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jsolomon

DIY Winemaking: Kits, Clubs, Supplies

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I would advise against it. Even the best technique and equipment in the world will not be able to overcome the problems inherent in using lousy raw materials, assuming you are thinking about those concentrated kits that are diluted prior to fermentation. A step up from that may be the undiluted pressed juice that is available at harvest. Unfortunately my experiences with even the grapes that are available to home winemakers haven't been too positive, so I went on to making other things.

Beer, mead, and even fruit wine, on the other hand, are a different story. The raw materials are easily obtained and so you can get much better results.

Sadly, there is a reason that they say that homemade wine should be judged on the two point scale- (1) point if you can get it down and (1) point if you can keep it down. :wink:

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That two point scale is the funniest thing I've read in days!

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Yeah, I've always loved that one myself though I can't take credit for it.

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Our own efforts at a home-produced wine yielded surprisingly good results. We even risked a few batches using natural fermentation -- those were quite good, in fact. Not world-class-vintner-good, but certainly drinkable. I've had worse $10 bottles. We used grapes, not a kit.

You can expect and achieve good and even very good results with time, effort, proper equipment, knowledge, and most importantly, as TongoRad pointed out, the best possible raw ingredients. Serious wine makers learn how to select their grapes to achieve their desired results.

Previously, we used food-grade plastic bins and carboys to ferment and rack the wine. The largest batch we ever attempted began with around 600 pounds of Zinfandel grapes, and required substantial (for a working man like me) time, effort and expense. The final yield was a decent wine that cost roughly $4-$5 dollars per bottle to make -- not counting the initial investement in equipment like carboys, bins, airlocks, etc. Although it's true that I've paid more for worse wines, I've also paid around as much for better ones.

So it kind of depends on why you're doing this. My original goal was to produce our daily table wine, which means every harvest season I would have to buy a whole bunch of grapes and spend many hours laboring over something that I could simply buy at Trader Joe's for about the same price. But the pride I would take in drinking and serving my own table wine is immesurable. So I still plan to do that -- as soon as I can allocate the funds for around 1500 lbs of grapes and two or three 50-gallon oak barrels, and as soon as I have the time and energy to do a proper job of it. Maybe in time for next year's harvest -- but probably not.

However, if your goal is to simply try your hand at it, and enjoy the feeling of serving wine made by the sweat of your brow, then I wholeheartedly encourage any approach compatible with your financial and physical conditions. If 200 lbs of grapes, a 30-gallon food-grade bin and half-a-dozen 6-gallon glass car boys are not a feasible approach, then I say a kit is better than nothing. Wine is, after all, a miracle no matter what method is used to make it.

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I make wine every year. You need the grapes not Juice as you don't know what it is. Crusher stemmer, press can both be rented. Oak Barrels at $600 - $1200 apiece. A pump, a filler which can be rented as can a corker. We currently have 8 Barrels sitting. Syrah, Sav Blanc, Zin, Cab and a late harvest Sav Blanc. It's very labor intensive but not hard.

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I made some really good strawberry wine while I was in college. The trick is to get fruit that's very ripe and flavorful and DO NOT ADD as much sugar as most wine recipes call for. :wacko:

I would recommend buying an equipment starter kit separately from fruit or juice.

Vintner's Vault in Paso Robles has a catalog of winemaking equipment and supplies.

Santa Barbara Home Brew Supply even has iddle-widdle barrels!

And Beerchurch.com has a list of sites around the US that sell beer and winemaking supplies.

So . . . what do you think, everyone? Should we morph this thread into a dedicated "home winemaking" thread?

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I'm up for it, because Santa tells me that the fiance is getting a wine-making kit for Christmas from Kirk's Brew and Gifts.

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So . . .  what do you think, everyone?  Should we morph this thread into a dedicated "home winemaking" thread?

You may live to regret the offer. Here is an old thread on the subject, or close to it, that I started and never finished a few years ago: Click.

To follow up: the mead went off, and I have no idea why. Since then, life has conspired against my wine/beer/mead-making ambitions. But I'm still passionate about the whole natural fermentation thing.

