Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Wine HACKING part 1... Using Kits and Concentrates to make great wine at home.

So obviously here at Counter Brew we are mostly focused on beer.  But,  I also have a passion for great wine.  Not just drinking it, but also reading about it, and making it.  For most beer dudes, wine has kind of a negative stature.  After all, we all know the "fake ass" wine snobs who claim they can detect a hint of "lemon balm softened by a touch of french milk chocolate" in a glass of average Cabernet.   But, you'll find that people who actually know and love wine, are kinda like home brewers, they are happy to talk and share what they know about wine.  And they are happy to help you appreciate wine more completely.  And wine appreciation is a blast.   You really can pick out all kinds of flavors if you learn how.

But this time of year we wine makers are playing the waiting game.  The harvest is months away.  Oh sure we could just grab kits at the LHBS, and there are some great kits out there.  But kit wine is kinda like the extract beer of the wine world.  It is good, but it just isn't the same.  In truth,  Home made wine is almost always delicious,  and it can be great (think Grand Cru, world class stuff).  But making kit wine is not the same as crushing the grapes, punching down the cap, pressing the wine and adjusting the acids to make the exact wine you want.  I should stress again the high end kits make world class wine, wine that would cost you $35 to $80 a bottle at the liquor store (it's that good).  But it just isn't the same as making wine from grapes.  So let me assure you if you can make beer, and you or your SWMBO enjoys good wine, you can easily make great wine from a kit at home.  Don't worry, you don't have to become a wine snob to enjoy good wine.  But you shouldn't be an anti wine guy either, you'd just be depriving yourself of a lot of fun.

freezing strawberries and using them
as ice cubes in a Strawberry wine
So what is a guy who likes to make wine to do in the summer months?  What can I make to get that wine making kick?  The answer: fruit wine.  Strawberry Moscato wine.  And that is just what I did.  I am also making a 1 gallon wine expert Pino Noir, and a 1 Gallon Merlot with Blackberries and Raspberries.  Pino Noir and Merlot are very drinkable young, so I will probably drink a bottle and age the rest for 6 months.   (UPDATE I got a hold of a Wine Expert Trinity White Kit and made it too).  In a later post I will talk about what to age and, what you don't really ever need to age.

When you make fruit wines (as we have before here on Counter Brew) you can just use the fruit to give the wine flavor and color, and table sugar to get the fermentables that you need to make the alcohol.  And that process is the standard way to make fruit and country wines.  But those wines are kinda hit or miss, and without a grape wine base, fruit wines can be kinda thin and flabby. (Even with tannin additions.)

So when I make fruit wine I generally start with a wine concentrate base or a 1 gallon kit. This gives the fruit wine more interest and rounds it out. To give you a beer comparison,  think of it this way- it is like adding 20 and 30 minute hop charges so there is no hollow area in the taste of a hoppy beer.  For strawberry wine, I usually use Moscato or Savignon Blanc ( Reisling is incredible with green apples).  I usually make 3 gallons with a can of Alexander's wine concentrate.  Alexander's Muscat will give you the gravity you need for 2 gallons of great fruit wine, you'll add sugar for the remaining gravity.   And for those of you who already make wine, yes I know Alexanders is not vintage level concentrate, but it works really well for this practice.  To be fair, I sometimes just make 1 gallon of fruit wine with a Wine Expert Kit.  Both approaches make great fruit wines.

Now it is important that you know that wine is easier to make on brew day than beer, but where beer is all about the skill of the brewer, great wine is all about the quality of the ingredients.  "World Class" wine can take years to make and age and it will never be better than the grapes (fruit) you start with.  And there are advanced techniques in wine making just like brewing.  So, if you are trying to make world class award winning wine you need to purchase the highest level kit you can afford ($175 - $200) or learn to make wine from actual wine grapes and frozen grape must and skins.  Just like brewing, you will need to learn how to adjust the acids, pH, and sugar level of your wine to make a world class wine.  Just like brewing and blending sours, you will need to learn to blend wines to make a world class wine. But have no fear Mark Anthony and I will be doing that for you all in the fall.  But today is not about world class wine, it is about the best strawberry wine you have ever had.

For easy drinking delicious fruit wines... this is the way to go.  So here is what you will need need to make a great summertime strawberry wine.  Everything is available at your local home brew store.

