Making wine at home can be a fun and rewarding hobby. For some it’s even led to a career in winemaking. For me it (and home beer brewing) has remained a hobby that I enjoy doing. I’ve made some good to great wines and some that were duds. I’ve almost exclusively made wine from “kits” that include all the ingredients needed to make a three or six-gallon batch. I’ve also made a “from scratch” semi-sweet fruit wine from frozen organic three berry blends from the frozen fruit aisle at my local grocery store. I hope soon to get some “leftover” juice from a winery on the day of crush to make a “real” wine. Kits can be had for white or red, sweet or dry wines. You can make table wines or dessert wines from kits. These kits are available from local home brew shops (LHBS) and from online shops.
While you can make wine at home from harvested grapes or fruit, this series will be following the experience of making wine at home from winemaking kits. We’ll go over the equipment needed, the process of preparing the “must” (juice) for fermentation, fining, adding flavor and/or sweetness if applicable to the wine, and bottling. Included will be the importance of sanitation in all the steps. Customization of the kit or experimentation will also be introduced.
The balance of this post will concentrate on the equipment needed for making wine at home. As you can see from the picture, the equipment is not extensive and won’t take up a lot of storage space beyond a spot in an extra closet. To get started, the basic equipment list is:
- A fermentation vessel. In my case it’s a six-gallon plastic bucket with a lid and a rubber grommeted hole for a fermentation lock. I also used this bucket as a “bottling” bucket at the end of the process.
- A “secondary” fermentation vessel to rack the fermented wine into for further fermentation and clearing. Pictured is a six-gallon food-grade plastic carboy. They also come in glass and in different sizes. This can also hold oak chips or spiral staves if your wine needs some oak character.
- The most important step in home winemaking is sanitization. If this step is overlooked, the wine will most surely be bad. A solution of sodium bisulfate or potassium bisulfate can be used for sanitizing your equipment. I used those at first, but have moved to Star San which is a food-grade acid based sanitizer. It requires no rinsing and is easy to use. Don’t worry, use a surface sanitizer, and with common sense it doesn’t impart any acid into your end product.
- A racking cane or auto-syphon is used to transfer your wine from the primary bucket to the secondary carboy and for bottling.
- Hydrometers and refractometers are used for measuring your original and final specific gravities in order to determine if fermentation is complete, and to calculate the final alcohol by volume (ABV) of the wine. If using a hydrometer, a hydrometer jar to hold the wine sample for measurement is required.
- A wine thief like the one with a rubber bulb in the picture will assist in drawing a sample for measuring the gravity of the wine.
- A thermometer is necessary to know that your temperatures are correct for pitching yeast and adjusting your gravity readings.
- A stainless (or plastic) spoon to stir the must.
- A whip to “de-carbonate” the wine after fermentation and before clearing is needed.
- Also pictured but not 100% necessary, is a bottle tree for drying sanitized bottles before bottling and a floor corker. While you will have to have at least a hand corker, the floor corker is a nice convenience.
This is a basic list to get you started. Most local home brew shops or online shops will have basic kits with everything needed to get started. There’s lots of other items you can get if you start to enjoy the hobby and get more serious about it. If you’re like me and enjoy it, your equipment wants and needs can expand quickly.
In the next post, I will chronicle the first step in making the kit pictured. This is a port style dessert wine that I find are easy to make great wine at home. I’ll also be doing some of my own customizations to the kit that I’ll talk about in later posts on the process.