There are many reasons to make homemade wine, from health to being cost conscious, but for me it’s the experience of doing something on my own and freeing myself from reliance on a store for something I enjoy.
This freedom soon translates into artistic license. Once you learn the technique and science behind wine making you are free to experiment. Then you can create wines from fruits and vegetables that you grow.
Making wine can become a hobby, or just a way to put food aside. Therefore, you can spend as much or as little time, effort, and resources as you desire. I personally enjoy a cold glass of sweet tea much more than a glass of chardonnay. However, I DO enjoy seeing others enjoy the products of my labor and skill. It is pleasing to me, and worth the effort to give a bottle of MY wine as a gift, or to enjoy it with someone.
Homemade Wine is Healthy
We all know about the French paradox. The French as a culture eat as much (or more) of the fatty foods as we do but have a much lower instance of heart disease than out American culture. While the entire reason for this is unclear. There is much evidence that the flavonoids found in the skins, seeds, stems, and pulp of dark grapes protect against heart attacks, blood clots, hardening of the arteries, Alzheimer’s, and kidney stones. It has also been bound that fermenting grape juice allows more of the flavonoids to be released than pressing into juice alone.
Making Wine is a Good Disaster Prep
From a disaster prep standpoint, making wine has two good purposes. Utility of them can be decided upon by the reader. The first is barter. If you put aside a bottle or two from every batch of wine you make, over the course of a year you will have a decent store of wine, This collection could be traded for items you may not have. The second is that throughout history fermented beverages were served almost exclusively in place of water. This is because without modern infrastructure, it can become difficult to purify water. The fermentation process kills many harmful organisms. Additionally, the alcohol contained in wine serves as a good preservative.
The recipe works whatever reason you want to try to make your own wine. Below is a simple beginner recipe that you can try before you decide to invest money in a better “quality” wine.
How to Make Homemade Wine Cheaply
- 5 gallon jug, carboy, or bucket with a tight fitting lid
- Rubber stopper
- 4 cans 100% grape juice concentrate, thawed (try to get a brand without sulfides- that is a preservative to inhibit fermentation)
- 4 pounds sugar
- 5 Gallons unchlorinated water (if using tap, its best to let it sit a couple days to let the chlorination dispel)
- Wine yeast
- Clean the container with hot water. It is vital that your fermentation container is clean and sterile. You do not want your juice to rot you want it to ferment. So you must kill any bad bacteria. Remember, you cannot sterilize something until it is clean.
- Pour the four cans of grape juice concentrate into the bucket. If using a carboy or jug, you will need the funnel.
- Pour in enough water to make 3 1/2 gallons of grape juice/water mixture.
- Measure 1/2 gallon of water into a large stockpot. Heat over low heat and add the 4 pounds of sugar. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. One this solution of sugar and water is completely dissolved add the entire pot of water to your fermentation container.
- Measure 3 tablespoons of sugar into a small bowl. Add 1 package of wine yeast. Add 1/4 cup hot water. I have used bread yeast and champagne yeast also. The alcohol content may be slightly different. The fermentation times may change, but it will all work.
- It should take about 10 minutes for the yeast to activate. Once it has become “bubbly” pour the yeast mixture into the jug.
- Secure the airlock and rubber stopper on the carboy. Set the carboy in a spot where it will not be disturbed and the temperature doesn’t have a lot of fluctuation.
- Allow the wine mixture to ferment for approximately one month. When the airlock no longer bubbles when the jug or carboy is tapped, the wine is done.
Tips on Storing While Fermenting
During the fermenting stage I keep my wine in an bedroom closet. Its close enough where I can check it, the temperature is stable. Plus I don’t have to see it if I choose not too.
I do make a concession to my bride. I keep the fermenting bucket in a big plastic container so in the event any sloshes out it will be collected and not stain her carpet.
Bottling Your Homemade Wine
How to Tell Your Wine is Done
When your wine has stopped bubbling in the airlock, it should be done converting all the sugar to alcohol. However, you cannot just stick your head in the bucket and drink it. Well I guess you could, but the dead bodies of all the yeast and other sediments will influence your drinking experience.
This is where bottling comes in.
