FAQs

Here is a list of our most frequently asked questions

What’s the difference in making wine from a kit versus making wine from fresh grapes?
Kits use grape varietals which make them very easy to use, and they are by far the best way for a beginner to learn winemaking. So easy in fact that if you follow the directions, they’re almost fool-proof. A kit will generally be ready to drink sooner, and there’s no choosing, crushing and pressing of grapes. As well, for many people, space is an issue, and making wine from a kit requires very little. However, it is important to buy a quality kit, and to ensure that the grape concentrate you use is fresh. Making wine from fresh grapes is a more complex process but can be more rewarding. For the most part, the main differences can be found in preparing the must (that’s what the juice or crushed fruit that you are going to ferment is called). With concentrate, the sugar and acid levels are for the most part adjusted for you. However, when you’re making wine from fresh fruit, you must adjust the sugar and acid levels yourself.

 

What is the main reason home-made wine doesn’t turn out right?
The main reason that home-made wine goes bad is the lack of cleanliness! All equipment, anything that comes in contact with your must or young wine, has to be sanitized (including your hands).

 

What is the basic process to making wine?
The process for making wine is much easier than most people think. When yeast converts sugar in fruit to carbon dioxide and alcohol, the carbon dioxide escapes into the air and what’s left is wine. The winemaker’s job is to create perfect conditions for the yeast to do its job and let nature take its course.

 

What are finings?
Finings, usually bentonite, or isinglas, are natural agents that are added to wine to accelerate the settling or clearing process. The wine is then racked, that is, siphoned from one container to another, leaving the sediment and fining agent behind.

 

What happens during fermentation?
This is one of the miracles in the wine making process. Yeast, which causes fermentation, is a single cell organism that converts the sugar in the fruit to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide escapes into the air and what is left is wine.

 

Why is acid balance important?
Fruit, including grapes, contains different types of acids. Too much acid renders a wine undrinkable. On the other hand, if wine does not have enough acidity, the result is a flat or insipid tasting wine. That’s why it’s important to check the acid levels and adjust if necessary.

 

What is sulphite?
Sulphite is a natural bacteria inhibitor. A small amount of sulphite in your wine will not only discourage bacteria that could ruin it, but it also helps prevent oxidation.

 

When is wine ready to drink?
To a lot of people, it’s ready when they want to drink it. However there is no cut and dry answer. Some vintages simply develop faster than others, and whites peak faster than reds. It could be anywhere from a few months for light wines up to a year for heavier, robust reds. The key is to develop your ability to evaluate wines and then taste and judge for yourself. I couldn’t think of a more pleasurable pastime.

 

How do I determine the alcohol content?
Take your starting specific gravity, subtract your finished specific gravity and divide by 7.36.
For example, 1080 – 995 = 85/7.36 = 11.55 % alcohol by volume.

 

What should I look for in bottles and corks?
Any wine bottle can be used and re-used so long as it is perfectly clean and sterilized before wine goes in. If you’re saving bottles, rinse them immediately after use. If there are any visible black spots or bacteria, discard the bottle. As for corks, there are different lengths. The short ones are used for short term wines, while long corks are better for long term wines. You can also find wine bottles that accept a screw-top. Although not popular among traditionalists, screw tops actually provide a good seal, but they are not nearly as romantic.

 

Is it necessary to filter wine?
No, it’s not necessary to filter, but filtering does give your wine a nice finished polish.

 

My wine smells like vinegar?
My condolences. Toss it. Now you can appreciate how important it is to keep your equipment clean and your container topped up.

 

Why do I get headaches from my wine?
Your wine likely has high tannin levels and therefore high histamine levels. It is fairly common in red wines. You may want to try white wine. It is also possible you may be allergic to one or more components of the wine. High levels of sulfite (preservatives) found in most commercial wines also result in headaches. Wine from kits use very little sulfites (preservative) due to knowing when you made your wine.

 

Why should I use glass bottles?
Glass is easier to sterilize, re-use, and recycle. Glass doesn’t breathe like plastic which can impart off-odors. Glass is also more attractive and lets you visually judge the wine’s clarity.

 

Why does my wine have a yeasty taste?
Most likely, your wine has been left too long on the lees (the dead yeast after the ferment has stopped). Prompt racking can prevent this.

 

What is the difference between oak chips and oak extract?
An oak extract is a 60% alcohol solution that has been steeped with oak chips and taken on the oak flavor. It is very convenient to use, however, personally, I find chips impart a more natural flavor in wine.

 

Is home wine making legal?
Since 1978 the Federal Government has made home wine making legal. However, there are some limitations. A household of two adults or more can make up to 200 gallons of homemade wine annually. Single adult house- holds can make up to 100 gallons of homemade wine annually. You may also want to check with your state and local authorities to see if there happens to be any other local restrictions in your area on home wine making.

 

Can I make my wines sweeter than the wines I buy at the store?
Absolutely! When you make your own wine you get to make it the way you like it – sweet or dry. You can also make your wine heavy and full or light and crisp. You can even control the wine’s alcohol percentage. That’s part of what makes home wine making so fun.

 

Don’t you need a wine press to be good at home wine making?
Not at all. Wine presses are used by wineries to get every last drop of juice out of the pulp, not for quality reasons. When you make your own wine, getting every last drop of juice is not so important. Home wine making as a hobby is very flexible in this way.

 

How are 28 day wine kits different from other concentrates?
The producers of these types of kits hold that secret close to them. It is in our opinion that the juice is processed in a way that promotes the early settling of tannins and other harsh elements to drop out sooner, making the wine drinkable sooner. The directions usually state that the wine is very good at 28 days, and it is quite remarkable, but you might consider letting them age 1 to 2 months for optimum quality.

