(If you missed Part 1 of my scintillating tutorial of making wine at home, click here.)
Hello! We are now in the month of May or June, and ready to bottle our wine that has been sitting and patiently brewing in the basement for the past several months.
(Yes, I realize that it's really only October and I have the entire onslaught of winter in the Frigid North to reckon with, but I'm ignoring that and pretending that winter is already over. It's the Power of Positive Thinking. Or delusion. You pick.)
Have your Handyman or Resident Serf drag the bucket of wine up from the depths of the basement where it's been slumbering gently in blissful repose. Open the lid, and get a nice whiff, enjoying the heady moment of anticipation, knowing that either your months of hard work are going to result in a delicious, satisfying beverage, or a mouthful of sour vinegar that will make you hate the world in general. Gird up the loins of your courage, and taste.
Don't panic, it usually tastes a bit bitter on first sip. (It will still taste bitter on second sip, so don't try sipping more in hopes that it will taste better. It won't, although after about 20 sips you will no longer care much.) Add about 2-4 cups of Wine Conditioner. This is a type of sweetener that won't reactivate the yeast.
I'd start with only a cup or two, taste, and then add more if necessary. You might prefer your wine very sweet, so you'd add more, or a bit dry, so you'd add less. Regardless, you can always add more, but you can't take it out, so go slowly. (Besides, if you only add a bit at a time, that means you have to sip more to taste. Consider it a bonus.)
At this point I'd like to wax eloquent on the interesting effect of wine sweetener. Even if you only add a small amount, it changes the brew from something that tastes cheap into a wonderful heady bouquet. It's definitely worth the $7 investment.
Now you need your bottles. Five gallons of wine will require anywhere from 15 - 18 regular sized bottles. You can, of course, purchase new bottles from several online sites or a brewery supply store, but I'm frugal (*cough cough* cheap) so I get mine free from a local restaurant. Just call any restaurant that serves wine and ask them to save their empty bottles for you and give you a call when they've got a box full. Drop hints like "recycling" and "hobby project" and they'll likely be more than willing to oblige. Most restaurants don't recycle their bottles anyway, so you can feel like you're doing the environment some good and your pocket book some good at the same time.Wash the bottles very well in a solution of vinegar and water or bleach and water. It's important to ensure the bottles are free from bacteria or mold, so purchasing a bottle brush specifically for wine bottles is a good idea. They're not that expensive, and you'd hate for all your hard work to be spoiled at the end.
Scrub off any labels with a good scrubby pad or use a razor blade to scrape them off first. I usually just use the razor blade, since that's faster and easier. Definitely use a razor blade holder, because water + razor + slippery bottles = not good.
Okay, time to bottle!
My primary fermenter comes with a wonderful spigot which makes bottling a cinch, but if yours doesn't you'll need to use a siphon. (Click here for siphoning instructions). Don't be disheartened. Think of siphoning as an interesting science experiment in which you get to bathe in wine. As of yet I've never quite managed to work a siphon without it making a rather unsightly mess, but you're no doubt cleverer and more adept than I. I'll stick to my spigot.
Bottle up all the wine from the primary, except the last inch or so which you'll need to discard since it most likely is cloudy and has bits of dead yeast floating in it. (Note, if you're using a siphon tube, don't siphon the wine from the bottom of the bucket or you'll end up siphoning all that icky stuff straight into your bottles.) You'll notice that my spigot is located about 2 inches above the bottom of the bucket, so I don't have to worry about that (said with smug look).
Cork the bottles however you wish. You can purchase a wine corker, which is just corky (pardon the pun), or use these nice little capped corks that I personally prefer for their ease of use and dependability. I've tried the plastic corks, but those don't seem to fit as snugly as these do. An added bonus is that you don't need to use a corkscrew to get them off later (meaning you don't have to beg your Handyman or Resident Serf to help you, hence tipping him off that you're drinking wine. Again.)
I wouldn't recommend re-using any corks except the (not recommended) plastic types, since bacteria or mold might have lodged into the crevices of the corks and reemerge later into your wine causing it to spoil. Whichever corks you end up choosing, make sure that they fit snugly, since any air that gets into the wine will cause the wine to sour.
At this point you can be done with the bottling process, but I figure that I've gone to all those months of work, why not make your bottles look suitably impressive? Wine likes to get dressed up, after all!
I buy wine bottle capsules for all my wines. If you used a wide or thick cork that overhangs the bottle, the bottle capsules won't fit over the top, so keep that in mind when you make your cork choices. Capsules come in all different colors, but I prefer the rose.
Boil water on the stove, making sure it's at least 4 inches deep. (Make sure you're wearing rubber gloves, since the boiling water might splash your wrists.) Using a rubber band to hold the capsule onto the bottle end (usually included with the capsules, but any ol' rubber band will do), tip the bottle top into the boiling water. Make sure you have some suitably appropriate swear words handy if the rubber band should slip off, splashing you in the face. I would suggest my favorites of "Oh Botheration" (from Winnie the Pooh) or "Dag Nab-it".
The heat will cause the capsule to automatically shrink to fit the bottle in a nice snug sexy black dress sort of way.
Looks rather professional, doesn't it?!
Finally affix your labels to the now dried bottles. You can purchase pre-made labels from wine supply stores, but so far I've never really seen any that I thought looked original or interesting. I don't live in France (something I'm painfully aware of in the Frigid North), so I don't care for fluffy frou-frou labels. It's up to you. (Yes, I realize this is not Grape. I just finished bottling up a batch of Rhubarb Wine and this is what I had handy. Use your imagination.)
My labels I cobble together with my 2001 Printshop and Microsoft Word. Then, I take my copy to the local copy store and have them color copy the labels onto card stock paper. I don't like to print out all the labels on my own printer, because residential use printers use ink that runs when wet, and let's face it, your labels will probably come into some contact with wet liquid somewhere along the way. You can have the copier print onto real label paper, but my local Staples is weird about using label paper in their machines, so I just print it out onto a nice card stock and tape them to the bottles with double sided tape. It's a bit of work, but I find it really adds to the showmanship of the bottle (plus it's cheaper, and I like cheap.)
Don't forget to add the year the wine was bottled onto your label, in the extremely rare off-chance that it might last more than one year and you might have more than one year of wine down in your cellar!
Now you're done! There's not really any need to store the bottles sideways, and I wouldn't recommend it since they're more prone to breaking that way unless you've got a real wine rack.
One thing I'd like to mention here is that one benefit of making home made wine is not only the delicious taste, smug superiority, and cost effective nature, but also the health benefits. Home made wine doesn't have any sulphates added into it, something that can cause migraines in a lot of people. Wines sold commercially in the United States are required to have sulphates added to it for "safety reasons", which I think is ridiculous since European wines don't have this additive. I've noticed on the rare occasions when I've had commercial store-bought wine that the wine tasted slightly salty to me, a result of the sulphates being added.
(Of course, if you get a headache from drinking too much wine, that's your own fault and you deserve your headache.)
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