Welcome to the Home Winery
In this article, I'm going to walk you through a safe and reliable method of making fresh, wholesome wine from supermarket grape juice. The recipe provided uses no special equipment, chemicals, or artificial additives.
Why Bother Making Your Own Wine?
I live in an Islamic country where wine is not a supermarket commodity. But in most countries, wine is a supermarket commodity, in which case, why make your own? You will have your own reasons for making wine from grape juice, but here are a few of mine:
- It's a fun time, feels creative and fills the kitchen with summery smells.
- It's very cheap, wholesome and surprisingly good.
The good news is, you will hardly need any equipment at all.
You will need:
- One 5-litre (or 1-gallon) plastic drinking water container (not five separate bottles)
- One plastic pouring funnel
- Four 1-litre (2-pint) cartons of red or white grape juice with no preservatives
- 500 grams (18 ounces) of ordinary, granulated white sugar
- One sachet of general-purpose wine yeast
Can You Use Any Kind of Yeast to Make Wine?
No. It is very important that you do not use any other kind of yeast to make your wine. Baking yeast will ferment, however, it is likely to stop too soon, leaving you with an oversweet, understrength concoction (often with a bready smell). Much the same is true of brewer's yeast, except the product will smell like beer. What a surprise!
If you are lucky enough to have a winemaker's supplier nearby, that's where to find your wine yeast. Don't be intimidated by the expert salesperson—one sachet of general-purpose wine yeast is all you need. If they offer you Campden tablets, vitamin B6, a hydrometer, a thermometer, a fermentation trap and a snake of plastic tubing, just smile sweetly and say 'no'.
If you have no local winemaker's supplier, there are plenty of online resources available listed under 'winemaking supplies'. As for me, I get my wine yeast and other supplies directly from Amazon.
Your grape juice should be kept at room temperature, not in the fridge. If you have placed your grape juice in the fridge, make sure to take it out and let it get back to room temperature before continuing with the wine-making process.
Drink or dispose of the 5 litres of water. Most people prefer to do this over a few days. When the bottle is empty, there is no reason to rinse it out. It's clean because it was full of drinking water, remember?
Day 1: Warm the Juice and Add the Yeast
Pour about half of your first carton of grape juice into the empty 5-litre bottle.
Add one teaspoonful of wine yeast, put the top on the bottle and shake it to buggery. (This is the correct technical term for this process as used by winemakers around the world, though a small handful still refer to it as aeration.)
Leave the 5-litre bottle in a warmish place and take the rest of the day off. (Yeast is a living organism. Its comfort zone is much like ours. Think short-sleeve temperature. You don't need to keep it in the dark, but direct sunlight will spoil it.)
Day 2: Prepare the Sugar Syrup
You'll notice the 5-litre bottle will have started bubbling. Add the other half carton of the first juice as well as one other full carton, so the 5-litre bottle is now a little under half full. Tighten the bottle cap then back it off half a turn. This is very important. Fermentation produces a lot of carbon dioxide gas which must be allowed to escape.
Take a 2-litre coke bottle and do whatever you want with the contents. I'm told it goes well with a Big Mac, whatever that is. We need it empty, that's all.
Pour 500 grams (18 ounces) of sugar into the empty coke bottle. A plastic funnel makes this a lot easier. Pour boiled tap water or drinking water onto the sugar until the bottle is about half full (1 litre or 2 pints). Shake it until all the sugar is dissolved. Don't add it to the wine yet.
Day 4-5: Combine All Components
By now, the wine should be fermenting well. Add one more carton of grape juice and all of the sugar syrup to the 5-litre bottle. The amount of liquid should still be below the shoulder of the bottle. Swirl the bottle to mix in the sugar syrup. Tighten the bottle cap then back it off half a turn, as before. That's it for today. You should still have one unopened carton of grape juice.
