Thursday, July 1, 2010

How to make your own vegan wine from kits!

Winemaking is a fine art, but this post is not about the fine art of making wine. It's about making wine from kits, which I've been doing for approximately twenty years. You can click on the image to the left to zoom in on the price tags. The kits aren't cheap, but each one makes 23 litres or about 25 bottles of wine. At about $70 per kit that works out to Cdn$2.80 per bottle. Not bad!

There's an initial layout for the equipment, which actually pays for itself in the first batch. In our case that investment was made back in the mists of time, and I can assure you that the equipment lasts forever, so the money we spend on homemade wine is now spent only on kits and filters (see below). You can get very fancy with the kits, trying different additives and so on, but what you see here are the absolute basics.

It's nice to have a partner or partners to help with some of the steps. Winemaking in my family is conducted by a syndicate. All equipment is communally owned and used by my mom, my sister Diane, and me. We have a big plastic bucket for the tubes and all the little bits and pieces. We also help each other with the making and bottling. At our heyday, we were doing six kits at a time (two each) at Diane's house. Diane has since moved to an apartment, so we're back to doing it separately at our own homes, and on bottling day we do a "bee," shuttling from one place to the next.

Everything that comes in contact with the wine needs to be sterilized first:

When you open the box, this is what's inside. A big bag of grape juice:

And a pamphlet of instructions and the additives. You see the clear packet labelled "isinglass"? That's the finings, and it's what makes wine non-vegan. Isinglass is made from the dried swim bladders of fish. Sometimes it's gelatin, sometimes something made from seashells, but almost always the finings are non-vegan. Finings clarify wine by collecting on the larger particles and making them heavy so they drift down to the bottom of the carboy. If you filter your wine, however, the finings are superfluous and you lose nothing by chucking that packet out.

Start by mixing the contents of Packet 1, bentonite clay, with some water in the bottom of your primary fermenter. The primary fermenter is a big plastic bucket with a loose-fitting lid. Does bentonite sound strangely familiar? Yes, it's clumping cat litter! Yes, one of the ingredients of wine is mud!

Now open the bag of grape juice and pour it into the primary. The box of most kits has perforations so you can punch out a section and fix in the spout of the bag, making this process easier and more controlled than somehow extracting the heavy bag from the box (almost impossible if you are working solo) and holding onto it while it flops around in your arms and grape juice flies everywhere.

Add the grape juice, top up the primary with water, stir everything well, and sprinkle on the yeast:

Now put the lid on the primary and let it sit in an out of the way place for 7-10 days, while the yeast foams up and the major fermentation takes place. As the yeast uses up the sugars in the grape juice-and-water-mix (called "must"), the fermentation slows down, and you can rack (syphon) your wine into carboys (the big glass jars) fitted with airlocks that allow gasses to escape but don't let anything (bugs, dust, bacteria) in.

The wine stays in the carboys for a few more weeks. There's some messing about with Packets 2 and 3 during this period, but nothing that takes more than a few minutes. Here's the wine in its carboys just before we're ready to bottle. The wines are different colours because one is a chardonnay (the dark one) and one is a pinot grigio (the light one). You can see the wine is mostly clear but by no means perfectly clear. If you were to drink it like this it would taste okay but there would be visible bits suspended in it, which is unappetizing. Frankly, we found in the past that even if you do use finings, you still need to filter to get the wine perfectly clear.

These are the filters we use. Our Buon Vino filter machine takes three of these filters at a time, and one packet of three filters will do for the two batches of wine. I see I was clever enough to photograph only the French side of the packet, but there isn't anything on there you urgently need to know.

Here's the filter at work. We've racked the wine off the sediment at the bottom of the carboys back into a primary fermenter to keep the wine as unclouded as possible, and now it's running through the filter:

Back in the day when we were newbies, and for several years after that, we used to store our wine in bottles, with corks, with special labels, with plastic caps. Newbies always want to do this, and there's nothing wrong with that. But now we're all about saving time, so we unromantically syphon it into bags. Yes, these are the same bags the grape juice came in, carefully washed and sterilized. You can also buy bags at the wine store. We've been using bags for six or seven years now and have never had a problem with them, though we don't keep using them indefinitely. Mine get recycled after they've been used twice. You buy the little brown valves at the wine store. You can rent a filter at the wine store, too.

The carboy on the left holds filtered wine just about to be syphoned into bags. The one on the right is being racked prior to its journey through the filter. See the difference in clarity? The filtered wine is sparkling, crystal clear:

A filled bag, which will be returned to one of the stout boxes the kits came in and decanted into a snifter (or, actually, just a glass jug) as required:

Try some! It looks great, but new wine can taste rough or raw or somewhat soapy at first. Don't despair--despite the claim on some packages that it will be "ready for drinking in 28 days!" it will improve very greatly during the first three weeks or so of storage. This is not long-term storage wine, however, and won't improve indefinitely. Generally speaking, homemade wines hit their peak at about six months.

...and now after all that I think I'll go sit on the patio with a beer ;-)


  1. Cool post. Sounds like a good investment. I'd love to make some homemade wine...we bought a beer making kit last year and still haven't gotten around to using it. Thanks for the info.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Sorry, I removed my last comment because I wanted to add something. First, this blog makes it clear that you are a very energetic person!!

    I wanted to add that I am trying my hand at blogging. If you get bored and want to take a look sometime, please do (although it is nowhere near as informative as yours).

  4. I need to study this. I drink lots of red wine so this would work out well for me. Thanks so much for the info.

  5. Looks so easy! However, I would still like you to assist me with mune this weekend, if possible. I'm not as independent during the final stage as you are.

  6. Rose, you are of course the inspiration behind this post. Thanks (ahem) for encouraging me to publicly display one of my vices!

    Stacy, I am in reality very, very lazy. So many things that seem all energetic I do simply because I don't have a car and it's such an effort to leave the house to go to the grocery store/liquor store/any store, when I can just hang around in the kitchen with a glass of wine in one hand and a book in the other waiting for something to cook. I've added your blog to my blog roll and am eagerly looking forward to following your adventures!

    Shenandoah, you have in so few words captured the whole essence of this post ;-)

    Moon Goddess, I'll see you tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.--

  7. I see you added me too! Your garden pics inspired me to do some much needed weeding this morning, so thanks for that. I plan to go through your blog again and take down recipes. I found the link to get here on Rose's site. Wish I'd tried it sooner.

  8. I've never accepted the notion that you're lazy — and now I'm convinced you are not. Being lazy myself, I should know.

    One of my sons brewed beer for a science project (botany, I think), and it was delicious. Maybe I can convince him to make wine.