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Frugal Tip: Make Your Own Wine I – An Introduction

This is a guest post by HBoy, a DIY personal finance and wine enthusiast, on the financial benefits of making your own wine.

Making beer, especially wine, is one of the highest after tax return DIY projects the average person can do. It typically pays $50 to $75 dollars per hour after tax.

The Savings

Here are the rough figures for wine. One can get two 30 bottle kits at Costco for about $75. These kits include everything but the equipment: concentrate, additives, yeast, labels, corks, even capsules (the shrink plastic that goes over the top of the bottle after corking). In rough figures, an inexpensive wine is $10 a bottle, so your kits represent $600 at retail for your investment of $75. So with a bit of work you can save about $500 every 60 bottles of wine consumed.

A wine making specialty store will have a wide selection of kits available at double to triple the cost of the Costco kits for more advanced vintners and/or discerning palates.

I am not going to discuss beer making here as I have not done as much of it and it is a higher skilled process.

The Work Required

How much work does wine making require? About 4 to 6 hours spread over 3 sessions is typical per kit. Say it is 5 hours per kit or 10 hours for the both. You therefor pay yourself about $50/hour. If you were to make both kits concurrently, you would probably do it all in 7 hours thus getting up towards $75 per hour for your investment in time.

Capital Costs

If you had to buy the equipment new, it would run about $100, but patient people with their ears to the ground can find gear for free. I personally have had equipment given to me from a friend, a grandparent, and a complete stranger. The stranger posted on a buy/sell internet group that he had all his wine equipment to give away and I was just lucky enough to see the offer within the hour.

There are beginners kits available in brewing specialty stores that have all the fundamental equipment.

Equipment Needed

The minimum equipment needed is:

  • a plastic food grade plastic pail otherwise known as the primary fermentor,
  • a sheet of plastic and string/elastic to hold it on the primary fermentor,
  • a glass carboy (the secondary fermentor),
  • an air lock,
  • a siphon hose,
  • bottles,
  • and a corker.

The air lock allows the waste product of fermentation, carbon dioxide, to exit the fermentor while keeping out air and fruit flies. Wine plus fruit flies (or more correctly, the bacterium carried by fruit flies) = vinegar. For an additional $20 it would be useful to have a hydrometer and a thermometer. (A hydrometer measures specific gravity of the wine to monitor sugar content and fermentation progress). You also need some sodium (or potassium) metabisulphite (available as Campden tablets or in powder format) to sterilize the equipment. I sometimes use bleach to sterilize equipment if it is particularly dirty. It is always best to store your gear clean as dried wine gunk is extremely difficult to liberate from the inside of a carboy or bottle.

In the next installment, HBoy will discuss the process involved with making homemade wine.  Stay tuned!

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About the author: This is a guest post. You can read more about the author in the biography above.

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Kathryn July 14, 2009, 8:48 am

    But is it any good?

    I’d be willing to try it but I’d want a sample first before I spent that kind of money. I’m open to the idea but I’m pretty picky about my wine. I like a good Merlot or Cabernet Merlot.

    Now I just need to find someone who has made some and give it a taste ….

    Good, creative post.

  • cannon_fodder July 14, 2009, 9:26 am

    HBoy,

    I have two questions:

    1) Is the process as simple and inexpensive to make ‘dessert-like’ wines? My wife can’t drink reds and she prefers sweet wines.
    2) What about the paper bags? You know, to drink the wine while still in the bottle like ‘a true Frenchman’ (tip of the hat to “Johnny LaRue” on SCTV)?

  • cacp July 14, 2009, 10:04 am

    I’ve made beer and wine using the same equipment. Beer is $15 for 30L and takes about a week to bottle and a month to settle to a nice clear color/taste. Wine takes 6wks to bottle.

    I always found that the quality is decent. Don’t expect world class wine/beer out of a can. But for table wine or a relaxing beer it’s pretty good.

    If anyone is interested I have some extra supplies that I’m trying to get rid of (garage cleaning) that is on kijiji.

  • Alex July 14, 2009, 10:18 am

    CF my wife is the same. We found a brand called “Niagara Mist” available at our local DIY wine stores that is sweeter & flavoured (ie Peach Chardonnay, Tangerine Pinot Grigio, etc) at about $40-50/30 bottles. Or you can always just add some Dextrose (corn sugar) to most any wine before bottling to sweeten.

