rec.crafts.winemaking FAQ


Newsgroups: rec.crafts.winemaking,rec.answers,news.answers
Subject: rec.crafts.winemaking FAQ
Followup-To: rec.crafts.winemaking,poster
From: malak& (Don Buchan) (&=@)
Approved: news-answers-request@MIT.EDU
Summary: Covers various aspects of home winemaking, including techniques, tips, equipment, possible ingredients, various types of wine, maturity tips, and trouble shooting.

Archive-name: crafts/winemaking-faq
Last modified: April 17, 1999
Posting: Bi-monthly

Changes since last update (March 15, 1999):

This is the FAQ for rec.crafts.winemaking. If you have any additions,deletions, corrections, comments, questions or the like, please direct them to r.c.w. or Don Buchan at malak& (&=@)

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Copyright notice:

Copyright 1995-1999 by Don Buchan, all rights reserved. This FAQ may be distributed to any USENET newsgroup, on-line service, BBS or any other means, electronic or physical (such as, but not limited to, floppy diskettes and printouts) as long as:

  1. it is distributed in its entirety,
  2. no fee is charged to anyone:
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I have granted permission to Better Winemaking by Cybercom Publications to print excepts from this document. I only receive a free copy of the magazine, and have donated the value of the yearly subscription fee to my church's Minister's Discretionary Fund.

Academic or professional use and accuracy:

In the case of academic use, follow the guidelines set out at your institution for referencing electronic texts, provided that my name, Don Buchan, and email ID, malak& (&=@), are referenced as editor/compilor. I suggest as title "FAQ List for Usenet Usegroup rec.crafts.winemaking". An essay on suggested referencing guidelines is available at or by email from michael& (&=@)

I am not an oenologist, nor is this text guaranteed to be 100% accurate. No liability or warranty, express or implied, is assumed by the editor or contributors. If you see an error, please send it to malak& (&=@)


This text covers the actual procedures of making wine to varying degrees, as well as various approaches, techniques, and philosophies about winemaking. These are sometimes going to contradict each other remember, different people wrote various sections. While the editor has made an effort to bring the whole thing together, these contradictions were left in to allow for the numorous methods of reaching the same goal: Good to better to even great wine. The caveat to all this? Read the whole document as much as possible. There are various sections that contain loads of information that perhaps in and of themselves perhaps are better contained in other sections but are left where they are.

If you want more information of a basic nature, request the primers mentioned in the NET RESOURCES posting for wine & winemaking.

Editing & spelling conventions:

The editor has tried to edit for brevity in some cases, therefore contributions may be shorter than submitted or as originally posted in the newsgroup. When used, the word "I" is the contributor, not necessarily the editor. Text in {} is the original question.

British (and Canadian) spelling conventions are used.

Measurement conventions:

An attempt has been made to include imperial, American and metric measurements.

When a reference to a gallon is made, it will be identified as an imperial or American gallon, and its equivalent in the other size is made as well in litres. In this text, a gallon of wine is usually an imperial gallon (4.5 L, 1.19 USG) and a gallon jug is usually 1.06 USG (4 L, 0.89 imp. gal.).

Table of Contents


Name: rec.crafts.winemaking
Moderation status: unmoderated

Rec.crafts.winemaking will be a news group dedicated to the discussion of the process, recipes, tips, storage, techniques and general exchange of lore on the process, methods and history of wine making. The above list is not considered exhaustive, and if a discussion is of interest to wine makers it may be deemed as appropriate. This group is to be general enough to encompass both traditional grape wines as well as wines which are generally described as country wines, sparkling wines, and champagnes. In general, the appropriateness of a particular beverage will be determined by the process involved in its making.

Essentially, if the process used is that of winemaking, then the discussion is considered appropriate. This may include such beverages as cider or mead. It is recognized that there are topics which are of interest to both wine makers and brewers, and posting or cross posting of such topics is considered both appropriate and desirable. Personal stories and experiences shall be welcome as long as they pertain to the craft of wine making.


Not all these terms appear elsewhere in this FAQ; but those that don't are still useful or at least interesting.

Acid Blend
A blend of (usually) tartaric and malic acids in crystal form.
Air Lock
see vapour lock
The effect of tannin on the mouth; it causes the mouth to pucker and leave a "dry" feeling in the mouth.
Basic 10
A term used by F. Stanley Anderson in his books. The basic equipment needed for winemaking. These are:
  • long-handled spoon
  • fermentation bin (widemouthed bucket)
  • carboy (large bottle with constricted neck)
  • air lock & bung
  • sulphite
  • gallon jug (for sulphite solution)
  • plastic sheet
  • racking cane (for transferring wine)
  • large measuring cup
  • hydrometer.
According to the Bavarian Purity Law, a fermented beverage containing only water, malt, hops and yeast. Generally, an undistilled fermented beverage with a water and grain base. Other ingredients may be added to vary the beverage, as well as the type of malt and hops.
A type of finely ground clay that is used as a clarifying agent. It is used at varying stages of the process, including at the beginning to provide something to which yeast can attach themselves to improve growth and help clear out solids from the primary fermentation.
A wine's aroma. Bouquet evolves over time as the wine ages.
Bracket (braggot)
An alcoholic beverage made with malt and honey; thus it bridges the gap between mead and ale.
A measurement of sugar content in a must. Degrees Brix, as measured on your hydrometer, is very close to percent sugar and is most easily considered as such. Conversion of sugar to alcohol is usually in the range of 0.52 to 0.59.
Campden Tablets
Tablets of a standard amount of compressed sulphite. It usually has a mass of about either 0.44g or 0.55g (depending on your source), roughly equivalent to about 0.28g or 0.35g SO2.
The vegetable matter and foam layer that forms on the top of the wine during the first few days of fermentation. Although your fermenting wine may break it up and absorb it eventually, it is best to manually break it with your wine stirrer/spoon as often as it forms to avoid the production of off smells and problems with overflowing as well as to maximize colour and flavour extraction.
A container of five imperial gallons (22.5 litres, 6 USG). It is the next commonly used size smaller than a demijohn. Carboys are made from glass or plastic and, like a big bottle, have a constricted neck. Other sizes also exist.
Carbonic Maceration
It means "carbon dioxide soaking" and it can be done by using CO2 to displace oxygen from a tank stacked with grape boxes (N2 does the same but is actually more extensive then CO2) and is commonly done by duping clusters into vertical tanks in which the juice from broken berries actually suffocates the berry by submersion. The main reactions are intracellular ethanol production by glycolytic enzymes which stop at about 5% ethanol. Hence the practice of then pressing the berries and completing the fermentation with added or natural yeast. There are some other phenol conversions of gallic and caffeic to benzyl derivatives and the development of a "silage" dusty grain character. The pigmentation is also usually light red with a distinct purple tone.
Causing the wine to go clear by either fining, repeated racking or both. See fining.
Fermented apple juice.
French for a batch of wine.
A mead with apple juice added (and thus you might consider it either an apple melomel or a cider with honey).
A container identical in function and similar in shape to a carboy. They typically hold 25 to 64 litres, about 5 to 14 imp. gal. (6 to 17 USG) though come in various sizes as small as 1 imperial gallon.
The process of heating a liquid to separate its various dissolved components. Our reference would be the separation of alcohol from water. Home distillation is generally considered at least somewhat dangerous because it concentrates methanol, an alcohol produced in minute (and safe) concentrations in fermentation. The problem comes in keeping track of the proper distillation temperatures. Home distillation is illegal just about everywhere except New Zealand.
The anaerobic (no oxygen) digestion of various organic compounds by microflora and microfauna. In our case, yeast are anaerobically digesting sugar, water and nutrients to produce alcohol.
The use of some agent that will collect fine particles (cloudiness) in the wine and cause them to fall to the bottom so that clear wine can be racked off the top. For technical types, it's called clarification and flocculation. These substances are usually isinglass (ground fishbladders) or a gelatin substance, but also include bentonite and various cationic and anionic polymers.
A glass bulb with a weight in the bulb, a narrow stick like end with a scale inside it that is used to measure properties such as liquid density, and in the case of fermentation, usually other scales such as Brix, Balling and potential alcohol (based on the liquid density.)
A package containing juice concentrate and other ingredients used to make wine. Add water and follow the instructions. Formats will vary
The solids that have fallen to the bottom of your fermentation vessel. Among much else, they contain live and dead yeast.
An alcoholic beverage made by the fermentation of honey and water. Many ingredients can be added to the basic recipe.
A mead with fruit and/or fruit juices added.
A mead with herbs and/or spices added.
Unfermented wine (ie. grape juice).
Large protein molecules that don't clear properly. They're important in jam making, but annoying and undesireable in winemaking.
Pectic Enzyme
Pectic enzymes break up pectin to make smaller molecules that clear more easily.
The act of adding yeast to a must. Often yeast may be added directly to the must while still dry, but the yeast is more likely to work if rehydrated in a cup of water first, particularly if the must is NOT from a concentrate.
Primary Fermentation
The stage during which most fermentation takes place, usually in a covered widemouthed vessel.
Honey and grape juice fermented together. This can be either a fermented combination (as a melomel) or grape wine to which honey is added after it is finished.
Transferring wine by siphoning clear wine from one vessel into another closed vessel without transferring the lees at the bottom of the first vessel.
Reverse Osmosis
A method of separating various dissolved substances, similar to what cells do, only backwards. High pressures force a liquid through a membrane with very fine pores. Typically we are interested in city water being forced through an RO filter to produce an ulra-pure water for the purpose of either reconstituting concentrated juice or as part of a fruit wine recipe so as to avoid off flavours or other undesired dissolved solids.
Two planks with a hinge holding them together end to end, holes along their length wide enough to hold the necks of champagne bottles, and a chain or rope on each side that are used to adjust the distance of the bases of the boards, and therefore the angle at which the boards are to horizontal. See section G18. SPARKLING YOUR WINE.
Secondary Fermentation
The stage during which fermentation is completed, usually in a closed vessel such as a carboy. This period commonly refers to the completion of sugar fermentation by yeast, but also refers to the time when other fermentations, particularly malolactic fermentation, take place. See section G20. DIFFERENT KINDS OF FERMENTATION USED IN WINEMAKING.
Specific gravity. The reading taken from your hydrometer that measures the relative density of your must/wine to water. Rarely should the reading go above 1.100 as this makes it very difficult for yeast to work and this will produce a wine with 14% alcohol, getting in the area that yeast have difficulty tolerating.
Potassium sorbate (also shortened Ksorbate). A substance that is toxic to yeast and used as a stabilizer. Sorbate's effectiveness depends on low yeast counts in the wine; if it's high, sorbate will be inneffective. Clear your wine properly, and ferment out to sg 1.000 or less.
Sulphite (or sulphate)
Referring to sodium metabisulphite or potassium metabisulphite. A substance that is noxious to many spoilage microorganisms and wild yeasts and is used as a microbiological and oxidative inhibitor. Sulphite's effectiveness depends on low organism counts in the wine; if it's high, the sulphite will be inneffective. Clear your wine properly and ferment out to sg 1.000 or less. Chemically, sulphite is S03(-2) while sulphate is SO4(-2); the desired form in winemaking is sulphite, however, the two words are often used (or confused) interchangeably. Since sulphate is oxidized sulphite (ie. sulphite reacts with oxygen in the air), sulphite prevents unwanted browning in wine, and too much sulphate in a wine will cause bitterness. Therefore avoid letting your wine contact the air as much as possible. More in G24. HOW MUCH SULPHITE IS NEEDED?
Sulphite solution
A solution of 1 tablespoon sulphite crystals to one gallon of water, used to sanitize all surfaces in contact with your wine. The solution may be reused with care. Usually only one reuse would be a sure way that the solution remains viable.
titratable acid. It's directly relative to the amount of a base such as sodium hydroxide required to bring the pH of the liquid to 8.3. This is useful as it is one of many ways of measuring the acidity of your wine and as such determining whether or not the acidity of your wine is sufficient. See G21. ACID BALANCE
Vapour lock
A simple device that looks like a wide letter 'S' laying on its side (this is the standard form, there are others). It is filled with enough water such that air or contaminants cannot flow through it back into the wine while allowing the pressure from fermentation gases (primarily CO2) to push out. These are also known as fermentation locks and air locks.
The fermented juice of fruits having an alcohol content of 7% to 14% (higher levels are possible).
Wine Thief
A hollow tube similar to a turkey baster that has a hole on each end, one at the bottom to allow wine in when you put it into your wine, and the other at the top to cover with your thumb when you take it out so that the wine in the tube stays there until you put it over a glass and uncover the hole at top to release the wine. Also, someone who takes some of your wine without your knowledge; typically the culprit is a family member or friend. :)
Unfermented beer.


