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Wine Making FAQs
Click here to ask your wine question.
Do you need a lot of equipment to make wine?
Is it expensive to make wine?
How long does the entire process take?
What exactly is in a Wine Equipment Kit?
Then what is in a Wine Juice Kit?
What is a Hydrometer and how do you use one?
Why does the equipment kit contain a primary fermenting bucket?
Why does my kit contain Bentonite and what is it?
What is degassing and why must I do it?
What is topping up and why should I do it?
Where is the best place to make my wine?
What happens if I use inadequate equipment?
Why is it necessary to use fining agents
Can I reuse equipment that has held other food products?
What happens if equipment isn't properly cleaned?
Can I cut corners or simplify a process to save time?
Is water a factor in the success of my wine?
What is the best way to add the yeast? My basement is cold. Is this a good place to make my wine?
I added sulphite and sorbate too early in the process. What will it do to the wine?
Can I leave sulphite out of my wines?
How long do I stir the concentrate mix?
The kit says 28 days. Is that when it's ready to drink?
My kit has two packages of oak chips in it. Am I supposed to add both?
What recommendations do you have on storing your bottled wines?
How long should you age your wine?
Q: Do you need a lot of equipment to make wine at home?
A: Not at all. By using our juice kits, you start with an excellent quality juice that allows you to skip the pressing, steming and crushing. Our starter equipment kit contains all the necessary equipment to get you started making outstanding tasting wine.
Q: Is it expensive to make wine?
A: Surprisingly, wine making is a very affordable hobby. Our wine making starter equipment kits start at the reasonable price of $49.95. You will also need to purchase juice. We sell juice kits. The juice kits contain everything you'll need including the juice, yeast, clarifying and stabilizing agents. Juice kits start around $49. Each kit yields approximately 30 bottles of wine.
Q: How long does it take to make?
A: Our kits range from 4 to 6 weeks. Yes, you can start a kit today and have wine ready to bottle in as little as 4 to 6 weeks! Even though your wine has fermented in 4 to 6 weeks it is not ready to drink. We recommend that you age your wine for a month or two to allow the wine to better develop.
Q: What comes in the Equipment Starter Kits?
A: We have custom made several different size kits to best meet a variety of needs. From a small One Gallon Kit to a Deluxe 6 Gallon Kit, we have something to meet everyone’s winemaking needs. If you plan to make wine by using our concentrate juices, you will need a 6 Gallon Kit. Consider purchasing our Deluxe Kit for $99.95.
Q: Then what's in a Wine Juice Kit?
A: A juice kit contains all the ingredients to make the wine named on the kit. For example, if you purchase a Merlot juice kit, you will have all the necessary ingredients to make a Merlot wine including: Merlot juice concentrate, yeast, bentonite, sorbate, metabisulphite, fining agents. Depending on the wine type your kit may also contain oak, elderflowers, etc. The most important item in your juice kit is the instructions. Please read and follow your instructions carefully.
Q: What is a hydrometer and do I have to use one?
A: A hydrometer is simply a long glass cylinder with a weight at the bottom. It reads the specific gravity. Specific Gravity is based on the weight of liquid. If you float a hydrometer in water it will read 1.000 on the Specific Gravity scale. At the beginning of fermentation a typical reading might be 1.090. This means, for example, that the juice at that point weighs 9 percent more than water, or the juice is 9 percent thicker than water. When all the sugar is turned into alcohol you will have a reading on the Specific Gravity scale that is less than water - typically around .995. This means that the juice weighs less than water, or it is thinner than water by a half of a percent. Hydrometers are very simple to use and will help you gage your wine's fermentation process.
Q: Why does the equipment kit contain a primary fermenting bucket? Can’t I just use a carboy?
A: We highly recommend that you begin the winemaking process by using a primary fermenting bucket so the wine will have room to ferment. Our fermenting buckets are 7.8 gallons in size. Since we are making six gallons of wine, this allows for some room during the first stage of fermentation. When the yeast first begins to work, a layer of foam forms on the top of the juice. If we started this in the carboy, the foam would have nowhere to go but out.
