How to make wine....basically

Jun 30, 2023by Andrew Lowry

by Andrew Lowry

Winemaking is art and science blended together. For a winemaker, good wine stems from good grapes — it all starts in the vineyard. Good grapes. Good soil. Good weather. Good ripening. Good harvest date. Equals good wine. Let's get into it!


Knowing how to farm solid grapes is a must in order to make solid wine, but viticulture, the cultivation and harvesting of grapes, is a dense topic and for another day. 


If you do not own a vineyard (which we expect to be most of you), then BUYING grapes from a reputable farmer is the first step of winemaking.


Yes, you can buy grapes from vineyards! See this link for classifieds from vineyards all over California (and the U.S.) trying to sell their surplus grapes for the season. They aren't as expensive as you might think, considering you buy one or two clusters for $5 at the supermarket. 


Some of these farmers will flash freeze the grapes and ship them to you, or you can visit the vineyard and harvest them yourself and then bring them home on your own.


Okay, now you have your grapes with you, how do you turn these grapes into delicious wine?


NOTE 1: We write this like you have all the necessary winemaking tools at your disposal. We will show you just what you need and how much it will cost at the end of the post. 


NOTE 2: There are businesses out there called 'custom crush facilities' that lease out their space and their winemaking equipment for you to make your own wine. This means you don't have to buy everything yourself. Large production operations are usually more suited for this as opposed to a DIY at-home project of maybe a few cases of wine.

How to make wine in 10 steps...ish

**Ideally, this is all done in a cool space of less than 59 degrees to promote a slow fermentation and discourage bad bacterial growth

Step 0: Procure grapes from a local vineyard. 1 ton of grapes = 720 bottles ish (60 cases). 1 ton of grapes can go for as little as $1,000/ton and can go upwards of $5,500/ton from a quality vineyard and desirable grape.

***Let's take a moment and run a few more numbers: at $2,500 a pound, and disregarding other costs, if you produce 720 bottles of wine, that is a unit cost of $3.47 a bottle. If the wine is good, and since it is small production and rare, one could easily fetch $20-$30 per bottle. Those margins aren't bad. 

Important: Between Step 0 and Step 2, it is important to be as quick as possible. If the only way to get your grapes is by flash-frozen shipment, then that will suffice, but the best quality wine will always come from grapes that are picked during the coldest part of the night and crushed ASAP (i.e. minutes later).

Step 1: Place all of your grapes into a large bin. Multiple bins will also work if you have a ton of grapes. 


Step 2: Take off your socks, roll up your jeans, sanitize your feet with soap and water, turn on some solid tunes, and get to stomping them grapes! This is called the crush.


Step 3: Decide if you want to ferment the juice with or without the skins, seeds, and stems. These add tannins and color to the wine. If you are making white wine, odds are you removed them immediately after the crush. If you are making a red wine, if you remove them after say 2-24 hours it'll be a rosé wine, and the longer you keep them in contact with the juice, the deeper the color of the wine and the higher the amount of tannins (thus turning into a red wine). 


For our purposes, you are making a red wine.


Step 4: Place the must (this is the name for the juice, stems, seeds, and skins concoction), into an appropriately sized bucket and cover it with a breathable fabric like cheesecloth, or just a cloth that spans the entirety of the bucket's opening. Fermentation has started and you don’t even know it. 


Step 6: Add yeast if you need to. Usually Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, but you can also choose not to add yeast and hope there are naturally occurring vigorous strains on the grapes you sourced.


Step 5: Let the must ferment. Punch down the 'cap' every 2 days (i.e. the top layer of solids that will float to the top). Fermentation could take anywhere from 3 days to 26 days depending on the temperature of the room you are fermenting in (colder = longer fermentation), the amount of sugar in the must, and the vigor of the yeast found naturally on the grapes or from the yeast added. 


Fermentation is quite a violent process; if you were to look at the must, it would be bubbling and boiling, and the temperature can reach as high as 100 degrees! But it is recommended to keep the wine between 75 and 89 degrees.


Step 6: When the fermentation begins to slow down (you will notice less bubbling/less violence), add malolactic starter culture. 


