Wine Making: Step by Step Guide
Making your own wine can be as simple or as complicated as you wish — a pleasant pastime for a wet afternoon, or a deeply absorbing hobby. But as nothing is more encouraging to the beginner than early success, here is a step-by-step guide to making your first half-dozen bottles — ie. 1 gallon, or about 4 litres of wine.
Preparing the must
As a rough guide, use 3-4 lb. (1.52kg) of vegetables or fruit for each gallon of wine, depending on the strength of the material’s flavour. Methods of extracting the juice — such as pressing, soaking or using a domestic extractor — depend on the fruits or vegetables used.
Clean and prepare vegetables as for cooking (coarse, end-of-season vegetables may be used), cut them into small pieces and simmer until tender. When cool, strain the liquor into a bin, stir in the concentrated grape juice if included in the recipe, and add the sugar, acid, tannin, nutrient and yeast.
Pour the must into a fermentation jar, top up with cold water and fit an airlock.
Carefully comb the petals or blossoms from the stalks with a fork. Place the petals in a bin — making sure that all stems and leaves are excluded — pour hot water over them, and macerate to a soft consistency with the back of a wooden or plastic spoon.
Stir in one teaspoonful of citric acid and one crushed Campden tablet, cover the bin and leave it to stand in a temperature of about 21°C (70°F).
Macerate the petals again on each of the following three days. Strain and press them to extract the liquor. Stir in the concentrated grape juice, together with the sugar, tannin, nutrient and yeast.
Pour into a fermentation jar and top up with cold water, and fit an airlock to prevent possible infection from airborne spores.
Wash the fruits and remove any damaged portions. (Windfalls and bruised fruits are quite suitable for wine-making.) Then either pass them through a juice extractor or ferment the fruits on the pulp.
If you extract the juice, dilute it and make it into wine in the same way as vegetable and flower liquors. If you ferment the fruit on the pulp, first crush it and then drop it into a bin containing water in which a Campden tablet, some pectin-destroying enzyme and a little citric acid have been dissolved. Cover the bin and leave it in a warm room.
After 24 hours add raisins, sultanas or concentrated grape juice, together with activated yeast. Re-cover the bin and return it to its warm position for a further four or five days.
Keep the floating pulp moist by pushing it beneath the surface of the liquid twice a day.
Strain and press the pulp, add the sugar to the liquid and stir until it is dissolved. Pour the must into a fermentation jar, top up with cold water, and fit an airlock.
Despite its association with our distant ancestors, mead is an acquired taste. Also, since it takes 3 lb. (1.5kg) of honey to make six bottles of dry table mead, it can be rather expensive.
On the other hand, it is very easy to make. Simply dissolve the honey in warm water and pour it into a fermentation jar.
When cool, add the acid, tannin, nutrient and yeast and top up with cold water.
Whatever the basic ingredients, the yeast will now be working in the must and an airlock must be fitted to the fermentation jar. Make sure that the pierced cork is of the right size, insert the tube of the airlock in the cork, put a few drops of water in the airlock and seal the jar with the cork.
The end of the tube should only just protrude through the cork and must be above the liquid.
Tie a label on the jar stating its contents, the quantities used and the date when it was made.
Stand the jar in a warm place. An average living room, with a temperature of 21°C (70°F), is ideal. Avoid excessive heat as this may kill the yeast and, in consequence, halt fermentation.
Too low a temperature may prevent or slow down fermentation but will not harm the yeast. Fermentation will start again if the jar is moved to a warmer place.
Do not expect any sudden and spectacular change, as signs of fermentation may not appear for a day or two. By then, and probably sooner, you should see bubbles of carbon dioxide rising in the must and forcing their way through the water in the airlock.
For a week or so, fermentation will be extremely vigorous, before settling down to a steady rhythm.
The particles of pulp and dead yeast cells will then slowly begin to form a sediment.
When making strong dessert wines —about 16% alcohol — it is advisable to begin with only about half the sugar needed, and to add the rest gradually as fermentation proceeds. In this way, the alcoholic tolerance of the yeast can be built up and a really strong wine produced.
If- all the sugar is added at the outset, it is sometimes too much for the yeast and fermentation may stop prematurely.
This results in a sweet, low-alcohol wine.
Dissolve the sugar in a little wine before adding it to the fermentation jar. Dry sugar will simply lie on the bottom of the jar and impede the action of the yeast.
