A scientist turned engineer, Dave started making wine in 1970. His approach combines simplicity with sound scientific principles.
Yes, Homemade Wine Is Safe to Drink!
Homemade wine (and beer, mead and cider) should be every bit as wholesome as their commercially produced counterparts. Nobody ever asks if homemade cakes are safe to eat, yet the question keeps coming up in regard to homemade wine. Why should that be?
The main reason homemade wine gets such a bad press is that much of it is dreadful. The Internet is full of recipes and methods that are wholly unscientific and betray a total lack of understanding of the basic principles of winemaking. This is not to say that you have to be a scientist to be a winemaker. There are many good, sound recipes and methods out there, fighting their corners against the mumbo-jumbo. But it can be difficult for the beginner to distinguish between reliable, repeatable methods and the all too common hit-or-miss approach. In this hub, I'm going to list some of the give-away signs that the writer doesn't know what s/he's talking about and is best avoided in the interests of health, safety, and general well-being.
'No Yeast' Recipes
Wine contains ethyl alcohol (ethanol). This is produced by an enzyme reaction which metabolises the sugars in the juice to form ethanol and carbon dioxide. The enzymes are created and released by the live yeast.
Therefore, no yeast = no enzymes = no ethanol = no wine. The so-called 'no yeast' recipes rely on a lucky infection by natural yeasts that may be airborne or present on the fruit skins. This is a very high-risk approach. Something will certainly colonise the juice, but it may well be something very undesirable. Always introduce your choice of yeast in a controlled manner and avoid 'no yeast' recipes like the plague.
'No Acid' Recipes
The enzyme reaction described above can go horribly wrong if the juice does not contain enough fruit acid. In particular, acetaldehyde can become dominant in the end product, adversely affecting the smell and greatly increasing the risk of hangovers.
The main fruit acids are tartaric, malic and citric. Different fruit juices contain different amounts and ratios of these acids, and this is a major quality factor, but most fruit juices can produce an acceptable wine, properly handled, sometimes with the addition of a little lemon juice.
But, beware of vegetable or grain 'wines' that don't include additional fruit acids. These are almost guaranteed to turn out foul and slightly toxic. The old folk tales of Grandpa's parsnip wine that was as strong as whisky are not true. The truth is the stuff was poisonous, not strong, and gave you a raging headache the next day.
When you reach the part that says 'stretch a balloon over the neck of the fermenting jar' the best thing to do is find another website. The idea is that the fermentation gases partially inflate the balloon and escape through a couple of judicious pinpricks. The trouble is that fermentation gas is not just dry CO2. It is CO2, water vapour, trace gases that are better out than in, like SO2 and H2S, and general spray from bursting bubbles. This acidic cocktail condenses on the inside surface of the balloon and drips back into the wine, often leaching rubber, colour and ghastly off flavours along the way. Not clever. (But if you absolutely must use the balloon method, substitute a condom instead. It won't help the wine, but it will inflate to an enormous talking point!)
How to Stay Safe in the Jungle
With these few examples, I've tried to show that ignoring basic science can lead to unwholesome or even dangerous results. But with a little knowledge and a good methodical approach, it is easy to produce good honest red and white table wine that, drunk in moderation, will do you nothing but good. As good a place as any to get started is my own beginners' method.
Distilling Spirits From Wine, Beer or Worse...
Don't even think about it. This is illegal for many good reasons, among them: risk of explosion and/or fire, risk of death from inhaling toxic vapours, risk of organ failure or blindness from ingesting methanol. Please don't tell me that distilling is a physical process that does not produce new compounds that were not already present in the source liquor. I know that (and I also know it is not strictly true). The fact remains that unless professionally monitored and controlled, distilling can concentrate methanol and other toxins to harmful proportions. It's not worth the risk.
Thank you for reading!
Questions & Answers
Question: is it in any way harmful to make wine in a gallon jug with grape juice, canned fruit cocktail, yeast and a condom balloon on top that is kept in brightly lit areas like the kitchen?
