Chris’s Winemaking Adventures: How to get started
So we all have that friend that brings over homebrewed beers on a Saturday night. “It’s so much better than Megabrewery beer!” they say. It’s actually not that expensive”, they claim. Reality in both claims is much hazier than they suggest. But, how many of us know a home wine maker?
If you live in one of the more ethnic East Coast Cities, you probably have an uncle, or know a friend’s uncle, that’s been “making wine with the same recipe that their grandparents brought over from the old country”. And, unfortunately, the sad truth is that, in many cases, those grandparents made some HORRIBLE wine.
Luckily, modern tech and methods can vault even the most neophytic winemaker into a home winemaker that can actually make a decent bottle of wine. And, thanks to the Internet, there are more sources for information, supplies, and even fruit than ever before. So, how does one start?
My first suggestion is to read up on the subject, and decide if the endeavor is really for you. I suggest 2 sites in particular. One is http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/. Jack Keller is a no nonsense Texas winemaker with a lifetime of experiences, many of which are chronicled on his website. I often use his site if I have a problem, or if I want to decide a yeast or additive. Also of great value to me has been the Presque Isle winemaking 101 page http://www.piwine.com/winemaking-101.html. It gives a good ide of the basic materials needed, and as a bonus, they’ll sell you and ship you the supplies right from their website. Finally, I always go to the Winemaking Talk forum this time of year, http://www.winemakingtalk.com/forum/. It’s a bastion of knowledge about and by all levels of winemakers, from beginners to full winery owners.
So, not scared away yet? Well, if you want to start, you need some stuff before you even crush a grape or open a juice bucket. I suggest just getting a kit from a wine supply source, like these, http://www.piwine.com/piwc-winemaking-kit.html, http://amwinesupplies.com/starter-kits-equipment/, http://www.southhillsbrewing.com/wine/wine-starter-kits. Expect to pay about $100 for a good starter kit. But, know that, other than bottles, yeast, and juice, it’ll have pretty much everything you need to get started. In my experience, I’ve found that a kit with 6 gallon buckets and 5 gallon carboys is the way to go.
Next is location. Ideally, you want a dark, cool, slightly humid are of your house or apartment. We use a root cellar, but people also use basement areas, under stair closets, or garages. You’ll want someplace that doesn’t freeze or rise above 80, and someplace easy to clean up a spilled carboy of juice or wine, because it WILL happen. So, anyplace with a concrete or tile floor would be great.
Lastly, and most important, is the actual fruit. There are different options for different people and styles.
Easiest and safest is the wine kit. Available year round, they keep for a long time, and can be opened and started any time of the year. They have idiot proof directions, and make a great bottle of wine within a few months. They’ll from anywhere from $60 to $200, depending on the brand and varietal, and are available all around, at placed like http://www.southhillsbrewing.com/, http://amwinesupplies.com/
, http://www.home-brew.com/x/. I suggest finding a local winemaking supply or brewing supply store, and stopping in a picking up one in person. While you’re there, you can usually ask the owner any questions you have.
The second option, which I do pretty much exclusively, is the juice bucket. These are strictly seasonal in availability. Expect to special order them and pick them up between August and November (Fall, Northern Hemisphere), or April to June (Fall, Southern Hemisphere). I personally think this is the sweet spot for variety, as you can buy juice from 4 different continents, they ship and store easily, and they make remarkable products. My favorites are https://www.cfpwinemakers.com/, http://www.piwine.com/, http://www.luvabella.com/.
My absolute favorite is going up once a year to Walkers Fruit Basket, http://www.walkersfruitbasket.com/. Located in Forestville, NY. They are about 3 hours from Pittsburgh, and 2 hours from Cleveland, in the heart of Lake Erie wine country. They typically about between 20-30 juice styles at harvest time, ranging from vinferas, to labruscas, hybrids, and even fruit juices. All are preset at 21 brix, which will ferment dry to about 12% alcohol. The wife and I take advantage of the trip to visit a few wineries and breweries on the way home after getting some juice. It makes for a great day trip for anyone near Lake Erie. Note: They are cash only, and it’s much easier to just take your own buckets and lids, though they will sell you those as well.
The final option is whole grapes. I’ve never done this, and I have no clue about it. I’m going to try to look into this in the fall with some local winemakers, if possible. Many of the places that sell juice, such as CPF and Presque Isle, also sell whole grapes. More to come.