I'm happy to report my first wine experiment has successfully made it all the way to being bottled. The Apple Wine stopped fermenting while it was still a bit sweet, but I liked the flavor. Rather than ferment it out further, I decided to call it a Sweet Apple Wine and call it a day.
The wine had cleared up quite a bit while it sat in the carboy, but could have sat & aged longer. However, with our son's birth fast approaching, I wanted to bottle it before he came and life got busier. I borrowed my brother-in-law's Mini Jet wine filter to remove any remaining haze/particles from the wine, and the difference was impressive... crystal clear.
After collecting a surplus of bottles from craigslist, I was well stocked and ready to bottle. Bottles were washed & sanitized, I started the siphon from the 6-gallon carboy, and began filling bottles. I only spilled a little wine when the bottle filler bumped against the outside of a bottle; not too bad for my first try. All total, I got almost 31 bottles out of the 6 gallon batch. The last partial bottle was sacrificed for quality control purposes, so to speak. You can definitely taste the apple flavor. It still has some of the alcohol "burn," but that should mellow-out over time.
Corking went relatively well, considering I have the most basic corker available. I had to put a lot of force into it to cork each one. I can say now that I appreciate the mechanical advantage of a good corker. I may need to upgrade before bottling my next batch. I left the bottles standing upright for a couple days so the corks could expand and seal up, and then turned them on their sides for storage.
During the months the wine was in the carboy I was working out label designs in Photoshop and eventually arrived at the final design shown here. Just in case I decide to change label shapes in the future, I decided to use full-sheet label paper so I wasn't stuck with a fixed size. It's a bit more work to cut them out, but not too bad.
I've seen labels printed on inkjet printers before, and I know the ink can run & bleed when it gets wet... especially when the wine bottle gets some condensation on it. So I tried something a bit different. After finalizing my label design, I brought it over to FedEx Office (formerly Kinkos), and printed 6 sheets (36 labels) for less than $4. The key was printing in color laser-printing. This won't bleed when it gets wet, and as an added bonus, they have a nice shiny finish to them.
Now the wine can continue to age & improve in the bottles. It's been a fun project with results I can be proud of and enjoy. Maybe we'll break some out at Thanksgiving & Christmas, or maybe when our son is born! I'm sure we can find reasons.