Wine kits are a great way to get started in winemaking and can provide loads of enjoyment in the grape harvest off season. A wine kit consists of concentrated wine-grape juice and various additive packets used to steer the wine through to completion. In general, a wine kit includes all of the consumables needed to make the wine but does not include any of the winemaking equipment. This comprehensive list covers the equipment you will need before making your wine kit. Once you purchase your equipment, you can make many, many wine kits without any further equipment costs. Everything on this list can be found online, at a local brew shop, or through the second hand market. So here's what you need...
A primary fermenter has an open top to easily allow stirring and punching down of grape skins. It also is not oxygen tight and allows the wine to have some air during the vigorous fermentation stage. For wine batches up to six gallons, a food grade bucket is your best bet for a primary fermenter.
A carboy is an air tight vessel that necks down at the top, creating a favorable surface area to volume ratio for wine maturation. After fermentation has completed, it is important to maintain an air tight environment or the wine will oxidize. Carboys come in plastic or glass. While the plastic carboys are a little lighter in weight, I prefer the glass carboys. Glass is easy to clean, and lasts virtually forever. The plastic carboys also flex, which can cause air to suck in or wine to splash out.
Bung and Airlock
To seal the top of a carboy, a bung and airlock are used. Airlocks come in several configurations, but my go-to is the age-old double bubble or s-type airlock. When filled with water, an airlock completely seals the carboy from air, while allowing CO2 to escape as the wine finishes up.
Racking Cane and Transfer Tube
Transferring wine between buckets and carboys can be achieved by siphoning with a racking cane and tube. A good racking cane features an upside down cup on the bottom to divert the flow and move wine without disturbing the sediment has settled to the bottom of the vessel. Racking canes are available in stainless steel and plastic. Stainless steel racking canes have thin walls to help improve flow and will outlast the winemaker if taken care of.
Red wine kits often include oak powder or chips but you may want a little more or a different toast level or type. In traditional red winemaking an oak barrel is used to age the wine. For small batches, oak alternatives are often used. Oak alternatives include chips, cubes, spirals and staves. These are available in French, American and Hungarian and at various toast levels. My favorite oak is American Medium Toast cubes and American Medium Plus but the choice is really yours as a winemaker.
Keeping clean is extremely important in winemaking. Bleach or products containing bleach should be avoided for reasons I explain in this article. Various wine friendly sanitizers are available and are very reasonably priced. My favorite sanitizer is Star-San. Star-San comes highly concentrated and a small bottle will make many gallons of effective sanitizer. You can also make your own sanitizer with Citric Acid and Potassium Metabisulfite.
Bottles come in many shapes and sizes. For most purposes, I prefer to use the bordeaux style bottles which feature a flat side wall which is easily stacked and fits well in a wine fridge or wine rack. Bottles are best to buy locally at your local brew shop since the shipping. A good price for bottles is around $12 per case.
A bottle filler uses a valve to start and stop the flow at the end of your siphon. Some bottle fillers use a spring to close the valve. The fillers that are not spring loaded are preferred and free up the use of your hands. During bottling, one person is often juggling the tasks of filling and corking simultaneously, so keeping your hands free is important.
Corks come in many diameters, lengths, and compositions. A #9 cork will fit most ordinary bottles. For wines that you plan to drink quickly, agglomerate corks can be used. For wines that may be aged for more than two years, I prefer Acquamark corks.
To insert corks, a corker is used. A hand corker is a great value and will get the job done. Floor or benchtop corkers are slightly easier to use and do not damage the tops of the corks like a hand corker often will.
These are the main items that you will need to get started in winemaking with a kit or even from fresh grapes or juice. Once you have made your upfront equipment expense, the per bottle cost will be very low ($1.25 to $6.00). Below is a video to supplement this list. In this video series I will make a Cellar Craft Showcase Series wine kit. If you have any comments or feedback, please leave them in the comments section below.