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FAQs About Home Winemaking

FAQs About Winemaking

Does it taste any good?

In short - yes!  We regard making wine to be a bit like baking a cake; some batches will turn out better than others, or be more to your taste and you may have the occasional flop.  You may find you get better at making wine that is to your taste over time.  But largely yes! The wine you will make yourself will be as good, if not better than the wine you buy.  What's more, you know exactly what is in it, no unnecessary preservatives or additives.

How much does it cost?

Unless you are spending a lot of money on your winemaking fruit, you should be able to make your wine for between $1 and $2 per bottle.  If you purchase one of our secondhand winemaking equipment kits with free ingredients - it will cost you $54 to get started.

Do I really need all that fancy equipment?

No!  Check out our page on home winemaking equipment to see how you can minimise the amount of equipment you need.

What can you make wine out of?

Fairly much anything!  You could make it out of water, sugar and yeast if you really wanted.  It wouldn't taste great, but it would have the same alcohol content.  Many people make their wine out of fruit (with additional sugar) - generally fruit they can source cheaply or for free...your wine will retain at least some of the characteristics of the fruit so any fruit that you enjoy eating you will generally enjoy drinking wine made from it.  Personally I like fruit with distinct flavour like feijoas and strawberries.  You can also make wine out of vegetables (& sugar) for example carrot wine, parsnip wine, beetroot wine.  And you can make wine from grains as well.  This winemaker hasn't tried that yet - if you have any experiences of this please let us know at info@makewine.co.nz.

How does the alcohol get in?

Alcohol is a by-product of yeast fermentation.  In very simple terms, fermentation "eats" up the sugar and turns it in to alcohol and carbon dioxide.  So, the amount of sugar in the fruit and the amount of sugar you add affects the alcohol content.  Most fruits with sugar added at the rate of 1kg per 5 litres will yield a wine 10-14% alcohol.  Depending on the kind of yeast you use, even if there is still sugar remaining that the yeast can feed on, yeast will die off somewhere between 14-18%.

I don't like sweet wine - how do I make sure my wine doesn't turn out sweet?

If you don't add too much sugar (no more than 1kg of sugar per 5 litres (1 gallon) of wine) and let your wine ferment out until all the sugar has been converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide, your wine will not be sweet.  The only other thing you need to watch out for is stuck ferments.  Check out our page about stuck ferments about how to avoid them, how to recognise them, and how to fix them if they do occur.

I like my wine quite sweet - how do I make sweet wine?

You can make sweet wine by using yeast which dies off at a certain alcohol % (eg the Lalvin 71B that we sell will die off once the wine reaches 14%) so if your wine still has sugar in it at this point, that sugar will remain as residual sugar and your wine will be semi-sweet or sweet.  It is recommended that you add the extra sugar near the end of the fermentation, if you add it at the beginning the wine may be too sweet for the yeast to start fermenting.  By experimenting you will find out how much extra sugar to add to your taste. We suggest starting with an extra 100-200g per 5 litres of wine.

You can also, not to let your wine ferment out completely.  You can taste it daily once it goes in to secondary fermentation, once it has reached the level of sweetness you like; add a teaspoon of 10% potassium metabisulphite solution per 5 litres of wine and 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate.  This will stop your yeast fermenting; and your wine will remain sweet.

The problem with the sorbate method is that the sorbate does have a slight taste which may be identifiable by some people and may not be to their taste. 

You can also add non-fermentable sweeteners or sugars eg stevia, sucryl, Splenda and there is also a range of non-fermentable brewing sugars like lactose, glycerine and maltodextrin (these usually only take the edge of the dryness rather than making the wine sweet and may also improve mouthfeel).

There is also no reason you can’t sweeten it by the glass when you pour it as well.

Can I use breadmaking yeast to make wine?

Yes you can, but it is likely your wine will taste bitter and remain cloudy.  The process of fermentation is virtually the same and the yeast will ferment the sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.  However the yeast is a different strain than those strains of yeast used for winemaking.  The breadmaking yeast will likely result in your wine tasting bitter.  Breadmaking yeast also has a lower alcohol tolerance, it may stop fermenting before you want it to.  However, it is a useful experiment (one that this winemaker has done) if you don't mind risking a batch of wine.

If 5g of yeast makes up to 23 litres, why can't I use 1/5 of the packet to make 5 litres of wine?

The process of fermentation is the yeast breeding many, many times over.  Therefore, the amount of yeast you add to 5 litres of wine, will simply keep multiplying and be sufficient to ferment up to about 23 litres.

However, the yeast seems to have a critical tipping point where there needs to be enough of it to start a fermentation, regardless of how much wine it is required to ferment.  That tipping point is about 5g, which is why it is packaged in 5g sachets.  You may find you have success in splitting the yeast up in to smaller amounts, but you also may find you cannot get your ferment started.

If you are wanting to cut down on the cost of your yeast; try buying it in our wine yeast bulk packs of 100g which will cost $1.25 per batch. And alot more economical than buying from most home brew stores.

Why does my wine taste funny?

It may just be that you have made a wine you don't like in much the same way as you sometimes buy a wine you don't like.

If it tastes "off" chances are your wine has become infected with a contaminant.  This is the most common cause of a ruined batch and has happened to most winemakers (including this one) at least once!  All you can do is throw it away (great in the compost bin!), or drink it if its not too bad and make sure you sterilise your equipment extra well before making your next batch.

Make sure everything that will come in to contact with your wine has been properly sterlised including your straining bag, stirring spoons and that you wash your hands thoroughly.

The information on your website is basic, how do I find more advanced information about winemaking?

There are many books available on the subject, your library should have a selection or try your local bookstore, amazon or trademe.  However, this winemaker has not found a book which is the one definitive information source.  Should you know of any good books please email us on info@makewine.co.nz.  There is also a lot of information available online.  If you really want you could do a Oenology degree.  There are winemaking clubs (ask google) or you could get together a group of like-minded friends and make your own club where you can sample each other's wine and discuss it.  It will also help if you increase your knowledge about commercial wine; this can be done by drinking, reading and attending a winetasting course which may be available at your local community education provider and Glengarry's has an excellent wine appreciation course.  Local wine stores may also have tastings as do many vineyards.  What about a wineries tour?

Alot of information is subjective and contradictory, so the best way to learn is by doing it and figuring out what you do and don't like.

How do I syphon my wine?

You can buy an expensive auto-siphon, but if you don't have one of those the easiest and most hygienic way to siphon is:

a/ Put your vessel to be siphoned up higher than the other vessel eg on the bench.  You can put one side on a folded cloth or [clean] door wedge so it is sitting on an angle which will help get the most wine possible out without also getting the sediment.

b/ Put your other vessel on the ground.

c/ Fill your syphon tube up with cooled boiled water.

d/ Put your finger over one end.  Quickly put the other end of the siphon tube in your vessel to be drained, being careful to avoid the sediment at the bottom.

e/ Then put the other end of the siphon tube in the vessel to be filled.

f/ Watch while gravity and pressure do their job and siphon your wine from one vessel to the other, keeping the end of the siphon tube away from the sediment, but as close to it as possible so as to avoid getting air in the siphon tube (which will stop the siphoning process).