  • Michael - Fat Loss Tips July 14, 2009, 11:26 am

    Great post. I’ve never seen a monetary breakdown before of making your own wine and I’m Italian.

    Of course I knew it was cheaper based on my up bringing but never did I know the exact savings after labor was accounted for.

    My question is: how much wine do you need to consume for this to be a truly frugal strategy?

    It’ll take at least a week for me to consume a bottle (750ml) through drinking or cooking and faster with friends and family. Just wondering if it’s worth it in my case?

  • Novice July 14, 2009, 11:37 am

    With respect to the poster, whose wine I have not tried, I have to say that every single glass of proudly made homemade wine or beer I’ve tried has been less than adequate (my brother in law’s beer with the grainy taste is particularly stuck in my memory).

    I may be a bit of a snob but I think there’s a real art to making wine or beer and the paint-by-numbers direction of wine and beer making kits doesn’t quite cover the nuances involved in being a good brewmaster (or winemaker). And being stuck with 80 bottles of undrinkable booze is also an expense that should be considered.

  • Loonies And Sense July 14, 2009, 11:42 am

    Great post. Just a question for us Canucks: can you buy the concentrate/additives/etc. at Costco in Canada? I haven’t ever seen this stuff in-store, and I can’t find it on the costco.ca website. Is this specific to American Costco locations?

    Thanks…

  • Cash Canuck July 14, 2009, 11:49 am

    I’ve been making beer for ~2 years with a group of friends. It’s true, like Novice says, that the beer doesn’t taste that great at first. We took about 3 or 4 batches to get the process dialed in and we opted for slightly higher quality raw ingredients. Now I like my beer better than the stuff from the big breweries (other people like it too).

    The best part is when you brew with a group it becomes a social activity in addition to a money-saving endeavour.

  • Blogging Banks July 14, 2009, 11:56 am

    Of course if you can make your own grapes, your only cost would be the time and equipment ;-)

  • Canucktuary July 14, 2009, 12:19 pm

    I wouldn’t pay more than $4 for homemade wine. The quality really suffers.

  • SoFreshSoClean July 14, 2009, 12:57 pm

    This could save even more if you think of christmas presents!

  • nobleea July 14, 2009, 12:58 pm

    there are a few stores here in edmonton where you go in, select the wine you want to make, pay for it, and then they make it for you. You can come and pick it up in X weeks, or come and help bottle it if you want. It’s obviously more that true DIY, but it’s probably a slightly higher quality.

    Growing up, we had some italian neighbours. One summer, they brought in a lot of grapes and made their own wine, complete with a party to crush the grapes with their feet. They put the product in fine 2L pop bottles. I wasn’t old enough to try it, but my dad, who’s never been known to turn down a bottle of wine, accepted it graciously and poured it down the drain after one sip. It was VERY murky.

  • Sean July 14, 2009, 1:19 pm

    This is something that I’m definitely looking into once I have the space! (Beer too!) I don’t know how well it would work in my apartment.

    I’m a bit of a “beer snob”, and getting there with wine too, so I guess the balance is finding the right value of price vs. quality for the homemade stuff.

    Regardless, I look forward to experimenting in the future!

  • Astin July 14, 2009, 1:23 pm

    Sounds disgusting actually.

    A plastic bucket? A store-bought concentrate? Sorry, but that $10-15 spent on a local wine (be it Ontario or BC or wherever) is a great deal in comparison. Wine made from grapes grown in their backyard, where they’ve nurtured the varieties and qualities they desire. Aged in wooden barrels. Monitored by master vinters.

    For $1.25/bottle, you’re getting a mass-produced concentrate (ie.- grape juice that’s been sitting around and preserved for who knows how long) being turned into alcohol that tastes like wine. It’s not real wine. It’s probably okay for cooking or getting drunk on. But anybody who’s developed a palate for wine would see it as little more than alcoholic grape juice.

    And 60 bottles means you either drink a fair bit of wine with no variety (so you’d better really like it), or you’re foisting it onto your friends. I might average a bottle every week or two, but it’s seldom the same type twice in a row.

    Someone who’s been doing their own basement wine for years can create a decent wine, but I guarantee that they’ve gone far beyond the basics you’ve listed here. Be it their own vines in the backyard or buying from a grape grower, and some small barrels of their own, climate-controlled rooms, and a lot of research. Likely spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on the effort, not including time and labour.

