Basic Winemaking Methods

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I thought I would do a write up of the basics methods and materials used in home winemaking. If you want to make wine at home you should forget about all the tricky stuff sometimes discussed about fine wine. The main thing is to understand the basics and how to make drinkable wine. Once you have mastered the basics after a few successful seasons, you can start to think about experimenting and tweaking, but with wine you only get one go every year, so you have to make it work.

Ripe Fruit.

The main factor affecting the final quality is the ripeness and quality of the grapes. Ripeness is measured as sugar content by hydrometer or refractometer. 3 main scales are used, SG, brix and beaume, but most winemakers use beaume (be) which gives the probable alcohol content. 10 be is about 1.075 SG. Red grapes need to be 12be or higher, though a little under is acceptable. White grapes can be a bit lower, but under 11be they are usually carbonated and sweetened to give a champagne style drink. The ideal level for reds is from 13-15be, for whites 12-14be. To measure the sugar of a delivery of grapes you need to sample properly, the ripeness varies considerably between individual berries and bunches. You could take about 10 random bunches or take a few berries from about 20 random bunches. Crush then sieve the sample, then let it stand for a little while to settle out.
Apart from sugar, quality is important but is hard to measure unless you have seen the vineyard the grapes came from. Good grapes come from a balanced vineyard, neither too vigorous nor struggling too much, with a yield around 3-5 tonnes per hectare. If the vineyard is too vigorous or high yielding the grapes get too much shade and not enough flavour. The vine shoots should stop growing in January, if the shoots grow right through the season the energy that should go into ripening the fruit is diverted into shoot growth. If the vineyard is diseased or drought stressed the grapes can't ripen properly.
Fortunately most viticulturists are pretty skilled at getting their grapes to ripen so you are unlikely to get poor quality grapes.


Grapes are normally crushed soon after picking and are never washed. There are small crusher/destemmers or you can just stomp with your feet in a large plastic tub, obviously wash your feet and trim your toenails. Reds are fermented with the grapeskins but whites are pressed after crushing.

Pressing whites.

You don't have to crush whites before pressing but it will improve yield a bit. A basket press is fine but a bladder press will give a better yield. You can even use a cider press.


If you want you can sulfite the juice and leave for a day, 50ppm with potassium or sodium metabisulfite (so2). Wineries usually do this as a precaution but I don't find it necessary for home winemaking. If you like to be sure then do the sulfiting. For beginners you should use a cultured yeast rehydrated in water 35c for 15min. Try to get a wine yeast, ec 1118 is usually available and cheap but don't worry too much about the yeast, it won't make a big difference and is something you can get into when you have more expertise. You should monitor the fermentation every day with a hydrometer. Red grapes are usually fermented at ambient temperatures but if you can cool the whites a bit it is better. Temperature is another thing you shouldn't worry about too much but you want a fairly constant temperature, wild fluctuations of temperature can stress out the yeast. It is a good idea to add a yeast nutrient, whatever is available should help, at least some nitrogen. Fermenters for white wine are usually covered, but you can ferment reds uncovered, you will need good access to the fermenter for punching down.

Punching down

Reds are fermented with the skins and that is where the flavour comes from. You need to push the skins back into the juice, as the wine ferments the alcohol helps break down the skins and extract flavour. Push them down at least 3 times a day or even more, for 4 or 5 days. When the sg gets low you need to leave the skins for a day before pressing to make it easier to separate the juice from the skins. Your arms will get covered in wine so you will need to have somewhere to clean off.(all good fun).

Pressing Reds

Reds ferment fairly quickly, after 4 or 5 days they are down to about 3be. You need to leave for 1 day without punching down so the skins can compact. You should press before fermentation is quite finished, if fermentation is finished there is a danger of oxidation. Draw off the free-run juice first from the bottom of the fermenter, then press the skins, you can use buckets to transfer the skins to the press. A brew-in-bag system can be used for reds, so the skins can be trapped in a porous mesh bag to make them easier to press. If you don't have a press just use the free-run.

