And I promise, it’s not the cloudy pruno shit you see on Pinterest.
Wine is a marriage of art and science. Remember this.
So you have no idea where to start. There are 239,572,294 books on the subject. The options for “starter kits” online are vast, leaving you with more questions than answers. None of the kits on Amazon say whether or not they come with the actual wine ingredients, and worse yet, some of them say “premium” and some say “deluxe,” some say “from fruit” and some say “master.” Some are $40 and some are $140.
WHAT THE FUCK IS THE DIFFERENCE. How hard is this shit really? How come all the youtube videos are so fucking different? At this point, you’re pulling your hair out.
Look, I’m kind of a newbie, too. But I’ve been at this long enough to break it down for you. From one newbie to another, let me help. I wanted simple, step by step instructions WIF PICS. So that’s what you get, too.
I’ll put the TLDR (too long didn’t read) shit in blue, so you can just do the shit you need to do and then read why you’re doing the shit I told you to do later, if you so choose. I’ll add other ideas or tips in green, for kicks.
First, you need the shit. And by the shit, I mean all your sciency things. IT’S NOT AS INTIMIDATING AS IT SOUNDS, GET AWAY FROM THE BACK BUTTON YOU QUITTER.
This is a full kit that I started with. https://www.midwestsupplies.com/master-vintner-small-batch-wine-kit – You can even choose your wine to go with it. For $80, you get everything except the bottles. It’ll make five bottles. Got that? One gallon = five bottles.
Since I’ve been told that 1 gallon kits are the gateway drug, here’s the full 6-gallon version that DOES NOT include the grape juice or 30 bottles. https://www.midwestsupplies.com/master-vintner-wine-making-starter-kit
If you want, you can look at the pieces in those kits and part out your own list on amazon. These kits are pretty spot on for what you need. I’ll make notes on some things as I go.
No, I don’t do affiliate links. Not that it would matter if I did, because really how much of an asshole are you if you get mad at someone on the internet making $0.04 for helping your ass out.
Oh. Record everything you do on each day you do it in a notebook or the Evernote app. (or whatever app makes your nipples hard). RECORD RECORD RECORD. That way you can recreate a masterpiece or avoid a catastrophe.
So without too much more prattle, here we go making a Shiraz from a box of juice.
STEP 1: CLEAN/SANITIZE
|Sanitary conditions are a must, since your juice will be in prime mold/bacteria breeding conditions at all times.|
Names: 1Step(OneStep), Oxygen Wash, or my favorite: OxyClean Free and Clear
Using hot water, soak your tools in this solution for at least 20 minutes. From now on, you only need to do this when there’s residue on your tools, otherwise skip to Sanitize
Purpose: Degunker. Does not sanitize
TLDR: Yes, you can use dishsoap. But dishsoap and other cleaners leave scents and dyes on your tools, thus tainting your wine with their scent. Don’t believe me? Try being pregnant and washing your water jug with a dishsoap scent you despise. 32 oz of torture. Also, the oxygen washes for winemaking and beer brewing are expensive. Just spend $11 on a bucket of OxyClean Free and Clear at walmart. Same shit. Cheaper.
Names: Sodium Metabisulfite, Potassium metabisulfite, StarSan
Each package comes with its own directions. Use according to directions. Set things to dry on clean, sanitized towel. Wash your damn hands, you filthy animal.
Purpose: Sanitizing, duh. Remove bacteria and foreign yeasts
TLDR: Sodim metabisulfite, while included with my kit, caused some pretty severe burning in my lungs and throat. I switched to StarSan, and I love the stuff. While the StarSan says you can leave it to dry without rinsing, I prefer to rinse. Cause you know, I wouldn’t drink it out of the bottle so why let be inside my wine?
STEP 2: PRIMARY FERMENTATION
|Where the magic happens. You can do this from juice, or fruit, or both. Start with juice, do the fruit thing when you know what you’re doing. Follow package directions|
Add Bentonite per package directions into your big, open mouth bucket (Primary fermentation vessel). Use hot water and make sure there’s no lumps. If your kit doesn’t have it, don’t worry, skip this.
Purpose: Remove sediment as it ferments.
TLDR: There is another clarifying step once again after primary fermentation is done, so don’t worry if your kit doesn’t have bentonite. Bentonite is clay.
