Wine Making Fundamentals


Many books have been written about winemaking, these notes are, from hands-on experience, a short compendium of priorities, imperatives, and memory-joggers that may help bolster prospective beginner confidence at that time when the books are laid down, and the first must is being planned. Similar principles are involved in beermaking, either traditionally, or with kits. Indeed, beermaking with kits is a useful introduction to winemaking, and there is also a convenient transfer of skills and equipment for the home winemaking hobbyist.

Some basic principles of winemaking:

Never use ingredients not already in recipes, they may be poisonous, and/or unsuitable for winemaking. There is already a long history of ingredient knowledge in existence, thousands of years, in fact. Grapes are a fruit, a berry, like tomatoes and dates, and all the others you will know so well, so enjoy your own particular wines, perhaps add a proportion of those vine berries for a vinous dimension to your must creations, and to help enhance the must composition.

Understand that winemaking principles, well learnt and applied, are more important than adherence to recipes in any given situation. Especially, ensure, before beginning fermentation, that your must, whatever its principle ingredients, resembles ripe grape juice in sugar, pH, and nutrients, for optimum yeast performance, and ultimate quality of the result. Recipes may act as useful guides to similar combinations, proportions, or ingredient preparation, and for predicting possible results, in given situations when similar ingredients may be utilised.

Use appropriate cultured yeasts for wine types as well, wild yeasts are variable, and have a low alcohol and meta bisulphate tolerance, with attendant risks. The wine yeast has a long association with the vine-berry, and specific cultured wine yeasts suit specific wine types, which you can also strive for in cottage wines, using the ingredients at your disposal, and the appropriate vine berry yeast. Make a starter, so that your chosen yeast multiplies and colonises the must rapidly.

Use food grade plastics, glass or (stabilised) stainless steel for all preparation, storage, fermentation, or maturation. Avoid scratching fermentor interiors by dissolving sugars, etc., before adding to must or wort. Never leave must or wort in plastic fermenters longer than 5 or 6 days, and do not mature wine in plastic. Brewing beer is handy learning preparation for winemaking, and basic equipment is common to both processes. But, not the bottles, as wine needs green glass, (against specific wavelengths), and also stronger glass for sparkling and/or MLF wines.

Special bottle-washing powders are useful, plus non-fragrant detergents, hot water, synthetic brushes, and firm decision-making about discarding of doubtful containers, bottles, or utensils! Always clean up immediately after a process is complete, (this applies to beermaking also), never allow equipment or work areas to dry out before attending to this important chore.

Take care with using chlorine, which can cause taint, as well as reacting with stainless steel. Developing a winemaking process without chlorine may be preferable to risk of taint, or where water is not so plentiful for the extensive rinsing required. Chlorine, or chlorinated cleaning products can even pit stainless steel in sufficient concentration, especially with no-rinse applications.

Chlorine and iodine, (also used in cleaning preparations), can react unfavourably, for taste, with tannins. Also, any chlorine containing solids that react with acids, even common household acids such as acetic acid in vinegar, will produce chlorine gas, so beware. To repeat, better, probably, to develop cleaning procedures for brewing and winemaking that do not require chlorine or iodine compounds, especially when water is not plentiful, and rinsing will be limited. Also, ensure chlorinated water is boiled, or well aerated before using for must or wort preparation

Stainless steel should be stabilised before use with an acid rinse of citric or tartaric acid to remove any manganese sulphide that may be present on the surface of the vessel. (Ref. “Making Good Wine” by Bryce Rankine, p. 280, ISBN 0725105631) Otherwise, reaction with acids in the wine enables the liberation of hydrogen sulphide, a cause of wine taint.

Use quality ingredients, balanced and compatible, including yeasts, enzymes, additives and supplements, with some working anticipation of the final result. Check preparation procedures for given must staples. Note: Clarified juice, easier for beginners, nevertheless is low in nutrients, ferments more slowly than unclarified, and needs careful must balancing with nutrient supplementation, and good primary fermentation aeration. Nitrogen nutritional balance using DAP, diammonium phosphate, is necessary to prevent formation of the by product urea which the yeast cannot metabolise.

Urea plus alcohol produces ethyl carbamate, an ester of carbamic acid, being a urethane, and a carcinogen. Also, use only food grade DAP, which has no urea contamination, and add the DAP before fermentation begins for optimum results.

Use optimum quality water, balanced with appropriate supplements if necessary. Optimum relevant temperatures of must and wine also contribute to ultimate quality of the final product. Do not use chlorinated water, so boil, or leave stand for 12 hours with occasional agitation to remove residual chlorine.

Wines of low alcohol, low tannin, and higher pH and sugar will not age well, and may need stabilizing by chemical means. Dry wines, red or white, of 10%-12% alcohol, are the most stable, will age well, and need less hands-on and deadlines when being made and matured. Tannin content will also influence longevity, clearing, and the time required before optimum maturation. Alcohol itself will inhibit micro-organisms, depending on volume percentage, for this, ideal 10% and above.

Sugar for 10%-12% alcohol, 1.075-1.088 sg, can be added before fermentation to a well balanced must, and using appropriate yeast, without risking a stuck fermentation. Higher alcohol may be obtained by adding more sugar incrementally at successive racking’s, until fermentation stops, but this will unbalance a table wine, although will help create a sherry or port base if that is required. There will be no MLF at this level of alcohol. However, never enable MLF in sweet wines, ie, with higher than residual sugar, as off-odours and tastes may result.

