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Making Wine from your own Grapes

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Making Wine from Grapes

It is fairly straightforward to make wine from your own grapes and there are many online guides showing you how to do it. Unfortunately, many of them “over simplify” the process or take a “natural” approach, which is absolutely fine if you are prepared to gamble with the results, but not much use if you are hoping to produce consistent, repeatable, drinkable results.

In essence, many guides suggest that all you need to do is:

  • Pick your grapes.
  • Crush and press them to extract the juice.
  • Leave them to ferment using the natural yeast.
  • Leave to clear and then bottle when fermentation has finished.

Whilst this is more or less accurate, not all grapes are actually suitable for wine making straight from the vine, not all have sufficient levels of sugar or acidity and, depending when you pick the grapes, you may or not have any natural yeast present to undertake the fermentation. Using the method above gives you a 50/50 chance of obtaining fermentation and a less than 50% chance of obtaining anything that is either a) drinkable or b) repeatable.

Whilst requiring a bit more effort, you are more likely to obtain better results if you use the following method:

  • Pick your grapes - you will need around 6-7kgs per gallon.
  • Strip them off their stalks, wash them in clean water if necessary/desired and then crush and press them to extract the juice. For small quantities, this can be done with a potato masher. It will often be easier if you freeze them first and then allow them to defrost.
  • Check the sugar content with a hydrometer and add extra sugar, if required, to obtain a start gravity of 1080-1085. This will produce about 11-12% alcohol in your finished wine, depending upon your finishing gravity.
  • Check the acidity with a pH strip. You should aim for a pH level of 3.1-3.4, so you may need to add Citric Acid to increase the acidity or Precipitated Chalk to lower it.
  • Add 1 crushed Campden Tablet per gallon of juice and leave for 24 hours to kill off any natural yeast that may be present.
  • Add your preferred Wine Yeast (some people also add yeast nutrient to encourage a rapid ferment) and leave to ferment.
  • If you are making Red or Rose wine, you will generally need to leave the skins in contact with the juice for 4-10 days depending how dark a colour you want. Once the juice has become the colour you want, strain it into a clean demijohn or bucket and allow it to continue to ferment.
  • Once fermentation has finished, or you have reached your preferred finishing gravity, syphon the wine into a clean demijohn or bucket, add 1 crushed Campden Tablet per gallon and leave to clear.

Wine will normally take 2-6 weeks for the initial fermentation, depending upon the initial sugar content and the temperature in which it is fermented. It should then be stored and matured for 3-6 months to obtain the best results.

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  1. Steve Burnett

    Hi i hope you can help please.I have purchased a 25l starter kit with 2 buckets.This came with little to no instructions and this is my first attempt. My question is...which bucket goes with which lid (bucket with tap hole with lid with hole or what) and which bucket to use first? So many tutorials on line i'm totally confused. Regards Steve B ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Steve,
    Starter kits that are purchased without a wine kit rarely include "instructions" (as the instructions are provided with the wine concentrate) because as suppliers, we have no idea what you are going to be making and can not be certain which of the various production methods you are going to be undertaking - different ingredients require different treatments.

    Unless it was purchased by someone else as a present for you, I can't actually find any orders in your name within the last few months and, as my starter kits don't generally come with buckets that have holes in the lid, I'm not ENTIRELY certain what you have actually got within your kit. However, assuming that what you have is similar to the equipment that I supply, after you have prepared the "must" from whatever ingredient you are using and in accoredance with your recipe, you would generally use the "solid" bucket for the primary fermentation, covered with the lid with the hole in it (having plugged this hole with an air lock containing water) and would transfer the finished wine to the bucket that has the tap fitted once fermentation has completed and the wine has cleared. The bucket with a tap is designed to make it easier to carry out the bottling and may or may not have been supplied with a 12"-14" rigid bottling stick that is operated by pushing the bottom of your bottle against the needle valve that is at the end of the rigid tube. If your tap doesn't have a rigid tube, attach a piece of silicone tubing to the tap and use this to fill the bottles.