 

Which type of concentrate is best for making a sweet wine?
It really does not matter which type of concentrate you choose. That is just part of having a complete fermentation. When you get to the point where you are ready to bottle, that is the time to make your wine sweeter. You add wine stabilizer such as Potassium Sorbate to your wine. This stabilizer will keep the wine from refermenting. Then add sugar back to the wine until you reach the desired sweetness you are looking for. This gives you complete control over how sweet the wine is going to be.

 

What equipment will I need to make wine?
Basically, winemaking involves four steps: the first step is processing the ingredients, followed by fermenting, bottling, and aging the wine. The equipment necessary for winemaking depends a bit on how involved you’d like to be in the hobby. Many winemakers produce their wine from kit wine grape juices, where the first step is already taken care of. These concentrates are reconstituted in the fermentor, the yeast is added, and the wine ferments. By this method, the size and amount of equipment needed is kept to a minimum, and a source of fresh, seasonal fruit is not necessary. Beginning and intermediate winemakers like to use kits because they are easy to use and reasonably fool-proof. Apartment dwellers like them because the equipment they require takes up little (precious) space. And advanced winemakers like concentrates because they are available everywhere year-round, as opposed to fresh fruits and grapes which have their growing areas and only seasonal availability. Fermentation of wine requires a fermentor (usually 5 to 6 gallons in size). Think of it taking up about as much space as the tank on a drinking water cooler. In fact, the standard storage vessel for winemaking, the 6 gallon glass carboy, is a basically just a glass version of those water tanks. Because the wine is transferred from one container to another during fermentation, at least two containers of this size are required. The ideal setup for a 6 gallon batch is two 6 gallon glass carboys and one glass or plastic fermentor of at least 7.8 gallons. So the space required is not too great. Although many winemakers dedicate part of their garage or basement to winemaking, the floor of a closet will work just as well! Bottles may be purchased new, but we support recycling of bottles! You can re-use any of your standard commercial wine bottles, as long as you keep them clean and sterilize them before use. A 6 gallon batch of wine produces 28-30 bottles (750 ml size). Along with your new or used bottles, you’ll need good new corks and a corker to insert them. With your fermentation equipment, bottles, and corking supplies, you’ve got all you need! We do have packaged equipment kits available.

 

Can I really make good wine at home?
We’ve found the quality of wines made from a kit, on average, are comparable to the $10 to $30 range in commercial wines.

 

How long does it take to make wine?
Four to eight weeks plus some aging time.

 

How long will my wine last?
Just as in commercial winemaking, the longevity of the wine depends on the grape variety and the winemaking style. Long-lived wines are generally those high in either acid (which helps prevent spoilage) or tannin (which helps prevent oxidation). Kit wines are usually drinkable 3 to 6 months after bottling, and may remain at their peak from 1 to 3 years (depending on the grape variety). If you are producing the wine from fresh grapes, some decisions you make will affect the lifetime of the wine. Red wines get their color and tannin from the grape skins, on which the wine ferments for the first few days to a few weeks. The longer the wine is left “on the skins,” the more tannic it will become. More tannic wines are astringent and somewhat difficult to drink when young. But they are longer-lived, and produce more complex wines after aging.

 

What kind of wine can I make?
Patience is a virtue. This cliché probably applies to winemaking better than it does to any other activity. That doesn’t mean that it’ll be 5 years before you find out if a small oversight you made today ruined your whole batch. In fact, many kits recommend a 28 day process from start to finish. Once it’s in the bottle, the wine can be aged for a month or two and then consumed. Once you have been making wine at home for a while, you will probably always have properly aged wine to bottle, properly aged wine to drink, and new wine to be made. When you’re just starting out, though, it’s tough to have patience. Luckily, you will have enough bottles of wine that you can drink some too early, some at the right time, and some after the wine’s peak. It’s one of the ways home winemakers come to understand the wine aging process better than “mere” wine lovers.

 

Do I need an oak barrel?
Not necessarily. Oak barrels are a staple of traditional winemaking, and most red wines (and many whites) feature oak barrels in their process to some degree. However, hand-coopered oak barrels are quite expensive, and they must be kept meticulously clean or they’ll spoil. Many home winemakers avoid these hassles by using oak chips. These are produced from the same wood as barrels (from forests in America, Hungary or France), but they are very cheap and easy to use. They simply need to be added to the fermentor until their flavor is sufficiently absorbed. Eventually, most advanced winemakers invest in barrels, either alone or as part of a winemaking group. Why? Well, the effects of oak aging are more complicated than just the wood flavor imparted. Since oak barrels can “breath,” a slow, complex process of evaporation and oxidation occurs during barrel aging. This lends much more complexity and roundness to the wine than can be achieved by aging in glass or stainless steel. Commercial wineries that age their wines for 2 to 3 years in old oak barrels are relying on this process, rather than on the flavoring potential of the wood.

 

Do I need to siphon or rack the wine?
Once the wine has finished fermenting you are required to rack the wine (siphon) off the yeast sediment. You may need to do this several times until the wine is sparkling clear and not throwing off any more sediment. This can best be achieved by using a siphon system which is designed to avoid sediment disturbance and to eliminate excessive splashing. If you plan on maturing the wine for a long while we recommend glass carboys. There is also an automatic bottle filler called the Ferrari bottle filler.

 

How do I bottle the wine?
We recommend a two handle corking tool $19.95 which will give a good cork insertion and give many years of use. A two handle corking tool is suitable for wine quantities up to 30 bottles at a time. (The corker will handle much larger quantities, but the “corkee” usually gets tired!)