Pour grape juice into primary vessel, right on top of bentonite if you had it. Easy. Fill juice pouch with WARM water (not hot), swish it around, dump it into your bucket. Use cool water to fill your vessel the rest of the way.
Purpose: Can’t make wine out of air, Jesus.
My advice: You’re going to lose some of your wine after you move it off of the sediment at the bottom in the future. Fill your bucket a little higher than the 6gal/1gal mark to accommodate….
TLDR: This is grape juice concentrate, obviously, so you’re going to want every drop.
IDEAS: Some of these juice boxes make watery wine. Namely, the cheaper ones. You can buy seedless black grapes from the store and remove them from the stems, then boil them in the juice concentrate until they burst. If you have a fine mesh bag, you can add these skins and pulp to the bag and tie it shut, tossing it into the primary fermenter for more flavor. You can also toss in boiled oak chips, raisins, raspberries, cranberries, cherries, or any other thing you can think of. This PDF, linked by a member of my favorite forum, should also give you ideas. Don’t go crazy and overpower your wine, just a light touch is all you need, roughly 1lb per 6 gallons.
Activate yeast! Magic happening at last! Each kit comes with a specific yeast. Follow directions on the yeast package EXACTLY to activate it. If you don’t have a thermometer, the water should be baby bath water warm on your wrist.
(No instructions? Put some warm water in a mug, toss in yeast, give a little stir, walk away for 10 minutes)
Purpose: No idea. Every wine I’ve ever made says to do it, there must be a reason.
While that’s activating, play with your hydrometer. Heh. Heh.
SCIENCE! Use the sanitized test tube and the sanitized hydrometer to record Specific Gravity. Your kit should tell you what you’re aiming for, but in case it doesn’t, most reds shoot for between 1.070 and 1.080. The good ones will be higher.
Give the hydrometer a little twirl in the test tube to get bubbles off of it. Don’t let it sit against the sides of the tube. You want to look at the bottom of the water dip for your reading.
Record this number. It’s important.
Purpose: to tell where you’re at in the process of fermentation, how much alcohol you will have. This is your starting number.
Pour juice back in fermentor.
TLDR: Specific gravity tells you how much sugar is in the juice. As the specific gravity reading drops, the sugar will gradually be replaced by alcohol. Generally, more sugar = more alcohol, but you have to find balance here, don’t over do it – you’re not making vodka. When your specific gravity reading stays consistent for three days or more, that means all of your yeast has drowned in its own vomit (alcohol) and fermentation is over. This number is generally between 0.990 and 1.000
|(Pretend there’s a picture of bubbly yeast being poured in. Wee.)||Pitch.
Pour the yeast into your juice. This is called pitching yeast. Your juice is now called your must.
Purpose: wine magic
Cover your fermentation bucket with the lid with an airlock, or a lid with a towel. Store it in a warm, dark place. 65-75ºF should be good.
Purpose: Lets CO2 out without letting airborne yeasts and bacteria in.
TLDR: I can’t get the lids off of my buckets by myself. So I cover with a towel. Warm temps are great for yeast, it likes heat (but not too much). Just like bread. I also store up on the counter because I’ll need to rack into a vessel below for the next step.
Let it sit while magic happens. Your kit should specify how long. TIME IS YOUR FRIEND WITH WINE. Try to resist peeking into your bucket and breathing in the sweet scent of fermenting joy.
TLDR: During this time, your precious baby yeast are maturing into college students, majoring in nothing other than sweet consumption and sex. They’re having the world’s best hot and sweaty frat party in your grape juice, partying like there’s no tomorrow. It’s rather literal, because at the rate they’re going, there may not be a tomorrow for them. They’ll all be laying dead in a bucket of their own vomit (alcohol), like the stereotypical little college dickheads they are.
|After the specified amount of time (kit usually says 5-10 days), check your specific gravity again with sanitized tools. When the specific gravity has dropped below the number your kit mentioned, move on to SECONDARY FERMENTATION
TLDR: This is basically all primary fermentation is about, checking specific gravity. Like I said before, the specific gravity is basically how much sugar is in your wine. Your kit should want you to be below 1.030 before you move on
IDEAS: If you had a fruit pack, give it a healthy squeeze to extract more juice.
