First, we investigated the long term financial ramifications of choosing to drink cheaper vs. more expensive wine, seeing that you could save upwards of $42,924 over your lifetime by drinking $3 per bottle wine instead of $10 per bottle wine. Next, we explored whether screw-cap wine or real cork-bottled wine tasted better, and saw that not only do screw-cap wines generally cost less, but they are scientifically a better form of bottle closure. Finally, we discussed if wine can really make you live longer and saw that there was more consensus on the benefits for men vs. women.
Today, I wanted to continue the discussion of wine-related topics by sharing how I’ve discovered I can make my OWN WINE at home for about $1 per bottle! Being someone interested in personal finances/frugal living/saving money and also bioscience (wine is a product of fermentation after all!), this is fun topic for me.
Step 1 – Set Your Expectations
The first step in getting started making your own quick, cheap $1-per-bottle wine is to accept that the product you’ll be making likely will not have the same taste as a $10 bottle from the store. Instead, the goal here is to brew up something that is “drinkable,” has between 10-18% alcohol content like normal wine, to have some fun learning about the winemaking process, and enjoying the fact that you concocted a homemade product for a cheap price!
If you want to make your own home-made wine that is of higher quality (and does taste like wine you’d buy from the store – this is what my fiance does in our condo, and it comes out quite nicely!), you’ll need a more complete/official wine making kit and about 2-3 months of processing time vs. the 1 week that we’re talking about here. If you’re interested in getting more professional about the wine making process, I’d recommend shopping at an online provider such as EC Kraus (where my fiance gets her supplies), or doing a Google search for “home wine making” in your local area for a store close by.
Step 2 – Gather The RIGHT Supplies You’ll Need
Let’s walk through each item you’ll need one-by-one to make your own wine in 1 gallon increments:
Juice – Total Cost Per Gallon of Wine = $3.00
At the core of the home wine-making process is the fruit juice/sugar source that feeds the yeasts’ fermentation metabolic system.
In order to create 1 gallon of homemade wine, you’ll need 2 frozen cans of juice concentrate from the grocery store. So far, I’ve made wine with the following juice types with various levels of success, and as such, I’ve added my experiences corresponding with each:
- Red grape juice – This has by far been the most successful fruit juice I’ve tried thus far. It provides a nice level of sugar source for the yeast to chew on, is pretty cheap, easy to find at the store, and most importantly, the red grape juice hides a lot of the off-flavors that can commonly be produced by creating a cheap wine.
- Apple juice – Apple juice worked pretty well as a wine base. However, once all of the sugar was gone from the juice, the resulting wine tasted a little “funky.”
- White grape juice – White grape juice is fermented very quickly by the yeast, often in only about 3 days. However, I’ve found that the resulting product has some off-flavors that are normally settled out by a combination of fining agents and several months of time during the normal wine making process.
- Pineapple juice – Much to my surprise, pineapple juice works pretty dang well as a wine base. It ferments very aggressively, producing a nice amount of alcohol content. Further, there aren’t that many off flavors produced.
- Fruit punch and limemade – The last two that I’ve tried are fruit punch and limemade juice concentrates. With both, the fermentation seems to stop at around 5% alcohol content. I’m guessing this is due to an unfavorable environment being provided by these juices. However, since the alcohol content is lower, I’ve found that these wines are nice for mixing with the off-flavor varieties mentioned above in order to create a more palatable product so the wine doesn’t go to waste.
1 Gallon Jug With Cap – Total Cost Per Gallon of Wine = Free
Having selected your fruit juice concentrate, the next task is to find a container to put it in. For this, you can simply use an empty milk jug. Or, if you’re feeling really fancy, you can buy a $0.50 1 gal water jug from the store.
Yeast – Total Cost Per Gallon of Wine = $0.50
Of course, fruit juice cannot be turned in to wine without our favorite microbe – yeast.
When I first started my winemaking journey, I simply used bread yeast purchased from the grocery store. However, I could not seem to avoid the distinct resulting “bread” smell/taste that it would produce. And, after finding out that wine yeast was about the same price, I switched away from bread yeast and have not looked back!
