Great Homemade Wine

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How To Make Great Homemade Wine From Grapes!

Wine and Grapes

Good quality homemade red wines can be made from grapes with remarkable flavour, body and character. Tremendous wines that are worthy of recognition by friends and family. You can make homemade wine for a fraction of what it would cost you to purchase store bought wine.

There are many types of grapes to choose from, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Chardonnay that were brought over from Europe and and their sugar content is generally high providing enough sugar naturally. Once you become more experienced you may want check the sugar content before and after the fermentation by measuring it with a hydrometer. It is important to understand that the quality of wine depends very much on the quality of grapes that are going to be used.

Once you have chosen the variety of grape to make your homemade wine, find a good source of high quality grapes. Remember this is very, very important to making good homemade wine. Inspect the grapes as they must be clean and discard any grapes that look rotten or questionable. You will need about 36 kilograms (80 Lbs.) of grapes to make about 19 litres (5 gal. US) of homemade wine. The minimum amount of homemade wine I make is a demijohn (54 litres or 14 gal. US) which requires six cases of grapes.

IMPORTANT: The volume of 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).

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.

Primary Fermentation - Step 1

If you are using your own plastic containers for fermentation be sure to use "food grade plastic"

Before the primary fermentation can begin the grapes need to be crushed to yield the juice, pulp and skins, which is known as must. Red wine juice is fermented with the pulp and skins which gives the wine its colour, body and tannins. Remove the grapes from the stems before crushing as the stems will make your wine taste bitter. If you are only making a small amount of homemade wine the grapes can be crushed in a container by hand using a sanitized stainless steel utensil similar to a potato masher.

For crushing larger amounts of grapes consider using a crusher-destemmer combination rather than just a crusher as it is much easier than removing the grapes from the stems by hand. In some locations you may be able to rent a crusher-destemmer combination or even have the crushing done for you.

Crush the grapes directly into the primary fermentation container filling it to leave between 10 and 15% of head space at the top of the container for the 10 to 13 cm (4 to 5 in) of foam that forms during fermentation.

There are two options for fermentation that can be used. The first one is allowing the natural yeast present with the grapes to do the fermentation. My Italian brother-in-law has always used this natural method successfully for making his homemade wine just as his father did. However, if you would prefer leaving nothing to chance, the second method is to sterilize the must by adding a sulphite to kill all the wild molds and bacteria that may come with the fresh grapes. This will also kill the naturally occurring yeast so a wine yeast will need to be added. Loosely cover with a clean cloth to allow the must to ventilate. Over a 24 hour period the potassium metabisulfite will sterilize the juice and then dissipate into the air.

Once the 24 hours has passed add wine yeast (follow directions on the package), which you can get from a wine making supply store, to the must in the primary fermentation container. Cover with clean plastic but not too tight to allow the gases to escape. The fermentation process is the yeast converting the natural sugars into alcohol which takes about 10 days. 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 homemade wine will ferment too rapidly resulting in a loss of aroma and poor flavour. Any cooler and the homemade wine will ferment too slowly or not at all as the yeast will remain dormant.

During the fermentation process the skins and pulp will float to the top forming a cap. To maximize flavour and colour extraction keep the floating cap submerged by pushing it down once or twice daily during fermentation. This process is called punching down the cap.

Secondary Fermentation - Step 2

Once the primary fermentation process is finished it is time to rack the homemade wine and press the pulp to extract all of the juice. 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.

To press the pulp choose a press that is suitable to the amount of homemade wine you are making such as a table top press for 19 to 57 litres (5 to 15 gal.) or a ratchet press for 38 to 114 litres (10 to 30 gal.) of wine.

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 flavors 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.

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