First, for those who are expecting a quick answer on how to make wine easily:

{how do you make red wine?}

That is a loaded question, but here are the basics which you *can* follow to make wine.

Real easy way
First, go to a homebrew shop and have the salesperson sell you a kit and all the equipment. If they try to sell you anything for any more than USD $120 then they're either ripping you off or trying to sell you too much. Ask for a red kit. Follow the instructions in the box. The basic equipment should cost up to USD $50 and the kit up to USD $70 (probably a very high end kit and you should probably be looking at a kit that is a little less expensive, in the USD $60 max range.)
Easy way
Go to the market and find some fresh juice and add some yeast. Follow instructions as below.
Involved way
  • Buy some red wine grapes.
  • Rent a grape crusher from said homebrew shop, crush said grapes and collect the juice in the bucket purchased from said homebrew shop.
  • Add yeast.
  • Using the hydrometer purchased from the shop, transfer to a carboy when the reading is 1.010.
  • When the reading is at about 0.992, wait two weeks.
  • Add a clearing agent (homebrew shop).
  • After three weeks rack the wine to a clean carboy.
  • Either let sit in the carboy or go on to filter if desired and bottle.

A little more involved is as follows:

Wine is the product of fermenting fruit juice, usually grapes. Generally, it has an alcoholic content of 7% to 14%. Further, this alcoholic content is only derived by fermentation, ie. no distillation, nor as a general rule are distilled products added to fortify the wine.

The process of fermenting is basically feeding sugars and nutrients to yeast, which then produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. This process goes on until either all the sugar is gone or the yeast can no longer tolerate the alcoholic content of the wine. Different yeasts produce different results, and have different tolerance levels.


Here's a list of different kinds of yeast often used with different kinds of wine. Ask your dealer for further recommendations, or visit

Epernay 2
Slow fermenter; leaves a delicate, perfumey aroma without tropical overtones of UCD 594, and a smooth, fruity flavour. Temperature should be kept cool to preserve fruitiness. Good for whites and fruits. May have trouble going to dryness if used with too-cold or nutrient poor wines (like Chardonnay). Sometimes used for Pinot Noir. Foams very little.
California Champagne, UCD 505
Flocculates superbly, leaving large chunks if left to settle undisturbed. White wines have a simple, clean, yeasty quality similar to champagne. Recommended for sparkling wines and very aromatic fruits.
Very fast and vigourous fermenter. Good for stuck fermentations. Never use if you want to leave some residual sugar. Provides clean, varietal wines. Often used for Cabernet.
Can produce varied results. When good, it's very, very good. When bad, it's very, very bad. Never use if fruit has been recently dusted with sulphur. Has a tendency to product H2S. Starts fast, attaining a very high temperature, then slows and sometimes sticks if stressed. Very good for reds and full bodied whites that need a hot fermentation. Flavours are full and complex and intense in colour.
Intended for carbonic maceration of fresh, fruity red wine. Ferments strongly but leaves a grapey sort of fruitiness.
Pasteur Champagne
An all purpose white wine yeast sometimes used for reds as well. Usually a fast, complete fermentation. Do not use for slow fermentations needing residual sugar. Flavours are clean and pleasant while body and complexity are not emphasized. Sometimes used for stuck fermentations. Despite the name, it is not used for sparkling wines.
Prise de Mousse
Ferments evenly and usually goes to completion. Clean, slightly yeasty aroma does not interfere with varietal flavours. Used for both reds and whites.
Slow fermentation rate with an austere fruitiness. Wines are spicy, complex, with medium body and dark colour. Often preferred for Pinot Noir. Sometimes needs balancing with oak ageing.
Used for grapes infected with botrytis. It intensifies the apricot/honey flavours produced by the mould.
Ferments evenly, low H2S production, floculates well, makes compact lees. Flavours are refined and elegant with emphasis on varietal fruit. Often used for Chardonnay. Prone to sticking in nutrient-poor musts.
Usually used as a tirage yeast but could be used for innoculating the cuvee in sparkling wines as well. Has subdued yeastiness with crispness.
Pasteur Red
Very popular for reds. Fast, strong fermenter used for full bodied reds. Yields wines that are complex with cabernet style concentration of fruit and colour.
Pasteur White
Intended for dry, crisp, white wines. The yeast provides complexity instead of fruitiness emphasizing acidity. Sensitive to sudden chilling. Foams spectacularly.
Produces a distinctive, flowery, complex combination of scents when fermented cool. Slows with sudden chilling but usually completes. Good for riesling and other German style wines.
UCD 594
Starts very slowly and ferments evenly. Fermentation temperature does not change much nor is activity that apparent. Provides a highly aromatic character called 'fruit salad' or tropical flavour. Not generally used in reds. Sensitive to SO2. May produce excess H2S if sulphur dust is on the fruit.
Lalvin K1-1118
Champagne yeast (Saccharomycetes Bayanus) High alcohol tolerant, clean fermenting yeast. High sulphite tolerance. Will ferment dry. Good for champagnes, stuck ferments, particularly in a high alcohol and/or high sugar wine. A "killer strain", it excretes enzymes which are noxious to other yeasts. Also typically used to innoculate a still, sulphited, fined and filtered but unsorbated wine ready for champagning.
Lalvin K1-1116
Saccharomycetes Ceriviceae. General purpose mid to high alcohol tolerant "killer yeast" good for innoculating fresh juices which may contain wild strains of yeast, particularly under conditions of sulphite-free fermentation and/or to innoculate an spontaneously fermenting must.

Some suggestions (depending on styles)

White wines

Red Wines

French/American hybrids

Special types

Non Grape wines


Besides the basic grape juice that most winemakers use, the following is a non-exhaustive list of possible additives or even bases for your wine.

Honey, Sugar (sucrose white table sugar), Corn Syrup (glucose) (most commercial corn syrup has vanilla added), Corn Sugar (dextrose), Fruit (dried or fresh), Fruit Juices (can be concentrate, but no preservatives: Sorbate is often mentioned in small print even in "100% juice"), Molasses, Maple syrup, Acid blend, Citric acid (Vitamin C, you can use lemon or orange juice), Tannin (can be purchased), Yeast Nutrient (you can boil yeast from previous batch for this, but commercial nutrients work best), Spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, etc), Pectic Enzyme (needed for fresh fruit pulp, as some fruit juices (pear and apple notably) require this to clear).


In principle, you could. Recipes you may come across for jam wines may call for pectin-free jams something rather rare unless you make the jam yourself and don't add pectin. Fruit jams naturally will contain pectin from the fruit anyway. Further, the jam need not be pectin-free to work that's what pectic enzyme is used for.

The big questions is, though, WHY? If you make the jam yourself, why not just make the wine directly? If it's old jam, it's probably oxidized and not appropriate for winemaking (and if opened, probably contaminated too.) It would take about twice as much pectic enzyme to break down the extra pectin added to the jam.

Expect fair wine only, at best, from this method.


The conversion is 1/4 teaspoon dry tannin equals 0.338140227 fluid ounces. This is about half a gram dry tannin to 10 millilitres liquid.


Standard Kit (all necessary):

Needed sooner or later (especially if you make a lot of wine), but optional:

Optional, but very strongly recommended:

Optional, but very useful:


Both will ferment equally well in your wine, and usually may be used interchangeably, though in different amounts.

For those of you with really distinguishing palates, sucrose (table sugar) will give a beverage a fruity character; corn sugar, a malty character.

3/4 unit of sucrose equals 1 unit of corn sugar; therefore if your recipe calls for 1 unit of sugar, you should use 1 1/3 units corn sugar.


Kits vary in quality, usually according to price: The more expensive it is, the better the quality.

When buying kits, don't buy a cheap one just to minimize your financial risk. Cheap wine kits might resemble watery grape juice with fire in them (while some are really good). An expensive kit uses the same principles, but the product is usually far superior. Experiment; often, paying a premium pays off. Look for a kit that has a lot of concentrate. The ideal would be a concentrate that has 16 litres (3.5 imp. gal.; 4.25 USG) of concentrate. The next best would be about 10 kg (22 lbs).

Some people swear by kits, while others by fresh juice. As a steady rule, high quality wine that lasts for decades is made from high quality fresh juice from fruit that was grown and picked under optimum conditions.

That being said, there are good kits of great quality that can beat some fresh juice wines, but usually only the more expensive kits vs. average fruit.

Experiment and decide for yourself what you want. What YOU like as a final product is the most important factor, as well as the commitment you wish to make.


The US and Britain (and some of the Commonwealth) use the Imperial system (though Britain & the Commonwealth also uses the metric system), but the measurements of each system are not necessarily equal to those of the other. As a rule, the whole world except the US uses the Metric system.

Some information found here was found in Alan Marshall's FAQ on sizes, which can be found at: in /pub/clubs/homebrew/beer/rfdb/beer-capacity.faq

NOTE: The Stanford homebrew club archives have been retired.

750 mL, 1/5 USG, 1/6 imp. gal.
36 imp. gal. (UK barrel), 30 and 6/11 USG (US barrel)
* note that there are various other standard and non-standard barrel sizes.
5 imp. gal., 6.5 USG or occasionally 4.2 imp. gal, 5 USG
25 to 64 litres, 5.6 to 14.2 imp. gal, 6.6 to 16.9 USG
Imperial gallon
160 Imp fl oz; 4.546 litres
1.5 litres, 2/5 USG, 1/3 imp. gal.
US gallon
128 US fl oz; 3.785 litres

The usual primary fermentor used by home winemakers holds 6.5 imp. gal. (7.74 USG; 29.25 litres) and the secondary fermentor is a carboy. However, there are various other sizes, such as 5 USG, as well as various other sizes that are convenient to the individual.


[I need proper conversions. Am I right with the imperial?]

Metric Imperial US Name
375ml 13.2 oz. 12.7 oz. fillette
750ml 26.4 oz. 25.4 oz. bottle (fifth)
1000ml 35.2 oz. 33.8 oz. litre
1500ml 52.8 oz. 50.7 oz. magnum
2250ml 79.2 oz. 76.1 oz. tappit
3000ml 105.6 oz. 101.5 oz. double magnum
4500ml 158.4 oz. 152.2 oz. jeroboam
6000ml 211.2 oz. 202.9 oz. imperial


Note: The Imp. and US systems use different values for fluid ounces but in both systems it refers to a VOLUME measurement, not a weight.

