Home Wine Making

This is a skill which anyone can enjoy. Don't be put off by reading out-of-date winemaking books. You don't need tubes, siphons, filters, Campden tablets, corking tools, hydrometers or tubes of chemicals ... Your main tool will be the deepfreeze. Turn windfall apples into cider and excess fruit into country wines. If you're interested, try my
html version .... pdf version (slower loading) .


If you want to make grape wines, this is described lower down in section 3. I often have spare vines of Alicante Bouschet for disposal - very vigorous, easy to grow, and the grapes make a decent red wine. I have written a booklet on looking after vines - email for details.

I am also compiling some brief notes on other wine-related topics:

Home winemaking using wild yeasts .
How long should I keep country wines? .
Keeping commercial wines too long .
Growing grapes in England in 1829 .
The grape vine in England (1829) .
Looking after outdoor vines .
Making Apple Wines .
Making Sloe Gin .
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Indian Wines . .
Alcohol at Colditz . .
German Reds & the Mittelrhein . .

More Winemaking Questions & Answers . .
Alicante Bouschet - a good vine for the amateur grower . .
A small Yorkshire vineyard in 2006 . .
Johnny Morris - The Weinfest . .
Some Noble Grape Varieties .
The King's Cross Vineyard
Wine in Plastic Bottles? Marks & Spencer#
Wine in Plastic Bottles: How Safe?#

#Clicking on these articles will take you to my other website, www.habitat21.co.uk

I've also been sent a humorous but interesting link about how much beer you'll need for a party, or a wedding, or whatever ... worth a look if you have to do the organization or the buying; see www.kegerators.com

We are often asked questions about winemaking so are starting a " Frequently Asked Questions" list

....here we go.....


I have just read your page on country wines with interest. Could you clarify your recommendation on chemical sterilisation? Are you suggesting that sulphite (Campden tablets) should never be used? I am not sure whether it can be left out. .

---To answer your question on sulphite....

There are three places where you might consider using it during the winemaking process:

1) Killing bugs on the fruit, if it's of low quality.
2) Cleaning fermentation vessels and equipment.
3) Killing the yeast after fermentation to avoid bottle explosions.

Answering these in order:

1)I never use chemicals on my fruit. 99% of the time, thorough preparation and washing followed by freezing solid in the deep-freeze is sufficient. It is about 10 years since I produced a gallon of acetified wine, and I make 20 gallons a year.

2) I use chlorine-containing bleach (containing sodium hypochlorite, and NO scented additives) to clean equipment. A capful in the fermentation bin, for example, mixed /rinsed with water, then washed out three times; takes about 2 minutes. If you have a good sense of smell you can tell when it's clean and the chlorine has gone. Don't use pine-scented disinfectants; you'll get pine-scented wine. If the container appears clean already I just rinse it a couple of times with water.

3) If you use plastic bottles for wine storage you never need to use sulphite to end the fermentation. If you use glass bottles, the only reason you need sulphite is to avoid explosions. Dry wine cannot ferment any more and so no sulphiting is necessary. Sweet wine is unstable and can ferment further. If it does so in a sealed glass container you have a safety problem. In this case you might consider sulphiting. My solution is to bottle in plastic and to check the hardness of the bottles every so often. If I give any away, I decant it first, put in a decent glass bottle with a nice label but with a sherry cork with a bit of tape across the top and tell the recipient to drink it in the next day or two.


I visited a vineyard whilst on holiday and brought back some grape seeds; I planted them and now have some healthy looking seedlings. When they grow into vines, will they have any fruit?

---This is an interesting question, usually answered inaccurately by celebrity gardeners. In the wild state, the vine is usually dioecious - it has separate male and female flowers, but hermaphrodite flowers are occasionally found, with stamens and ovary in the same flower. Practically all cultivated vines are hermaphrodite. To quote Edward Hyams:

"If a population of wild vines, or cuttings from them, had been planted by some prehistoric gardener, he would have noticed that some vines bore no fruit at all,(males), some more much or little, unreliably (females), and some - the ones with the hermaphrodite flowers - always bore some fruit and could be regarded as reliable. The gardener, if a sensible man, would have chosen the first class for destruction and the third for propagation. But the males vines being destroyed, the females would receive less pollen than before and the crop from them would have fallen, showing up the hermaphrodite vines even more clearly as the most useful class."

