Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Home-Made Wine (Part 1)


I've written in the past a little bit about my home made wines, but I realized that I've never written up a tutorial, and since I have a friend who is embarking on her own journey of grapes and fermentation, I figured it was about time.

- and no, my process does not involve feet and stomping. Sorry to disappoint you.

(If you make wine yourself and have any tips you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them!)

Let's break out the brew, shall we?

First of all, you need your grapes/fruit/juice. For purposes of this tutorial I'm going to stick with my personal recipe for Concord Grape wine, but a lot of the steps are the same for any other brew. I've made Apple, Rhubarb, and even Lilac wines, and there's nothing really that's much different except for perhaps the ingredients needed. Also, my amounts are enough to make 5 gallons of wine, so make sure your bucket has that capacity if you're using my exact recipe.

Get a nice sturdy mesh laundry bag, and fill it with enough plucked/washed grapes to almost fill your primary fermenter. This should be approximately 30 pounds.

Did I mention what a primary fermenter was? Whoops, sorry! This is what mine looks like, which I purchased several years ago from E. C. Kraus. I really like their website for their fast and free shipping.
Notice that my handy-dandy little 6 gallon bucket has a spigot on the bottom and an opening on top for the air release valve. Sometimes if you purchase a kit, yours might come with a plain bucket (still called the primary fermenter) and a pretty glass carboy called a secondary fermenter. I like mine because it functions as both primary and secondary fermenters (which equals less storage space used up, which equals more room for more wine, hee hee!).

Into your empty primary fermenter, dump 16 1/4 cups of sugar.
Let me assure you that the sugar is necessary, not for sweetening the wine, but for giving the yeast something with which to party. Sugar is an essential component in the process of alcoholic fermentation, in which yeast metabolizes sugar into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. Basically that's a nice way of stating that the yeast eats the sugar, and then (ahem) poops out the alcohol and carbon dioxide.

I'll give you a moment for the shock to wear off.

Shall we continue?

Next add 2 1/2 teaspoons of pectic enzyme. Please note that this must be kept refrigerated, so as soon as you purchase this stuff, put it in the refrigerator right away, or your purchase will be useless. You probably won't need the whole bottle, but it stores for a long time anyway, so hang on to it.
Then you'll need 5 Campden tablets. Just take out the necessary amount and chuck 'em into the primary with careless and wild abandon.
At this point you will also add 5 teaspoons of yeast nutrient, for which I embarrasingly forgot to take a photo, so I'm just stealing a stock photo from E. C. Kraus. I don't feel too badly about that, because I've plunked down enough money in the past to justify my photo stealing and I just gave them free advertisement. (Just don't tell them, okay? It'll be our little secret.)

Okay, so now that you have your sugar, pectic enzyme, campden tablets, and yeast nutrient in the primary, add about a gallon of water and stir it all up. Get your hips moving as you stir to make this more exciting. Something along the lines of the Nessun Dorma might help. My wine prefers opera, but yours might be less discerning, so I might suggest the Beegees.

Place your laundry bag of grapes into the primary, and then fill the bucket to about two inches from the top with water. Cover with your handy-dandy lid, and let it sit for a day.

(A day passes).

Good morning! Here we are again with our friend Wine-to-Be. Wine-to-Be is lonely and needs a friend named Yeast. Now, you can just go ahead and add five teaspoons of bread yeast, but I'd recommend spending the $5 and getting real wine yeast. Bread yeast is like inviting over the football squad, while wine yeast is more like having over the chess team. Brawn versus Brains.

Remember what I said earlier about the sugar partying with the yeast? Keep that in mind when you choose your yeasts. If you were on vacation and had a basement full of alcohol (in this case, the sugar), who would you rather have over to your house, the football squad yeast or the chess team yeast?

I thought so.

Add your yeast (just one package of wine yeast is enough for 5 gallons), mix it in well with the sugar/water solution, and give the bag of grapes a mighty and affectionate squeeze. Place the entire primary into a black plastic trash bag, and stand back until the next morning.

(If you rather unwisely chose to ignore my warnings about Football Squad Yeast, you had better make VERY sure your primary is in a good plastic trash bag, because no matter how tightly your lid is screwed on, the party going on in the primary will seep out all. over. the. place. for. several. days.)

Again mix the sugar/water solution and squeeze the grapes. Don't worry, grapes are gregarious fruits and don't mind close contact.

Keep up the mixing and squeezing for 5 -6 days. At this point, your huge bag of grapes should have shrunken to about the size of a basketball, since the juices have been extracted. If your grapes still have a lot of juice in them, you have a few options. Option 1: lift weights so that you don't have puny biceps or Option 2: just keep squeezing every day until they're completely smooshed. Yes, that's a real word. Trust me.

(Said with smug look) Handyman does the smooshing for me, so it only takes a few days. What can I say, he's Handy!
Once the grapes are completely smooshed, remove the bag and fill the primary the rest of the way with water so that you have a nearly full 5 gallon bucket. Firmly place the lid back on, and double check that your air lock valve is correctly placed. Put your primary into a nice dark location (not too cold because yeast isn't happy if it's too cold) and let it sit for about two months.

(If you have little kids as I do, hide the air lock under something, or they'll be tempted to pull off the air lock valve, reducing your wonderful Wine-to Be into Vinegar-of-Tears).

In two months, siphon the wine into a clean container. (I use my stock or soup pots). On the bottom of your primary will be lots of crusty purple stuff. This is dead yeast, which is not so yummy to drink. Clean all that stuff out of the primary, hold a short funeral, and pour your wine back into the primary. Cover and let it sit for another two months.

Continue doing this two-month stage of siphoning, cleaning, and pouring back into the primary until the wine is nice and clear, and there's no more dead yeast on the bottom of the primary. This can take up to 7 months, depending on your yeast and the sweetness of the grapes. Don't be impatient, because if you bottle your wine too soon, you'll have active yeast in the bottles, which will create mini explosions when you open the wine and dead yeast floating on the bottom. This is not appealing.

Again, the time it takes for the wine to "clear" really depends on the personality of the yeast and grapes along with the temperature of the room the wine is stored in. My wine prefers opera, so it's in no hurry to finish up. Warmer temps make the yeast more active, making the yeast eat the sugar faster, which means that the sugar is eaten up faster, which means that the yeast will soon starve to death and die at the bottom of the primary, leading to the clearing process going faster.

Once your wine is clear, it's time to bottle!
(You will have to wait in horrible suspense to learn what comes next! Meanwhile, grab a bottle of your favorite wine to console you. Then you'll feel much better about life and less impatient in general.)

3 comments:

TuttleTime said...

Great, informative post, Rach. You must have the patience of a saint to go through all that waiting time. Someday, you and Andy will have your own vineyard!! :) I wish I liked drinking wine. This post makes me want some right now...I know I need a few glasses!

All Natural Mama said...

Yay! Thanks so much for this. I am nervous about starting it, but your post helped me so much.

Barbara said...

Nice tutorial...made me laugh, too.