When it comes to frequently asked questions about wine making at home, there are no “one-size-fits-all” answers, as each vinter has a unique situation. Here are some generalizations you may find useful.
Is it expensive to make your own wine?
Your new wine equipment kit can pay for itself with your first batch of wine. For example – you may pay $75-$100 for an equipment kit, and maybe $60 for a decent Merlot ingredient kit. So, for about $150, you will produce 30 bottles of wine (about $5 each) easily as good as, often better than the commercial bottle you would have spent $10 to $15 to buy. Since you enjoyed the process and the end product, you decided to do it again. This time, your $60.00 Merlot kit made the same 30 bottles but at $2 each!
What difference is there between making wine with fresh grapes versus a kit? Is it worth the work?
Modern wine kits are produced to be easy to make, relatively quickly. Making wine from scratch requires more time (several months worth), equipment (crusher, press), technical know how (acid testing eg.), and depends on the availability of fruit seasonally. Kits can be made any time of the year, are prebalanced, and can be ready to bottle in as little as 28 days. The worth of the work is totally up to the wine maker! Someone who has the time and inclination can certainly make an excellent wine from scratch. Those who prefer a speedier process can also make an excellent wine.
Should wine be aged in an oak barrel? Is there a noticeable difference making it worth the effort?
Certain wines are enhanced by the tannins and flavors that oak can contribute. Many wine kits provide oak chips or powder to obtain this character. Oak barrels can be expensive and do require maintenance and have a limited life span, so for many it is more practical to use the oak chips to impart the level of character they desire. The wine maker must decide whether the extra expense, space, care and feeding etc., of an oak barrel is worth it.
If I want to make a fruit based wine (or beer), is it better to use fresh fruit?
Availability plays a large part, but also the degree of “fruitiness” one hopes to achieve is a factor. Fresh fruit may need to be pasteurized or sulphited to prevent contamination. Frozen fruit can be used also. There are many fruit purees available which are sterile packed which do not contain stems or seeds which will yield a fruitier content. However, no fruit is 100% fermentable, so there will be more sediment. Some bits will settle, some will float, so straining may be necessary. There are liquid extracts and flavorings which can be added at bottling time to the brewers’ taste, giving total control over the amount of “fruitiness.” Again, it is up to the brewer or vintner to decide how involved they want to be in the process.
How long should it take wine to ferment?
As long as it takes. There are many ways to make wine, and many factors play a part. Temperature can be especially important, warmer (70-75 deg. F) means faster. Wine kits are usually ready to bottle from 28 days to three months, while wines from scratch may not be done for up to a year.
How long does the settling or clearing process work?
Filtration can take as little as an hour. Various clarifying chemicals may take from one to three days. Gravity can take months.
What the heck is Bentonite and do I need it?
Bentonite is just one of many clarifying agents that “grab on” to various particles in a wine that make it look cloudy, and pull them to the bottom as they settle, thus clearing the wine. Different clarifiers specialize in clearing different causes of cloudiness- for example, pectic enzyme helps reduce pectins (certain plant proteins) which can create a haze.
Which instructions for the yeast do I follow (recipe differs from yeast packet)?
It is safe to assume that the manufacturer knows what they are talking about when they print directions on the package. However, some recipes and various authors often make recommendations for yeast starters, and it falls to the wine maker to decide. With some fruit recipes, it makes sense to follow a starter recipe that mimics the acid content of the wine recipe so the yeast does not get shocked. With a wine kit, it always best to follow directions from the manufacturer.
What is sulfite and why is it used?
Sulfite acts as an antioxidant in small quantities, stabilizer in larger doses, and a sanitizer in extreme doses. Potassium Metabisulfite and Sodium Metabisulfite are the more common preparations, and can be found in powder or pill form known also as Campden Tablets. Few people are sensitive to sulfites, and should consult a physician before using such products.
How important is de-gassing?
In wine kits, it is an integral step. After fermentation, the wine is saturated with CO2, and if left in, will add a fuzzy sensation to the wine which will often detract from its enjoyment.
How do you check acid balance and why is it important?
A good acid titration kit will have detailed instructions which are easy to follow. In most wine kits, this is not necessary, as they are balanced in production. Wine from fruit or vegetables may need to be adjusted using a test kit. Too much acid gives a tartness, while too little may leave the wine flat or sweet. Also, wine yeast needs to be in a limited pH range to work at peak efficiency.
When it comes to corking, are synthetic corks all they're cracked up to be?
There are many options available when it comes to filling and corking wine bottles. While pure, natural corks have become more expensive and limited in availability, there are other options. There are pore filled corks, agglomerated corks, “twin disk” corks, and synthetic corks. Which you use will depend on several factors such as cost, availability, and expected cellaring time. All types are better suited to different situations, and your retailer should be able to help with specific situations.
How long will it be before the wine is ready to drink?
It all depends on the wine. With wine kits, the whites are usually drinkable at bottling time, but will improve for a year, maybe two. With red wine kits, a few months in the bottle will make a huge difference. Country wines will vary significantly, with some drinkable at bottling, and others needing months or years to come into their own…
The wine smells like vinegar - what happened?
Someone F@#&%d up
What is the most common cause of failure when making wine or beer?
Most common cause: Lack of sanitation.
Second most common cause: poor sanitation.
Third most common cause: insufficient sanitation.
Fourth most common cause: impatience.
How and where should wine be stored?
Ideally in a cool (50-55 deg. F) dark, quiet place. Moisture can cause mold problems, so a relative humidity of 50-70% is best.
What influence does water quality have on home made wine or beer?
Water makes up most of your wine, so plays an important part. Do not use distilled water! Yeast require certain minerals to work their magic efficiently – distilled water has none. The rule of thumb is that if your water tastes good, it should make good wine. If you have contamination or other issues, bottled water can be used. pH can be adjusted if necessary.
How do I measure the amount of alcohol in the wine or beer?
You can calculate the alcohol content using a hydrometer by measuring the specific gravity (or the potential alcohol scale) both before and after the fermentation. The difference between these two readings gives you alcohol content.
In wines, a finished, still wine can be tested with a device called a vinometer to give alcohol content. Follow directions. This will not work with beer or sparkling wines because of the carbonation.