So - your seeds come from a hermaphrodite plant. On planting them you'll get all three types as seedlings: male, female and hermaphrodite, though I don't know in what ratio. I tried growing vines from seed in 1990 with Sylvaner grapes (a German variety) from Lorch in the Rhine valley, and produced five vines: one having occasional grapes (female), one hermaphrodite (plenty of grapes every year and still going well) and three very strong vines which never had flowers in 6 years (male) and which I took out.

However, growing from seed is not the best way to propogate vines. They won't breed true, and although you may be lucky, a safer though less interesting plan is to buy a named outdoor variety.


I have a quantity of grapes which I would like to turn into wine. Is this a good idea?

It's always interesting to make one's own grape wine.

The wine you get from dessert grapes is quite unlike any commercial wine. The main defect is that the acidity is too low which gives a rather flabby taste. You can correct this by adding some acid at the start of the fermentation - a few japonica quinces or crab apples per gallon will have the desired effect. Lemon juice can be used but sometimes this will make the wine (especially whites) slightly cloudy.

Winemaking grapes grown in England are sometimes very good, but their quality is weather-dependent, and sometimes they are lacking in taste as well as sugar. What you must avoid is making a watery, lacklustre wine.

Use around 12lb grapes to a gallon, and as with dessert grapes, don't be tempted to try fermenting the grapes on their own without adding extra sugar. There won't be enough alcohol produced to keep the brew sterile and you'll get vinegar. Up to 3lbs of sugar per gallon may be needed, added in batches until it tastes more or less right. If it tastes thin then add some other fruit, too - elderberries, blackberries, etc. Don't overdo it - this is a grape wine you are making, and ideally, you use grapes only, but you must get a decent flavour in the mixture otherwise the wine won't be worth drinking. Put on washing-up gloves and squeeze the grapes in handfuls before letting them drop into the fermentation bin. You may need to add a very small amount of water so the grapes are stirrable, but don't add too much. Lots of liquid will come out of the grapes over the next few days.

Add a decent yeast; don't rely on the wild yeasts on the grape skins. Sometimes they work, but they can cause taints or worse. I often get half a gallon or so of apple wine fizzing away and drop my grapes into that.

Now - an important point ... after a couple of days, the grapes will be fizzing vigorously and they come to the top. Stir each day; push them back down.

After a few days, the skins will start to subside. This is when you can take them out and add the bulk of the sugar.

A final point - the bouquet on home-made grape wines is usually much better than that from fruit or "country" wines.

Additional note.....it is usually worthwhile to put the skins straight into a second container, adding more sugar and water and re-fermenting. After a few days remove the skins and add other fruit - apples, blackberries, cherries, etc. The second fermentation can make an excellent wine with good vinous character. With a strong flavoured red grape it can be worth doing a third fermentation before finally discarding the skins. Second fermentations are done in many countries and the wine distilled to make arrak, armanac, etc.


I have a batch of wine which appears to have a good flavour, but about twenty seconds later an unpleasant, stagnant taste develops. What's happening?

This sounds like the infamous "mousiness". It's a phase which some wines go through, and is due to yeast particles which haven't settled - probably wild yeasts. Keep the wine for a bit longer - typically 6 months to a year - and you'll find the mousiness disappears. Everything will be fine. In my experience time is the only remedy.


When making dandelion wine I neglected to add nutrient - however sultanas were present. After initial fermentation ceased, I kicked it into life again with a teaspoon of nutrient. This second fermentation is vigorous but seems to have produced an oily film on the surface and the yeast sediment has a spongy lighter coloured layer, have I introduced an undesirable organism into the ferment?

Regarding your oiliness problem: I don't think you have anything to worry about. Your new layer of sediment will be yeast reproducing and generally having a good time because of the added nutrient. The oily film may be from the surface of the sultanas, if you didn't wash them. Some manufacturers add a small amount of liquid paraffin to sultanas to make them pour more easily out of the pack. As the alcohol builds up, it washes the oil from the surface of the fruit, and this is what you can probably see.

