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I am new to winemaking. Can you explain the winemaking process?
Kit, or concentrate, wine making is a lot easier than you might think. The kits today come with pretty much everything that you need to make a great wine on your first try. They come with the yeast, metabisulphite, bentonite, potassium sorbate, and chitosan. All you have to do is provide the water and equipment. For more information on winemaking equipment, see our PDF titled “What equipment do I need to make wine?” Here, we will just cover what ingredients are needed to make wine. Each wine ingredient kit may have slightly different items to add, so make sure you read the directions carefully to make sure you add everything at the correct time. These directions will give you a basic understanding of how the kit wine making process works.
The first step is making sure that anything that comes in contact with the wine is clean and sanitized. This includes your fermenter, lid, airlock, spoon, etc. Midwest Supplies recommends using Easy Clean or One Step, and a sanitizer such as Star San. Just follow the directions on the container for best results. You can also use metabisulphite if you do not have Easy Clean or Star San, but, make sure NOT to use the packets that come with your kit as you need those to make the wine. You want to continue to sanitize everything as you move on through the wine making process as well.
Combine the ingredients
Follow the directions that come in the kit. They will be similar to the following steps.
- Open packet 1, and empty the contents into your fermenter. Packet 1 contains bentonite, which is a clarifier.
- Add about a ½ gallon of warm water to the fermenter. Around 110° F water will do fine. Stir everything up really well. Bentonite can become sticky so do the best you can to mix it with the warm water. It does not have to be completely dissolved for it to work.
- Pour in the juice from your kit.
- Add some water to the bag of juice to try and get all of the juice out of the bag.
- Top off your wine with water to the 6 gallon mark. On our wine fermenters it is just below the lowest ridge, or lip, on the bucket. Most of our kits make 6 gallons, so make sure to pay attention to how much water you are adding to your fermenter. Too much water will water down the wine.
- Stir everything together really well. This helps blend everything, but also introduces air into your wine. Air is a good thing at this stage because the yeast needs it to ferment the wine.
- After everything has been stirred up, add your yeast. You can activate it per the directions ahead of time, if desired or just sprinkle it in the wine. Do not stir the yeast into the wine because if you stir too hard, you are beating up the yeast. Just simply sprinkle it in if using a dry yeast, or pour it in if using liquid.
- Place the lid on top of the fermenter, making sure that it is sealed tightly.
- Fill your airlock half way with water, sanitized water, or vodka and gently push it into the rubber grommet on the lid. Do not push too hard, or the grommet may fall into your wine.
- Place fermenter in an area that maintains a 65°-75° F consistent temperature.
In 24-72 hours, your wine will begin fermenting. You will know it is fermenting when start to see bubbles coming up out of the airlock.
- In the first 3-4 days you might start noticing a rotten egg smell. Do not panic, this is perfectly normal. The fermentation process will often produce a sulpher like odor that can be very strong. This will dissipate as time goes on.
- After 5-7 days you want to transfer the wine from the primary fermenter into a secondary fermenter. The goal of the transfer is to leave as much sediment behind in the primary fermenter as possible. Tilting the primary fermenter during the transfer process will help aid you in getting as much wine as possible. We prefer to transfer into glass carboys, but Better Bottles work as well. Make sure to use a stopper and airlock on top of your carboy.
- The transfer of the wine will help the wine clear and allow the flavors to blend better.
- At this point, you are going to let the wine sit for 2 weeks. You might notice some fermentation, but it isn’t uncommon to see very little activity at this point.
- After the 2-3 weeks or the recommend Specific Gravity (S.G.) has been reached, you want to add packets 2, 3 and 4. Packets 2 and 3 are potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate. They work together to kill off the yeast and stabilize the wine to help preserve it once you are ready to bottle. Packet 4 is chitosan or isinglass, a clarifier for the wine. You’ll want to stir these ingredients in as well as you can. The back of a spoon works well, or use a stainless steel mix-stir rod that attaches to your drill to make this process easier.
- Stirring is very important at this stage as it helps to get everything blended well, but you are also trying to release the CO2 from the wine. This part of the process is known as de-gassing. If you use a stir-rod, you will notice a lot of foam on top of the wine. This is normal; just keep mixing until it goes away.
- After everything is stirred well, you need to be very careful of the headspace in your wine. You need the wine to be 2-3” below the bottom of the stopper. You do not want to leave a large air gap because the air can oxidize your wine, or introduce bacteria that will make your wine into a nasty vinegar. If you have a large air gap, some ways to top off your wine are with water, a wine similar to what you are making, or glass marbles. We prefer to use a wine similar to what we are making, but any of the ways will work. Be aware that the use of water can water down the wine, so don’t use more than 2 glasses of water for this method.
- When you are all topped off, re-attach your stopper and airlock, and let the wine sit for at least 2 more weeks. It will take this entire time for the wine to clear, so be patient.
- At this point you have a decision to make. The wine has produced all the alcohol it is going to, and should be clear enough to bottle. Some people prefer to allow the wine to age in the bottle. Some people prefer the wine to age in the carboy longer as you tend to get a more consistent batch of wine. It is up to you on which way to go, but be aware that the wine is probably not ready to drink yet. Alcohol has a very bitter flavor that takes time to mellow and blend with the wine. That is why many styles of wines are aged for a long period of time before they are sent to the liquor store.
- If you decide to bottle, make sure that the wine is clear. If you place a cloudy wine in the bottle, it will not clear properly in the bottle. It can also contain some off flavors that might create a different flavor in your wine than you were expecting.
- If you plan on storing the wine for more than 6 months, add 1/4 tsp. metabisulphite potassium sorbate to the wine to help prevent oxidation.
- Any other adjustments, like sweetening back the wine should be done at least a few days before bottling to allow sediment to settle.
- Bottle your wine. For more information, see our FAQ/PDF titled “How do I bottle my wine?”
Learn to taste your wine at every step of the process. If you like your wine with a lot of kick, 6 weeks might be fine for you. But, most people like to wait longer for their wine to age and mellow. Try it in the carboy, try it at bottling, and try it 1-2 months after bottling. This will help build your knowledge on how a wine progresses as it gets older. The nice thing is that if the wine tastes a bit strong to you now, give it a month or two and it will be that much better.