Home winemaking is both fun and tasty, but the bottles can add up quickly. A single 5-gallon bath produces around 20 bottles of wine, and when I started making homemade wine I wanted to ferment everything I could get my hands on. After a few years, I had more than 200 bottles of wine in my basement.
Even with a full basement, I was still excited about brewing, but I simply can’t drink as much as I’d like to make. Brewing a small batch allows you to experiment with new flavors without spending a fortune on ingredients or turning your liver into pulp.
While we often think of wine coming from grapes, fruit and flower wines can be just as satisfying. Fruit wines are often difficult to find in the store, and floral wines are downright impossible. If you want to try one, you’ll have to make it yourself, and it makes sense to experiment with a small batch rather than committing to a huge amount of experimental wine.
When I say “small batch” I mean anywhere from a super tiny 1-pint tester batch, up to a four wine bottle one-gallon batch. The very tiny micro batches allow you to experiment with expensive or hard to gather ingredients. Sometimes you just can’t forage enough blossoms for a full gallon, or you’d rather not spend the time hand plucking petals from quart after quart of dandelions for a full gallon of dandelion wine.
Small Batch Wine Equipment
Winemaking generally requires a few basic pieces of equipment. A fermentation vessel holds the brew while it’s fermenting, and it’s capped with a water lock. The water lock allows the CO2 produced by the yeast to escape but prevents contamination from getting in and spoiling the wine. Think of it as a one-way valve that helps prevent pressure build up.
Next, a siphon is used to move the wine from one container to another and to bottle the wine. Wine isn’t just poured out because then all the sediment at the bottom of a brew would come too. A siphon allows you to move the brew out and leave the sediment behind.
Equipment for small batches used to be hard to come by. In years past I’ve seen friends hack together a small fermenter using a plastic soda bottle with a balloon attached to the top for a water lock. With the increasing interest in home fermenting, there are now super tiny batch mason jar fermenters available. They’re generally marketed at people who make their own sauerkraut or fermented pickles, but there’s no reason you can’t make wine in a mason jar.
There are a lot of choices for mason jar fermenters, and just about all of them work well. Often they’re a mason jar lid with a small rubber stopper and a traditional brewing water lock added. They’ll sometimes come with a wooden muddler and glass fermentation weights, which are great for fermenting vegetables but unnecessary for winemaking.
There’s now a new type of water lock that’s made out of silicone and doesn’t require water. These waterless water locks are much easier to clean, and much more convenient than those usually used for brewing. It doesn’t have the same “brewing” aesthetic, but if can get past the looks, they’re inexpensive and much more sanitary.
Wide mouth mason jars generally come in pint, quart and half gallon sizes. For full gallon batches, you can use traditional demijohns with a rubber stopper and airlock. The narrow neck can be tricky to clean, and I’ve mostly switched to using a specialized wide mouth one-gallon jar fermenter. It’s much more convenient for brews with a lot of particulate matter, like a floral wine. The largemouth fermenter also allows you to process the fruit and brew in the same container like I did for this rhubarb wine.
That covers fermentation vessels and water locks, now we still need a small batch siphon and bottling equipment.
For half-gallon and one-gallon batches, I use an auto siphon. Just a pump of two and the siphon action begins in seconds and your wine can be moved effortlessly into a clean container. For quart and pint batches, I break the rules. Since the jar is so small, it’s actually easier and cleaner to just pour very carefully into a clean jar, stopping before the last bits and leaving the sediment behind.
Big batch wines generally go into wine bottles with corks. With small-batch wines, there’s often not quite enough to bother with wine bottles and corks. I’ll use wine corks and a bottle corker for half-gallon and one-gallon batches, which make 2 and 4 bottles respectively. For quart and pint batches, it’s easy enough to just pour the wine into flip-top Grolsch bottles and skip the corks altogether. The Grolsch bottles can be reused and it’s less equipment to deal with.
Small Batch Wine Ingredients
Ingredients are simple right, just fruit and yeast? Well, not quite. It’s important to have the right balance of sugar, acid and tannin in any given wine. That’ll ensure good flavor, but also help the yeast work in optimum conditions.
Most fruit wines require roughly 2-3 pounds of fruit and 2 pounds of sugar. A good example is this peach wine, which calls for exactly that ratio. Floral wines don’t have fruit sugars, so they’ll require more added sugar to ferment properly. They’re generally around 2.5 to 3 pounds of sugar per gallon.
