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Winemaking: Get In The Habit Of
Doing Things Right
York Micro Brew
Natural or Modern Wine?
I get email all the time asking for instructions on how to make
wine "the way they used to" or "the natural way, without chemicals."
I always answer these the same way.
The history of winemaking has largely been one of following
techniques that minimized spoilage. A lot of bad batches were made
because no one knew how to prevent seemingly spurious spoilage and,
to a lesser extent, control oxidation. About 250 years ago, it was
discovered that certain sulfurous salts could be used to kill most
of the troublesome bacteria and control oxidation that prematurely
ruined most wines. From that moment on, winemaking changed.
If you want to make wine like the ancients did, ask someone else.
I will not help you turn winemaking back into a game of chance. If,
on the other hand, you want to make consistently decent wines from a
variety of base materials, stay here and I will show you how.
Their are many ways to make wine. I could write a book teaching
you many if not most of the methods, but you would finish the book
without finding a single formula or recipe for doing so. Some of you
would be thrilled, for you would truly know how to identify,
quantify and adjust the many variables involved in making wine. You
would be akin to chefs, able to envision, create and adjust as you
go without need of recipes or further instruction. But many of
you--I daresay most--would be disappointed at not finding simple
recipes for making simple wines.
The truth is, most people don't really want to be chefs. They
just want to be darned good cooks. It is largely for them that I
have developed this website. But interwoven throughout is the
knowledge which, if mastered, will allow them to go on to become
chefs. Until they do, I have provided them with hundreds of recipes
to guide them in making wines.
I also get a lot of requests and questions about a method of
making wine using a balloon. I also have a standard answer for this,
Many years ago, winemaking equipment was often difficult to come
by in large sections of the country. People used a ballon fitted
over the mouth of their secondary fermentation vessel in lieu of an
airlock. The balloon would be pricked with a small hole from a
needle and CO2 formed during fermentation would escape through the
hole. When fermentation ended, the balloon collapsed and the hole
sealed, preventing oxygen from entering the jug and ruining the wine
prematurely. That, at least, is the theory.
In practice, the hole often expanded from the internal pressure
and the oxygen still got in. But even when it didn't, there are
still problems with this method. First, the wine can easily take on
the taste and smell of rubber from the balloon. While this might not
bother you, it might bother those you share your wine with (assuming
you share it at all). The wine also tends to absorb more of the CO2
gas using this method, which is okay if you degasse the wine but
terrible if you don't. It's a matter of taste, but one I will not
contribute to. Winemaking equipment is easy to find these days,
especially with online ordering over the internet.
Therefore, the only advice I give about "balloon wine" is not to
make it. Spend a dollar for a bung (rubber stopper with a hole
drilled in it) and another dollar for an airlock and do it right.
That's all I have to say about this method.
How to Use Recipes
Winemaking recipes are, at best, guides. In truth, I cannot know
the precise chemistry of the grapes, blackberries, elderberries,
apples, or peaches you might use to make your wine. But, having made
wine from these bases before, I can tell you how I did it. In some
cases the recipes originated elsewhere and in such cases I say so.
In all cases the recipes worked and if you follow them precisely you
will make decent to good wines. If you make adjustments as needed,
you should be able to make very good to exceptional wines.
When I say I cannot know the precise chemistry of the base
ingredients you might use, I mean this sincerely. Take strawberries,
for example. Strawberry wine can be quite exquisite, but it can also
be a huge disappointment. Commercial strawberries at your
supermarket are picked 5 to 10 days before they ripen so they can be
processed, stored, shipped, distributed, and displayed without
rotting before you buy them. They typically are 5-7% natural sugars.
Frozen strawberries were picked closer to or at ripeness and were
frozen because they would not survive the trip to the supermarket
any other way. They typically are 10-13% natural sugars. But if you
go to a "U-pick-it" farm and pick fully ripe strawberries, they
might be as high as 15-18% natural sugars.
If the recipe calls for "fully ripe fresh strawberries" and you
buy yours at the supermarket produce department, yours will contain
half the natural sugar that was intended in the recipe. Yours will
also contain only a fraction of the flavor the recipe assumes will
be present and the wine will suffer accordingly. And even if your
strawberries are picked fresh from your own garden, their sugar,
acid, pectin, and flavor components could still differ greatly from
the strawberries I used because of different soils, average
tempterature, rainfall, humidity, and variety of cultivar used. In
other words, the chances are good to excellent that your
strawberries and my strawberries will certainly be different. How
then can the recipes be of any real value?
