How To Make Wine With Vinefera (wine) Grapes

Wine Making With Vinefera Grapes

Equipment typically needed for a 5 gallon batch:

1 – 8 Gallon plastic primary fermenter (12 gallon if making red wine to accommodate the "cap")
1 – 5 Gallon Glass Carboy (secondary fermenter)
Large Mesh Bag or Fruit Press
Cylinder Airlock and rubber cork with hole for airlock (bung)
Auto-Siphon, 4 feet siphon hose & shut off clamp
Hydrometer (to measure sugar content & determine alcohol content)
Fermometer (temperature strip-place on plastic primary fermenter)
Carboy brush
Bottle filler
Wine Thief (for removing samples of wine)
Plastic corker & 25 wine corks
2 oz. Potassium Bisulfite (to sanitize equipment, bottles and corks)

This guide is intended to help the first time wine maker using vinefera (winemaking grapes) grapes.  If you are using table grapes (Concord, Niagra, or other table grapes) please refer to our handout “Making Wine from Table Grapes” .  While both Vinefera and table grapes can be used to make wine, there are significant differences between the two major styles of grapes, and the wine making techniques are also significantly different.

Sanitation is very important when making wine.   All equipment used in making wine should be sanitized before using it.   I suggest making a solution of 4 teaspoons potassium metabisulfite and ½ gallon of water and use it to sanitize all of your equipment.  (store it in a tightly sealed glass jug between uses) This high concentration of solution requires that you soak or spray the solution on your equipment for 5 minutes, and you can drain and then begin using the equipment.  You do not want or need to rinse the equipment after the sulfite solution.  It is assumed in these directions that all of the equipment that you will use will be sanitized before you put it in contact with your wine.

                                                      Typical 5 Gallon Recipe

75 to 80 lbs. fresh grapes

1 teaspoon Bentonite (for clarifying the juice)
2 ½ teaspoons yeast nutrient
Corn Sugar to 1.090 – 1.110 original gravity or 21°to 25° (Depending on style)
5 campden tablets, or ½ teaspoon potassium metabisulfite
1 package Vintners Harvest wine yeast
Cane Sugar for sweetening (optional)
3 ¾ teaspoons potassium sorbate (to stabilize the wine)

Lets get going!

With vinefera grapes, one of the most critical decisions is when to pick your grapes.  If you are growing your own grapes, you will want to monitor the grapes as harvest nears, by testing your grapes with a refractometer, (which is a tool that needs a very small amount of grape juice for a sample) You can bring a handful of grapes from a cross section of your vineyard and we can test the sugar levels for you in the store.  Or you can pick enough grapes to fill a hydrometer to determine sugar levels.  The sugar density should be around 21° to 25° Brix depending on the style of wine - this equals 1.090 to 1.110 specific gravity or 11% to 14% potential alcohol - and the fruit should taste very sweet, ripe and slightly tart.

If you need to pick your grapes before the sugar levels increase to your desired level, you can add corn sugar to your grape juice to get to your desired alcohol level.

The grapes also must be clean, and relatively free of insects and other vineyard debris. Discard any grapes that look rotten or otherwise suspicious. Also, it's very important that the majority of stems are removed prior to fermentation, since they will make your wine bitter due to their excessive amount of tannins.  Running red grapes through a stemmer/crusher removes the stems while crushing the grapes, and is about the only way to do this for larger batches. We rent stemmer/crushers for 24 hour periods.

For white wines you will separate the juice from the grape skins immediately, while for red wines you will need to ferment the must on the crushed grape skins with the stems removed for about a week to extract color and flavor from the grape skins.

Add the yeast nutrient, potassium metabisulfite and bentonite to your grape juice.  Measure the sugar level of the juice (juice only, no pulp).   If the sugar levels are lower than you want, add the corn sugar to the wine about 1 to 2 cups at a time until desired gravity has been reached, stirring between each addition to dissolve the sugar.  If you have an acid test kit at home, test your wine and adjust it accordingly at this point.  You need an acid test reading of about .75 to .90 depending on the style of wine.   Add tartaric acid if the acidity is too low, if the acidity is too high, use potassium carbonate to lower acidity.  (We will test the acid for you at the store for free!!   Just bring us about an 8 ounce sample after the must has been completely mixed) Acid levels are the backbone of your wine, and one of the factors in different wine styles.  You may like more acidic wines, and can adjust this according to your taste.