NOTE 3: Wine stops fermenting when one of two situations occur: (1) either the yeast die off when the alcohol reaches around 15-16% ABV, or (2) the yeast eat up all the available sugar, and there is no more to be converted to alcohol, so they die.


Step 7: When fermentation is done, separate the juice from the skins, seeds, and stems (if not done earlier), and pour into airtight carboy containers. Leave room for air — fill to shoulder


More fermentation will likely occur at this stage. Therefore, an airlock cap will need to be used to allow CO2 out and prevent O2 from getting inside.


Step 8: Rack (which means essentially moving from one vessel to another, but carefully), into another clean carboy for 2-4 months in a cold environment. Cold environment means a fridge unless you have a basement or room that reaches 32 degrees.

NOTE 4: To rack, use food-grade hosing and elevate one carboy above the other and siphon.

Step 9: Rack again into another carboy for 2-4 more months. For a timeline, this will be done around March after harvest (which is around September ish).


Step 10: Now move into an oak barrel if you have one for as long as you want! Ensure to keep reserve juice handy for topping up the barrel, as the "Angels' Share" will evaporate from the barrel as time goes on. Taste regularly so you can pull the wine out when it suits you. 


Or at this point, you can just bottle and age in the bottle for as long as you want. Our guess is you will drink some immediately and save a bit for aging for different periods of time.


NOTE 5: Standard oak barrels hold 225L (59 Gallons) of wine. And this is really the ideal wine-to-wood ratio. Anything smaller will impart really extensive flavors on the wine inside. This also means that barrel aging requires a larger operation from the get-go. If you want oak flavor in your wine, they sell oak chips that you throw into the wine during the aging process and remove later once your desired flavor profile is achieved.


And there you have it, folks. Wine made simply. 


There are so many things that winemakers can choose to do in between all of these steps to make a wine to their exact specifications, but those winemakers all probably got a Master's Degree in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis and paid $100,000 for it.


All the little stuff in between is why winemaking can be enjoyed year after year. There is no shortage of new techniques and innovations found throughout the experimentative and artful process of winemaking 


Supplies needed for 10 cases of wine (120 bottles)

  1. 500 lbs of grapes - $600 
  2. Yeast - $50
  3. 5 x 5 Gallon Carboys - $250 
  4. 3 x Speidel Flat Bottom Fermentation and Storage Tank | Stainless Steel | 45L - $1500
  5. OR 3 x Speidel Plastic Fermenter | Round HDPE Storage Tank | 60L | 15.9 gal - $420
  6. OR 1 x Macro Bin w/ lid - Half Ton - $710 
  7. 2 x Anti Splash Plastic Funnel | White | 25 cm | 10 in. | Vintage Shop - $32
  8. 2 x Vinyl Transfer Tubing | Flexible | Racking | 3/8 in. ID | 1/2 in. OD - ~$14
  9. MAYBE: Marchisio Fruit Press | Wine Press | Ratcheting Basket Press | #45 - $1100
  10. 5 x Airlock - 3 Piece - $15
  11. 3 x Balazs Hungarian Oak Barrel | Medium Toast | 28L | 7.39 gal - $960
  12. OR French Oak Barrel (if you can find them used and in a 28L size) - $ more expensive
  13. 1 lb. x Potassium Metabisulfite (for washing bottles and equipment) - $15
  14. Alpet® D2 Quat-Free Surface Sanitizer - 1 qt. -$16
  15. 10 x Farro Glass | Bordeaux | Antique Green | 750 mL | Case of 12 - $123.509
  16. OR Drink lots of wine and save the bottles instead of throwing them away - $FREE kinda
This should be everything. Might have forgotten a thing or two. Definitely will need to buy additives the more serious you get. All things considered, no more than $2000 can get you a SOLID setup and end result.
There are also a lot of tests one should make throughout the winemaking journey if you are really trying to ensure success: pH levels, Total Acidity (TA), sugar levels (Brix), but this gets into the whole chemistry side of things and I hated chemistry and don't really feel like talking about it at this point.
Hope you enjoyed it! Oh, all the prices listed above are for NEW equipment, but all this can easily be found second hand for MUCH cheaper.



Andy and Madi