Red Wine Making

Red Winemaking

Making your own wine can be loads of fun and a very satisfying hobby, especially doing it with friends. You can make it as simple or as complex as you like. Have a read of this first and speak to us if you have any queries. This pamphlet is designed as an introduction only and as a guide.


Good wine can only be made with good grapes. The best flavour and aroma is generally considered to come from grapes from cool climate areas where the fruit undergoes a longer ripening period.

Equally, grapes should be in good condition. Crushing as soon as possible after picking is the ideal and certainly avoiding any old mouldy grapes is recommended.

As a general rule its best to try to use wine grapes to make wine and eat table grapes. So most of us are looking for Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and a small range of other grapes that experience has taught make the best wine.

If you have problems obtaining good quality grapes, please speak to us at the shop early in the year.


Before doing anything, sanitise all equipment that will come into contact with the grapes, eg. drums, crushers, spoons etc. Use Sodium Metabisulphite, Phosphoric Sanitizer or other sanitizers at the rate recommended on the package and rinse with plenty of water.


Crush and destem all the grapes using a suitable crusher and destemmer. These items are all available from our stores for a reasonable daily rental fee, or for purchase. It is very important to remove stalks and stems as they impart an unpleasant green, harsh flavour to wine.

If you are only producing a very small amount of wine (up to 50 litres) it is possible to do this by removing the stalks by hand and running the grapes through a simple hand crusher.

Test the juice with a hydrometer. It should read in the range 11 to 13.5 Baume or Specific Gravity of 1085 to 1100.

Always run the crushed grapes into a large enough container to allow for expansion to occur during fermentation. For example, never fill fermenters more than two-thirds full before fermentation starts, as the grapes and juice mix (must) will rapidly expand once fermentation commences.


Sulphur dioxide acts in winemaking to prevent growth of bacteria and mould and to inhibit oxidation.
It is sold in winemaking stores in the form of potassium metabisulphite or Campden tablets (which are equal to 0.5 gram per tablet).

One level teaspoon of potassium metabisulphite is equal to approximately 5 grams.

If the grapes are in good condition and recently picked, add 1 gram per 10 kilograms of grapes and twice this amount for grapes in poor condition.


The next step is to decide whether or not the must requires any tartaric acid added to it. This food acid is added to the wine to ensure the right balance of acidity to the finished wine. Without this acid the wine will taste unbalanced and will not last any length of time.

While it is possible to adjust pH in the finished wine it is highly desirable to at least get it near the recommended range prior to the commencement of fermentation.

Generally, grapes picked from warmer areas will require the addition of a reasonable amount of acid due to the fruit being over-ripe (too much sugar). This is a good reason for spending a little more money on the fruit. Fruit from cooler areas will be more expensive, but it will always produce a superior finished wine.

There is no strict rule for the addition of tartaric acid to juice as a number of factors can have a bearing on the quantity required. If you have a Ph meter or papers the method to follow is to test the Ph, if it is above the recommended level add a measured quantity to a sample of the juice, eg. 5 litres, test again and add more if required.

At Grain and Grape, we can test the pH of your wine for a small fee.

Take a sample of the juice and measure its acidity (pH) with suitable pH papers or a pH meter. The pH should be in the range 3.2 to 3.5. If the pH is higher than this it will require the addition of tartaric acid.

If the pH is in the higher range, around or above 4.0 pH add 3 grams per litre. 
If around 3.8 pH, add 2 grams per litre.
If around 3.6 pH, add 1 gram per litre.

We recommend that no more than 3g per litre of tartaric be added as you will be risking a sharp undesireable flavour. Also when the wine is finished fermenting or close to it, a maximum of 1 gram per litre be added otherwise you are risking an undesireable flavour.


The next step is to add the yeast to ferment the grape juice. It is possible to ferment wine without the addition of a cultured wine yeast, but this is the single biggest cause of failure in wine making.

We use and recommend a good quality wine yeast. Most wineries use dry yeast and have dry wine yeast available for sale. Also we can get in any of the Wyeast wine liquid cultures.

Dissolve 5 grams of dry yeast in 50 ml of warm water (40 degrees) for each 25 litres of must. Let stand 15 minutes without stirring, then stir well to suspend all the yeast. Add to the must.

In addition to yeast you will need to add a suitable yeast nutrient .

We use and recommend D.A.P. (Diammonium Phosphate). This is a very simple nutrient which will guarantee a strong fermentation and reduce the risk of the production of hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg) gas. Use at the rate 1 gram per 5 litres of must. Add at the time of pitching yeast.


The wine will start to ferment and should be allowed to progress on the skins for 4 to 14 days, depending on the style you want to make. Fuller-flavoured darker wines will require the maximum amount of time on the skins, whereas lighter styles will need only the minimum amount of time.

To ensure proper skin contact you will need to plunge the grapes several times a day. This is simply a matter of pushing the skins under the surface of the wine to ensure that maximum contact occurs between the skins and the juice.


The next step is to press the grapes to separate all of the skins from the juice.

Pour or scoop the wine and skins into the press once it is assembled. Be sure to have some method of collecting the wine as the juice will start to flow out of the press straight away. Several 10 litre buckets are ideal.