Weight Equivalents

Note: The Imp. and US systems use the same value for ounces referring to weight (i.e. avoirdupois).


Why bother with a barrel?

Oak adds a compelling complexity to wine. You should make sure the kind of wine you want to make is well suited for oak, since it is more expensive and trouble. For example, just about any high tannin red wine will benefit. Many whites such as chardonnay or sauvignon blanc will also. However, riesling should be left alone. Oak barrels also have an aesthetic quality that other materials can't match.

If you wish to oak your wine but can't afford a barrel (or don't have the space), use oak chips, powder or sticks. Be very careful not to add too much or leave them in the wine too long as the surface to liquid ratio is quite high and therefore oaking is very quick. Sometimes this may only be equal to the time it takes to ferment your wine, depending on how oaky you like your wine and how much you put in. It is recommended that you closely follow a wine oaked in this fashion by tasting often.

An easy way to add oak flavor wine to just the degree that pleases your taste is to take a regular wine bottle, fill it half full of oak chips and add Vodka to fill the bottle. Let it set for a month or two. Drain off the liquid and keep it to flavour your wine. Experiment, using a tablespoon per gallon; if this is insufficient, keep adding a teaspoon until you reach the desired result.

New and Used Barrels

Look in a commercial listings phone book for oak barrels, barrel coopers, wine suppliers or the like. Check a wine trade flyer or magazine. You can also contact a winery and ask for their source or ask to purchase one of their used barrels.

A trade advertising flyer may carry advertisements for used barrels. Often famous wineries will advertise in them. These are generally for full sized barrels. Purchase only from a reputable source. Some people have had bad experiences with used barrels; if you purchase one, "Caveat Emptor Buyer Beware".

Oak barrels are generally good for two or three years as a source of oak in and of itself. At that point, you can either keep it as a neutral barrel, or you can have a cooper take it apart, scrape it down to fresh wood, and re-toast the barrel, at which point it's good for more.

{A friend of mine purchased some old whiskey barrels for his home winemaking. Unfortunately, the first batch came out tasting more like a whiskey than a wine. The colour was strange, too. In any case, he's asked me if I know anything about "getting the whiskey out of the barrels" so that he can start producing wine in them.}

Unfortunately, even if you shave and retoast the barrel you will ALWAYS have a whiskey flavour in the wine. If you want this flavour (which is interesting in a zinfandel) then you SHOULD shave and retoast to avoid over 'whiskeying' the wine. If you don't want the whiskey flavour then don't use the barrel. It will never come out.

A good way to help minimize this 'whiskeying' would be to soak the barrel with fresh water and sulphite a few times.

Barrel Care

Usually empty unused barrels can be stored indefinitely. Once filled with wine, the barrels must either be always full or specially treated when emptied. The recipe for storing solution (for a 180 litre; 40; 50-60 USG) is about 100g (1/4 lb) citric acid crystals, 100g (1/4 lb) sodium or potassium metabisulphite and enough water to fill the barrel. Then bung it tight.

Considering the possible loss of tannin by leaching to the above conditioner, others do the following with their barrels when empty:

This should take care of the barrel for one year. There is a possibility that the staves will warp using this method, so be careful. You should also refill with storage solution several weeks before reuse.

A new barrel should be filled with water for a week or so before filling with wine as a new barrel will often leak. For leaks there are three things to do:

  1. wait a few days. Swelling will stop a lot of leaks.
  2. if it still leaks between staves, pound the hoops towards the middle of the barrel to tighten the pressure.
  3. if your leak is from a defect in the wood such as a small hole, whittle a small plug out of a piece of oak and jam it into the hole.

Bleach and other cleaners not specifically labelled for wood barrel cleaning shouldn't be used to clean your barrel as it could remain in the wood and affect the wine you put in it. If the barrel is dirty, then scrub it with water. One trick is to drop a length of chain inside and shake the barrel around.

Don't reuse a barrel in which wine has turned to vinegar; it's impossible to get rid of the vinegar bacteria from the wood. Use the barrel as a planter in your yard.

It's generally not a good idea to mix wine types in a barrel, or white and red wine. You'll taste the previous wine in the subsequent wine.

Barrels need regular topping off with wine to keep them full. Since a barrel is porous, wine evaporates through the wood. Once a week for topping off works fine; some wineries top off twice a week. Keeping the humidity up in your winery cuts evaporative loss. Losing half a litre a month is normal.

The stave with the hole in it ("bung stave") often cracks just at the hole as this is the weakest part of the barrel. Either replace the stave or seal the crack with melted wax.

Wipe the area around the bung hole often with a sulphite solution. This is the area that gets seepage and spills, and the sulphite keeps this area from being a source of spoilage.

Five gallon barrels are discouraged because of the high surface to volume ratio. The wine can get too oaky relatively quickly. When using a five gallon barrel, keep the wine in for a shorter period of time, then blend it with wine from the same vintage that was not in the barrel; the key is to not let it sit too long.

Toasting Level in Barrels

The level of toasting appropriate to a wine would be based on what kind of oak taste you want to impart on your wine. Most reds can take higher toast levels than whites. If you plan on using the barrel for whites, a light toast level is appropriate for lighter, earlier maturing whites and maybe medium toast for any fuller body whites to which you wish to impart a bolder toasted taste. If you have a lighter bodied or flavoured red wine, you should go with a lighter toast level to avoid the toasting overwhelming the other flavours of the wine. The majority of reds would fall into the medium toast range. Heavily toasted barrels are rare. It is suggested that you speak with someone from your barrel supplier who knows about different toast levels and can steer you in the right direction.

The following information is about different kinds of French oak. It is taken from a Practical Winery article from May 1987.

What kind of French oak to use depends on what kinds of oak flavours you wish to impart, what level of charring is needed and, especially which cooper to use. American oak manufacturers are notorious for overly charring their barrels. They are used to the very heavy charring requirements for whiskey, not the subtle needs for wine.)

This latter point was brought out at a class I atttended several years ago at UC Davis on red wine production. Jill Davis (winemaker at Buena Vista) brought 8 barrel samples. Each sample (cabernet sauvignon) was the same vintage and vineyard and same kind of French oak and charring levels. But each was from a different cooper. The differences were astounding. (Since then I have only used Nevers from Sequin Moreau).

So please use the following as a guide only, not as dogma. And watch those charring levels!

Limousin (open grain)
Perfumes and colours the wine rapidly with little finesse. It is aggressive and harsh with a sharp finish in the nose and on the palate.
Very Heavy Charring Cognac, Brandy, Port, Sherry
Medium to slight heavy charring Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Carignane, Syrah
Medium light charring Sauvignon Blanc
Nevers (average grain)
Gives a vanilla flavor and balance to the wine. It is round on the nose and on the palate and has a short finish.
Medium to medium heavy charring Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Carignane, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Gamay
Medium light charring Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay
Bourgogne (average grain)
Gives a vanilla flavor and balance to the wine. It is round on the nose and on the palate and has a short finish.
Medium to medium heavy charring Pinot Noir, gamay
Medium light charring Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay
Troncais (Tight grain)
Releases its perfume slowly with finesse. It has a long finish in the nose and one the palate and is more aggressive than Vosges.
Medium to medium heavy charring Pinot Noir
Medium to medium light Chardonnay, Pinot Gris
Allier (Tight grain)
Releases its perfume slowly with finesse. It has a long finish in the nose and one the palate and is more aggressive than Vosges.
Medium to medium heavy charring Pinot Noir, gamay
Medium to medium light charring Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc
Vosges (Tight grain)
Releases its perfumes slowly with finesse. It has a long and very delicate finish on the nose and on the palate.
Medium to medium light charring Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc


Yeast tends to beat out most competitors because of its ability to live in an alcoholic solution, while bacteria and fungi tend to die even at low alcoholic percentages (though some can live almost as well.) It also survives well because of its rapid reproduction rate compared to other microorganisms.

However small infections can occur and spoil the odour and flavour of wine. You're unlikely to get sick from these infections, since anything bad will almost always SMELL bad too, and taste worse. To avoid this, keep everything that comes in contact with your wine very clean. This is especially critical when cleaning the fermenting vessel. You don't need to sterilize, as it is impossible to keep things sterile. A solution of bleach water (one capful per gallon) will kill almost anything. You'll need to rinse off all the bleach since yeast have trouble living in the presence of chlorine and even the tiniest amount can produce awful flavours and odours when it reacts with other things in your must.

If a fermentor has just been in use and you're rinsing it out to put more wine in immediately, scalding hot water out of the tap will do nicely, no need to use bleach. You SHOULD bleach if this last batch had vinegar in it.

A sulphite sanitizing solution is 1 tablespoon of sulphite crystals per gallon of water.


Prepare the yeast. You can either start from a package of yeast or the leftover yeast from a previous batch. If you're using a package of yeast, it can just be sprinkled on the must, but it works better if you rehydrate it in a covered, sanitized glass of water. You can also encourage it by adding a spoon of sugar or by substituting some fruit juice for water, but this is not necessary. Re-hydrating only takes about 15 minutes.

Prepare your must. Crush your fruit and, where appropriate, add water, sugar and other ingredients. An easy way of preparing non-grape fruit is to put them through a food processor or blender.

Must sanitation.

There are many methods of must sanitation:

  1. boil your must helps kill infections and blend ingredients, but can change the character of whatever you're preparing and caramelize some sugars, producing less desirable results, sweet wine, loss of aroma, or both.
  2. pasteurize your must (heat to 70C for a couple of minutes)
  3. 2 campden tablets per gallon
  4. freeze you fruit, which helps extract juice and flavours better, and is usually done in conjunction with a dose of sulphite)
  5. don't sanitize at all, but rather allow the wild yeasts to ferment the must
  6. pour boiling water over pieces of fruit to get wild yeast and bacteria off the surfaces and makes the fruit easier to crush and extract juices

Most fruit juices, especially apple and grape, will ferment out to 7% or 8%, possibly up to 11%. Adding sugar or honey will make a more potent wine or cider.

Mix juices, tannins, acids and nutrients in fermenting vessel.

Add the yeast, and let it ferment the must. This can take anywhere from 2-3 weeks for a kit to several months with some fruit.

Clear the wine. Some people rack the wine from one vessel to another every three months after fermentation is complete until clear; others use a fining agent such as bentonite, gelatin or isinglas. Most people fine and filter their wine before bottling to give the wine a final polish.

Aging. Quality improves a lot with age. It is usually best to wait at least a month on anything, and the longer you wait, the better it will be. Most references say wait at least six months or a year but many wines can be drinkable earlier. Keep the bottles in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Wines age better if not jarred or disturbed. Kit wines tend to be best at a year.

To determine the optimum aging time required for a wine, make a lot of small bottles and open one up every three to six months or so and taste it.


{As I understand it, bentonite is a clearing agent. However, in the instructions for my kit it says to add the bentonite at the same time as the yeast. Why?}

It helps clear off millions of dead yeast cells during the primary fermentation; doing so optimizes the actual clearing process by taking care of a lot of it before you even try. It also helps avoid foul smells from decomposing yeast a potential problem when your wine is in the carboy for several weeks or even months when you transfer the wine into the secondary.

In about 5 gallons, about 25 to 50 grams of bentonite is used. Bentonite should be easily available from your brewing supply shop.