For smaller batches, all you need to do is reduce the sugar accordingly. For example, a quart is 1/4 of a gallon, so it would require 1/2 to 3/4 of a pound of sugar. There are roughly 2 cups of granulated sugar in each pound, so that would be 1 cup to 1.5 cups of sugar per quart batch of wine.
Beyond sugar and fruit, there’s acid, tannin and yeast nutrients. There are also a number of winemaking chemicals used to end the fermentation and create a still wine, assuming you don’t want any residual carbonation.
- Pectic Enzyme is used for breaking open fruit cells. It’s commonly used with fruits that don’t juice easily, and that you’d find sold in the store as a “nectar” rather than a juice. Mango wine is a good example of a wine that would use pectic enzyme.
- An acid blend to decrease the overall pH, which helps with flavor and keeps the yeast healthy.
- Yeast Nutrient to feed the yeast, and is helpful when working with fruits other than grapes which might not have all the right micronutrients. A few raisins added to the wine can also work as a yeast nutrient instead of the powdered additive.
- Tannin to give the sweet wine a bit of astringency and balance the flavor. Brewed black tea, currant leaves and grape leaves can also be used as a tannin source.
- Potassium Sorbate and Camden tablets (potassium metabisulfite) to completely end the fermentation and stabilize the wine before bottling.
The amount of any of these ingredients will vary based on the type of fruit used, as well as the batch size.
How to Make Small Batch Wine
Once you have the ingredients and equipment, the process is pretty similar to making wine of any batch size. Start by combining the fruit and sugar. If it’s whole fruit chunks, give the sugar a bit of time to extract juice from the fruit. If you’re starting with juice, mix the sugar with the juice until it’s dissolved and then add the acid source, tannin source and yeast nutrient.
Dissolve the yeast in a bit of water and allow it to bloom for at least 5 minutes. Adding dehydrated yeast directly into a sugary wine can shock the yeast before it’s had time to “wake up.”
There are a number of different wine yeasts, and each one will give the brew a different character. I tend to use Premier Blanc, formerly called “champagne yeast” because it rarely fails to ferment and it’s the most dependable. It tends to produce a rather high alcohol content, with a neutral character.
Other types of yeast will compliment different fruits, and it can get a bit complicated. If you’re just starting out, try Premier Blanc or use what’s suggested in the recipe.
Fermentation happens in several phases, the first is called “primary” and it’s where the fast and sometimes violent fermentation takes place. After the primary, the wine is usually siphoned off into a clean fermentation vessel. This leaves behind the sediment and will result in a clearer wine. This step is optional, but the finished wine will be higher quality. It usually takes 2-3 weeks for the primary fermentation to complete.
Secondary fermentation is usually slower and can take 2-3 weeks or 2-3 months. It’ll depend on the ingredients used and the ambient temperature. Once fermentation has stopped, and there are no visible bubbles for several minutes, the wine is ready for bottling. Leaving it in secondary longer is safer, and will prevent too much fermentation happening in the bottle. That can result in over carbonation unless you’re using a winemaking additive to stop fermentation.
Bottling and Aging Homemade Wine
After the secondary, rack the wine again and bottle using either Grolsch flip top bottles or corked wine bottles. If you’re going to keep the wine for more than a few months, use corked wine bottles. At this stage, you’ll need to decide if you want to use additives to stop fermentation to have a completely still wine. If you’ve allowed secondary to go on long enough, the fermentation will be complete and additives won’t be necessary.
Adding additional sugar, known as back sweetening, is also an option at bottling time. If you haven’t stopped fermentation, additional sugar may result in over carbonation, so be careful. Follow the recipe closely at this point, and don’t add to much sugar at bottling.
Homemade wines should bottle condition for at least 2 weeks, preferably much longer. Floral wines tend to need more time to mellow before you can taste their delicate flavor, and may need a year to taste their best. More robust fruit wines are quicker.
Making Medicinal Wines
Medicinal wines used to be a staple of home herbal practices. While these days most people preserve herbs in herbal tinctures, making a herbal wine or ale was simpler before cheap high-quality spirits became available. The “alewife” was a herbalist, who brewed her medicines into a tasty alcoholic concoction that got even the stubborn to take their medicine.
The Herbal Academy, an online herbal school, has a course called The Craft of Herbal Fermentation that takes you through the ins and outs of making medicinal beer, wine and mead. Though I’d already been making wines for years, I took the course a few years ago to learn about incorporating more herbs into my brewing.
I’ve since made a medicinal birch wine, with the sap harvested from our own birch trees. My daughter also loved helping me harvest a gallon of coltsfoot flowers this spring for a medicinal coltsfoot floral wine. Every year we make a batch of elderberry mead, which is a medicinal honey wine that helps to stave off winter colds.