Once the press is filled with the grape skins you can start to press the wine. This is a fairly straightforward procedure. The only important thing to say about this is not to over-press the skins. This will achieve very little in the way of additional juice, but will extract excessive amounts of harsh tannins from the grapes. The best quality wine is made from the free-flowing juice that is the first to flow from the press.


The next step is to transfer the pressings into a suitable fermenter to allow the completion of the fermentation. We use and recommend the use of suitable size glass demijohns, stainless steel kegs with the wine held under carbon dioxide or variable capacity tanks. Demijohns range in size from 5 to 54, litres with several sizes in between.

Try to transfer the wine from container to demijohn as gently as possible to avoid contact with too much air. Once in the demijohn fit a rubber bung and airlock to make sure the wine is protected while the fermentation is completed.

Ferment in the demijohn until fermentation is complete. This will normally take 4 to 8 weeks.

Fermentation is complete when a hydrometer reading of below -1 Baume or 993 to 995 Specific Gravity, is achieved.


Racking, or transferring the wine, is the next step towards the finished wine. This is simply the procedure of moving the wine from one container to another, to allow the yeast to settle out, so the finished wine will be clear and sediment free.

Syphon, or drain the wine, via a syphon hose from the first demijohn to another one of exactly the same size. Do this as gently as possible, again to avoid oxidation.

Stainless steel kegs used in conjunction with carbon dioxide are another excellent storage vessel, as are stainless steel variable capacity tanks. New oak barrels are also excellent storage vessels, although once again, they should be kept full at all times.

Old oak barrels, especially ones which were originally used for whiskey or bourbon, are not recommended. They don’t impart good flavours and as the years go by, generally harbour bacteria which can impart very bad flavours. Wineries generally only use their barrels (and these are new ones) for 3 to 4 years and keep them full at all times.

Add 1 gram of potassium metabisulphite for each 10 litres of wine just prior to racking as an anti-oxidant.


The use of bentonite is very useful at this point to aid the clearing of the wine.

Use 4 grams per 10 litres. Mix bentonite well with 50 ml of water 12 hours before use. Add to the wine and stir gently to distribute evenly.


Once the wine has sat for a further 6 – 8 weeks, it is time to bottle it.

Again add 1 gram of potassium metabisulphite for each 10 litres of wine just prior to racking as an anti-oxidant. Simply fill into cleaned and sterilised bottles of your choice, taking care to minimize splashing and leaving any sediment in the demijohn.


Now comes the hard part, waiting for it to mature. This will usually take between 6 - 9 months as a minimum, and is at its best from 18 months to 4 years.



Oak is an important contributor to the flavour and aroma of most commercial red wines, however good oak barrels are very expensive and there are difficulties in using them. A more reasonably priced alternative is to use oak chips. The best flavour is achieved by using them during primary fermentation.

If desired, 3-4 grams per litre is an appropriate quantity to use in red wine. Simply add them to the must at the beginning of the primary fermentation.


The addition of a pectic enzyme such as Novoclair assists with extracting colour from the skins and producing a more free-flowing must. This provides more yield of juice from a given quantity of grapes and improves clarity.

It is not essential to use pectic enzyme.

Novoclair should be used at the rate of 1 gram per 2.5 litres of must and is best added 24 hours before the yeast. It can be added at a later stage, however.


Many people do not like to use sulphur dioxide in making wine. Preservatives quite rightly have received a lot of bad press. However, virtually every commercial winery in the world uses sulphur. Along with neglecting to use a cultured wine yeast, it is the factor that most causes bad wine to be made, and good wine to go bad.

The fact is that most sulphur dioxide dissipates during fermentation and storage.

If you decide not to use it, be very careful with keeping all of your equipment clean, use grapes that are very fresh and without any visible mould and take care when transferring (racking) from container to container, to reduce the risk of oxidation.


Oxidation results from too much air contact and this is another of the main reasons good wine goes bad. The best way to think of oxidation is to call it spoilage or going stale. When an apple is bitten and goes brown, it is oxidizing. Wine also goes brown with excessive contact with air. It is particularly at risk after fermentation is finished.

The two stages when red wine is most vulnerable to oxidation are during transfer as described above, and in storage. It is most important to have minimum contact with air in containers. This is achieved by filling to a narrow neck as oxidation occurs in relation to the surface area contact with air. ie an apple with a big bite out of it will spoil more rapidly than one with a small pinprick. A half full container of wine, whether a small bottle or a large barrel will go bad quickly.

The other main technique for reducing the risk of oxidation is using an antioxidant. Potassium metabisuphite is the method most commonly used in red wine making and its use is described elsewhere in this brochure.


Malolactic fermentation converts malic acid in wine into lactic acid resulting in less perception of acidity in the finished wine and a mellower taste. It is used in commercial red winemaking in most wineries these days. Wyeast have a liquid malolactic culture which is easy to use and very effective.

The culture is usually added near the end of fermentation.


Hand crushers, motorized crusher destemmers, basket presses and corkers are all available for hire from Grain and Grape.