Is It Safe to Drink Homemade Wine?

Updated on February 21, 2017
Paraglider profile image

A scientist turned engineer, Dave started making wine in 1970. His approach combines simplicity with sound scientific principles.

The short answer is Yes...

Home made wine, (and beer, mead and cider) should be every bit as wholesome as their commercially produced counterparts. Nobody ever asks if home made cakes are safe to eat, yet the question keeps coming up in regard to home made wine. Why should that be?

The main reason home made 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 wine making. This is not to say that you have to be a scientist to be a wine maker. 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 head the next day.

The Balloonists

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 pin pricks. 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

  • 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?

    Check that the canned fruit cocktail is free of preservatives, sterilize the jug and avoid direct sunlight. You should be ok then.

  • Is it safe to brew rice wine?

    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.

Comments

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    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      6 months ago from Kyle, Scotland

      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

    • profile image

      Chris Doner 

      6 months ago

      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.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Dennis, yes, that is all you need, with the right method.

    • profile image

      Dennis 

      3 years ago

      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.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      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!

    • WriteAngled profile image

      WriteAngled 

      5 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      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.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      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 profile image

      James A Watkins 

      6 years ago from Chicago

      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.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      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 profile image

      Alexander Pease 

      6 years ago from Maine

      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)

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      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 profile image

      amillar 

      6 years ago from Scotland, UK

      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 profile image

      kaitlincolee 

      6 years ago

      This is an interesting post, I never knew wine could be home-made. Voted up!

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      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!

    • profile image

      twodawgs 

      6 years ago

      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.

    • Talisker profile image

      Honor Meci 

      6 years ago from UK

      My dad enjoys making his own wine. I hope he reads this hub!

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      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.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      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!

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      6 years ago from Canada

      A timely warning paraglider, kudos to you. Regards, snakeslane

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