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Frugal Tip: Make Your Own Wine II – The Process

This is a guest post by HBoy, a DIY personal finance and wine enthusiast, on the financial benefits of making your own wine.  This is a continuation of part 1 (the introduction to making your own wine), where HBoy now explains the process behind making your own wine.

The wine kits typically come with very complete instructions, but here is what you do in general.

Creating the Mash

The first day, the primary fermentor and cover are sterilized. The primary fermentor is filled with the juice concentrate then cold and hot tap water as required to get the initial 23 litres of solution (the mash) at room temperature or a little warmer. There may be other chemicals or ingredients to add as per the instructions. Toss in the yeast and cover with the plastic sheet held in place with string/elastic. The mash must be stored between about 18 and 25 degrees Celsius for the yeast to work it’s magic over the coming days.

Fermentation

The second session of work is when fermentation is mostly done in 7 to 20 days (again, see instructions for details as to know when it is time). The secondary fermentor, siphon, and air lock are sterilized. The wine is then transferred from the primary to the secondary fermentor using the siphon, being careful to leave behind most of the sediment. This process of transferring the wine between vessels is known as racking. Some chemicals may be added at this point as well.

The wine is now left to complete fermentation and to have particulate settle out. This takes a few weeks to months depending upon the use (or not) of clearing agents and one’s time schedule. I often leave the wine for months at this stage if I am otherwise busy. This is fine as long as there isn’t much sediment remaining to give the wine an off taste. If there is, and you don’t have time to bottle (or bottles!), just rack it again.

Bottling

The third work day is bottling day. This is a good day to get help (if you can) as it can be tricky to keep all the balls in the air while bottling. After you have done it a few times, it can be done solo. The bottles are washed and sterilized along with the siphon hose. The corks are soaked in body temperature water with a bit of sulphite for a half hour. The wine is siphoned to the bottles and the bottles are corked. Labels and capsules can be affixed, but personally I don’t take the time to do any more than label the wine in some way. Often I just use one of the many return address labels I get from charities to label the wine with a simple short symbol such as “SVB 09″ for Sauvignon Blanc 2009.

Altogether..

Anyone can make wine if they can cook a meal from scratch. As in real estate with the “location, location, location” rule, in brewing it is “cleanliness, cleanliness, cleanliness.” About half your time in the brewing process will be washing and sterilizing equipment. This is very important, do not take shortcuts.

I suggest getting one of the many books available on wine making, either at the library, or by purchasing your own reference. This article is but the briefest introduction to the art. My favourite book is I am sure long out of print, but it is still my “go to” resource even some 30 years after my Father gave it to me. If you can find a copy of “The Winemaker’s Companion” by B. C. A Turner and C. J. J. Berry first published in 1960 and revised and reprinted into the 1970s, I strongly urge you to grab it. I actually have two copies as I picked up the second one for a buck somewhere. I am waiting to give it to just the right person who shows an interest.

Once you have a few kit brews under your belt, you can try a from scratch recipe. My first, second, and third best batches ever would easily be the raspberry recipe on page 193 of Turner and Berry. This is pure nectar of the Gods when it turns out, but there is about an hour’s picking of wild berries per bottle. I don’t seem to have the time any more to pick berries and my child, wife, and other assorted relatives don’t have the robustness to do this task for me (mosquitoes and all). I remember one time years ago, I made 24 bottles of this recipe and it tasted terrible. Over the years, I gradually tossed most of it as I needed the bottles, but 5 years after brewing I came across a bottle and it was spectacular. I think I cried that day. That day I learned that in general, the higher the alcohol content, the longer the maturation time. This is also why the one month kits are usually 10% alcohol.

How does homemade wine taste? Well it tastes fine to me when made well with clean equipment. In fact, a recent double blind study found that Joe and Jane average preferred typical $10 wine to very expensive premium wine. There is no reason that homemade wine can’t be as good or better than regular budget commercial wines. Sure, you may blow a batch every now and then, but so what? Things can go wrong in every human endeavor. The mistakes that really ruin wine are a lack of cleanliness, and access to air (say the water in the lock evaporates out). Watching these two factors will avoid most of the outright failures, the rest is mostly subjective.

That is my introduction to wine making. Happy brewing to all who give it a try.

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

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Martin July 15, 2009, 8:21 am

    If you really want to save money, just don’t drink wine and beer. It costs way more money than it’s worth.

  • Tom July 15, 2009, 9:32 am

    What is this now a wine brewing site?

  • Finance Matters July 15, 2009, 10:02 am

    Hey Martin, watch it with that “crazy talk”. Some of us love our beer and wine.

  • FT FrugalTrader July 15, 2009, 10:11 am

    Tom, we originally had the article as one long article, but I decided to split it up. But you are right, this post does seem a bit off topic without the context of the first article.

  • cannon_fodder July 15, 2009, 12:08 pm

    Tom,

    There has been enough ‘whining’ on this site… it’s time someone stood up, told those people to put a ‘cork’ in it, and ‘buck’ the trend by making your own wine.

    HBoy,

    Do they have wine making clubs or organizations? Just wondering if there are like-minded people that get together formally to share stories and ideas.

