How to Make Wine from Grapes

Making wine from freshly harvested fruit is the most traditional method and the closest to what takes place at commercial wineries. There are several advantages to working with fresh fruit:

  • Authenticity - For thousands of years wine has been made from freshly harvested fruit, whether it be grapes, dates, apples or any other type of fruit. Working with freshly harvested fruit gives the winemaker a more complete sense of connection to the process as a whole.
  • Make More Wine - If you are interested in making more than 6-10 gallons of wine on your first try, it is usually more economical to work with fresh fruit.
  • Local Flavor - Working with fresh fruit give you the ability to work with whatever is grown locally, from Vinifera grapes to non-Vinifera varietals such as Concord and Vidal to local fruits and berries.

All this being said, working from fresh fruit is also the most challenging way to begin making wine. It is difficult for the novice winemaker to gauge the quality and suitability of the fruit for winemaking. Inferior fruit will always make an inferior wine and this is the number one reason that we see novices get frustrated and give up. Below we've put together a very basic list of the types of equipment that you'll need to get started working with fresh fruit. Before you purchase anything - equipment or fruit - we strongly suggest that you read one of our guides to winemaking and/or one of the books you see listed below. Remember that our Guide to Red Winemaking and our Guide to White Winemaking are available as free PDF downloads!

Equipment You Will Need

Crusher/Destemmer - True to its name, a Crusher/Destemmer crushes the grapes and removes them from their stalks for fermentation. Crushing/Destemming is the first step in the winemaking process. The type of machine you will need depends on the amount of wine you will be making. Note that many home winemaking shops and clubs have this eqiupment available to rent or borrow, but the availability may not jive with when your fruit is ready to go. To shop Crusher/Destemmers please click here.

Fermenter(s) - The fermenter is the container that the fermentation will take place in. For red wines, which are fermented in contact with the grape skins, you will want an open topped fermenter with about 30% extra space for the cap to develop. White wines should be fermented in a closed container where they will be protected from oxygen. To shop Fermenters please click here.

Wine Press - A press is used to separate the juice/wine from the grape solids. In white wines this is done prior to fermentation whereas in red wines it is done afterwards. There are two basic types of presses, Basket Presses and Bladder Presses. Bladder Presses tend to yield more and higher quality juice/wine and are easier to use, however they are quite a bit more expensive than Basket Presses. To shop Wine Presses please click here.

Storage Containers - After fermentation your wine will need to be stored for 6-12 months in order to allow it age and develop. While the wine is certainly drinkable immediately after fermentation, its full potential will not be realized until it is between 6 months to 2 years old. During this time period the wine must be kept out of contact with oxygen in order to prevent it from spoiling. Wine is typically stored in containers made from glass, stainless steel or oak; depending on the quantity and style of the wine. To shop Storage Containers please click here.

Transfer System - During the course of aging the wine it will need to be transferred from one container to another several times. Transferring the wine separates it from any sediments that have dropped out while aging. This process is called racking. Typically wine is either racked using a siphon/gravity or by pumping, though there are other methods available as well. To shop Tranfer Systems please click here.

Oak (optional) - Most wines will benefit from some contact with oak during the aging process. There are several types of product to help you get this effect in your wine, which are tailored to different types of containers and different styles of wine. To shop Oak please click here.

Filtration/Fining (optional) - Fining and Filtering are the two methods used to clarify a wine past the degree of clarity that you will acheive simply by allowing the wine's sediments to drop out over time and racking off of them. These are totally optional processes for the home winemaker and are typically skipped the first time around. To shop Fining & Filtering products please click here.

Bottles & Bottle Filler - Eventually you are going to want to get your wine into bottles, since that is the last step before the most fun part - drinking it! Depending on how much wine you are making (and how much you drink) you may be able to save up enough wine bottles on your own while the wine is aging. If not you may need to purchase a few cases. Bottling can either be performed with a simple gravity filler out of a bucket, or with any of a variety of filling systems. To shop Bottling Supplies please click here.

Wine Fermentation

Once we have destemmed and crushed the fruit, it's time to start the wine fermentation. White wines need to be protected from oxygen and are usually fermented in a closed vessel to achieve this (such as a carboy or a sealed wine tank). Red wines actually benefit from oxygen exposure during fermentation and are often fermented in open-top vessels (such as food-grade buckets, Macro bins and open-topped tanks). Here are a few tips that we have found to make a better wine over the years:

  • We recommend testing and adjusting the must before adding the wine yeast and starting fermentation. (Our Measuring and Testing section has all of the tools needed to do this.)
  • Use winemaking nutrients: Go-Ferm for the hydration of the yeast, and Fermaid-K during the fermentation.
  • Stir the lees daily during active fermentation: 1 x per day for White Wines, and 3 x per day for Reds.
  • Keep the temperature of the fermentation within the recommended ranges: 55-65 F for White Wines, and 70-85 F (max Cap temp) for Reds. (Our Temperature Control section has all of the equipment needed to keep your fermentations and cellars cool!)

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