If you think of recipes as guides and you measure the variables
you can, you will naturally find yourself adjusting ingredients to
fit your circumstances. Bland fruit will compell you to add more
fruit than the recipe calls for, but even this may not be enough if
the flavor is really poor. This seems to be the case more often than
not with peaches bought at the supermarket. You can usually add a
pint of Peach Nectare per gallon of wine to a vigorously fermenting
must and improve the flavor immensely. Frozen peach slices also
possess greater flavor than most supermarket peaches. So, if the
fruit lacks flavor, spike the must with more flavorful base. This
may mean changing the character of the wine with, say, nectarines or
kiwi fruit or fresh pineapple chunks.
If the must, when being transfered to a secondary, tastes insipid
(weak, lifeless, flat), add more acid and/or tannin, as needed. Do
this incrementally so as not to add too much -- 1/5 teaspoon per
gallon of acid blend and 1/8 teaspoon per gallon of tannin. Add
them, stir well, then wait an hour and taste again. Repeat additions
if needed. If you have an acid test kit, measure the TA and adjust
accordingly. See Acidity in Wines for help with acidity.
Many, many of the recipes on this website result in over-sweet or
dry, high alcohol wines. There are several reasons for this. First,
when the recipes are from another winemaker, I try to be true to
their formulation and report the ingredients and amounts of each as
published. Many winemakers, especially British winemakers, like to
use 3 pounds of sugar per gallon of wine. This is way too much sugar
for a 12% alcohol-by-volumn wine. It is better to reduce the sugar
to 2 pounds and sweeten the wine later if it needs it. Better yet,
let the must sit overnight before the yeast is pitched, then press
out a cup or so of juice and measure the sugar with a hydrometer.
Not sure how? See Using Your Hydrometer.
Many of the recipes call for using one or more crushed Campden
tablets while others do not. Some recipes call for the use of
potassium metabisulfite instead. So why is this? Indeed, all recipes
should use potassium metabisulfite, but some authors list it and
others don't -- even I often leave it out of my recipes because it
is just something you should know you should add without being told.
It kills almost all wild bacteria and fungus that ride in with the
raw ingredients of wine, inhibits the early viability of wild yeast
so that your cultured wine yeast can get a head start, and deters
the oxidation of wines for a considerable period. But this compound
is so strong that only 1/4 teaspoon is sufficient for treating 5
gallons of wine. Campden tablets contain both an inert binding
material and an appropriate amount of potassium metabisulfite for
treating one gallon of wine. Use crushed Campden tablets, dissolved
in a little water, juice or must, for one gallon batches. Use
potassium metabisulfite for 5-gallon batches and larger. If you can
divide 1/4 teaspoon of the pure compound into 5 equal parts, then by
all means use the potassium metabisulfite for 1-gallon batches
instead of crushed Campden tablets.
Add the Campden or potassium metabisulfite (pot meta for short)
when the fruit is crushed, unless you are going to use boiling water
to extract the flavors, color and juices of the base. The boiling
water will kill off the bacteria, fungus and wild yeast, but when
you rack the wine you should add the appropriate dose of crushed
Campden or pot meta. Some of the sulfur in the dose will bind with
other components of the wine but some will exist as unbound sulfur
in the form of a dissolved gas called sulfur dioxide, or SO2. This
gas is the sanitizing and antioxidizing agent. As time progresses,
the gas is slowly released into the atmoshere or breaks down and the
sulfut in it binds with new components of wine created as the wine
develops and ages. Thus, the dose of SO2 must be regenerated
periodically. If you add the Campden or pot meta to the must at the
beginning, add another dose at the 2nd, 4th, and 6th rackings and
just before bottling (it must be added at the same time as potassium
sorbate when stabilizing a wine, as the potassium sorbate will not
effect the yeast without pot meta being present at the same time).
If you add Campden or pot meta at the time of the 1st racking, add
it again at the 3rd and 5th rackings and before bottling (when
stabilizing the wine). This should be done whether the recipe
mentions it or not.