{How is egg white clearing accomplished?}

The egg whites are raw. Add about 2 whites per barrel, with a pinch of salt; mix the whole thing to get the salt mixed in the salt helps solubilize some proteins in the whites that aren't water soluble. Don't whip the whites, though, or it'll just float on the top like a meringue and require counterfining. Salmonella is a good question, although it likely can't stand the environment of wine for too long (ethanol and low pH).

If you're doing very small batches, you don't need to add much at all. This method should only be used for red wines.


If you wish to increase your alcohol content, such as for ports, sherries and the like, try syrup feeding and using champagne yeast. Prepare your must like a regular wine (but keep your initial sg below 1.095) and ferment using a high alcohol tolerant yeast. Rack to secondary as usual at 1.010. When the sg is at 1.000, bring it up to 1.010 with a 2 to 1 sugar to water syrup. This can be done several times, but production will usually stop at roughly 18%. Don't worry about excess sweetness if you're careful as higher alcohol levels tend to mask sweetness and sweetness tends to smooth out the rough taste from higher alcohol levels; as well, in order to get the same apparent sweetness as a wine with a given lower alcohol level, you need more residual sugar. If you put in too much sugar, A) learn to live with a slightly sweet wine and B) experiment to see what works best for you in the future.

Most port is made by stopping the fermentation by adding of high alcohol brandy. Start your wine in typical fashion (add yeast or spontaneous), watch your residual sugar closely and add brandy when RS is at desired level (usually 8 to 10 brix). Add brandy to 19%. Pure brandy is difficult to obtain for the home winemaker, and some fine ports made with grain alcohol, while some would disagree.

If brandy is added while skin fermenting, add brandy to 17% (enough to kill the yeast), press your must, then correct to 19%.

According to "The Lore of Still Building" by Kathleen Howard and Norman Gibat, you can concentrate the alcohol (and everything in the wine as well) by putting the wine in a freezer until it turns mushy. It can then be poured or ladled into a large strainer cloth and squeezed dry. The liquid squeezed out will be higher in alcololic content than the residue in the strainer cloth. This method should yield a fortified wine (20% to 30% alcohol) from ordinary wines. Unfortunately, the book does not give a good indication of freezer temperature or how long the wine should be frozen.

Please note that this is effectively the same as distillation and can be quite dangerous with regards to methanol concentration.

The Pearson Square

Spirit is expensive so you will need to calculate the correct amount to achieve the desired result.

The Pearson Square is useful if you are using your own wine, plus some Polish Spirit and some of the excellent flavorings now available on the market to make liqueurs.

The Pearson Square
A         B


D         E
A = alcohol content of spirit to be added.
B = present alcohol content of wine.
C = desired alcohol content.
D = difference between B and C.
E = difference between C and A.
The proportion D to E is the proportion spirit to wine to achieve the desired strength.

If you are blending two wines of known strength and wish to know the final strength, the formula is:

(A x B) + (C x D)
A + C

A = No. of parts of 1st wine.
B = Strength of 1st wine.
C = No. of parts of 2nd wine.
D = Strength of 2nd wine.

Thus, if you blend two parts of a wine of 15% with three parts of a wine of 10% the result will be:

(2 x 15) + (3 x 10)
2 + 3



or a wine of 12%.


Traditional method

For 20 litres:

Wine should be fermented to 10% alcohol. When still and clear, but without any sorbate or further sulphite added, add 1 cup sugar and champagne yeast to the wine. Bottle the wine in champagne bottles with crown caps or corks wired down to the bottle neck. Let bottle rest on its side for one month.

When disgorging and corking, 12oz (360ml) of this wine is to be added to 8oz (240 ml) of vodka or brandy (preffered) and 12oz (360ml), wine conditioner and 1/2 tsp sulphite crystals. This is the "dosage".

Over a period of six weeks after the initial one month period, gradually shift the bottle angle from near horizontal to near vertical (neck down) using a riddler (see definitions). Then chill the wine to about -1C (30F) without disturbing the sediment (this can be done in a large bucket of ice or outside in the winter.) Then place several alternating layers of crushed ice and salt in a bucket and place the necks down in the ice. When the sediment has frozen, carefully point the bottle in a safe direction (such as into a bucket) and uncork. The sediment should come out cleanly.

To achieve a good riddling rack you need $20 of lumber and hardware for 2X4 hinges and a 3" bell saw for your drill. You will find the plans for a 200 bottle riddling rack designed for amateur champagne makers in the magazine Wine East of November-December 1983 issue. If you call Hudson Cattell the editor at (717) 393 0943.

After the wine is disgorged, the "dosage" is added to the sparkling wine. The wine is recorked.

Compared to artificial carbonation, there is no need to sterilize your wine (less chemicals in your product), it takes two minutes to add the 1.5 cup sugar, and the bubbles in your wine will be finer, longer lasting, and will thread like champagne. The loss of the small amount of wine is minimal and if you keep the yeast, in the bottle it is good for you.

Artificial carbonation

WARNING: This method can be dangerous. IF YOU AREN'T SURE, ASK YOUR DEALER FOR HELP!

Artificial carbonation avoids the nuisance of sediment. The drawback is that it is expensive and involved.

  1. rent the carbonation equipment from your supplier store.
  2. chill your wine to -1C (30F).
  3. charge the tank with CO2, shake, charge, shake, charge, shake.
  4. each bottle has to be filled under pressure.

Estimates for 23L are in the 2-3 hour range not including chilling time, extra trips to the store, cleaning time, and so forth.

Some have tried to carbonate with food grade dry ice, using about 10g per bottle then corking.

Through MLF

If you intentionally allow MLF to occur in the bottle, you can carbonate your wine slightly. You will have a sediment in the wine, so if you wish to get rid of it, after carbonation is complete, proceed as though you used the champagning method. You should also take all apropriate precautions due to carbonating your wine.

Note: Use bottles that are designed to be under pressure (such as soda bottles or champagne bottles) and that the cork is secured to the bottle with a wire. Alternatively you can use large beer bottles or other bottles that can use crown caps.


Icewine is basically a very sweet desert wine where the grape juice has been naturally concentrated by partially freezing the grapes and pressing, so that the ice will remain with the skins and stems etc., resulting in a very concentrated juice.

Home winemakers can produce wonderful icewine style of wines using concentrates. The only difference is that the juice was concentrated in a factory as opposed to freezing on the vine.


In western Canada the Brew Crew and its affiliated stores carry an icewine kit which is made by R.J. Grape products. One kit makes 11.5 litres, and it costs approximately $70 Can.

Alternatively you can use a regular kit and only bring it up to 11.5 litres instead of 23, or use two kits and bring up to 23 litres or combine a 15 litre juice kit and a 3kg to 5kg concentrate kit instead of water to bring the batch to 23 litres.

This method allows you to be very creative. For example you can start with a riesling as a base, and add a gewurtztraminer concentrate or several different concentrates, even a small amount of red wine concentrate. It is possible to create a truly unique and complex icewine type desert wine using this blending method. Note: you can also use this method in regular winemaking as well.

Another suggestion is to use a readily available super concentrated form of grapes: RAISINS. Take 1 pound of raisins, and 1 pound of seedless dates, put them in the blender with some juice, blend it until it's a puree and add it to the primary. After fermentation is complete and the wine is stabilized, add 1/2 pound of raisins and the same amount of dates, prepared in the blender (at this point extraction of the sugar and flavour is the goal). Use additional concentrate to raise the specific gravity to 1.050, and proceed as usual.

In order to make it the traditional way, the grapes must be left on the vine late in the season until they are partly frozen, usually when the temperature has reached -7C (19F) for six weeks, and then quickly harvested and pressed to get only the concentrated juice in the centre of the grape, while avoiding allowing the ice crystals to melt and/or directly join the must. Alternatively, you can partially freeze your grapes in your freezer. Ferment the juice as you would a regular wine.

To use the non-traditional method, adjust the sg by adding honey and concentrate (usually 3 parts concentrate to 1 part honey) to the desired alcohol yield. Ferment until dry. Stabilize the wine and filter. After stabilization, add concentrate & honey to raise the sg to about 1.050 (THIS IS NOT A TYPO). At this point proceed with normal winemaking techniques (fining, cold conditioning, and it MUST be filtered).

It is important to control the acid levels, especially when using the concentrate feeding method, as concentrates are already acid balanced for 23 litres.


Red wine fermentation

The trick with red wine grapes is to hit a peak temperature near 32C (90F) for at least a short time to optimize colour extraction.

Pros naturally achieve temperature the large fermentors they use don't allow the heat of fermentation to escape easily. Some must even prevent overheating! With our small tubs, we amateurs must use trickery. The best heating system is a "brewbelt" which should be available from a local brewing supply store. A simple trick is to wrap an electric blanket around the fermentor. A submersible thermometer will tell you when you've got the right thermostat setting. Other heat sources are aquarium heaters, space heaters, and waterbed heaters.

A good fermentation regimen is to hold the must at 4C (40F) for 5 days, innoculate and warm to 32C (90F) for a day, then drop the temperature down into the 15C to 26C (60F to 80F) range for a long fermentation, pressing a couple days after cap fall.

Cold fermentation

Some white wines benefit from a cooler fermentation, producing a clean, fruity wine.

Again, cooler fermentations can be difficult. An old fridge run warm (about 10C (50F)) is perfect for a carboy at a time. Icebags suspended in must or placed in a tub in which a fermentation vessel sits can be effective. You can place carboys in tubs of water on the basement floor if it's cool. The water draws heat from the carboy to the floor. A good target temperature for white wines is 10C to 13C (50F to 55F).

Barrel fermentation

It's not hard once you get past the expense of the barrel. Press the grapes in the usual fashion, settle the juice overnight. Rack the juice into the barrel (previously swelled to prevent leaks) to about 80% full. Inoculate with yeast, put an airlock in the bunghole and wait. After about 2 to 3 weeks, when vigorous action has slowed, top the barrel off and keep it topped. Leave it in the barrel for anywhere from 3 weeks to a year, depending on many factors (age of oak, desired amount of oak flavour, etc.)

Malolactic fermentation

MLF, as it is abbreviated, is a bacterial fermentation where sharp malic acid in wine is converted by bacteria to mellower lactic acid. MLF is usually good, especially for high acid Chardonnays. Pinot Noir, which has a high natural malic acid content, almost always undergoes MLF and benefits from it. The MLF bacteria sometimes can be present on either the grapeskins or your facility and equipment and is available for purchase at most wine supply shops.

If you want MLF to happen, keep sulphite down. MLF is sensitive to sulphite, low pH's (especially below 3.0), and cool temperatures (below 15C (60F)). If your pH is very low, the wine can be partly neutralized to raise the pH. Be careful at this point as adding too much chalk can add a chalky taste to the wine. See section G21. ACID BALANCE. So, inoculate early many do it soon after yeast fermentation has started (the must is warm and has little sulphite). Doing it early also avoids the culture being killed off by high alcohol levels during innoculation. Don't fine the wine until after the MLF is finished as ML bacteria like the solids, and add a nutrient good for MLF. MLF survives very well in barrels, so if you are putting your Pinot in a barrel that has held a wine that has undergone MLF, it will take off on its own. This has historically been a common occurence in the spring following harvest.

The lees in the barrel or carboy harbour the bacteria, so leaving wine on the lees until late spring can encourage MLF. Some wines, like Riesling, don't like MLF. A moderate sulphite dose almost always provides adequate protection against it and other bacterial fermentations.

You can tell that MLF is happening in 3 ways. One is to use chromatography to measure relative malic and lactic acid levels. Another is to notice the onset of renewed CO2 action (bubbles) well after the yeast fermentation is done. Another is to taste the change in the wine from sharp to more mellow and buttery.