Record your hydrometer reading here.   This is necessary when you want to know alcohol content, and helpful when trouble shooting, and determining fermentation progress. 

Original Hydrometer reading___________

Put the lid on the bucket with the airlock filled with sanitizing solution, and let the Potassium metabisulfite sanitize the wine.   The Potassium metabisulfite produces a gas called sulfur dioxide.   It may smell unpleasant, don’t worry.   This gas is normal, and will dissipate in about 24 hours.   The sulfur dioxide will destroy wild yeast and bacteria in your wine in the next 12 to 18 hours, while it will not be harmful to the wine yeast added later.   (The potassium bisulfite will also inhibit enzymatic browning of white wines, promotes clarity and extends the shelf life)   The wine yeast will be added approximately 24 hours later

Approximately 24 hours after you have added the potassium bisulfite, you add the yeast.  Cut one corner of the yeast package, and sprinkle the yeast on to the top of the wine.  Do not stir the yeast into the wine, as the wine yeast will absorb liquids from the wine and begin doing their job shortly after that has happened.  Now tightly place the lid on the bucket with the airlock full of the sanitizing solution.   Keep the temperature of the must about 70° to 75° during the fermentation. Depending on the yeast variety you are using, the yeast will ferment as low as about 50°.  However most yeasts like temperatures in the 65° to 75°, so unless you are sure the yeast you are using will handle lower temperatures, keep your temperatures up.  You may need to keep your wine in a heated room if you pick your grapes late in the fall.  Yeast ferments slower at low temperatures, so allow more time for fermentation if you are fermenting in cooler temperatures.

Fermentation should start in 24 to 48 hours.  You can tell that the fermentation is started by looking for foam production on top of the must, or gas bubbles coming out of the airlock (if the lid is tightly sealed) If your fermentation has not started within 48 hours, please call us at the store. A hydrometer reading at this point that is lower than your original gravity also verifys fermentation.   White wines will have very little pulp, and you can fill your fermenters close to full.   However red wines that you ferment with the grape skins the first 7 days or so will need quite a bit of head space, because when the yeast is actively fermenting, the carbon dioxide created will lift the grape skins to the top of the fermenter, creating a somewhat dry “cap”.  You will need to “punch down” the dry skins about 2 times a day while the wine is actively fermenting. I would suggest filling your red wine fermenter to only about 2/3 of the capacity of the fermenter, leaving the additional 1/3rd on the top of the fermenter for the expanding cap.

Let the wine ferment for about 5-7 days.  I would suggest taking a hydrometer reading at this point.  A typical reading will  be at around 1.040 or less.  For white wines you will now siphon (also called racking) the wine into a sanitized carboy.  This separates the yeast sediment and pulp “lees” from the wine.  The purpose of this racking (transferring the wine into a different container is called racking) and all other racking is to separate the sediment from the wine, since the sediment can eventually cause some off flavors.

For red wines you need mesh bag or a small fruit press to separate the pulp from the juice. If you are using a mesh bag you will need to squeeze as much juice out of the pulp as you can. If you are using a press, lightly press the pulp, being careful not to over press. Over pressing the pulp can result in an overly bitter wine, due to over extraction of tannins from the grape skins and seeds. Add the pressed juice to a clean sanitized carboy. Once the wine is separated from the pulp, the process for whites and reds are the same.

Let the wine ferment for about another 10 - 15 days.

Rack a 2nd time. Your wine should have stopped fermenting or is very near stopped.  (If your temperature was lower than 65°, it may take longer---but no worries) You should also see some clearing in your wine.   You may take a hydrometer reading while racking to see how far the sugar level has dropped at this time.  If the reading is 0.994 to 1.000, and is stable at the same reading for 3 days, that tells you that all fermentable sugars have been converted into alcohol, and fermentation is complete, you will want to add 3¾ Teaspoons of potassium sorbate and ½ Teaspoon of potassium bisulfite (or 5 Campden Tablets).   Try to rack your wine with a minimum splashing from this point on.   The potassium bisulfite is added at this time as an anti-oxidant, to minimize browning, promote clarity and as a preservative.   The potassium sorbate is added to prevent any additional fermentation in the bottle that would cause carbonation to push the cork out of the bottle.

