Wine Making


Wine Making Equipment

Making wine is like building a log cabin. You need certain tools. But how many tools really depends on you. Some people can build a log cabin with nothing but an axe they've made themselves from stone and wood. Others prefer to use a chain saw, bulldozer, and mini-crane.

The Perfect Kit

Some wine making supply companies sell wine making kits which are great  for the beginner as they include just about everything you'll need to make your first batch of wine. We highly recommend kits for a beginners, with the caveat that the kits can sometimes be a bit pricey, though, or they may duplicate equipment you already have on hand.

We're going to assume that, as a beginning wine hobbyist, your "log cabin" lies somewhere in-between. You want the basics to get you started, but you don't want to invest a fortune yet. As you gain experience you'll begin to get a sense of what you need, what you want, which tools are absolutely essential for you and which will be the little luxuries that make your hobby more fancy-fun.
Prices vary but you should expect to pay between 40 and 150 dollars for what you need to get started (equipment and ingredients). Once you've looked over our list and gotten a sense of what you need, see our section on where to buy equipment.

Whichever way you choose to go, you're going to need the following things to begin making your first batch of wine:

  1. Primary fermenter. You'll need something to put the wine in while it's fermenting. Find a special, dedicated container that's at least 20 percent larger than the amount of wine you're making to allow for the intense bubbling action that happens during primary fermentation. Any clean, sterile, unglazed light-colored container or bucket is fine for this, but it's probably best to use a commercially sold primary fermenter  (or at least a food-grade container) because plastic buckets, metal containers, etc weren't designed for fermenation: unwanted chemicals or flavors may be released into the wine.
  2. Secondary fermenter. During this stage of wine making, air must be kept away from the wine. Jugs with narrow openings are ideal for this. Clear glass jugs are best because they are easily cleaned and you can watch the wine ferment (if your nights are totally lonely). Plastic containers absorb air, so they're no good at this stage. Wooden barrels are the traditional secondary fermenters, but they're difficult to clean and manage, and are best left to the expert wine maker. The size of your primary and secondary fermenters will depend greatly on the amount of wine you plan to make. One gallon is a good size for beginners. It's also the size and amount we use in our recipe section. You'll actually want at least two of these because you transfer it back and forth between containers during racking.
  3. An air lock. You'll need something to plug the top of the secondary fermenter. A cap or cork won't do it because they don't allow the carbon dioxide to escape. If the carbon dioxide can't escape, pressure will build and the jug can explode, which is a bit of a problem. The clever little device that allows carbon dioxide to escape but doesn't allow air in is called an air lock. They come in many forms and are made of many materials, but the most common is made of plastic. It looks like a mad scientist's curvy S-shaped test tube stuck into a rubber cork. The cork—referred to as a bung--plugs up the mouth of the jug and the curving tube is filled with sterile water. When  pressure builds up inside the jug, the CO2 pushes its way through the tubes, bubbling through the water, escaping without allowing any inside air into the jug. Pretty cool, huh?

  4. Special plugs will allow the CO2 out and prevent air from coming in.
  5. A hydrometer. It's impossible to tell just by looking at a new must how much sugar is in there or at the end, how much has turned into alcohol. The device which helps you measure the amount sugar in your wine is called a hydrometer. It looks like a thermometer, but you put it in the wine (or, more likely, a small sample of the wine). How far it sinks shows the amount of sugar. The more sugar, the higher the hydrometer floats. At the end of the process, when the hydrometer sinks lower, you'll be able to tell how much of the sugar was converted to alcohol and you'll know the exact alcohol content of your wine. Most hyrdrometers come with and are stored in a small cylindrical "sampling tube."

  6. Siphon tubing. When you're ready to rack the wine, you'll need some tubing or hose to siphon it off the sediment, from one container to another. About 6 feet of clear plastic tubing is enough.
  7. Bottles. You'll probably want something to put your wine in when you're done. Any bottle that can be corked or capped will do, including bottles (and corks) leftover from commercial wine you've had. A gallon of wine will fill about 5 standard wine bottles.
  8. Corks or screw caps. Size #9 corks fit most standard wine bottles.
  9. A Corker. The cork is traditionally larger than the bottle itself so to jam it into the bottle requires either a lot of strength or else a special tool called a corker. There are very simple corkers (which also may require a bit of elbow grease) and ore elaborate ones and even electric ones for those who like things quick and easy.
  10. Large funnel. A large funnel is helpful when pouring musts from one place to another.
  11. Wire brushes. Ever try to clean gooey sediment from the bottom of a five gallon jug with your bare hands? No? Unless you have super powers like that stretchy guy from the Fantastic Four, you'll need some special wire brushes to help clean up. They really help you dig in there and scrub your jugs and clean out your bung. (Hey, who snickered? That sounds raunchy, we know, but it isn't. Honest.)

Those are the basics. Pretty simple stuff, yeah?

As you gain in experience, or if you're absolutely sure you'll love it, you may want to consider some of the following more advanced equipment:

  1. A precise digital scale. Expensive, but can pay off when you want to get exact measurements.
  2. Acid Test Kit.  An acid titration or testing kit will give you a greater amount of control, letting you know precisely if you should dilute your must with water to reduce acidity or add an acid blend to increase it.
  3. Ph testing kit. An advanced measurement system that can help test the Ph balance in your wine, a step which can help the advanced wine maker with flavor. You'll want your Ph meter to read 8.2 for making wine: a kit is a way to insure you've got it right.
  4. Fruit presses and crushers. When you're serious about making your own must. Especially great if you have your own fruit trees.
  5. Filters. Generally, wine will clear on its own, but some home wine makers prefer to use filters, like the professionals, which helps to clear the wine. Keep in mind that although it makes the process faster, filtering with devices can also remove some of the flavor of a wine. Filters come in all types and sizes. Some look like coffee filters which you attach to the end of your siphon tubing during racking. Others are larger and more elaborate and there are even  electric filters which force the wine through very, very fine mesh.

In addition to equipment, you'll need your basic ingredients and additives, some of which are essential, some of which are optional.

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