Lee Stirring

When this is done this in a winery, it's usually in conjunction with barrel fermentation. Hence, the primary lees are the ones that are stirred. Having said this, it should be pointed out that the juice has been racked once before inoculation so the solids are in the lees than 2% range in the juice at inoculation.

Stirring frequency is up to the winemaker but even no stirring will result in what is described as a greater mouthfeel. This can lead to a sense of richness, softness and definitely better integration of oak, malolactic character and fruit. Many wineries start off stirring weekly (originally the stirring was done to encourage malolactic fermentation) and then gradually tapering to once every two weeks to once a month with usually the end being at 6-9 months depending on taste. And that's the most important indicator. Sometimes, there can be a sulphide problem, so you have to taste the wine throughout the process. If you push the wine through MLF you shouldn't have a bacterial problem. Also, once MLF is complete you should add some sulphite to avoid bacterial spoilage.


Why is a low pH (3.0 to 3.5) important to winemaking? For three reasons:

  1. Chemical Stability: Wines become unstable at pHs above 3.50. One result of this chemical instability is a severe effect on the wine's pigment.
  2. Biological Stability: Very few organisms (especially spoilage organisms) can survive in an acidic environment (pH 2.90 - 3.50). Because of this, fresh grapes or juices with pHs above 3.50 should be avoided.
  3. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Sulphite Additions: The amount of sulphite which should be added to a must to achieve an aeseptic environment is directly based on the pH of the must. Aeseptic levels are achieved with SO2 concentrations of .6 ppm in red musts & .8 ppm in white musts. To achieve these concentrations, varying amounts of free sulphite need to be added to the musts based on their pH.

Finished wines usually should have the following acid levels (expressed as tartaric acid):

Fruit wines 0.60% 6.0g/L 6000ppm
Red grape wines 0.65% 6.5g/L 6500ppm
White grape wines 0.75% 7.5g/L 7500ppm
Sherry types 0.50% 5.0g/L 5000ppm

Common fruits will have the following acid levels:

Apple 1.0%- 6.5%
Apricot 6.0%-15.0%
Black Cherry 3.5%- 7.0%
Elderberry 6.0%-15.0%
Orange 0.0%-35.0%
Peach 3.0%-10.0%
Pear 1.0%- 3.5%

1 ounce of acid blend will raise 5 imp. gal. by 0.13%. 1/4 ounce calcium carbonate chalk or 1/3 ounce potassium carbonate chalk per gallon will lower acid by 0.15%. Maximum recommended chalk is 0.5 ounce calcium chalk per gallon to avoid a faint chalky taste. Potassium bicarbonate produces better results with less taste then calcium carbonate, and will work better with cold stabilization.

If your wine is really high in acid (VERY low pH), add some water or mix with a wine with a VERY high pH. Alternately, add a 0.5% sugar solution to your carboy about 1-2 days AFTER you have added potassium sorbate to "stop" the fermentation. (0.5% = about 1 cup of sugar/5 gal. of wine).

Here is an conversion table with tartaric to sulphuric equivalent:

(most useful range)
Tartaric (g/L) Sulphuric (%)
7.7 0.5
15.3 1.0
22.9 1.5
30.6 2.0
38.3 2.5
45.9 3.0
53.6 3.5
61.2 4.0
68.9 4.5
76.5 5.0
84.2 5.5
91.9 6.0
99.6 6.5
100.7 7.0

{How do I relate grams per litre of acid to pH.}

That is because it doesn't relate. The two are completely different. When measuring pH you are looking at how well the acid disassociates in solution, but grams/liter is a measure of how much acid is actually present. There is no way to compare the two.

In theory curves could be built to compare g/L to pH, however the relationship changes from grape to grape, year to year, fruit to fruit and of course the particular blend of acids that are in the wine. This constant changing and unpredictability makes it impossible to relate pH to g/L acid.


Tartaric acid crystals may fall out of solution to form a white, crystalline sediment after a while, particularly if your wine gets chilled. They're harmless and do not add any taste to the wine. To avoid the problem, chillproof your wine for a couple of weeks in the carboy in a cool to cold place an old fridge or a cold cold room is appropriate. Desired temperature is 4C (36F). Rack off before allowing the wine to warm up as the crystals may dissolve back into the wine.


All wines do contain sulphur compounds, and almost invariably sulphur dioxide, a commonly added preservative. Yeast produce sulphur compounds as a byproduct of metabolism. The level they produce is usually enough to require the "contains sulphites" addition to labels. Yeast typically produce around 10 ppm (10mg/L) but may produce more. It is thought not to be harmful unless one is very allergic to sulphur compounds. There are varying degrees of sulphite sensitivity, ranging from sinus inflammation to, in extreme cases, respiratory failure. Many winemakers, both commercially and at home, are trying to reduce sulphite levels.

Sulphite is often added to the wine as a microbiological and oxidative inhibitor in wines, the amount wildly ranging depending on the producer. Often the value may as well be related to the colour of the eyes or the height of the chief winemaker. :)

Ways to avoid using sulphite are to increase the amount of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), the alcohol content of your wine, tannin levels, and lowering the pH.


Neither SO2 nor sorbate kills yeasts; they inhibit them, and can prevent microbial activity, but only if cell counts are low. If you have a mounting problem, they won't do a good job in controlling it. The amount of sulphite needed depends on the pH of the wine the lower the pH the less you need (at pH 3.2, you need 21ppm (21mg/L) free SO2; at pH 3.5, you need 50ppm (50mg/L) free SO2.) This has to do with A) the fact that the active form that inhibits bacteria forms better at lower pH's and B) the lower the pH, the better the acidity in the wine is in itself able to protect the wine. The following is the pH dependant equilibrium. The forms depicted in the left are favoured by higher pH's; the right by lower pH's.

SO2 + H2O ←→ HSO3- + H+ ←→ SO3-- + H+

1 ppm = 1 mg/L, therefore for 5 imperial gallons of wine with a pH of 3.2, you need:

5gal*4.5L/gal = 22.5L
21mg/L*22.5L = 472.5mg

Since this is free SO2, we need a conversion for potassium and sodium metabisulphate, (K2S205 and Na2S205 respectively) which are 1.74 and 1.48 respectively. So we need 0.8g or 1.7g of each respectively a little under an eigth of a teaspoon. Through the same process you need a quarter teaspoon for 5 gallons of wine with pH 3.5. A campden tablet has a mass of either 0.44 or 0.55 gram (depending on where you get your tablets), or about 1/15th or 1/12th of a teaspoon respectively.

It's always important to remember that both of these products work better with low pH's, so a non-standard wine (i.e. fruit wine) may require really large amounts due to high pH.

There is unfortunately no handy way to actually kill all the yeast in your wine at home.

As a general guide, here is how much sulphite is needed as per the pH of your wine:

Required free
sulphite levels (ppm)
pH Red White
2.90 7 11
3.00 8 13
3.20 13 21
3.40 20 32
3.60 31 50
3.70 39 63


Topping up your wine is the process of making your carboy as full of wine as possible to make sure that there is as small a contact with air as possible, therefore minimizing oxidation risks.


  1. Make more than five gallons, particularly if you're using fresh fruit; when racking, squeeze the pulp to get the liquid out to maximize wine volume to begin with. Keep the extra must in the fridge until needed.
  2. Add water. This can change the sweetness and acidity of your wine.
  3. Add a honey/water mixture.
  4. Top off with some commercial wine of the same type as you're making. This will keep the taste from being watered down.
  5. Use an inert gas such as CO2. This can be gotten from a supplier, or if you have access to it, use food grade dry ice. Some suppliers also have cans of inert gas used to top up bottles of wine. CO2 can be made by mixing baking soda and vinegar but only pour off the CO2 gas on top, don't actually pour in the liquid!
  6. Add clean and sanitized marbles or aquarium gravel to reduce the amount of room in the carboy so the wine is closer to the neck.

When you do rack and you introduce something to your wine to top it up, add some sulphite. Sulphite also helps reduce oxidation and will help inhibit any bacteria introduced when racking.


There are varying opinions on the exact effect of bulk aging on wine; some wines benefit more than others. It is generally agreed that it is a good thing.

Some references will say that a wine ages faster in bulk while others in the bottle. Bottom line is that wines will age differently in the bottle than in the carboy, and each adds a different aspect.

Bulk aging is not recommended in plastic carboys beyond three to five months as the plastic is sufficiently porous to allow oxidation.

Using oak barrels is covered above.


{I heard that home-made wine starts going bad after two years. Is that true it sounds strange? I was planning to age some is there something special I should be doing?}

What you're asking assuming that the question doesn't come from what are now misconceptions formed up to the late 1960's when "wine death" may have been somewhat more common due to kits and grapes sent to market for use by us "commoners" that were of lesser quality than those available today has to do with things like:

  1. Sanitation throughout the winemaking process
  2. Whether there are enough preservatives (sulphite, sorbate, ascorbic acid vitamin C)
  3. Whether there is enough tannin in the wine
  4. Whether the pH is low enough
  5. Whether the wine is the "type" that won't mature too soon and become flat and bored too soon.


Sanitation is really important. An infection anywhere from before innoculation of the yeast to after the wine is corked and everywhere and every way in between can either cause spoilage or change things that can be detrimental to the wine.


Sufficient amounts of sulphite and sorbate can prevent infections and growth. The longer you plan on keeping the wine, the higher these sort of need to be, as things like sulphite can deteriorate with time. Sulphite and ascorbic acid also help avoid oxidation spoilage.


Tannin has some antimicrobial effects as well as other preservative effects, but levels will decline slightly over the years.


A low pH will also help avoid spoilage in and of itself, as well as increase the other preservatives' assuming you use any abilities to keep the wine.

Wine type

Usually if the other things exist plentifully, this isn't as much of a worry, but it can be. Usually the fruit flavours and other compounds have to be very concentrated in order for the wine to be worth keeping beyond 10 years.

A good homemade wine can last about as long as commercial wines.

The main thing you may want to consider is that whether it's made from fruit (note that in this use, fresh grapes as well as other fresh fruits as opposed to concentrates are meant), and made from fruit that would make it appropriate to last a long time. Wines intended to be kept for a really long time shouldn't be made from a kit.

Most kits will last a long time, but usually peak at a year to a year and a half.

I (the editor) once made a fruit wine whose last bottle I opened at age 4 1/2 years. I strongly believe that it would have easily lasted nay, peaked (and lasted longer) at least till 6 or 7. Probably until 8 or 9 or longer. Other people in this group have made wines that no doubt have lasted way longer.

Wine from concentrate tends to be light and contain little tannin, so it is usually best drunk within a few years. Although good concentrate- made 5-year-old red wine can be made, it had begun to fade. The short life exceptions are Sherry and (to some extent) Chardonnay. Sherry is deliberately oxidized and keeps for quite awhile. American style Chardonnay has components from the decomposing lees and malolactic bacteria which tend to allow a longer life than other dry white wines, but most Chardonnay reaches its peak in a few years anyhow and may begin to fade in 5 years.

Red wine from fresh grapes can be very long-lived if it is made to last. Just remember that many styles of red wine and most styles of white wine, commercial or home-made, are intended to be drunk fresh or within a few years.


The first thing to remember is that wine-tasting (and therefore when a wine is "ready") is a subjective exercise and your favourite wine is someone else's least favourite some of the time. Everyone has a different palate. Some like oak, some acid, some fragrance, some body.