  • Subversive July 15, 2009, 12:32 pm

    Hey, this is your blog and you can write what you want, but I come here for interesting financial advise and commentary. A two part article on how to make your own wine doesn’t really do anything towards that end. Hopefully you can get back to writing about topics that are more….on topic…. soon.

  • Carl July 15, 2009, 1:50 pm

    Subversive, you can only write so much about million dollar journeys. It’s normal for the webmaster change the subject sometimes. The other day he had an article on how to organize a garage.

  • Adam July 15, 2009, 2:03 pm

    You bunch of cork soakers.

  • cannon_fodder July 15, 2009, 2:50 pm

    I think this post is right inline with some recipes FT posted before. MDJ is about various ways to reach that goal while maintaining a healthy balance, or peace, in the mind and soul.

    Sometimes this includes ways to keep more money in your pocket to pay down debt or invest. Making your own wine could serve to do that. Plus it could realize additional benefits in terms of self-satisfaction of acquiring a new skill (which could end up fruitful (no pun intended) down the road when you retire) and making you the most interesting person in the world.

    I don’t always drink my own wine, but when I do, I drink a lot.

    Stay thirsty my friends.

  • YYC27 July 15, 2009, 2:57 pm

    @Martin
    Not drink wine and beer? Heresy!

    Really, though, as long as you aren’t buying it in a bar or restaurant, wine and beer aren’t really that expensive. A beer after work, or a glass of wine with dinner really isn’t going to set you back that much. It’s a less expensive habit than going to Starbucks every morning.

  • Tom @ Canadian Finance Blog July 15, 2009, 6:41 pm

    HBoy and FT,

    I enjoyed the wine making series. It’s a good way to be frugal, not only as wine for yourself, but it can also make a great gift for little expense. Whenever I go to someone’s house, I bring them a $3-5 bottle of my latest wine and they’re thrilled!

  • Kirk S. July 15, 2009, 6:52 pm

    @CannonFodder…I groaned through your whole reply.

    My brother has taken to doing the brew your own wine at a wine store, where they do all the mixing and such and you just bottle it yourself. Every time someone comes over and he opens up a bottle he comments on how inexpensive it is (I think 30 bottles of what he gets is $120).

  • DAvid July 15, 2009, 10:34 pm

    YYC27 said: “Really, though, as long as you aren’t buying it in a bar or restaurant, wine and beer aren’t really that expensive. A beer after work, or a glass of wine with dinner really isn’t going to set you back that much. It’s a less expensive habit than going to Starbucks every morning.”

    ‘nd fer those of us who can reg’laraly travel souse of the border, it can be even cheeper!

    A good wine or flavourful beer is a delight at the right times, and easily worth the small premium. Even if like us, you toss away the cork once you open it, it’s only about two glasses each. Unless you get the bottle this guy found!

    DAvid

  • Alex. July 15, 2009, 11:45 pm

    QUOTE
    9. cannon_fodder
    ….. I don’t always drink my own wine, but when I do, I drink a lot. Stay thirsty my friends.
    END QUOTE

    ;) So you speak French in Russian? ROFL.

  • cannon_fodder July 16, 2009, 12:04 pm

    Alex,

    Da! Bien sur.

  • Ms Save Money July 16, 2009, 7:10 pm

    I agree with you cannon_fodder,

    You can get some kind of skill and or hobby out of this – but in terms of saving money – I think it would cost more to make your own wine since you have to put time and effort into it and also the supplies. It wouldn’t be economical. It would be an economic cost – wouldn’t you agree?

  • @networthcanada.org July 17, 2009, 1:53 pm

    Beer and winemaking seems to be something that takes some practise. I know a few people that do it. One person is very good and I know another who doesn’t even seem to realize just how bad her wine is. One thing to remember is that even if your first batch of wine doesn’t turn out very well, try your best to choke it down and try again. There are so many different possibilities for wine making that you just have to keep trying different things until you find something you like.

  • cannon_fodder July 18, 2009, 6:14 am

    Ms Save Money,

    I think you have to weigh how much wine you would purchase (either to drink or give away or for cooking) vs. how much wine you would make on your own. Maybe, just maybe, if you were a psuedo oenophile it may adjust your thinking that not all good bottles of wine must be measured by their price tag.

    Also, If you end up drinking more because you’ve made your own wine, then I think the economic benefits would be reduced.

    Ultimately you have to look at this as an enjoyable pursuit, like a hobby, rather than measure it strictly on dollars and cents. Like the article “Financial Regrets” we can’t be consumed with how much every activity costs when there can be unquantifiable, but very real, personal satisfaction achieved.

  • Chris July 30, 2009, 12:49 am

    Other tips:

    1. Don’t use a sheet to cover the primary fermenter as suggested. Use a food-grade plastic pail with a tight-fitting lid and airlock. You can find this at any wine stock. This will keep air from getting in and oxidizing the wine while allowing the gases to escape.

    2. Always check the specific gravity of the wine after the primary and secondary fermentations to make sure it is finished or you may end up with bubbly, yeasty wine.

    In response to the question about if making your own wine saves money: if you are a wine drinker it will absolutely save money. My equipment cost less than $100 total (and its pretty good stuff). Kits are usually less than $50 for average quality wine (less than $2 per bottle).

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