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French vineyard dream - equipment needed to turn your grapes into wine

Wine grower and producer Jonathan Hesford looks at the kit and costs involved for a new ‘vigneron’ and it might be more than you think

Winemaking equipment

Making red wine will need slightly different equipment to white wine Pic: Jonathan Hesford

This month, I am going to discuss the equipment needed to make wine from those vines and why making your own wine is not a project for the fainthearted.  

Loads of home-winemakers make small amounts of wine for their own consumption, either from grape concentrate or from grapes.

My uncle back in England was very proud of his rice and raisin wine made in a demijohn, which he claimed was on a par with my wine, bless him. 

But what if you fancy making enough wine to give to friends and family or to sell commercially? 

Winery supply shops can be found wherever grapes are grown and will usually sell to hobbyists as well as professionals. 

As well as equipment, they stock consumables like yeasts, winemaking additives, cleaning products, bottles and corks.

It’s worth mentioning at the start that the process of making white wine (and rosé) is different to making red wine. 

White wine is made from pressed juice whereas red wine is made from crushed whole grapes with the skins and pips. 

Process for white wine

Looking at white wine first, in order to extract the juice, you need to press the grapes. 

You can buy a small traditional wooden vertical screw press which will handle 30-150 litres for a few hundred Euros and there are even miniature pneumatic presses available for around €1,500.  

You don’t have to de-stem or crush the grapes but doing so will give you more juice with less pressure. 

De-stemming and crushing by hand and foot is very slow and messy. 

A mechanical crusher will do the job in minutes and a small, manual one costs about €500. An electrical crusher/de-stemmer that can handle a whole vineyard of grapes is going to be more like €2,500.

You will need a sealed vessel to ferment your white juice, preferably stainless steel although plastic, fibreglass and wooden casks can be used. 

You’ll need several of these to move wine to for clarification, maturing, blending and bottling. 

It’s beneficial to be able to cool the fermenting juice which can be done simply using a cooling coil fitted to the cold water supply but for larger volumes, you need some form of refrigeration unit, which start at €1,000. 

To transfer your juice and wine from tank to tank you need a pump and some hoses, which need to connect to your tank valves. 

A small, basic electrical pump starts at €500 but if you want variable speed and a remote control, it’s going to cost at least €2,500.

White wine generally needs to be filtered to make it stable and clear but a simple cartridge filter costs as little as €100 or can be rented from winery supply shops.

Easier to make red wine

It is easier to make red wine than white wine on a small scale because you don’t need to cool the ferments and the wine is much easier to press off the skins after fermentation than beforehand. 

You can ferment crushed red grapes in open-topped plastic tubs and empty them by bucket into the press without too much risk. Even professional wineries do this. 

Red wine generally needs to be matured before it is ready for drinking and oak barrels are probably the best vessels for that job. 

A standard wine barrel is 225lts and these are the most readily available. You can buy them second hand from wineries for about €100-200 but make sure they have been properly cleaned and sterilized otherwise your lovely wine will turn to vinegar in a few weeks. 

New barrels cost between €500 and €900 and can be found in smaller sizes. 

Red wine can be bottled unfiltered, providing you have settled it and carefully racked it off the sediment.  

Hire the local mobile bottler

As well as this basic equipment, you are going to need several hoses with screw-fittings, perhaps with adaptors for different vessels, attachments for filling and emptying barrels, racking wine off the sediment and  numerous buckets, bins, jugs and measuring cylinders. 

If you don’t have access to a testing laboratory, you will need at least some analytical equipment such as hydrometers, a pH meter, burettes and pipettes. 

Once your wine is ready for bottling you can fill several dozen bottles by hand with a simple siphon hose but it’s much safer and quicker to use a bottle-filler, which can be bought for as little as €500. 

A manual corking machine will cost about €100-200. 

However, I would not recommend this equipment for commercial use. 

In every wine region it is possible to hire the services of a mobile bottler who can do up to 15,000 bottles in a day, but you have to make sure you have already bought the bottles, corks, capsules, labels, cartons and pallets or cages to store the bottled wine. 

As a rule of thumb, each finished bottle costs €1-2.

Cleanliness and safety

Last and by far means not least, you need good cleaning equipment. 

Handling caustic cleaning products will require gloves, goggles, protective clothing and a range of sponges and brushes. 

One of the best things I bought for my winery was a diesel-powered pressure-washer which is great for cleaning tanks and barrels as well as the winery floor. 

That brings me on to the facilities. Although there is a term “garagiste” to describe small-scale winemakers, you can’t easily make wine in a garage. 

You need several water points and safe, water-proof electrical sockets, preferably three-phase for the equipment, as well as insulated pipes for refrigeration (if required). 

Do not underestimate how much space you need and avoid steps in the winery. 

Imagine that Daleks are going to be making the wine! 

There is an easier way…

Finally, making wine is a messy, wet job so the winery floor must be self-draining. Those drains will need to be cleaned of grape skins and other gunk and they must not feed into the town sewer system.

Moving things around the winery, such as small vats, barrels and packaged wine, is a lot easier with a pallet-trolley, which costs about €800, although that won’t stack pallets or load them into vans. 

If you want to sell your wine, you will require authorization from the local wine syndicate, the chambre de commerce, the douanes and the regional wine control board, all of whom have standards, procedures, record-keeping, controls and, of course, fees.

Therefore you may decide, like thousands of French vignerons, that it’s easier and cheaper to take your grapes to the local cooperative and use your 30% membership discount to buy the wines they make. 

Related articles

What you need to know before producing your own wine in France

A guide to the winemaker’s calendar in France

Price of wine set to rise in France due to shortage of bottles

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