When bubbles cease to rise in the jar, and there is no movement ofthrough the water in the airlock, it is time to rack the wine from its sediment even though it is not perfectly clear. The time this takes varies considerably, depending on the sugar content and temperature, but even with a light, dry wine it may take a month.
It is important to remove the wine from the sediment as soon as fermentation is finished because the pulp and dead yeast soon start to decompose and this imparts an unpleasant flavour to the wine.
It is also important to leave as much of the sediment behind in the original jar as you can. The best way to rack a wine is to siphon the clearing wine into another jar.
First sterilise a storage jar and place it on the floor. Set the jar of wine on a table above the storage jar and remove the airlock. Place one end of a polythene or rubber tube into the wine just above the level of the sediment and gently suck the other end of the tube until it is filled with wine.
Squeeze this end to prevent the wine escaping until you have placed it in the storage jar, then release the pressure. Gravity will pull the wine from the jar above to the one beneath.
Carefully tilt the upper jar so that the end of the siphon remains clear of the sediment until the last of the wine has been removed. Discard the sediment, wash and sterilise the jar and airlock, dry them and put them away until next required.
Top up the jar of wine with cool, boiled water or some weak, cold tea. Add one Campden tablet, fit a, tie on a descriptive label and store the jar in a cool place.
After six or eight weeks a further sediment will be seen and by this time the wine may be quite bright. It now needs to be racked again in the same manner as before.
Light and medium wines require up to eight months’ storage in the jar before bottling. Heavy and strong wines may need two years, or even longer.
The beginner’s commonest mistake is over-eagerness to see the wine in the bottle.
If it is bottled too soon, fermentation may start again, especially in hot weather. The wine will then become hazy and fizzy. The bottle might blow its cork, or, in extreme conditions, it might burst.
Sterilise the bottles thoroughly and use new corks. Soak the corks in hot water to make them supple and to get rid of the ‘corky’ flavour they might impart.
Before using them, give a final rinse or soak them in a solution made up with a Campden tablet.
Carefully siphon the wine from the jar into the bottles and drive the corks well home.
Softened cylindrical corks can be thrust home by hand, or, more efficiently, with a corker.
If T-shaped stoppers are used, they should be fastened on with string or wire before laying the bottles down.
Do not overfill the bottles or the air will be so compressed when the corks are fitted that it will push them out a little, leaving them unsightly and the wine at risk.
Store the bottles on their sides so that the corks remain wet and do not dry out and shrink.
Leave the bottles in store for at least a month, and preferably much longer. A red wine kept for a year or more will well reward your patience.
White wines should be put in the refrigerator for an hour before drinking. Red wines, however, should be drunk at room temperature. They also benefit by removing the cork half an hour or so before drinking, to allow them to ‘breathe’. Even better, pour them into a decanter or carafe.
Things that may go wrong
The commonest problem in wine-making is that of fermentation stopping too soon. It may happen for a number of reasons :
1. The yeast has converted as much sugar as it can and has reached the limit of its alcohol tolerance. The remaining sugar just sweetens the wine.
If it is too sweet, try blending it with a dry wine.
2. The yeast is lacking acid or nutrient. Add some and stir the wine well.
3. The must is too hot or too cold and the yeast is inhibited. Move the jar to a different position; overheating, however, may have killed the yeast.
4. The must needs to ‘breathe’. Splash it into another jar to release the carbon dioxide, but don’t expect any immediate results. It may be a day or two before the bubbles start rising again.
5. The yeast colony has died and needs replacing. Start fresh yeast in a large jar and add the stuck must in stages, making sure that the previous batch is fermenting before adding more.
Using the hydrometer before fermentation has started, and after it is stopped, will indicate the amount of sugar converted and therefore the amount of alcohol produced. This information will help you identify why the fermentation has stuck.
If, when fully fermented, the wine has too dry a taste, sweeten it with saccharin. If sugar is used, fermentation may start again.
If a wine fails to clear naturally, use wine finings — consisting of isinglass, gelatin or bentonite — in accordance with the instructions on the packet. Filtering is very rarely necessary and is recommended only as a last resort.
A wine or must imperfectly corked of left open to the air is likely to develop a vinegary smell. There is no cure for this, and any wine so infected should be thrown away.