles. It is usual to add 2 – 3 Campden tablets before bottling to help preserve the wine.

DON’T taste or drink the wine within 24 hours of adding Campden tablets.

A wine stabilizer such as Potassium Sorbate is usually added if you wish to add some extra sugar or honey to sweeten the wine, to prevent re-fermentation happening in the bottle! If you prefer to add sweeteners and are sure the fermentation is complete then this may not be needed. Siphon the wine carefully into cleaned and sterilized bottles and cork and label.

Leave the bottles in a cool place for a further 5 - 6 weeks. This is necessary for the wine to settle and mature a little in the bottles or it may taste ‘off’ if drunk too soon. If you are really into home winemaking, you can use an oak cask prior to bottling!

It is possible to get home wine kits where the wine is ‘ready’ in 21 days. But don’t expect marvellous flavoured wine if it is made in this much of a hurry!

You can also get high alcohol tolerance wine yeast that will allow up to perhaps 20% proof. Home made wine is often up to 13% proof and the alcohol can be absorbed quickly! Don’t drink and drive!!!

If you try to sell home made wine regularly, customs and excise may come after you!

Now about cleaning everything prior to fermenting and bottling the wine. Wash everything in hot water with a mild detergent (washing up liquid) and rinse well to remove any trace of detergent.  Use some cold tap water (if safe to drink) with 3 Campden tablets dissolved and rinse again. Rinse out again thoroughly with cold water. For bottling, soak the bottles in warm water with sterilizing solution (the same type used for sterilizing babies bottles eg Milton or similar), made up with the recommended amount, instead of the Campden tablet rinse. Again rinse very thoroughly.

It is VERY important that the bottles are PROPERLY cleaned, sterilized and rinsed before introducing the wine.  Any contact of the wine with bacteria will taint and dis-flavour the wine, making it undrinkable, or convert the alcohol in the wine straight to vinegar (though wine vinegar is good for cooking!)

With care you can make some very palatable home made wine. Timing is important with siphoning and with when to add the yeast and extra sugar. If you use grape juice instead of water, omit the first adding of sugar, at the start of fermentation (grape juice has a high natural sugar content).

You may sometimes find that fermentation is very slow to start or stops during the main stage or secondary stage of fermentation. Reasons include too high or too low a temperature, too little acidity in the must, insufficient oxygen during primary fermentation, old yeast, the mix is too concentrated, too much sugar is present or there may be a lack of yeast nutrients.  Remedies include using fresh yeast, adding some lemon and orange juice, diluting the mix, moving to a warmer (or cooler) place and adding suitable yeast nutrients, and agitating the must.

For wine made with vegetables that are very unlike grapes, adding yeast nutrients is usually essential to get fermentation off to a good start. You can buy these from winemaking shops.  Alternatively add some grape juice and orange juice to the must! Some fruits and vegetables need pectic enzyme added to the must or the wine will be unable to clear, and added tannin to non-grape recipes will make the wine last longer in the bottle and add extra character to the wine. It is best to consult wine making recipes for the ingredients you wish to use, to see what needs adding for a successful fermentation.

A few do’s and don’ts. Do check progress of fermentation regularly and CHANGE the airlock water if wine gets into it. Do clean and wash fruit thoroughly, and remove all seeds/ pips. Don’t use distilled water. You may wish (possibly with benefit!) to top up with mineral water. Don’t add the yeast too soon after adding the Campden tablets. Don’t use water from the hot tap to add to the must or for topping up (The hot water system may contain contaminants and bacteria, and will almost certainly be ‘loaded’ with dissolved copper). Do siphon the wine several times during and after fermentation.

Don’t bottle wine that is still fermenting, or the bottles will burst! If the wine tastes off after being bottled for a month or so, discard and try again, most of the time you will be successful but occasionally something might just go wrong! There are various bacteria that are common in the air that can spoil the wine, so don’t always blame yourself!

I add cling film as an extra over the cork when corking, just in case it isn’t airtight!

Some people invest in a wine hydrometer to give a more precise indication of how fermentation is progressing and to make wine of a particular strength. It shouldn’t be necessary to filter home-made wine, and in any case filtering wine in the atmosphere will result in some loss of quality to the finish of the wine.  Filtering should be regarded as a last resort in home winemaking!  Commercial vineyards use special filtering techniques, including using CO2 to keep the wine out of contact with the air.

Do try different recipes, and with special yeasts, you can try to make different sorts/ styles of wines!

Most wines will improve with age. Red wines can be matured for up to several years if you can wait that long before drinking them!

Champagnes are another matter, needing very strong bottles, and specialist techniques!

Good luck, and if every wine isn’t a gem, you can always blend it with some better wine! The best wine makers routinely blend wines in any case for the best results!

Most of the time you should be very pleased with the quality of the wine you make! And more practice means more, and hopefully better, wine to drink!!!!

Have fun and Good Luck! Cheers!