Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association

The Ten Most Common Winemaking Mistakes (and how to avoid them)

January 16, 2001

Reprinted with permission from RJ Spagnol’s Wine & Beer Making Supplies website

At Spagnol’s, we love what we do. We’re hoping you’ll see why we love it. Home winemaking is easy, and we’re trying to make it even easier. We’ve compiled a list of the 10 most common winemaking mistakes—mistakes we’ve all made in our own winemaking. We’d like you to read it, tape it to your fridge, and use it for reference when you’re making wine.

If you need help with something not covered here, call our toll-free help line or fax us toll-free. You’ll find the numbers at the end of this brochure. Phone us. We’re here to help you.

 

  1. Using the Wrong Equipment

When you start making your wine, don’t just grab anything you see around the house—like your Grandma’s pickle crock, peanut butter pails, garbage cans, or wooden spoons. These can’t be sanitized easily and might taint your wine.

 

Proper winemaking equipment is made of food-grade plastic and is designed to give you the best results possible. Life’s a lot easier when you’ve got the right gear. (Kind of like mountain climbing—what if you forgot the rope that holds you to the side of the mountain?) Your retailer can help you find the equipment you need.

 

  1. Dirty Equipment

Cleaning means removing visible residue. It’s really important. It’s kind of like washing your dishes—you aren’t likely to make dinner with dirty pots and pans. Use an unscented detergent on your equipment and rinse well. Your retailer can suggest something appropriate. Once everything is clean, you can move onto sanitation…

 

  1. Poor Sanitation

Sanitizing means treating equipment with a substance that will reduce or remove bacteria. There are several sanitizers you can use, including metabisulphite solution and Iodophor. They all work a little differently. Ask your winemaking shop for advice when choosing a sanitizer. Or you can call us and we’ll recommend something that suits your needs.

 

Clean and sanitize everything that touches your wine—fermenters, carboys, hoses, thermometers, spoons. You get the picture. It’s easy and worth it: ninety percent of winemaking failures can be traced to poor cleaning or faulty sanitation.

 

  1. Ignoring or Changing the Instructions

Follow each manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Wine kit manufacturers usually have plenty of experience making wine, and their instructions should be clear and easy to follow. These people find the best procedures for getting the best possible results from the ingredients in the kit.

 

  1. Using the Wrong Water

Many people think they need to be concerned about the water they use in winemaking. In reality, this is one of those “problems” that is not a big deal.

 

If your tap water is drinkable, chances are you can make wine with it. That said, some water can leave your wine hazy or give it off flavours. If you know your water is very high in minerals, is metallic, or has high levels of chlorine, you should think about getting a water filter or using bottled water.

 

  1. Not Adding the Yeast Correctly

Be sure to follow the kit instructions when adding your yeast. We recommend sprinkling the yeast over the surface of 18 to 25°C (65 to 80°F) juice and not stirring. If the temperature is wrong, the yeast won’t be happy. And if you stir it in, you can suffocate it.

 

Observant winemakers eventually notice that our kit instructions don’t match the instructions printed on our yeast packages. If you use the yeast manufacturer’s rehydration instructions, you must follow them exactly—sloppy rehydration will seriously harm your yeast. Simply sprinkling dry yeast over the surface of the juice is much easier and works great.

 

  1. Poor Temperature Control

Kit instructions tell you to ferment your wine within a specific temperature range. We recommend 20 to 23°C (70 to 75°F). Yeast likes these temperatures and it doesn’t like fluctuations. In other words, yeast is going to be happy in the same kind of environment that people find comfortable.

 

Temperature control is important, but you don’t need to get obsessive over it. Thousands of people make great wine in a closet in their apartment. Just use your common sense. If you live in Manitoba, don’t make wine in your garage in the winter. If you live in Texas, don’t make wine in your attic under the sweltering summer sun unless your attic is air conditioned.

 

  1. Adding Sulphite and Sorbate at the Wrong Time

If you add these too early, your wine will stop fermenting and the yeast won’t convert any more sugar into alcohol. The wine will end up extra sweet and the alcohol level will be low.

 

If you make this mistake, give your local winemaking shop a call, or call Spagnol’s help line. As long as you follow the instructions, you should be fine.

 

  1. Leaving out the Sulphite

Kits include a package of sulphite which you stir into the wine. Sulphite prevents your wine from spoiling, so please don’t leave it out. Wine without added sulphite may have a shelf life as short as one month.

 

Some people blame sulphites for headaches, allergic reactions and hangovers. In reality, these conditions are usually caused by compounds other than sulphite. Winemakers have been using sulphite for thousands of years, and modern winemakers (like you) still can’t do without it. However, if you think you are sensitive or allergic to sulphites, please consult your doctor.

 

  1. Not Stirring Enough

Eventually you need to clear your wine. You do this by adding natural substances like gelatin and a clay called bentonite. These come with the kit and need to be dispersed thoroughly throughout the wine. This means stirring. And stirring. And stirring. Even if your arm gets sore.

 

Just a final note: Everyone wants to drink their wine the day it’s bottled. Give it some time! Even if it tastes fine right away, it will get much better. Try to ignore it for three months. It’s worth it.

 

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