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Bottled up: Need a hobby? Take up wine-making.
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Bottled up: Need a hobby? Take up wine-making.

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Many of us have taken up hobbies during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Some of us learned to play instruments, dabbled in paints, or even became better cooks to avoid the endless scroll and monotony of our streaming services.

I’ve been making my own wine.  Alternating between red and whites, new world and old world, I’ve made California Pinot Noir, Italian Super Tuscan, and even an German Riesling Gewurztraminer blend.  The illusive craft that may seem as though it should be left to the experts in an attempt to avoid a barrel of swill and an empty wallet is actually quite straight-forward and a fun way to give a new angle to your love of wine.  

Many wine kits contain the same ingredients and follow the same instructions which makes your second, third, and fourth batches, easier and easier.  Before you start thinking I have crates of grapes arriving at my house, home brew wine making kits contain a large plastic bag of grape juice and sometimes the separate grape skins needed to produce the desired varietal.  

Is your favorite wine an Australian Shiraz, or a California Cabernet? There’s likely a wine kit for that. This is what makes home brew wine kits such a fun hobby and pastime and one of the reasons I keep starting batches each spring.  

The equipment isn’t overly expensive and once you have the essentials you can re-use them. You will need a plastic primary fermenter that can hold up to six gallons — they have a tiny hole in the top of the lid that will fit an air lock to let CO2 escape during fermentation  You will also want to pick up a carboy for the final stages of wine making. Here's a starter list of other supplies:

Racking Tube & Tubing: These let you siphon the wine off the sediment during production so your wine is clear when it’s time to place in the bottles.

Fermentation Lock and Stopper: This plastic device is placed at the top of the primary fermenter and the carboy and allows CO2 gasses to escape while preventing air from getting in and oxidizing the wine.

Mixing Spoon: A food grade plastic mixing spoon. You will want a long handle to reach into the carboy and fermenter.

Solid Bung: This rubber stopper will be placed at the top of the carboy and will hold the fermentation lock during final stages of wine making.

Hydrometer: This measures the specific gravity in your wine based on density of the liquid and helps anticipate enough sugars are present for fermentation. It also allows you to know when fermentation is complete.

Wine Thief: This handy tool allows you to pull small amounts of wine out without overly disturbing the wine and mixing up the sediment at the bottom.

Bottle Filler:-When attached to the racking tubing the bottle filler allows you to fill each bottle when pressed to the bottom and when lifted it will stop the flow of wine.  Great for preventing overfilling and spilling your wine.

Wine Bottles and Corks: You'll need28-30 750ml glass wine bottles and corresponding corks.  There are several cork lengths and widths so make sure that the appropriate cork will fit with the bottles you’re using.

When you get started, you will want to make sure that you load up on cleaning solution as everything that comes into contact with the wine will need to be sanitized. Most products labeled “easy clean” or “no rinse” work very well and are affordable.  

I will generalize here as most kits have slight differences but will follow the same overarching instructions. Warm water is added to the plastic primary fermenter with a package of bentonite, a powdery clay product that will help in the clearing process of your wine later on. The grape juice and sometimes grape skins and oak chips are added, topped up with water and mixed thoroughly. At this point, dry yeast is added to the top of the liquid and sealed to sit in a warm 68-77 degree area of your home for two weeks.

On day 14 you will begin the degassing stage of the wine to remove captured CO2 in the liquid. As you rigorously stir and agitate the wine, bubbles will emerge and ensure that no residual carbonation makes it into the final product. Sulphites are added to help the wine age and adds stability, as well as fining agents like Kieselsol (from silicon dioxide) and Chitosan (from crustaceans) to help bind with any particles and sediment and drop them to the bottom of your fermenter before bottling. After a couple more weeks your wine will be ready to bottle.  Sometimes I will add additional sulphites to the wines if I will be aging them for longer periods of time as in the case of red wines to prevent the wines from going bad.

Once bottled, your wines can be adorned with labels, PVC toppers, and any matter of decorative elements to finish it off. Come up with a name, fun description, and your own recommended food pairing. It’s always so fun to see the labels down the wine aisle of your local retailer and this is your chance to create your own.  

At home wine kits are a great pastime and fun way to take your love of wine to the next level and can make great gifts. While I wouldn’t compare your at-home kits to the levels of the great producers of France, Spain, and Italy who potentially have five or more generations of wine making under their belts, it’s an excellent way to understand the full process the grapes go through from the vineyard and into your glass to deliver a tasty final product. I encourage you to try your hand at at-home wine making as it’s something that’s given me great enjoyment and something I look forward to doing every time I pull out the supplies. You can get equipment and supplies right here in the Quad-Cities at Camp McClellan Cellars in Davenport. 

Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET Level II and is currently studying for his certified sommelier exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.

Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or cbodnarek@qctimes.com.

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