Q: Why does my kit contain Bentonite and what is it?
A: Bentonite is a gray, clay granule that is used in wines as a clarifier. It possess a negative electrostatic charge. This attracting charge along with hydrogen bonding, causes suspended particles in the wine to cling to it as it settles to the bottom of the container. It is usually added at the beginning of the fermentation process.
Q: My instructions say I need to de-gas the wine. What is degassing and why must I do it?
A: The de-gassing process occurs at the end of the fermentation process when you add your packets of potassium metabisulphite and sorbate. Degassing is simply a vigorous stirring for several minutes. It is a necessary step which will eliminate the excess carbon dioxide bubbles from the wine.
Q: My instructions say I need to top up my carboy. What does that mean exactly?
A: Once the juice has fermented into alcohol it is important that it is keep it away from air. Therefore, it is not desirable to have a large gap between the top of the carboy and the wine's surface. We do not recommend adding water to top up; we suggest using a similar style wine.
Q: Where is the best place to make my wine?
A: Generally, you do not need a lot of room to make wine. You will want to have an area with running water so you can keep your equipment clean and sanitized. Temperature is another important consideration. During the fermentation process, the juice must be kept between 65-75 degrees F. If the temperature falls below 65, the yeast will not be able multiply and fermentation will be almost non-existent. On the other hand, if the temperature is too high, the heat will kill off the yeast.
Q: What recommendations do you have on storing your bottled wines?
A: Bottled wines are dramatically affected by the environment they are stored in. In fact, proper storage conditions are so important in ensuring that your wine is at peak quality when opened, they should be considered the last unwritten step in the winemaking process.
Some wines are more susceptible to poor storage conditions. Generally, white wines - particularly off-dry wines and champagne - are more frail than reds. Grape variety can also make a difference; for example, Cabernet Sauvignon wines are generally more resilient than Pinot Noirs. However, no matter what the wine, it always pays to minimize the risks associated with bottle storage:
Temperature - Constant temperature is the key. By causing the wine inside the bottle to expand and contract, swings in temperature rapidly ruin bottled wine. Ideal cellar temperature is 45 - 55 F (7 - 13 C). At lower temperatures, maturation is slowed, though more complexity is allowed to develop. Wine could be safely stored to within a degree or two of freezing, but it would take decades to develop. On the other hand, wines can be stored at up to 68 F, where they will mature quite rapidly. Higher temperatures than this will quickly damage the wine.
Light - Sunlight and ultraviolet light (ie. fluorescent lamps) are as bad for wine as excessive heat, but are problems usually much easier to overcome. Though most wines are protected to some degree by colored glass bottles, place wines in areas away from direct light or cover them with a blanket.
Humidity - Some degree of humidity is beneficial for long term storage, to ensure that the exposed end of the cork does not dry out and allow oxygen into the bottle. Beware of air conditioners, as they actually suck moisture out of the air. Ideally, relative humidity should be between 60 - 75%. Humidity higher than that encourages mould growth in your storage area (not to mention label deterioration!).
Movement - Wine does not take well to constant movement or vibration (particularly if there is sediment present), thus a secure storage space is a must. Don't put your bottles next to the washing machine, or in a storage area where they will have to be moved often to reach other items. Secure storage should also mean storing bottles horizontally, allowing constant contact of the wine with the cork, preventing the cork from drying out and letting air in.
A simple check of all environmental influences in or near your storage area is advised. For example, areas such as garages or attics, which seem cool, may be subject to temperature fluctuations due to lack of insulation. A good option is to insulate a small room, large cupboard or area under the stairs, void of any heat sources like a water pipe or a boiler. Periodically checking the area with a thermometer is a good idea. A good way to do this is to put a floating thermometer in a one litre jug of water, and leave it covered in the space for 24 hours. This will let the water stabilize to the ambient temperature, and give you an accurate reading.
