Home winemaking is an enjoyable and rewarding hobby. It’s easy to get started and possible to make good, or even excellent quality wine at home – if you follow a few simple steps.
First, you must find a good source of high quality grapes. As with all winemaking, good viticultural practices will show in the quality of your wine. Grape quality is extremely important, and we are fortunate to have viticulturists who are dedicated to producing and harvesting grapes at their optimum – remember, you can make poor quality wine from good grapes, but you can never make good quality wine from poor grapes. Start with the best.
Wine can be made with any fruit, but this section will provide an introduction to homemade wine using grapes. Once you source your grapes (or juice), you must guide the wine through the winemaking process – from fermentation to clarification, from bottling to aging – following the procedures outlined in your recipe. Your winemaking may take a few months, or a few years, depending on your purpose. In the end, you will have a wine to enjoy and be proud of, and a hobby that will capture your imagination and interest for years to come.
Q. Can I make good wine at home?
A. Absolutely. It’s easy to control a small batch of wine at home because you can keep a tight rein on quality. The first step is to search for the highest quality juice you can get, and high quality juice is available for the home winemaker. Even ultra-premium VQA juices are available to the home winemaker at reasonable prices.
Q. How much do I need to spend to get started?
A. You can get started for less than $100 for equipment, and then you need to purchase your juice. Prices vary depending on the quality – go for the best here.
Q. What equipment do I need?
A. You need the following to get started:
Q. Do I need grapes or juice?
A. To make white wine, juice is preferable. For red wine, must (the crushed and de-stemmed fruit) is preferable.
Q. Can I make Icewine at home?
A. Yes. Great Icewine juice is available for the home winemaker.
Q. Can I make wine from a kit or concentrate?
A. Wine kits and concentrates offer simplicity, but are not a substitute for good quality, fresh juice.
Q. How do I make wine?
A. You don’t. Yeast makes wine and you monitor the process. Yeast converts the natural sugars in the grapes or juice into alcohol. Under your control and supervision, this becomes wine. There are recipes, books and plenty of advice at your disposal – take advantage of the information available. Ask other winemakers, talk to growers, join an amateur winemaking club – as your interest and experience increases, your circle will expand and your knowledge will grow.
Q. How important is cleanliness?
A. Very, very, very, very, very. I cannot overstate this. I know of one enthusiastic home winemaker who produced an excellent batch of wine in his first year. The next year, the wine was awful, despite following the same steps and buying good juice. What happened? He didn’t clean his equipment properly, bacteria grew and ruined his wine. Be scrupulous – it will make all the difference.
Q. Where can I make wine?
A. Your garage or basement will give you enough room. Make sure you allow for a little messiness during the first week of winemaking; access to a water source is also important.
Q. Does the addition of water detract from the quality of the wine?
A. Yes. Water dilutes the flavour, acid and sugar levels of the wine.
Q. What do I need to know about temperature and light?
A. Temperature should be cool, around 15 degrees Celsius, for white and 18-20 degrees Celsius for red. As for light, it’s not important during the fermentation stage. During aging, there should be NO light.
Q. What about moving your wine during the winemaking process?
A. This will not affect the quality of your wine.
Q. What’s the principle of racking off?
A. Racking off is siphoning the clear wine/juice from the sediment (proteins) at the bottom. Racking off also introduces air to the wine, which helps it mature. Racking off is generally recommended about three to five times a year during the first year.
Q. What does the presence of oxygen do to my wine?
A. Oxidizes it and turns red wine brown and white wine gold – you will notice a brownish or gold ring around the container. This changes the flavour immensely.
Q. What is the purpose of bentonite?
A. Bentonite is naturally occurring clay for fining the wine. Fining is adding a positively or negatively charged agent to the wine to balance the charge of suspended particles and settle them out. Fining improves the clarity, colour, odour, taste and stability of a wine. You follow your bentonite with one of the following agents: egg white, gelatin, isinglass, sparkolloid, or polyclar.
Q. How do I taste wine and determine its quality?
A. Educate your palate. Take winetasting courses, attend winetasting events, read our helpful hints in our Winetasting 101 section.
Q. Do you have any other helpful hints to get started?
A. Don’t be intimidated. Educate yourself, educate your palate, and have fun.