When racking any time after fermentation is complete, be sure that you are racking into a sealable container (typically a carboy) that is very close to the total volume of the amount of wine you have.  You want to “top off” your wine, by filling the empty space in the carboy with additional wine, or even sanitary marbles!   Oxygen in the headspace is not your friend from this day forward.  The wine will oxidize if left exposed to oxygen for more than a few days.  Oxidized wine loses its fresh character, and somewhat heavy oxidation will cause your wine to smell and taste a bit like wet cardboard!   By topping off you minimize the oxygen exposure. To top off, you can use boiled and cooled water, or a similar bottle of wine. If you need to top off more than a quart or so, you may consider using a combination of smaller carboys.

If you want to “oak” your wine, now is a great time to do so.  I would recommend using oak cubes because the 6 different types all have accurate descriptions of the flavor that they will contribute to your wine, and are easy to handle in fermenters.  These cubes need about 6 to 8 weeks of contact time to be effective.

Your wine should taste pretty close to the final product by now.   It is very common for the wine to have an ending specific gravity of .995 to 1.000.  

You can determine your alcohol content now if you subtract your ending gravity from your original gravity and multiply the difference by .125 (example   original 1.085 - final .995 =   90.   Multiply 90 X .125 = 11.25% alcohol by Volume

Adjusting Sweetness .   This wine is sometimes too dry tasting for some people, since they would like a sweeter wine.   If you want a slightly sweeter wine, the solution is to add sweetness back in at this time.   The potassium sorbate you added in the previous step allows you to add more cane sugar, and not have it be fermented by the yeast. I cannot tell you how sweet you like your wine, so I also cannot tell you how much sugar to add.   To sweeten, remove a quart of wine. Using a small volume will allow you to tweak the wine as needed, without the risk of over sweetening all of your wine. Add about a ¼ to ½ of a teaspoon of a cane sugar at a time, until you have reached your desired sweetness. The idea here is to add a little at a time, taste the wine, and then add more if you feel it is not enough. Keep track of how much sugar you are adding. Multiply that amount against your total volume of wine.  Add the full amount of sugar to the full volume of wine.   You can add more later if you would like.

Let your wine set in a quiet place to clarify, and also for the remaining Co2 in suspension to escape the wine.  Cool temperatures slow the Co2 from leaving the wine, so while there is still Co2 in suspension, you should try to keep the wine in the 65° to 75° temperature range.   This may take a few weeks, to a few months.   Time is your friend here.   Just keep the wine out of direct sunlight, and keep oxygen contact to a minimum. Remember to top off!

If your wine is not clarifying, as you would like it to, you can add Isinglass at this time, or filter your wine.   You may want to call to ask about your options here.

Once your wine is properly sweetened and clarified, you should bottle it.   Sanitize your bottles with the potassium metabisulfite solution (4 teaspoons potassium metabisulfite per ½ gallon of water) soak your corks in the potassium metabisulfite solution for about 5 minutes to sanitize them and make them easier to insert into the bottle.   Corks come in 3 sizes. Number 7, 8 and 9.   The smaller the number the smaller the cork.  A new synthetic cork called “NOMA” corks also work well, and are a bit less expensive.   The general rule is larger corks for longer aging.   Transfer your wine quietly, with a minimum of aeration.   Fill to about ½ inch below where the cork will go in.   Immediately put the cork in, and stand upright for about 5 days to let the cork dry out and form a seal.   Then set the bottle on its side or upside down to keep the cork moist and sealed (no need to do this with the NOMA cork).   Age your wine as you wish and drink when you want!!   It’s your wine, so drink it when you want.   Most wine will improve with age, but many factors are involved here.   In general, higher alcohol levels, higher acid levels, and higher tannin levels require more aging, and taste better older.

Store your finished wine about 45 º to 50 º if possible.  Most importantly store the wine at a constant temperature.   Avoid rooms that fluctuate in temperature.  Also higher humidity is also better since the cork is more likely to hold its’ seal.

You should label your wine so that a year from now you remember what it is!!   You can also put a shrink seal cover on to enhance the appearance of your wine.   We have a line of about 30 different wine labels we can overprint for you to personalize your wine.   All our labels can be seen on our web site.

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