    This is the problem with frugality in some regards – when you make it just about dollars and cents, you strip away the elements that create the value in what you’re buying. Wine gets reduced to nothing more than a generic drink because it saves you money.

    As for the question about making sweeter wines – it really depends. You can’t make an ice wine at home necessarily, but a sweeter white or rose might be possible depending on what premade concentrates are out there. Or you can do what really bad winemakers do and just add sugar.

    • Olivier December 18, 2017, 8:13 am

      I think you overestimate how commercial wine is made. Most $8-13 bottles are made using the exact same process (concentrate) and cheap kits like those found at Costco will give you a very decent product to replace those. Don’t think a kit that costs just above a dollar per bottle will replace a $25 bottle of wine.

      There are other kits that will though. And the concentrate has been prepared as such, it comes with real grape skins, wood chips, etc. and take several more weeks to be ready to bottle. And of course they’re more expensive, I just got a 30-bottle kit (really gives 28) for $135.

      And the most important thing people tend to forget, homemade wine kits say it is ready in 4 (5, 6, 8…) weeks but in reality they need several months of aging before they are enjoyable, especially expensive reds that really require 12 months in the bottle and have potential to age for 5 years (cheap kits wines should be consumed within 24 months and usually peak after 6 months).

  • Elaine July 14, 2009, 2:21 pm

    Astin, if you think the wine you’re buying is made from locally grown grapes you’re (probably) wrong. Most of the ones I’ve seen say it’s a mixture of domestic and imported. In any case, crushed grape (as opposed to juice concentrate) kits are pretty easy to find and not that much more expensive. And I’d bet that most wineries aren’t so rustic as you describe, most of the ones I’ve visited where they let you take a tour look pretty industrial. Some of them probably are aged in barrels, but your average winery will probably do it in giant metal vats.

    I’ve had plenty of homebrew that was great, and some not… just like I’ve had plenty of storebought wine that was great and some that was terrible.

  • YYC27 July 14, 2009, 2:37 pm

    If I had more free space, I’d probably give home winemaking a try. I’m not enough of a wine snob to turn my nose up at a decent home-brew, but I’m not naiive enough to belive the end result will be the best wine I’ve ever had. I’ve known a few people who’ve made their own wine. It’s not terrible.

    I’d look at the venture as more of a hobby than a cost-saving measure, though. I usually only pick up a bottle of wine a few times a year. If I had 30 bottles of wine sitting around, I suspect I would end up drinking a LOT more wine.

    As far as quality, it all comes down to expectations. If you’re going to pass on the $9 screw-cap bottle at the liquor store, you’ll probably pass on the homemade stuff.

  • Tom @ Canadian Finance Blog July 14, 2009, 3:15 pm

    Astin, the wine kits at Costco are actually 2 different varieties, 30 bottles of each. Another tip for variety is to trade with other winemakers. I often give 10 to my friend and he gives me 10 of whatever he made.

    As for the concentrate, for a bit more money, you can buy a pail of pure grape must, no water added or needing to be added, just add yeast. I’m quite happy with the concentrates though, I use a water cooler bottle of spring water to keep the impurities down.

  • Ms Save Money July 14, 2009, 3:28 pm

    This would probably be fun to do – just once – and would cost me more money and time than buying a wine bottle at a store.

  • Astin July 14, 2009, 5:01 pm

    @Elaine – VQA is in place to ensure that grapes are all locally sourced. For instanct, VQA Ontario means 100% of the grapes must be from the four recognized areas in Ontario. It can become more specific, ie.- VQA Prince Edward would be 85% grapes from the Prince Edward County Appelation, and 100% from Ontario. They can be further broken down to the 10 sub-appelations as well. So I doubt I’m wrong about origins when I buy a Niagara VQA wine. The same holds true for BC VQA wines.

    Similar standards are in place in the classical winemaking regions of Italy and France after unscrupulous vinters started mixing cheap imports with a small percentage of local grapes and selling it as the real thing. The practice hurt many regions for a while before strict rules were put in place to restore their pedigree.

    If it lacks the VQA marker, then grapes can obviously be imported for the production. But speaking to winemakers at the various wineries in the area (I’ve been to around 23 or so of the Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries, and had rather in-depth discussions with some of the winemakers, owners, and other invested persons, especially at the smaller wineries), many are trying to stay as local as possible. Some have gone the imported grapes route in the past and been very disappointed with the results, as the grapes aren’t nearly as fresh or flavourful when shipped from overseas or California when compared to what’s available next door.