You need a method of removing the clear top wine without disturbing the junk that settles to the bottom. You could use commercial clarifying agents like isinglass, but I expect if you wanted to add commercial agents you would not be reading about CHEAP homemade wine.
Like the crusty old car mechanic told me “you can have it cheap, fast, or good – Pick two). I chose cheap and good, so my method of clarification is to put the bucket on top of my kitchen table (to make it easier to use my siphon later) and let it sit a couple days undisturbed so the sediment can fall to the bottom of the bucket.
Racking the Wine (Getting it Out of the Bucket)
Once it has settled, you need to be able to siphon off the wine. Ensure that you leave the last inch or two of wine on the bottom of the bucket undisturbed. For this I used a racking cane. A racking cane is just a clear plastic tube about 3 feet long with a 90 bend in the last 6 inches or so. A piece of clear plastic tube fits to the top angle. A small rubber foot attaches to the bottom end of the tube so that it won’t sit on the bottom of the bucket.
To use the racking cane, you turn it upside down and keep the both ends (the long solid tube end with the foot, and the unattached end of flexible tune) together at the same height and fill the cane completely full of water. This makes a big “U” shape. If you then press your thumb over the hole in the end of the flexible tube you can the invert the cane and no water will spill out. Try this over the sink because it failed on me the first time. This is just like holding your finger in a straw and pulling coke out of a glass.
Use a Helper
If you then have a helper pull the airlock off the wine fermenter, you can drop the racking cane into the wine (be careful not to stick it in two deeply and stir up any sediment. Then, without removing your finger from the end of the hose, drop the hose end below the fermenter and into whatever you are going to bottle your wine in.
When you remove the pressure from the end of the hose, the tap water you put in will flow out due to gravity. IF the other end of the racking cane is above the end of the hose, and it is submerged in wine, your wine will be sucked up into the cane and siphoned down into your bottles.
You may have to do this a couple times to get the hang of it. This is just like siphoning gas. You don’t HAVE to have a racking cane. However, if you use your lung power to suck a vacuum in the hose to start the siphon, then please don’t invite me to drink your wine…
Bottling the Wine
It doesn’t matter what you bottle your wine into as long as it is: strong, sterile, and able to be sealed. I don’t use wine bottles, as I am cheap. Mason jars work nicely, as well as adding a certain “vibe” that coordinates well with my cheap grape juice wine…
I find two things that make the bottling process go smoother. Having a container (I use a big casserole dish) to set your bottles in keeps me from spilling. A single drop of wine on my wife’s carpet will end my wine-making career. Having an extra set of hands is also pretty valuable. This is because the bottles fill quickly. I don’t like loosing suction in the cane and having to start over. My helper can replace filled bottles and cap them while I am filling the others.
Once I finished bottling the wine, I made sure to add tops to the jars so as not to allow any other unwanted bacteria into the new wine. Because that is how vinegar is made.) I used my alcometer to see just how well I did. It registered about 14 proof or 7% alcohol. However, that number is pretty worthless, as I forgot to measure the juice before fermentation to compare. What I can tell you that a quart jar consumed rapidly does affect normal speech patterns, so I did make some sort of “hootch”.
I will give you another reason to invest in better materials if you want to make wine. This batch turned out carbonated. It tasted and felt a lot more like “Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill” than any Merlot. The carbonation was strictly an accident, caused by secondary fermentation after bottling. If I used a weaker bottle, it could have ruptured. I could have added sulfates to the wine if I wasn’t cheap. Sulfates kill the yeast prior to bottling, but they are neither “organic” nor cheap.
When you use commercial wine yeasts you get more consistent results.
In the end, I am pretty happy with the results of my wine. The 4+ gallons I made will sit in my library for a couple years. This is because we drink about a bottle of wine a quarter. Additionally, I may drink a 6 pack in a year. The real reason I wanted to introduce wine making into my house was so I could use it as another excuse to get bees. I was all “Look honey, if you want me to make mead, you gotta let me get bees….” It must have worked, as this weekend in the “beginner beekeeping class, my bride stumbled upon the mead kits in the catalogs we were given and told me she wanted to try to make some honey wine”
If you have left over wine you can also use it to make vinegar.