Day 10 or So: Monitor Your Wine
By day 10 or so, the liveliest fermentation should have eased off, so it's safe to add the last carton of juice. The 5-litre bottle should be filled to the bottom of the neck. Do the same drill as mentioned before with the bottle cap. Now, you just have to wait. Check the bottle cap every day, and watch for bubbling, showing signs of completion. It typically takes another two or three weeks for the wine to be complete.
Final Days: Chill the Wine, Bottle and Enjoy!
When the bubbling in your 5-litre bottle has stopped (or at least slowed to the occasional bubble), place the bottle in the fridge (not the freezer!) and leave it for about three days. The cold temperature will halt the fermentation and help the yeast settle to the bottom of the bottle.
After three days have passed, line up enough empty bottles to hold the wine. Very, very carefully, so as not to disturb the sediment, pour the wine into the empty bottles using the funnel. It helps to have someone else hold the bottles while moving the funnel from bottle to bottle. Fill all the bottles in a single pass, without tipping the fermenting bottle. This way, you won't disturb the sediment.
The wine can be drunk straight away, but it will improve in the bottle for several months. It's best not to consider 'laying it down' or any such nonsense. It's not that sort of wine.
Cheers! You're now a winemaker.
Will It Be Any Good?
I'll be honest, your homemade wine may taste like a decent vin ordinaire, which is expected and acceptable. It will be on par with the staple drink of millions of everyday folk throughout Europe—because that's what we're making—everyday wine.
It is, of course, possible to make truly fine wine. But to do this, you will need to follow a slightly more involved procedure:
- Buy a hillside with an ideal aspect, as well as good soil and climate.
- Terrace the hillside and plant your vines.
- Protect the vines from frosts, hailstorms, insects and neighbors.
- Oh, and start about thirty years ago!
Of course, the above is not our goal for this article. Making wine from grape juice is a much simpler and less time-consuming solution to making a steady supply of wine.
Questions & Answers
Question: I am very keen to use your wine recipe making wine from grape juice. I live in South Africa where we are currently under lockdown and the sale of alcohol has been banned for some strange reason. I, therefore, cannot buy wine yeast and will have to make do with normal baking or all-purpose yeast. What can I do to make the wine palatable if using ordinary yeast?
Answer: Even using baker's yeast, the finished wine should not be unpalatable, especially if you pour it off the sediment into a fresh container and rest it for a few weeks before drinking. Alternatively, you can harvest live yeast from fresh muscat grapes: Crush five or six perfectly ripe grapes in a small glass bowl. Pour in enough grape juice to cover the grapes and cover the bowl with a saucer. Leave in a warmish place overnight. Next day, follow my method exactly but adding the contents of the small bowl in place of the dried yeast. Note- this is not guaranteed to work every time and there is a small risk of spoilage, but it can give excellent results, much better than baker's yeast ever will.
Question: I am in South Africa so am in lockdown. I am on day 4 and realized that the last one and a half liters of grape juice has preservatives, the first was okay. What happens now that I've started making wine from grape juice with preservatives?
Answer: You might be lucky. If the fermentation is strong, it might continue in spite of the preservatives. But if it sticks (stops bubbling) which I think is likely, there is nothing you can do to restart it. It will be drinkable, but weak and too sweet. All you can do is start again and read the labels more carefully! Put it down to experience.
Question: Do you know what the alcohol content was of your wine made of grape juice?
Answer: This wine will lie in the range 11% to 13% if fermented to dryness as recommended. The exact figure depends on the grape juice and to a lesser extent on the yeast variety. I explain this topic fully in this article: How to Control the Strength of Homemade Beer, Wine and Cider.
Question: If you have fermentation do you need to add the sugar? Would you get a less sweet, less alcoholic wine by adding a further liter of grape juice instead?
Answer: If you don't add the sugar you will end up with a wine of around 6% to 7% ABV. This is OK, but it will not keep well and will not mature like a balanced wine. The sugar (as per my method) is all fermented to dryness so does not make the wine sweet. It results in a balanced wine in the range 12% to 13%.
