Nothing feels as satisfying and authentic as making your first batch of wine from fresh grapes. And there’s no better time to try it than in early autumn, when grapes all over the country are ripening in vineyards and backyard gardens.
Whatever kind of grapes you use, the general techniques, equipment and ingredients are the same. Here’s an overview of some key steps along the way.
Basic Wine Making Equipment
Here’s everything you need to make your first one-gallon batch of wine from fresh grapes. You should be able to find this equipment at any homebrewing or home winemaking supply shop.
- Large nylon straining bag
- Food-grade pail with lid (2 to 4 gallons)
- Acid titration kit
- Clear, flexible half-inch diameter plastic tubing
- Two one-gallon glass jugs
- Fermentation lock and bung
- Five 750-ml wine bottles
- Hand corker
Inspecting the Fruit
Winemaking starts with inspecting the grapes. Make sure they are ripe by squishing up a good double handful, straining the juice and measuring the sugar level with a hydrometer, a handy device you can buy at a winemaking supply shop. The sugar density should be around 22° Brix – this equals 1.0982 specific gravity or 11 percent potential alcohol – and the fruit should taste sweet, ripe and slightly tart.
Adjusting the Juice
Adjusting the juice or “must” of your wine is critical. Luckily, it’s also easy. Acid content is measured with a simple titration kit; you can buy one at a supply shop. The ideal acid level is 6 to 7 grams per litre for dry reds and 6.5 to 7.5 grams per litre for dry whites.
Racking the Wine
“Racking” means transferring the fermenting wine away from sediment. You insert a clear, half-inch diameter plastic hose into the fermenter and siphon the clear wine into another sanitized jug. Then top it off and fit it with a sanitized bung and fermentation lock. This can be a delicate operation and it’s important to go slowly. You don’t want to stir up the sediment, but you don’t want to lose your siphon suction.
Bottling the Batch
Bottling may sound complicated, but it’s really not. To bottle your wine, you simply siphon your finished product into the bottles (leaving about 2 inches of headspace below the rim), insert a cork into the hand corker, position the bottle under the corker and pull the lever. It’s always wise to buy some extra corks and practice with an empty bottle before you do it for real.
Wine bottles can be purchased at home winemaking stores, or you can simply wash and recycle your own bottles. These supply stores also rent hand-corkers and sell corks. You should only buy corks that are tightly sealed in plastic bags because exposure to dust and microbes can spoil your wine. Corks can be sterilized just before bottling, with hot water and a teaspoon of sulfite crystals.