The Home Winemaking Page


Steps in winemaking

Getting started

First thing you need is a recipe. You find recipes on the web or in winemaking books or you can compose your own recipe by combining several recipes. You can find a couple of recipes I've tested myself in the Recipes chapter. For other places on the web to find recipes, see the Links chapter.
If you want to compose a recipe yourself, measure the acidity with an acid test kit. Adjust the acidity to the amount you like, typically 5 to 8 g/l for wine. See the Acids chapter for more info on this subject.
Check if the recipe requires a juice fermentation (for white wines) or a pulp fermentation (for red or blush wines). Both require their own approach to the first stages of winemaking.
Specific procedures for pulp and juice fermentations for red and white wines respectively will be indicated with the bold headings red and white.

A juice fermentation must be used for making white wines. In this case juice is extracted from the fruit by pressing (with a wine press) and then fermented in a carboy or fermentation bottle (secondary fermentor).

A pulp fermentation is used to maximize color and flavour extraction, necessary in making red wines. It basically means making a pulp of fruit by crushing and fermenting on the pulp without extracting juice first. This can't be done in a carboy (secondary fermentor), but in a primary fermentor like a bucket. This fermentor must be sealable against the air and vinegar flies to some extent e.g. by placing a lid on top with an airlock or you can use a plastic bag attached to the top with a rubber band. Be inventive.

For beginners, it's best to start with some juice or concentrate bought in a shop. This is easy to start with and requires little equipment. This way you can start with a juice fermentation without having to press the fruit with a wine press, and avoiding a pulp fermentation.
Keep records of all ingredients and all events. See the More info chapter.

Preparing the must

Sanitize your must to kill wild yeast and bacteria. This can be done by means of: The sulphite is the most commonly used and probably the best way.
Crush the fruit, try to be inventive. A home made pulp cutter on a drilling machine can be very handy.
Juice fermentation requires the extraction of juices now. This can be done by boiling or by means of pressing.
Clean fermenting vessel and other material and rinse it with a sulphite solution to sterilize it.
Fill the fermentor with the must and add water, and other ingredients that the recipe calls for except the sugar and yeast.
Take a hydrometer reading first. Calculate the amount of sugar needed for the desired alcohol content. For more info on this subject, see the Sugar and alcohol chapter.
Dissolve the sugar and take a reading of the starting SG (Specific Gravity). If you have't got a hydrometer, add the sugar according to the recipe. Take out some must with a measuring jar, dissolve the sugar and gently pour off the liquid. This way all the sugar gets dissolved properly. You can boil the water before adding to the must and dissolve the sugar in the hot water first.
Crush and dissolve one campden tablet and add it to the must if you haven't already done so and let it stand for 24 hours for the sulphite to do its thing. For more info on sulphite use see the More info chapter.
Leave some room (at least 1/5) on top, otherwise the foam will leave you with a big mess when the fermentation starts and the fermentor overflows.

Cover the primary fermentor with a lid that doesn't close perfectly or use a plastic bag with a rubber band. Air must be able to get in to promote yeast growth during the first few days. Further, the carbon dioxide gas produced by the fermenting process must be able to escape. Vinegar flies must be kept out. A lid with a hole would be best, a piece of cotton or a paper towel could be applied.
Try making a little more wine than your secondary fermenting vessel can take for topping up purposes when racking later on.

Plug the bottle with some wadding or a paper towel to allow oxygen into the bottle and to keep fruit flies out. This is necessary to promote yeast growth during the first few days. Fill the carboy to 4/5 part. Put the rest of the wine in another bottle, so that you can completely fill the carboy later on in the process.