Answer: Check that the canned fruit cocktail is free of preservatives, sterilize the jug and avoid direct sunlight. You should be ok then.
Question: I am fermenting my grape juice for seven days. I have managed the process carefully and scientifically. I have not tasted the wine before, but I have tasted beer. Today I tasted my wine and the smell is slightly like beer, a little sweet and strong to the taste like vodka. How can I know if my red wine is OK?
Answer: Red wine has more flavour than either beer or vodka. It is typically three times stronger (in alcohol) than beer, and one third as strong as vodka. If you have followed the process carefully it is most likely OK.
Question: Is it okay to consume the fermented product directly after filtering?
Answer: Yes, from a safety angle, but it will taste better if you rest it for a few weeks after filtering.
Question: What toxic substances in traditional home-made wine could affect health, even leading to organ failure?
Answer: Let's be clear about this. Even the finest Chateau-bottled French wine, if drunk to excess, can lead to liver disease, kidney failure, and heart attack. But if drunk in moderation it can be a lifelong enjoyment, the perfect accompaniment to your evening meal and every social occasion. The same is true of home-made wine. But, let your nose and taste be your guide. If you are offered a wine that smells unwholesome (e.g. bad eggs, vinegar, pear drops, match smoke, rotten cabbage, burnt rubber) just say no. It may be a sign that the maker has ignored basic hygiene/sterility precautions and the wine has become infected.
Question: The juice of how many lemons should I use if I am making wine with 500 grams jaggery, with 3 liters of water?
Answer: I would suggest using the juice of two large lemons or three small ones.
Question: Is it safe to brew rice wine?
Answer: Yes, but you need a source of acidity, as there is none in the rice. This means you should use two lemons per 5 liters. There is very little fermentable sugar in rice. Add sugar at the ratio of 200 grams/ liter.
Question: If the proportions for the homemade wine's alcohol are wrong will this have any negative effects? I miscalculated and used the amount of yeast and sugar required for around 2-2.5 liters but only used a 1.5-litre bottle
Answer: If you have added enough sugar for 2.5 litres into only 1.5 litres liquid, the fermentation will stop early leaving you an over-sweet wine. Before that happens, divide it between two bottles and top both up with water to the correct dilution.
Question: How long will unopened homemade wine last?
Answer: If correctly made, carefully bottled, and properly stored, it can last for years unopened. It will improve in the bottle for about six months after which it will stay at its best for another 6 months to a year. Then it will slowly lose quality. It remains perfectly safe to drink but simply loses its freshness. I suggest drinking it when 6 to 12 months old for maximum enjoyment. If you want to mature wine for a long time it should be differently designed from the start.
Question: Is it safe to make wine from apples?
Answer: Yes. Apples are the natural ingredient for cider but can also be used to make wine. An apple/grape blend also works well. Safety comes from using a sound method and applying care and cleanliness to the process.
Question: Is it OK to drink a homemade wine made from Welch 100% juice when it’s cloudy?
Answer: Cloudiness is usually suspended yeast cells. It should clear in time but it will do you no harm if you drink it early. Of course, only drink it if it smells good.
Question: Is dandelion wine a real thing, and is it poisonous?
Answer: Dandelion wine is classed as a "country wine". People have made it for centuries for home consumption, but it is not usually made on a commercial scale. It is not poisonous, but to be at all wine-like, the dandelions should be used only as a flavouring to an otherwise balanced fruit juice wine. I wouldn't bother!
Question: Can I make wine from jaggery?
Answer: I have not tried, but in theory, yes you can. The taste would most likely resemble dark rum or oloroso sherry. You would need a source of fruit acid which could be grape, apple, orange or lemon juice.
Question: It is safe to mix fruit sugar and ethanol to make some sort of liquor?
Answer: Many of the fashionable gins that have recently flooded the market are synthesized drinks made by blending distilled alcohol, water, and flavorings. But the manufacturers have access to 'safe' distilled alcohol with almost no methanol component. And they have laboratory testing facilities to ensure the quality of their product. Do you? If not, don't even think about it, if you value your sight.
