Making Wine FAQ – Answers to your DIY Wine Making Questions
If you’ve been thinking about making wine or purchased one of our Wine Making Kits and want to learn more about the process or have questions, this FAQ for Wine Making should be of help. There are a lot of Wine Making Do’s and Don’ts, so be sure to learn as much as possible before starting. We also encourage you to join our wine making discussion forums for sharing with the community what you’ve learned and your experience.
Frequently Asked Questions about Making Wine
Q: What are the most common mistakes for the beginning wine maker?
A: Here are the tips to be successful in making your first batch. 1) Use a fruit or juice which works well with starting out with making wine (apple, pear, orange) 2) Sterilize everything and do it thoroughly. Use a complete cleanser and sanitizer like OneStep. 3) Keep things simple and keep a record of what you’ve tried to identify what works and what does not. 4) Follow the instructions and make sure you don’t accidentally expose your juice to contaminants during fermentation periods.
Q: Will it be more expensive to make my own wine than to just buy it from the store?
A: Initially yes, because there is an outlay for equipment and the process of learning and experimentation. However, over time you can produce wine and save money. The big question or concern is if you are a true connoisseur you may never be quite happy with what you can achieve at home, vs. purchasing a quality vintners product
Q: What do I need to do to ensure good results?
A: 1) Make sure that you understand the science and not just the art, 2) Start with good quality fruit or juice, 3) Try to understand and do research on the potential of the fruit or juice you are using, 4) Make sure you are measuring properly (pH, acid, etc.) to ensure a great outcome. 5) Make sure you store your wine for fermentation in a cool and dark location.
Q: What is the difference between sanitized and sterilized?
A: Sanitizing means a certain amount of microorganisms remain, and sterilization is eliminated all microorganisms. In wine making, sometimes you’ll need to sterilize and sometimes you’ll need to sanitize.
Q: How much and what kind of yeast should I use?
A: Different yeasts are used for different kinds of wine. There are yeasts which are particular to dry, sparking and sweet wines. The amount to use will be described on the packaging for the particular yeast and the manufacturer can give you the best instructions for your desired result.
Q: Can I use a bread yeast for making wine?
A: While it is possible, it won’t achieve your desired result. Wine yeasts are specifically intended to provide efficient wine making fermentation outcomes.
Q: Should I try to make a sulfate free wine (wine without sulfites or sulfar dioxide)?
A: While, it’s impossible to make a completely sulfite free wine, you can minimize the amount of sulfites, but it might compromise your outcome. If you don’t use a sulfite additive (Campden tablets) you won’t have a noticeable amount of sulfite in your wine, but your results may not be desirable.
Q: Do I need to add sulfites to my wine?
A: A sulfite can help make a better result and quality of wine. It is both a stabilizer and anti-oxidant. You can add sulfites with a Campden tablet, which should have instructions on usage amounts. While you will have trace amounts of naturally occurring sulfites from your fruit, it will not be enough to influence the outcome of your wine.
Q: If my pH is off, how can I adjust or correct it?
A: The right pH is critical to good results with wine making. Adding acid will lower the pH, but increase the TA (total acidity). If your acid level is too high, you can reduce it by adding calcium or potassium carbonate. Attempting to lower your acid is not recommended and you should try to ensure that ensure that your wine making process minimizes the risk of having too high a level of acidity. Some fruits are high in acid and release it during the fermentation process.
Q: What does the terms ‘surely’ mean in reference to wine making?
A: This is derived from the French term ‘sur lie’. It refers to the sludge that exists at the bottom of the container used for fermentation. It is removed in the final stage of wine making.
Q: Do I need to sterilize my corks?
A: Your corks, which are intended for home made wines should be coated with a protective coating, which will be removed if you sterilize them. You should minimize their exposure to any contaminant before corking your bottles.
Q: Do I need a wine press to make wine?
A: No, that’s only for volume production or if you have a lot of fruit to work with.
Q: Why are oak barrels so popular in making wine?
A: It’s a combination of tradition, from historical necessity and the fact that oak lends itself to providing a neutral flavor. However, most large wine making companies are using stainless steel tanks for making wine. A wine aged in a French oak barrel will have a distinctive character, unlike those aged in a stainless steel vat. The best wines in the world are typically aged in oak barrels, but this is changing.