STEP 3: SECONDARY FERMENTATION
|…. More magic?|
|Once your specific gravity has dropped low enough, you need to move the wine off of the crap (YEAST CORPSES!) in the bottom. Moving from one vessel to the other is called racking.
Sanitize carboy, siphon rod, hose, bung and airlock.
Being very careful not to disturb the sediment on the bottom, stick your siphon rod in there and start pumping to siphon the sweet nectar of the gods into your carboy. The 6 gallon batch takes patience.
You will leave some wine behind. This is okay.
Purpose: moving wine off of sediment which will taint the flavor.
TLDR: The stuff in the bottom is called the lees. Some wines ferment fast enough that you don’t need to worry about this secondary business, you just move right on to clarifying after racking off of primary lees. Kit wines usually aren’t those types.
|Place carboy in an elevated area, because you will need the height for next time you rack.
Attach your bung and airlock. Walk away for another 5-10 days (or whatever your kit specifies) while more magic happens.
Purpose: a lesson in patience.
*Jeopardy theme song*
|After five days you should SANITIZE your wine thief, test jar, and hydrometer and take another specific gravity reading. Are you below 1? Move on to next step. If not, repeat this step daily.
TLDR: Most kits tell you to move on to the next step if your specific gravity is below 1.000. I like to make sure my yeast is all the way done and I’ve squeezed every last drop of alcohol out of those little bastards, so I wait for my specific gravity to be the same for three days straight.
STEP 4: STABILIZING AND CLEARING
|Most wineries just use time for this step instead of chemicals. Given enough time, wine will clear and degas itself.|
||Once your specific gravity is at the desired level, do the sanitizing thing to all your tools.
Get used to it. Sanitize your primary fermentation vessel (bucket), siphon rod, hose, mixing spoon.
Siphon into bucket.
Purpose: rack wine off of lees (sediment) and into an easier vessel to work with.
IDEA: You can swish the wine around in the bucket, stirring and agitating to release gas at this point. Some say this works great, others say it introduces too much oxygen. Oxygen in wine at this point will change the subtle flavors and aromas. Don’t ask me how they change, I imagine it’s different for each wine. Way too much oxygen will give wine a musty, wet cardboard smell. You decide what you wish to do. There’s a proper degassing step coming up.
||Stabilize. Mix potassium metabisulphite and potassium sorbate into a little wine you pulled out with the wine thief. Follow package directions. Add to wine and stir thoroughly.
Purpose: Stops fermentation and sanitizes wine.
TLDR: These are your stabilizers. They kill any remaining yeast and bacteria. Sometimes, under circumstances I’m not sure of (never had it happen), a wine can start fermenting again after it appears to have stopped. You may have also introduced bacteria into your wine at some point previously with all the readings. Stabilizers fix it all.
|Degas. The hardest, yet most important part for clearing.
This whole part is TLDR. Sorry not sorry.
Most kits recommend you put the wine back in the carboy and stir it every day for three days. Hard to do in a carboy, amirite? You can leave it in the bucket and just remove the lid every day for three days to stir with a SANITIZED spoon. This introduces a lot of oxygen.
Alternately, you can buy a paint mixer at the hardware store, clean and sanitize that, and attach the bad boy to a power drill and mix away. Switch directions now and again. A 6 gallon kit will come with a degasser.
Another clever tool is the clean bottle express degasser on Amazon. Fits right in the carboy. I love mine.
When the wine is degassed, put it back in the carboy.
Also: Once it’s in the carboy, you can get fancy and get pumps to pump the CO2 out of your wine. Research this before you decide to do it, as carboy implosion is a risk with electric pumps.
How do you know once your wine is degassed? Three ways. One: taste it. Carbonation will be distinctly bitter. Two: put it in a soda bottle and shake it, when you unscrew the lid does it hiss? Three: Your bubbles will be more like stirring juice than soda.
When in doubt: just put the lid on it and do the same thing again the next day.
Purpose: bubbles are bad in wine, mkay?
TLDR2: Yes, some wines are carbonated. That’s fine and dandy, but making a sparkling wine is different from making a still wine. You need your wine to clear before you bottle it, and it won’t clear properly if it’s still bubbly. Bottling muddy wine means you bottled bad wine. Bottling bubbly wine means your bottles will explode. I’m not a sparkling wine maker, I don’t know their method, I’m just telling you what I know.