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I've made wine from the concentrated kits and frankly, it's quite good. I've paid a lot more for crappier wine from the store. I was hesitant when I had to actually add oak chips to the fermentation - seems a pretty ghetto way to get tannins in the wine, but there you are. At least I'm not doing that and selling my wine commercially :raz:

The kits come out to about $3 per bottle after you pay for the equipment. It's not going to knock your socks off, but it's drinkable as everyday table wine. I've served it to guests and they like it. It's also given me a greater appreciation of what a winemaker goes through and basic chemistry involved in winemaking.

I currently have a Petite Verdot that should be ready for bottling about Dec 22. I think it's cool that I can make wine for home consumption from varietals most people haven't heard of.

At some point I'll probably trade up to grapes or frozen grape concentrate, but the kits are fine for me for now. I just don't have time to fuss with that at this point in my life.

I would suggest giving it a shot. The initial investment is only about $200 which is pretty minimal for starting a new hobby. Just save all the bottles from wine you are drinking now for reuse.

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In the heady rush of early success, I sent the word out that I need empty wine bottles. Inside a year, I had over 300 donated by friends and relatives. One day, I realized how much work it would take take to de-label, clean and sterilize all those bottles. All I really need, I decided, is 3 barrels and a pitcher.

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In the heady rush of early success, I sent the word out that I need empty wine bottles. Inside a year, I had over 300 donated by friends and relatives. One day, I realized how much work it would take take to de-label, clean and sterilize all those bottles. All I really need, I decided, is 3 barrels and a pitcher.

Realistically speaking, that's about right. I still live in the fantasy world that has me aging the wine for more than say... 8 weeks. But it sure goes fast.

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Hmmm....this sounds interesting. I already have a bushel load of beer homebrewing supplies.....I am already comfortable with fermentation......Perhaps could use some of that ancient chemistry knowledge.....Hmmm.....must ponder this concept at length......

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The first batch, Vintner's Reserve Pinot Grigiot has been in the fermentor 6 days as of this post. It survived the furnace dying twice (which dropped the house to 50F) so, we'll see how everything turns out. I plan on the first rack at 10 days. Then 3 weeks til daily gravity checks.

I was joking with the fiance that to make bottling easy, I ought to bottle it in mason jars. Unfortunately, that went over like a fart at a funeral. So, the load of bottles on top of the fridge will need cleaned and sanitized. I wonder where the hell we're going to store 25 bottles of wine... :hmmm:

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You realize we are expecting regular updates and photos! :smile:

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You realize we are expecting regular updates and photos!  :smile:

Hahahahahahahahahahaha! I didn't own a digital camera when I started this!

Okay, I can stop laughing now.

I have had the wine in the fermentor for 12 days in primary fermentation. I racked it yesterday into the second carboy which promptly rejected the bung, so I sterilized everything in the primary again, and re-racked the wine from the glass secondary back into the primary fermentor.

According to the directions, once I reach a specific gravity of 0.998 (in about 10 more days) I am ready to add the potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate solutions and then bottle the wine.

The kit is a pinot grigiot from Vintner's Reserve, and in between bouts of swearing at the bung that simply would not stay in the fermentor, it smelled slightly minerally, and very yeasty. It was very reminiscent of a beer at about 3 days (out of 7) fermentation.

It is most certainly not clear at this point, but the two remaining additives are supposed to help with that once they are added.

Currently, I am looking for larger items to "bottle" the wine in. Granted, 750 ml wine bottles are certainly larger than 12 oz beer bottles, but that's a lot of glassware to clean and sterilize without the benefit of a dishwasher. So, I've contacted a couple of suppliers of bag-in-box solutions to see if any of their samples will make me happy. I will post about my experiences with those. If they are very successful, I think I will approach my local homebrew supply shop and see if they will stock them.

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When I wrote the above post, I intended to add the pictures to that post, but I couldn't get image upload to work, and that's all I'm going to say about that. :angry:

Here are the major items that I had to purchase special for this project.

gallery_9620_2385_47762.jpg

This is the primary fermentor. It is glass, and as such, does not absorb flavors that will get into the wine and contribute any off flavors. It is also very nice to sterilize, as glass is fairly impervious to the use of household bleach. Unfortunately, the bung that I have to fit in the top, doesn't quite fit, so I will probably get myself a third bung soon. At the time of posting, this is empty. But, hopefully not for long.

gallery_9620_2385_65307.jpg

This is the squirrel-case stirrer that I got at a hardware store. It is helpful for mixing things in the wine quickly. With this and my cordless drill, I can do in 15 seconds what used to take a minute or more by hand.