Allowing for the ageing of your finished wine in an environment which helps to preserve its finer qualities will pay big dividends in ensuring that you will have the best wine possible to enjoy with friends and family.
Q: How long should a newly bottled wine be aged before it’s best to consume it?
A: It's tempting to start consuming your wine right after bottling it, and in fact, there are many wines that can be consumed right after bottling and be everything you want them to be. But if you really want to maximize your wine's potential, a little time left alone in the bottle can make the difference.
With age, most red wines which begin life with obvious fruity aromas and some degree of astringency ('bite') will develop softer, gentler, more complex aromas and flavours. The wines become richer, as the fruit mellows and the astringent tannins relax and contribute to the body and character.
Many white wines also benefit with age. Whites intended for ageing may display exceedingly high acid levels which will soften over time, uncovering wonderful textures and flavours.
Components of wines differ by variety or blend, and thus react differently to ageing. Some wines require longer ageing periods than others. For example:
Q: What happens if I use inadequate equipment? A: Winemaking equipment - such as pails, carboys and spoons - often seems similar to items that may be around the home. However, in many cases, proper winemaking equipment and utensils are made of special materials, and this can influence your finished product.
Q: Why is it necessary to add the fining agents (package #4) before transferring the wine must off the sediment that has built up in the carboy bottom? Wouldn't it be more efficient for package #4 to be added after the sediment has been removed? It seems the clearing agent has to do more work to clear the wine by adding it with the sediment still in the carboy, especially when you're stirring this sediment up in the process.
A: This one fools a lot of people, as it does seem at the outset that you'd want to get rid of the sediment first and then add the clearing agent, particularly when the wine in the carboy otherwise seems clear. The temptation is so great, many winemakers DO switch the steps themselves. This is not wrong - it's just less efficient, believe it or not.
The clearing, or fining, agents used in Winexpert's wine kits, whether it be chitosan or isinglass, both act more efficiently in clearing wine when they have a base of sediment to begin with. The sediment acts as a trigger mechanism which sends the finings into action in clearing out the mix of proteins, pigments, phenolics, dead yeast, etc.
Both the fining agents and the particles to clear out from the wine have either a positive or a negative charge. And just like in the movies, opposites attract. A negatively charged fining agent like bentonite will serve to bring together those particles having a positive charge, while positively charged fining agents like chitosan or isinglass will attract negatively charged particles. This process allows for the molecular weight structures of the particles to become larger: smaller particles join together to become larger particles, which in turn fall to the bottom of the carboy when their mass becomes great enough.
If the fining agents do not 'find' enough particles present in the wine must to join together into larger particles, the clearing process may stall, as there will not be enough small particles present to conglomerate into the larger particles which will fall out. Small particles on their own will remain suspended in the must, and the fining's efficiency is reduced.
This is why you must thoroughly stir the sediment when adding package #4, as it effectively mixes the fining agents and the particles together to start the clearing process.
Resist the urge to jump the gun on transferring, or racking, the wine! Trust the method behind the madness of Winexpert's instructions, and stir up that sediment with confidence!
Q: Can I reuse equipment that has held other food products?
A: Re-using plastic pails from other sources, like buckets that previously held food products, is always a mistake. The food odours will have sunk into the plastic, and will taint the wine. Also, plastic items not intended for food purposes, such as brand-new garbage pails must never be used for winemaking. The pigments, UV protectants and plasticisers (chemicals used to keep the plastic from becoming brittle) will leach into the wine, and could affect your health.
Q: What happens if equipment isn't properly cleaned?
A: 90% of all winemaking failures can be traced to a lapse in cleaning or sanitation. (Cleaning is removing visible dirt and residue from your equipment. Sanitising is treating that equipment with a chemical that will eliminate, or prevent the growth of, spoilage organisms).
Everything that comes in contact with your wine must be clean, and properly sanitised, from the thermometer to the carboy, from the siphon hose to the bung and airlock. One single lapse could cause a failure of your batch.
Q: Can I cut corners or simplify a process to save time?
