Making Your First Wine

Ever since Tom and Barbara cracked open their Pea Pod Burgundy, home wine-making has gone from strength to strength. The process is complex and lengthy, but once you’ve siphoned the fermented liquid a couple of times it’s fairly hands-off. Here’s our guide to making your very first wine at home…

Today, you have two options for your first wine. You can use a kit, which contains the grape extract, yeast and finings you need to make and finish your own wine. Or you can source ingredients from the hedgerows and the fruit patch, and make an English country-style wine. The first method is far quicker, with the assurance of drinkable results. The latter method will (hopefully) result in a fruity, sweet wine that comes from fruit or vegetables grown locally. The choice is up to you, but experts recommend that you start with a kit to familiarise yourself with the processes involved.

What Do You Need to Get Started?

The home wine-making kits contain the ingredients for wine, including grape extract, yeast, yeast nutrient and finings. If you are starting with a country wine (such as pea pod wine) then you will need to obtain these extra ingredients before you start. Before beginning any home wine-making project, kit or not, you’ll need the following equipment. You can buy demijohns second-hand from auctions, charity shops, or websites. The rest of the equipment will not cost more than £30 in total.

  • 2 demijohns
  • 1 fermentation bucket (unless you’re starting with a kit)
  • 1 siphon
  • 1 rubber bung with airlock
  • Hydrometer and container to measure results
  • Funnel, and muslin
  • Corking tool
  • Space – to keep the demijohns and fermentation bucket.

Home Wine-making Principles

Wine-making has three distinct phases. You will begin by mixing up – the fruit (which should be crushed or boiled) is mixed with yeast and nutrient, and left covered to ferment for several days. (If you are using a kit, the grape extract is usually combined with yeast and nutrient directly in the demijohn, skipping this step.)

The mixture should be tested for sugar content (which will dictate the alcoholic strength of the future wine) and sugar added as necessary. From here on, the process is very low-maintenance.

At this point, the fruit mixture is strained into a demijohn, where the strained juice (the ‘must’) continues to ferment. At this stage you will need to fit a rubber bung and an airlock. You will half-fill the airlock with sulphite solution, which allows the air to bubble out as fermentation continues. The process will gradually slow down until you can no longer see bubbles in the airlock. This stage can take anything from a few days (with a kit) to months (with fruit must).

Eventually, the wine will begin to clear, as used-up particles of yeast and fruit sink to the bottom of the jar. When you have a layer of deposit (‘lees’) at the bottom, and clear wine from there up, you can begin racking the wine. This entails transferring the clear liquid to another demijohn, using a siphon. From this point, you will be instructed by the recipe to rack several more times at one-month intervals. Racking is an easy and straightforward process that shouldn’t deter you!

If racking does not clear the wine completely, you can add finings to do this job. But if the wine has cleared naturally, then you can bottle it. A corking tool will help you to put in airtight corks (which you can buy from wine-making specialists) – then your wine should be stored for at least 3 months before your first tasting!

If you want to get started in home wine-making, you’ll find great advice and recipes in “First Steps in Wine-making” by C J Berry and “Traditional Home Wine-making” by Paul and Ann Turner.

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