How to Make Wine at Home

Cape Rose Toy Poodles



I named my little home winery Chateau Caniche (house of poodles) for obvious reasons. The labels I design for the bottles feature poodles I’ve raised.

It’s Easy

  1. Making your own wine is easy although you need some degree of patience to produce the best home wines.


  1. BulletE.C. Kraus

  2. BulletMidWest Home Brewing and Winemaking Supplies


How to Make Your Own Wine


When fermentation is complete, you need to stabilize the wine to prevent chemical or microbial deterioration. Some wines also need clarifying to precipitate out suspended materials that cloud the wine. Each wine kit includes the appropriate additives to make your wine stable and crystal clear. (I have never had to filter a wine but that equipment is available should you ever need it.)

Some wines are drinkable right after bottling while others require short or longer aging times. I tend to choose kits that specify that the wine is enjoyed “young” so that I can relish my creations soon after bottling.

After racking yet again, your wine is ready to bottle. For small batches, you can use an inexpensive (about $5) bottle filler. It’s a length of vinyl hose with a plastic tube and valve. When you push on the plastic tube, the valve opens, draining wine from the fermenter into a wine bottle.

New, 750 ml wine bottles cost nearly $2 each. Ouch! Instead, consider recycling wine bottles from friends or area restaurants. Another source is your local church. That’s right! The sexton in my parish saves empty altar wine bottles for me. These bottles are especially nice because they have screw caps, which save me from buying corks. Washing, sanitizing, and removing old labels can be a chore but some concentrated cleaner and a mechanical bottle washer pay for themselves in no time when the bottles are free.

If your wine bottles use corks (as opposed to screw caps), you should always use new corks. Recycled corks won’t seal well and almost certainly harbor spoilage organisms. For small batches of wine, I suggest “mushroom” corks. These are easy to insert by hand (no corking machine needed) and their plastic tops eliminate the need for a corkscrew when it’s time to savor your wine.

Finishing Touches

Some wine kits include labels but I usually design labels on the computer. I use a generic brand of Avery #5164/8164 white shipping label. There are six labels to each sheet. Create one label of the appropriate size with text and graphics using a page layout or other design program. Then copy and paste the original to make six copies on the page. A little tweaking here and there might be necessary to make things line up properly on the printed sheet of wine bottle labels.

Yes, full-color labels are attractive but ink jet cartridges are pricey. For that reason, I sometimes print labels in black and white on my laser printer, especially wines I make for personal consumption, not as gifts.

To dress up each bottle I use a colorful heat-shrink capsule. All you need is a pot of water brought to a rolling boil. Hold the heat-shrink capsule on the bottle with a rubber band (from top to bottom) and dip the neck of the bottle into the boiling water for a few seconds. Although each capsule costs about 15-cents, its makes your wine look “pro.”

To Your Health

Hardly a day passes that the local paper doesn’t run an article about the health benefits of wine. You’ve probably read where it can protect your cardiovascular system. A recent article in the American Journal of Gastroenterology claims that wine might protect you against colorectal cancer.

Health benefits are almost a bonus. If you take pride in self-sufficiency and enjoy the taste and sociability that wine affords, it’s easier than ever to make your own wine year round.

[Cynthia E. Field’s friends call her Dr. Cheap but she likes to think they mean “Dr. Resourceful.” Cindy holds a Ph.D. in Food Science, Technology, Nutrition & Dietetics from the University of Rhode Island and has been a freelance writer for 25 years.]

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Grape Expectations

Whether you plan to make wine from a kit or from a recipe, the same basic concepts apply. A large fermenter (like the plastic, 6-gallon vessel in the photo at top) holds your wine-to-be or “must” during its initial (primary) and final (secondary) stages of fermentation.

Primary fermentation requires oxygen so you simply cover the fermenter with a cotton dish towel to keep varmints like fruit flies away from the must. After a week or more, depending on the recipe you are following, you “rack” the must. This means pouring, draining, or siphoning off the must to eliminate the “lees,” the dead yeast cells and other sediment at the bottom of the vessel. The E.C. Kraus fermenter’s built-in spigot and a length of vinyl tubing make racking easy. (I discard the lees on my garden compost heap; why let those nutrients go to waste?)