Most of the recipes say to stabilize, sweeten to taste, wait 2-4
weeks, and then bottle the wine. This is very much a normal thing to
do, so if a recipe doesn't specifically say this, do it anyway. Of
course, you can NOT sweeten if you'd like. I rarely sweeten my
wines, but I still add that step in the written recipe when I post
it. "Stabilize" means to add potassium sorbate and potassium
metbisulfite (or a crushed Campden tablet) at the same time, stir
until dissolved, and then allow the wine to "rest" for 2-4 weeks to
see if it referments. It shouldn't, but if it does you can wait for
it to finish -- and it will finish because the two potassium salts
render the yeast incapable of further reproduction. The potassium
sorbate is not listed as a separate ingredient because some folks
don't stabilize their wines and therefore don't need it, but if you
"stabilize" a wine you'll need 1/2 teaspoon of the sorbate plus a
crushed Campden tablet per gallon of wine.
Use the recipes as guides and measure and adjust any variables
you can. If you do this, your wines will generally be better and
you'll quickly learn the ins and out of winemaking more thoroughly
than if you just followed the recipes.
However, if a recipe says to start fermentation in a primary, do
it. Yeast need oxygen to reproduce rapidly, and for the first two or
three days rapid reproduction should be all you want your yeast to
do. If you start fermentation under an airlock, you are denying the
yeast what they need and may or may not have problems. If you do
this and have problems, I don't want to hear about it. If you won't
follow my instructions and your wine doesn't like it, then take your
problems to someone who recommends starting your fermentation under
an airlock -- or whatever else you are doing differently.
How Much Wine Do Recipes Make?
I am asked this question all the time, although it really baffles
me sometimes. I mean, some recipes say to use a specific herb or
flower, add sugar and other dry ingredients, and then add from 7-1/2
pints to a gallon of water. Since the herbs contain no juice or
other liquid, it shouldn't be difficult to conclude that the recipe
makes about a gallon of wine. I say about because sugar has a
volume, some liquid is lost as sugar is converted into alcohol and
carbon dioxide (a gas), and different yeast's lees compact
differently -- meaning that you lose more wine with some lees than
others when you rack. However, if you top up as instructed, you
should always end up with a gallon.
So, as to the question of how much wine do the recipes make,
unless they specifically cite another volume, all the recipes on my
site are for one U.S. gallon batches. There are several reasons for
I am constantly experimenting with new wines or improving old
ones, with approximately 22-30 batches going at all times.
One-gallon jugs take far less room than larger carboys.
One-gallon batches are more economical to gamble with, especially
when some of the ingredients have to be shipped refrigerated and are
therefore quite expensive to me. No one pays me to do this, so if I
decide to try cloudberry wine and have to import cloudberries from
Finland, I have to suffer the cost. Devising a recipe is therefore a
gamble (it might not work) and I try to keep the amount gambled at a
It is less painful to dump out a 1-gallon batch that didn't work
out than a 5- or 6-gallon one, and I have dumped out a few.
When they do work out, most wines have to be aged for 6 months to
a year, and 5 bottles take less room to store during aging than 25
For people who want to make larger batches, all they have to do
is multiply the ingredients (except yeast) by the number of gallons
desired. This is far easier than trying to adjust a 5-gallon recipe
to 3 gallons, for example.
So, if you wanted to make a 6-gallon batch of a particular wine,
just multiply the ingredients by 6, except use two packets of yeast
instead of one (each sachet of yeast is usually enough to start a
batch of 1 to 5 gallons in volume).
As for topping up, you have to decide on your own strategy. Some
recipes initially make a little more than a gallon (and I mean an
American gallon, or 3.7854 liters). I often say to crush the fruit,
add the sugar and other ingredients, and then add one gallon of
water. Obviously, when the sugar is dissolved and the juice is
pressed or squeezed from the fruit, you'll have more than a U.S.
gallon. When you transfer from primary to secondary, it would be
nice if you had a jug that would take all of the liquid without
overflowing and with exactly an inch of ullage (airspace between the
top of the wine and the bottom of the bung) -- a 4-liter, 4.5-liter
(British gallon), or 5-liter jug, for example, might work perfectly.