Question: Is it possible to make money making homemade wine?
Answer: This depends on the laws of the land which are not everywhere the same. In UK, you are allowed to make as much wine as you like but you are not allowed to sell it without a licence, which will not be granted without evidence of strict quality control and food hygiene procedures. In other words, you would have to become a proper business. You can, of course, save money by making your own wine, as it is much cheaper than even the lowest end commercial wines. If your wine is good, you can further save money by using it as a local 'currency', to swap for goods and services, with no money changing hands. Or, you can write about it on the Internet, like me, and sit back and watch the royalties flow in... (joke!)
Question: Would home brews made in the 1970s from blackberries and gooseberries, that smell and taste fine be harmful to drink?
Answer: Your nose is your best guide, then your eyes. If it smells wholesome with no hint of spoilage, and if it is clear, with neither haze nor oiliness, then it is probably safe to sample. If the wine was full strength, 13 to 15% ABV, then it could last this length of time, if it was well bottled. However, there is no guarantee. Sample carefully, in small quantities, until satisfied it is genuinely OK.
Question: Can we use jaggery to make wine instead of refined sugar?
Answer: You can. You will need 10 to 15 % more by weight, for the same ABV. I have never tried it myself, but I suspect it might impart a caramel/rum flavor that you might or might not like in wine.
Question: I really got into making alcohol with apple, grapes, and potato skins. I found out about mead and made 35 liters and my first batch is almost going on one month. Unfortunately, I just found out I followed a Balloonist. Should I just leave my homemade wine with a balloon? Would closing the bottle with a lid not also trap acidic cocktail?
Answer: The bottle cap should be made of food-grade plastic. Also, it has a much smaller surface area than a semi-inflated balloon, so it is a lot safer. Having said that, you'll probably be fine. Not all balloons would taint the drink. You'd have to be unlucky. But next time - no balloons, ok?
Question: If a person wants to use grains to make wine, can it be done?
Answer: Yes, you can use grain as an ingredient but not on its own. You will need a source of acid, e.g. from fruit juice, and additional sugar. You will also need to break down the starch into fermentable sugar. There are ways of doing this but it's not simple. I would suggest sticking to fruit juices.
© 2011 Dave McClure
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on July 22, 2020:
Anurag - not necessarily true. 15 days at 20 Celsius is very different from 15 days at 15 or 25 Celsius. Adding sugar after the first racking (decanting) can result in a very long, slow fermentation, delaying clearing but producing very little extra ABV.
Anurag on July 21, 2020:
After 15 days fermentation,decantation is must.At the time of decantation,can add some more suger,meanwhile fermentation go longer,and we can get more alcohol.
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on July 05, 2020:
Pineapple isn't a very good choice because the juice is really a colloid, i.e. a suspension of solid particles in a liquid. It will work, but will not be very wine-like. If you want a pineapple flavour, use a blend of pineapple and white grape juices next time.
Hi Dave on July 05, 2020:
I am making pineapple wine and is my first batch of wine making. This is my tenth day. How do I know if something is gone wrong?. Smells good so far except for little alcohol and fruty smell.. Any particular indicators I should look for...
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on June 21, 2020:
Chetan- technically, yes, you could but it can be dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. To repeat myself- Far better to make some wine or cider that is worth drinking.
Chetan on June 20, 2020:
Can I use the distillation process to remove diluting components and to increase the percentage of alcohol.
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on June 20, 2020:
Chetan - it would be safe but it would hardly produce any alcohol. Yeast needs a source of fermentable nitrogen which is present in fruit juice but not in pure sugar. Without suitable nutrients, the yeast dies early and fermentation stops. Far better to make some wine or cider that is worth drinking.
Chetan on June 19, 2020:
if I use table sugar water and yeast to make alcohol would it be safe for drinking purpose
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on April 30, 2020:
Hi Morad - as a general rule, if it smells OK, it hasn't spoiled. Sterilisation is always advisable, but basic cleanliness and care is usually enough to prevent spoilage unless you are unlucky. Next time, add your acid source from the start.
