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  • Homemade Wine Making Instructions

    by Jerry Tommarello

    wine crates
    We have received many questions via email concerning our article on Homemade Wine. A number of people have asked how to make their own version of homemade wine. Jerry Tommarello has kindly put together a more detailed account of how he and his friends make their homemade wine.

    The grapes we used were cabernet sauvignon. This is a matter of taste preference. These cabernet grapes cost more (about $21-26 per 36 lb. box) but the result is a better tasting wine. Less expensive grapes cost about $16-20 per 36 lb. box. The prices change from year to year and are probably different in other cities. The key to making good wine is use good grapes.

    The old timers used zinfandel & Muscat grapes and many had their own quantity of each but I think 1 muscato for every 3 zinfandel is common. I am not sure why they did this but I think the muscato was used to increase the alcohol. Some old timers would put in a fifth of whiskey also.

    I have a crusher/destemmer which crushes the grapes then removes them from the stem. If the stems are left in it will result in a harsh tasting wine. Before I bought this machine we would manually remove the stem, this took a long time. We do not add any yeast but it can be added to the crushed grapes. It must be yeast for wine making not baking yeast. What I understand is the grape has its own yeast (the white powder on its skin) but there is good yeast and bad yeast. Add wine yeast supposedly ensures fermentation and keeps the bad yeast from starting. It will take a couple of days (depending on the room and wine temperature) for the primary fermentation to start but when it does you will smell gas being released and a cap of grape skins will rise. The cap must be pushed down and wine stirred a couple times a day for 5-7 days.

    The next thing to do is press the skins. We fill the carboys with half of the free run juice and the rest with pressed juice. Another key to wine making is to ensure everything is clean. I buy sal soda which we use on everything carboys, press, crusher, pots, etc. Sal soda does not foam up do not use dish detergent. If a little sal soda is left in a carboy it will not harm the wine. Sal soda eats through old wine stains, it also burns your hand when wet. It is not expensive and it can be purchased at wine supply stores. I get some from Presque Isle Wine in Erie, PA they have a catalogue with tips on wine making. Some people, not old timers, add sulfates to their carboys and every time the move the wine to a different container. I do not use sulfates it has a smell to it. Commercial wineries use it to stabilize the wine (keep it from browning or turning) which is being shipped and changes in temperature occur. Do you know they tell you to let commercial wine breathe I think it is to have the sulfates burn off. For the secondary fermentation the carboys are sealed with a water filled air lock which lets the gas out and air cannot get in. Another key to wine making is air, light and high temperature will make your wine go bad.

    At this point we let the carboys do their secondary fermentation for a couple months before racking (transfer to new carboy leaving the sediment behind). I think this initial racking can be done a month after pressing but we have never done it because of our schedules. We usually do the first racking after the first of the year and even latter. An old Italian told me to rack the wine on or shortly after a full moon. I have found out that this helps the sediment drop to the bottom due to low atmospheric pressure. A hose is placed in the full carboy just above the sediment and the other end is left at the top of the empty carboy so the wine drops and is aerated. This aeration is only done on the first racking. All the other rackings has the hose all the way in the bottom of the empty carboy. Usually two or three rackings is sufficient. I rack two times to carboys. Then on demand to gallons and finally to bottles when needed.

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