An Introduction to Winemaking Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

An Introduction to Winemaking

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Plump and juicy grapes

The attractions of making your own wine are obvious - home-made wine costs well under £1 per bottle (at the time of writing). And while something may go wrong and it may end up tasting like urine, you may well want to give it a try. If so, read on...


Please note that the Researcher takes no responsibility for any ill effects (or anything else) caused by anything you may read here: you make use of this information at your own risk. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this literature, the author cannot be held liable for factual errors within the text. Also, none of the information in this entry is intended to replace instructions supplied with equipment or ingredients. Consider yourself warned.

Reading beyond this point constitutes acceptance of the above.

Basic Equipment

As with most hobbies, a certain amount of equipment is required before one can fully begin. To start with, it is almost certainly better to start winemaking without buying lots of expensive, and unnecessary equipment. With the currently comparatively low prices of wine, home winemaking is not as popular as it was and many middle-aged people are selling their old equipment as they simply can't be bothered to use it anymore. Try looking around car boot sales, etc. and you may find a very cheap set of kit. Failing that look in the Yellow Pages under 'Winemaking'. Shops are few and far between nowadays, but the ones that are still in business must logically be quite good. Here is your shopping list:

Fermenting Vessel

Usually a 'demijohn'. A demijohn is a one gallon, ear-handled, glass container. It will need a large cork or rubber bung to fit it. When making wine in bulk, hardcore wine makers may wish to use a somewhat larger vessel, such as a plastic dustbin. Just be sure to line the inside to ensure that no flavours are conveyed into the wine.


This is a small glass device, which should be filled with water and sterilising solution and inserted onto the opening of the demijohn (with an airtight fit). It will prevent the fermenting wine from being contaminated by the vinegar fly, which will, as the name suggests, turn the wine to vinegar. Now most commonly available in plastic.

Sterilising Solution

Cleanliness is extremely important and all equipment must be sterile to avoid contamination by airborne bacteria.

Plastic Tubing

This is necessary to siphon the wine off any sediment and into new demijohns or bottles.

Wine Bottles

About six will store one demijohn's worth of wine. Preferably glass, simply for the look of the thing. Use clear bottles for white wine, but dark (usually green) bottles for red - in a clear bottle red wine will lose its colour.


For the wine bottles. New ones are recommended, as old ones run the risk of disintegrating. Re-useable plastic stoppers are also available. See corks.

Corking Tool

To insert the corks into the bottles. Be sure to leave the corks in water for about 24 hours first, this will make them flexible enough to be squeezed in.


A large funnel makes it much easier to pour liquids into a demijohn.


A hydrometer is not strictly necessary, but it deserves a mention because it is so very useful. A hydrometer measures the specific gravity of a liquid and so tells the vintner how much sugar has so far turned into alcohol. This indicates how much of the fermentation process has been completed. A hydrometer can also be used to calculate the strength of a wine. A hydrometer works on the following principle. The more sugar in a liquid, the thicker the liquid. The thickness of a liquid is also known as its gravity. The thicker the liquid, the better a floating object is supported in it. The gravity of a liquid is compared to water (which is given the gravity of 1000). As such, the gravity of a liquid is said to be its 'specific gravity'. A hydrometer has figures marked at intervals along it in much the same way as a ruler. The hydrometer is dropped in the wine and depending on the its thickness, the liquid will reach a specific point on the neck of the hydrometer, so giving the wine its specific gravity.


This is where it starts to get interesting...


This could be anything, from grapes to celery to mulberries, and even beetroot or any one of literally hundreds of flavours. However, beware - not all ingredients make good wine and some can become actually poisonous (for example daffodil wine and rhubarb leaf wine).


This works with the yeast to create alcohol. Quantities vary depending on how strong and how sweet the maker wants his or her wine to turn out. Per 1 gallon demijohn: 2.5lbs of sugar makes a dry wine, 3lbs makes a medium wine and 3.5lbs makes a sweet wine. Of course, the amount of sugar required also depends on what type of flavouring or fruit is being used. (See sugar.)


See above. Adding yeast nutrient helps the yeast to work faster and more efficiently, just like food to a human. Specialised wine yeast is available, but ordinary granulated yeast works just as well, at least well enough for a beginner's needs.


Dilutes the other ingredients and makes up the bulk of the liquid.

The Five Stages of Winemaking

Winemaking generally follows these five stages.

  1. Preparation

    All equipment must be thoroughly cleansed and sterilised before (and cleaned again after) it is used.

  2. Fermentation

    When the sugar in the 'must' (the mixture of basic ingredients) is turned to alcohol (and carbon dioxide) by the yeast. Around 21°C is the optimum temperature for fermentation. This stage usually takes between two and five weeks, in this Researcher's experience.

  3. Preservation (optional)

    Adding preserving agents (usually Campden tablets, containing sodium metabisulphate) to your wine. This ensures that it keeps well.

  4. Clearing

    Leaving the wine in a cold temperature (about 16°C) for a time will 'clear' it - it becomes less cloudy. This stage takes another few weeks. It helps if the wine is siphoned out of the old demijohn and into a new one. This separates it from the sediment that forms during fermentation. If you wish to speed up the process, or if your wine is persistently cloudy it is possible to filter it or use finings.

  5. Bottling

    Put the wine into bottles and store in a cool place (about 13°C ) and on their sides. (This ensures that the corks are kept moist.) A label and capsule can be added for the aesthetic effects.


While 'real' home-made wine is made from fruit (if it's really real, then grapes) that you picked and squashed yourself, there is a large range of ready-made concentrates available, complete with instructions, which make the whole process much easier. Costing about £5 for six bottles worth (once you add water), they are especially good to start with if you are a beginner.

Important Legal Note

Since no duty is paid on homemade wine, it cannot be sold, lest the local constabulary may come knocking on your door. This applies to the UK only. The activity of wine production and quantities produced may be restricted elsewhere.

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