A: Wine kit instructions may seem to be long and complicated, and the urge is to simplify them, or to standardize steps between different kits. This is always a mistake, for several reasons.
First, the kit instructions are based both on sound winemaking techniques, and empirical trials. Development of the specific steps employed in the instructions came about through both learned theoretical winemaking practices and through repeated wine laboratory testing. Following the instructions to a 'T' affords the maximum opportunity for success.
Second, if your kit fails to ferment correctly, or clear sufficiently, there may be no easy way to correct it if you have not followed the directions.
This is sometimes a problem in that kit instructions are very different from those for wines made from fresh grapes. Trying to use the techniques described in winemaking textbooks will usually lead to problems: wine kits are another kettle of fish entirely.
Q: Is water a factor in the success of my wine?
A: Water is not quite as critical as many people think. In fact, if your water is fit to drink, it is usually just fine for winemaking. However, if your water has a lot of hardness or a high mineral content, especially iron, it could lead to permanent haze or off flavours. Also, if your house is equipped with a salt-exchange water softener, that water can't be used for winemaking. If you're in doubt, go ahead and use bottled water to make your wine: you'll appreciate the difference.
Q: What is the best way to handle the yeast?
A: If you look at the instructions in your wine kit (and please, do), they will likely instruct you to sprinkle your packet of yeast directly on to the must. Yet if you read the yeast package (and many winemaking textbooks) they recommend rehydrating the yeast. If the objective is to deliver the maximum number of yeast cells to the must, which technique is best?
It turns out that the answer is not as simple as one or the other, but the main point is that rehydration is not really necessary. You can rehydrate your yeast if you absolutely want to, but be sure to do it accurately and precisely, as explained further below. The rest of us will tear open the package and dump it in, and spend the extra time sampling our last batch!
When performed correctly, rehydrating gives the highest live cell counts, and the quickest, most thorough fermentation. The catch is, it has to be done precisely correctly. Lalvin EC 1118 champagne yeast, for instance, asks you to add the yeast to 10 times its weight in water at 40-43°C (104-109°F).
Breaking it down, the amount of '10 times' is important if you're trying to maximise live cell counts. That's because the yeast is dried on a substrate of nutrients and sugars. At a ratio of 10:1 water/yeast, the osmotic pressure allows for maximum nutrient uptake (osmotic pressure is influenced by the dissolved solids in the water, like nutrients and sugars). If too much water is used, the yeast will grow only sluggishly. If too little water is used, the cells may burst from the flood of liquid and nutrients forced into them.
Secondly, the temperature range is inflexible. The outer integument of a yeast cell is made up of two layers of fatty acids. These layers soften best in warm water, much as greasy film will come off of dishes best in warm water. Once it has softened up, it will allow the passage of nutrients and waste products in and out of the cell much more efficiently. If the water isn't warm enough, the cell won't soften. If it's too warm, generally anywhere above 52°C (125.6°F) the yeast cell will cook and die.
The next thing you have to worry about is temperature. Yeast is terrifically sensitive to environmental conditions. If it goes too quickly from a favourable temperature to a less favorable one, weakened cells may die, and others may go dormant, in an attempt to ride out the temperature shift. This reduces the numbers of live, viable cells available to ferment the must, and gives spoilage organisms a chance to get a foothold, and potentially ruin your wine. So if you are rehydrating your yeast, you'll have to wait as the yeast cools to within two degrees of your must temperature before adding it: accuracy counts!
On the other hand, simply dumping the yeast onto the top of the must should result in lower cell counts. Empirical evidence shows this isn't the case: the yeast appear to know what they're doing. Generally, a five-gram packet of yeast will have less than a six-hour lag phase on an average wine kit. This is perfectly acceptable, and isn't long enough to allow spoilage organisms to get a foothold in your wine. Plus, it's a heck of a lot simpler than going through the rehydrating process, fraught as it is with risks.
Q: My basement is cold. Is this a good place to make my wine?