My next medicinal brew is made with the sap of wild lettuce, and it’s a well-known pain reliever. I’ve had great success using wild lettuce sap for low back pain and I’m excited to see how it works in a ferment.
Honey Wines (Mead)
Honey wines, also known as mead, have more complexity than simple sugar or juice based wines. They also tend to have a warmer, richer mouthfeel and more body. Honey isn’t quite as easily fermented as fructose from fruit juices or sucrose from cane sugar, so they’ll generally do better with a bit of yeast nutrient added. A few raisins also add the necessary nutrients and help keep meads from stalling out before they’ve finished fermenting. Here’s a primer specifically on making small batch mead.
Small Batch Wine Recipes
I’ve been brewing now for more than a decade, but I’ve only switched over to small batches in the past 2 years. I wish I would have started there, it would have saved me a lot of money on ingredients. When you have to pour out 20 bottles of an experimental wine that turns out to be undrinkable, you’ll wish you had experimented with a small batch.
Here are a few small batch recipes for wines and meads I’ve developed in the past few years.
Fruit Wine Recipes
Honey Wine Recipes (Mead)
Herbal and Medicinal Wine Recipes
Any recipe can be converted to a small batch by dividing the ingredient quantities appropriately. Divide the ingredients in a 5-gallon batch by 5 for a 1 gallon, or by 20 for a 1-quart batch.
Need another reason to give it a try? Here’s a list of 10 reasons to make small batch mead, and all of them apply to any type of wine or homebrew.
Thank you for this!
What a great article. Thank you for taking the time to document all this and share with the world. I am motivated to try small batch wine now! Thanks again!!!
Wonderful, have fun!
Do you know if the EasyFermenter lid can be used for small batch?
Yes, all of the mason jar lids that work for lacto-ferments will also work for small-batch wine.
You have a recipe for elderberry mead, do you have an elderberry wine recipe? I have the one gallon jug for fermentation. Love your site and have joined up,
Not yet, but try using this recipe for blueberry wine and subbing in elderberries.
This is such a wonderful article. I am now hooked on your blog! Quick question, how important is the acid blend for 1 quart size batches using blueberry juice? Are there any acid blend replacements, like black tea for tannins? I’m eager to get started and don’t want to wait for it to arrive with all the shipping delays, but if it’s a critical step, I will wait 🙂
I am assuming by now you could have received the acid blend. Did you end up making the wine?
thank you, this was very helpful!
Lori N Herring
Why do you recommend not using the flip stopper bottles for small batched wine? Is it just a preference? It seems like it would be a lot simpler and less expensive in the long run. If corked bottles are a must ( dumb question alert!) how do you get the cork in the bottle?
I prefer corked wine bottles, but you can totally use flip-top bottles too. There’s a tool called a capper that easily pushes the cork into your wine bottle.
How can I bottle my homemade dandelion wine once it is ready to be bottled and I want to use canning jars?
Yes, you can bottle in canning jars for short term if you can’t get corked wine bottles. If you do that, I’d suggest keeping it in the fridge and consuming within a few weeks to a few months.
Question from a former beer homebrewer: my wife has just begun a batch of strawberry wine using your recipe and it completely escaped me that when brewing beer, primary is usually in a large enough vessel to allow for space for an active fermentation.
We seem to have a very active fermentation in our one gallon bottle of strawberry wine and it has expanded and backed up into the airlock. I have no experience with fruit wines or wine in general, so I’m curious if we should have done primary in a larger vessel to allow for that space? Do you ever experience really active primary fermentation?
Yes, during primary is when the yeast is at its most active. It’s always important to leave enough headspace. It should be fine. Just remove the airlock and resanitize.
Even though I’ve shown a lot of interest in wine making I’ve hesitated to begin. At one point I had a small kit that worked well with bottled fruit juices but they since then no longer provide the kits and supplies. I’d like to get back into the small kit brewing as I love a well made fruity wine and have a hard time finding just what I’m looking for right off the shelf. My question is do you know of anyone prepackaging a start up kit for beginners in small batch wine making? I’m very much interested in buying one. Thanks.
I don’t, however most everything I talk about in this post is easily available on Amazon or at a homebrewing supply store.
Hi” I have a bag of green pears (small) from my friend tree that
broken from a storm. I want to
make wine. Can you make wine,
If you use raw pears they should have plenty of wild yeast on their skins, so you don’t nessisarily have to add packaged yeast. Just make sure you juice them raw (not by cooking/seam juicing, etc) and it should make a decent fresh perry (pear cider).