After fermentation.

When primary fermentation is finished (or is finishing) your wine needs to be in a glass or stainless steel container, with as small an airspace as possible. The standard container is a glass demijohn, preferably held in a plastic basket for safety. It should be filled to within a few cm of the top, with a rubber or polyurethane bung and an airlock. Unfortunately you can't store small quantities of wine in plastic. It may be difficult getting the right quantity and container but it is essential. You will need wine for topping up, either bottles from a previous year or buy some similar wine. Small amounts can be topped up with water. After a month or 2 the wine needs to be racked off the sediment, and topped up. White wine can be bottled and drunk as soon as you are happy with the flavour, 6 months to a year. Red wine needs to be stored for at least a year, then aged a bit more in the bottle. Deposits and cloudiness are not issues a home winemaker needs to bother about too much. You never get deposits in cheap bottles of wine, usually it is a sign of quality. You can try to get rid of haze in white wine by fining, but if you have a slightly cloudy wine that tastes good you should be pleased. Most years you won't get a haze and it will drop clear.

Malolactic fermentation

MLF is desirable for red wines. To encourage MLF don't add so2 and keep at 18c or above. I like to use cultured MLF but if you don't want the expense it may happen naturally. With experience you may be able to tell the taste of wine before and after MLF, if you use a pH meter you will see the pH go up 0.2 or 0.3 after MLF. The only way to be sure is expensive testing so home winemakers are a bit in the dark about this, I just add the culture and hope.
During MLF the wine can lose some flavour, but this returns after it is finished.

SO2 and pH.

Standard practise in Australia is to keep wine around 3.4pH. You may find some grapes come in at 3.8 or even 4.0, and it goes up with fermentation. Keeping the pH lower is safer and helps so2 work better, to lower pH add tartaric acid. If you don't have a pH meter and your red grapes come from a warm area you might add 0.5 g/l as a precaution. I started off always adjusting pH but now I think it's not so important, some say you should never add acid so it is a bit controversial.
White wines should have so2 added after primary is finished and after racking, (30-50ppm) to reduce oxidation. Any so2 added to juice before fermentation will become inactivated. If you don't want to use so2, keep handling to a minimum, keep the temperature stable and bottle fairly early.
Red wine needs to go through MLF so so2 is only used a few months in at racking, and at bottling.


A problem with using glass containers is getting the co2 out of solution. For reds having co2 makes them taste sour and bitter. Even after a year in a glass demijohn you can still have some dissolved co2. It doesn't actually damage the wine so you can decant the wine or pour a bit from the bottle and leave for a few hours, but it is annoying. One solution i have heard but not tried is putting a vacuum cleaner hose on the demijohn with duct tape and sucking the co2 out. Could be worth a try.


Do not use the sort of cork inserters that use a hammer to bash the cork in. That will oxidise the wine. You need a proper corking unit with levers and clamps to gently insert the cork, you can hire these. Screwcaps are a good alternative, and crown caps work but do not look good. Be very careful to avoid oxidising the wine because a lot of home made wine is ruined at this stage. Purging the bottles with co2 is an option, but it is good enough just to be very careful not to let the wine splash around, and fill as high as possible to avoid the air space.

Wine is unlike beer because the flavour comes from the grapes. The only flavouring you can add is sugar, but sweetening is difficult. The winemaker is just trying to preserve the flavours in the grapes, so you want to start with good grapes. There is a lot of skill required to be a professional winemaker, but to make wine at home you mainly need to concentrate on the basics.



Ohhh... I can write anything I like here
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Love it. Good job.


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Good job, Definitely some good information for anyone inspiring to their hand at wine making.


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Had a tour of a Bendigo (red) winery on the last day of picking in March. Saw the whole process including tasting some wines mid ferment. My favourite bit was the machine that separates grapes from bunches. That and the fact that the makers all reach for a beer at the end of long days.

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