    I have a wine fridge full of bottles from small wineries, where a staff of only a few people work and will happily tell you what they use, how they use it, and then offer you a taste from the casks. Long gone are the days of the crap that used to come from Ontario wineries. Even the notion of Canada only being good for ice wines is fading. The winemakers these days are a very proud lot who put a tremendous amount of effort into producing world class wines. We reap the benefit of their anonymity through low prices for fantastic and unique vintages. If you have the chance, I recommend doing some tours of Ontario wine regions (be it Niagara, Pelee, or Prince Edward County), and avoiding the big wineries, and talking to the people behind the tasting counter. They know their stuff.

    And that knowledge and access goes a long way to making a superior product than someone following the instructions on the back of a box.

    Try some 2007 vintage Niagara wines. Every single person I spoke to in the region commented that 2007 was their best year EVER for grape quality and were loving what was coming from them. When you’re that proud of the raw product, why would you alter it with an import from a completely different part of the world?

    @Tom – The 10 for 10 swap isn’t a bad idea. I honestly can’t see myself going through 30 bottles of the same wine, especially since I have to wonder how well Costco kit wine ages. It’s one thing if a wine will mature over time. It’s another if it slowly turns to vinegar.

    I also wonder on the quality of the grapes being used in the consumer market. One could assume that the top quality grapes are sold to the winemakers, while the second or third tier product makes it to the make-your-own shops. An increase in quality usually = an increase in price.

  • Auto Insurance Rates Guy July 14, 2009, 7:22 pm

    I’m definitely down to try this, but I’m really not wanting to waste my time for terrible wine.

  • Mark in Nepean July 14, 2009, 9:08 pm

    You can get a decent bottle of wine, 750 mL, from the LCBO, for about $8.00. Yes, they are out there.

    It takes 5 min. to purchase that wine bottle, versus the 5+ hours of your own time you need to invest/kit. It may not be frugal to spend $8.00 on a bottle of wine, but given that it will cost you anywhere from $3.00 – $6.00/bottle to make your own, my time is worth at least that.

    For those that love the MYOW (Make Your Own Wine), keep enjoying the hobby.

    Otherwise, if you’re trying this to save your your hard-earned money, there are better ways.

  • Finance Matters July 14, 2009, 10:01 pm

    I’ve been home brewing for almost 20 years and making wine for 6 years. Premium wine kits in the $100 range can e better than most wines I pay $25 for in the store. I make full bodied reds mostly. As for beer making, I make all styles from stouts to Belgian ales. My beers are way better than the majority of beers in the beer store (not just my opinion). It may help that I have a masters degree in Biochemistry. Good ingredients are a key and an adventurous soul to be willing to try new things. I’m going to try making some mead next!

  • DAvid July 14, 2009, 10:32 pm

    Bin dere, done dat, got the silver medal (Porter)! I found eventually my brewery developed it’s own unique house flavour which I didn’t enjoy. I’ve since given away my equipment, made a few batches at the u-brew, but now look to the variety available at the liquor store(s), for either beer or wine.

    DAvid

  • Paulo Dunlop July 15, 2009, 1:49 am

    Can anyone recommend a good store in the GTA that sells home made beer kits as well as the ingredients? I would like to give it a try and see what happens! :-)

  • cacp July 15, 2009, 1:29 pm

    Paulo Dunlop:

    Just open the yellowpages. The king of the kits is the brand name “Cooper.” I got into beer making after travelling to the UK and falling in love with “live” IPA beers. I had to make it at home and it turned out quite good.

  • Wine Lover July 20, 2009, 4:25 pm

    Great post! I have been very interested with wines yet I am a bit afraid to start my own business. I have also been making my own wines using the grapes on my backyard. I just wanna know though if this can really help me save? Can you help me find premium wine kits? And how much do they actually costs?

  • The First Million July 26, 2009, 3:14 am

    Nice post! I have been doing this a while now. The cost of a bottle of wine becomes negligible so you can be more free to share!

  • Annie January 13, 2015, 6:41 pm

    I don’t know really that it is about saving dollars. It is kind of neat to make your own wine, naming it, labels etc. and handing over a bottle to a friend. It’s about experience and fun. You can have a decent bottle of wine and the satisfaction of knowing you made it.
    The same argument could be made for preserves of any kind – it doesn’t cost much to pick up a jar of jam but a homemade jar is nice too.

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