How to Make Wine from Homegrown Grapes
Wine is in a culinary category of its own—it earns its own menu at bars and restaurants, its own coolers and cellars in upscale homes, and even its own specialists (known as sommeliers) in fine dining eateries. Wine is beloved around the world, but the art of winemaking is often seen as daunting. While great wine certainly takes time to produce, we Arizona gardeners are lucky to live in excellent conditions for growing grapes. If you’ve decided to grow grapes this year, there are few projects more rewarding than making your own wine—and it’s not as tough as it sounds. Here’s how to make great wine from fresh homegrown grapes!
The Best Grapes for Winemaking
Here in south-central Arizona, the best grape varieties for making wine are cultivated from the European class, Vitis vinifera, and American class, Vitis lubrusca.
European grape varieties include:
- Beauty seedless
- Black Monukka
- Flame seedless
- Golden Muscat
- Muscat Hamburg
- Ruby seedless
- Thompson seedless
American grape varieties include:
- Campbell’s Early
- Himrod seedless
American/European hybrids include:
- Baco Noir
- De Chaunac
Making Wine from Fresh Grapes: Equipment
Before harvesting your grapes, you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need and that everything is well-sanitized. Here’s a checklist of the equipment you’ll need to produce incredible wine:
- A 4-gallon food-grade-quality plastic bucket with lid
- At least three 1-gallon glass jugs
- A large-mouthed funnel that fits your glass wine bottles
- Large nylon mesh straining bags
- Three airlocks (also called fermentation traps)
- Rubber corks (also called bungs) that fit the 1-gallon glass jugs
- Approximately 6’ of clear, ½-inch plastic tubing
- Five clean wine bottles for every gallon of wine you produce
- Number 9-size sterile corks
- A hydrometer for measuring sugar levels
- A hand corker, often available for rent at wine supply stores
Making Wine from Fresh Grapes: Ingredients
Now that your equipment is in order, you’ll need a few more things for your recipe. There are actually more ingredients in your favorite wines than grapes alone! Great wine is made with a special yeast that facilitates the fermentation of the grapes and develops its characteristic flavor. You’ll want to gather together as many grapes as you can from your vines, plus:
- Granulated white sugar
- Filtered or distilled water
- 1 tsp of wine yeast nutrients per gallon of juice (available at wine supply stores)
- 1/8 tsp of pectic enzyme per gallon of juice (available at wine supply stores)
- 1/16 tsp of potassium bisulfite per gallon of juice (available at wine supply stores)
Pressing the Grapes
Part of the art of winemaking is the selection and pressing of the grapes. This part can be a little tedious, so put on some music and get lost in the process! Start by washing your grapes well with a fruit and vegetable wash and rinsing them thoroughly. Next, inspect each bunch of grapes and discard any fruits that appear shriveled, moldy, or discolored. As you go, pluck the good ones into the large sanitized plastic bucket, making sure to remove all traces of stem as you go.
Next comes the fun part—pressing! You can crush the grapes with a fruit press (if you have one), or you can go the traditional route and use your hands or feet. Naturally, if this is how you want to do it, make sure they are immaculate and freshly-washed before you touch the grapes!
Once you have extracted the juice (also known as the “must”), add the yeast nutrients, pectic enzyme, and potassium bisulfite. Cover the must with a clean towel and let stand for at least 24 hours.
Adding Other Ingredients
Once a full day has passed, add your wine yeast to the must and insert your hydrometer. If the hydrometer reads below 1.010, your must doesn’t have enough sugar to ferment into alcohol. You can increase the sugar level with white sugar dissolved in the filtered water and gradually stir it until the reading is at 1.010 or slightly above.
Once your must is ready, cover the bucket with a clean cloth and leave it alone for 7-10 days.
Straining and Secondary Fermentation
After approximately a week has gone by, the wine will have developed sediment and a frothy substance as it completes its first fermentation. Strain this out to the best of your ability and funnel the wine into the 1-gallon sanitized glass jugs for the next phase of fermentation. Fill them as full as you can and fit them with airlocks; this will prevent too much air from making contact with the wine.
Leave the jugs for several weeks before rechecking them. By now, more sediment will have separated from the juice. Use the tubing to siphon the juice (and not the sediment) out of its jug into a new, clean jug. Once you’ve finished siphoning, sanitize the tubing to prepare it for re-use. Repeat this process every few weeks over two to three months until there’s no more sediment to be removed—just beautiful-looking wine!
Use the clean tubing to siphon the wine into sanitized wine bottles, filling about two inches from the top, just enough to fit the cork with a little room to spare. Cork the bottles with the hand corker and store your wine bottles upright in a cool (approximately 55˚F), dark place for three days. After the three days have passed, turn the bottles on their side to start the aging process. Red wines are best aged for one year or more, and whites are ready a little earlier around the six-month mark.
Make sure to label your bottles with their vintage, or the year you harvested the grapes, to keep track of their age. You can have some fun with this by ordering custom labels from a printing shop or website, which adds a lovely touch if you plan to give your wine bottles away as gifts. Some websites, like Vistaprint, let you choose a template so you can quickly and easily create a fancy label for your finished product.
After a long process, you’ll have earned the final and best step in the process; taste and enjoy!
About SummerWinds Nursery: SummerWinds Garden Centers is a leading high-end retailer of garden and nursery products. Headquartered
in Boise, Idaho, SummerWinds operates retail nurseries in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, and in Silicon Valley, California, making it one
of the largest independent retail nursery companies in the west. SummerWinds appeals to both the serious and casual gardeners, with a broad
selection of premium gardening products and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.