The Joy of Home Winemaking

Winemaking 101

In most states you must be over 21 to legally make wine or beer. Please don't break the law in this matter.

This is a slimmed down version of the beginner's recipe in my book, The Joy of Home Winemaking. I don't have room to go into all the details of racking and bottling here, but I'll try to cram in the basics. READ EVERYTHING THROUGH FIRST!!! Also, to quote my grandmother: Do your best and don't worry. This is not rocket science. Nothing will blow up, poison you, or stink up the house.


  • 1 one gallon glass jug — an ex-apple juice, cranberry juice or wine jug which hasn't been used to store kerosene, vinegar or nuclear waste
  • 1 rubber band
  • 1 4x4 inch square of heavy kitchen plastic wrap
  • 1 medium sized food grade funnel, plastic or metal
  • a long stick or rod for stirring (you can whittle down a wood spoon, but a long chopstick works just fine, too
  • Later (in about 2 months), you'll need another gallon jug, and a 3-4 ft. length of clear plastic tubing from an aquarium shop or winemaking supply shop.


  • 1 12 oz. can frozen apple juice (any brand)
  • 1 6 oz. can frozen lemonade or the juice of two lemons, strained (don't use bottled lemon juice, ugh)
  • 1 lb. of sugar (two cups) or 1 1/2 lb. mild honey
  • 1 gallon of water, boiled and cooled while covered
  • 1 packet of wine yeast (Champagne or Montrechet)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme (optional but recommended)
  • 5 Campden tablets (optional but recommended)


Boil most of the water in a stainless steel or enamel pot and let it cool, covered. In most areas, this isn't really necessary, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Boil the sugar or honey with one quart of the water, and let it cool, stirring a little to make sure the sugar dissolves. Add an extra 1/2 cup of sugar if you are using lemons instead of lemonade. Take the cans of juice out of the freezer to let them defrost.

Sanitize the one gallon jug by boiling it in a large pot such as a canning kettle or stock pot of water for 1-15 minutes, OR wash it and clean it with a bottle brush, rinse, then swoosh it out with the Campden solution. To make the Campden solution, crush the tablets with the back of a spoon as finely as possible, and dissolve the powder in one cup of cool water you have placed in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake the jar up like mad to facilitate the dissolving. You will never get all the lumps out, but do the best you can and don't worry.

Pour this into the clean jug (a funnel makes it easy) and swoosh it around the inside, making sure you cover the entire surface, then pour it back out into the jar. You can reuse this solution as long as it still smells like sulphur. Don't rinse the jug with water. It's now sanitized and ready to use.

Another method is simply to soak the jug in a solution of unscented bleach and water for twenty minutes. An ounce or two or bleach to five gallons of water will santitze the jug just fine. Rinse it out with really hot water to get rid of as much of the chlorine smell as possible. I worry that the chlorine will affect the taste of the wine, so I use the Campden method, but have used bleach in emergencies.

Cleanliness in winemaking is not quite as essential as it is in beer making, but it is still very important.

When the sugar water is still a bit warm, pour it into the jug using a funnel which as been rinsed in the Campden solution or boiled. Add the thawed apple juice, and the strained lemonade or lemon juice. Then add the plain, cool water up to where the neck of the jug starts to slant upward. Add the pectic enzyme if you are using it. Stir with a long wooden or metal stick over which you have poured boiling water. A long chopstick also works fine. Put the piece of plastic over the top and secure it with the rubber band. Store it some place out of the light and out of the way. 24 hours later, take off the rubber band and tap the packet of wine yeast into the jug. Replace the plastic with a new piece, and put the rubber band back on snugly.

Put the whole thing in a warm (75 degrees F.), preferably dark place for one month to ferment. The temperature should be in the range of about 60-80 degrees F. After the first day, you should see a bit of froth at the top of the liquid (or must, as it is called). This means the yeast is happily eating the sugar and making alcohol. It will be fairly active for the first couple of weeks, then settle down.

After a few weeks, you will notice a sediment at the bottom of the jug, and nearly clear wine above. You need to rack the wine, or separate the good stuff from the dead yeast and sediment. To do this, sanitize another jug and the tubing. I strongly recommend that you use the sulphite solution for the tubing. Don't boil the tubing.

