Last month I started a series on Making Wine at Home that introduced the process and the equipment needed for home winemaking. This post will cover the first steps making a “kit” wine to the point of starting fermentation. My experience in home winemaking started in 2013 when I took a class in home winemaking from a local homebrew shop (LHBS) in the Houston area. Since then I’ve begun a Winemaker’s Certificate program from Texas Tech in Fredericksburg. This series is not a professional level primer on making wine, but information to help introduce the hobby of home winemaking.
For this series, I will be making a WineExpert Spéciale Peppermint Mocha Dessert wine. This sweet “port style” wine will most likely ferment to about 15% alcohol by volume (ABV). I will be adding my own customizations that will likely move the ABV up to around 20%.
This wine was started over the weekend. The equipment needed was a fermentation bucket with lid to ferment in, a long plastic spoon for mixing, a wine thief with bulb to draw a sample for measurement, a hygrometer with a test vessel to measure the original specific gravity, and air lock to allow carbon dioxide out of the fermenter and keep oxygen out, and sanitizer to sanitize all the equipment.
The most important step is SANITATION. I took all the tools and soaked or covered them in a no-rinse cleaner solution called Star San. Some home makers use a solution of sodium metabisulfite for sanitation and it works well also. Star San is an easy solution to use and you only need to make sure it comes in contact for a few minutes with all the surfaces of equipment that will touch your wine. Star San leaves a little foam behind, but it won’t hurt your end product. It cannot be over emphasized, sanitation is the key!
The instructions stated to mix the supplied packet of bentonite with two cups of hot water. Bentonite is impure clay created by weathered volcanic ash. The material is very absorbent, and it binds and bonds onto any floating particulates which cause haziness or cloudiness in wine. Once it binds to these particles, it will eventually fall out of the wine helping improve its overall clarity. The water and bentonite were mixed in the sanitized fermentation bucket.
Next the three gallon “bag” of grape “must” (juice) provided in the kit was added to the fermenter and mixed with the bentonite slurry. This can be a messy step if you’re not careful. I spilled a few drops on the floor while pouring into the vessel. This kit provided the full volume of liquid, so no additional water was needed. If I had needed some water, I would have used my home tap water and a pinch of potassium bisulfate to get rid of the free chlorine particles.
The next step was to draw a sample of the liquid from the fermenter and collect it in the hydrometer jar for an original specific gravity (OG) reading. Measuring the OG allows for the calculation of the ABV of the wine by comparing the reading to the final reading after fermentation. We will review that calculation in the next post. The measured OG for this kit was 1.12. Depending on the final gravity, this has the potential to ferment out to an ABV of 14-15%.
The last steps for this kit were to add the included oak “dust” to simulate oak aging and pitching the yeast. I added the oak and finally added the Lavin EC-1118 yeast. The yeast was simply sprinkled on the top. When I do wine kits, I usually purchase a second packet of the same yeast and double up. This is just something I learned in the winemaking class I took, and it helps create a good and clean fermentation. I sealed the lid and added the air lock and moved the vessel to a cool and mostly dark spot. Within 12 hours, I noticed bubbling activity in the air lock and that tell-tail smell of fermentation.
The next steps are chaptalization to add to the alcohol content to achieve a balanced dessert wine and racking to another vessel for secondary fermentation. Stay tuned for the next post in the series for a summary of those steps and to see how the fermentation went.