I'M MAKING FRUIT WINE...WHAT NOW?

OK - This is a basic rundown on how to make your first batch of wine. We recommend that you have some other book to go with this, and many good basic texts on wine run only around $5.00, but this essay should give you the basic info on what you are doing, and how to do it...

First: The Equipment.

You will need, within the first week of starting your wine, the following items:

  • a primary plastic fermenter that is at least TWICE as large as the volume of wine that you are making. This means that if you are making a 5-gallon batch, you will need a ten-gallon (or larger) plastic fermenter. The only exceptions to this are the grape wines. White grapes will need only a slightly larger primary (a five-gallon batch can be done in a six or seven-gallon primary), but red grape wines will need a primary that is close to THREE times the volume of the wine you are planning (a five-gallon red grape wine should be fermented in a 15-gallon primary). Be sure to use food-grade plastic fermenters non-food-grade plastics have toxins which can be leached out by alcohol and heat.
  • a secondary GLASS carboy, or jug. No, we do not believe that plastic will work for this, but if your time is not very valuable you can experiment with plastic and let me know how it comes out in six months. Glass carboys are not very expensive and they will last you a lifetime.
  • an airlock and rubber stopper that fits the top of the carboy.
  • a long-handled spoon or paddle, preferably not wood.
  • six feet of siphon tubing, with an optional racking cane for the end of it, or - and we love these - a siphon starter!!

     

The following items are optional, but usually helpful:

  • a nylon bag (optional but VERY helpful) for straining out the fruit halfway through the fermentation (see instructions below).
  • a hydrometer for measuring sugar levels.
  • a thermometer for tracking temperature - stick-on "fermometers" work great.
  • sterilizer: either sulphites, bleach, iodophor, or some other chemical, or combination thereof

     

THE PROCEDURES:

DAY ONE:

First gather your fruit. Following a recipe is helpful here, but you can call me and I will give you guidelines for the amount of fruit to use for any particular variety. Typically, for most fruit, you will use between four to six pounds per gallon of final product you are aiming for. More is NOT better, once you get above six, but (in my opinion) most recipes undershoot the quantity of wine you should be using. Use five to six pounds of berries per gallon of wine, and up to seven or eight pounds of stone fruit (apricots/peaches/nectarines). The extra fruit will add more color and flavor. Do not go above these numbers, though, because your acid levels will increase along with your flavor - this is bad. The exception is for wine grapes where you will use 15 to 20 pounds per gallon of wine, while adding no extra water or sugar.

Do not use shabby fruit. Do not use over-ripe or under-ripe fruit (especially under-ripe!!). Fruit should be lush and juicy - not hard - but also NOT on the edge of rotting. As an option, see below, I recommend that you pick an extra three or so pounds of fruit, clean them (skin and pit if applicable) and put this fruit in a ZipLok bag in your freezer. This will be added later, as explained in my instructions below.

Your equipment must be "kitchen-clean" if you are planning to use Campden tablets and sulphites in your wine, but must be "sterilized" with more intense chemicals if you are trying to avoid sulphites. Dirty equipment with pieces of last year's wine in them should not be used, but should be cleaned and sterilized first. If you keep your equipment VERY clean, a good rinsing with hot water should be all you need to do to the equipment before it touches the wine - but just be sure to use Campden and sulphites later on throughout the process. This keeps bacteria and "vinegar" from living in your wine. I firmly believe sulphites make a better product and do not influence flavor (except for the better!) when used properly. See my page on using sulphites and my page of sulphite misunderstandings for more info...

Pitted fruit (peaches, cherries, apricots) will need to be stoned first, and "fuzzy" fruit will need to be skinned. Try to find very ripe (but not rotten!!) fruit that can be de-pitted by pushing your thumb through the meat. Fruit should not be rock hard - this will make bland, acidic wine. Fuzzy fruit can be skinned by blanching the whole fruit in boiling water for about a minute, then plunging the fruit into an ice bath for a minute or two. The skins should then peel off like a latex glove.

Line your fermenter with the large nylon bag (mentioned beforehand) that is optional but helpful. Stone the fruit over the top of your fermenter so that all the juice and meat drips into the nylon bag in the fermenter. Throw the pits and stones in the garbage. Break or cut the fruit into little pieces before dumping them into your fermenter. Smaller pieces, ultimately, means more flavor. You will soon have a bag full of fruit inside your bucket and some of the fruit juices will have oozed through the bag into your bucket: this is good.

