Making wine at home is an enjoyable winter do-it-yourself project

Get Your Juices Flowing

by Emily Kovach

Whether you’re a passionate beer homebrewer looking to expand your horizons or a casual home cook looking for a fun fermentation project, making wine at home is a rewarding and relatively easy process. The equipment investment is reasonable, and there are a variety of ready-to-go kits that provide nearly all the ingredients necessary to make a range of wine styles. Of course, there are more customizable and experimental recipes and methods for brewers who aren’t interested in boxed kits. The friendly folks at the Philly Homebrew Outlet in West Philly helped us put together a guide for everything the aspiring vintner needs to get started.

The Gear

  • 7.9-gallon plastic winemaking bucket
  • 6-gallon glass carboy
  • Mix-stir drill attachment for degassing
  • Bottling bucket (with a spigot attached)
  • Auto-siphon
  • Airlock and carboy bung
  • Bottle brush
  • Hydrometer and test tube, to test alcohol levels 
  • Hand or floor corker, and corks
  • Bottles (750 ml are standard but other sizes can work, too)

The Ingredients

  • Grape juice concentrate. Fresh juice is available from the Philly Homebrew Outlet twice per year: May (juice from Chile) and September (Italian and Californian juice). Other fruit juices can be used for making fruit wine.
  • Yeast, the type of which varies according to the kind of wine you’re making
  • Clarifying agent
  • Stabilizer (potassium sorbate)
  • American, French or Hungarian oak chips or powder (optional)
  • Sanitizer

Winemaking box kits generally come with everything you’ll need except for corks and equipment. They range in price from $70 to $180. The cheaper ones contain a bit less juice and don’t require aging, and the more expensive kits have more juice and grape skins, and they can age in storage to develop more complex and subtle flavors.

The Basic Steps

  • Sanitize all equipment. It is essential that all the gear stays clean all the time.
  • Pour the juice into the winemaking bucket. If using a concentrate, dilute with water until it reaches 6 gallons. Add oak chips, if using.
  • Pitch (add) the yeast for primary fermentation, when the yeast does most of the work of converting sugar into alcohol. The process takes between 7 to 10 days. Wine should always be stored in a cool area, no warmer than 75 F.
  • Siphon the mixture to the glass carboy, add the clarifying agent and let it sit for 2 to 3 weeks for secondary fermentation.
  • A week before you plan to bottle, add a stabilizer and degas the wine using a mix-stir, a tool that attaches to a drill. It’s inserted into the carboy and whips around to free any carbon dioxide that’s still trapped in the wine.
  • When ready to bottle, transfer the wine to a bottling bucket and attach a bottling wand, which fills the bottle from the bottom up, minimizes splashing and leaves the perfect amount of headspace. It also helps with avoiding the introduction of oxygen, which at this stage can lead to bacterial growth and spoilage.
  • Cork the bottles with a hand or floor corker and let them sit upright for a few days to allow the cork to fully re-expand.

Some wine can be enjoyed right away, and others require storage. Any bottles in storage should be stored on their side to keep the cork from drying out.

For more information, free classes, and gear or kits, visit Philly Homebrew Outlet online or at its locations in Olde Kensington and West Philly.