Morad on April 29, 2020:
Unfortunately, I fermented the rice, but without acids. Is this dangerous? I have not sterilized the fermentation flask, but the solution is aerobically insulated. Is this dangerous?
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on April 29, 2020:
RobinsonP - Even at this stage, I would recommend adding the juice of one large or two small lemons. You will probably get away with the glove method, but next time around I'd look for a drinking water bottle with a screw cap. Safer and more controllable.
RobinsonP on April 28, 2020:
Dave, its been 8 days since fermentation of my rice wine. I have used rice, sugar, water and yeast. That's it. From your post I understand we need to add lemon juice to the brew. Is it possible to add the lemon juice after 8 days into fermentation? Also similar to balloon method what i did to make my pot air tight since it had a big mouth was to use a sanitized glove and cut a small hole on 1 finger and tape a straw to the hole and dip the straw to a bottle of water. This was my method of airlock. I understand u said not to use the balloon method so is my brew going to spoilt because of the gloves?
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on January 15, 2020:
Thanks Anthony :)
Anthony on January 12, 2020:
Just wanted to thank you for putting this website together. I've been looking to improve my wine.
Ttttnawaf on January 23, 2019:
Only grape juice, sugar and yeast in plastic bottle using a small pipe so air come out to an other bottle with water inside
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on January 23, 2019:
Ten days is a very short time so the wine would still have been full of active yeast. That still wouldn't normally do any harm but some people might have a reaction to it. Were there any other ingredients apart from grape juice, sugar and yeast?
Ttttnawaf on January 22, 2019:
I mad win frome grape juice after ten dayes i drink it and wvery thing is fine but after that my eyes become red the next day . My sight some time not clear . Is it from the win ? Is that win safe
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on October 09, 2018:
Mark, no, it can't. Sometimes bottled wine can start what's called a malo-lactic fermentation in the bottle. This converts malic acid to lactic acid and produces CO2 which explains the bubbles. The other possibility is that you bottled it too soon, before dryness. Either way, the batch should be OK.
Mark on October 08, 2018:
Can bottled wine spoil from ethanol to methanol. I have bottlesform same batch that are turning fizzy when oppened but not all of them. A few popped open after being bottled a few months later. fermentation was stopped with potasioum sorbate , and sweetened. So i dont know what to do the the entire batch?
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on October 05, 2018:
Starter - it contains no preservatives (by my method) which is better. On the other hand the juice will have been pasteurised which inevitably loses some of the freshness.
Starter on October 03, 2018:
Hi! Does homemade wine made from grape juice have the health benefits as the regular red wine do?
Bob on September 29, 2018:
Thanks for you answer. Yes, totally understandable
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on September 24, 2018:
Hi Bob - good question. Distillation does not create methanol but because methanol vaporises at a much lower temperature than ethanol, there is a risk of concentrating all of the methanol in the first bottle of spirit, i.e. it is possible to produce a bottle of poison! Of course, this is thoroughly bad practice and betrays a lack of understanding on the part of the distiller, but you can see why I will not advocate amateur distillation in a public forum, yes?
Bob on September 23, 2018:
Regarding distillation: I understand that both ethanol and methanol will be concentrated, however... If I was having a drink, the actual volume of alcohols over time time remains the same weather it's beer or gin. As i will drink a lot of beer quickly vs a little gin slowly... If I used the commercially available "air still" is there really any significant risk? If so, please explain why.
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on March 21, 2018:
Chris, that's right. Natural wine uses nothing but grapes and ferments with the natural yeast on the grape skins. But only grapes (and not all grapes) provide a natural balance. Correct adjustment of acidity is needed for most fruit juices and all vegetables
Chris Doner on March 21, 2018:
We make very tasty wine wine using native yeast here in Sonoma, Ca. It can be without added acid as well . Its all about the sugar and acidity balance of the grapes. If you have high pH then yes add acid. With ideal grapes nothing is added. Of course there are a few other details to it.
