Homemade Wine (Domáce Víno)

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You probably know by now that I am a big fan of making things at home from scratch. Besides cooking, I frequently bake my own bread, and have even tried my hand at making sausages.

Well, few years ago, while I was still living in California, I used to brew my own beer. I made few batches, including a cherry ale that was quite delicious. I left the desert in 2008 for grad school on the east coast and took with me only things that fit in the car. Unfortunately, the brewing stuff did not make the cut. It was not until late last year that I got into talking with a friend who is an avid wine maker that I got the bug to home brew again. Or home wine-make in this case. Here is my first attempt at winemaking. I may be a bit biased but I like it so far!

So get ready, here we go. Winemaking is a bit different from brewing beer in that there is no cooking required. It’s kind of like chemistry, you just mix different chemicals and let them do their magic. In a sense, it’s easier than making beer; it definitely at least won’t fill your house with a smell as powerful as what happens when you mix in hops to the beer wort. You can also just let it sit if you get busy with other things without worrying that it will spoil.

Ingredients: Stellar Craft Sterling Collection Pinot Noir from MoreWine, winemaking equipment for concentrate kits
Prep Time: 35-38 days per instructions, but I let mine sit longer. Then at least few weeks in the bottle before enjoying.

Day 1 (11/10/2012): Primary Fermentation

pinot noir box pinot noir kit
Here is what the supplies look like: the box contains all the ingredients, including the grape juice and the grape skins.

sterilization bentonite
Just as in home brewing, it is very important to clean and sterilize everything that will come into contact with wine (this includes your hands and arms). The equipment kit came with a sterilization solution but I actually used household bleach. The first step was to add bentonite, type of a clay that is used to clarify wine.

pouring in wine juice topping off with water
Now the fun begins. First pour in the contents of the juice bag. Then rinse the bag with hot water and pour in. Finally, pour in enough warm water until you get to the 23L marker line.

stiring wine adding crushed grape skins
Stir well using a sanitized metal spatula. Then add the grape skins. The instructions suggested you can either pour these into a (supplied) mesh bag or dump them in directly to get a stronger taste. I went for the latter option.

stirring wine hydrometer reading
Again stir well. Then take your first hydrometer reading to obtain the initial specific gravity (density). Mine was 1.07. Comparing the final and initial density allows you to determine the alcohol content of the wine.

adding oak shavings adding yeast
Add the oak shavings (hmm, oak!) and mix well. Then add the yeast. The instructions said to just leave the yeast floating on top without stirring so that’s what I did.

wine primary fermentation
Then finally, place the lid over the bucket and insert the fermentation lock (filled with water). Then just place out of the sun in a place between 66F and 75F and leave for at least 10 days. However, shake the bucket lightly every day to make sure the crushed grapes stay fully submerged.

Day 11 (11/21/2012): Secondary Fermentation

checking specific gravity sanitation of fermentation lock
The wine will start fermenting quite rapidly on the second day or so and the fermentation will slowly decrease. By the 10th day, there shouldn’t be much bubbling at all. The first thing we do is again check the specific gravity. It should be below 1.0, mine was 0.999. Also, make sure to sterilize the fermentation lock, carboy, and racking tubes.

straining grape skins transferring wine
The primary purpose of this step is to transfer the wine from the first bucket to a new carboy where it will continue fermenting. In the process, we also help “filter out” the wine, since there will be bunch of nasty swampy stuff left at the bottom of the bucket. Now, if you added your grape skins in a mesh beg, your job would be much easier. I instead had to use a sterilized strainer to remove some of the skins from the top. I then started the racking process. One way you can get the siphon going if you don’t want to suck on it with your mouth is to fill the tube with water and then let that first drain out to some small pot. Once wine is flowing, you move the tube from the pot to the carboy. If you use your mouth, make sure to sterilize first – the old fashioned way is by taking a swig of some hard alcohol (more than 100 proof).

wine carboy wine racking
I kept having a really hard time with this first racking. The remaining grape skins kept getting stuck in the racking tube and stopping the flow. I was able to get only about a half of the bucket transferred before I gave up and switched to plan B. I used a strainer to strain the wine into a large pot. This worked much better! You can see all the skins in the strainer in the sink.

gunk at the bottom of wine fermenter adding enzyme
You can see even more of the gunk in the first picture. This stuff is quite thick. I just dumped it down the sink but that’s probably not recommended. My garbage disposal was having a really hard time with the stuff! Getting back to the wine, add your enzyme pack and gently stir.

secondary fermentation
Replace the air lock and let sit in a place between 66F and 75F. You can now take a break for few weeks.

Day 28 (12/8/12): Clearing

racking adding potassium metabisulphite
The next step is to help clear the wine and stop the fermentation so that it doesn’t turn into champagne. I waited an extra week than what the instructions said, but this this is totally fine as it helps insure the fermentation is complete. First, check the gravity. It should be less than 0.998, mine was 0.995. Although the instructions didn’t call for this, I decided to transfer the wine once again to filter out more gunk. Then add potassium metabisulphite. This additive reacts with the wine and forms sulfur dioxide gas which both kills off any remaining yeast and other wild organisms, and also acts as an antioxidant, helping protect the flavor of the wine. Stir vigorously for 2 minutes to release the gas.

adding potassium sorbate
Then add potassium sorbate, another agent used to kill off yeast. Stir for 2 minutes to allow to dissolve.

kieselsol and chitosan
Next, add the pouch containing kieselsol. Stir for one hour and then wait for one hour. Then add the other pouch containing chitosan. Stir again for one minute. Together, these two chemicals lump up the yeast into bigger chunks that will settle out to the bottom more easily. This helps create the clarity in the wine you wouldn’t get with bunch of microorganisms swimming about. Refit the airlock and let sit for another 2 weeks.

Day 45 (12/25/2012): Bottling

washing wine bottles empty wine bottles
While the wine is sitting, I was quite busy collecting empty wine bottles. Luckily, we were making the wine right before the holidays so I was able to get bottles at the various Christmas parties we attended. There is also a wine shop nearby our apartment that does wine tasting every weekend and they were quite happy to unload their empty bottles on me. Make sure to wash and scrub the bottles using the brewery wash supplied with the kit. Also sanitize them. Also clean and sterilize the racking tubes, the bottling carboy, and the corks.

wine racking for bottling wine gunk
And once again, rack the wine into a clean and sterilized carboy. You can see that even after the two previous transfers, there is still plenty of gunk left at the bottom – this is probably the dead yeast.

ready for wine bottling filling wine bottles
Then get everything ready. Siphon the wine into the racking tube and then attach the filling tube. Then just fill the bottles, one after the other. The tube gives you just enough extra volume such that when you fill the bottle almost to the rim, you will have the right amount of air space when you remove the tube.

wine corking home made wine bottles
Then use the corker the cork the bottles. This was my first time using this contraption and I could not get the cork to go in all the way, regardless of how much I fidgeted with the adjustment screw. But so far the corks are holding up well. The second picture shows our new wine collection – I think we are ready for winter!

Day 56 (1/5/2013): Enjoying!

home made pinot noir wine
The instructions say that you should wait for at least few weeks before trying the wine. But that’s easier said than done! Even after just two weeks, the wine was quite delicious (you need to let it breathe for few minutes first though). It was actually quite good on the day we bottled it, and it’s definitely changing in taste as it’s aging the bottle. It will be interesting to see how the taste changes with time. By the way, the coaster in the picture was made by an artist friend of a colleague of mine, Jackie Jacobson. Check out her site, she has plenty of nice art work for sale.