Its a great article as it kinda made me want to make a smallbatch of wine from home but what my husband recently made wine from home using tips from https://homemadewinery.blogspot.com
First, I love your posts. Thank you for always sharing. I have about 2 cups of cherry juice left from canning cherry pie filling, would this work for making a small batch of cherry wine?
Yes you can really make any size batch that you want.
One of the most helpful things I have found on the internet in terms of explanation of everything! I didn’t want to follow exact recipes, this gave a better understanding so I can do it completely on my own. Thank you so much.
That’s so good to know. I am so glad you enjoyed the article.
Hello! This is a great, great place for information. I am spending hours here! I have a quart jars of a mixed berry and honey Meade and for the first time after many failed attempts it is bubbling very nicely. This is just the second day. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks very much!!!
You’re very welcome. That’s wonderful. I can’t wait to hear how it turns out.
I’m interested in homemade wine (and just started out making glutinous rice wine).
I wondered if there’s any danger of methanol production and if so, do you have any tips for minimizing methanol in homemade wine?
It is my understanding that a small amount of methanol is present in homemade wines but not enough to pose a risk and the ethanol is much higher which delays the processing of the methanol. Also, toxic levels of methanol are more of a concern when you are distilling spirits from wine because it concentrates the alcohol.
You’re very welcome.
What do you do when your wine isn’t quite enough to fill a bottle? Leave it an inch short of the cork? Or what do you fill it with?
Generally, there isn’t enough wine when making small batches to mess with a bottle and cork so it’s easier to just use a flip-top style bottle.
if I am making a smaller batch, do I still use the whole packet of yeast or do I divide that as well?
If you are doing a quart you can use 1/4 of the packet of yeast and save the rest for other batches.
Now that I am more settled in my new home I am at this again. I have a 5 gallon bucket with mixed berries fermenting. Were going on week 2 and there’s still a lot of bubbling going on. I used active dry yeast but have some champange yeast on the way. When i t gets here can I still add it it to the already bubbling fermentation?
I don’t know that it would hurt to add the champagne yeast but I am afraid you will still have some off-flavors from the addition of the active dry yeast.
First off, thank you for all this information. I’ve read a ton of your posts and feel confident to start my first batch. I’ve been doing a lot of reading from other sites too, where a hydrometer is recommended in some recipes/steps, but I don’t see it mentioned in yours. Do you use one? Is this a tool needed for the small batch wine recipes you’ve shared on your site?
Thanks so much!
You can certainly use one if you wish, but it’s not necessary for any of the recipes on this site.
I sure would love to know your recipe for wild lettuce! I have used a tincture for years but I’m intrigued with this since the tincture has such a fierce taste!
This post briefly describes the process but there isn’t an exact recipe. https://practicalselfreliance.com/wild-lettuce-pain-relief/
Sorry if this is stupid, but what recipe should I follow or what should I do, if I just want to make grape wine?
It’s not a stupid question at all. There aren’t any grape wine recipes on the blog because grape wine is much more complicated than what can be contained in a blog post. This is mainly because there are so many variables in grapes that affect every aspect of the winemaking process.
This is exactly what I was looking for; thank you for sharing your expertise!
You’re very welcome.
Have you ever tried fermenting concord grapes?
We actually grow at least 12 varieties of grapes that are used for wine. That process is a little more complicated than what can be shared in a simple blog post which is why you don’t see any grape wine recipes on the blog.
I’m trying this for the first time! Thanks in advance for the guidance! I’m using fresh pomegranates so I’ve had to do some estimations (I got about 2c seeds). I’m now at about 2c of juice (including the volume from adding sugar). I’m sure the proportion of yeast to juice is important, but I’m not sure about adding more water at the end to fill up my vessels. I have several 1-pint (2 cup) vessels, so my batch won’t fit, it’s just a little too much and will overflow. I’m thinking of using two 1-pint vessels, and then just filling with water to be within about 1″ of the top of the vessel. Does that sound ok? I’m worried that if I top off with water (like the small batch peach recipe suggests) I might dilute the flavor too much. Or that if I leave too much head space it’ll spoil. Thoughts on what to do if your batch size is a little too much (or too little) volume for your fermentation vessel?
It really depends on how much water you’re adding. If there is still plenty of flavor after adding the water then you should be ok.
can you make apple wine
You sure can! Here is a post for that https://practicalselfreliance.com/apple-wine/
I didn’t know small batched were an option. Thanks for this information. You’ve given me one more thing for my to-do list (thank you??!!). 🙂
You’re very welcome.