Making wine at home is not difficult, and it is a very rewarding hobby. In this article, we will go through the equipment needed and all the steps you take to make wine from fruit – grapes, apples, plums, pears, peaches, or whatever fruit you have.
You can also make wine at home from a kit, usually using grape concentrate, but the results are very variable, and it is much more satisfying to make wine from fresh fruit.
You probably thought of home wine making because you have your own fruit, or have been given some, or because fruit is in season in your area and you can get it very cheaply. Making wine is a great way of using fruit when you can not possibly eat it all, or make all of it into jam, or freeze it all.
I have made wine successfully from many kinds of fruit, including grapes, apples, apricots, plums (many varieties), quinces, pears and peaches. Make sure you discard all rotten or suspect fruit right at the start.
Assuming you have your fruit ready, here are the equipment and supplies you need.
A large food grade plastic tub or stainless steel pot to squeeze or press juice into. Needs to have a lid.
An electric juicer (not essential if you can squeeze or press the fruit by hand).
A glass fermentation vessel like a jug, carboy or demijohn (also called a 'jimmyjohn') with an airlock. These are available at brewing shops. It is usually better to use several smaller vessels (of one gallon capacity) than one large one.
A plastic tube for siphoning.
Yeast (available in packs at brewing shops and some supermarkets).
Sterilizing solution or tablets. (Not essential – you can clean equipment with boiling water.)
With this all collected, follow these steps to make your wine.
Get your juice
People starting out with home fruit wine making often wonder how much fruit they actually need. Here is a tip I have found works – you need enough juice to fill the glass fermentation vessel you are using – your carboy or demijohn. Some recipes advocate watering your fruit juice to make up the quantity you need, but never do this. Use pure juice and your wine will be full-flavored and satisfying to drink.
You will either press the fruit, squeeze it by hand or use an electric juicer. If squeezing by hand (soft plums for example) you will need a large stainless steel or plastic container. If you have hard fruit like apples or hard plums, and electric juicer is a good investment if you do not own one already. You can also cut up the fruit and boil it in a little water to extract the juice, but this degrades the flavor of the final wine. If you have grapes, you can try trampling them with your feet in the traditional manner. Some fruits can be cut up and left to soak for a few days in a little water to extract the flavor and color from the skin.
Some fruit, like apples, throw a glorious froth after juicing and you will have to siphon the juice out after the froth has risen to the top.
Note that mixed fruit wines are very successful. If you have only a few apricots but a lot of apples, mix the juice to make up your gallon.
Add the sugar
Some fruit juice, like very sweet grape juice, will not need the addition of any sugar. Most other fruit wines will need sugar to be added. I typically add 2 pound of sugar to make up one gallon of fruit juice. If you prefer a drier wine, you can reduce this amount. This is the reason it is better to use some smaller glass vessels when starting with home fruit wine making – you can vary the amount of sugar in each (record this writing on the carboy with a felt pen); when you ever come to drink the wines, you will know which style between dry, medium and sweet that you prefer. More sugar also means more food for the yeast, and so more alcoholic wine at the end of the process.
Add the sugar by warming the fruit juice slowly in a stainless steel pan, and stirring in the sugar to dissolve it.
Add the yeast
Sterilize your carboy or demijohn with sterilizing solution, or boiling water. Put the sugared fruit juice into your vessel. Dissolve the powdered yeast in a little warm water and sugar in a cup, and leave it for a few minutes to activate. Then add the yeast to the fruit juice. Put your air lock on the vessel.
Fermentation of the fruit juice should begin soon, and you will see bubbles in the air lock. This means the yeast is converting the sugar to alcohol.
Watch and wait
Put your fermentation vessel in a warm place if possible. Ideally you should leave the wine fermenting for nine months to a year. If you drink it after only a month or two it will taste rough and poor; leaving it for about a year will let it mellow out – this really makes a difference. As fermentation goes on, you will notice a white layer appear at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. This is formed by dead yeast cells. You can 'rack', or siphon the wine into a new vessel, which stops the wine becoming tainted with a yeast aftertaste. You should do this once a month.
Bottle your wine
If the wine has not clarified, and you want it to be fully clear before bottling, leave the vessel in a very cold place for a week or so, and the clarity should improve.
When the fermentation has stopped (no bubbles coming through the air lock) you can bottle the wine and cork the bottle. Remember to sterilize the bottles and corks before you use them. If you will be making a lot of wine, remember to label all the bottles with details of the fruit, the yeast variety used and date of bottling. If you make a superb batch, you can then try to replicate it in following years.
Few people can resist drinking a bottle at this stage. But most fruit wines are at their best up to two years after bottling, so you can put a few bottles along until you have some friends round, or have something to celebrate. There's nothing quite like drinking your own wine, made the way you like it!