Proper home winemaking is achieved by making wine from grapes, and not from buying ready-made kits from the wine supplies shop, and then adding water! Yes, this is much easier to do, but there’s absolutely no skill in it at all – so let’s make real wine!
Making wine at home can be very successful and rewarding providing you adhere to some basic winemaking rules. It is not just a matter of squeezing some grapes, fermenting them and then bottling them in a hurry, and without a care just to get your alcohol buzz. What is important throughout the entire process is attention to detail – this means that you must undertake the following courses of action.
- Make sure that the grapes are fully ripened, so don’t pick the grapes too soon or there will be an imbalance of sugar to natural acid. Consequently, don’t leave them on the vine too long as the imbalance will be the other way – not enough natural acid will mean the wine will not age. A measurement of the natural sugar content should be taken and if possible the acid level too, (a device for measuring sugar content called a refractometer is the best way).
- The grapes must be clean and free from insect damage or disease (dirty fruit will result in dirty wine!). This seems obvious but many a wine has been spoiled by poor quality fruit.
- High quality equipment and fermentation vessels must be used. It is so much easier to make good clean wines with better quality implements.
- Good hygiene is absolutely vital throughout the entire process. This is why many of the worlds top wineries use stainless steel as it is so easy to clean and sterilize.
- Measure all the ingredients accurately. This seems obvious, but get your calculations wrong and you will notice it later, to the detriment of the finished wine. (i.e. too much sugar added to an unripe sample will result in a wine that is ‘out of balance’ or too high an alcohol level for the desired style). STICK CLOSELY TO RECIPES.
- Regular tasting during the ferment ensures that you are aware of what is going on, and any problem can be spotted quickly, and action taken. This is what winemaking is all about, teaching your palate to detect defects in the young wines. Practice will make perfect as you learn about what shouldn’t be happening in the fermentation just as much as what should be.
- After fermentation when the new wine needs to be racked (removal of wine off the dead yeast cells or lees) keep contact with air to a minimum. Failure to do this will increase the chances of oxidation taking place. An oxidised wine is foul to taste, and most probably will have to be discarded.
- Use good, sterilized bottles at bottling time, and seal with high quality corks where possible – this will allow you to lay your wine down for many years if required.
Do this and you are well on the way to becoming a competent home winemaker. Also, remember that in the winemaking arena, one tends to learn more from ones mistakes rather than ones successes. So each subsequent vintage should get better and better.