Then, when you rack later and lose some of the volume, you can rack
into a smaller jug -- for example, from a 4.5-liter jug into a
4-liter one, or from a 4-liter jug into a U.S. gallon jug. But, if
you don't have a variety of jugs such as described here, then just
fill a gallon jug and put the excess into a smaller wine bottle of
an appropriate size (750-ml, 375-ml, 250-ml, 187-ml, or 125-ml). A
#2 or #3 bung will fit these various wine bottle sizes to accept an
airlock. You then use this excess wine to top up the gallon jug
Larger batches require different strategies. For a 6-gallon
batch, for example, I would divide the 6 gallons into a 5-gallon
carboy and a 1-gallon jug, ferment them side-by-side, and use the
1-gallon batch to top up the 5-gallon carboy. After using some of
the 1-gallon batch, I would rack the remainder of it into a 3-liter
jug. After topping up during the second racking, I would rack the
remaining smaller batch into a 2-liter or half-gallon jug, etc. I
have a variety of jugs and bottles that I use for "down-sizing"
after using some wine for topping up a larger batch. These include
3-liter, 2.5-liter, 2-liter, 1.90-liter (1/2 U.S. gallon),
1.5-liter, 1-liter, 750-ml, etc.
You can also top up with a finished wine of the same kind or very
similar to what you are making. However, if you don't have a wine
anywhere close to what you are making (nothing is quite like pumpkin
wine, for example), any similarly colored wine will do.
You can also top up with distilled (or boiled and cooled) water.
Many of the recipes use a bit more sugar than necessary just so when
you top up with water the alcohol still ends up at around 12% even
after being diluted with the water. If you top up with wine the
final alcohol content would differ.
Finally, many people simply use glass marbles or glass decorative
pebbles to displace the volume of wine lost to racking. I myself
have about 3 quarts of glass marbles I use for this purpose with
some of my batches.
Necessary Equipment and Supplies
I am often asked for a list of the minimum equipment required to
make wine. The list below contains what I think is necessary. If you
are not sure what an item is or is used for, look for it in my
Glossary of Winemaking Terms.
Primary: 6- or 7-gallon white plastic paint bucket is the best
Secondary: 1-gal apple juice jugs, 3-gallon carboys and 5-gallon
carboys are best sizes (demijohns in the British Commonwealth);
Bung: rubber corks with hole drilled for the airlock to fit in;
buy when you buy a secondary so you know the fit is correct;
Airlock: "S"-type is best (also called "bubbler");
Hydrometer: with both specific gravity and potential alcohol
Hydrometer Jar: a tall chimney jar (holds about 350 ml of liquid)
in which the hydrometer is floated;
Siphon Hose: about 6 feet of 1/2 inch clear plastic tubing;
Acid Blend: crystaline, 4 to 6 oz;
Pectic Enzyme: dry, powdered, 2 to 4 oz;
Grape Tannin: dry, powdered, 2 oz;
Campden Tablets: for 1-gallon batches, bag of 25;
Potassium Metabisulfite: crystaline, for cleaning equipment and
sulfiting 5-gallon batches (in place of Campden), 4 oz;
Potassium Sorbate: for stabilizing wines (see Finishing Your
Yeast Nutrient: crystaline, 4 to 6 oz;
Wine Yeast: see Yeast Strains for guidance; do not use bread or
Nylon Straining Bag: also called a grain bag;
Corks: size #9 fits most wine bottles; buy quality corks;
Corker: buy a cheap hand corker to start with;
Bottles: you will need five 750-ml bottles per US gallon of wine,
six per Imperial gallon.
The following list contains equipment you will want if you become
a more serious winemaker. None of it is required, but all of it is
nice to have if you develop a need for it.
Gram Scale: digital ones are expensive, but worth the money for
making small, precise adjustments ;
Acid Test Kit: replace the standards (solutions) as required and
it will serve you well;
pH Meter: accurate, reliable, and worth the investment;
SO2 Test Kit: essential for making serious white wines and reds
intended for aging;
Grape or Fruit Press: consider this "essential" if you make wine
from fresh grapes;
Crusher: If you do a lot of grapes, you'll need this; deluxe
models come with a destemmer;
Floor Corker: for 5-gallon batches, you really do need one of
About The Author
New York Micro Brew
We have been in the wine making industry for over 15 years.
Please Visit www.newyorkmicrobrew.com
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