A: Kit instructions tell you to ferment your wine within a specific temperature range. We recommend 18 to 24°C (65°F to 75°F). Yeast thrives between these temperatures. This is one of the situations where Winexpert's instructions are different than commercial winemaking techniques. In commercial wineries, some white wines are fermented cooler than this, sometimes below 55°F. Commercial wineries have the luxury of taking a year (or two, or three) before they bottle their wines, so they don't have a problem. For the home winemaker though, if the fermentation area is too cool the wine will ferment very slowly. This will lead to an excess of CO2 gas (fizz) in the wine, and it may not be ready to stabilise and fine on the appropriate day. Even worse, the kind of fining agents included with Winexpert kits don't work well at temperatures outside of the 18 to 24°C (65°F to 75°F) range. Below 17°C (64°F) your wine kit may not clear at all!
Q: I added sulphite and sorbate too early in the process. What will it do to the wine?
A: Sulphite and sorbate - the stabilizers in the kit - work to inhibit yeast activity. If, by mistake, you add them too early your wine may not finish fermenting. If you add the sorbate on day one, the yeast will never become active, and the kit will not ferment.
Q: Can I leave sulphite out of my wines?
A: Some people believe that they are allergic to sulphites, and want to leave them out of their kits. While this is their option, it's a bad idea. True sulphite allergies are rare, and if someone has a reaction to drinking wine, it's almost always due to some other cause (for a complete discussion on this topic, see our handout "Sulphites: the Facts"). Besides, yeast make sulphites themselves during fermentation, so no wine can ever be sulphite-free, no matter what.
Without added sulphites the kit will oxidise and spoil very rapidly. It will start to go off in less than 4 weeks, and be undrinkable in less than three months. Also, if the sulphite is left out, but the sorbate is added, the wine will be attacked by lactic bacteria, which will convert the sorbate into the compound hexadienol, which smells like rotting geraniums and dead fish.
The bottom line is this: if you do not add the sulphite to the kit, neither your retailer, nor Winexpert can guarantee the wine, so think carefully before you do it.
Q: How long do I stir the concentrate mix?
A: On day one, the kit needs to be stirred very vigorously. This is because the juice and concentrate are very viscous, and don't mix easily with water. Even if it seems that dumping the contents of the bag into the primary with the water has done the job, it hasn't. The wine lies on the bottom of the pail, with a layer of water on top, throwing off any gravity readings, and making the yeast work extra hard.
When it comes time to stabilize and fine the wine, it has to be stirred vigorously enough to drive off all of the CO2 it accumulated during fermentation. This is because the dissolved gas will attach to the fining agents, preventing them from settling out. You need to stir hard enough to make the wine foam, and keep stirring until it will no longer foam. Only then will the gas be driven off so the fining agents can work their magic.
Q: The kit says 28 days. Is that when it's ready to drink?
A: Wine kits are ready to bottle in 28 or 45 days; but they're not really ready to drink. However, many of the wines taste great right away but we do recommend ageing them especially the fuller-bodied reds. Island Mists and many of the whites are quite tasty as soon as they are bottled. Remember that wine goes through bottle shock after its bottled due to the agitation from bottling. Two weeks after bottling, the wine will settle down and begin opening up to release its aromas and flavors. AFter three months it gets much better, and the wine will show most of its character at this point. For most whites, however, and virtually all reds, six months is needed to smooth out the wine and allow it to express mature character. Heavy reds will continue to improve for at least a year, rewarding your patience with delicious bouquet.
Think of your wine like a gourmet meal: you wouldn't take your omelette out of a pan before it was half-cooked, and you wouldn't want to eat a cake that was only half-baked, so let the magic ingredient (time, of course!) do its work! For further information on ageing, click on the section called 'Ageing and Storage' within this Answer Box section.
Q: My kit has two packages of oak chips in it. Am I supposed to add both?
A: Yes. Wherever instructions call for the addition of a certain item, you are required to add ALL of the packages of that item found in the kit. This goes for packages of oak, fining agents like isinglass, and so on
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