Work in a cool, stable and controlled atmosphere if possible, ensure adequate ventilation when using metabisulphite. Early morning is ideal, the light is good, you are fresh, and must and culture temperature are easily controlled. Wear suitable comfortable and clean clothes, and employ optimum sanitation procedures. Dusting, vacuuming, kids, pets, dirty clothes, odours, and general traffic, etc., are all to be avoided in or near the proposed working area, immediately prior to, or during, any winemaking procedure. NB, Meta solution potentiated by citric acid will not store.

Isolate raw garbage, as well fruit or vegetables, especially if overripe, all of which may attract undesirable yeasts, other microorganisms, and fruit fly. Boil any leftover must, or gross lees if straining, before disposing in garden or compost, to limit the development of colonies of super-breed yeast which may cause problems for your future winemaking.

Preferably work on calm days, and close up the wine-making area, (after preparation when metabisulphate is used), or safeguard with very fine mesh, when preparing must or bottling, especially if the wine is sweet. Drosophila Melanogaster, the common, and very small fruit fly, is attracted to sugar/yeast/fermentation odours, and carries acetomonas/acetobacter/mycoderma aceti that causes vinegar formation. This organism is a thermophile, so cooler fermentations and/or storage will have an inhibiting effect. Drosophila M. may also enter airlocks if not discouraged by the presence of metabisulphite solution. Note that excess oxygen will also combine with alcohol to produce acetic acid and water, and thus producing a high and unbalancing volatile acidity component. Micro-oxygenation is preferred, and this will occur just with careful transfer handling.

In general, observe optimum ambient temperatures and working conditions at any stage of wine making. Cooler fermentations, usually for white wines, will have less extraction, especially of tannins, and a fruitier taste and bouquet. Warmer temperatures for red, or “darker” wines will effect more colour extraction, and of harsher tannins, or bitter constituents, if present in the must. During maturation, wine chemistry will evolve twice as fast for every 10C over 10C, so maintain a 10C-15C range if possible.. Maintain an uncluttered and organised working area, using careful handling practices. This includes optimum cellaring and maturation conditions and handling, and cellar air must also be clean and stable at all times, especially if corks and casks are in use. Molecular exchange also occurs within airlocks, so beware of ambient odors during late fermentation, and maturation. Practice minimum interference or disturbance at any stage of wine production, thus lessening chances of contamination and macro-oxygenation, and/or of inhibiting steady and balanced maturation. Filtering and clarification are only really necessary for show wines, and will otherwise remove molecules beneficial to health. As well, lengthy aging will break down beneficial molecules. Tirage crown caps using a conventional capper and tirage bell are an easy, undemanding, and very efficient sealing method. Corks, for all their long tradition, have a chequered history, and there are too many failures to justify modern usage. The wine industry is seeking alternatives such as the screw cap for still wines, which may, in turn, become economical for home use. Allow Time to do its part, be patient, and be pleasantly surprised that wine, given a chance, can be quite forgiving of errors, except those of poor sanitation. Any table wine of 10%-12% should mature in bottle for at least year before drinking. Bottling small “tasters”, which will mature more quickly, will enable earlier taste checks. Be also pleasantly surprised how the rough will become smooth, especially if the “right” malolactic bacteria, wild or cultured, have been active, and/or unhurried chemistry evolves during optimum undisturbed maturation time. “In bottle” is a reductive environment, and MLF, by producing some CO2, will contribute to this.   Metabisulphate at sufficient strength introduced during racking’s can prevent MLF, if you prefer. Low-alcohol, low-acid, low tannin wines may also benefit from sorbate addition at bottling. Keep wine levels high under airlocks, to prevent gas reversal, but never touching stoppers. Use pure strong meta solution in the airlocks to discourage insects.


Wine making can be as easy as walking into The Ulitimate Home brew shop, buying a kit , going home and then mixing some wine kit concentrate and yeast powder from a wine making kit with water into a large fermenting bottle and, voila! Four to six weeks later, your wine is ready and you then bottle, cork and label your product – usually about 33 bottles. Or, it can be a very meticulous and measured art requiring a fairly good grounding in some pretty technical, age-old wine making concepts, a boggling array of wine making equipment and supplies, as well as the space and time to accommodate the hobby. Happily, there are home wine making kits and methods that will fit just about anyone’s experience level, space and time requirements, as well as their budget and desire as to just how much effort they want to put into wine making. Regardless of how sophisticated you may want to become in your home wine making, you will need a few things to make the experience and the wine enjoyable. The information on this site will help you find a huge number of these essential wine making supplies to satisfy the basics, and the accessories you’ll want to add to make the process easier and more enjoyable. One necessary ingredient we can’t help you with is a space large enough to keep your equipment undisturbed and where the temperature can be controlled for proper fermentation. However, once you’ve satisfied that requirement, you’ll find a variety of wine storage and aging aids, like wine cellars, wine coolers and wine refrigerators suitable for small spaces. A dark, cool place to store the wine once bottled is necessary. Wine bottles should be stored on their side, and in a consistent temperature of 12 to 16C degrees.