It is relatively easy to turn fruit or juice into homemade wine and cider. Here is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to make wine and cider at home.
This is part of a series of posts on making cider and wine. You can find all the other winemaking topics here, including links to my favorite recipes. If there’s anything in this step-by-step guide that you don’t understand, it’s probably covered in more detail in another post.
Always start by sanitizing EVERYTHING. This step is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of making homemade cider and wine. Homemade wine should taste delicious. If it doesn’t, then it’s probably because it was contaminated by wild yeasts and bacteria. Sanitizing all your equipment is really worth the effort.
2. Primary fermentation
Starting with Juice
While most wines start with a primary fermentation of a fruit mash, there are certain circumstances when it’s better to start with juice.
- Hard fruits like apples are better when made with pressed juice because it is difficult to extract juice from the fruit mash.
- If you want to make a particular type of wine, like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, then you need to start with wine-making juice.
- White wine is always made from juice. Otherwise, the grape skins will give the wine a pinot noir-like color.
Primary fermentation with juice is very simple.
- Mix the juice with sugar, yeast, and additives, according to your recipe.
- Place the must (young wine) in a carboy.
- Leave it somewhere cool to ferment (approx 15 C / 60 F to 23 C / 75 F). If it’s too warm, then the fermentation process will go quickly and the resulting wine won’t taste as good.
- It will actively bubble for around 2 weeks. Let it sit for one week after the bubbling has stopped before racking to a clean carboy.
Starting with a Fruit Mash
Soft fruits (including grapes) are traditionally fermented whole. In this case, the primary fermentation takes place with whole fruit. The exact process depends on the recipe, but it generally involves the following steps:
- Wash and remove the stems and pits.
- Place the fruit in a large fermenting vessel. Depending on the size of the batch, I use a 5-gallon jar or a 15-gallon brew pot.
- Pour boiling water over the fruit (or use Campden tablets) to kill any existing yeast bacteria and mold on the fruit.
- Gently crush the fruit into a mash.
- Mixed in sugar, yeast, and any other additives (as directed by the recipe).
- Cover the mash to keep out unwanted bugs and ferment for up to a week. The mashed fruit will float, so stir daily with a sanitized spoon. (I usually just pour boiling water over the spoon right before using it, rather than mix sanitation chemicals for something so small).
- Filter the juice out from the solids to transfer into carboys for secondary fermentation. This is actually fairly difficult. I recommend removing the floating solids with a slotted spoon, then pouring the remaining liquid through a muslin bag into another large pot. Remember to sanitize everything!
3. Racking and Secondary Fermentation
Racking for secondary fermentation is important:
- It helps clarify the wine by filtering out dead yeast and leftover fruit.
- It allows you to test alcohol and acidity to determine if you need to make adjustments. If the fermenting stalled early, then you can add yeast energizer to kick-start the fermenting process.
Wine can be racked 3 or 4 times to get a really clear product. Cider is generally only racked once before bottling.
The only trick to racking is to prevent oxidation. So use an auto-siphon rather than pouring, to prevent splashing.
4. Stopping Fermentation
As long as conditions are right, yeast will keep fermenting until all of the sugar is gone or until the ferment reaches alcohol levels of around 17%-20%. The exact alcohol level will depend on the strain of yeast. For example, wild yeasts usually die off at 5% alcohol, but champagne yeast will go to about 20%.
If you don’t want your wine or cider to be dry (with all the sugar having been consumed by the yeast), then you need to prematurely stop the fermentation. Here are a few ways to stop fermentation:
- Dry red wines will naturally stop fermenting when all the sugars have been used up.
- Sweet fruit wines may also prematurely stop fermenting because they don’t have enough nutrients to feed the yeast.
- Refrigeration will slow down fermentation. This is a great way to finish off cider without sulfites. Once the cider once it has carbonated, stick it in the refrigerator and consume within 6 months.
- Sweet wines may need to have the fermentation ended early through the addition of sulfites.
5. Bottling and aging
Cider can either be made from young wine that is bottle early (before all the sugar has been fermented). Or it can be made with a cider-specific recipe, which generally requires the addition of a little bit of sugar at bottling time for carbonation.
Homemade cider must be stored in plastic bottles or swing-top bottles that are built to handle the buildup of carbonation. If you are doing a large batch of glass bottles, do at least one plastic bottle so that you can test the carbonation by squeezing the plastic bottle to see how firm it is. It can take between 1 day (for young wines) to 2 weeks (for sugar-primed ciders) to build up carbonation.
Once the cider has carbonated, store it in the fridge to stop the fermentation. You don’t want your bottles of cider exploding before you get the chance to drink them!
White wines and fruit wines generally age in the carboys for 3-6 months before bottling, and red wines age for 6-12 months. During this process you should rack the wines several times, leaving behind all the sludge at the bottom of the fermentation container.
When it is finished fermenting you can bottle the wine in the traditional glass bottles with a cork or in swing-top bottles. Aging will dramatically affect the flavor of wine, so taste it when you bottle it to determine if it’s ready for drinking. If not, then leave it for another few months before tasting it again. It’s amazing the difference that a month or two can make for the flavor of a wine.