I’ve been putting off starting my first wine kit for a little while now. Not because I haven’t been interested in it, just because I, admittedly, have been a little lazy when it came to tidying up a spot in the basement to get my wine started. My wife and I got together and started doing some killer spring cleaning a few weeks ago. We moved stuff around, moved a shelf, threw things away, and finally… my space is ready.

This past Saturday (April 7th) was going to be the day I started it all. The first thing to do is get all your equipment in one place, open up your kit, and read the instructions. Once you’re done, read the instructions again. Different kits may have different instructions. Read them and understand them. If you have to, take some notes on the steps you need to take in the order you need to do them. It may help keep you organized.

The first step was to clean and sanitize all the gear you will be using. The first step needs:

  1. Primary fermenter
  2. Thermometer
  3. Wine thief
  4. Hydrometer
  5. Stirring spoon

Optional equipment: Test jar, wine whip

Cleaning and sanitizing are different things, and you need to be aware of that so you don’t miss a step. The cleaning agent I have can both clean, and sanitize your equipment. I opted to use a separate sanitizer this time. Of course, follow the mixing instructions for each cleaning/sanitizing chemical. I started by adding water to my fermenter, then adding the cleaner to it. I mixed it all around, then tossed all my equipment in that bucket. I got down on the floor and made sure I completely covered all surfaced of the gear with the cleaner, inside and out. Rinse well with water. I repeated the same steps with the sanitizer. For the awkward shaped items that didn’t easily fit into the pail, I grabbed a small measuring cup and poured the cleaner and sanitizer over them.

Once everything was clean, sanitized, and rinsed… if you can follow the directions you’re well on your way to 30 bottles of wine.

What was my first problem?? Temperature. You aren’t supposed to add the yeast to the grape juice unless the temperature is within a certain range. Too cold and the yeast won’t activate. Too warm and the yeast will cook and die. My thermometer has a handy little green background in the graduations for the ideal temperature range. Everything was good. I added the yeast. I carried the pail downstairs, and placed it on a foam mat, on a wood shelf. I wrapped my heat belt around it, and plugged it in. The heat belt is used to warm and maintain the ideal temperature for fermentation. The only thing is there’s no clear indicator that the heat belt is working. I was curious so I checked the temperature a few hours after moving it downstairs. The temperature dropped. Below the ideal range. Uh oh… is my kit going to be a big waste?? Being a Saturday evening, I couldn’t call up anyone at Wine Sense and ask questions. Couldn’t do that either on Sunday since only one store is open on Sunday’s, and it was probably closed because of Easter. I had to wait until today to do anything about it.

Fortunately for me, they exchanged my heat belt with no issues, offered some advice, and sent me on my way. This belt is working just fine, temperature is where it should be, and fermentation is actively occurring. You can tell by the fizzing sound coming from the fermenter. Whew. Now it’s a waiting game until it’s time to rack in about a week.