How To Make Great Homemade Wine From Fresh Grape Juice!
Good quality red homemade wines can be made from fresh grape juice and is easier for the beginner to make than are wines made from crushing grapes yourself. By purchasing juice the crushing step has been done for you (make sure the grapes have not been crushed with the stems) and eliminates the pressing and disposal of the skins. Although if you desire to have a small amount of skins in your juice, some companies offer this at a small additional charge.
It is essential that you begin with a sanitary environment and absolutely clean equipment before starting the process of making wine. Use a sulfite solution to rinse any equipment that comes in contact with your wine. To make it, add 3 tablespoons of sulfite powder (potassium metabisulfite is available at a wine making supply store) to a gallon of water and mix well.
IMPORTANT: The volume of homemade wine made must be larger than the total storage capacity of the aging or storage containers - demijohns, glass carboys, gallon jugs or barrels - because additional wine will be needed to replace the volume lost to sediments after fermentation, and for topping up during racking (siphoning from one container to another to leave sediments behind).
Primary Fermentation - Step 1
If you are using your own plastic containers for fermentation be sure to use "food grade plastic".
Different varieties of red grape juice grape juice for making homemade wine can be purchased in 20 litre (5.28 US gallons or 4.3 Imperial gallons) plastic pails (depending on your location) with lids. Pour the juice into a larger (sanitized) container (demijohn, carboy or food grade plastic) that will leave between 10 and 15% of head space (for foam). Add wine yeast (follow directions on the package), which you can get from a wine making supply store. Some juice suppliers may have already added yeast to the juice so there is no need to add any.
If your using a demijohn or carboy attach an airlock making sure it is filled half way with water to allow the gases from fermentation to escape. For food grade plastic, seal the lid and attach an airlock or cover with plastic but do not fasten too tightly to allow the gases from fermentation to escape. This is the primary fermentation. The fermentation process is the yeast converting the natural sugars into alcohol which takes about 10 days. Once you become more experienced you may want check the sugar content of the juice before and after the fermentation by measuring with a hydrometer. To provide the perfect environment for yeast cells to begin the fermentation of the juice (or must) the optimum temperature is 22° C (72° F) but anywhere between 21-24° C (70-75° F) range is good. Any warmer and the wine will ferment too rapidly resulting in a loss of aroma and poor. Any cooler and the wine will ferment too slowly or not at all as the yeast will remain dormant.
Secondary Fermentation - Step 2
Once the primary fermentation process is finished it is time to rack the homemade wine. Racking is the process of siphoning your wine from one container to another leaving sediment that has settled to the bottom of the container behind. My Italian brother-in-law follows a tradition of racking the homemade wine when there is no moon. The theory behind this is that when there is no moon the moon's gravitational pull is lessoned therefore allowing more sediments to settle to the bottom of the container. To siphon the wine use a tube that is closed on the bottom by a cap that diverts the suction away from the bottom. This helps to eliminate drawing any sediment while siphoning. The secondary fermentation is where any remaining fermentation activity will take place.
From this point forward use glass containers as the best containers are those made from glass. Transfer the homemade wine to a glass demijohn or carboy and attach an air lock to the container. Be sure to fill the container to within 1 inch of the air lock to minimize the air space that the wine comes into contact with. Fill the airlock halfway with water, attach the airlock in the bung (rubber stopper) and place the bung snugly in the mouth of the demijohn or carboy for an airtight seal. This creates a barrier from the environment to prevent airborne contaminates spoiling your wine and allowing gases to escape. If you enjoy wine with an oak flavour add oak chips to simulate the use of an oak barrel. Oak chips are available in many flavours to enhance your wine - dark, light or medium toasted French and American. Use oak chips from a wine making supply store and follow the recommended amount of oak per volume of wine.
Any remaining wine that can be siphoned off should be stored in sealable glass gallon containers and if necessary topped up with distilled water or a similar wine to within an inch to half inch from the seal. It will be used to replace the volume lost to sediments in the next racking.
Discard the sediment left in the bottom of the fermentation containers. Wait 6 to 8 weeks before racking again to achieve the full benefit of the oak (if any has been added) and to allow the homemade wine to clear.
Periodically check the airlock to make sure there is always water in it.
Second Racking - Step 3
Rack your homemade wine again. This repeated racking is necessary to leave behind more sediment as your wine clears and also to give your homemade wine a chance to rid itself of excess carbon dioxide from fermentation.
If you desire a stronger oak taste, add more oak chips here. Siphon the wine from the gallon container(s) into the empty demijohn or carboy before transferring the rest of wine to enable as much of the wine as possible to age in bulk. Again, any homemade wine remaining that can be siphoned off should be stored as in the previous step and discard the sediment.
Wait another 6 to 8 weeks to rack your wine.
Third Racking - Step 4
Rack your homemade wine and this time when the transfer is complete add campden tablets at one tablet per 4 litre (1 gallon). Campden is a sulphite which is a natural compound that inhibits bacteria and acts as an antioxidant. Used correctly it will prevent browning and keep your wine tasting good.
Now this is where your patience begins. Let your homemade wine age 4 to 6 months before bottling.
Fourth Racking or Filtering - Step 5
At this step if you have a filtering machine filter your homemade wine to prepare it for bottling otherwise transfer it again. Although filtering is not a necessity, filtering your homemade wine will clear the wine and avoid sediment in the bottom of bottles. It's a great finish to your wine giving it brilliance and sparkle.
If you have transferred your homemade wine, wait about two weeks to allow any further sediments to settle. When you are satisfied with the clarity of your homemade wine, it's time to bottle.
Bottling - Step 6
You should use green wine bottles made of glass that use a cork seal, and they must have no nicks or rough edges around the top of the neck. Use only good quality natural corks and your homemade wine should last 3 to 5 years or longer. Remember to sanitize all your equipment and bottles including the corks.
Siphon your homemade wine into the bottles leaving room for the cork and a small air space of no more than one inch between the wine and cork. This is important: you don't want to leave a lot of airspace in the bottles, but you have to leave enough room under the cork for the compressed air to sit.
For the home winemaker the Super Automatic Bottle Filler will make filling the bottles quick and easy. The bottle filler is easily primed, the fill level is adjutable and it automatically stops the flow when the bottle is full to help prevent accidental over-flow. To fill the next bottle, simply remove the automatic filler from the first bottle and place it into the next, then push down on the activation lever to continue the wine flow.
Once the bottle is filled cork it using an iris jaw type floor corker. The iris jaw floor corker carefully compresses the cork and inserts it precisely into the bottle. Also, they hold the bottles steady in a spring loaded base.
You should leave your wine bottles standing upright for at least the first 24 hours after corking. Why? The compressed air has to work it's way out past the cork, and it can only do that if the bottle is standing up. If you immediately turn the bottle on it's side, the pressure will still be there, but the wine will now be pushing against the cork, and could force it out of the bottle. After 24 hours (or two or three days: it isn't critical to do it right away) you should turn the bottles on their side for long term storage. This is when the wine against the cork will keep it moist, preventing leaks.
Age your bottled homemade wine for another 6 months to a year, if you can be patient that long, and you will certainly enjoy the reward.
How long will your wine keep? This is a tough question to answer as it depends on so many factors. It is recommended to store red wine at 10-13º C (50-55º F) in a dark room, however I do not have the resources (like many of us) to store over 200 bottles of wine at the optimum temperature but I have had great success storing my homemade wine in the basement which maintains a constant temperature about 22º C (72º F). With good care and attention to your bottling practices, your wine will last as long as the raw materials it was made from. Better quality ingredients usually mean a wine that will age longer.