Brewing wine can be as simple or complex as you wish to make it. You can achieve quite good results by following fairly simple recipes - then, as your experience grows, you can begin to play with the recipe a little to adjust it to your taste.
Quite simply, wine is brewed by adding these ingredients together:
- yeast - it is important to get yourself a good wine yeast. Beer yeast is not acceptable as it ferments too fast (thus not so butly) and also imparts certain flavours to the brew that will be out of place in a wine
- sugars - this feeds the yeast and is the building block of the alcohol. If you are making a fruit wine, some of the sugar will come from the fruit itself - but mostly you will need to add sugars either in the form of ordinary sugar from the supermarket, special brewing sugars or honey.
- flavours - this will be what makes your wine interesting - fruits or herbs/spices are good as are some flowers - don't feel constrained to only use grapes. While technically you can make wine out of anything (by adding an appropriate amount of sugar) be aware that many things are poisonous, and brewing won't change that fact...
You will need a certain amount of special equipment to brew your wine in. If you are uncertain about whether or not you really want to brew, then it is probably wise to start small. Just get yourself a 1-gallon demijohn (brewing container) and an airlock for it. Anything else is technically superfluous - though sometimes useful (especially when you scale up to brewing in bulk).
When brewing wine, it is always advisable to get a glass fermenter! Your wine will be sitting in this container for several months, and you don't want it to get a plasticy taste :P When you're looking at only a single, 1-gallon demijohn, the difference in price is minor (usually $12 for plastic and $20 for glass (Australian dollars) especially compared to the difference in flavour.
Have a look at the brewing equipment page for more info on what's available and what does what. For now, I'll just assume the basic equipment mentioned above, plus whatever you can scrounge around the house.
What wine to make
Figure out what type of wine you want to brew. Look at recipes or see what fruits are in season (and thus cheap). There are hundreds of recipes online, so I won't go into any of them here. Steer clear of anything that requires a lot of chemicals - these aren't necessary and certainly aren't period. If it talks about Pectic enzyme, remember that and purchase some from a brewing shop - this isn't essential, but will help the brew to be nice and clear.
Then pick/buy/steal your wine's main ingredient. If you are using fruit, make sure that it is definitely ripe - as pectin is a Bad Thing™ and causes your wine to never become beautiful and sparklingly clear. However, also make sure that your fruit isn't bruised and rotting, or you'll get wild yeasts and bacteria - also undesirable.
How sweet do you want it?
Figure out how much sugar/honey you'll need to add.
For grapes - you won't - that's the benefit of grapes and probably the main reason why almost all wine is made from them - they're so easy it's almost like cheating :)
For anything else, this is a difficult process and depends on several factors such as how sweet you want the wine to be in the end, and how much sugar is present in the fruit already.
If you don't have a recipe that you are following, I recommend getting yourself a book on basic brewing which will describe how to figure out how much sugar to put in.
If you really have no other option, be aware that while you can always add more sugar at a later date, you can't remove it once it's in - so err on the side of caution, and taste frequently to see how it's coming along.
Note that the sugar will actually be 'used up" in the fermentation process - so if you want a sweet wine - you will have to add more sugar than is needed. If the wine is becoming too dry, simply add a little more sugar. It will extend the ferment - but there's no point worrying about that if the alternative is to have an undrinkable wine!
Prepare the must
The "must" is the mush you make out of the stuff your wine is made from. You have to prepare your ingredients like cooking - wash, peel, core, de-stalk or whatever you ned to do to your ingredients so there is nothing in there but your ingredient.
Then, you need to free up the juices and flavours that are locked within your ingredient - to do this depends on what it is, but in general involves mushing it up so that it's a pulpy mess so that the good stuff all dribbles out into your wine. yum :)
Now, some recipes call for the must to be boiled or further prepared in some way, and some don't. It depends on what it is and thus I can't give much advice on it. If it doesn't say anything about it, then don't worry too much - it probably won't go funny if you don't. Boiling is good for killing things, but it does cause pectin to come out into the wine (while leaving it unboiled means it stays in the must and thus will be strained off later).
