Winemaking Tips

Thanks for choosing Wine Kitz!

When the included instructions are followed, you will craft a delicious, quality wine to enjoy with family and friends. When a kit does not turn out as expected, we have learned that almost inevitably it turns out to be due to one of several key issues. Below, we’ve listed our top winemaking tips in the form of mistakes people make, and how to avoid them (when using our kits to make wine at home).

1) Inadequate Equipment

Winemaking equipment, such as pails, carboys and spoons often seem similar to items that may be around the home. However, in many cases, proper winemaking equipment and utensils are made of special materials and this can influence your finished product.

Re-using plastic pails from other sources, like buckets that previously held food products, is always a mistake. The food odours will have sunk into the plastic, and will taint the wine. Also, plastic items not intended for food purposes, such as brand-new garbage pails must never be used for winemaking. The pigments, UV protectants and plasticisers (chemicals used to keep the plastic from becoming brittle) will leach into the wine, and could affect your health. Saving a few dollars by using suspect equipment is not worth it.

2) Cleaning and Sanitation

90% of all winemaking failures can be traced to a lapse in cleaning or sanitation. (Cleaning is removing visible dirt and residue from your equipment. Sanitising is treating that equipment with a chemical that will eliminate, or prevent the growth of spoilage organisms).

Everything that comes in contact with your wine must be clean, and properly sanitised, from the thermometer to the carboy, from the siphon hose to the bung and airlock. One single lapse could cause a failure of your batch.

3) Failure to Follow Instructions

Wine kit instructions may seem to be long and complicated, and the urge is to simplify them, or to standardise steps between different kits. This is always a mistake, for several reasons.

First, the kit instructions are based both on sound winemaking techniques, and many years of laboratory trials and experience.

Second, if your kit fails to ferment correctly, or clear sufficiently, there may be no easy way to correct it if you have not followed the directions.

Wine kit instructions are very different from those for wines made from fresh grapes. Trying to use the techniques described in winemaking textbooks will usually lead to problems.

4) Improper Water

Water is not quite as critical as many people think. In fact, if your water is fit to drink, it is usually just fine for winemaking. However, if your water is very hard or has a high mineral content, especially iron, it could lead to permanent haze or off flavours in your wine.

Also, if your house is equipped with a salt-exchange water softener, the water can’t be used for winemaking. If you’re in doubt, use bottled water to make your wine: you’ll appreciate the difference.

5) Poor Yeast Handling

Your wine kit instructions direct you to sprinkle your packet of yeast directly onto the must (unfermented mixture). However, if you read the yeast package (and many winemaking textbooks) they recommend rehydrating the yeast. If the objective is to deliver the maximum number of yeast cells to the must, which technique is best?

The answer is not as simple as one or the other: when performed correctly, rehydrating does give the highest live cell counts, along with the quickest, most thorough fermentation. The rehydrating process is very precise, however, and must be done correctly. Lalvin EC 1118 champagne yeast, for instance, asks you to add the yeast to 10 times it’s weight in water at 40­–43ºC (104­–109ºF). If too much water is used, the yeast will grow only sluggishly. If too little water is used, the cells may burst from the flood of liquid and nutrients forced into them. The temperature range is extremely important and if not adhered to will result in dead or ineffective yeast cells.

Secondly, the temperature range is inflexible. The outer wall of a yeast cell is made up of two layers of fatty acids. These layers soften best in warm water, much as greasy film will come off of dishes best in warm water. Once it has softened up, it will allow the passage of nutrients and waste products in and out of the cell much more efficiently. If the water isn’t warm enough, the cell won’t soften. If it’s too warm, generally anywhere above 52ºC (125.6ºF) the yeast cell will cook and die.

Ultimately, it is easiest to simply tear open the package and sprinkle it over your batch. Over many years and hundreds of thousands of batches country wide, this has been proven perfectly effective and almost foolproof.

6) Poor Temperature Control

A specific temperature range for fermentation is specified in your wine kit instructions. We recommend 20 – 25°C (70°F to 77°F), as the yeast included thrives between these temperatures. Commercial wineries use different temperature ranges, especially for white wines, as they have longer fermentation periods. Within the time frame of your winemaking kit instructions, the temparature range is perfect and must be adhered to: too cool and the wine will not ferment quickly enough, causing CO2 and to be trapped upon stabilising, as well as possibly resulting in incomplete fermentation. Additionally, the included clearing agents do not work well outside the recommended temperature range. Below 19°C (68°F) your wine kit may not clear at all!

7) Adding Sulphite and Sorbate at the Wrong Time

Sulphite and Sorbate, the stabilisers in the kit, work to inhibit yeast activity. If, by mistake, you add them too early your wine may not have finished fermenting and will be sweet permanently. Should you accidentally add the sorbate on day one, the yeast will never become active, and the kit will not ferment.

8 ) Leaving Out the Sulphite

Some people believe that they are allergic to sulphites, and want to leave them out of their kits. While this is their option, it’s a bad idea. True sulphite allergies are very rare, and if someone has a reaction to drinking wine, it’s almost always due to some other cause. Besides, yeast make sulphites themselves during fermentation, so no wine can ever be sulphite-free, no matter what.

Without added sulphites your wine will oxidise and spoil very rapidly. It will start to go off in less than 4 weeks, and will be undrinkable in less than three months. Also, if the sulphite is left out, but the sorbate is added, the wine will be attacked by lactic bacteria, which will convert the sorbate into the compound hexadienol, which smells like rotting geraniums and dead fish.

Should you choose not to add the sulphite to the kit, Wine Kitz cannot guarantee the wine.

9) Not Stirring

On day one, the kit mixture needs to be stirred very vigorously. This is because the juice and concentrate are very viscous, and don’t mix easily with water. Even if it seems that dumping the contents of the bag into the primary with the water has done the job, it hasn’t. The juice lies on the bottom of the pail, with a layer of water on top, throwing off any specific gravity readings, and making the yeast work extra hard.

When it comes time to stabilise and fine the wine, it has to be stirred vigorously enough to drive off all of the CO2 it accumulated during fermentation. This is because the dissolved gas will attach to the fining agents, preventing them from settling out. You need to stir hard enough to make the wine foam, and keep stirring until it will no longer foam. Only then will the gas be driven off so the fining agents can work their magic.

10) Not Waiting

Our wine kits are ready to bottle in 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the kit; they’re not necessarily ready to drink! If you really, really can’t wait, the minimum time before a kit tastes good is about two weeks – this is long enough for the wine to get over the shock of bottling, and begin opening up to release its aromas and flavours. Three months is much better, and the wine will show most of its character at this point. For most whites, however, and virtually all reds, six months is needed to smooth out the wine and allow it to express mature character. Heavier reds made from longer term kits will continue to improve for at least a year, rewarding your patience with delicious bouquet and complex character.