Making the yeast starter

A yeast starter can be made (24 hours before fermentation start), but rehydrating the yeast is usually sufficient (about 15 minutes before fermentation start) if you are not making large batches of wine (less than 10 liters). A yeast starter gives the fermentation a more vigorous start.
For a simple yeast starter you'll need: Slightly heat the juice until lukewarm (about 30 degrees Celsius), nutrient and the citric acid. Put this mixture in a sterile bottle. Add the yeast and stir well. Cover with some wadding. Let it stand for about 24 hours untill foam has formed. When foam has formed, it is ready to be added to the must.
Another way to prepare the yeast is rehydration. Rehydration means dissolving the yeast in half a glass of tepid water and letting it stand for about 15 minutes. You can toss in a teaspoon of sugar to give it something to do. This of course must be done the day you're going to start the fermentation.
When you're lazy, just sprinkle the yeast on the must.
A yeast starter usually works best and it's necessary for larger quantities. For smaller quantities, rehydration usually is sufficient. The faster the must will start to ferment, the better. A yeast starter is the fastest way, rehydration comes next, and just adding the yeast dry takes the longest untill fermentation start. The longer the period before fermentation gets going, the more chance oxygen, bacteria and mold get to spoil your wine.

Go to the Secondary fermentation paragraph and skip the ones in between.

Primary fermentation

[pressing cap] red
24 hours after the campden tablet has been dissolved in the must, the yeast starter can be added to the must.
The actual start of fermentation will take place within about 2 days after adding the starter. This will be perceptable due to foam formation and bubbles will start rising towards the surface.
Pulp fermentation generally takes a few days to a week.
Foam will form in the primary fermentation vessel, but as it should be significantly larger than the amount of must to be fermented, the foam shouldn't be a problem.
The rising bubbles will cause a cap of fruit pulp to form on top, which must be pressed down at least once a day to keep it submerged to avoid mold growth. This can be done using a clean spoon. Pressing also maximizes color and flavour extraction.

Transfer to secondary

[straining] red
When the color and tannin extraction has been sufficient (a few days to a week after fermentation start) the must needs to be transferred to the secondary fermentor (a carboy or jug). The sediment and cap have to be separated from the wine. This can be done in a process called straining.
You may want to take a hydrometer reading here, if you have one. It should read about SG=1030.
Straining can be done like this: After straining, place an airlock on top of the bottle.
Do not fill the carboy completely yet, because of overflow danger. If you've made some excess wine that doesn't fit the carboy, put it into a smaller bottle, also under airlock. You can use it for topping up while racking later on in the process.

Secondary fermentation

[Fill lock] [ferm. bottle] red
After primary fermentation (and having racked the wine to the secondary fermentor when you've pulp fermented) the next fermentation step starts, the secondary fermentation (obvious isn't it?). Fermentation will continue here, but not as vigorously as primary fermentation. Fill your carboy almost to the top, when no foam is being formed any more.
Place a bung and airlock on top of the carboy.

When fermenting clear juice, you've skipped a few paragraphs. The process continues here.
You'll only fill the carboy for 4/5 part. Fill another bottle with juice so you'll be able to fill up the head space later on.
Add the yeast starter and get both bottles fermenting. Put a piece of wadding in the neck of the bottles to keep fruit flies out.
Foam will form on top of the must due to rising bubbles. That's why you only filled the carboy partially. The amount of foam depends on the ingredients used and fermentation conditions. Although you've only filled the bottle partially, the danger of overflowing still exists. That's why it's a good idea to place your carboy somewhere where spillage can't hurt like in a bucket or bath tub.
When the yeast has started doing its work, put a fermentation lock in place of the wadding.

When fermentation slows down (you can tell by the bubbling rate of the airlock or by hydrometer readings) it's time to add the rest of the total amount of sugar required if you want to get a higher alcohol content. The SG should be about 1010 now. It's best to add the sugar in several steps. Take a hydrometer reading before and after each sugar addition to be able to calculate the alcohol content when the wine is finished. Siphon off some wine, dissolve the sugar in it and siphon back. Notice that dissolved sugar needs some bottle space. Don't just throw dry sugar into the wine, unless you want to get a volcano foam eruption. Even worse, most sugar will sink to the bottom, not dissolving completely.

