Making Wine for Self Sufficiency: Part One - Primary Fermentation

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Making wine at home can be a very rewarding activity. It requires a small investment up front to get the supplies you need, but once you have these, it can be very inexpensive.

Wine making is also very simple and takes little effort or time. The process itself can take up to 3-6 months, but the time you spend actually doing something is fairly small. The biggest part of that time is spent just waiting, which is sometimes the hardest part! There's something magical about starting with a bucket full of crushed fruit and watching the transformation as it gradually becomes wine that you can enjoy yourself and share with friends and family.

Home made wine, fermeted from niagara grapes.

Wine can be made from nearly any kind of fresh fruit, from grapes, apples and cherries to (if you're a bit more adventurous...) tomatoes, carrots, and even dandelion blossoms. I personally have used grapes, apples, crab apples, cherries, peaches, plums, strawberries, persimmons, blackberries, and honey to name a few. There are also quite a few books out there that are devoted to wine making recipes.

Making Wine - Equipment and Supplies

Most winemaker's supply stores will sell starter kits for new winemakers (along with lots of good free advice). You can usually buy a really good starter kit for making wine, for under $150.00 If you can't find a starter kit, here's what I recommend you get to start out:

-Primary Fermenter with a lid
-Secondary Fermenter
-Air Locks (at least two) in case one breaks
-rubber bung for air lock
-Net Bag
-Stirring Spoon
-Measuring cups
-Measuring spoons
-Siphon Hose
-Hydrometer (Triple Scale is best)
-Acid Test Kit
-Cork insertion device
-wine bottles


-sugar (start with 10 pounds)
-Acid Blend
-Campden Tablets
-Sodium Metabisulfite
-Yeast Nutrient powder or granules
-Yeast energizer
-Pectic Enzyme
-Wine Yeast

Here is the website for a winemaker's supply store in Louisville, Ky. and the one that I get all of my supplies from: Wine and Beer Maker's Supply

Making Wine: Cleanliness - Essential to Success

Cleanup & sterilization is critical to successful wine making.

When making wine, cleanliness is king. Be sure to sterilize anything and everything that will come into contact with the wine. Sterilize your work surfaces, equipment, bottles, and supplies every time you use them.

A bacterial infestation can turn a potentially great wine into a really lousy vinegar. Use a sodium metabisulfite solution (1 ounce to 1 gallon of water) to sterilize your supplies.

A gallon of sodium metabisulfite solution will go a long ways for the home wine maker, so it's a good thing that it will keep up to 6 months before you have to replace it.

Making Wine - Primary Fermentation
Where the Work Gets Done

The first step to making wine is the primary fermentation process. This is where most of the actual fermentation occurs. Fermentation occurs when yeasts consume sugars. The byproduct of this is carbon dioxide and alcohol.

Some varieties of yeast produce far more carbon dioxide than alcohol - these are used in baking. Other varieties create about equal amounts of alcohol and carbon dioxide - these are used in brewing beer and making wine.

The Fermenter:
Start with a primary fermentation vessel, which is (at least at my house) a fancy term for a food grade plastic bucket with a lid. The professionals use stainless steel vessels, but that can get pretty expensive.

You can buy primary fermentation vessels at a winemakers supply store, or go to a local bakery and get an old icing bucket. Most large bakeries (like those in your local grocery chain) buy cake icing in 5 gallon buckets, and often will either give the empties to you if you ask or will sell them to you really cheap.

I can buy them at the local Wal-Mart bakery for a dollar each, and could get one or two a week pretty easily, if I just stopped and asked. Be sure to wash them out really well before using them, and DO NOT use anything other than food grade buckets. Make sure to get the lids too.

Select a location where the temperature is fairly stable throughout the day, and stays around 70°, but anywhere between 68° and 76° will do. Place your fruit in the bucket inside a net bag. The net bag isn't absolutely necessary, but I find that using a net bag makes separating the solids from the wine much easier.