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This is the plastic fermentor that I have. My intention is to get a couple more glass ones, so I can keep the fermentations completely in glass. For those of you who have questions, the main aesthetic I have with brewing is the same as coffee-making. Plastic is generally bad (even though I have a very good idea of the types of plastics out there). If I won't drink coffee from it, I generally don't like to brew in it. Unfortunately, it's hard to find glass carboys larger than 5 US gallons, and this is a 6 imperial gallon fermentor. I'm really tempted to talk to an instrument glass-blower that I know and get a quote for a 6 Imperial gallon fermentor, but I'm certain that will be an abusive price.

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Finally, here is my airlock. You can see, it's a rather simple affair, but it works, and I've yet to have any trouble with it.

gallery_9620_2385_67883.jpg

Naturally, I can't make wine without letting you know the wine that I'm making, so here is a snap of the box.

On 19 Jan is when I bottle. I'll try to get some pictures of that.

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Interesting perspective you have on the use of plastic in fermenting your wine... I never thought to compare what I ferment it in to what I would like to drink it out of, as you are doing with your coffee analogy. But, yeah, I don't like plastic cups for anything. But the idea bagging the final product sits fine with you, because dealing with glass bottles is a pain? Could you expound on your thoughts about where plastic is OK and where it isn't?

Glass has always scared me as a fermentor material because all of my brewing involves multiple trips with the fermentor up and down the basement stairs. I have read far too many "oops, dropped the fermentor!" stories from people who use glass to ever want to get into that boat myself. Particularly because so many of those stories continue with "and I ended up in the emergency room and got 10 stitches in my (ankle/hand/other body part) where the glass shard cut me, and then I had to go home and clean 5 gallons of beer off my floor."

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The main reason I say this is because I know the DuPont guy who worked on those mylar wine bags. What they have is a small inner liner with some aluminum sandwiched to that and a more rugged outer liner. It was purpose-built for wine-containment.

These fermentation buckets are a different type of plastic that I am much less trusting of for storage uses.

Hypocritical, yeah. But, it works for me, so I continue doing it.

As for trips with glass up and down the stairs, I never do it with a full fermentor, but I have done it plenty of times. If I break things, I break them. And, 10 stitches is just a normal trip to the ER for me, so it's not daunting.

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The main reason I say this is because I know the DuPont guy who worked on those mylar wine bags.  What they have is a small inner liner with some aluminum sandwiched to that and a more rugged outer liner.  It was purpose-built for wine-containment.

These fermentation buckets are a different type of plastic that I am much less trusting of for storage uses.

Is it a gas permeability issue, or a petrochemicals leaching into the wine issue you have with the bucket plastics? I wonder as I have a mead that's been sitting in a plastic bucket in the basement for 3.5 months now... it has had a funny phenolic/medicinal smell from the beginning, which I think came from the yeast (lalvin narbonne), not from the plastic... but a little paranoia is healthy, no? I'm hoping that time will cure that one, and if not time, then the few pounds of frozen cherries and blackberries that I chucked in there a few weeks back.

And as to the design of the bags, could you expand on the "small" inner liner and its properties that make it wine friendly? I'm guessing the aluminum is there solely as a light blocker... am I right? And the outer layer is there to provide strength and another layer of protection against gasses getting in?


Edited by cdh (log)

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Is it a gas permeability issue, or a petrochemicals leaching into the wine issue you have with the bucket plastics? 

Well, for the bucket, it's more an issue of the flavor compounds of the wine leaching into the bucket.

With respect to the mylar bags, the interior bag is actually there to protect the aluminum that's sandwiched in between. The wine itself is a rather nasty type of stuff if you're a lump of aluminum, so it needs some protection. The outer bag is there for the structural integrity.

Also, I got called back by Scholle on Wednesday, but my voicemail must have been on vacation, because I didn't get the message until this afternoon.

But, here is why I am not worrying about the bags yet.

gallery_9620_2385_47632.jpg

Our bottle collection.

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Update: I got Scholle on the phone yesterday, and they are sending me some bags to try.

So, if they get here in time to bottle on Thursday, spooktacular. I will taste side-by-side in a month or so.

If they don't, I guess I'll have to run another batch through the fermentor. Oh, such troubles weigh on my weary mind :raz:

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