Brewing Lessons – My First Kit Wine

So I have a little bit of a confession to make to all of you…

I’m an inconsistent bastard.

I don’t post as regularly as I’d like.  Hell, since I got back from my last business trip I haven’t posted AT ALL.  That needs to change.  I made the mistake a lot of beginning bloggers make: I tried to post everyday and quickly got overwhelmed.  So I’m going to change things up.  Until I say otherwise, posts will happen when they happen, but I will guarantee a minimum of at least 1 post per week.  And it’ll be interesting.  Whether it’s a recipe, science lesson, or news commentary, I promise that I will have SOMETHING for you all at least once a week.  So, that being said…

TODAY’S POST BEGINNETH!!!

As some of you who actually know me may or may not have heard, I have finally ventured into the world of wine kits.  I broke down last week and bought a kit to make 6 gallons (about 30 bottles) of Pinot Noir.  Why that particular wine, you might ask? Simple: It’s tasty, it’s classy, it’s reasonably strong…and both my roommates just got a copy of the new Rockstar game L.A. Noir, which is totally awesome and you should all try it.

Wine kits are inherently easier to make than beer kits.  There’s no boiling, chilling, or filtering involved.  Nope.  All you do is clean your equipment, add the juice, a bit of water, and the contents of a couple of little bags (yeast included).  In my case, it was a bag of bentonite (to help clarify the wine), a steeping bag of oak chips, and the single packet of Lalvin EC-1118 dry yeast (an excellent strain, and what I use in my strawberry wine).

Once it starts bubbling away in your primary bucket you leave it alone for two weeks.  Then, assuming that the specific gravity is in the appropriate range, you add the rest of the packets it comes with: Sodium metabisulfite (to kill the yeast off and halt fermentation), potassium sorbate (to prevent renewed fermentation if you choose to backsweeten), and chitosan (to clarify even further).  This is AFTER you rack into your secondary fermenter, of course.  That done, it sits in secondary for another two weeks, or until clear, whichever comes last.  This will most likely be being clear, since unless it’s VERY cold where you have your fermenter it will probably take a good 3-4 weeks to completely clarify.

Once the wine is crystal clear it’s time to bottle!  This is done in a very similar method to making beer.  You wash and sanitize your bottles in essentially the same way, then transfer your wine into a bottling bucket.  Here, however, a key difference comes up.  Since most wines are bottles still (no carbonation) you need to somehow remove the dissolved CO2 that inevitably is still in your wine from the fermentation process.  You have a few options as far as how to do this:

  • Option 1: Re-rack several times.  Each time you rack your wine, a little more gas is released from the batch.  While this works well, it isn’t foolproof, and some gas can be left in the wine which will make it petillant, or semi-sparkling. A more effective method is
  • Option 2: Heat the batch up.  By raising the batch temperature slowly up to about 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of a day or two, you will cause the wine to be able to hold less CO2 in solution.  You can then cool your wine back down to bottle it.  This can be combined with option 1 (racking while the wine is hot) for more effectiveness.  However, even this is not as effective as
  • Option 3: Using a degassing wand attached to a power drill.  These attachments can be purchased at your Local Homebrew Store (LHBS) for about ten dollars.  You sanitize it, insert it into the carboy (it comes with a bung which fits the mouth of a standard 5 or 6 gallon glass carboy, and you can switch it for a bung that will fit a Better Bottle), and attach a drill.  Turn it on at low speed and let it rip!  This stirs up the wine and liberates the trapped CO2, much like shaking up a soda.  Be warned, though! It has the same consequences as shaking a soda: It foams.  Make sure you have enough headspace in the carboy to account for the foaming, or just accept that you’re going to lose a little bit of wine.  Also, when doing this, make sure you’ve racked into a new vessel and gotten the wine off the lees (dead yeast), or you’re going to make your wine murky again.

Once you’ve clarified and degassed your wine you can go ahead and bottle it.  Transfer it to a bottling bucket; wash, rinse, and sanitize your bottles; sanitize your corks (drop them in a bucket of no-rinse sanitizing solution); and prep your corker.  Once you have all of that together, start filling!  Bottles can be filled up the same was as with beer: Fill to the top, then remove the bottle filling wand.  This will leave a small amount of headspace, sufficient to hold the cork and leave a tiny amount of air left inside.

When you’re done filling and corking your bottles, you probably want to seal the corks somehow.  This can be done in a few different ways.  You can dip your bottles in wax, use premade sealing caps (basically shrink-wrap), or use beer caps if you’re using bottles that can take one.  After you seal your corks, make yourself some awesome labels, slap ’em on, and put your wine on its side in a rack.  This is crucial.  Once you bottle your wine, you need to keep the corks moist to prevent them from shrinking and allowing air in, which will spoil the bottle.  That’s bad, and can in fact lead to your wine turning into vinegar.

Still with me?  Great!  Now that you’ve read everything and are most likely freaked out and totally turned off from doing a wine kit because you’re absolutely certain you’re going to screw it up, take a step back and pause for a moment.

Relax, Don’t Worry, and Have A Homebrew.

Now that you’ve done that you can go ahead and make a wine kit, secure in the knowledge that-much like beer-as long as you’re careful, clean, and diligent, you WILL make a good wine.  Feel free to comment with any questions or feedback, and happy fermenting!

Skål!

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About Josh

I'm an engineer, brewer, vintner, gamer, hiker, biker, and many other "-ers" besides. I grew up in Connecticut, but now live and work in Delaware. This is where I put various ramblings and musings, as well as tasty recipes for beer. Yes, beer. I brew my own beer, wine, cider, mead, and other fun fermented beverages. It's fun, easy, inexpensive, and I love it. It's something I'd love to do professionally, but that's a plan for a future day. For now I work as a chemical engineer with a bunch of great people that I'm never going to talk about here. Have a great day, and good brewing to all!
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