As a rule of thumb, plan to use between 6 and 8 pounds of fruit for every gallon of wine you want to make.

Adding water to crushed fruit

Adding Water:
Start by putting your fruit into the primary fermenter and crush it. I've found the best way to do this is with your hands (wash & rinse them really well first!). Add enough water to raise the level of water and fruit mixture to equal the the amount of wine you will be making. This fruit and water mixture is now called a "Must".

Adding sugar to must

Adding Sugar:
Add sugar slowly, stirring it in so that it dissolves. Keep adding sugar until you reach the desired concentration. Use your hydrometer to determine the sugar concentration of your must.

Specific Gravity of 1.090 - ready to ferment

Checking Specific Gravity:
Sugar content in the Must is determined using a unit of measure called "specific gravity". This is how you tell what the alcohol content of your wine will be when it is finished. The higher the starting specific gravity, the more sugar in the Must. The more sugar you start with, the higher the alcohol content - up to about 12%-13%. I like most of my wines around 9% which is equal to starting specific gravity of 1.100 Specific Gravity. Four ounces of sugar will raise the specific gravity in a gallon of must about one point (0.010)

Using an acid test kit
Acid Testing:

You also need to know when making wine, what your starting acid level in the Must is. Wine that is low in acid tends to have a flat taste, which you don't want. Too much acid on the other hand can make the wine taste too sharp, and that's bad too. Balance is critical. Use an acid test kit to determine the amount of acid in your Must.

A good acid level for most wines is between 0.5% and 0.6% In nearly all cases, you will find that your acid will be a bit lower than that, so you will have to add some acid blend powder at the rate identified on the package. If you're not sure, stay on the low side of the acid scale for now, because you will check acid again at bottling time and make a final adjustment at that time. Low acid is easy to fix. High acid is very hard to fix, and usually has limited success, so don't over do it.

Adding yeast nutrient

Add yeast nutrient at the amount indicated on the container. Nutrient helps keep the yeasts active during fermentation - kind of like vitamins for your yeast.

Add yeast energizer at the amount indicated on the container. Energizer gives the yeasts kind of a kick start to get fermentation going quicker. If fermentation slows down or stops early, add energizer again to re-start fermentation.

Add pectic enzyme at the amount indicated on the container. Pectic enzyme helps break down the cell walls in the fruit which helps in extracting flavor and color.

Add one crushed campden tablet per gallon of must

Campden Tablets:
Add crushed campden tablets at a rate of one per gallon to your Must. Campden Tablets are pre-measured sodium metabisulfite. The purpose is to kill off any bacteria and wild yeasts that may be in your fruit. Fresh fruit almost always has some kind of microscopic life on and in it. Using the campden tabs lets you start with a clean slate.

a packet of premier cuvee wine yeast

Adding Yeast:
After you have made all of your additions, you need to let the must sit covered for around 24 hours to let the campden do it's work and then dissipate. Only then will you add YOUR yeast. If you add yeast too soon, the campden will kill it too. There are literally hundreds of varieties of yeasts available for making wine, but for a good, all purpose yeast, I prefer to use Premiere Cuvee. It works relatively quickly, is fairly tough, and is easy to find. Add one envelope of yeast for up to 5 gallons of must.

add yeast to must after 24 hours

Stir in the yeast granules, cover your primary fermentation vessel (put the lid on the bucket...) and leave it alone.

Stir the must twice a day (morning and evening) for 5-7 days. You will notice fermentation starting usually within the first day.

When fermentation is going strong, the solids in your must will float to the top and some of it completely up out of the liquid. Stirring helps keep the fruit down in the liquid and keeps the fermentation process going strong.

Continue to Part Two
Secondary fermentation and bottling.

Return to Food-Skills-for-Self-Sufficiency Home Page from
Making Wine - Part 1

Related Topics:

Making Wine - Part 2

Growing Grapes

Growing Berries

Home Orchard

Wine & Beer Makers Supply