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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, though, if you have never made wine before, I would heartily recommend that you make up a wine kit first in order to learn the "processes" of fermentation, clarification and storage, before you embark on using your own ingredients. 

  • 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 at room temperature (18-24°C) or as per your yeast's preferences/tolerances.
  • 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. Peter Stuart

    I sometimes make wine from kits and am interested in trying to use real grapes. You mention the use of Campden tablets early on to kill off natural yeast. Will this keep 'nasties' at bay? I'm not clear how else you maintain hygiene after freezing and washing the grapes etc. Thanks Peter ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Campden Tablets suppress any "natural yeast" ont he grape skins and increase the chances of it being your introduced yeast that caries out the fermentation, rather than any of the "natural yasts" that may or may not have been present. Once fermentation is underway, any "nasties" are kept out by simply following the standard procedures you would follow when making wine from a kit.

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  2. Rich Cronin

    Yes. Very clear and concise . Thank you very much. Also answers below are equally good.

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  3. graham

    At last, instructions, help, information, questions that I can understand. Many thanks

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  4. Marian Barwell

    Hi, for past 3 years 2017, 18 and 19 we have made wine from our unheated greenhouse very well established red grape vines. The first year the wine was delicious, 2018 not so good and 2019 again not good. Before the first year the vines had been neglected and grapes left on the vine to wither, then we started to prune. Following picking the same procedure has been used. Do grapes have good and bad years? Or perhaps we pruned too hard? This year we are considering leaving the grapes to wither and not pruning to see if 2021 will produce a good crop followed by good wine. Any advice or suggestions will be appreciated. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- All grapes vary from year to year depending upon climatic conditions, but not all are absolutely suitable for winemaking as some are "ornamentals" and bred to simply look pretty whilst others are "eaters" and have high sweetness but low acidity. You can generally "adapt" their juice to winemaking, but you will still never achieve the same level of quality that you would if using "appropriate" grapes. Whilst some winemakers deliberately allow their grapes to "wither" to increase the sugar concentration, similar to allowing then to stay on the vine until the first frost when making "ice wines", the trade off is that you will get less juice so will need more grapes per gallon than if you harvest at peak ripeness. It may be worth contacting your local Winemaking association to see if any of their members can give you an assessment of the type of grapes you have and how they should be cared for. The National Association of Winemaking clubs has a website that SHOULD be able to point you towards your nearest club : http://www.nawb.org.uk/index.html.

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  5. jim mallows

    Andy, great site, thanks! What is the ideal temperature [in my dining room] to keep air-lock of grape wine bubbling? ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It really depends upon your yeast, but generally standard room temperature of 18-24°C. If you have never done it before, it may be worth making a wine kit first as all the technical stuff will have been done and you can learn how fermentation works and what to look out for.

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  6. Terry

    Hi there, I have just picked 17.5kg of white eating grapes .I have just crushed them ready for next step in wine making. I'm new to this , so unsure where to go from here regarding adding water, sugar, yeast etc ( the volume and type of yeast.) Can you help Regards Terry

    Hi Terry
    Personally, if you have never made wine before, I would highly recommend that you freeze the juice for now and start with a standard 6 bottle wine kit in order to learn the basics of fermentation/stabilisation and clearing before you go down the line of following the instructions in this blog post.
    Whilst your grapes may well be "eating grapes" and thus likely to have sufficient sugar of their own for fermentation (though you won't know this unless you test them with a hydrometer as stated in the method listed above), they are probably unlikely to have the correct acidity and any wine made from them is likely to end up fairly insipid unless you test and adjust it.
    If you add water, you will thin out the body so would only really do that if they were excessively sweet and you were trying to reduce the starting gravity to the level listed above.
    I would personally recommend an all purpose white wine yeast with yeast nutrient or the Youngs Super Wine Yeast compound listed on our website (pre-blended yeast and nutrient). It might also be worth acquiring a copy of CJJ Berry's book "First steps in Winemaking" in order to learn the theory before you go any further, especially if you decide not to try using a "kit" wine first.

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  7. Sandy

    Hi. I've just been given a large amount of grapes for winemaking. They taste lovely and sweet, most are red and some are green (not as ripe and not as sweet but still edible). Quite a few of them are mouldy - can I include these in my wine if I add the campden table? ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Hi Sandy,
    Campden Tablets are an anti-oxidant and yeast suppressor. I would personally be inclined to dispose of the mouldy grapes rather than risk ruining the rest of the batch. Regards, Andy

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  8. Bobby

    Nice article I have a question, what are the dangers involve for not using a Campden Tablet and directly adding wine yeast in grape juice(obtained from pressing fresh red/black grapes)? thanks
    Hi Bobby,
    In essence, you could simply add your preferred wine yeast immediately at this point. However, if you don't add the Campden tablet in order to inhibit any naturally occuring yeast that may or may not be present on the skins (or thoroughly wash the grapes to ensure that you have removed any yeast that may have been present), you can't be ABSOLUTELY sure that it is YOUR yeast that is doing the fermentation and thus can't predict where the finishing gravity is going to be, or the flavour/body characteristics of the finished wine. As a result, if the fermentation finishes before your expected finishing point, you can't be sure if that's because the yeast has died, the temperature has dropped or its simply stalled. This is a problem as if you don't know what's caused any curtailment, you can't decide what steps to take to attempt to remedy the situation.
    If you want to gamble, feel free to go ahead, but unless you are allergic to the sulphites in Campden Tablets, personally, if i'd put that amount of effort into growing, picking and pressing the grapes, I'ld want a little more certainty over the next part of the process. Regards, Andy

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  9. Baz

    Hello, I'm making red wine (my grapes) without commercial yeast (hopefully). I have crushed the grapes and fermenting started quite soon after covering the vessel. I have a reading on the hydrometer of 5.3%. Today is day four since starting, I would like to make/finish this red wine with just the natural yeast. I have made "Kit-wine" many times but curious as to how this way will turn out any advice, please. p.s. I have made cider for years with just the apples and natural jeast and quite nice too. Thanks & regards.
    Hi Baz,
    Hydrometers don't normally give actual alcohol readings, they merely indicate the amount of alcohol that will potentially be produced if the sugar present at that point is all fermented, so unless the figure you quote is a calculated figure or from a different type of hydrometer, I would suspect that your gravity reading is probably around 1.040 or there abouts and that there is still quite a bit of fermentation still to complete.
    However, relying on natural yeast makes it impossible to accurately predict what is going to happen as you have no way of knowing which particular strain of yeast is carrying out the fermentation and what its characteristics and alcohol tolerance is. Because of this, all that can be said with certainty is that it will be finished when it is finished and if that happens when there is still unfermented sugar present, the wine will end up sweet. If this happens, there is no real point trying to pitch additional yeast as it is likely to be inhibited by any alcohol that has already been produced, unless the alcohol present is less than about 7%, in which case you MIGHT be able to introduce a "RESTART" yeast. If you have to do that, it is usually better to rehydrate the restart yeast and make up a starter solution and then add the must to the yeast solution in small amounts, rather than adding the yeast to the must, so as to not overwhelm it.
    Regards, Andy

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  10. 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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  11. 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, does 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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  12. 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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  13. 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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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. 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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  18. 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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