My top ten golden rules for successful homebrew winemaking

1. You will never have too much wine.

The beginner homebrew winemaker starting out in this hobby winemaking is likely to start a 1 gallon jar of wine from a simple kit. He will probably not start making another batch of wine until this first batch is in the bottle and being drunk. In the worst case, he might not start a new batch until the first batch has been completely consummed.

This is, of course, a complete disaster from a drinking point of view.

This approach might work well for the beginner homebrew winemaker just starting out in the world of homebrew, but it is not a long term prospect. Once you become established it is important to keep a range of wines at various stages of creation. You should regularly start new batches of wine. As you make more wine, you will drink more wine. This is a simple fact. Eventually you'll be able to gauge your on-going requirement. Mine is about 1 gallon a week. This might sound a lot, but I have a lot of thirsty visitors! Make sure you start new batches of wine at a slightly greater rate than your consumption.

If you keep making wine faster than you drink it, then you will actually develop a collection of homemade homebrew wine which actually gets a chance to age and mature a bit.

2. Do not underdo the sulfite

A lot of homemade homebrew wine is ruined by oxidation. Sulfites (usually in the form of campden tablets) help to prevent oxidation. Make sure any wine you bottle has been treated with at least 2 campden tablets per gallon post fermentation. I usually add one at the end of fermentation, and one just before bottling/long term storage.

Nothing is more disappointing than opening a bottle of homemade homebrew wine that you have carefully aged for 12 months and finding it is undrinkable brown drain cleaner.

3. There is no reason to make 1 gallon.

Brew in bulk. Even if you are trying something experimental make at least 2 gallons. Only make 1 gallon if you are really short of raw materials. I generally make around 5 gallons in most of my batches. Even the more slowly consumed wines like dessert wine are best made in bulk. Then you can keep some in storage and use some for early drinking! Large volumes of wine are also apt to give better results. A larger volume of wine is less sensitive to changes in temperature an so forth.

4. Mature homemade homebrew wine in bulk

Once you have made it in bulk, store it in bulk. Once my wine has finished fermenting and is cleared, de-gassed and stablised, I will transfer it to 1 gallon glass jars for several months maturing. I will hammer a cork into the demijohn and wax it with cheesemakers wax. Then I will put it in the wine cellar for a few months - or however long until I decide to bottle it for occasional use, or use it for main drinking.

Wine will always keep better in bulk, and it will mature better. Over the months, some sediment will form, and it is simple to rack it off when you need the wine for drinking or bottling. At this moment in time I probably have 40 gallons of homemade homebrew wine in gallon jars - most of which I am unlikely to touch for many months.

5. Drink wine in bulk - refill bags, bottles for visitors.

Bottles of wine have their place, but part of the joy of homebrew winemaking is having as much wine to drink as you like at any hour of the day or night. To this end, I make red and white kit wines up in large quantities. This is stored in gallon jars for a few months until needed. In my fridge I have a re-fillable 5 litre wine bag which holds about a 1 gallon glass jar worth of wine. I can draw off a glass of red or white wine whenever I fancy it. The red wine box is of course kept ON the fridge, not IN the fridge!

Bottling is tedious and boring, and must be avoided where possible!

6. Always present your homemade homebrew wine well

Here we enter the psychology of wine serving. A complex art, but easily summerised. Serve some wine out of a clearly re-used lemonde bottle with an apology that it is "an experiment" and "you might not like it" and the recipient is likely to hate it.

Somehow it looks much more "professional" to be able to draw the cork from an labelled and capsuled bottle of wine rather than farting some wine into a visitors glass from the box in the fridge. "Ah yes," you say, "this was made from the fine blackberry harvest of 2006 and has been maturing in the cellar nearest to the sea for over 2 years". You dust some cobwebs of the label and exclaim with mock suprise that you thought you'd drunk the last the first bottling some time ago.

Give them enough psychology like that and they'll drink carpet cleaner if you fancy serving it. Ask the Scotch whisky industry, they've been doing it for years!

7. Degass your wine before bottling

Either by stirring, shaking, or just leaving it, make sure there is no prickle of dissolved carbon dioxide left in the wine. Although a bit of gas is acceptable in a white wine, have you even tried fizzy port? Nothing is worse than a nice red wine with a lot of dissolved gas and froth on pouring.

8. Clean Glassware

Simply do not allow unclean glass ware (or plastic fermentors) in the house. Clean and rinse everything as you use it. If you collect used winebottles from a friend, wash them out as soon as you get home.

1 Gallon jars and larger plastic fermenters must always stored with some water in the bottom into which you have put a bit of sulfite or a campden tablet. Then put a bung in. A 1 gallon jar bung costs pence. Buy lots of them and keep every unused jar fresh with some sulfite sloshing around in the bottom.

When you next need a fermenter or jar, it will be clean and fresh and just need a quick rinse. Remeber than a few drops of sulfite never harms a wine.

Be religous about this. If I pick up a batch of second hand glass jars, they stay in the garden until they get cleaned. No dirty glass in the house.

9. Keep notes.

Always keep some notes on what you have done to what wine. Then you can repeat your success and learn from your mistakes.

And make sure you keep all wines labelled at all stages of winemaking - a homebrew winemaker should know the contents of every gallon jar!

10. It is always easier to add things than to take them away.

Most of the things we add to wine are easier to add than remove. This covers sugar, acid, tannin, sulfite, elderflowers, etc. If you are not sure add it later. It is easy to sweeten a wine! Always think when adding something to a wine, don't just add something because the rules say so, use your brain!