After wine is degassed, sanitize your stirring spoon and add clarifying agent to wine. Kieselsol seems to be the go-to agent for kits. Or Chitosan… Follow directions, they’re all different.
Purpose: Sends the stuff that makes wine muddy straight to the bottom of the carboy.
TLDR: This is an agent that forms a gelatin type substance in the wine and grabs all of the sediment. If your wine was degassed properly, the sediment will clump and float to the bottom over the course of about a week.
|Your kit will say to make sure your wine is topped up to within a few inches of the opening. Let it sit for at least a week, undisturbed while the crap floats to the bottom.
Purpose: to test your will.
TLDR: Making sure the wine goes to the top is called “topping up.” Oxygen spoils wine, so expose as little as possible to oxygen. Getting all the shit that makes it “cloudy” to settle at the bottom is miraculous.
|Make sure your wine has cleared before you move on to the next step.
How do you tell? Turn out the lights at night, get a flash light, and shine it through your wine. If there’s any sediment, you’ll see it floating around, suspended in wine heaven. If it’s clear then you should see the flashlight right through the wine, like deep red water. If it’s a red wine, this won’t work. Just pour it in a glass and take a good look.
ONLY MOVE ON TO THE NEXT STEP IF YOUR WINE IS CLEAR. NEVER, EVER, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, BOTTLE CLOUDY WINE.
STEP 5: FINISHING AND BOTTLING
|This step feels like the finish line. And you want to run across it like the champ you are.
Don’t delude yourself, you’re probably not a champ yet and your wine is still muddy. You can only stare longingly at that finish line made of empty wine bottles, all whistling a hollow song of mourning into the wind.
The good news is, even if you screwed the pooch and wasted all of your ingredients and your wine is still muddy or bubbly, just letting it sit will pretty much do all the work for you.
The bad news is this could take months.
|Pretend that I didn’t space it and took the following pictures:
[racking pic (let’s be honest here, just see above)]
[bottling pic (aka putting hose in cleaned bottles instead of plastic bucket)]
|Sanitize your fermentation bucket, siphon rod, hose, bottling rod, wine bottles, corker.
Rack the wine into the fermentation bucket. Line up your cleaned and sanitized bottles (on the floor, most likely). Attach bottling rod to other end of hose on your racking cane.
Move wine to counter. Insert bottling rod into bottle. Make sure your bottling rod is pressed down in the bottle before you pump or you won’t get anywhere. Pump wine into bottle, leaving about an inch from where the bottom of the cork will sit. Rinse and repeat.
After all bottles are full, cork them. Label the bottles, then stand upright for three days before laying on their sides.
Drink one now, save the rest.
Purpose: get drunk with class.
TLDR: Ooooh boy. Corks are another subject in their own. I’ve found that the #8 is for short term storage (less than a year) and the #9 cork is long term. Some people say to wet the corks before bottling so they go in easier. Some people say sanitize. Some say only dry. I wet. Unless instructions state dry.
Oh. If you got that weird little plastic hand bottler, you’ll need a big rubber mallet to make that work. And arms like pythons. I spent $13 on a double lever corker due to my lack of python. Worlds of difference.
Also, if the bottling rod is a pain in the ass, just skip it and pinch the end of the hose between bottles.
As for labeling, I just what type of wine it is and the date bottled across a piece of painter’s tape. My notes will tell me everything else I need to know.
IDEA: Some people like to “bulk age” their wine, which just means leaving it in a large container to age instead of letting it age in bottles. The advantages to this are that a.) you won’t be tempted to drink it, and b.) you can continue to clear sediment out of the wine as the flavor matures into something beatuiful. Disadvantage: you’re at a higher risk for contamination or oxygenating the wine every time you mess with it. If you choose to bulk age, just rack into a cleaned carboy instead of bottles, add 1/4tsp potassium metabisulfite, and let it sit for another 3 months.
There you have it. The step by step instructions I wished for when I first started. I was terrified. You need not be. Just FOLLOW DIRECTIONS!
If you have more questions that I didn’t answer (or caused, really), I highly recommend you take a look at Winemaking Talk, absolutely fantastic community of very knowledgeable folks.
And while you’re waiting for that wine you just made to age properly, why don’t you start a batch of Dragon Blood Wine? Sweet, fruity, cheap, fast, and teaches you tons.
And don’t forget my own personal recipes!
(I’ll list them when I take pics)