Making water into Wine Bull City Style

Thursday, May 5, 2011

This is how to make a wine using the kit. Even though we all follow the same directions, I suspect that there are still idiosyncratic methods that develop over time. The first time we tried to pour the juice from the bag it came from the high counter toward the direction of  the primary fermenter which was a yard away on the floor. We baptized our tile floor, grout and all with lovely deep purple Chianti grape juice! We learned not to put the fermenter far from the spout. I have written below in great and boring detailed instructions on just what we do. The instructions that come with the kit are fine and about one-fourth as long as mine. They also give you drawings to refer to. You can ignore our procedure if you don’t want all the minutiae.

Also, I get credit for making wonderful kit wines. I’m actually the assistant but don’t tell anyone else. My husband, Patrick, does all the real work. People tell him how much they love the wines his wife makes; he smiles and thanks them.

  1. Sanitize all the tubing and the fermenter, the long-handled spoon, and the hydrometer. When they are sanitized we lay them on a clean towel on the counter. Probably sanitizing the counter would be better but we have our own written-in-stone procedures. We filter a few gallons water but you can use bottled water. Never use that gross stuff from the tap please.
  2. So here goes. Open the box. I take the label that comes on the Grand Cru boxes and paste it on a sheet that I have printed from our Wine Diary Template that I made. You can just use the enclosed directions that have a space for all the information you need to record (2 lines).  Open the plastic bag of ingredients and remove the bentonite clay pack, the yeast, and any oak chips or dried berries.
  3. If there is a teabag of oak chips, put it in a two cup measuring cup and cover it with very hot, just boiled, filtered water. Have handy about a gallon of very hot filtered water.
  4. [NOT IN THE DIRECTIONS, BEWARE!  A dangerous but interesting addition that we often do: Because we like to make 6 gallons at a time instead of the usual 5.5 gallons, I make a solution of filtered water and 2 cups of white sugar that I bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. This brings up the alcohol content up and makes for a slightly drier wine but it also takes a day or two longer to ferment out. It gives a slightly lighter bodied wine which I don’t think anyone has ever noticed but I do and I prefer it because I drink a lot.] WARNING, WARNING, THE SUGAR BOOST ONLY WORKS WITH Vino del Vita, and Grand Cru kits and you may have to ferment your wine more than the recommended two weeks to get your specific gravity to 0.998 or below. Do not sugar kits over $100.00 or you will have a nice dessert wine. Care for a slice of Merlot anyone?
  5. We sanitize everything. Patrick is so picky and it used to drive me nuts but we have never had mold or any off tasting wine so I have learned to appreciate his meticulousness.
  6. Put a gallon or so of water and the hot water into the fermenter and stir in the clay. This helps clarify the wine as it binds to yeast as it dies and carries it to the bottom of the fermenter as the fermenting process goes on.
  7. Next, take the bag of juice out of the box. We put the sanitized fermenter in the sink as close to the counter top as we can get it. We turn the wine kit box on its side and put it on the counter touching the side of the fermenter. We put the bag on the box and then while Patrick holds the bag, I grab the spout and with my trusty butter knife, I pry the yellow cap up and then twist it off with my right hand while holding the spout firmly in my left. We then pray and/or swear. You may do either, neither, or both. Then in one quick scary movement I tip the spout over the fermenter and watch that wonderful purple stuff pour out into the fermenter. Wow! It smells just like Welches! This always scares me even though with hundreds of times of doing it, we only had that one horrible oops. We still got lots of good wine and bleach took out the purple in the grout. I digress.
  8. Sorry, I had to pause here. Writing all this stuff about wine has forced me to pour out a glass of the Australian Shiraz that has been breathing for about an hour, patiently waiting for someone to have a glass or two. Darn, it is so good. A little high in tannins but lovely nevertheless. Let me not tarry here.
  9. [making a Grand Cru or Vino del Vida, we pour in the sugar syrup, the water to bring it close to six gallons].  Now add any oak chips or dried berries that may have come with the kit. We stir.

10.  Stir gently and then drop in the sanitized hydrometer. We like it to be about 12.5 to 13% . We have a thermometer strip taped to the side of the fermenter and because the temperature is often in the 74º to 80º+ range, we figure that the wine will be close to half a percent higher than our reading. We could be wrong but I read in Wine Spectator that the big wineries only sort of guess what the percentage will be so who am I to nit-pick. has a nice conversion table where you enter the specific gravity and temperature and it gives you an instant guestimate of you proable slcohol content. This by the way may lead you to understand the professional wineries’ dirty little secret, they estimate too or so says Wine Spectator.

11.  Next,  secure the top on the fermenter.  Patrick lugs it upstairs to my office, the hottest room in the house. In the winter, we have a small radiator like heater going to keep the room about seventy-eightish. You may want to put it in a closet or other darkened and warm place but put it off the floor to help keep the temperature constant all around.

12.  Once settled in its fermenting spot, take the top off the fermenter and sprinkle the yeast over the top of the wine. Replace the top and put the fermenter on a chair or a table or low stool. We usually have 3 going at once. Secure the vapor trap that has water and potassium sulfite in it so no air will get to the wine while it is fermenting and still the gas coming off the fermenting wine can escape. My office usually smells wonderful.