To make life easier, I rack my wine into a second plastic fermenter (about $25). You can use any large, clean container instead and then pour the must back into your original plastic fermenter after it’s cleaned. During the course of winemaking you will rack your wine several times to help clarify it.

Nearly There

For the secondary fermentation and stabilization period prior to bottling, you need to keep oxygen from the must. The plastic fermenter’s screw-top is ideal for this purpose: it has a rubber gasket that seals well. Moreover, there is a hole in the top that accommodates an air lock to allow fermentation gases, primarily carbon dioxide, to escape without letting oxygen in. The air lock prevents oxidation which can lead to off-colors and off-flavors in the wine.

The calibrated glass hydrometer in the top photo enables you to monitor the fermentation’s progress. The principle is simple: a liquid with dissolved sugar in it (grape or fruit juice) has a higher specific gravity than that same liquid does when the sugar has been converted to alcohol.

As sugar is used up by the yeast, converting it to alcohol and carbon dioxide, the hydrometer floats progressively lower in the must. Markings on the hydrometer tell you when fermentation is complete. The difference in specific gravity readings at the beginning and end of fermentation helps you estimate the alcohol-by-volume content of your wine.

A note of caution: Perhaps the most important ingredient for making good wine is cleanliness. Sanitizing and covering your equipment properly wards off opportunistic microbes that would otherwise compete with the wine yeast for the sugars it will convert to alcohol.

A Beginner’s Guide

© 2008 Cynthia E. Field, Ph.D

Everybody’s doing it. Making wine, that is. You might think of California’s Napa Valley or France’s Burgundy region as among the world’s premier wine producers. But did you know that China reportedly boasts several hundred commercial wineries, too?

Fortunately, you don’t need a French chateau--or even a single grapevine in your own back yard--to make good wine. No caves or oak barrels needed, either. It’s easy, affordable, and fun to make wine.

Getting Started

Like any young enterprise, your home winery will require an initial cash outlay for equipment and supplies like those in the photo above.

You can buy the necessary startup equipment, some concentrated grape juice, packets of yeast, and yeast nutrients to make your first couple dozen bottles of wine for about $100. After that, you can make wine for less than a dollar per bottle using store-bought or wild grapes--or other fruit. In fact, after learning the basics, you can make wine from virtually anything that will ferment. Whether the beverage will be drinkable or not is another question, though!

That’s why for first-time winemakers I recommend the sub-$100 “Necessities Box” from E.C. Kraus (1-800-353-1906), a leading purveyor of wine- and beer-making equipment, materials, and supplies. As money allows, you can purchase additional “niceties” to augment the stuff that comes in the Necessities Box.

Thanks to the company’s catalog, richly resourceful website (, and monthly email newsletter (all free), you get to learn from the experts and avoid disappointing missteps. I have asked the company questions by email and received prompt, thoughtful replies.

Incidentally, the U.S. Federal government allows you legally to make for your own consumption up to 100 gallons of wine per year for a single-adult household. The limit is 200 gallons of wine annually for a household with two or more adults. You may need to consult local authorities to see if other regulations apply to you.

Lucille Ball Need Not Apply

Remember the episode of the I Love Lucy television show where Lucy and Ethel were stomping grapes barefoot in Italy? Things are much nowadays. Not to mention easier.

I have made a couple dozen batches of grape wines, from chardonnay to shiraz, using foolproof wine kits. Each wine kit includes the specific kind of concentrated juice needed to make the varietal. The kit also includes nutrients, yeast, clarifying and stabilizing agents, and complete instructions. The result? Anywhere from 24 to 30 bottles of wine ready to enjoy in as little as 28 days. Perhaps best of all, a wine kit enables the winemaker to enjoy the hobby even when gardens and woodlands are hibernating.

Three years ago I made my first wine from scratch. I bought blueberries on sale at the local grocery store and followed the blueberry wine recipe in the E.C. Kraus catalog. Virtually everything I needed had come in my Necessities Box so my cash outlay was minimal. I gave bottles of my Buck-A-Bottle Blueberry to family and friends the following Christmas. Where could you find tasteful--not to mention tasty--gifts for so little cash?

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© 1996 - 2019 Cynthia E. Field, Ph.D. All rights reserved.