Memories Last - a Strawberry Moscato ( Alternatively titled - Soccer Mom)
1.074 OG
.980   FG
1.014 Back sweeten level
12%  ABV
.65 g / 100 ml  Acid Titration Level
Profile - Sweet and loaded with Strawberry flavor - Smells like fresh berries.
Color - Red and clear


  • 1 Can of Alexander's Moscato (Alexander's Muscat)
  • 4 lbs of frozen mixed berries (this will provide some interesting flavor and  deeper color Strawberry wine can turn kinda orange over time)
  • 5 lbs of fresh or frozen strawberries (very ripe but not rotting, I prefer frozen berries and it took me years to accept that they make better wine)
  • 2 - 2.5 lbs of sugar (you will have to use a hydrometer to figure this out)
  • 2 crushed Camden Tablets
  • 1.5 tsp of Pectic Enzyme
  • 1.5 T of Bentonite
  • 1 tsp of Yeast Nutrient
  • 1 tsp of Acid Blend (or exact amount needed if you can test.  Adjust wine to .65 / 100 ml acid level)
  • 1/2 tsp of wine tannin
  • Wine Yeast - Lalvin 71B 1122 is my go to for this one
  • Brewer's Gelatin or Super Clear KC - fining agent.
Equipment needed
  • 5 Gallon Food Grade Bucket with a lid and air lock. (good idea to add a racking spigot if you will be racking your wine)
  • 3 Gallon hardware store PET water jug ($7 at Walmart by the primo water)
  • Hydrometer
  • Auto siphon and tubing
  • Wine Thief or Sanitary turkey baster, or .75 inside diameter silicone tube.
  • Wire Whisk or wine whip
  • Air Lock for secondary fermenter
  • 3 1 gallon jugs with screw caps.  or 6 half gallon jugs.  
    • I am not recommending you buy an Italian floor corker quite yet.  Lets see if you enjoy this first. (I suggest the 1 gallon jugs because you can use them for pico batches of beer as well)
    • Plus if you really get into wine you will need to make 1 gallon batches of wine for blending with larger batches.
Acid Test Kit (worth it, and necessary if you get into wine)

