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. The reason for me saying this is that the sugar content and acidity of home grown grapes vary from year to year and from variety to variety, so you will probably always need to "adjust" your juice to make it suitable for producing wine, whereas the concentrated juice that comes in the kits has already been "adjusted" and is designed to make the rest of the process as simple as possible.
- 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, after stripping and rinsing them, you freeze the grapes whole and then allow them to defrost before crushing.
- Check the sugar content of the juice with a hydrometer and add extra sugar, if required, to obtain a start gravity of 1080-1085, which represents a total sugar content of approx 215-230g/l. This will produce about 11-12% alcohol in your finished wine, depending upon your finishing gravity. You may well find that your grape juice already has enough sugar to give you a reading of 1080-1085, but if it doesn't you will need to add extra sugar to bring the gravity up to the required level. A "three scale" hydrometer will include a scale that gives you the sugar content in g/l corresponding to your gravity reading. From this you can easily calculate how much extra sugar per litre you need to add to get this up to the required start point. If you don't have a "three scale" hydrometer, you can either adjust the amount in 5g/l batches until you get the required gravity, or look up a sugar/gravity table and calculate the additional amount from there.
- 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.
PLEASE NOTE : This is designed to be a simplified guide to allow you to obtain predictable and repeatable results if you are starting from scratch with little/no experience of making wine before. It is NOT designed to be a comprehensive discussion of all the techniques surrounding this topic. Many of the processes are discussed more fully in the following Comments/Questions. Please read them before posting a question. If you want a FULL winemaking course, I would recommend tracking down "Winemaking for Dummies" as it is a fantastic resource.