Starting our first home made wine
When we were ready to begin our first kit wine at home, we opened the wine ingredient kit package with anticipation and much research. When we finally felt ready, we were relieved to find the process was simple. But we still weren’t sure if we knew enough to make the wine we enjoyed commercially.
We started with the juice concentrate and followed the instructions to add bentonite and water using the bucket provided in our wine equipment kit. Our hydrometer measured the sugar content and we marked the temperature down in a spreadsheet. An addition of oak chips and yeast completed the first step and we put our fermenter aside. We did have some difficulty figuring out how to use a racking cane and hose to siphon, but YouTube was a great resource!
We learned how to fill the racking cane and hose with water and then use gravity and a pitcher for overflow to start the flow of wine. A few missteps and spills helped us appreciate the tile on our kitchen floor!
After a month of racking, adding stabilizing ingredients and degassing, our wine was ready. We were so proud of what we had accomplished! It was drinkable, or at least we thought so (this evaluation was backed up by friends and family, but they may be biased).
That first batch has led to 72 others and a class for appreciating aromatics and taste in wine.
Now, I’m always on the lookout for new wine varieties and styles to become a better winemaker.
I wish I’d had our home winemaking app, EnoFile at the very beginning to help capture our steps, progress notes and photos of the experience along the way. It creates a great technical sheet for the batch, as well!
A kit is a great way to start the hobby as it does take you through most of the process step by step. But there are more things to consider:
Choose a kit — There are many manufacturers that make wine ingredient kits that you can find online or at brew supply shops. We had no idea where to start, but looked for ones that were award winners in previous years. We found lists of previous year winners from Winemaker Magazine. We chose to start with a Chardonnay/Semillon blend since white wine was a family preference. If you like a commercial variety, start with that.
Understand the costs — 6 gallon kits range anywhere from $60 to almost $200, but even less if you work with 1 gallon kits. Our first kit was around $100 and the equipment kit was about the same. By the time we included the bottles and corks we needed we had invested approximately $250 into our first batch. Since the kit made 30 bottles, it was a bargain at $8.34 a bottle compared to commercial wine we were buying. Equipment costs don’t reoccur, so each new kit reduces the cost. If you reuse bottles or get them from friends, you can save even more per batch. EnoFile calculates our current average bottle cost at $3.07 a bottle.
Time in a bottle — Like all hobbies, winemaking will take as little or as much time as you want to give. If you make multiple batches at once, then it’ll take your whole Saturday morning to manage them all. Most of the steps take about an hour, spread over 3 or 4 steps in 6 weeks. The longest step is bottling because it requires sanitizing, filling and corking 30 bottles (not to mention clean up). It’s taken us 2 hours or so on a single batch. And since we are a multi batch family, we actually save time by bottling more batches at once. We normally save a Sunday afternoon for this and are finished in time for dinner. Granted, we started this hobby as we were looking forward to becoming empty-nesters and some free Saturdays.
Better together — We love making wine! Not only do we have a fun activity as a couple, but our friends and family have gotten involved. We take pictures of our progress and share the photos on Facebook. Our friends also get to share in the experience. We’ve made wine with them as well. And although they’re not winemakers themselves, they pitch the yeast and help on bottling day. For these batches, we can count on laughter, some mishaps, and good wine with friends!
Tiny house? No problem! — Space required depends on how much you make at once and how many bottles you want to store. If you’re making 1 gallon at a time (only 5 bottles), it can definitely fit a small closet. We make wine in our kitchen to keep a sink nearby, but we store most of the equipment and supplies in the garage. And on a multi-batch day, we run back and forth. But I don’t mind since I don’t have to go to the gym!
Water to wine in 3 months — Some kit wines advertise they’ll be ready in 4 weeks, others claim 8 weeks. My lesson is, they aren’t. Early bottling of “effervescent” wine taught me that perfect temperature control and degassing conditions have to align to bottle in the time recommended by the kit. Even with degassing, CO2 remains in our wine for about 12 weeks. Althought kit wines are made to drink young, we usually bottle white wines after 3 months and open at 9 months. Reds take even longer. To me, red wine tastes like mud for the first year, but then improves surprisingly after that. Heed the warnings on your kit instructions to add extra metabisulfite if you leave the wine in the carboy beyond 8 weeks.
Give it away — If you’re considering giving a wine ingredient kit for your spouse or friend, I’d first have answers to these questions: Has the person mentioned interest in wine processes and wine making? Does the person have some free time they’d like to fill? Are you willing to take up the hobby to make it a joint effort? If all these answers are yes, then perhaps you should consider a combination gift of both wine ingredient and equipment kits (you can’t make wine without both). If you’re not convinced by your answers, then give your friend a bottle of commercial wine, instead!
My cautionary tale
Clean and Sanitize — Don’t forget both important steps. If you buy something already clean, sanitize right before using. (see part 2: What every new winemaker should know for tips)
Take readings — Start by taking the specific gravity and temperature every time you touch your wine. A before and after fermentation reading of specific gravity will let you calculate the alcohol content at the end. EnoFile will do this for you automatically. It’s also important to keep the wine within the recommended temperature ranges from your recipe. If it’s too high, use sanitized frozen water bottles to bring it down. If too low, set the fermenter on the corner of a heating pad.
Stay on top of it — Not adding enough metabisulfite was one of our biggest mistakes in the early days of making wine. We bulk aged a red wine for a year and we only added metabisulfite twice. Now, two years later when the wine should be getting better, it continues to have flat aromas. This was disappointing, but taught us about how important reminders can be! If you’re aging wine before bottling, make sure you add the appropriate amount of metabisulfite for your quantity every 2 months. EnoFile can set up reminders on your calendar to alert you on the appropriate day.
Find experts — You may want to join a home winemaking club or the Home Winemaking facebook group. You’re not the first home winemaker and others are often happy to help. Each of the home winemakers who helped test the usability of EnoFile were generous with both their time and knowledge. Your local brew store also has experts who are delighted to answer what you might think are bizarre and unusual questions.
Have Patience — It’s true that most wine is better with age, and this is especially true for red wine. Don’t rush the steps of winemaking. Both clarifying and aging often take longer than expected. Even fermentation can take longer than you think, depending upon temperature.
Enjoy — Celebrate the first batch you make or laugh at yourself if it’s not as good as you expected. This is a fun hobby and it will produce quality rewards you will be able to enjoy for years to come.
Finally, don’t be intimidated by the art of winemaking. Much expertise and knowledge is available to get you started. Google, Facebook, and YouTube can help!
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