Boil another cup or so of water.

Place the jug of wine on a table, moving it carefully so as not to disturb the sediment. Put the empty jug directly below on the floor. Remove the plastic again, and carefully insert one end of the tubing down into the wine to a few inches above the sediment and hold it there with one hand, or have a friend hold it. Squat down above the empty jug and suck gently on the end of the tube.Be sure to rinse your mouth out before you do this. (Some people swish out with vodka!).

The wine should start flowing up out of the high jug into the tube, heading for the lower point of gravity, which just happens to be the end of the tube which is between your lips. Quickly remove it from your lips and insert into the empty jug and let the wine flow into the jug. Try to avoid vigorous splashing. If you have to stop for a second, just pinch the tube firmly. Be sure to keep the bottom of the upper part of the tube in the liquid or else, of course, the flow will stop. Continue to siphon until just before the sediment begins to enter the tube. Remove the tube from both jugs.

Top up the wine by adding the boiled water to it until the mixture reaches the bottom of the neck, replace the old plastic with new, and add the rubber band. Don't fill the jar all the way up to the top. You need room for the gases. If you taste the wine it will probably taste pretty raw, but don't worry. Time is on your side.

At the end of about two months (or sooner if the weather is warm) you should check the wine again. You can tell if the wine has finished fermenting (has eaten all the available sugar) by gently tapping the jug to see if any little bubbles rise to the top. If they do, it's still fermenting. Be patient. There will be more sediment on the bottom of the jug, but not a whole lot. Later on you will acquire a hydrometer and you can be a lot more scientific about the fermentation process.

When at last the wine is finished fermenting, and fairly clear, (1-3 months) you can do several things. You can rack the wine again and drink it. It won't be too bad. You can rack it and leave it in the jug for another six months and then drink it. It will be lots better. Or, you can bottle it after the final racking. Champagne yeast gives a nice firm sediment and it's easy to rack. Your wine has only about 7-9% alcohol and won't keep for more than about a year.

Good luck and have fun!


One gallon jugs: Many jugs these days are actually 4 liters, somewhat larger than a U.S. gallon which is only 3.79 liters. Try to find a one gallon jug, but don't worry if you can't. It won't make any real difference in this recipe. (Imperial gallon jugs on the other hand, which may be found outside the U.S., are slightly larger than 4 liter jugs, and are definitely larger than U.S. gallon jugs.)

Plastic wrap vs airlocks: Later on in your winemaking career I will encourage you to use a proper rubber bung and air lock instead of the rubber band and plastic (to keep the air out and let the gas out of the bottle), but this is your first gallon, and this method should be okay.

Wine Yeast: Wine yeast costs about fifty cents a packet. Don't use bread yeast or beer yeast. They don't come out just right, although they will work in a pinch. Wine yeast is best because it doesn't make 'off' flavors, and it tolerates higher alcohol content. One packet makes one to five gallons of wine.

Pectic Enzyme: The pectin naturally present in fruit is nice for making jelly but not for making wine. It can create a harmless, but less than aesthetic haze. Pectic enzyme eats the pectin, helping the wine to clear as it ferments. If the idea of the pectic enzyme is too complicated or weird to you, leave it out for right now, but really, this is not a big deal.

Campden Tablets: The Campden tablets are to sterilize the jug. They are Sodium metabisulphite. If you are sensitive to sulphites, don't use these. Many wine-makers use them to sterilize the juices in the wine, as well, but we don't need to worry about that so much in this case. If you can't or don't want to use Campden tablets (some people are very sensitive to this chemical but it's perfectly safe for most), I'll give you an alternate method as we go along.

Supply shops: The wine yeast, pectic enzyme, and Campden tablets can be purchased at your local wine supply or brewing supply shop, as well as the rubber bung and air lock and any number of other interesting gadgets. There are also several mail-order places on the web which I list on one of my links pages.

Juice: You can also use any frozen %100 percent juice in place of the apple juice, such as grape juice or orange juice. Beware of "juice blends" where the contents are mostly sugar with little real juice. They will be disgustingly insipid as wines.

Questions, comments, brilliant insights? Send e-mail to Terry Garey.

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Copyright 1997 by Terry A. Garey.