What equipment will I need to make wine?

Basically, winemaking involves four steps: the first step is processing the ingredients, followed by fermenting, bottling, and aging the wine. The equipment necessary for winemaking depends a bit on how involved you'd like to be in the hobby. Many winemakers produce their wine from concentrated wine grape juices, where the first step is already taken care of. These concentrates are reconstituted in the fermentor, the yeast is added, and the wine ferments. By this method, the size and amount of equipment needed is kept to a minimum, and a source of fresh, seasonal fruit is not necessary.

Beginning and intermediate winemakers like to use concentrates because they are easy to use and reasonably fool-proof. Apartment dwellers like them because the equipment they require takes up little (precious) space. And advanced winemakers like concentrates because they are available everywhere year-round, as opposed to fresh fruits and grapes which have their growing areas and only seasonal availablity.

Fermentation of wine requires a fermentor (usually 5 to 6 gallons in size). Think of it taking up about as much space as the tank on a drinking water cooler. In fact, the standard storage vessel for winemaking, the 5 gallon glass carboy, is a basically just a glass version of those water tanks. Because the wine is transfered from one container to another during fermentation, at least two containers of this size are required. The ideal setup for a 5 gallon batch is two 5 gallon glass carboys and one glass or plastic fermentor of at least 6 gallons. So the space required is not too great. Although many winemakers dedicate part of their garage or basement to winemaking, the floor of a closet will work just as well!

Bottles may be purchased new, but we support recycling of bottles! You can re-use any of your standard commercial wine bottles, as long as you keep them clean and sterilize them before use. A 5 gallon batch of wine produces two cases of wine, or 24 bottles (750 ml size). Along with your new or used bottles, you'll need good new corks and a corker to insert them. With your fermentation equipment, bottles, and corking supplies, you've got all you need! We do have packaged equipment kits available, which you can find on our home wineries page.

Naturally, most winemakers eventually want to "vinify" their local fruits or grapes. Because fresh fruit winemaking involves both the juice and the pulp, some larger equipment is necessary for this method. Generally, a 10 gallon primary fermentor is large enough to accomodate a 5 gallon batch of fruit/grape wine " (If you are using viniferous grapes, a 20 gallon primary fermentor is required for making a 5 gallon batch."). Once primary fermentation is over, the pulp is removed, and the wine can be transfered to the same carboys used in concentrate winemaking. As you can see, switching from concentrates to fresh ingredients requires only a small additional investment.

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Can I really make good wine at home?

We've found the quality of homemade wine to be, on average, comparable to the $6 to $10 range in commercial wines. Wines made from wine grape concentrate are very consistent, and usually produce a perfectly acceptable table wine--comparable, let's say, to an $8 wine out of California.

Homemade fruit and grape wines are more susceptible to the vagaries of weather and the influence of the winemaking process. However, with good weather, quality ingredients, and careful winemaking methods, truly superior wine can be produced. We've had samples from customers (and from our own cellars) that truly rivaled commercial wine in the $15-$20 price range. When you consider that homemade wine costs roughly $2 per bottle, economy becomes yet another incentive to make your own wine.

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How long does it take to make wine?

Patience is a virtue. This cliche probably applies to winemaking better than it does to any other activity. That doesn't mean that it'll be 5 years before you find out if a small oversight you made today ruined your whole batch. In fact, many concentrate kits recommend a 28 day process from start to finish. Once it's in the bottle, the wine can be aged for a month or two and then consumed. This is acceptable, but better wine really can be made just by adding some time to the fermentation and bottle-aging processes. 3 months in the fermentor will usually make a better wine than one month. And 6 months in the bottle will generally be better than 1.

Once you have been making wine at home for a while, you will probably always have properly aged wine to bottle, properly aged wine to drink, and new wine to be made. When you're just starting out, though, it's tough to have patience. Luckily, you will have enough bottles of wine that you can drink some too early, some at the right time, and some after the wine's peak. It's one of the ways home winemakers come to understand the wine aging process better than "mere" wine lovers.

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How long will my wine last?

Just as in commercial winemaking, the longevity of the wine depends on the grape variety and the winemaking style. Long-lived wines are generally those high in either acid (which helps prevent spoilage) or tannin (which helps prevent oxidation).

Concentrate wines are usually drinkable 3 to 6 months after bottling, and may remain at their peak from 1 to 3 years (depending on the grape variety).

If you are producing the wine from fresh grapes, some decisions you make will affect the lifetime of the wine. Red wines get their color and tannin from the grape skins, on which the wine ferments for the first few days to a few weeks. The longer the the wine is left "on the skins," the more tannic it will become. More tannic wines are astringent and somewhat difficult to drink when young. But they are longer-lived, and produce more complex wines after aging. The "Reserve" bottles of commercial wine are often wines made with longer skin-time and longer aging on oak. This adds to the complexity, aging potential, and expense of the wine.

White wines are generally shorter-lived than red wines. However, a typical white made from fresh grapes should last for up to 5 years or so. Fruit wines reach there peak after about 1 year and slowly lose their fresh fruitiness thereafter.

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What kind of wine can I make?

There are no boundaries. Commercial wine is made almost exclusively from wine grape from the "vinifera" family. Wine grapes are naturally superior for winemaking due to their balance of water, sugar, and acids. But nearly every fruit, given a little help by the winemaker, can make great wine. Most fruit wines made commercially are made with berries, which are just about perfect for winemaking (though they need a little boost in their sugar and water content). But wine is made from just about everything, from the common to the inconceivable. Carrots, potatoes, onions, herbs, and dandelions are a few non-traditional--but common--home winemaking ingredients. Although many of the more unique ingredients come from your own backyard or grocery store, we carry concentrates and fruit bases for most styles of grape and fruit wines.

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Do I need an oak barrel?

Not necessarily. Oak barrels are a staple of traditional winemaking, and most red wines (and many whites) feature oak barrels in their process to some degree. However, hand-coopered white oak barrels are quite expensive, and they must be kept meticulously clean or they'll spoil. Many home winemakers avoid these hassles by using oak chips. These are produced from the same wood as barrels (from forests in America or France), but they are very cheap and easy to use. They simply need to be added to the fermentor until their flavor is sufficiently absorbed.

Eventually, most advanced winemakers invest in barrels, either alone or as part of a winemaking group. Why? Well, the effects of oak aging are more complicated than just the wood flavor imparted. Since oak barrels can "breath," a slow, complex process of evaporation and oxidation occurs during barrel aging. This lends much more complexity and roundness to the wine than can be achieved by aging in glass or stainless steel. Commercial wineries who age their wines for 2 to 3 years in old oak barrels are relying on this process, rather than on the flavoring potential of the wood.

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