Home winemaking: tips for beginners

One of the ways in which you can develop self-sufficiency is in the use of surplus crops of fruit and vegetables to make your own wine. In these straightened times this is a great way to reduce the weekly shopping bill and avoid paying the large and ever increasing excise duty levied on commercial wines.

Home wine making is a much easier operation than you might at first imagine. I have been making wine for many years with some great results. It’s more or less true to say that you can make wine out of virtually any fruit and a large number of vegetables. However, after some experimentation, I settled on a few favourites: from my allotment and garden I make parsnip wine in late February, gooseberry in June and plum in August/September. From the hedgerow I also collect elderberries to make a tremendous blood-dark wine with a deep mellow flavour.

In the autumn of 2009 I made blackberry wine for the first time, which provided a rich spicy drink for Christmas 2011. I have also been growing a vine on the arbour of my patio for several years; for the past two years using the harvest to make a very drinkable red grape wine. All in all, after a strenuous session on your plot, having a home-made tipple to sip in the evening must be a good idea and very much in keeping with the spirit of ‘the Good Life’!

Parsnip wine – a good choice for the beginner 

Parsnip wine is a good variety to begin with because it’s a very easy recipe and a great way to use up the last of the parsnips before the end of the season. It’s an old favourite but one which requires a long maturing time after fermentation is complete, at least a year in the bottle before drinking. It produces a crisp sweet tasting wine delicious when served chilled as an aperitif.

So in late winter you need to harvest 4-5 lbs of old parsnips which are then scrubbed clean and cut up into thick chunks, without peeling off the skins – this helps to prevent the pieces breaking up in the pan but in any case care must be taken to simmer very gently until tender. If the parsnips are over-cooked the wine may never clear properly. The liquid extract is then strained through a muslin cloth then returned to the pan and reheated, adding 3 lbs of sugar. Stir until dissolved and then cool. At this stage other flavours may be added such as the juice of 3 oranges (making sure to strain before adding). As the liquor cools down it can be transferred to the glass demijohn for fermentation. If required, top up with additional water to make the full gallon. A teaspoon of yeast is added when the temperature has dropped to about 18 degrees C. The fermentation lock is replaced and very soon bubbles will start to rise as the yeast begins to ferment, turning the sugar into alcohol! Fermentation takes between two – three months so the demijohn needs to be placed somewhere where it does not need to be moved and where the temperature will remain fairly warm.

Fermentation will peak quite rapidly and then slowly fall away until no bubbles are rising and the water in the air lock between the two chambers is level. When this has happened, leave the liquor to clear a further week and then if still cloudy add Pectolase, an enzyme that breaks down the pectin in the liquor and clears the wine of any residual haze. After a further period to allow the wine to settle and clear I first syphon the wine into another vessel, leaving the yeasty must at the bottom, and then pour back into the cleaned and resealed demijohn using a funnel. Then I let it stand overnight before pouring into sterilised bottles.  The bottles should be filled to a level one inch below that of the cork, when fitted.

The corking operation is fairly simple, requiring a hammer and hand corking machine. The cork is place in the top of the machine and fitted over the wine bottle and the hammer is used to lightly tap the cork down into the bottle, using the metal capped press.

Commercially bottled wine is stored horizontally in racks, which keeps the wine in contact with the cork and prevents it drying out and shrinking. However home made wine is more likely to have a light sediment which, if laid horizontally, would spread itself along the length of the bottle, making it difficult to pour without clouding. One answer is to place your wine rack at an angle against the wall, allowing the wine in the sloping bottle to retain contact with the cork. Now the bottled parsnip wine must be left for a year before drinking!

‘Cold mash and steeping’ technique  – gooseberry and plum wines

With gooseberry wine you use a different technique. Top and tail 4 lbs of gooseberries – the sweeter the better (‘desert’ gooseberries for preference) and cover with boiling water. Mash vigorously with your hands when cool. Steep in a large vessel for three days. Strain, place in a large pan and heat; add three pounds of sugar and dissolve. Bring to boiling point to sterilise then allow to cool. Place in demijohn and add yeast when temperature has dropped to room temperature. According to tradition, drink when next year’s gooseberries form on the bushes!

With plum wine 4 lbs of ripe fruit are simmered gently until soft. Then let the mash stand for three days; strain, return to the pan and reheat, adding 3 and a half pounds of sugar and dissolve. Continue as before.

Basic equipment for a gallon of home made wine – commonly available at good home wine making shops.

Six recycled wine bottles including a half-size bottle;

One glass demijohn; cork bung with centre hole; fermentation lock.

Plastic siphon tubing (four foot in length); siphon tap.

Hand corking machine.

Supply of corks and labels.

Wine thermometer.

Muslin cloth filter and frame.

Large plastic vessel.

Large stainless steel saucepan.

Wine making yeast.


Sterilisation tablets.


General hints and tips:

Make sure you are using clean instruments and vessels by sterilising before use.

Make sure to clean all fruit and vegetables thoroughly, remove blemished fruit and cut out bruised areas.

I would be glad to receive any comments, suggestions and experiences you may like to provide in the comments field!



About jonathanspain

My blog reflects my interests in local history in South Cambridgeshire, growing your own food, and walking in the district and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Allotments, Food Self-sufficiency and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Home winemaking: tips for beginners

  1. gundam says:

    thanks.very good blog and very good share.

  2. elaine says:

    good and easy receipe.

  3. Lee says:

    Going to give the Gooseberry wine ago this week!

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