Kit wines tend to peak at 1 year. Check that the acid balance and tannin level are high if you want it to last longer. Many other fruit wines peak at 3 to 5 years. Most fine wines that take time will still usually peak long before 25 years unless tannins, acids and fruit flavours are unusually concentrated. Red wines as a group will last much longer than whites, of course with exceptions on either side.

Two of the easiest ways of assessing a wine's maturity are tasting the wine at intervals and holding a bottle up to the light to assess the wine's colour. Reds will shift from deeper reds and even purples to orange and brick; whites will shift from straw colours to darker golds. Acidity and astringency (the latter from tannins) will gradually diminish with age, while fruitiness will typically diminish and give way to more subtle and developed aromas with age, so look for smoothness and complexity. But watch out! After a certain time, the wine can actually get tired and move past its peak. Watch out for wines that have a tired, thin, flabby taste. A practical way to taste over time is to make a lot of small bottles.

You should also be careful: In the reductive environment of the bottle, many wines develop hydrogen sulfide smells, and if it smells bad initially, swirl the wine around in a glass. Decanting can help, but it's tricky because you can overdo it with a delicately-balanced wine.

You should also be inspecting the corks for A) leakage B) rot, and C) dryness. Outside development of mould is not bad, but escape of some wine through the cork is bad.

Also, when examining the bottles in the light, check for clarity haziness can indicate A) protein haze B) metals casse (haze) C) microbiological activity, or D) pectin haze. The worst of these is microbiological activity. You should also check the ullage (fill level) if that has decreased, it could indicate excessive evaporation or leakage, which could oxidatively deteriorate the wine or indicate the possibility of microbial infection.

Now for some tips on wine tasting, which might help you determine what you like, and therefore impact how you make and age your wine. Deciding what was liked about his wines was what caused the editor (and no doubt others) to determine how he went about making his wines.


{Could someone tell me the principle of how a vinometer works?}

Water's structure causes it to have a very high surface tension and exhibit marked capillary action. In other words if you stick a narrow tube in the water the water is pulled up the column.

The more alcohol present the more the capillary action is affected thus the height of the column changes. Add graduations based on standard solutions of water and alcohol and you have a reasonably accurate method of determining the concentration of a water alcohol solution.

Problem is that wine has lots of other things that can affect capillary action and surface tension. The most prominent of these are residual sugars. That's why the instructions that come with the device probably say to only use it on dry wines (wines with minimal residual sugar).


To calculate Alcohol by Volume: Subtract the last reading from the initial gravity and divide the result by 0.0074. This gives the approximate alcohol content in %.


S.G. = 1.070 F.G. = 0.995
1.070 - 0.995 = 0.075
0.075 / 0.0074 = 10.15%

It does not matter what the first or last reading is, both mean little alone. The difference between the two does!

Usually there is also an alcohol scale marked directly on a hydrometer; subtract initial potential alcohol reading from final, and the difference is the approximate alcohol content.

Using the Brix scale, 1 degree Bx = 1 g/100 ml, or 10 g/liter. When you read a Bx of say 22, divide the 22 by 2 to get 11, and add 1, for a final alcohol of 12%. It is an extremely good rule of thumb.

Another method is the boiling method:

  1. take 250 ml of wine
  2. measure specific weight and temperature
  3. boil the wine down to 125 ml
  4. bring up to 250 ml using boiled water
  5. cool to the same temperature as above
  6. measure specific weight
  7. the difference between the two is related to the alcohol level; use the following table:
    diff. s/w
    volume %
    8 5.63
    9 6.40
    10 7.18
    11 7.98
    12 8.80
    14 10.51
    16 12.30
    18 14.10
    20 16.00
    22 18.00


Fist it is important to remember that the label A) only identifies the wine and B) can be very important to the aesthetic (but NOT tasting) experience of wine tasting and therefore should receive an appropriate yet not undue amount of care and consideration.


Any paper will do printer paper, copy paper, whatever. Envelope labels (such as Avery, etc.) are more difficult to take off.

Inkjet printouts may run if exposed to the slightest moisture; try photocopying.


Typically, you should use a water soluble adhesive that is easy to apply and allows for quick, easy removal of labels.

Making the labels

Varying software will make your labels. Projexis Inc. has a shareware program that will make labels. Check the NET RESOURCES posting to get the address, as well as other locations for software, clipart, and so on.

A good word processor that will support graphics will do the job (if you want to insert graphics, of course.)

There are also a number of good graphics and presentation programs that will do the job, and there are many good graphics/clip art libraries available that will certainly contain something that you like.

Make four (or however many up to six if you want a decent sized label) labels per 8 1/2 X 11 page.


Any glass bottle without defect that will hold a cork firmly in its neck will do. However, bottles that used to contain wine are recommended. Sources are home use, friends, relatives, restaurants and recycling bins.

Use one style of bottle for your wine, or at least one style per batch of wine. That way the "whole experience" is more visually appealling, and it may help you when storing & handling the bottles (uniformity = easier).

There is a multitude of methods and general procedures for preparing bottles for bottling; basically, they involve washing the bottle and sanitizing them. To wash, soak the bottles in soapy hot water (which incidentally will remove most labels without any labour) for half an hour, rinse the outside, rinse the interior with a jet-spary bottle washer, sanitize with a sulphite solution, and bottle your wine. Dishwashers with HOT water can replace the rinsing of the outside of the bottle (but NOT the inside) and sanitizing with sulphite.

Using soap to wash and/or chlorine bleach to sterilize the bottles is not a concern as long as you rinse the bottles thoroughly on the inside to remove any residue.

Corks should not be reused. When preparing, soak the corks in just boiled water with sulphite in it for at least half an hour before bottling. This will soften the corks and the sulphite will avoid contamination from the corks and their handling. Steaming also works. Another method is to rinse corks in a sulphite solution, about 500 ppm, then shake off the excess solution and place them in a bag for a week before use. This allows the moisture to get absorbed into the corks which softens them and makes it easier to insert.

Short corks are for short term storage, long corks are for long term storage. Composite corks are for short term storage. The editor has had more corked bottles from composite corks than whole ones.

Short corks are easier to pull, and often have fewer defects than longer ones. End bevelling is only important for hammer corkers. The narrower corks (and silicone lubricated ones) are easier for hand corking, and the wide ones are more secure and allow slightly carbonated wines to be made without too many corks popping. Pure corks are a little easier to put in and take out, but they have a lot more defects than composite corks.

Plastic corks appear to be mildly inadequate, although useable for short term storage. Problems include difficulty in retraction and leakage. Some people have found that they work well and that they are less expensive.

{I just bottled last year's wine and I noticed a tea like colour resulting from soaking the corks in a sulphite solution. If this discolouration can come off in the sanitizing solution then it can come off in the wine after corking. Does anybody know if this residue can have a detrimental effect on the wine?}

The colouring caused by soaking the corks won't harm your wine. Corks are made of the bast of the cork-oak, and good wine is layed in oak vessel. The substance that causes this colouring is a tannic acid which will improve your wine (can be stored for a longer period).

However, you have to remember when you are soaking them, the whole surface area of the cork is exposed to the solution, while only the bottom is exposed to the wine. You would have to have very sensitive taste buds to notice a difference. This should not be confused with poor quality corks that were not properly handled when made and lead to "corked" wine, which is the result of a virus in the cork. To minimise this treat the corks as above


Many styles of corkers exist and each can have advantages and disadvantages.

Hand corkers: "Hammer" style corkers are the type in which you put the cork into a constricted neck and using a plunger and mallet, you force the cork through. Usually this is the cheapest style and may have wildly varying results. "Plunger" style corkers are better and use the principle of a lever to compress the cork using wrist action. A plunger operated by your free hand pushes the cork into the bottle. Very reliable but only recommended if you're making little wine or need it for small bottles.

Table corkers: The corker is attached to a table and compresses the cork either similar in style to the "plunger" style or differently and uses a lever to force the cork into the bottle.

Floor corkers: Identical to table corkers, but whose base is on the floor.


Distillation is basically heating an alcoholic beverage to the boiling point and cooling its steam, with the intention of concentrating the alcohol.

Though at perfectly safe levels when you ferment your wine, distillation will concentrate the methanol content in your beverage to levels that may be dangerous.

Because of the potential dangers of not properly removing the minute amounts of methanol present found in most fermented products, home distillation is illegal in most Western countries, and likely most others. There is a remote possibility that it may also invite the government to your house for an unwelcome visit.



For the beginner:

For the more advanced:

For both:

On cellars:

For Winery startup:


The first and best piece of advice is to try a bottle of that wine yourself. What someone else likes may be what you dislike, and vice versa. Their descriptions may prove hard for some people to recognize in the glass in front of them, and irrelevant.

Next is to take the plunge and make that kind of wine yourself. In the process, refer to section G27. HOW TO KNOW WHEN A WINE IS READY TO DRINK.

There is also an FAQ on the topic of wine itself, which may be useful in determining the answer to your question, which is available at [NOTE: Dead link; 1/2003, SGH]

You can also ask Peter Granoff of Virtual Vineyards, "The Cork Dork", who's a sommelier. His address is pgranoff& (&=@), and his page is at [NOTE: Link redirects to; 1/2003, SGH] Such questions are not unwelcome in the group; you may get an answer that you want, or you may get answers along the lines of the above.


When making wine that calls for water, care should be taken not to use any kind of water from any source.

One rule that is generally agreed upon is that chlorinated water, particularly during the summer when levels are usually higher, is not good for winemaking. While it will work, the chlorine in the water may react with the ingredients and produce a slight off flavour. It is also bad for yeast and therefore could slow down the yeast's ability to ignite in the wine.

Generally you can use either distilled (or reverse osmosis) water or spring water. Distilled and reverse osmosis water are ultra-pure waters that have next to no dissolved solids and therefore no tastes. All tastes will therefore develop from your fruit and/or concentrates and fermentation. Spring water may add a slight taste to your wine, though usually not a significant taste.

The editor frequently uses water from various surface and artesian wells with great success. Generally they should be regularly tested to be free from infections and should be low in dissolved solids. Artesian wells are usually sterile, but may be high or low in dissolved solids depending on the well. Care should be taken that the water be suitable as it may contain, depending on your area, agricultural wastes or fertilizers or pesticide that may be detrimental to your wine and fermentation. If you're not sure, either use distilled water or bottled spring water.


Debate has come about with respect to whether or not making wine from elderberries can be toxic.

The short answer is NO. People have been making and drinking it for a long time without adverse effects at least, not beyond the expected ones from overconsumption. :)

If I remember correctly, you must be careful about which parts of the plant you may use in order to avoid using the toxic parts. Use the berries only.

Elderberry wine recipes can be found, among other places, at: [NOTE: Link requires FTP login; 1/2003, SGH]

Rhubarb is safe for winemaking as well, though care must be taken to cut off and dispose of the leaves as the leaves only contain oxalic acid which is toxic; as a sidebar, the leaves may be boiled up in water and used as an ecofriendly pesticide.


I (Don Buchan) contacted Rabbi Jaffe at the Jewish Community Council in Montreal and asked him about making kosher wines and beers.

Rabbi Jaffe told me that as long as the wine or beer is made by a Jew with no non-Jewish contact it is considered to be kosher. Nothing special needs to be added or done.

As a non-Jew, I would surmise that any cleanliness practices that may exist in Kosher law would also have be to be practiced, though Rabbi Jaffe did not mention this nor do I know for certain.