The type of wine yeast I use right now is a Lalvin brand strain called EC-118. I use this yeast because it seems to be the most “robust” and versatile strain that they have. I purchased a 10 pack of this yeast on Amazon for around $5.00, which equates to about $0.50 per gallon since 1 yeast packet is needed for each gallon of wine made.
Sugar – Total Cost Per Gallon of Wine = $0.50
Unfortunately, the sugar that exists in store-bought juice concentrate is not quite enough to make wine-level alcohol content. Therefore, you need to supplement the 2 cans of fruit juice concentrate in each gallon of wine with about 2-3 cups of regular table sugar.
A 10-pound bag of normal white sugar can be purchased from the store for $5.00. According to an online sugar converter, 2 cups of sugar weights approximately 1 pound, so this 10 pound bag of sugar will last quite a while!
Water – Total Cost Per Gallon of Wine = Negligible since tap-water is fine (no need to worry about contamination, etc).
Miscellaneous Supplies to Make the Process Easier – Total Cost Per Gallon of Wine = Negligible since likely already have in kitchen.
In my experience, there are a couple simple household items that make the wine making process a whole lot easier!
- The first item is a turkey-baster, or something similar, which can be used to suck out small quantities of the wine from the container during fermentation to taste the product and see how it is progressing.
- The second item is a funnel. This makes it a lot easier to dump in the juice concentrate, water, and sugar in to the small hole on the 1 gallon container.
- The third set of items is a rubber band and seran wrap. Since the fermentation progresses pretty aggressively once it has started in earnest, it usually results in some spillage of bubbles out the top of the jug. By placing a rubber band and seran wrap over the partially open cap, it prevent this from getting all over the place.
- The fourth item is a cookie sheet and aluminum foil. This prevents the spillage from getting your counters or table all messy.
- The fifth item is a vessel to store the completed wine in once fermentation is complete.
Total cost per 1 gal of wine = $4.00.
- 1 gal of wine = 3.78 liters. Assuming you lose a little bit of the wine during the process, you yield 3 liters of wine. 1 bottle of wine = 0.75 L, so you yield 4 bottles of wine, or a cost per bottle of $1.
Step 3 – Putting the Ingredients Together
Having gathered the required ingredients, now comes the easy part – actually making the wine. Once you get the hang of this, you can often start a new batch of wine in less than 5 minutes!
- To get started, thaw out the frozen juice concentrate completely.
- Fill up the 1 gal jug with tepid (not hot or else you will anger the yeast!) water about 1/3 of the way full.
- Add the yeast, invert multiple times to mix.
- Add the 2 cups of sugar using the funnel.
- Add the 2 containers of thawed juice concentrate.
- Invert jug multiple times to mix well, making note that the sugar has completely dissolved and is no longer stuck to the bottom.
- Cap the jug. However, immediately pop open one side of the cap so that the CO2 pressure from the fermentation can properly vent (and so your wine vessel doesn’t explode!).
- Cover the cap of the jug in seran wrap, and then secure the seran wrap in place with the rubber band.
- Place the vessel on top of the alumninum foil-covered cookie sheet to keep your area clean.
Step 4 – Sit Back and Watch Science Turn Juice in to Wine!
Having combined the ingredients, now all you have to do is sit back and watch the fermentation happen.
You should expect the yeast to take 12-24 hours to acclimate to their new environment. After that, you should see aggressive bubbles coming up through the juice for the next ~3-7 days.
After the bubbling has ended, simply pour out the wine in to another vessel, leaving behind the yeast sediment in the original fermenter to clean up and throw away.
Personally, I like to refrigerate the wine that I make in this fashion. However, that part is up to you. Now you can enjoy your product with friends, or by yourself!
How about you all? Have you ever made your own wine or beer? How did the process turn out? Were you able to do it cheaper or more expensive than wine bought at the store?
Share your experiences by commenting below!
***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/uncalno/8538709738/sizes/l/