Step by Step Winemaking - Red

The main difference in making red wine and white wine is that red grapes are fermented on the skins and when making white wine the grapes are pressed first and only the juice is fermented.  This article shows how to make 5 gallons of sweet or dry red wine....

red grapes and wine

To make 5+ gallons of dry red wine:

Click here for sweet red wines...

crushing grapes
crushed grape must
  • Step 1 - Pick, crush and de-stem about 2 bushels (80lb) of grapes such as Foch, Baco, DeChaunac or Frontenac. (We have a grape crusher-stemmer available for free at the vineyard)
  • Step 2 - Put the crushed grapes, now called "must" in a large wide mouth container, such as a food grade 10-15 gallon plastic pail. The pail may be loosely covered with a top or just a cloth to keep the bugs out.
  • Step 3 - Check and adjust the sugar level. This is done with a hydrometer and a sugar conversion chart. The sugar in the grapes will ferment into alcohol and the conversion chart will show you how much sugar (if any) to add. Fill your hydrometer with juice and read the "specific gravity" where top level of the juice is floating the hydrometer. For an example if the specific gravity was 1.074 (or 18 degrees balling) the must will ferment out to 9.9% alcohol. Read across on the chart and if you want a 11% wine you will add 2.5 oz/gallon sugar (or honey). This is a typical sugar level - our 80lb batch of wine will need (5 gallons x 2.5 oz/gallon) about 12-13 oz of sugar. Mix the sugar in reall good and re-check the gravity.
    (If you do not have a hydrometer, just add about 1lb of sugar and you will be pretty close.)
  • Step 4 - Add camben tablets (sulfite). Camben tablets will help keep your wine from browning and turning into vinegar. Crush 5 to 10 tablets and mix them into the must. Some people prefer not to use sulfites and this step is optional.
    I have never made a batch of wine without protecting it with sulfites.
  • Step 5 - Wait about 24 hours and add a packet of wine yeast. I like to use a cultured wine yeast such as Montrachet (a general purpose yeast) or Pastuer Red - but you can experiment. Just sprinkle the package over the must and stir it in just a little bit. The reason for waiting the 24hrs is to let the sulfites reduce some of the wild yeasts and let the cultured yeast take over. I you do not use sulfites you can add the yeast on day 1.
  • Some winemakers do not like to add anything - sugar - sulfites- or yeast - The wine will still ferment ok, but you take a chance of low alcohol, browning, oxidation and vinegar creation.
Red grape must
Pressing Grapes Carboys full of wine
  • Step 6 - Let the red wine ferment on the skins. Push the floating mass of grapes (called the "cap") down once a day to expose all the grapes to the liquid. If you have removed most of the stems you can let it ferment a week or two. If you did not remove the stems, only let it ferment 2 or 3 days. Long contact with the stems will add too much tannin and make the wine bitter. Keep the container loosely covered to keep out the fruit flies.

  • Step 7 - After the fermentation is mostly completed (a few weeks) it is time to press the must and put it into carboys. The must can be put into a press or you can use a large cheescloth type bag to separate the juice from the pulp. Do not fill your carboys (I prefer glass) to the top - leave a few inches of head room. The wine may still be fermentin and overflow the container. After the fermentation stops you can fill the wine to the top. Put air locks on and let the new wine settle for a few months.
racking wine
bottling wine
  • Step 8 - 2 to 3 months later you can rack the wine. Take a siphon hose and siphon the clear wine from the original carboy to a new one, leaving the "lees" the dead yeast and debris on the bottom in the old carboy.

  • Step 9 - About 3 months later the wine will be ready to bottle.



To make 5+ gallons of sweet fruity red wine:

We will use the same instructions we used for the dry red wine above with some slight variations for making fruity red wine from concord type grapes such as concord, price, buffalo or steuben.

Things to keep in mind:

  • You can mix and match any of the fruitier grapes to make some very unique wines.
  • Sometimes the fruitier grape are better picked slightly under-ripe - the labrusca flavor will not be as strong.
  • For making concord wine many people like to dilute the juice about 20 to 50% with water. You will have to adjust the sugar level with your hydrometer and sugar additions. A quick start would be: 1.5 bushels of concord (60lb) + 1 gallon water + 5 lbs sugar.
  • If you want a sweeter - high alcohol wine, the easiest way to do it is to start off with more sugar and keep adding it in small amounts throughout the fermentation. Eventually the alcohol will kill the yeast and leave some residual sugar. If you add too much at once the wine may be too sweet. At any time during the fermentation, taste the wine - if it is dry add sugar until it is sweet again. Repeat this until it does not ferment anymore.
  • Another way to make a sweet wine is to ferment the wine dry, sometimes using a yeast such as Cote des Blancs that does not like high alcohol. After the wine is stable, I sweeten it to taste, add 1 to 1.25 grams/gallon Potassium Sorbate, 2 cambden tablets per gallon and rack it. If it does not re-ferment I bottle it after a few months.
  • A third way to make a sweet wine is to sweeten the wine and then filter out the yeast cells with a wine filter and it will not re-ferment. A wine filter can be a usefull tool.
  • Another way to make a sweet wine - AND THE SIMPLEST - Is to sweeten it at the table.  I pour the wine in a glass, add a tsp of sugar or any artificial sweetener and taste.

Click here to see what's ripe this weekend!