We're all about good wine for a great price here, so what better way is there to get the price of wine down than to make your own? I visited my local brew-your-own wine shop and chose one of their premium boxed kits.
Inside the box ($140 CDN):
What makes this kit a premium kit besides the price? The fact that you get more grape juice and therefore need to add less water to reach your target volume. There are other factors such as varietal, grape skins, oak chips etc... but I believe the type of concentrate plays a big factor. You'll need some equiptment listed in the instructions but it's fairly inexpensive and lasts decades if treated properly. If you're not looking to put in the elbow grease, the brew-it-yourself shops can do it for you (for a small fee) and then you come back in about 2 months to bottle it up and take it home.
As a 3rd year beer homebrewer (all-grain) I figure that the manufacturer of this kit wants to make it easy for the masses to produce palatable wine, but since I can never leave well enough alone, I've made the following (warranty breaking) tweaks to my kit:
Alteration #1: Replace the provided yeast with one that's designed only for red wines (Lalvin RC-212 Bourgovin) and instead of sprinkling the yeast on the must (grape juice) I re-hydrated it in 95F water for 15 minutes. This allows the yeast to wake up in a mild environment and not be shocked by diving into sugary juice while dry and thereby killing off a percentage of cells. Substituting yeast is a huge change and can really make or break your wine. Yeast plays a huge factor in fermentation and thus your end result. Extra 3/4 tsp nutrient added on day 3.
Alteration #2: You're supposed to add water so your kit reaches 6 US gallons (23L). I added less, so the kit is now 5.5 US gallons (20.8L). This will make a stronger and fuller overall wine. My specific gravity (SG) reading: 1.097
Alteration #3: When I pitched the yeast, I also added 3/4 tsp of Wyeast Nutrient Blend. This yeast is a bit weaker than the monster that is EC-1118 so this should help it out. The airlock was ripping in under 20 hours so I'm pleased with the minimal lag time.
Alteration #4: The kit says to ferment the wine in primary for 2 weeks. I'm probably going to sample it at 3 and likely leave it for 4. I like oak and tannins. These will both fade with age so a little more is better at this stage.
Alteration #5: There's a good chance I'll bulk condition this wine in secondary for more than the recommended 1 month. Target 4 months.
Pro-Tip: Manage your fermentation temperature based on the advice of the yeast strain's manufacturer. The yeast I used has a range of 68F-86F. Ambient temperature: 67F. Wine temperature: 74F on day 2 (high krausen for homebrewers). Fermentation being an exothermic process raised the temperature +7F. The temperature will calm down around day 4 so you may need to keep the carboy in a warmer area of the house.
This is what you'll end up with 1 day after assembly:
Pitch Date: June 7, 2015
3 Days Old:
- Add 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient (added to boiled water first).
1 Month Old:
- OG 1.097 -> 0.998 SG.
- Tastes very rich.
- Glad I used the RC-212, diluted less and left it on the oak and skins an extra two weeks.
- Rack wine to brew kettle.
- Add potassium sulphite (skip potassium sorbate)
- Degas it with a whip (this took almost 40 minutes with a drill mounted whip. Had to use a fast drill to get the co2 to foam out)
- Mix in clearing agents
- Rack to smaller 5 US Gal (19L) carboy [remember this kit is supposed to make 6 US Gal, but I made 5.5 and you lose wine to yeast, skins and oak].
- Top off to neck of carboy with similar wine (I used a whole 750mL bottle)
2 Months Old:
- SG 0.998 -> 0.996 FG. 13.2% ABV
- Colour: Deep rich purple. No legs
- Aroma: Cherry (youngish), bluberry, mild oak/vanilla
- Taste: Extra dry. Aroma better than taste. Full bodied. Very mild heat. Good lingering grippy tannins. Mildly tangy finish.
- Very good potential. Interested in how it ages. Wouldn't guess it was homemade.
- An extra oz of 50/50 medium/heavy oak cubes in secondary wouldn't be a bad thing.
- No detectable co2 in suspension (degassing successful)
2.5 Months Old:
- Begin cold stabilization for 2 weeks in fridge
3 Months Old:
- Add 1/4 tsp dissolved potassium meta
- Rack to bottling bucket
- Test for residual co2 and degas if needed
6 Months Old:
- First taste test
Thoughts & Notes for next time:
- Primary for 2 weeks (instead for 4 to help avoid any excess grape skin breakdown)
- Chips in primary are important for reds.
- Oak for 2-3 months in topped secondary if needed. Suspend a weighted mesh bag of cubes.
- Skip fining agents for reds and just cold stabilize for 2 weeks.
- Chips release their oak essense in 4-5 days fully by 7. Add 1oz per week, stir and taste.
- Cubes are better for bulk aging. Remember this is the second oak addition start slow (1-2oz per 6gal)
- I would make this to a full 6Gal (23L) next time or 5.75gal depending on must.
- Nutrients on Day 2 (1 tsp - full dose) and day 4 (3/4 tsp)