Making Wine at Home: Pressing the Grapes

We have already covered:

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.

Day 3 – 10: Punching and Fermenting – Caring for the grapes, adding nutrients and monitoring the fermentation process.

So, you’ve been punching and stirring your grapes 2x day and you’ve been taking a hydrometer reading daily. It can take anywhere from 3 to 26 days for your grapes to be ready.

When the hydrometer reads 0 or – 1… It’s time to Press Those Grapes!

Sanitize the Press:
Thoroughly sanitize your press with Soda Ash and Citric Acid.
Use 1/4 cup of Soda Ash dissolved in 1 gallon of water. Brush the press clean and then discard the solution and rinse with plain water. Follow the same instructions using the Citric Acid.

Sterile Rinse:
Give the demijohns a sterile rinse by dissolving 4 tablespoons of META in 1 gallon of water. Run this solution through all of the demijohns shaking the bottles as you go. Rinse with plain water.

Sit your press on a table with the empty, sanitized demijohns (carboys) on the floor near the press. Place a large funnel into one of the demijohns and sit it directly under the spout of the press so that the juice can fall directly into it.

Using a large pitcher or pail, scoop out some of the grapes and juice and start filling the press. The juice that pours out from the press is called “free run” juice because you have not pressed it yet. This is the best quality so you want to spread it across all of your demijohns evenly. Some of the world’s most respected wineries will use only this “free run” juice for their best or reserve wines and then use the pressed juice for their less expensive wines.

After your vat has been emptied into the press and all the “free run” juice has been spread evenly among all the demijohns you can begin to press the grapes to realease the remaining juice, topping off all of the demijohns. It’s good to have help in doing this so that one person can remove a full demijohn as another person replaces it with a half full demijohn without spilling too much .

The wine should be very alive at this stage, warm and bubbly…that means it’s fermenting!

Place a bung into each demijohn and tape it down with clear packing tape. If you don’t tape it down, the natural gases will cause the bung to fly out. Take your sterilized fermentation traps and fill them halfway with water. Poke a hole through the tape and insert a fermentation trap into each bung. The wine will bubble as the gas slowly escapes through the traps.

Place the demijohns in a warm place (65 – 75 degrees) for 7 days to complete the fermentation process.

NB: Thoroughly clean the press and all other tools and equipment.

You can also prepare the wine area for next week’s crucial step of siphoning (racking) the wine to clean demijohns. I’ll also discuss winter storage and cold stabilization.

See you then!


© 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

Making Wine at Home: Getting Started

Making your own wine at home might seem daunting at first, but once you have purchased all the equipment and have gained a firm understanding of the wine-making process you will quickly begin to embrace something that began almost 8000 years ago.

I will separate the process into 8 stages, today being the first.

The first critical step is to find a reputable supplier for all your wine-making needs. In Westchester County, New York, there’s a family run institution where everyone goes to for all their wine-making supplies…Prospero Winery!

Here’s a list of all the equipment you will need:

1. Table Top De-Stemmer
2. Fermentation Vat with Lid
I opted to NOT use the de-stemmer and chose to de-stem the grapes by hand. I will give a detailed explanation about that when we get there.
4. Stainless Steel Puncher
5. Press
Here are the nutrients, chemicals & additives you will need:

Citric Acid and Sodium Carbonate are used for sanitizing EVERYTHING!

You MUST use yeast…never rely on natural yeast!
Metabisulfate is used to:
1. Create sulfur dioxide gas
2. Inhibit bacteria and wild yeasts
3. Increase the aging
4. Protect color and flavor
5. Sterilize equipment
DAP (Dimaonium Phosphate) and Fermaid are foods which the yeast will feed on…It helps the wine to ferment.
MicrosEssentials Oenos and Viniflora are nutrients which contain a mixture of organic proteins that help induce Malolactic Fermentation.
This is a hydrometer. It’s used to measure the amount of sugar in the wine and it will tell you when you should press the grapes into juice.
You will need Demijohns (carboys) to store the wine while it ferments.
They come in different shapes and sizes but I recommend the standard 5 gallon water-cooler type…just make sure you use glass and not plastic.


You will also need additional bottle sizes for later in the wine-making process when you will have odd amounts of wine.


You will need rubber corks (bungs) and airlocks for each bottle.


Get yourself a syphon kit for transferring wine from jar to jar.



Other items:

     Pails / Buckets

Measuring Cups and Spoons


Clear Packing Tape


And of course…


Check back soon for the next stage in Wine-Making when we’ll discuss the grapes and how to choose the right one for you!

Thanks for stopping by!



© Giovanni Cucullo 2010