If your recipe has called for pectic enzyme, you should add it to the must now. Pectic enzyme locks up the pectin in a globby mass and is easier to get out at this early stage when you strain out all the pulp. If you need it but forget it - don't worry too much. Your wine will still be perfectly drinkable and taste fine, it just might not be so sparklingly clear as it could have been.
Feed the yeasties
Ok, now the yeasties are your friends - they are what turns this pile of mush into a yummy wine. So, first, dissolve any sugars into some water - be careful not to use too much water or you won't fit everything into your fermenter! Probably about a litre of water for every kilo of sugar is a good start - you can always top up later.
Remember that the must takes up room, as does the water you put the yeast into. you can always add more water later, but can't take any out if you've already added it.
The water you use should preferably be tepid (body temperature) as that's the temperature that yeast likes to live in.
Pour this sugary water into the fermenter.
When that's all prepared, add the must to the water as well, and fit with an airlock (to keep out flies).
Meanwhile, add your yeast to a cupful of tepid water (not hot or it will kill it) and cover this cup. In here, the yeast will slowly wake up - which is a good thing as you want it wide awake and active to start on your wine.
You can put the yeast directly into the wine/must - but sometimes it can get a shock going into such weird surroundings straightaway - so, let it wake up in your warm cup for a bit before it has to go to work.
Now you get to leave it for a day or so.
This first part of the ferment is usually fairly rapid. The yeast will create CO2 bubbles that will no doubt get all attached to the must and the must will rise in the fermenter - sometimes bubbling out of the fermenter to make a sticky mess on the floor. This is why it's a good idea not to fill up the fermenter straight away.
Any messes should be cleaned up immediately so they don't attract flies or vermin (not good to have cockroachy wine).
This stage lasts often for about a week or two, but you should strain out the pulp well before then. Don't become too worried if your wine isn't too active for the first little while. Sometimes it can take a week or two to get really well underway. If your wine doesn't go all cloudy after about a day or so, however, try adding more yeast (just sprinkle on the surface). If it's been a week and your wine is really clear - go ask for help at the brewing shop!
Strain off the pulp
If you left the fruity pulpy stuff in the fermenter, it would eventually grow disgusting and rot... and would cetainly not leave you with something winey... so you have to strain the pulp off. however, you don't want to strain too early or all the flavours won't have come out of the pulp.
How long to leave it is a bit of a guessing game. If the must is really squishy fruit - it's probably safe to remove it only after two days, but if it's something that was solid (eg apples or ginger or vegetables of some sort) then you may wish to leave it up to 4-5 days (though no longer or it will start to rot and spoil).
To strain is pretty much just as it sounds... pour the liquid through something that will strain out the goop. I usually do this in three stages
- If you're using a wide-necked fermenter (eg a brew-bin), use a wide-meshed strainer and just scoop out whatever can be reached. Try not to touch the liquid, but scoop off whatever is floating on the surface (usually most of the must can be got this way).
- Then, strain the liquid into another container using the same strainer - to get the bulk of the remaining pulp. Make sure the second container is large enough to hold all the liquid or you'll have problems finding somehwere for it to all go... the floor is not a viable option here. This step will usually have to be done in stages as there is usually so much pulp that you have to empty it every few seconds. To this end, an assistant is very useful - as is a place where spills can be easily cleaned up (eg not to be done on the carpet).
- Finally, strain through something very fine (eg muslin) to get the last of the goopy bits.
After this, wash out the fermenter, then pour back the liquid.
If the ferment wasn't bubbling up out of the top of the demijohn, you can top up the fermenter to the "fill-point" (usually the "shoulder" of the jar). Do this by getting a jug and filling it with *tepid* water (don't use hot as it will kill your yeast) and just pour it in - don't fill too high or there will be problems too.
Now put it away to ferment again. :)
Now you have ample time to sit back and relax. Your wine is bubbling away happily and will continue to do so for several months. Eventually it will stop making so many "blooping" noises and simply sit there, all cloudy-looking.
However, just because it isn't as active, doesn't mean that it's not still working away. Your wine has just moved into second ferment. The yeasties will continue on for many-a-day until they're good and ready to stop wine-making.