Making Wine From a Kit at Home

The best way to learn about the winemaking process is to make wine from a kit for your first few batches then gradually experiment with ingredients as you become more familiar with it. 

November 2014

By Lori Stahl

Making Your Own Wine at Home

Making your own wine can be easier than you think. In Making Your Own Wine at Home (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2014), author Lori Stahl provides friendly, easy-to follow instructions for making homemade wine. She starts novice winemakers off with tips for using a kit and helps open their eyes to a vast world of different flavored wines. This excerpt, which is from Chapter 2, “Step-By-Step Winemaking,” provides instructions and tips for making your own wine from a kit.

Buy this book from the GRIT store: Making Your Own Wine at Home.

Making Wine from a Kit at Home

Winekit

Unpack the kit and gather the materials and ingredients. The kit will include juice, oak, chemicals, instructions and a materials list.

Kits are simplicity itself and are the best way to learn. The equipment required is the same equipment you will use in your future winemaking endeavors. The techniques are techniques you will build on when making wine from fruit. With this tutorial, you will learn how to make a French Chardonnay from a kit.

Every kit contains juice, oak, chemicals, very clear instructions, and a list of everything you need to get started. Winexpert, owned by Andres Wines, a large Canadian winery, manufactures a nice selection of wine kits. Recognized for its innovation and dedication to quality, Winexpert is considered to be the leading manufacturer of premium wine kits.

Before you begin

You’ll need to consider a few important items before you start: location, timing, and cleanliness.

Location: The temperature of the area where you leave the wine while it is fermenting should not fluctuate much and should remain somewhere between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 and 25 degrees Celsius). Another important tip is to know that occasionally fermentations get unruly and spew about the surrounding area (know that I’ve had issues along the way with both primary fermenters and secondary carboys). Choose a spot out of direct sunlight and up on a table so you do not have to disturb what has dropped out of the wine and settled on the bottom when you rack your clearing wine.

Timing: Take a good look at your calendar. Note that the steps need to be done in a certain sequence and in a certain number of days. Ideally, you should plot your starting date based on being available when the following steps need to be carried out. In addition to your own schedule, you may want to consider the earth’s as well. Legend, lore, and ancient traditions—even modern-day science—note links between the growing cycles and the cosmos. Within the wine industry, you’ll find wine buyers who refuse to taste wines on rainy days and wineries that very carefully schedule dates of tastings for industry experts and buyers based on the lunar calendar. I sync my winemaking activities with the moon phase when I can.

Cleanliness: One of the most important aspects of winemaking from kits, concentrates, or fruits is cleanliness. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize anything and everything that will come into contact with your wine.

The essential first step to learning is, of course, opening up the kit! Right on top you’ll find all the packets and the instructions laid out. Get out your calendar, write the type of wine and the start date, and write the date of the next step.

Wine Ingredients
Sanitizing Winemaking Tools

All the ingredients you'll need will be in your kit.

Always remember to sanitize.

Preparing and Fermenting Wine

Add Heated Water to Fermenter
Sprinkle Bentonite

Collect a few gallons (or several liters) of water that is optimal for winemaking as well as a sterilized pot to heat it in. Heat the water; when the water is hot, pour it into the primary vessel.

Stirring vigorously, sprinkle bentonite on top. Stir for 30 seconds.

Add Juice to Homemade Wine
Add Warm Water
Add the juice. Add a little warm water to the bag and shake it to make sure you get all the juice.
Add Liquid to Fermenter
Top Up Fermenter

Add the remaining liquid in the bag to the fermenter.

Top up the fermenter to the 6 gallon (22.7L) mark.

Fermenting Wine
Sample Liquid With Hydrometer

Stir well.

Sample the liquid with a hydrometer if you have one. However, kits usually fall within the prescribed starting range, so don’t worry if you don’t have one.

Check Gravity with Hydrometer
Add Oak to Liquid

Check the specific gravity with the hydrometer.

Add the oak, if included.

Check the temperature, and when the juice is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 and 24 degrees Celsius), open the package of yeast and sprinkle it on the surface. Do not stir.

Yeast Added to Winemaking Mix
Put Airlock on Bucket
Water-Filled Airlock

Cover your primary, but do not seal the lid tightly, in order to allow the yeast plenty of oxygen. Put an airlock in your bucket and fill the airlock with water.

Place the kit in a warm spot. Check a day or two later to be sure fermentation has started. You’ll notice bubbles and hear it working, and the smell will start to change.

Transferring the Wine to the Secondary Fermenter

Sanitize Secondary Fermenter
Transfer Homemade Wine

After 5 to 7 days, you’ll be ready to transfer your wine from the primary fermenter into the secondary. In the case of this kit, that is a 6-gallon (22.7L) carboy. If you are using a hydrometer, your specific gravity should be 1.010 or less. Sanitize your hydrometer, carboy, siphon, tubing, bung, and airlock before you begin.