Q: Should I consider a juice with skins?
A: Fermenting wine with skins from the fruit will provide greater tannins and color, but it is not required.
Q: What is the ideal storage temperature and lighting for my wine to be stored in?
A: Typically you want your wine store to be around 5 C or 40 F, for long term storage. You also want your wine stored in a location without light, because UV will oxidize your wine and change the color.
Q: What is racking and how often should I perform a racking before bottling?
A: Racking is the process of removing the sediment through filtering. You’ll want to perform racking to achieve your desire level of clarity. To do this you want to let the sediment settle and then siphon off, leaving the sediment.
Q: Is there a way I can sweeten my wine during the process?
A: Yes, you can add sweetener, but need to make sure it is intended for wine making and not a table sugar.
Q: Can I use a juice concentrate to make my home made wine?
A: Yes, for a cost savings or convenience your can use concentrate. The best results will typically be derived from fresh fruit, but there are quality concentrates intended for wine making.
Q: How long should I wait to start racking?
A: Typically 7-10 days or when the S.G. (specific gravity determined with hydrometer) is between 992 and 995. However, you will need to age the wine for a few months before it is drinkable.
Q: Will I be able to choose to make a sweet or dry wine?
A: Yes, you will have control over this in the wine making process. A sweeter wine is achieve by less fermentation and a drier wine is derived from a complete fermentation process, where all sugar is eaten by the yeast.
Q: What is the proper pH and how do I achieve it?
A: It’s critical to get the proper pH level with your wine. You’ll need to test the pH and add acid as required to achieve successful results. A pH strip can be used to test the acidity. If too acidic you can add carbonate salts to increase the pH. Be sure to monitor the pH with each drop, until you achieve a pH of between 3.2 and 3.6. Because a while will tend to have higher acidity, these will typically have lower pH than a red wine.
Q: Should I be concerned with the quality of my water being used in my wine making?
A: Generally no. If your wine making recipe requires water (concentrated juice requires) you’ll want to make sure that it’s water that you would be comfortable drinking and is not treated. Do not use distilled water, as you will want to have the minerals.
Q: How can I achieve a wine with a little bit of fizz or bubbles or conversely, how can I minimize fizz?
A: The bubbles or fizz are a by-product of gas trapped in the wine. The degree to which you out-gas your wine will result in a more or less gaseous outcome. Agitating your wine during fermentation increases out-gassing. You can employ an agitation process by vigorously stirring your wine, which should result in a foaming, which is releasing gas. By not agitating you can maximize the gas stored. Out-gassing will increase your wine clarity.
Q: Do I need to use both Potassium Sorbate and Metabisulfite before bottling my wine?
A: It really depends. the Potassium Sorbate inhibits growth and proliferation of yeast mold. So if you want a sweeter wine you’ll want to minimalize the re-fermentation process by adding Metabisulfite, which acts as a preservative and neutralizes the re-fermentation process. Based on the dry/sweet profile of your wine, you’ll combine the two to modify the outcome with your intended desire.
Q: How will I know when my wine is fermenting?
A: Your Hydrometer reading is the best way to determine your fermentation progress and how much alcohol there is in your wine.
Q: How do I know what types of adjustments I should make to my wine?
A: Testing your pH and S.G. and making sure they are what you expect or your recipe calls for.
Q: Do I need to use a clarifying agent (fining) and which kind should I use?
A: If you don’t want cloudy wine, then a clarifying agent or a fining is recommended. The agent will bring the particulate in your wine to the bottom of the vessel and create a sediment which you can separate. There are a few different types of clarifying agents which are applied in different situations. Pectic enzyme helps reduce pectins (certain plant proteins) which can create a haze. Bentonite has a similar purpose, as it causes suspended particles to cling and settle to the bottom of the container.
Q: Is it legal to make wine at home?
A: Well, it might seem obvious, but yes. However, some states have limits and if you make a lot it could be considered a commercial enterprise. Please check with your states particular regulations.
Q: My wine has a vinegar smell? What should I do?
A: Your wine did not turn out okay and you’ll need to toss it out and start over. You probably did not properly sterilize something in the process or your yeast may have died.
A: Calculate the alcohol content using a hydrometer and measuring the gravity or using a vinometer to measure alcohol content.