A homebrewer living in Kuwait. I've brewed wine, mead, cider, and tepache.
Wine From Grape Juice?
Memes come to mind at the thought of homebrewing wine from grape juice. Particularly the meme from The Office of Steve Carrel screaming "NO, Please God NO!" In truth, if you live in any of the 176 countries of the world that allow alcoholic beverages you really wouldn't approach winemaking in this fashion. There are only 19 countries that currently prohibit alcohol, and some local governments or states.
Sommeliers and winemakers around the globe would advise against homebrewing wine without wine variety juice. Truly wine is complex and elevated in terms of ingredients, flavor, and technique. Unlike, cider a good wine must come from specific types of wine grapes. There is a distinction between wine grapes and table grapes, something I learned during a wine tour in Italy.
Alas, I live in Kuwait, one of the 19 countries to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol. So, desperate times call for desperate measures. However, in order to enhance the flavor, I have found that there are some hacks. All this in hopes to make more realistic, and less repugnant.
Vineries, Vintners, Vin
My wife and I enjoy going on wine tours. We've gone on wine tours in the United States and abroad. The most memorable was under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. During these tastings and in talking with the vintners we learned a lot. Some of the information would inspire me to experiment to make my homebrew wine more palatable.
One thing I've learned is that table grapes and wine grapes are very different from each other.
Table grapes are delicious to eat. Their skins are easy to bite through, the flesh of the grape is juicy and sweet, and if they are seedless there is no worry of eating through seeds. However, grapes with seeds have more flavor than seedless.
Wine grapes, on the other hand, are horrible to eat because the texture is softer and has seeds riddled throughout the grape. Here are some important features of wine grapes:
- The flavor comes from seeds.
- The sugar content produces alcohol. A Brix level is a measurement of how much sugar is present in a liquid. A table grape has a Brix level of 17-19 while its counterpart the wine grape Brix level is 24-26.
- More liquid from wine grapes means more wine.
- Grape skins provide color. One of the major differences, apart from the grape color, between white wine and red wine is that red wine is fermented with its grape skins. In addition, wineskins and seeds provide tannin to a wine.
- Tannins are an important component of a well-balanced wine. Tannins are what give a wine its bitterness, but also builds complexity that counteracts the sweetness of a wine.
A well-balanced wine will find a medium between sweetness, acidity, tannins, and alcohol level. If one of those four elements are overpowering the flavor profile is off.
The five points about wine grapes above distilled into one idea helped me make carton grape juice wine just a bit better: Use table grapes to provide color, texture, flavor, tannin, and structure to homebrewed wine.
What probably gives the wine industry its somewhat snobbish reputation is tasting notes. Sommeliers are trained to taste for particular flavor profiles, notes. Notes of Chocolate, cherry, floral, apricot, earthy, cedar, oak, berry fruits are all descriptors of a wines flavor. Furthermore, those descriptors are subjective because our abilities to taste flavor is different. I recognized flavor subjectiveness clearly during a winemaking class I attended while in Norway, everyone present tasted something different.
The average wine drinker can appreciate wine and enjoy a quality glass of wine, but may not be able to discern a wines tasting notes. I know I cannot make those distinctions, especially without help or prompting. Would I like to, yes.
Therefore, another way to add to your carton grape juice wine is to add in some of these flavor profiles yourself. Granted I would not recommend trying all of them all at once, but add one during one batch then experiment with another the next. Sometimes things will go all wrong, often you will get something that you can barely recognize a difference, and sometimes it will just add to the experience.
I've made the mistake of adding too many flavors and too strong a flavor into a wine batch. I added star anise into a batch of wine, and either I added too much or the anise just did not go well with the brew. It didn't get much better with age either.
Controlling Flavor Strength
A word of advice: Use a cheesecloth to help keep the skins, spices, and other additives out of the way. It also makes it much easier to take out the skins or spices after a designated period.
Skins should be added during primary fermentation. I've left my wineskins in for roughly one out of two weeks of primary fermentation. Tannins can give a chalky mouthfeel to the wine; if one element is out of balance it affects the quality of the wine.
Spices, on the other hand, should be added during secondary fermentation. The reasoning is that the yeast feed on the sugars and flavors present in the brew. The yeast then converts those sugars and flavors into something entirely different. Wine doesn't taste like grape juice because the yeast has transformed it into wine. Adding a spice during primary fermentation may produce unwanted flavors that are odd and undefinable.
The amount of time you choose to leave the spices in the secondary fermentation is entirely preference.
For the wine:
- 18 liters grape juice, without preservatives
- 1/2 to 1 kilogram red grapes, with seeds
- 1 sachet red star montrachet wine yeast
- Handful of oak chips, use sparingly
- 2 to 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 kilogram cherries
- 4 to 6 whole cloves
- Sanitise everything using Star San.
- Crush the grapes using your hands and a mixing bowl, or between two baking trays. I would not recommend your feet.
- Add juice and carton grape juice to the carboy.
- Pitch the yeast.
- Place cheesecloth with skins into the carboy.
- Remove skins after the decided time frame.
- Use a siphon to transfer the wine to secondary fermentation after 2 weeks or until the bubbling has subsided. Be careful not to sweep up any of the sediment that can add a yeastlike flavor to the wine if they entered the secondary fermentation.
- Add choice spices, either bound or in a cheesecloth. Then remove after a chosen time frame.
- Allow the wine to rest in secondary fermentation for an additional 2 weeks.
- Siphon into bottles.
You Can't Beat the Price
Since I was in Kuwait and purchased Kuwaiti ingredients, the price may vary depending on where you live. Regardless, the price of a bottle of this homemade wine equals out to be far cheaper than your average bottle of wine.
- 18 liters juice: KWD 8.82 ($28.84 USD)
- 1 yeast packet: KWD 3.62 ($11.83 USD)
- Grapes: KWD 1.90 ($6.21 USD)
- Total: KWD 14.34 ($46.89 USD)
Divide by, roughly, 18 bottles. 1-liter bottles I might add, a typical wine usually comes in 750 milliliters.
- KWD 14.34 / 18 bottle = 0.796 ($2.60 USD)
Astounding, $2.60 USD per bottle of wine.
© 2020 Andrew Witthoft
Andrew Witthoft (author) from International on August 28, 2020:
Danny, I've written several other articles concerning homebrewing. Feel free to check them out and PM me with any questions.
Danny from India on August 28, 2020:
Andrew, you have made me interested in this craft of homebrewing, I too wanted to brew wine from different fruits. And what better way than reading this article to start it.