Topping up

[ferm. bottle] When the fermentation process really slows down (usually after a month or so) and all sugar has been added, you need to fill the bottle all the way to the top to minimize the surface area. This should be done because the wine doesn't provide itself a CO2 blanket any more (only during vigorous fermentation), and could oxidize (and get spoiled).
Use the excess wine you've made to top up, use a similar wine, or water.


[racking] When the wine has stopped fermenting (it has stopped bubbling) it has to be racked.
The wine has to be siphoned to another bottle leaving the sediment behind. The process has to be done several times so that you end up with a clear batch of wine. You'd better practice with some water first, if you've never racked before to avoid spilling the wine.
Racking is done like this: You'll have to repeat this sequence every time a reasonably thick layer of sediment has accumulated untill the wine is clear. About three rackings should do. If the wine doesn't clear out of itself, there are fining agents like bentonite to help you out. If you don't mind the haze, don't worry.


When the wine is clear, and the fermentation process has fully ceased, the wine can be bottled. Take the hydrometer if you have one to check for residual sugars and to be able to calculate the alcohol content. The Sugar and alcohol chapter explains how to do this
The wine can also be matured in the fermentation bottle (bulk aged), but if you haven't got that many of those the choice is easy. Beware that if you bottle too soon, your corks might start popping out due to re-fermentation in the bottle, and leave you with a terrible mess. So it's best to wait a few months after fermentation stop to make sure that fermentation has fully ceased and the wine is stable.
Just before the actual bottling, the wine can be sweetened to taste. Check the Sugar and alcohol chapter on how to do this.
Use green or brown glass bottles for red wines, and white or colored bottles for white wines. The easiest bottle to work with is the Bordeaux type (easy to pile up).
Here is the bottling procedure:
[fill level] [bottling] Move right on to the next step.


Now that you've just finished filling your bottles it's necessary to cork them (if you've chosen to use wine bottles). Corking bottles really can't be done without a corking machine (believe me, I've tried). This could use some practice. When you're not making large quantities a hand held corking tool will do. Large quantities require a floor corker.
Here's how:

Labeling and capsuling

[label] All bottles should be labeled. It is necessary to identify the type of wine, but a nice label also looks better.
A couple of things that could appear on it are: type of fruit, sweet/dry, year, month, date of fermentation start and bottling date, type of wine, your name, %vol alcohol.
You can buy labels ready made or you can have some custom designed for you. But homemade wine looks good with homemade labels. Labels can be made with pen and paper or on the computer. Almost every paint program or wordprocessor can produce nice labels.
For more info on making wine labels with a computer, see the Label making chapter.
Labels are best glued on with water soluble glue like Pritt or UHU stick. This is necessary for getting them off easily in order to reuse the bottle.
You can use capsules to cover the top of the bottle neck and the cork. It is mainly for decorative purposes.
Most capsules must be heated to attach them to the bottle neck. This can be done by means of a candle or a heat gun for removing old paintwork. Pouring boiling water over them also works. Of course this must be done before labeling.

Bottle aging

Aging means letting your wine lie down for a period of time before consumption so that its quality improves. This can be done before (bulk aging) or after bottling (bottle aging).
Almost every wine improves with time. A few months will cause significant change, a year or more will be better.
This process doesn't continue into infinity. There is something like a peak in quality, but most wine is being drunk too early. The time that home made wine will ages usually depends on how long you can bare to wait. A typical aging time for your first bottle is something between 1 second and one week after bottling. So the more wine you make, the better chance it gets to age.
To age wines you need a place where it is dark and where temperature is cool and relatively constant.


That's what it's all about! Consuming your wine. You can drink it with some company so that you get opinions from outsiders about your wine.
It may taste different from commercial wine, you should be aware that you've really made something a bit special.
Use wine glasses, if you have some available. White wine should be drunk rather cool, red wine at room temperature.
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