To rack, sit the primary up high and the bucket down low, then begin the transfer. The closer in height the fermenters are, the longer it takes to complete the transfer.

Transfer Homemade Wine
Winemaking Sediment

After you have transferred a little more than half of the liquid, tip your bucket. Be sure to move the bottom of your siphon closer to the surface while you tip. That way, if sediment gets stirred up, you are not racking it over.

As you get near the bottom, move the bottom of your siphon over to a corner of the bucket—still keeping it well above the sediment—and stop before you start sucking up sediment; leave that sludge behind. At this point, you’ll have a bit of space at the top of the carboy. Do not top up.

Place Water-Filled Airlock onto Carboy

Place a bung and water-filled airlock onto the carboy and put it somewhere warm; 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 24 degrees Celsius) is optimal. Leave it to ferment for 10 more days.

Adding Additional Ingredients to the Wine

Dissolve Potassium Sorbate and Potassium Metabisulfite in Water

After 10 days, or when your hydrometer reading is at the appropriate level according to the instructions with your kit, your wine should be stable. The carboy will have a lot of sediment sitting on the bottom. Dissolve the packets of potassium sorbate (to ensure that your fermentation will not restart) and potassium metabisulfite (to improve your wine’s keeping ability) in water.

Add Dissolved Chemicals to Carboy
Stir Sediment on Bottom of Carboy

Add the dissolved chemicals to the carboy and stir vigorously.

Make sure to stir up all of the sediment on the bottom and get it back into suspension.

Wine Stirring Paddle
Add Isinglass

If you can, use a stirring paddle that attaches to a cordless drill, as shown. A spoon works fine, but you’ll need to stir very vigorously.

Next, shake your packet of isinglass (to help the wine clarify) and add it.

Stir the Homemade Wine
Stir vigorously again.
Replace Airlock and Let Wine Sit

Top up your carboy, and replace the airlock. Good practice is to dump the water out of the airlock, sanitize the bung and airlock, and put fresh water in any time that you rack. Let the wine sit for 8 days.

Racking the Wine Into a Clean Carboy

Rack Wine Into a Clean Carboy
Tip the Carboy

Rack your wine into a clean carboy. As always, sterilize everything that comes into contact with the wine.

Remember to tip the carboy well in advance of the last of the liquid, moving the siphon over to the corner and transferring over only clear liquid.

Bottling the Wine

Before bottling, rack your wine one final time. (Sometimes you can skip this last racking if there is very little sediment on the bottom.) If you would like to add additional potassium metabisulfite before bottling, this is a good time to do it. Use a very scant amount, and never, never, never overdo it—more is not better. Be sure it is thoroughly mixed in, but be very gentle with your mixing.

Clean Wine Bottle With Potassium Metabisulfite

Make sure your bottles are completely clean, giving them a final rinse with a potassium metabisulfite solution. Be careful to remove any residue if you are using recycled bottles. A new or clean bottle merely needs to be filled with solution and then emptied out.
Drain Winemaking Bottles
Bottle Filler Attached to Siphon

Drain the bottles before lining them up to be filled. Being organized is key to successful bottling.

Attach the bottle filler to the siphon.


Leave Extra Space for Liquid When Bottling
Optimal Wine Fill Level

When bottling, be sure to add extra liquid for the space taken up by the bottle filler.

Optimal fill level is two finger widths between the wine and the cork.

Group all of your like wine bottles together and fill them in groups. That way, you do not have to readjust the corker multiple times.

Filling Wine Bottles 
Sanitize Wine Corks
Cork Wine Bottles in Groups

Sanitize the corks in a potassium metabisulfite solution before corking.

Cork in groups.

One tip if you are going to use any 375mL (12.7 fl. oz.) bottles is to have a little block of wood or even a paperback book at the ready to put under the bottle. Some corkers cannot reach little bottles without propping them up a bit.

Label your bottles, either with wine labels if your wine storage area is super clean, or with black permanent marker on freezer masking tape. Place the corked bottles into a cardboard box and tip the box just enough so that the corks are in contact with the wine but not enough that the wine could seep out. After about two days in this position, you can safely store them on their sides. If you are using real corks, do store them on their sides to keep the corks moist and fully expanded.

Tah dah! Now that you have successfully made a kit, you are undoubtedly confidently ready to move on to future winemaking endeavors. Making wine from concentrate is the next step.

Want to make wine from concentrate? Read Using Concentrated Fruit Juice in Homemade Wine to learn all about it.


This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Making Your Own Wine at Home, by Lori Stahl and published by Fox Chapel Publishing, 2014. Buy this book from our store: Making Your Own Wine at Home.

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