So, you’ve decided to make some wine. You know what variety you want to try, and where you want to make it, but you’re not sure what equipment you will need or how to go about finding it. The basic necessities of winemaking are not hard to come by, but establishing a sanitary environment and anticipating potential problems is where setting up a micro-winery can get tricky.
First, become familiar with the current laws for home winemakers. Visit the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Website for current regulations and guidelines. Knowing what you can and cannot do, before you begin, will be invaluable as you move forward with this very rewarding process.
Let’s assume you know the laws and you know what kind of wine you want to make. Could be a Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, or Chardonnay. Maybe you’d like to try making Strawberry or Mulberry wine. Whatever fruit or grape you choose, you will need a few things on hand before you actually begin making wine.
Now, you will need a space to make the wine. A well-lit cellar or a garage free from mold and dust and varmints will do fine.
The key for any winemaking facility is two-fold: Sanitation and temperature control. There should be easy-to-clean surfaces, drains in the floor, and ventilation for air to move freely in and out of the area – especially during the fermentation process.
Carbon dioxide is a bi-product of fermentation and can be VERY dangerous if not regulated. A simple dual window fan in which you can draw in or evacuate air is good for ventilation control in a small room. (ie: A raised garage door with a screen can substitute for a window, but a fan is of great importance.)
Counter space is helpful, although not imperative. A place to store the smaller devices that will be used during fermentation and after should also be selected. This can be as simple as a designated cabinet with shelves.
Depending on how much wine you are planning to make, a few very important tools are needed. Many of these items can be found through online services and websites – simply search the term “home winemaking supplies” and you will find what you need.
Here’s a simple checklist to get things started:
- Containers large enough for fermentation and storage (5 to 500 gallon capacity depending on your initial quantity of grapes 1 ton grapes ≠ 180 gallons) – think buckets and carboys and tanks and barrels;
- Rubber stoppers and sheets of plastic to seal the tops of the containers;
- Graduated cylinders for small and large amounts of liquid;
- Buckets for mixing yeast and nutrients and a whisk and a strainer;
- A kg/lb scale for small and large weights;
- A specific gravity/balling hydrometer to measure sugars and alcohol;
- Inert gas (either argon or nitrogen);
- A filter for your water;
- A substantial amount of tubing for transferring wine (1 inch or more in diameter is best);
- A small pump;
- A simple pH meter;
- Do you have a source for the fruit you want to turn into wine? A local agricultural organization might be able to help you find growers.
- This list is not exhaustive. One website that has professional machines in myriad sizes is St Patrick’s of Texas
The space you have, and how much wine you intend to make, should determine the amount of equipment you need. My advice is to start small. Do not buy a lot of professional equipment if you do not actually need it. If carboys and empty kegs sate your winemaking interest, do not buy a 20,000 gallon stainless steel tank.
Once you have a few of these essentials in place it will be of the utmost importance that you maintain these instruments and the sanitation of the facility / location of your project at all times.
A source of hot (180˚F) water is perfect for sanitizing storage containers, utensils, etc. One way to get your water this hot is by simply turning up the temperature on your water heater.
Another way to sanitize your tools and containers is a simple chemical procedure involving a base (Oxy-Clean is good) followed by an acid (powdered citric acid is good) followed by a filtered water rinse. Cleanliness at all stages can be the difference between making an enjoyable wine or a vinegar for your salad.
Beyond sanitation, sulfur is an all-important chemical agent in maintaining the quality of wine. When added in small doses sulfur acts as an anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant. Having this on hand, either in liquid, powder, or tablet form will be priceless as you move forward.
All chemicals used in the winemaking process should be stored in a safe and secure place. Those who handle these chemicals should be well versed in each chemical’s material safety and take all necessary precautions suggested by the manufacturer.
I also suggest reading a few books on the subject of wine, and having them on hand at all times, as a resource for potential questions and answers: Emile Peynaud’s Knowing and Making Wine; and David Bird’s Understanding Wine Technology. There are also small organizations that are helpful for micro-winemakers.
In the coming months, I will be addressing the setup and procedures for making white and red wines in small quantities. Hopefully, this gets you started.