The thought of homemade winemaking is daunting. Having only gotten into wine after I started watching The Bachelor (“When in Rome” and what have you), I’m far from a connoisseur of the stuff. And the last thing I want to do is spend an evening in the emergency room because I suffered the same misfortune as the news anchor who tripped out of a bucket while stomping grapes on live television.
Thankfully, our own Winemaking Kit eased my fears. The process is straightforward so even a novice like me can succeed, yet sophisticated enough to engage the expert. The only question is, would I be able to make some hooch that holds its own with a store-bought bottle?
Let’s find out. Begin the vinification!
- One gallon jug
- Transfer tubing
- Racking cane
- Rubber stopper
- Tubing clamp
- Bottle closures
Stuff that comes in packets
- Wine juice base
- Potassium metabisulphite
- Potassium sorbate
Day 1: Safety First
This isn’t a situation where you can convince guests that your barbecue tastes better because you never clean the grill grate. In the winemaking biz, cleanliness is key. The directions call for a 60-second soak in the water-sanitizer mix, but I let the equipment rest in the mix for 600 seconds. Overkill? Perhaps. But there’s no need to play fast and loose with germs at this stage.
Also Day 1: Fermentation
The first step called for the bentonite to be dissolved in the jug with a cup of warm water. I immediately botched this. My bentonite kind of congealed on the raised middle of the jug floor while I swirled the water around it. Of course, I just thought the stuff took a while to dissolve, so I stood there for about 20 minutes, shaking the giant flask like a Shake Weight because I am an idiot. Eventually I took the (sanitized!) racking cane and broke up the blob, which made a big difference. Crisis averted.
Tip: Tilt the jug a bit when pouring the bentonite, so it’s closer to the “corner” of the jug. This should make it easier to dissolve the stuff when swirling.
After adding the wine juice, some water and the oak packets, it was time to shake to mix. The key here is to 1) not drop the jug, leaving shattered glass on your floor and staining everything within a 20-foot radius (which I surprisingly did not do), and 2) cover the hole in the rubber stopper while shaking. I used a piece of the oak packet here so as not to pollute the concoction with whatever bacteria made its way onto my thumb in the few minutes since sanitation.
After adding the packet of yeast, I secured the airlock (saying “secured the airlock” makes it seem like I’m an astronaut, rather than some guy putting a cap on a jar while Dancing With the Stars plays in the background) and positioned the jug for the professional-looking photo you see to the right. Now we wait.
Day 14: Clarifying
A young Science Guy at work. If I had any kind of foresight, I’d have put on rubber gloves and a lab coat for this portion of the winemaking.
The first step in the clarifying process was creating a siphon to transfer the wine liquid into the cleaned jug, away from the sediment that settled at the bottom over the previous two weeks. I was intimidated by this. Surely at some point during my illustrious elementary school career one or two science teachers explained how to start a proper siphon. I just forgot, and for years have been secretly hoping I’d never encounter an emergency situation where I would be called on to create a siphon in order to save someone’s life.
DISTRESSED GUY: Quick, Tim, start a siphon or this whole thing’s gonna blow!
ME: Uhhh…I don’t know how to do that.
INCREASINGLY DISTRESSED GUY: You don’t know how to start a siph-
[oil tanker explodes]
Thanks to the detailed instructions in my Winemaking Kit, I now know how to begin a siphon and can potentially be the hero in that hypothetical crisis situation. Phew!
Tip: If you can, enlist the help of another person, especially for the first siphoning. It’s pretty difficult to keep everything on track with just two hands.
With the liquid back in the jug, the next steps called for plenty of stirring. Thankfully my forearm soreness from the Bentonite Debacle of Two Weeks Ago had faded, so I was ready to start a whirlpool with the racking cane. I then dropped in the additives—potassium metabisulphite, potassium sorbate and chitosan—between lengthy stirs.
Tip: Cut an entire side of the additives packets and peel back to make sure you get every last bit out of the package.
At this point, it sure looked like wine to me, and I was thirsty. But I resisted the temptation to sneak some of my own hooch before it was ready. Age for two more weeks, it must.
Day 30: Bottling (/Drinking)
By the time the big day arrived (I refer to all days that include drinking as “the big day”), I’d saved a few wine bottles to store my concoction, dubbed “Tim’s Secret Stuff.” Internet sleuthing revealed an easy way to remove the labels from the old bottles: soak them in water with a few tablespoons of baking soda. The things slipped right off.
There was one last round of siphoning to get the wine from the jug and into the bottles, but by this point I considered myself a siphon novice at the very least.
The green ZORK reusable caps that came in the kit are actually pretty slick. Just tap them on with a rubber mallet and your wine is airtight.
The whole point of this winemaking adventure, of course, was to see if my bumbling, wine-beginner self could create a nectar worthy of the store-bought stuff. Naturally, the first step was to make my own label.
Unfortunately, I had only one pinot available, so it was pretty clear which of the glasses wasn’t the Secret Stuff. The darker glass on the left is a cabernet sauvignon.
An unnamed third-party participant in this blind taste test, a person with a more refined wine palate than myself, correctly guessed which of the three wines was homemade and bestowed a silver medal upon my concoction. For a first-timer who frequently botches even the simplest of instructions, it’s heavy praise.
As far as my own taste test, obviously I couldn’t tell the difference between the store-bought pino and my own. Wine is wine folks and I’ve got five fresh bottles to take care of this month. See you on the other side.