Top Tips for Winemakers
Simply enjoying tasting and drinking wine isn’t enough for the most hardcore and discerning of wine-lovers. Some decide to become winemakers themselves, studying the arts, the culture, and the agriculture and chemicals that all make turning grape vines into irresistible bottles of red, rose, and white. Running a vineyard requires an incredible amount of work, dedication, patience and luck, along with insurance for wineries that yield a lot of product that protects against unexpected losses – after all, wines are extremely finicky and volatile, and one bad season can eliminate an entire yield.
But if you’re simply a wine-lover who’s interested in starting out at home before taking the leap into professional winemaking, the process is fairly simple. However, to really get the best product, it takes a little bit more attention to detail than you might think. With this in mind, here are a few tips for budding winemakers who want to get the best out of their carboys.
Stick to the Instructions
Just like baking and cooking involves following strict recipes, winemaking follows the same rules. Cutting corners, eliminating or substituting ingredients, or skipping steps entirely can ruin the end product. There are various articles online that suggest ingredients you can add to your juice, such as nutrients, chemicals and enzymes.
But you shouldn’t just blindly throw in additives without carefully checking what they do and how to use them. Plus, it’s likely that too many additivities will be detrimental to your homemade wine. In the beginning especially, avoid being too daring and innovative with your ingredients list – stick to the instructions and only dive further into the new and unknown once you’ve gained some experience.
Use Clean Equipment
Winemaking is meticulous, and there’s cleanliness is of utmost importance during the process. The reason for strict hygiene in winemaking is because the fermentation process is incredibly volatile – and impurities, chemicals or bacteria in the mix can turn your precious product to the stuff of nightmares.
To remove impurities and keep your product the best it can be, sterilizing all jugs, hoses and any surface that comes into contact with the wine is a must. A lot of home wine-making kits encourage potassium metabisulfite for sterilizing equipment and surfaces, followed by rinsing everything down with cold water after.
Begin with Concentrate
Any basic wine-making kit is ideal for newbies because they provide everything needed to make that very first batch of wine. Keeping it simple when you’re a beginner is ideal, and will allow you to create better wine from the start without complicating the process. Beginner kits tend to focus on using concentrate, which is an easier option for those just starting out.
Whilst it seems much more authentic and fun to crush your own grapes from the vine, doing so brings the possibility of impurities like microorganisms, bacteria, and overall unsuitable fruit into the mix. To keep it safe and simple, grape juice or concentrate specifically for winemaking are great choices, and you can buy them year-round. They’re very similar to regular store-bought juices and concentrates, which have been boiled down to remove excess water.
Taste and Test Throughout the Process
Winemakers employ acidity tests and use a hydrometer to work out how much sugar is left in the juices. Many also taste the juice throughout the different stages of the process using a sterilized wine thief to scoop a sample from the carboy. It’s amazing what tongue can tell you about a small sample of your juice.
Know Your Additives I
Every winemaker needs to know what additives go into the process. To turn your fruit, concentrate or juice into wine, you need sugar and yeast for the job. While these are the basic staples and can produce drinkable wine on their own, there are other ingredients you can use to improve the taste, smell and color of your end product.
Potassium metabisulfite is great for adding antioxidants and killing bacteria, whilst fining agents like gelatin, egg whites and bentonite help to clarify the wine. Also, using concentrates and juices means there are less grape skins, so you can add other additives to help add flavor and pigments that would normally be in wine made directly from crushed grapes.
One of the most valuable tools for winemakers – particularly beginners – is patience. There’s a good chance you won’t get your desired results the first time round – or even the second and third time. Winemaking is a volatile and meticulous process, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right from the get-go, or if it takes a while for you to get the hang of it. It’s all part of the enjoyment of winemaking!
Winemaking is a very delicate process, and one small mistake can alter your wine. It can be very daunting for beginners, especially with so many different additives, dos, and don’ts. Plus, the meticulousness and volatility of the process itself is enough to make any newbie nervous. However, keep these tips handy and throw in a bit of patience, and you’ll be well on your way to producing superb homemade wines sooner than you thought.