I've spent the last few years making alcoholic beverages out of a lot of different things at home (grains, sugars, fruits etc...). Mostly beer, but I've also dabbled in mead, sake, ginger beer, and kombucha as well. Wine is the only major class of undistilled alcohol I'm missing (although I've added wine grapes to a couple beers). It probably took so long because I really don't drink wine more than once a month, and then only because someone else buys it or I open a bottle to cook with. It's not that I don't enjoy it, I just enjoy beer much more (and great beers cost the same as cheap wine)
A year ago I read From Vines to Wines a book on making wine from grapes, but for my first batch I decided to go as fool-proof as possible by using a kit. Making a kit wine is about as simple as you can get, the juice has already been separated from the grapes, and the acidity and gravity of the grape juice (must) has already been adjusted. Similar to mead making, adjusting these variables before fermentation is important because they allow for a healthy and complete fermentation (unlike brewing where the correct mash pH and the buffering power of the malt keep the pH in a healthy range for the yeast).
"Brew" day is easy, the kit I bought called for diluting the concentrated must with water, stirring vigorously to dissolve oxygen, and pitching the dried wine yeast. One of the fining agents, bentonite, is hydrated in warm water and added to the must at this point as well. I decided to rehydrate the yeast (Premier Cuvee) in warm water to give them a healthier start even though the kit didn't call for it. It is important to note that six gallons seems to be the standard for home wine kits, so if you go that route you'll have more must than can comfortably ferment in a 6 or 6.5 gallon carboy (I bought a 7.9 gallon bucket).
Fermentation started quickly and was bubbling rapidly after fewer than 24 hours. Unlike wort, the must contains mostly simple mono- or disaccharides that the yeast make quick work of. Just like beer the wine yeast have different suggested fermentation temperature ranges, white wine strains tend to be cooler while reds are fermented hotter (the ambient temperature for my batch was in the low-60s). There was a great interview with Shea Comfort on the Sunday Session where he discusses the complementary fruity flavors that wine yeast can produce (I've been thinking of brewing a Flanders Red with BM45 since I listened to it).
After fermentation calmed down, but before the attenuation was complete, I racked the wine to a keg. This seemed like the best option because I could flush the keg with CO2 so the amount of head space wasn't important. I took the extra wine that didn't fit in the keg and used it to make white wine vinegar.
The instructions called for me to rack the wine again a few weeks later before bottling, but I didn't get around to it. At this point I'm a bit late to bottling, but it has taken longer than I intended to round up the 30 delabeled wine bottles, corks, and corker required to give it the "proper" treatment. My initial plan was to just bottle/cap in bombers, but I decided to go that extra mile.
The samples of the wine have been good so far, nice tropical fruit aromatics, clean, and crisp. The sweetness is subtle, chilled it should be a good summertime wine. It certainly has been an interesting process, but I feel more like I've put together a bookshelf from Ikea than actually created something of my own. Even brewing a kit extract beer feels like you are more involved (steeping, boiling, hopping etc...). Making great wine is more about what leads to making the must (growing conditions, harvesting, crushing) than what the wine maker does during fermentation. One of the things I love about brewing beer is that I can buy the same ingredients as the best breweries in the world.
WinExpert Selection Original Liebfraumilch
1/16/11 Sanitized with Campden tablets, 24 g in 1/2 gallon.
Microwaved 1/2 gallon of filter water for 4 minutes, added to primary with the packet of Bentonite.
Mixed in the concentrated must. Topped off with cool filtered water to 6 gallons. Stirred vigerously for a couple minutes. OG 1.088.
Hydrated the Premier Cuvee yeast and pitched. Low to mid-60s ambient temp. Strong fermentation by the next day.
1/28/11 Racked to a keg for secondary. A bit late, was supposed to rack at 1.010 it was down to 1.004.
2/10/11 Gravity down to .998 (just under 12% ABV), just what is supposed to be. Added sulfite and sorbate and stirred vigorously. Added about half of the "F pack" since it was extremely sweet and tasted a bit raisiny. Added the Isinglass and stirred again, no CO2 coming out of solution by the end. Topped off with CO2 and resealed to allow to settle/clear.
3/27/11 Bottled, yielded 25 corked 750s. Easy since there was no priming or racking needed, wine looked crystal clear. Last two bottles got a a bit of air in the line, so i stuck them in the fridge for early samples. I was a few weeks late on bottling, but the wine seemed to be fine.
4/27/11 A month out from bottling it is clear, clean, and plenty fruity. I wish it wasn't quite so sweet, despite the 1.004 finishing gravity (the simple sugars kill me).