If you (as a Jew) follow all the cleanliness suggestions in this FAQ, you should be able to consider your wine or beer to be kosher.

Rabbi Jaffe also told me that all domestic (Canadian, and presumably American) beers are considered to be kosher.

Note that this all sounds contradicting since the lines are not drawn as to where the "all-Jewish" involvement needs to begin ie. does it begin with the growing of the ingredients or only with the actual production of the wine, etc., as well as not defining where it has to stop. I (Don again) have been told that it starts at the growing of the ingredients and continues to even the serving of the wine.

The following is a synopsis of an article from the March 24, 1991 Los Angeles Times by Dan Berger about Kosher wines.

  1. Standard kosher wine: Standard kosher wine has to be produced in its entirety by observant Jews. Even the spigot has to be turned by an observant Jew to draw a tasting sample. Standard kosher wine may be consumed by any (Sabbath) observant (orthodox) Jewish person, but it loses its kosher certification if it is opened and served by a non- observant Jew.
  2. Mevushal wine. Mevushal wine has to be heated to a specified temperature. It remains kosher no matter who serves it. Weinstock Cellars heats the grape juice prior to fermentation to 170F and then chills it again instantly.

I would recommend that if you need to absolutely certain that your wine or beer is kosher, consult your Rabbi before starting your batch.


{Someone is being generous enough to give me some wine grapes and I need to know what amount I need to make five gallons.}

It is suggested that 100 lbs. (45.36 kg) of red grapes (ie., grapes to be pressed after fermentation) and 125 lbs. (56.70 kg) of white grapes (pressing at or near time of crush) for 5 gallons of finished wine in the bottle. These quantities usually produce two or three bottles more than five gallons, but you then will be sure to have enough to stay in a five gallon carboy throughout the process even with a bit of spillage and sloppy racking. These recommendations assume that you are using a conventional stemmer-crusher and something like a basket press.

It depends upon the kind of grape, the vintage (annual variance in cluster size and juiciness), how hard you press the must, if you barrel or not (if so for how long), etc.

A rough number is 32 pounds of red wine grapes per 12 bottle case of finished wine.

  1. with red wines, you can figure that 1 Ton (2000 lbs.) produces 200 gallons of crush for primary fermentation.
  2. 200 gallons of crush presses out to be about 160 to 170 gallons of raw wine.
  3. 1 year's worth of barreling, racking, and evaporative losses (through barrel staves) results in about 90% of this making it to the bottling line (i.e., about 150 gallons per ton).
  4. there are 5 X 750 ml bottles per gallon, or 2.4 gallons per 12 bottle case.
  5. so, 62.5 cases per ton of red wine grapes is the planning figure I get.
  6. 2000 pounds divided by 62.5 cases = 32 pounds per case of red.

White wines will require more pounds of grapes per case of wine, about 42 pounds per case.

  1. with white wines, you can figure that 1 Ton (2000 lbs.) produces 125 gallons of crush for primary fermentation (if you avoid pressing too hard i.e. over 1 atm of pressure).
  2. all else is roughly the same (racking, barreling, evap. loss, etc.) ending with about 112 gallons at the bottling line, or about 47 cases.
  3. so, 47 cases per ton of white wine grapes is the planning figure I get.
  4. 2000 pounds divided by 47 cases = 42 pounds per case of white wine.


This is not a commercial endorsement by the editor/compilor or most (if not all) of the contributors.

Presque Isle Wine Cellars
9440 Buffalo Rd
North East PA 16428 USA
Voice 1 814 725 1314
Fax 1 814 725 2092
prwc& (&=@)
Orders can be called in at 1 800 488 7492.

For other suppliers, check [NOTE: Dead link; 1/2003, SGH]


Check [NOTE: Link requires FTP login; 1/2003, SGH] I've been archiving virtually all the recipes posted in r.c.w. since about September '95.

Archive policy

The files contain many many recipes, some of which are problem postings asking for help. I was looking more for a recipe which someone has perfected and is really happy about and wouldn't mind sharing.

Many of the recipes that end up in the archive present themselves in the form of "Here's what I did, do you think I did it right?" or "What did I do wrong?"

While in the 00INDEX.TXT file there is an explicit disclaimer on the fitness of the recipes in the archive, by virtue of their being there there is an implicit "nod of Don's head" that they should work, without even attempting to guess at what may be wrong; a good part of that implicit nod further implies a degree of understanding of winemaking, this required level occasionally varying greatly from one recipe to the next.

Which is why there are sometimes a dozen or more recipes of each kind; by reading through each you start getting a feel for how to go about things and see the basic trends required for each kind of wine. When things contradict, you can always ask the originator of the recipe, if their email address hasn't changed, or ask the group, or check in this FAQ.

Other places to check


The easiest way to remove carbonation is to filter your wine using a vacuum pump to force the wine through your filter pads. This is done by means of attaching the pump to a glass carboy with an adapted bung that has an in and out tube one which leads to the vacuum pump and one that comes from the filter. The filter system then has tubing that connects to the carboy and another leading into it to which you attach your J-tube that you place in your wine.

The pump creates a relative vacuum that creates the necessary pressure differences to force the wine through the filters and, since the lower pressure is subatmospheric, any carbonation in solution comes out in the process.

You can also attach a vacuum pump directly to the carboy of wine but this may create the possibility of overfoaming.

If you don't have access to this system, vigourously stir your wine for 5 minutes a day after fermentation but before clearing for three days. You can also attach a carboy cleaning brush to a drill and, putting the brush into the wine, turn the drill on low for a few seconds at a time.

Bulk aging and a couple of rackings will also get rid of almost all carbonation.

{I transferred it to the secondary and by day 12 the bubbling has pretty well stopped and the SG is just above 0.990. My question is whether or not I should stabilize and de-gas it now or wait 10 days or so like the instuctions suggest?}

This is a great question because it illustrates how winemaking is a complex psychological process as well as a fermentative one. There is a lot of activity at the start of making wine, all the more so in seasons when grapes have to be crushed under threatening skies. Even in a kit, wine fermentation is rapid at first and requires close attention. We all tend to get a bit caught up in the process at that stage, but with experience we learn that it slows down all by itself, that there is a natural progression to things that starts with a dizzying rush of alcohol and carbon dioxide and then leads to settled torpor. You learn that a few days more or less on the lees is usually no great matter, that air contact is both good and bad, that kit wines are fairly insensitive but by the same token somewhat indistinct, especially as compared to fruit wines.

In general, time is one of the greatest resources available to the winemaker. It could even be said that most winemaking techniques exist to create more time for the wine to develop its potential. Otherwise, we'd just let the grapes ferment, wait a couple of days, and then yahoo! What is sulphite except a way to buy time against oxidation and bacterial instability? Time spent in maceration extracts tannins that take increasing time to age. We allow time for clearing and stabilization, perhaps we allow extended time for lees contact, or time in barrel to pick up oak flavors, time to recover from bottling, and time in bottle to age.

To answer the question as stated, it's probably best to just stay with the program. Things are going fine, so why make short of a good thing? It's going to taste better after a few months anyway.


After a while, it is quite possible that your glass carboys in particular, your plastic containers and other pieces of equipment have a light, white coating. This is typically scale. While completely harmless in and of itself to your wine, what it can do is harbour dirt and/or spoilage organisms that may be hard to remove by usual rinsing and cleaning techniques, including the use of chlorine bleach.

To get rid of this, you can do any of the following:

  1. Use vinegar. This may only be partially effective as your wine is already an acidic environment, and you may need to use a lot of vinegar for it to be effective.
  2. Ask your supplier for a food grade phosphate based cleaner specifically designed for this, and let it sit in your container for a few days, then rinse it thoroughly several times before putting wine in it.
  3. Go to a hardware store and get some tri-sodium phospate. Use according to the instructions and let soak for a few days.
  4. Put some small pebbles or white sand sold for aquaria along with soap and shake it vigourously.

G45. Why am I getting headaches?

It has to do with histamines and NOT with sulphite. This of course assumes that you aren't referring to a headache from overconsumption. :)

G46. I want to make some Sherry. Do I require a special type of yeast?

In 'fino' sherry Flor Yeast forms a floating film on the surface of the wine. It protects the wine from oxidation, as well as imparting special flavours. Alcohol levels, though, must be 14 to 16%. Below 14% vinegar bacteria can take over. Above 16% yeast cells will die and this would then become 'oloroso' style sherry.

Because the yeast uses a lot of alcohol, the produced water would acetify in contact with stainless steel tanks. In wooden barrels, there is enough evaporation that counters the drop in alcohol, therefore producing the Sherry flavour.


There are many ways of sweetening your wine.

  1. When your wine has reached about 1.000, put in your sulphite, sorbate and clearing agent. This will usually give you only a slightly sweet wine.
  2. Ferment your wine dry, then stabilize it with your sulphite and sorbate, and add your clearing agent. Filter the wine. Then add a 2:1 sugar/water (or wine) syrup that contains sulphite and sorbate.
  3. Add some glycerine. This technically won't sweeten the wine but it will add to your perception of sweetness.
  4. Blend the stabilized wine with a stable over sweet wine.
  5. Add sugar to the wine just before serving. Two teaspoons per bottle will increase the sugar content by 1%, and 4% will approximate port.

As far as what degree of sweetness you want, add a little bit at a time, and stop when it tastes like it could use just a bit more.

< 0.5% <1.000 SG 1 dry
< 3.0% <1.010 SG 2 medium dry
< 5.5% <1.020 SG 3 medium sweet
< 8.0% <1.030 SG 4 sweet
<10.5% <1.040 SG 5 dessert

1.23oz of sugar/gallon raises your brix One point.


{I have about 240 litres of a light red which saw insufficent skin contact coupled with a wet summer which lead to large berries. The wine has no major fault apart from the fact that it is weak.}

A good way of "strengthening" the wine would be to do the following:

  1. You don't say how 'weak' is weak, but it may not matter to the procedure other than adjusting the sugar level. Get 70-80 lbs of dark raisins and start fermenting in a primary with as little water as possible (no more than 10 litres). It's better if you can crush the raisins. Don't worry about the seeds because you haven't much tannin in your original wine. Use a Prise de Mousse (Premier Cuvee) or Lalvin EC- 1118 yeast.
  2. After a couple of days following the start of fermentation, introduce your wine into the ferment, 10-15 litres at a time. Twice a day.
  3. Depending on the alcohol level you want to achieve, you can feed the yeast by adding some sugar. Probably 30 to 40 lbs in total, at regular intervals during fermentation.
  4. You can make any acidity adjustments at the end, but if you know your original acidity, it would be preferrable to adjust prior to fermenting the raisins.
  5. When ferment reaches SG 1.000 or lower, rack into secondary, attach airlock, and rest 4-6 weeks.

If you are referring to body, not alcohol, then you could approach the problem by bulk ageing the wine with elderberries, raisins or other dried fruit with strong flavours and deep red colour. These should be dipped in a sulphite solution prior to use to avoid spoilage, and can be added to the wine in a nylon straining bag to make removal easier. The wine should subsequently be allowed to ferment the added sugars if you wish a dry wine and fined to remove any cloudiness.

G49. Humidity & Storage

Some debate exists about proper humidity levels required in storage. Excessively humid conditions may bring about problems with mouldiness on the corks and help to deteriorate the label, while excessive dryness may lead to a dry, rotten cork. Whether or not humidity actually affects the wine may be dubious.

Temperature of the storage area is important, however. Wines are more susceptible to oxidation above temperatures of 75F (24C); they are also adversely affected by conditions in which the temperature fluctuates quickly over time.

