So - you have decided that you want to try your hand at making some wine. This article will describe the basic steps and some of the pitfalls to avoid to make sure your first batch turns out good enough to drink.
First things first - how much do you want to make?
I recommend at least 5 gallons. Why? Because beginning home wine makers just cannot wait to taste what they have made. In addition, 5 gallons is only 25 bottles. So you'll get the batch finished, and then you will try a bottle or 2 or 3. Then you'll wait a week and try a few more bottles. Sooner than later, it will all be gone before it has a chance to age and get really good.
If you just want to do something quick and simple, you could do a gallon in a plastic milk jug. The drawback is, once you have tasted it a few times - it's all gone and you'll have to start over.
With 5 gallons - you just might be tempted to let a few of the remaining bottles age. Believe it or not, the biggest mistake beginning winemakers make is not letting their wine age in the bottle. The difference in taste is, to put it mildly, AMAZING.
The next step is to decide which type of juice you want to ferment. Grape juice, cranberry juice, muscadine, and cherry are all good starter choices. The first 3 should produce a rather normal tasting wine while cherries usually will give you a sweeter wine. Of course, you can always add sugar to sweeten your wine after it is stabilized and has stopped fermenting.
The next step is to completely sterilize all of the containers and equipment you will be using. Some people use extremely hot water, others recommend using a sanitizer. I like the sanitizer because you do not have to scald yourself with the hot water. The sanitizing solution should be poured over everything and should make contact with all surfaces. Then you just rinse everything off with hot water.
Put your juice in your 5 gallon bucket - that's the next step. BUT - it's not time to put your yeast in yet.
We first want to sterilize our "must" or our juice. You can do this with 4 Campden Tablets. These are sulfite tablets that will get rid of any type of bacteria that could be present in the juice. Crush the tablets and then dissolve them in some warm water and then pour them in your juice or "must". Let this sit overnight while the sulfites do their work.
24 hours later, you are ready to sprinkle in or "pitch" your yeast.
The type of yeast you decide to use is really a question that is beyond the scope of this article. However, I'll say that there are hundreds of different yeast strains for literally thousands of different uses. For our first batch, we can just use the bakers yeast that you can easily find at the grocery store. Later, and after some research, you will probably want to use one of the specialized strains.
Now - wait 7 days and watch. you will want to cover your bucket with a cloth towel or even put on a lid with an airlock in place. The wine will be perfectly safe during the fermentation stage because it will give off lots of Carbon Dioxide. The Co2 will protect your wine from the oxygen in the air.
Once the 7 days has passed, siphon off the wine from the bucket into another bucket or into a glass "carboy". These can be found online or at your local wineshop. When you are doing the siphoning, you will want to get as little of the gunk on the bottom of the bucket as possible. This gunk is called "lees" and is made up of dead yeast. Wine that sits on top of the dead yeast sometimes can develop an "off" flavor.
Once your wine has been transferred into what is called your "secondary fermenter", then you will want to put an airlock in place and just let it sit for about a month. There's a song about this part - "The Waiting is the Hardest Part". It's true. Every budding home winemaker just cannot wait to taste the stuff - but - don't do it. It surely won't hurt you but during this month it is still fermenting. The wine isn't finished yet. Be Patient.
After the month is up, you will want to transfer it back to your bucket, again making sure that you leave the gunk on the bottom. The process of transferring the wine from one vessel to another is called "racking". Why? That's something I am going to research for another article.
You are just about there. Theres only one thing left to do and that is to add a "stablizer" to your wine. A stabilizer inhibits yeast reproduction. In essence, it stops yeast from doing it's thing. Part of what happens during yeast growth and reproduction is that it releases Co2 gas. If that is happening after you bottle the wine, you will get popped corks or exploded bottles or both. So - put in the stabilizer, stir the wine well, and then return it to your Secondary Carboy fermentation vessel. Be sure and clean out the secondary and sterilize it before you do.
Now, all you have to do at this point is wait until the wine clears. Gravity is your friend here. Of course, it won't hurt a bit to bottle cloudy wine. But if you wait another month, it should be crystal clear. The clearing process is another subject that you can find a great deal of information on in other guides and books and I suggest you read up on this subject when you get a chance.
Bottling time! All you have to do is make sure your bottles are clean and sanitized and just siphon the wine into the bottles. Corking the bottles can be a little difficult and i highly recommend you get some king of corker. Again, these are available online or at your local wine shop.
Now - BE PATIENT and let the wine sit in the bottle for 6 to 9 months. The longer the wine ages, the better it will taste - I guarantee it. Happy winemaking!