Interested in making wine? Me too! There just aren’t enough home vintner’s anymore. It’s nice to share ideas and techniques with each other but experience makes all the difference. Here are the “Basic 10” things you will need to get started. All of these items are cheap and with basic care, will give you a lifetime of use and even be around to hand down to the next generation wine-maker. You may even already have most items.
…and a plastic or glass testing container. Notice I have a tall glass tube that looks similar to a slim beaker. All you need is something that is deep enough for your hydrometer to float in without bottoming out. This instrument will tell you if you have too much or too little sugar to start. This lets you control the amount of alcohol the fermentation will produce. The single most important ingredient in your must is sugar!
2. Straining Bag(s)
Used to put fruit or other fermentable stock in. I usually never start with it in a bag. I let it float freely in the primary for a while, then later on, I might ladle it into the bag so I can give it a squeeze daily to get as much of the natural juices out as possible.
3. Primary Fermentation Vessel
I use crocks for my larger quantities of cherry wines, but a large food-grade plastic bucket or tub is good for the average batch. This vessel is where the primary fermentation takes place. Again… FOOD-GRADE is important because most plastic buckets are painted or died to make them attractive. Studies have shown that a mixture of alcohol and acids can leach out heavy metals contained in the dyes. Food-grade plastic is white, translucent or transparent. Keep your primary covered with either plastic, or a wet towel (wetted daily) to keep out airborne bacteria and fruit flies. Never use a plastic garbage bag. There are chemicals in them that could present a toxic hazard.
4. Gallon/Half-Gallon Jugs
Glass… with screw cap. Used to hold solutions or even the extra must for topping up later. I myself can never have too many.
5. Secondary Fermentation Vessels
Glass or plastic. Shown here are glass carboys. One is a 5 gallon the other is a 3 gallon. Pictured on the front of the website is a 14 gallon demijohn. It’s important to determine the amount of wine you are going to make and cater the container you will keep it in to that quantity. For example, you can’t use a 14 gallon container when you are making 5 gallons of wine. The airspace inside your carboy is too great for the gently fermenting wine and your wine will spoil. Notice the necks taper into narrow throats. When you top it up, there is a quarter-sized area (as opposed to a frisbee-sized area) of wine exposed to the air inside your carboy. After it is topped up, you’ll then put an airlock on it. See #8 below. See “Some helpful knowledge in winemaking” to the right.
6. Racking Tube (siphon hose)
Used to transfer liquids from one container to another. 5 feet is good. 8mm inner-diameter, clear plastic hose. Siphoning shields the wine from contact with the air and allows you to suck the wine off the top without disturbing your sediment at the bottom. This process is called “racking” and the sediment at the bottom is called “lees.”
7. Brewers Thermometer
A floating one can be left in the must to give you a constant, accurate reading of the current temperature. Too high a temperature will kill the yeast, and too low will inhibit fermentation.
8. Airlocks with Bungs
Also called bubblers or breathers. They fit on top of the carboys and allow the carbon dioxide to escape, and keep the air out.
9. Graduated Measuring Bowl
For precise measurements of sugar, water, etc. Winemaking is an exact science so our measurements must be accurate.
10. Stirring Stick
Long-handled wood or plastic stir spoon or paddle. No metals except stainless steel.
Some helpful knowledge in winemaking
For red wines, ports, and sherry wines, that we classify as “oxidative,” either plastic or glass secondary fermentors are acceptable. For whites and roses, which are classified as “reductive,” use glass fermentors only. Food-grade plastic is porous, like wood and allows the wine to breath small amounts of oxygen, which helps red wine to mature. But it doesn’t mean you should leave your red wine in plastic fermentors too long. After 3 months of fermenting, start to smell and taste your wine. It will normally take 6-9 months to age but if your carboy is thin or if you store it in a warm place over 70° F, the process is faster—NOT BETTER… faster. Take that as you may.
The name “carboy” derives from the Persian word “qarabah,” meaning “a large glass container to hold corrosive liquid.” To speed the emptying of carboys when rinsing/emptying, turn them upside down and swirl the contents in a rotary motion. The liquid will empty out in a smooth stream instead of gulping which takes longer.
About wooden wine barrels
Acquaint yourself thoroughly with the procedures of using wooden barrels. They are usually for making larger quantities of wine. Maintaining barrels is a job and can easily lead to below-average wine if not done properly. You do not need a barrel to make wine at home. Typically, you will use glass jugs (carboys, demi-johns, or just your basic 1-gallon apple juice jugs.)