There are a lot of ways to become a home winemaker. Many of us were brewers first. I don’t think there is a wrong way to get started.
In different areas of my life, I have always been a "try everything" kind of guy. I want to see what is on the other side of the hill or taste the new item on the menu. Maybe more to the point, I believe that solving problems is as easy as trying the right solutions and they aren't always the first you find.
I have made wine (red, white, rose' and orange) from grapes I've grown. I've bought premium grapes from California and used Winexpert kits. My advice is to consider trying everything. If you can pick your own quality grapes at peak sugar levels, then that's probably what you should do. If you are new to winemaking, then videos and a boxed wine kit will make you a winemaker with a minimum of effort and possibly wasted motion. If home winemaking is for you, then get some resources to help you. I used Daniel Pambianchi's "Techniques in Home Winemaking" as the Rosetta Stone of home winemaking and his new book “Modern Home Winemaking” will be as helpful. Not only to ferment something to make an alcoholic liquid but to make award-winning and people pleasing wines. You are making wines to generate joy.
This fall, I’m going to use white grapes from my area of upstate New York but get reds from the West Coast. I like to be in the vineyard in the fall picking grapes. It’s a beautiful time of the year and a happy time in the life of the vineyard. There are of course differences in white grape varieties, but I find the differences in red grape varieties to be more pronounced and I’m going to try for bigger, darker wines. I have found a local distributor that I want to try.
With the white grapes, I will ferment on the skins for a day or so (maybe longer if I think an “orange” wine might be nice.) I will intervene as little as possible, using sulfite only or adding bentonite if I need help with clearing.
The red may get a small amount of commercial tannin, some malolactic bacteria, and oak chips. I’ve also used yeast nutrients and Opti-Red on occasion. I measure carefully and have a clear conscience whey talking with “natural wine” people and enjoy their wines as well.
COVID killed a lot of the interest we generated in public grape stomping, but I’ll recruit grandkids to help and we may find the kids’ feet in the vat after all.
VIDEOS! I use videos for everything from making bread to rehabbing sports injuries. Wine Grapes Direct (winegrapesdirect.com) is just one site that has useful videos. A current one talks about using 6-gallon juice pails as a rudimentary wine press. I’ve used something similar before to reduce the volume of must going into the basket press. You could the “bucket press” in lieu of a winepress but you might still be leaving some potential wine behind. (Unless you rehydrated the crushed must and added sugar for a second, thinner wine. Worth a try.)
Buy glass hydrometers two at a time. You know why.
Make up pH solutions ahead of time
Show young children how to use a refractometer in the vineyard. It’s cool.
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Edited by Blusco