After having a great time and great results with our first wine kit, a Piesporter, Amy and I decided we could make it an annual activity. We went through the wine more slowly than expected, though and as you may have noticed by the date on the label in yesterday’s post, we ended up skipping 2013.
Well, a couple months ago, with supplies dwindling, we finally got around to putting together another batch of wine. This time, we decided to go with a Liebfraumilch kit. It was on purpose that this was another off dry, German style white wine with a fruity flavor. It was not on purpose that it is from not only the same manufacturer, but the same series. We realized this before making the final decision and I kind of wanted to try something different, but we were so happy with the last one that we decided to go with it.
I will do tasting notes soon (or try to), but today I’m just going to go through the step by step of how to make wine from a kit. This is specifically for WineXpert’s Selection series, which as I mentioned, both of our wines are a part of, but I don’t imagine that there are too many differences in other kits. The instructions I’m writing are of course in my own words, but they are not really any different from the instructions that come with the kit. I’m mainly posting this to show beer brewers who haven’t given wine a chance just how easy it is and hopefully get someone to give it a try.
I’ve never been a big wine drinker. I enjoy it when it is offered but haven’t really gone out of my way to get my hands on it. I have found having thirty bottles of it in the basement gives me a lot of excuses to enjoy it, though. It goes great with a lot of food, particularly fresh vegetable dishes over the summer for the wines we’ve made. It is also a much easier sell at certain gatherings than homebrewed beer. And much easier to explain. “Off dry white” has two more words tacked onto the beginning than what most people will expect for an answer to their question about what kind of wine you’ve brought to the party.
Anyway, there are a lot of good reasons to give making wine a shot. Now lets get into how easy it really is. We’ll start with the equipment you’ll need, all ingredients other than water are included in the kit (with one possible exception I’ll get to when it comes up):
Primary fermenter with more than six gallon capacity (an 8 gallon/30 liter bucket is easiest)
Long handled spoon for stirring
Hydrometer and related equipment to test the gravity (if you want to. Follow the instructions and your gravity will be exactly what they tell you)
Six gallon secondary fermenter
Bottles and bottling equipment (you can bottle in beer bottles with crimp caps if you want to, but you should be able to find a hand corker for under $20 at your local homebrew shop and that is the only extra you’ll need to make your wine a whole lot more presentable)
That’s pretty much it. The corker, as I said is probably the only thing a homebrewer may not already have. Maybe you don’t have a bucket, either but you probably should and if you don’t, they’re available for $10 or less.
You will need five sessions over the course of a couple months or so to make your wine. They will all be considerable shorter than a standard brew day, though. Bottling is the longest, most labor intensive step.
On the first session, you will be mixing some ingredients, adding water and starting fermentation. First, add some water to your primary fermenter, a half gallon or so. Then add the packet of Bentonite. Again, this is all for the specific kits Amy and I made, your kit may be different, don’t panic if you don’t have Bentonite, just ignore this and follow the instructions that came with the kit.
Anyway, Bentonite is a type of clay. It is used to clarify wine. Adding it will prevent protein haze. So if you have it, dump it into some water and stir it for a good thirty seconds or so. Once all of the clumps have mixed into the water, you can add the juice. This should be the bulk of what came in your kit. It seems like the volume of the juice/must/concentrate, whatever it is, is one of the main differences in the different prices of various kits.
Once you’ve emptied out the bag of juice, add some water to the bag and give it a good shake. This will help make sure you don’t lose any of the precious juice. The instructions say to do this once. I did it a second time just because. You still have more water to add, so why not? Once you’re sure you’ve got all the juice in, top up to the full volume with warm water. Most likely, your kit will be for a six gallon batch.
When you have six gallons of liquid, stir it up again. Once you have the desired volume and it is thoroughly mixed, you can take a gravity reading, if you want to. I did, but both times, it was dead on exactly what the kit said it would be. In the future, I may just skip this to save that extra bit of wine for later, when it will taste a whole lot better. At most, maybe I’d use my refractometer instead of the hydrometer.
Now it is time to add your yeast. Our kit recommends a temperature of 72-75ºF for primary fermentation. Once the yeast is in there, you’re done. All of this should take you well under half an hour.
On to the second session, racking to secondary. This will take place about a week after the first session. The instructions say to wait five to seven days. We decided to err on the side of caution and gave it the full seven. All you’re doing is racking to secondary. That is it. Keep the temperature the same, there may be a bit more fermentation. We went from a bucket to a six gallon plastic carboy. it was filled to the very top.
And the third session! This should be ten days to two weeks after racking. Again, we waited two full weeks, but the instructions say ten days is enough. This time it might be more worthwhile to check the gravity. In our wine’s case, 0.996 was the gravity we were looking for. If your wine hasn’t reached its terminal gravity, you should wait because this step will stop further fermentation.
If you have reached your terminal gravity, you can move on to adding stabilizers. Our most recent kit had three things to add at this step. We dissolved metabisulfite and sorbate in some water to add them to the wine and added the F-Pack straight to the carboy.
Metabisulfite and sorbate are both used to stabilize the wine. They should both kill the yeast and I’m honestly not sure what the reason for using both is. The F-Pack is to back sweeten the wine. If you’re making a very dry wine, you may not be adding this. It is another bag, just like a smaller version of the juice.Once you’ve added everything, give the wine a good stir. The stabilizers may not work if the yeast is all settled at the bottom. They may not be able to kill yeast that is settled in a thick layer, so stir thoroughly and make sure that everything is mixed together. Don’t worry, the wine will have plenty of time to clear later.
Session number four, in fact just racking the wine again. Most of the yeast should have again settled out. Racking the wine again, about a week after adding the stabilizers will give it a chance get completely, crystal clear. I wish my beer was this clear, but I guess that is the price of bottle conditioning.
And finally, session number five: bottling. The wine can be bottled just like beer, only you don’t need to bottle condition of course, unless you’re making a sparkling wine. Once the wine is bottled, if you have corked it, you should leave it sitting straight up for three days to a week, then sit it on its side. This will keep the cork wet and keep it from deteriorating.
That is it. Drink your wine. It’s good. Come back tomorrow to hear how good ours is.