Making Wine at Home: Punching & Fermenting

Step 1: The Equipment: Getting Started – Early October – A list of everything you need to make wine and where to find it.

Step 2: Grape Selection – A guide to choosing the right grape.

Step 3: Sanitizing – The importance of maintaining a clean work area and proper sanitizing procedures.

WINEMAKING (October/November)

Day 1: Sorting and Treading – The first day of the wine-making process, including stomping on the grapes.

Today we pick up where we left off…

It’s the day after we sorted and stomped our grapes.

Punching & Fermentation:
Every day, 12 hours apart, punch down the “cap” of grapes (shown above) with the steel puncher or dowel. You must also take a hydrometer reading daily. Punch down 2x day until the hydrometer reads 3% – 5%; that should take 3 – 6 days. The grapes will begin to look like this…Nice!

When the hydrometer reads between 3% and 5% it’s time to add the nutrients to the vat of fermenting grapes.


  1. DAP (Fermaid) – dissolve less than 1/2 teaspoon per gallon of potential wine in some warm water and add to the vat
  2. Microessentials – use at a rate of 1/4 teaspoon per gallon. Dissolve in warm water and mix with some of the wine then add to the vat.
  3. Viniflora – it is very important to keep this refrigerated until use. Add this directly to the vat with minimal air contact; open the package directly into the vat. Immediately punch down the grapes and briefly stir. Wait 2 minutes then punch and stir again. Wait 2 minutes, punch and stir. Repeat this process for 20 minutes.
  4. Cover the vat and continue punching down the cap 2x day. Take a hydrometer reading every day until it reads between 0 and -1.

When the hydrometer reads 0 or -1…It’s Time To Press the Grapes!!

That’s what we’ll do next…Press the Grapes Into Juice.


© Giovanni Cucullo 2011

Making Wine at Home: Sorting & Treading

We have already covered:

Step 1: The Equipment: Getting Started

Step 2: Grape Selection

Step 3: Sanitizing

And today… we START MAKING WINE!


Set up your fermentation vat with lid.






Sort through all the grapes by hand. Discard any bruised fruit and remove as much stem as possible. For this step we enlisted the help of Andrew (chief oenologist at the Ballinduff Wine Institute). Andrew is world-renowned for his “baby face“; the kind of fella who would happily help two women walk two miles with groceries.

As you can see, Andrew introduced us to this very modern technique of snipping the larger stems off with scissors directly into the vat.

NB: One of the reasons we chose Zinfandel and Syrah was because of its’ resiliency. Theses grapes will not be affected by the few stems that do get into the vat.

If you have a few extra dollars you can purchase an inexpensive machine that will crush and de-stem the grapes for you. If you’re lazy, you can have the grape supplier do it for you. If you’re really lazy, just buy the already pressed grape juice…but what’s the point in that??

We used  a total of 12 cases of grapes and it’s highly recommended that you “tread” (stomp) the grapes by foot after every 3 cases.
Yes, that’s right! Someone needs to actually get into the vat and step on the grapes (remember Lucy?). Believe it or not, crushing by foot is still the most highly regarded method of crushing grapes. De-stem 3 cases of grapes, stomp, de-stem 3 more cases, stomp etc.

It took a bit of convincing but the lady of the house agreed to dip her sanitized sweet feet into the vat & enjoy the therapeutic benefits of treading.

After treading, using sanitized equipment, remove a quart of grapes and juice from the vat and set aside.

Add META to Vat:
Dilute 2 cups of META in 12 cups of water (1/2 tsp. per 100 lb. of grapes) and add it to the vat of grapes. Stir briefly with the sanitized puncher.

Take a Hydrometer Reading:
Take your quart of grapes and juice which you set aside and fill the hydrometer with juice only. There should be no pits or pulp. The reading should be 24%. Return the grapes and juice to the vat.

Make the Yeast Starter:
If you have ever made bread before, this step will be very familiar.

  1. Remove enough grapes and juice from the vat to fill a bucket or pail about 3/4 full, cover and set aside.
  2. Fill a one quart container with 12 ounces of warm water, cut open 6 packets of yeast and sprinkle over the water…DO NOT STIR! Use one packet of yeast for every 5 gallons of potential wine being made.
  3. After 5 minutes, add 6 to 12 ounces more warm water.
  4. After 20 minutes, fill the container 3/4 with grape juice and cover.
  5. After 60 minutes, stir, then add the yeast mixture to the pail. Cover and store in a warm area for 2 – 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
  6. The yeast will start feeding on the sugar in the grapes and the mixture will begin to bubble up as shown below. Add this yeast starter to the vat of grapes and punch down and stir using a sanitized stainless steel puncher or an unfinished dowel stick. Cover the vat with the lid and fermentation is underway!

A wine yeast will ferment your juice:

  • immediately
  • ferment all the sugar to alcohol faster and more efficiently than wild yeast
  • will settle out solids to the bottom more rapidly
  • will settle out hazes better than wild yeast
  • will form a more compact sediment or “Lees”

Every day, 12 hours apart, punch down the “cap” of grapes with the steel puncher or dowel. You must also take a hydrometer reading daily. Punch down 2x day until the hydrometer reads 3% – 5%, that should take 3 – 6 days.

In the next episode we’ll review “punching down the cap” and I’ll show you how to add vital nutrients to the grapes which aid in the fermentation process.


© Giovanni Cucullo 2011