13.  Wait at least two weeks until the hydrometer reads an appropriate reading about 0.998 specific gravity (see your directions) or lower. You can wait a little longer if you want and it will just get drier. We like to use a wine theif and a hydrometer to measure the s.g. so we are then forced to drink the sample — don’t put it back for goodness sake, drink it.  Sampling is actually important as it educates your taste to the s.g. reading.

14.  If all is well, you are ready for the first (maybe only) racking. Have the the cane, tubing, and the bottle wand all sanitized. Currently we use an auto siphon, cane, and bottle wand which makes the process a breeze. If you don’t invest the $11-$16 in an autosiphon, do the following. Put the cane in the fermenter not touching the lees gunk at the bottom and fill the tube with the cane on the end with water. I can never wait. I sanitize a soup spoon and have one taste of the wine. It is always good. We then put the tubing on the cane and put the other end (the bottling wand) into a sanitized carboy and siphon the wine into the carboy. At the end of this process you must add the other chemicals that came with the kit in the exact order that is prescribed. These chemicals are a tiny bit compared to what you get in a commercial wine so don’t get your underwear in a twist. I have it on good authority that the wine kit wines have about 1/5 the amount of sulfites as most commercial wines that have to stand on a store shelf for long stretches and remember all wines have sulfites, naturally occurring or added.

15.  Then comes the degassing. We cheat. My son, Glenn the inventor and engineering genius, has made us a degasser, patent pending. You don’t really need one but it is fun to watch. Read the directions that come with the kit and follow them exactly. You will have to stir your wine for two, five-minute periods according to the directions to get the gas out. The whole process takes about thirty minutes of adding the small packets of chemicals and stirring takes about thirty minutes. This is the only real work in making homemade wine. The rest is just fun. Be like me an have a partner who does all the work and takes none of the credit. (Eventually, we will sell the degasser or rent it maybe. There are probably degassers on line. I have never shopped for one. Probably expensive, who knows.)

16.  When this is finished we put plastic wrap over the top of the carboy (the directions call for a air trap but Patrick likes the plastic wrap better, don’t ask).  Then  set the carboy in the coldest place in the house or if it is winter, we put it in the garage. Then wait until it clarifies, two weeks in the summer, one week or ten days in the winter.

17.  Last procedure, sanitize the bottles with a Star Sand solution and put them on a bottle tree. We used to sanitize them with a spray bottle and rinse then (thus contaminating them with city water) and lay them out on towels but the bottle tree is cheap and makes a world of difference for the serious wine kit maker. It is also wise to buy a bottle sanitizer gizzmo (not the technical name) that can fit on the top and it does save about an hour or more of standing at the sink. We have a customer who bakes his at 200º and then lets them sit in the oven until they cool off. I have visions of shattered glass.

18.  Use your instant siphon again or set up the other siphon system again, being careful not to let the bottom of the cane settle into the lees at the bottom of the carboy. Patrick secures the siphon (or racking cane) with the plastic wrap (now you understand his method). The carboy is on the counter and we put a towel on a chair and then a big glass bowl on that. We put a measuring cup in the bowl.with some paper towels underneath so the bottoms of the bottles don’t get wet if we drip.  If not using an instant siphon run the first water of the siphon into the measuring cup and throw it away (the mixture, not the cup).  Then we fill an easy pour bottle (one that doesn’t dribble) with wine. I use this to top off the bottles. Then we fill the bottles and I top then off. With luck, you will have less than a full bottle at the end. Drink it!

19.  Your first wine kit comes with a corker. We put the corks in a solution of potassium sulfite and water and then put a small plate on top to hold the corks down – they bob otherwise. We use a floor corker which is so simple and takes no effort at all. If you are doing 60 – 90 bottles at once we can rent you a floor corder, but corking with the hand corker that comes with the kit is not very stressful for just 28-30 bottles.

20.  Once the wine is in the bottles and corked, we put on capsules, the nice plastic thingies at the top of the bottle but it isn’t necessary. If you choose to use them, just slide them on and have a pot of boiling water. Quickly turn them into the water, pushing the top of the bottle to the bottom of the pot. This seals them. We started by using a hair dryer but that takes forever and feels like work. The wines have to stand upright for 24 hours. Sometime during that time, we put on the labels and I also make little Avery labels that have the date and the percentage of alcohol.

21.  Next day, put the wine in storage on their sides. We get wine boxes from Total Wine . Kit wines are ready to drink after 3 months. Of course whites are good anytime. Bergamais is a good red to start with because it is good to drink soon (wait at least 10 minutes) before you start drinking it. Be safe, make 2 Bergamais so you can drink the first 28 bottles while waiting for a month or so to pass. You may find if you drink a bottle a month of newish wine you can track how it changes over time. They get really good after a year so that is why you need to make a few hundred (four kits make over a hundred bottles) in the beginning so no matter how fast a reasonable person drinks the wine, some of it will get a chance to age.

We drank a lot of very young wine when we first started and I have to tell you it was so much better than the junk ($6.99-$18.99 swill) from the store even when it had only aged a few weeks. Kit wines are supposed to be the equivalent of $15 wines. I will pit our wine against any $30 bottle of wine with confidence. Now if it is a $100 bottle, I suppose the expensive one would win. But hey, we are paying less than $3 a bottle for terrific wine and although it is not recommended that you drink an entire bottle all by yourself, I have it on good authority that even that rate of consumption you will not get a hangover, fat maybe but no hangover.

Pictures are coming to this blog soon so check back.

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