Erin Doman on June 3, 2015 1 Comment Home winemaking has recently gained a lot of popularity among wine lovers. However, it can be slightly overwhelming once you gather the list of required equipment and chemicals and consider the cost. It can be equally frustrating when you put in a lot of work on your first batch and it still doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. Below, we have outlined 4 basics of the winemaking process to encourage you to attempt the process anyway and not shy away from failure. 1. Equipment The best thing you can do to kick off your winemaking process the right way is with the correct equipment. You need to make sure you have everything that you need before you begin. Some of the pieces of equipment that you will need are: Grapes or Concentrate Often winemaking beginners will start with juice or concentrate, but if you plan on starting with whole grapes you will need to make a couple more purchases: a crusher and a press. Unfortunately, these can be quite expensive, so check to see if there is somewhere local to you that will rent these appliances to you. Containers The next thing you need to make sure that you have is the proper container. Home winemakers need large carboys–either glass or plastic. Glass is better for the process, but plastic is much cheaper. Try to use a carboy of at least five gallons, but it’s fine if you use a slightly smaller or larger unit. You’ll just have to figure out what works best for your system. Airlock You will also need an airlock. This is a critical piece of equipment for the process, so make sure that you have a decent airlock. Airlocks prevent air from outside of the carboy from getting in and oxidizing your wine. Chemicals There are several chemicals that you’ll need for the winemaking process, some of which I’ll list here. First, you’ll need potassium metabisulfite, which will serve as your source of sulfur dioxide. You may also need either potassium bicarbonate if your grapes are more acidic or tartaric acid if your grapes are less acidic. You may also need a fining agent–such as bentonite–if your wine is cloudy and won’t clear on its own. Also, do not forget about the yeast. Yeast cultures will benefit your wine because they can ferment at cooler temperatures than the naturally occurring yeast of the grapes. Other Accessories A few accessories that you’ll find great use of are a hydrometer, an acid test kit, a bottling siphon, and filters. When storing your wine, you’ll of course need wine bottles, corks, and a corker. There are a lot of things required for winemaking, but the good news is that many of them are one-time purchases. 2. Carboys There are two main types of carboys: plastic or glass. You just need to determine which one to use. Sometimes one will come with your winemaking kit, so you can either choose to use that one or upgrade to a better one. There are several key differences between glass carboys and plastic carboys, both having advantages and disadvantages. Glass Glass carboys are great to use because you can easily see the wine inside, which can help you adjust your methods as your wine brews. Glass is also much easier to clean and you can airlock it better than with a plastic carboy. This means that your wine will have less oxidation during its brewing and aging process, which is important. However, glass carboys can be difficult because they can shatter while plastic will not. Another bad thing about glass carboys is that the sun can easily infiltrate the wine through its clear sides, which can damage the wine. If you do use a glass carboy, try to find one that is shatterproof and work only indoors. Plastic Plastic carboys are much cheaper than glass carboys. This is good for beginners because you are not making a big investment on something that you are not wholly committed to. A plastic carboy is best for practicing when beginning your home winemaking hobby. Once you get more serious about your winemaking, plastic carboys might not be as good of a choice. Plastic is much easier to scratch, which creates breeding grounds for bacteria to grow and infiltrate your wine. Even microscopic scratches can be a disaster for your wine, and you won’t even know the problem they have created until after you think you’re done. Plastic carboys also allow for more air to get into your wine, which oxidizes it. This is one important reason why glass carboys are better for the serious winemaker. Overall, glass carboys are a much better decision when it comes to home winemaking. Plastic carboys are the cheaper option and might be better for beginners, but in the long run a glass carboy is really worth the investment. 3. Sterilization Make sure you begin with a clean and sanitized station. An unsanitized winemaking station can ruin your batch before you even begin. Be sure you sanitize your winemaking station and equipment every time you use them. Boiling There are a number of sanitizing methods, all with their perks and drawbacks. One of the simplest ways to sanitize your equipment is by boiling everything. This enables you to clean everything without the use of chemicals. Unfortunately, this method can be difficult because some of your items will be too big to clean in your average pot of boiling water. This is also a very time consuming method. Chemicals An easy way to sanitize quickly is with the use of chemicals. There are many options for sanitizing chemicals, such as campden tablets, chlorine, iodine, or potassium metabisulfite crystals. Just be sure to wash the chemicals off of your equipment completely before use because these chemicals can negatively alter the taste of your wine. 4. Correcting Winemaking Mistakes If you aren’t getting the hang of the process right away, don’t fret. First of all, practice makes perfect. No one is going to make a winning wine on the first try. The good news is that sometimes you can correct some mistakes as they are happening. Rotten-Eggs Odor You’ll quickly know when something is going wrong with your winemaking when a horrible rotten-eggs smell overtakes your house. Luckily, there is a way to treat this. You need to be sure that you act as soon as you notice the foul smell: the sooner you act, the more likely you are to save your batch. The cause of this rotten-eggs smell is the presence of hydrogen sulfide in your wine. This can happen if there are too many sulfites in the wine, which is a result from the conditions that the grapes grew in. Another cause of this smell can be a bacterial contamination, or simply a lack of all of the necessary nutrients. Some ways you can correct this are by racking and splashing your wine over and over again, which aerates the wine and counteracts the sulfites. If that doesn’t work, put your airlock back on and wait for a couple of hours. This should get rid of the smell and save your wine. One important way you can prevent this from happening in the first place is from proper sanitation practices. Browning One of the most common problems that many people face while home winemaking is the browning of their wine. If you’ve noticed this in your brew or you’ve noticed that your wine smells strongly of Sherry, it is likely that your wine has oxidized. This can result from a misused or faulty airlock. If you catch the problem early on, there is a chance that you can fix it. White wines should be treated with casein at around 50–100 g/hL. Red wines are slightly trickier. You can try to correct them with activated carbon, but chances are that you will have to dump the spoiled wine away. This can be frustrating, but it is a valuable learning experience. Cloudiness Another common mistake that new winemakers come across is cloudy wine. Cloudy wine can be indicative of incomplete fermentation which can easily be treated by allowing the wine more time to ferment. Wine with a high protein content can go cloudy if exposed to high temperatures, but this can be treated with bentonite. The most common reason that wine gets cloudy is due to improper racking techniques that allow the sediment to reenter the wine after filtration. When you rack your wine, be sure to use high-quality filters and do not disturb the sediment while pouring. Fizziness If your wine is fizzy, it could be because there is still residual CO2 left in the carboy. You can easily treat this by using a vacuum pump. Another cause of fizzy wine is incomplete malolactic fermentation, which just means that your wine needs to cook a little longer. Final Note Winemaking can be a fun experiment, but there is definitely a learning curve. Don’t expect to nail a perfect batch right out of the gate. Just like any other process, practice makes perfect. Having the correct equipment and knowing how to properly care for and use it is key when it comes to home winemaking. With these 4 tips, we hope you’ve gained confidence in your home winemaking journey.