After you have all your fruit in the plastic bucket, pour the white sugar over the top (still in your nylon bag). Household cane sugar is fine for this, and it is what most winemakers use - corn sugar also works, but is more expensive. Usually you use about 2 pounds of white sugar per gallon of finished wine. For 5 gallons, pour ten pounds of sugar over the fruit. Mix well and let sit for two hours. This will "leach" the juices out of the fruit and you should see a bucket full of juice/fruit/sugar pretty quickly. The juice will seep through the bag - the meat will stay contained.

NOTE: more sugar equals higher alcohol, but higher alcohol, I have found, does not mean a better wine. On the contrary, 15% wines usually taste like bad whiskey and burns all the way down. I usually err on the lighter side, and aim for alcohol levels of 9 to 11%. These are fruitier, more summery and exhibit more of the fruit flavor. I like to start my fruit wines between 1.075 and 1.090 on the specific gravity scale (18 to 22 Balling). Grape wines can - and should - start higher (about 1.085 to 1.095 or 20 to 24 Balling).

Add approx. 3.5 quarts of good clean water per gallon of wine you are trying to make to the fermenter, pouring it right into the nylon bag. (Be sure the water tastes fine - off-flavors will come through in the wine.) Mix well, trying to dissolve the sugar. Once mixed, add the proper amount of pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient, acid blend (if necessary), and then add one PULVERIZED Campden Tablet to each gallon of "must." You may have nine gallons of must, although you are only making five gallons of wine. In that case, add nine tablets.

Stir well, and cover "loosely" with a lid, or some barrier that will keep out flies. The Campden is releasing a gas which is killing all of the "wildlife" that came in with your fruit, and you want this gas to get out and not get trapped in your bucket. Let sit as is for 24 to 36 hours.

DAY TWO:

Give your must another good stir. Be careful that you don't allow the fruit to spill out of the bag. Now, add your yeast. It helps, oftentimes, if you do a yeast starter culture, a day in advance of this. (About the same time that you add the Campden.) Although making a starter is NOT necessary, it does help the yeast to kick in faster and stronger. For meads, we highly recommend it.

Once the yeast is added, cover the wine securely, making sure that the positive pressure buildup that will soon form can somehow escape. Most of the wine fermenters I sell will exhale around the sides, and this is considered normal (and desired) at this point. Let sit for 24 more hours.

DAY THREE:

The wine should now be fermenting. You can tell this by the fact that the fruit is rising to the surface - actually being pushed above the level of the liquid - and there may be froth or bubbles at the surface. Take a clean spoon - sterilized if necessary - and now push the fruit back down, into the fermenting liquid. You may see a release of gas from under the "cap" of fruit as you break through it. Push all of the fruit under the liquid.

If the wine, by now, is NOT fermenting, you may have killed the yeast with residual sulfites from the Campden. This is very common, Just give the must a good stirring, add another yeast and 95% of the time, THAT one will kick in within 12 hours.

NEXT FIVE DAYS:

OK, the wine is fermenting merrily away. For the next five days, stir the pulp back into the fermenting liquid TWICE A DAY. Morning and evening, push the fruit into the solution, stir well and then re-cover the bucket. You are trying to maximize the flavor that is coming off the fruit pulp, as well as keep the fruit from drying out on top.

AFTER FIVE DAYS OF FERMENTATION:

Do a hydrometer reading. It should be between 1.050 and 1.010. If it is higher than 1.050, continue the stirring and pushing process for another day or so. If it is between those two numbers, continue to the next step.

This next step is a two-person operation, or a very adept one person's. Open the fermenter and have somebody slowly pull the nylon bag out of the solution. Another person, with clean hands, squeezes and wrings the bag from the top down, squeezing the juice and wine into the plastic fermenter. It should take about three to five minutes to fully squeeze the bulk of the juice out. Pull out the bag, fully, and there you go: the fruit is now removed. If you did not line your fermenter with a nylon bag, scoop out and squeeze the fruit with a hand strainer. Plan on taking at least 30 minutes to fully pull out the fruit. When done, cover the fermenter and continue the fermentation for another few days.