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on March 15, 2015:
Dennis, yes, that is all you need, with the right method.
Dennis on March 14, 2015:
I've been making wine for a few years now. My method is very simple and makes very flavorful wine. I use a 96oz bottle of Welches red or white grape juice. Add a measured amount of sugar and a good quality wine yeast. Works every time.
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on August 13, 2013:
WriteAngled - Airlocks were necessary when glass demijohns were the only option. Modern plastic water bottles with the cap loosely fitted are a perfect alternative. After all, it would take a pretty determined fruit-fly to negotiate a spiral thread against a steady wind of carbon dioxide!
Krys W from Abertawe, Cymru on August 13, 2013:
Glad to have read this. I have just started making wine again after many years and was tempted by the balloon method as a way to be able to use 5-litre plastic water bottles rather than expensive glass demijohns. Yes, I have read how you can drill the cap and put in grommets and suchlike to allow use of an airlock, but that is beyond my abilities. I have never used a drill in my life and don't intend to start now.
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on January 20, 2012:
Hi James - it's a very satisfying hobby and one of the few that can save you money. If you do decide to have a go, check out my 'how to' hubs on the subject. Satisfaction guaranteed!
James A Watkins from Chicago on January 19, 2012:
Very interesting. I have had homemade wine from an old Italian fella that was quite good. And I have a friend with a beautiful winery named Karma Vista, in Coloma, Michigan, USA (my hometown). I think I would like to try to make my own wine. Thank you for this useful Hub.
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on January 04, 2012:
Alexander - many methods are possible. If using a glass fermentation jar, I'll use a bored cork fitted with a fermentation trap. If using a plastic vessel, the backed off screw cap is perfectly good. Some reflux is inevitable, whatever method you use, but the balloon method is the worst, by a long way.
Alexander Pease from Maine on January 03, 2012:
I have read a few of your hubs on home-made alcohols. So far, I have liked what I read, and was thinking of trying a recipe out sometime.
However, I do have a question: wouldn't run off of the gases still be possible with a cap-covered container? (This in reference to the balloon method)
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 18, 2011:
Kaitlincolee - wine can certainly be home made. In fact, in Mediterranean countries where vines grow freely, most households make their own wine from their own grapes. That's how it all began :)
Amillar - I have to plead guilty to both, but you have to do something to bring variety to life in Doha! Thanks for the visit :)
amillar from Scotland, UK on December 17, 2011:
These are two things I don't do anymore paraglider (brewing and drinking). Still I've had my lifetime share. Maybe if I'd understood the chemistry better I'd have done it better - and with more moderation.
kaitlincolee on December 17, 2011:
This is an interesting post, I never knew wine could be home-made. Voted up!
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 16, 2011:
Scribenet - most home made wine is harmless and some is really very good, but, if it smells or tastes unwholesome, just pour it into the nearest plant pot when your host is not looking!
Talisker - send him the link! His wine is probably OK, but if he offers you home made whisky, smile sweetly and make excuses, OK?
Twodawgs - please take a look at my 'basic method' link. The comments will show that most people manage to make a good sound wine this way. Truly exceptional is possible, but needs a bit more theory and practice!
twodawgs on December 16, 2011:
Glad I ran into this article, Paraglider. I have been contemplating doing some home brewing/winemaking - not so much to save money, but more for the fascination and enjoyment of the process, and the challenge of seeing whether I can produce something truly exceptional. I will definitely heed your advice.
Honor Meci from UK on December 16, 2011:
My dad enjoys making his own wine. I hope he reads this hub!
Maggie Griess from Ontario, Canada on December 16, 2011:
Informative. I did not realize the risks of winemaking. Guess it is a good idea to ask about these points when someone offers some homemade wine! Thanks.
Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 16, 2011:
Well, with Christmas coming up and a lot of people strapped for cash, the appeal of home wine-making is high again. Shame not to get it right!
Verlie Burroughs from Canada on December 16, 2011:
A timely warning paraglider, kudos to you. Regards, snakeslane