Thursday, July 5, 2007

Winemaking 101 ~ Getting Started

At BlueStem Winery we can tell what time of the year it is without looking at the calendar—especially when spring is coming to an end and the hot humid weather of Iowa’s summers are coming. How can we tell? Just by the type of fruit that the local winemakers are making. The first sign of summer coming is when the winemakers are coming in for ingredients for their rhubarb wine. Pretty soon it is time for strawberries and raspberries and the other fruit of early to mid-summer and then it is the wines of autumn when the pears, apples, grapes and plums are harvested. My favorite winemakers are the ones venturing off to try it for the first time. Their enthusiasm is contagious as they listen intently to tips on how to use equipment and the steps required to make homemade fruit wine.

No matter what kind of fruit or which variety of fruit that you have to work with, the general techniques, equipment and ingredients used for making wine are the same.

Recommended equipment for making your first batch of homemade wine:

6.5 gallon food grade plastic pail (for 5 gallon batches) or 7.9 gallon for 6 gallon batches
Lid for the size pail you purchase which has been drilled & grommeted for airlock usage
5 gallon or 6 gallon glass carboy (having 2 of the same size makes it easier!)
Bung (to fit neck of your carboy) with fermentation lock (also called an airlock)
Nylon straining bag (the larger size works much better)
Acid titration kit
Racking cane with anti-sediment tip (for siphoning) or an Auto-Siphon (much easier!)
Food grade clear plastic tubing (sized to match your racking tube or auto-siphon)
Shut-off clamp sized to your plastic tubing
25 or 30 (depending on whether you are making 5 or 6 gallons ) 750-ml wine bottles
Corks (which size you purchase depends on which style of corker you obtain)

All of this equipment is available by calling BlueStem Winery at 319.346.1046 (see our website at for store hours) or you can order direct on our website. We love to have you call because it seems that beginners always have questions and we love to take the time to walk you through the process.

Winemaking Rule 1: Keep it clean! Keep your equipment clean! Keep everything that comes in contact with your wine clean! Wash your equipment with hot water (boiling if possible) and dish soap and then rinse with clean water. Then, after rinsing with water, rinse your equipment with a good “No Rinse” cleanser (BlueStem sells and uses a product called “Easy Clean”) or a strong solution made with sodium or potassium metabisulphite. You can make this solution by dissolving three tablespoons of sulphite powder in a gallon of warm water. BlueStem sells both potassium metabisulphite and potassium Campden tablets (if you do not have powder you can crush Campden tablets to make a powder as Campden tablets are simply a tablet form of potassium metabisulphite). BlueStem recommends the use of the Easy Clean product.

Winemaking Rule 2: Refer to Rule No. 1!

Always match your batch size to the size carboys that you have. If you have a five gallon carboy make a 5 gallon batch of wine (a partially full carboy will cause your wine to oxidize and spoil). Some people make only one gallon batches which is okay if you make really bad wine! If you make really good wine you will be out of wine quickly. Absolutely no one has as many friends as a really good home winemaker! Well, maybe a good home brewer could compete!

Good winemaking starts with good fruit! You can determine that your fruit (or grapes) are ripe by crushing a handful or two and measuring the sugar level of the juice using your hydrometer (the winemaker’s most important tool). Typically your sugar level should be approximately 22° Brix (or about 1.098 on the Specific Gravity scale). This gives your juice the potential to make approximately 11% alcohol. Inspect your fruit to make sure it is clean (no stems, leaves, etc.) and free of insects. The fruit should be sound, ripe, sweet and somewhat tart.

After you have your equipment in hand and have enough fruit or grape product to make your batch of wine and have tested your fruit for sugar content, you need to check the acid level of your fruit. Acid level is measured with an acid titration kit. For dry red wines the desired acid level is from 6g/L to 7g/L and for dry whites it is from 6.5g/L to 7.5g/L. Measuring for acid concentration is very important!

Increasing your acid level is accomplished by adding tartaric acid (available on the website or in our store at 305 Third St., Parkersburg, Iowa). After checking your wine and determining that your wine is deficient in acid you should add tartaric acid (slowly) to your wine must. Check for acidity level after each acid addition until you reach the acid level that you desire. For an example let us say that you wish to make a dry white wine and your must has a present acidity level of 6g/L and you wish to increase this to 7g/L. By adding 3.8 grams of tartaric acid (for each gallon of must in your batch) you will increase your total acidity by 1g/L. If you have a 5 gallon batch (using our example) you will add approximately 19 grams of tartaric acid to raise the acid level from 6g/L to 7g/L. Again—do this slowly and measure total acidity after each addition! Tartaric acid is also available at!

Does your wine must have the appropriate level of sugar? Red and white grape wines should measure approximately 22° Brix (this is sometimes called the Balling scale on your hydrometer) or 1.098 on the Specific Gravity scale. If your specific gravity (SG is too high (over 1.098) you can dilute your juice with water. If your SG is too low you can add sugar syrup gradually (mix well and check your hydrometer reading often) by taking 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water, bringing it to a boil and then letting it cool..

70° Fahrenheit (+/- 5°) is a temperature range to aim for. White grape must is sometimes fermented at a cooler temperature. The cooler your fermenting temperature is the slower the fermentation while occur. If your fermentation is going to take place in a cooler area, BlueStem Winery recommends using a “brew belt” which you can wrap around your fermenter and plug in to increase the temperature of your must. It is heat controlled by a thermostat to keep your must at an optimum temperature.

Now, your wine has been started and you have been checking and recording the condition of your wine frequently. Maintain a record of ingredients, dates, temperatures, and specific gravity readings so that you can duplicate a recipe that turns out really good! When your wine has fermented partially (many recipes call of moving your wine to a sealed, clean container when the SG has reached 1.040 or less) you will “rack” (transfer) your wine to get it off the sediment on the bottom of your primary fermenter. Use a racking tube or an Auto-Siphon and a short length of plastic tubing to siphon your wine to a clean secondary (carboy) fermenter while trying to pick up as little of the sediment as possible from the bottom of your primary fermenter. Make sure that you sanitize all equipment which will come in contact with your wine! Your carboy should be full (up to the base of the neck) with your wine must when you have completed the racking. If not full, top the carboy off with reserved juice (if available) or clean water. Seal your carboy with a bung and airlock.

Want an easy way to get started making fruit wine? BlueStem has 3-gallon, 5-gallon and 6-gallon fruit wine kits available on our website. The kits are available in several configurations and include all the equipment you need plus a wide variety of fruit choices (yes, the fruit and other ingredients are included!) with all required ingredients included (pre-measured).

If you prefer a grape wine, BlueStem has 6-gallon winemaking equipment packages available which you can use in conjunction with a WinExpert ingredient kit. We stock the Vintner’s Reserve, World Vineyard, Selection Original, Selection International, Selection Estate, Selection Limited Edition and Selection Speciale kits (these are 3 gallon kits) available in many, many varietals (including Riesling, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Merlot). These kits make very, very good wine!

Tomorrow’s topic: Bottling your first wine!

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