To check if there is an undesirable organism, I'd taste and smell the mixture very carefully. Oiliness can be produced by bacteria which convert the alcohol to the oily substance ethyl acetate. This has a rather odd smell - in dilute solution it gives a hint of pear drops; in stronger solution it's like nail varnish remover. I once brewed a cider which partly turned into ethyl acetate; there was a silvery sheen if you held it up to the light. It was drinkable - just.

To return to your wine-
If it's gone vinegary, the brew is probably best discarded - or let it turn into vinegar for the kitchen.
If the oil is from the sultanas, most of it will disappear during racking.
If it contains ethyl acetate, rack it straight away and drink it when clear.

There are other spoilage organisms which cause oiliness, but they're not very common. To kill them you would have to add sulphite to the wine at around 150 ppm, which will affect its flavour and colour. I wouldn't do this because you'd never get the yeast going again.


How long can wines last?

It varies....many wines are past their best after 3 years; some improve for 10 years.....but the longest-lived wine is actually madeira, which is almost indestructible. Here's a letter from the DAILY TELEGRAPH, dated 25 October, 2005:

Sir- I'm delighted to know others were enjoying 1805 vintage madeira on Trafalgar Day. (Letters, Oct. 24).

I managed to get my bottle to go round the 60 family and friends attending a dinner my father hosted at Waterman's Hall. The bottle came to me from the late Dr. Sydney Smith, sometime doyen of the Cambridge wine stewards. Admirable seems an appropriate adjective.

Mark Blandford-Baker (Magdalen College, Oxford).


I've made some wine which is too sweet. What can I do?

(question from Lorraine in Alta, Canada.)

If slightly too sweet, use it with cheese. It may be tolerable. If it's much too sweet, there are three options:

    1. Blend with a wine which is too harsh or too dry, if you have one.

    2. Put into fermentation container; add more fruit or fruit concentrate (not forgetting some sort of grape base - sultanas or similar). Add 1 gallon of water for each gallon of over-sweet wine. Add yeast if necessary. Then add sugar, a little every 2-3 days, to let if ferment. Let it go nearly to dryness each time - you judge this by tasting. Stop when the body, taste and acidity are about right. Transfer to a demijohn and then after a year or so, re-bottle.

    3. Next time you make a wine, empty a bottle or so of your over-sweet wine per gallon into the brew. This will use it up and will improve the wine you're making.


Further to your very helpful advice last year (our cider was delicious!) we are thinking about making pear cider this year as we have an excess of pears from our tree. Do you know anything about making pear cider - would we use the same procedure as for apple cider?

(question from Louise, U.S.A)

Making pear cider is more difficult than apple cider. The problem is acid. You need perry pears, which are sour. These are rare. If you don't have any you can add some quinces - but this can overpower the flavour. If you are using ordinary sweet pears I'd add at least 1lb per gallon of crab apples to the brew. Slice the pears- don't mince them or it will never clear (pectin). Good luck; you'll need it!


Two days ago I started making rhubarb wine. I activated some Cote des Blancs yeast, which became VERY active as soon as I added some must to it. When I put the yeast into the primary it almost exploded with foam. I stirred it in after a day and the foaming got even more intense. My primary is a plastic 5 gallon bucket with a fairly heavy cover on it. This morning I found that the foam pushed the cover off the top and foam was on the floor.

According to the literature I had read about this yeast it is supposed to be "slow fermenting, very low foaming and low flocculating".

I have never seen anything like this before. Is there anything I should do or should I let it run its course?

(question from FC, USA.)

    Your foaming yeast mixture..... I have experienced this occasionally with a grape wine when the grapes are really good - in a sunny year, for example.

    Consequently I don't make more than a 2 or 3-gallon batch in a 5 gallon container, so there is plenty of headroom.

    You run the risk of contamination if the lid keeps getting pushed off and you have to clean up each time.

    If it's going to continue like this for a bit longer I would split it into two batches, two containers, lots of headroom; let it calm down, then put them together again (or not) to finish the job. The foamy stage doesn't usually last more than 4-5 days.

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