Bottles should be kept on their sides to keep the cork moistened; by drying out the corks may become more susceptible to leakage and allow for the incursion of too much oxygen that may spoil the wine, as well as, in very extreme situations, allow for some wine loss (and as such oxygen incursion into the bottle) through evaporation.

The advice of keeping the labels up is primarily useful for identifying the kind of wine you have in a given bottle ie the upwards-facing label is easier to read. Also, if there is sediment in your bottles, you can carefully handle the bottle such as to avoid mixing it into your wine.

Keeping your wine in a north facing room against the north wall (or south in the southern hemisphere) generally is a myth. It is useful if your southern-exposed room becomes excessively warm from the sun (see above regarding storage temperature).

Light may also contribute to the premature ageing and deterioration of the wine, and prolonged direct sunlight may cause undue temperature fluctuations.

For your convenience, your labels should also either clearly indicate the wine type, its age, and any other information you decide is relevant, or at least an identification code which is clearly explained in a handy log book.


{Is there any way of determining the right time to harvest grapes save purchasing the commerical product telling the sugar content? I don't have that many vines to warrant the expense.}

A couple of interesting suggestions have been made by Cox in 'From Vines to Wines.'

One is to measure the ratio of Brix to TA. Harvest when the ratio is between 30:1 and 35:1, and don't go beyond 35:1 unless you're making botrytized or sweet dessert wine. His caveat: if you are living in a cold region where high acidity is a problem, you may not get to 30:1. For example, the grapes may only get to 25:1 and stay there. He suggests suggests to check the pH. If it's approaching 3.2 to 3.3 for whites and 3.4 to 3.5 for reds, harvest, no matter what the Brix and TA are doing. The pH gives a check against total reliance on the Brix:TA ratio.

The other, and Cox says this is more accurate, is to multiply pH by itself, and then multiply that by Brix. Harvest whites when the number gets as close as possible to 200, and reds when the number approaches 260. And try to keep pH below 3.3 for whites and 3.5 for reds. If it goes higher than those, harvest.

He summarizes: "Keep measuring. Don't let the pH go above 3.3 with whites or 3.5 with reds. Harvest when the Brix:TA ratio is as close as posible to 30:1-35:1, and when Brix times pH squared is as close as possible to 200 for whites and 260 for reds."

One other suggestion is that the winemaker can consider the prospective alcohol content of the finished product. If he decides, for example, that his white table wine tastes best with an alcohol content of 11.2%, he would pick at 20 Brix, because he knows that the finished product will have approximately 56 percent by volume alcohol to the original sugars (i.e., 20 Brix times 56% equals 11.2%).

A theoretical "ideal" red grape: 22.5 Brix, .7 TA and pH 3.4. Ratio is 32.14; Brix(pH2) is 260.1.


Some people try to use the yeasts/bacteria that come on the grapeskins as the primary fermentation organisms. The most important thing to realize is that with the "natural" method you're not fermenting the sugars and digestable acids with monocultures but with a broad polyculture of various yeasts and bacteria. It seems that this polyculture is as much a part of the "terroir" of the site as the soil, exposure, etc.

It is suggested that you do the following:

  1. Use grapes that are in good condition (little mould.)
  2. Make sure pH is correct to avoid over population of bacteria.
  3. Cap the must with CO2 after crush until the ferment is producing enough CO2 on its own to protect from oxygen contact.
  4. Monitor ferment closely.
  5. I like to ferment reds hot (85 - 90 F).
  6. Cap with CO2 at the end of ferment until you press.

Many find that the polyculture and the longer, drawn out ferment will yield a more complex wine. A good experiment would be to split your grapes and ferment each half with each method and see what you like best. You may or may not enjoy the "complexity" that results from the "natural" method. Practical Vineyard and Winery has a bunch of detailed articles about this subject.

Others feel that the low cost of a packet of yeast about USD$1.00 at most and some sulphite at the beginning is a good investment in making sure that you avoid potential problems in lost wines to unpredictable polycultures. A good yeast to use is a "Killer Yeast" such as Lalvin K1-1117.


Go to Don has been privately answering all sorts of winemaking questions by email over the years and has compiled almost all of them since sometime in 1995. [Dead link; 1/2003, SGH] (British Columbia Amateur Winemaking Association, which has some pages covering all sorts of topics, including sulphite.)


{I am making a wine from a kit - Pinot Noir from Cuvee Vendage (Vinotheque). I have read about the benefits of cold stabilization, so I want to cold stabilize my wine. (The kit instructions, or any kit instructions I have read do not mention cold stabilization).}

You shouldn't need to cold stabilize kits.

{Should I do my cold stabilization before or after adding the clarifiers?}

After, though if you want to minimize such additions then waiting around an extra two weeks won't hurt the wine.

{I still need all of these clarifiers. If I am letting my wine age longer then the 45 days the kit calls for and am cold stabilizing? I just started a Chardonnay kit. Is anything any different for white wines?}

45 is too long for cold stabilization; you only need 14. However the wine will benefit from the ageing.

{I am doing my cold stabilization in the unheated back porch of my house. Should I wrap the carboy in a blanket to protect it from draughts and to help insulate from temperature swings? What is the minimum temperature wine should cold stabilize at? If we get a really cold snap and my porch goes down below 32F (or 0c) is this a problem?}

No wrapping is needed as the thermal buffering you will need for the wine will be somewhat taken care of by the fact that the porch is protected from sudden temperature changes and wine.

It should go down to 28F (-2C). It shouldn't freeze unless it really gets cold (-10C for long periods of time) at which point the wine might begin to slush up.


1/2 teaspoon per gallon of pectic enzyme (powder form) is an acceptable general rule of thumb for all fruit wines.


{I made the mistake of not racking off the fruit pulp before I went to my primary fermenter. I've tried to clear it since but the pulp is so thick that it almost immediately clogs my racking cane. Any ideas about how I can rack off the pulp?}

One way to eliminate the larger portions of pulp would be to pour the must through a plastic window screen. You can rapidly clean the screen each time it becomes clogged. Further filtering can be accomplished by sending the wine through a mesh pulp bag, but this mesh does clog very fast and is harder to clean. The finer pulp will settle out quite rapidly after fermentation seizes. The ultra fine particles require bulk storage for a few months.

The best way is to use the mesh pulp bag and using it to scoop the pulp out of the wine, then squeezing the liquid out by hand; this therefore will require the immersion of WELL SCRUBBED and sanitized forearms directly into the wine and squeezing by hand.


{Does anyone know what I can add to my musts so that I can avoid having to use yeast nutrient?}

You could add extra fruit, but you'll only get so far with it. After a while there will be limits to what the yeast can do without the proper nutrition.

You could add grape concentrate, which will help out a lot since it's the most balanced of all fruits for winemaking.

You could also try adding a bit of a "fruit punch puree" you make in your blender by taking a large variety of fruit and making a puree, separating it into cup portions & freezing it all. There should particularly be lemons, for the ascorbic acid which will avoid browning and whose peels will add the glycerine and other oils, as well as bananas, which will provide a relatively neutral rounding out of the body for the wine. Each batch of a particular fruit wine you make can have a cup of this puree added; it will have quite the variety of nutrients in it for fermenting without overwhelming the dominant fruit if you make a couple of gallons or more at a time.


In order to stop a fermentation while a wine is still sweet,

    1. Place the batch in a refrigerator set VERY cold or place it outside in the winter
    2. Add a clearing agent, sulphite and sorbate
    3. Filter when clear.
  1. Add a spirit (brandy, vodka, etc) to increase the alcohol content to 18% - 21% alcohol. This creates an environment in which the yeast can no longer survive OR
  2. Use a sterile filter to remove all yeast from the wine.

{Is there an alternative to adding sorbate to prevent wine from refermenting after sweetening?}

Several alternatives are available.

  1. Increase alcohol content to 19% or higher. (Not satisfactory for table wine).
  2. Pasteurize the wine to 180 F at bottling time. (Wine quality suffers).
  3. Deliberately stop fermentation by chilling the wine and remove the yeast. Restart fermentation and repeat process several times. Each new generation of yeast consumes micro nutrients until the yeast cannot reproduce. (Long, tricky procedure.)
  4. Use a sterile bottles and corks and a sterile rated (less than 0.45 micron) filter at bottling time. (Sterile filtration is easy with proper equipment. Keeping bottles and corks sterile is not).

You may also consider fermenting dry, and adding the sweetener (sugar) when served. For the home winemaker, this creates a stable bottle which will store without danger or refermentation and can avoid all chemical additives.


{Do you know how to get corks out without breaking the bottle?}

  1. Straighten a metal coat hanger, and put a sharp bend (150 degrees) in the last 1/2 inch. Just push it into the bottle, tip the bottle up so the cork falls into the neck, and then gently pull the coat hanger out.
  2. Get a piece of cloth, something like a hankerchief, or a lightweight napkin. Stick a corner of it into the bottle, so it forms a 'V' like cup. Move the bottle around until the cork is sitting inside the Vee of the napkin. Start easing the napkin out, it should wrap around the cork and start pulling it out. Now comes the fun (hard) part. You have to pull really hard to get the cork out. As long as you don't have too much napkin around the cork, it will come out, without breaking the bottle.
  3. Tie a large knot at the end of the string and drop it into the bottle; add water until the cork floats up to the neck and 'self rightens' - then pull the string. The knot catches the bottom of the cork and out it comes.

G59. Your friendly hydrometer

Hydrometers are calibrated to read pure water at 1.000 at typically 60F or 67F. Typically you can take any tap water and expect to reasonably find 1.000; if your tap water reads significantly from this but the distilled water from your supplier still reads 1.000 it probably wouldn't be a good idea to use your tap water (but that's another discussion.)

This is taken from the instructions sold with a hydrometer:

"This hydrometer gives an accurate reading when the temperature of the liquid is 60 deg. F. The following tables show how to correct for temperature difference.

F SG Correction
50 Subtract 1/2
60 Subtract 0
70 Add 1
77 Add 2
84 Add 3
95 Add 5
105 Add 7


Temp of must = 84 deg F
SG is 1.100
Correction figure is 3
Corrected SG is 1.103"


Don Buchan (editor), Tony DeVito, Eric Garrison, Brian Carty, Peter Rosback, Rick Regan, David B. Gibson, Don Schiller, Dave Kehlet, Paul Jean, Scott Arighi, Tamiko Toland, Victor Reijs, Philip DiFalco, Richard Castle, Jack Ziebart, Morley, Christopher Sawtell, Brian Hiebert, Greg Owen, K.D. Colagio, Mark Levesque, Anthony Hawkins, Patrick J. Tierney, Bob Konigsberg, Tim Hodkinson, Michael Arthurs, Bob Konigsberg, Klaus Oehr, Art Turner, Gary, Jacques Recht, Ronald Elshaug, Bryan Johnson, Ronald Elshaug, Geza T Szenes, John Katchmer, Warren Vidrine, Joseph Delaney, Dan Razzell, G. Trend, Matt Marshall, John D. Trites, Tom Barnhart, Tom How, Giovanni Alfieri, Scott E. Shull, Graham Skerrett, Harry A. Demidavicius, Roger Boulton, Andrew Bennett, Jens P. Jaeger, N. Lalu, Dan Lutley, Charles Plant, Ed Goist, John Dent, Lum, Frank Wetzel and many others on whose posts some sections were based.

Translated to HTML January 2003 by Steve Holdener, steveh& (&=@)