Brew Day -
  1. Add .5 gallons of water to your sanitized fermenter add the bentonite, and with a sanitized whisk get it dissolved. 
  2. Add the Muscat concentrate 
  3. Add 2 gallons of water to the fermenter stir with whisk to get the Muscat Concentrate mixed in, check your gravity.  It will be around 1.050.   
  4. In the remaining water dissolve enough sugar to bring the gravity up to 1.070, the fruit will provide the rest.  For me it is always 4 to 5 cups of table sugar.  
    1. Remember when you are doing this you will have to account for the additional water as well.  So 2.5 gallons at 1.050 means that if you just added water to full volume your gravity would drop to 1.042.  (Because you are going from 2.5 gallons to 3 gallons.)  2.5 is 83% of 3 gallons. 1.042 is 83% of 1.050 (roughly).   So you need to add enough sugar to get your gravity up 28 points per gallon.  1 lb of sugar has 42 gravity points per pound per gallon.  so you need to add .66 lbs per gallon.  28 / 42 = .666   or 1.9998 lbs of sugar = 2 lbs.  or 4.5 cups of granulated sugar, dissolved in the .5 gallon of remaining water.
  5. Add the sugar and water to the fermenter - check gravity  you should be at about 1.070, the fruit will provide the remaining gravity points. 
  6. Add the berries to a disposable brew bag (nylon paint straining bag, 4 for 2.50 at my local ACE Hardware store in the paint area).  Tie the top closed.  If you are using frozen berries, thaw them first and don't lose that precious juice as they thaw. 
    1. I like frozen berries for this.  Half the work is done for you already and I have to tell you they tend to make better wine.  You need 3 to 3.5 lbs of berries per gallon of wine you are making.   For this batch I used fresh berries, well see how it turns out.
  7. Crush the berries with your clean and sanitized hands - get them well crushed.
  8. Add the berries to the fermenter
  9. Test the acid if you can, if not just add a tsp of acid blend.
    1. Adjust as necessary to get to .65 / 100 ml. 
  10. Add the pectic enzyme
  11. Add the wine tannin
  12. Add the crushed camden tablets (crush between two spoons) - 
  13. Cover your fermenter with a clean towel, hold it in place by setting the lid on it.
  14. Walk away for 24 to 36 hours.  Why isn't this precise?  well you have to wait for the Sulphites to off gas.  When the sulfur smell is gone, you can pitch your yeast.  
Day 2
  1. Uncover fermenter
  2. Check gravity with sanitized hydrometer, it should be deep enough to float in the must, just hold the fruit bag off to the side with a sanitary whisk. Record the Gravity
  3. Add yeast nutrient - stir in to dissolve 
  4. Add the yeast (follow the manufacturer's instructions for this) You may need to re-hydrate.
  5. Cover with towel and lid
  6. Walk away for 24 hours
Day 3-7
  1. Uncover Fermenter
  2. Check Gravity and Record
  3. Remove fruit bag to a sanitary bowl
  4. Whisk the wine - you are de gassing as you go, this isn't beer don't worry about adding oxygen at this phase.  
  5. Add the fruit and any juice that drained off back into fermenter.  Give the fruit a squeeze- I usually press it against the fermenter wall with the whisk.
  6. Cover with towel and lid
  7. Repeat
Day 8 - 1st Racking
  1.  Use your auto siphon to transfer wine to a clean and sanitized 3 gallon fermenter of your choice.
    1. This is not a wine you will age.  So PET works just fine.
    2. Make sure you squeeze all the yummy goodness out of the fruit, before you start your transfer and stir it in.   
    3. The wine is safe to taste, so go ahead and try some.
  2. Fill it as full as you can - leave only an inch or so under the air lock.  If you need to add wine, choose a light fruity wine like White Zinfandel.  I use other wine or mead I have made.
    1. Now we care about oxygen. So go easy and don't aerate the wine.
      1. This is not always the case...some big red wines you actually want to aerate at this point. 
  3. A fix and air lock and walk away for at least 2 weeks
Day 21 - 2nd - 4th Racking (OPTIONAL)
  1. If you want to clear your wine naturally (no fining agents)  you will need to let it sit and rack it a couple of times, and it will take a couple of months minimum. 
  2. Each time it is clear and lees develops on the bottom of the fermenter, transfer the wine to another 3 gallon fermenter - top it up if necessary with other wine.  I use bottle I made previously, but if you don't have those just use a cheap White Zinfandel. 
Stabilizing and Fining Your Wine
  1. Check your gravity, it should be around .990-.980
    1. If it is not, it is not done. 
  2. I do not rack fruit wine more than once - it's fruit wine not Grand Cru. If you are like me you will probably choose to stabilize and fine the wine in secondary. 
  3. To stabilize your wine you will add 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite and 2.25 tsp of potassium sorbate.  
    1. Stabilizing will stop fermentation. 
      1. When a wine is stabilized you can then back sweeten the wine. 
    2. Stabilizing wine will provide preservatives for the long term storage of the wine
  4. At the same time you stabilize your wine you will want to fine the wine.  Fining makes the wine brilliantly clear.  
    1. Since you are a brewer I suggest you consider using Brewer's Gelatin to clear the wine.  
      1. Do it just like you would a batch of beer
      2. Dissolve 1 tsp Gelatin in cool water, then heat it to dissolve. Then add it to the wine.  It will clear just fine at room temperatures. 
  5. Add your fining agent to the wine and stir / degas.  this is when you degas the wine.  This is when you hook the whip up to your drill and go to town.  Your goal is to get all of the CO2 out of the wine.   You may need to rack a gallon of the wine to another container while you de gas, so that there is room for the bubbles and the spinning wine. 
  6. Walk away for a week.  When you return the wine should be brilliantly clear.
Back sweetening and Bottling
  1. Transfer the wine to your sanitized bottling bucket.
  2. Fruit wines taste best with some sweetness.  I generally back sweeten to 1.014. You may prefer more or less.  
  3. To do this you have to calculate how much sugar to add, just like above.   
    1. Most of the time you are going from 0.0098 to 1.0140, that is  .0042 gravity points per gallon.   1 lb of sugar has 42 gravity points per gallon.   So you need to add .1 pound of sugar per gallon, or .68 cups of sugar dissolved in a warm liquid of your choice, I actually usually use another wine I have made for this but you can use water.
  4. When the wine is back sweetened to your liking, it is time to bottle.
  5. Drain your wine into the 1 gallon (or half gallon) glass jugs.  Put the screw cap on the jugs. 
    1. If you are able to cork, then really you probably already know how to do this. 
  6. Fruit Wine is ready for drinking as soon as you bottle it.
Well beer nerds, that's it.  That is how you make awesome wine from fruit. It is a lot of fun, and it makes a reliably delicious batch of home made fruit wine. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice..Your post is really helpful for me. It like it which make me aware of usage of wine making kits.

    Wine Making Kits