How To Make Red Wine

Red Winemaking Instructions

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How To Make Red Wine - Step-by-Step



Typical Time Line for Red Wine Fermentation

Active yeast fermentation in primary fermentors
Pressed wine moved to secondary fermentors, leaving head space for foaming
Rack off gross lees and top up containers. Test for ML completion.
Rack off lees again and sulfite, store in cool place for aging, topping and sulfiting every couple months. Add oak.
Racking off lees, adjusting sulfite, fining or filtering, or just topping up
Rack to bottling container, add sulfite, cork and store.
5-14 Days
1 - 2 weeks
1 month
4 to 6 months
1 to 3 months
Usually in time for next harvest


FIRST, BE SURE YOU HAVE THE NECESSARY EQUIPMENT AND INGREDIENTS.  You may like to review our list of standard winemaking equipment and ingredients here. Then proceed with the following process to make red wine.


  1. Crush (break the skins) and de-stem the grapes. For most grape varieties, about 90% of the larger stems should be removed.

  2. Test for total acidity following the instructions in your acid testing kit. If the acidity is less than .6%, add enough tartaric acid to bring it to that level. If you have a pH meter, calibrate it and test the pH as well.

  3. Test for sugar with your hydrometer. Correct any deficiencies by adding enough sugar to bring the reading up to at least 22° Brix or add water to bring the sugar down to a range between 22° and 26° Brix.

  4. When these tests and corrections have been completed, the must should be sulfited. Estimating that you will get roughly one gallon of juice yield for every 16 lbs. of grapes, calculate the anticipated amount of juice. Using this estimate, add enough sulfite to give you a sulfur dioxide (SO2) level between 50 and 130 parts per million (ppm). If you plan to add a Malolactic culture, keep this addition below 50 ppm. Refer here for further sulfite instructions. The amount needed will depend on the condition of the grapes, with moldy grapes getting the most concentrated dose. Extremely clean grapes may be fermented with little or no SO2. Consider adding Lallzyme EX™ red wine enzyme at this time to accelerate the fruit maceration and increase your press yield.  If using Lallzyme EX™, wait 15 or 20 minutes after sulfiting, then add enzyme.
  5. Unless you have found it necessary to add more than 65 parts per million SO2 in step 4, yeast should be added immediately. If using more than 65 parts per million SO2, you must wait six hours before doing so. Add 1 - 2 grams of dry wine yeast per gallon evenly across the surface of the crushed grapes (now called “must”). Stir it in thoroughly after eight to twelve hours. Also, begin your nutrient program using Fermaid K and/or DAP.
  6. The must should be stirred twice a day until fermentation begins. The beginning of fermentation is obvious, as the grape skins are forced to the surface, forming a solid layer, called a cap. Once the cap has formed, mix it back down into the fermenting juice twice a day using your hand or a stainless steel punch-down tool until it is ready to be pressed. Consider using FT Rouge Soft Enological Tannin and/or Opti-Red® Specific Inactivated Yeast at this time to improve the mouthfeel and color stability of the wine.  If using either, sprinkle them over the must and mix in at the first punch-down, or in the case of Opti-Red you may also add it at a punch-down later in the fermentation.
  7. Throughout fermentation, the temperature of the must is usually between about 60 and 75°F. For better color extraction from the skins, it is helpful to allow the temperature to rise at least once to the 80-90°F range. The fermentation itself generates some heat, which helps warm the must along with warm fall weather. If it is late in the season you may need a heater.
  8. When the wine has reached 0° Brix the grapes should be pressed to separate the wine from the skins.

    This is usually about 1-2 weeks of fermentation at 70-80°F. During pressing, collect the wine into a bucket under the press and funnel the wine into secondary fermentors. Attach fermentation locks, and allow the containers to settle until all visible signs of fermentation have ceased (several days to a week or so). Top full when all activity ceases even if you have to add wine from another batch, or buy a similar wine, remember, you get to drink it later.
  9. OPTIONAL - Add a Malolactic bacteria culture to the wine.  In the case of direct pitch strains like Enoferm Alpha™ or Viniflora™, the bacteria is added to the secondary fermentor(s) after pressing.  If you inoculate for ML, test the wine to be sure it is complete after 3 weeks.
  10. If no ML culture is added, the wine can be racked when the sugar fermentation is complete.  Test for completion of sugar fermentation with a residual sugar test or endpoint precision hydrometer.  The hydrometer reading should be -1.5 to -2° brix. Another sign of completion is that the wine will begin to clarify, generally 1-2 weeks after pressing If your sugar fermentation is complete, rack the wine off the gross lees into clean, sanitized storage containers (glass, stainless steel, or oak). Top up the containers, add enough sulfite to achieve 25-30 ppm of free SO2 (total SO2 needed will be much higher), and let stand for a month in cool storage. If ML fermentation is still active do not add sulfite during this time and wait until the ML fermentation is complete before you rack off the lees.  If you inoculated for ML, test the wine to be sure it is complete.  When ML is complete, you may proceed with racking and sulfiting.
  11. After one month, rack the wine away from the lees again, add enough sulfite to achieve 25-30 ppm of free SO2 (total SO2 needed will be much higher), and keep in topped up containers for four to six months. You must top up barrels, and visually inspect the carboys. This is a good time to add oak alternatives such as sticks or cubes. Add sulfite every few weeks, testing approximately every 2 months to avoid over or under sulfiting the wine. Store in a cool place for aging.
  12. After 4 to 6 months, rack off the lees again.  Raise the sulfite to at least 20-30 ppm free SO2, and maintain a cool place for aging. If ML fermentation has not completed, consider adding Bactiless or EnartisStab Micro to stabilize the wine. If using Tannin Riche Enological Tannin from French oak, mix it with the wine during a racking at least 3 weeks before bottling.
  13. Usually during the summer, bottle the wine. Just before you need your storage containers for the next year’s crush, carefully rack the wine to a sanitary bottling container, then siphon into bottles and cork them. Keep the bottles neck-up for one week to allow the corks time to expand, then move the cases to their side or upside down for storage. Bottling time is your last opportunity to make sure the wine will be bottle stable, so test and adjust the sulfite to 30 ppm free SO2. If this is a sweet wine, add Sorbistat to keep the wine from further fermentation. Most red wines will benefit from at least one year’s additional aging.