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  2. John

    Hi, I have a white grape vine in my green house that produces small grapes that are full of juice but have started to split, dose this mean that its ready for harvesting ? They taste very sweet but has a very thin layer of white dust over them, if I wash them can I make wine as per your method ? rgds J ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi John,
    The "white dust" is likely to be "bloom" which is a natural product produced by grapes (and many other fruits) to protect themselves while ripening. If the grapes are sweet and the stems have gone brown (rather than green), then its likely that they are ripe and you can wash the bloom off and attempt to use them as described. The results will, of course, depend on whether or not they are suitable for wine making rather than simply ornamental varieties, but the only way to find out that is to try it and see.
    Regards. Andy

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  3. Sarah Norman

    Hi, I've a huge grapevine in my garden that produces green grapes, I'd love to attempt to make wine as I've watched them grow and then fall away for 15 years and thought what a waste. When would you recommend picking? I'm in London and they still seem darkish green and small. Could I use a juicer to extract the juice? Sarah ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Sarah,
    As mentioned in an earlier post, they are ready when they are ready. It varies from year to year depending upon the climatic conditions. The only way to tell is to regularly pick them and taste them. If they make you pucker, they're not ready. Keep an eye on any birds in your garden. They ALWAYS know when fruit is ready and will devour it quicker than you can pick it if you let them have access to it.
    Assuming that they are a suitable variety and not just an ornamental grape, you could use a juicer, but if it isn't an industrial strength one, you may well overheat the motor if you have a lot of grapes. It may be easier to just freeze them in a single layer and then defrost them when you are ready to try making wine. The freezing/defrosting process will break down the cell walls and make it easier to extract the juice manually.

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  4. Stephen

    I have a large old vine, probably 80 years old, with lots of white grapes. Do you sell a kit to make wine please, without the grape juice? ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Stephen,
    Our Standard 30 bottle wine making starter kit, which contains all of the "equipment" that you need to make wine and has the option of being purchased without a "wine kit"


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  5. Maria

    Hi Andy, I have a grapevine in my garden which is laden with fruit so I thought I would try some winemaking. When is the optimum time to pick the grapes? Thanks ---------- Hi Maria,
    The harvest varies from year to year based on temperature and your latitude. In southern/mid France, it usually starts mid-late September, whereas in Northern Germany it can be towards the end of October. It also varies based on the local microclimate.

    For most people in the UK, if the birds are starting to eat them, or you can eat them without them tasting sour and acidic, then they are normally ready.


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  6. Liz

    Hello. Thanks for your site. Would you sterilise the first bin that you crush the grapes in please? ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Liz,

    I would always sanitise (clean, immediately before use, with your preferred cleaning solution and then rinse with clean water*) every piece of equipment that is going to be used during the process, in order to minimise the risk of any external contamination of the juice/must.


    *There are "No Rinse" cleaners available that break down to leave only water and thus nominally don't need to be further rinsed, just emptied or left to drain from your equipment. Personally, I don't use them as I prefer to have the certainty that I have rinsed away any residue from the cleaning process.

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  7. Goodfellow

    Hi - you don't mention washing the grapes before crushing... ? Regards, Ned :) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Ned.

    The main problem with posting any form of "guideline/methodology" is that you have to make a few assumptions as to the common sense of your readers in order to tread a fine line between providing simplified, logical, reasonably easy to follow instructions without being overly patronising or attempting to "second guess" every possible combination of individual wine maker's circumstances.

    By and large, as long as the grapes being used aren't covered in bird droppings or industrial chemicals (in which case I would hope that common sense would kick in), washing isn't absolutely necessary and is more or less completely unnecessary if you've grown them in a greenhouse without chemicals or bought them from, or been given them by, a greengrocer. This is because the process described uses Campden Tablets to suppress any natural yeast, which is the only real benefit of washing them if they are already clean. I will, however amend them to clarify that it may be necessary to wash them in certain circumstances.


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  8. Valerie

    If I don't produce enough juice from my white grapes can I top up with something else ? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Valerie,

    You can top up with anything you like, eg fruit juice, grape juice, grape concentrate, sugar solution etc, as long as it is preservative free (as the preservative will probably inhibit your yeast) and as long as you take account of the sugar content of whatever you have introduced in order to make sure that the start gravity remains where you want it to be as per the recipe you are using.


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  9. Neil

    Many years ago i attempted my hand at Grape wine, didn't realise the effect of not checking with hydrometer ! Very messy. I stick to other fruit wines now, elderberry, gooseberry, damson, plum and raspberry....to name a few. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi Neil Like Cider Making from their own apples, people tend to think that making wine with their own grapes is easy and straightforward and it is really furstrating to see their enthusiasm sucked away because they tried to go down the "all natural route", rather than stack the odds in their favour by following a few simple(ish) steps to ensure success. I'm glad to hear that your setback didn't stop you from sticking with the hobby and finding success with alternative ingredients. Andy

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