TWO TO THREE DAYS LATER:

Wait until the hydrometer measures about 1.030 - 1.010. At this point, siphon the wine into a glass carboy (or jug) leaving behind all of the sediment at the bottom of the plastic. Racking canes are helpful for this step. Use clean (or sterilized) equipment, as is necessary, and siphon the wine into THE BOTTOM of the receiving carboy. Never run the wine down the wall or needlessly splash. Oxygen, from this point on, is the enemy of wine.

Put an airlock on the carboy and let ferment until finished - about one to two more weeks.

WINE IS INACTIVE, AND BEGINNING TO SETTLE:

Two weeks AFTER there is no sign of activity, you should see a pretty significant layer of white/tan sediment on the bottom of the carboy. Now, rack your wine into another carboy (or you can flip/flop it into a plastic jug while you clean out your one glass carboy), leaving behind all of the "muck" on the bottom of the glass fermenter that it had been in.

At this point, add 1 crushed Campden Tablet per gallon of wine, (OR 1/4 teaspoon of sulphite powder per FIVE GALLONS of wine) and 3/4 teaspoon of Sorbistat-K per gallon of wine. These two things will kill off any living yeasts (or bacteria) in your wine, and enable you to sweeten it later (if desired). See our page of stabilization for more info.

Now here is an option that is NOT required, but seems to work wonders for fruit wines. After you have stabilized your wine - (do not attempt this on unstabilized wine for many reasons) - take a few pounds of the fruit that you have saved and frozen from Day One (above). Take out the frozen, cleaned fruit and let it thaw. It should turn to mush. Now run the fruit (without pits!) through a blender or food processor until it is pureed and liquefied.

Pour the liquefied pulp through some cheesecloth or nylon until most of the pulp is removed and you are left with mostly fruit juice. Add this juice carefully into the stabilized wine in the glass fermenter and mix gently. This adds in a bunch of flavor, aroma and fruit essence that may have been fermented away during the primary.

Put on the airlock and let it sit for two to three months.

TWO TO THREE MONTHS LATER:

Rack into another glass carboy (or flip-flop) and let sit for another two to three months. If you are impatient, or need to rush the process, you can now add Sparkalloid to your wine to help it settle out faster.

ANOTHER TWO TO THREE MONTHS:

Rack into another glass carboy, adding 1/4 teaspoon of sulphite powder into 5 gallons of wine. If the wine is not crystal clear, either add Sparkalloid at this time or let sit for another two to three months until crystal clear.

NOTE: Do not bottle wine that is not crystal clear. It will throw a deposit into each of your bottles and you will be drinking "floaties" anytime you pour a bottle. Patience is a virtue here - wait until crystal clear. The way to tell if it is clear is by holding a candle behind the carboy or jug and looking through it while in a dark room. A "halo" around the flame means there is haziness in your wine. A crisp flame means it is crystal clear: only then is it ready to bottle.

BOTTLING TIME:

If you have NOT been tasting your wine through all the rackings, now is the time to sample it. Taste it for sweetness or dryness. A totally dry wine may taste acidic, sharp or bland. If you think it needs sweetness, we have a liquid sweetener at the shop that is pre-stabilized and guaranteed to not re-ferment, but if you have added sulphites and sorbistat-K, it is usually OK to add a sugar solution. See our page on stabilization for more info...

Note: not all wines need sweetness, but most fruit wines do benefit from a slightly sweet finish: it brings out the fruit flavor. If you have already added in the pureed fruit back near Month One, you may not need any extra sweetness: that fruit juice you added contains sugar and fruity sweet flavor. But tasting and personal preference will help you decide. Go with your instincts and add sugar/sweetness if you think it needs it.

Heat a cup of sugar with as little water as it takes to dissolve - maybe a pint. Dissolve fully. Add this mixture to your wine a little bit at a time. You can always add more later - but you can NEVER remove sweetness once it is in there. Usually a cup of sugar in five gallons of wine will produce a noticeably sweet wine, so start small. Add and taste. Add more and taste again. Do this no more than three times, then take a break and eat bread, or crackers and do not rush back. Your mouth can become acclimated to the sweetness and you may overshoot.

Once you have achieved the proper balance of sweetness, acidity and fruitiness, you are ready to bottle your wine. Very sweet wines can be consumed immediately, drier wines benefit from several months of aging and "rounding out" once they are in the bottle.

Well, this is it. Call me at Main Street, or email me, if you have any questions - good luck and happy vintnering!!!