I’ve seen a number of advertisements online suggesting that you can make wine for free. There are “experts” who apparently claim they can tell you how to make wine at no cost to yourself. Can you really do this? Well… yes and here’s how:
First, let’s assume you have a vessel of some sort like a jug that you can put juice in. We’ll also assume you have some grapes or fruit in your backyard. Remember, we are talking about making wine for free, right? So what you do is you go to your backyard, pick some fruit that is high in sugar content, squeeze the juice out of it into the jug, leave the jug uncovered for a few days. What will happen is that wild yeast will inoculate the juice and begin turning the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. And you’ll have free wine!
But will it be what you want to drink? Probably not.
In all honesty is there isn’t much chance you can make wine that you will enjoy absolutely free. If you try, you’ll more than likely end up with something worse than plonk.
The simple truth is that you will need to spend some money if you’d like to make something you can proudly serve to guests and enjoy yourself.
But you don’t need to spend very much.
There are some basic items you will need to make good wine. One of the most important things you will need is a package of yeast that is meant for winemaking. You can pick one of these up for about a dollar for a 5 gram package, enough to inoculate up to 6 US gallons of juice.
Second, you’ll need some type of “fermentation vessel” for the initial stages of the fermentation when the yeast begin to work and start turning sugar into alcohol. A food grade plastic pail is the best choice for this. You could probably pick one of these up for free by visiting a local restaurant and asking them to save both a pail and lid for you. Often food supplies are delivered in various size food grade plastic pails to restaurants and catering companies. After they have been emptied, these pails are often just thrown in with the trash or placed in a recycling bin. Or if you want, you can purchase a pail brand new for about eight dollars.
You will also want a glass vessel of some sort for the secondary stage of the fermentation. Depending on how much wine you plan to make (for the beginner,5 gallons is probably the upper limit for a single batch), you can get various sizes of jugs and carboys. A small one gallon jug could cost about five dollars while a 5 US gallon carboy will pull about thirty dollars out of your wallet.
Enough food grade plastic hose to comfortably siphon the wine from the plastic pail into the glass vessel is all that is really required at a minimum, although a racking wand attached to the plastic hose with a clamp to stop and start the flow is really handy. The cost for this basic piece of equipment is about eight dollars including the wand and clamp.
You’ll also want to purchase a hydrometer and testing tube which will help you in determining the sugar content of the juice you want to make into wine. Without one of these, you will be really shooting in the dark as far as alcohol potential of the juice you are starting with, or how far along the fermentation is. Eight dollars. In order to draw a sample of wine or juice to test the specific gravity, a wine thief is recommended (you could use a sanitized turkey baster) and costs about five dollars.
The last couple of pieces of essential equipment include a rubber bung that will fit the opening of the glass vessel, and an airlock that will fit into the hole in the bung. This protects your wine from the air and all the wild organisms floating around that could do nasty things to your wine, while allowing carbon dioxide gas to escape. Bung and airlock cost: Two dollars.
You will also need to purchase a little potassium metabisulfite. If you don’t have either campden tables (sodium metabisulfite) or potassium metabisulfite, you’re going to risk ending up with lousy wine. Sulfite is important in protecting your wine from bacteria as well as a great sanitizing agent for your equipment. I recommend potassium metabisulfite. Four ounces will be more than adequate to protect five gallons of wine and to make up a one gallon sanitizing solution and will cost about four dollars.
So for the basic equipment, at the low end assuming you managed to get a free plastic pail, your initial costs are about thirty five dollars if you’re only going to make a gallon, or fifty five dollars if you’re going to obtain the 5 US gallon carboy. The yeast and sulfite will need to be replaced as you continue to make more wine, but the other equipment noted above should last you through many batches.
Learning how to make wine is not that difficult, and now that we’ve covered the basic equipment, in Part 2 we’ll look at the ingredients and costs of those. You can do it inexpensively, but it won’t be “free.”