Question: What brand of grape juice that I can get in Saudi Arabia would you recommend?
Answer: My first choice is KDD juice. It's from Kuwait, but it's available in most GCC countries. Rauch is also a very good but more expensive brand. Almarai and Safa are also good. Remember to always read the label for "no preservatives."
Question: I made some white grape wine. I thought it was finished until I poured it into a glass and it foamed up like beer poured from a can. Why would my grape juice wine foam?
Answer: If you sealed the container too soon a pressure of dissolved CO₂ can build up. Also, at the end of fermentation, the new wine is saturated with dissolved CO₂. You can get rid of most of this by decanting the new wine off its sediment into a new vessel for storage. (The bubbles are harmless, by the way).
Question: Are you at all nervous about making wine in an Islamic country?
Answer: Good question. There are three things I would never do: 1) I would never sell or in any way trade my home-made wine and cider. 2) I would never allow any of it to be taken out of my apartment. Both of these would be viewed as serious infringements. And 3) I would never discuss my wine-making in public places where you never know who is listening. By the way, I don't make beer because brewing smells can be quite strong, and smells are hard to contain!
Question: I know this recipe is for 5 litres of wine, but if I add an extra 1 litre of juice will it change the outcome any? I just want to fill my 6 litre bottle as much as poss.
Answer: OK, for 5 litres, the sugar addition was 500 grams, so, for 6 litres might it not be 500 /5 x6 = 600 grams (!) If you don't increase the sugar addition, the alcoholic strength (ABV) will be lower.
Question: How many times can you use harvested yeast to make wine? I used the yeast you mentioned and have harvested it to use on another batch, but I am curious if I can use it again or I should get rid of it.
Answer: Harvested yeast kept in a small airtight container in the fridge will be good for several months. Also, you can start a new batch from the sediment of a finished batch and keep this going forever, if you like.
Question: How do I make a dry red wine from grape juice?
Answer: Follow the instructions in the article but don't be in a hurry to refrigerate at the end. Let it sit for a couple of weeks after fermentation appears to have finished. This will ensure that fermentation to dryness is complete.
Question: Instead of tightening bottle caps, I used an airlock, but being so amateur, I let the water inside the airlock leak down inside the wine. Do you think it will result in bacteria growth and toxic wine?
Answer: It is unlikely to have caused spoilage if the wine was fermenting (bubbling) when it happened. However, nowadays, with 5 litre screw-top plastic drinking water bottles so freely available, using an airlock is an unnecessary complication.
Question: As a first timer of making my own wine from grape juice do you have any suggestions?
Answer: My suggestion is, follow the directions in the article! It is written for first timers-with no previous experience of wine-making.
Question: I am making my first homemade grape juice wine. I added all of the juice and sugar water at the start, and then added my yeast, that was 4 days ago and so far so good. What would be the best way would be to go about making this a "sparkling" wine? If you could inform me of the best way to make my wine "sparkling" that would be GREAT, if you could also tell me how to make my cider sparkling, that would be even better.
Answer: Let the fermentation finish naturally (no more bubbles rising). Place it in the refrigerator for about two days to start the clearing process. When it is no longer cloudy but still hazy, carefully pour it into 1-litre plastic lemonade bottles. Drop one sugar cube into each bottle, cap tightly and leave in a warmish place for a week. This will cause the yeast in the haze to act on the sugar, producing CO₂. Then store in a cool, dark place for at least a month. Best served chilled. Do not use glass bottles or lightweight water bottles. This method depends on judging the end point well. For repeatable results, you should use a hydrometer, but I'm not explaining that in a comment.
Question: Did you know this tip? Instead of a bottle cap, get a heavy balloon and pierce a needle hole in the top. The balloon will inflate, and you know it is done when the balloon is totally deflated.
Answer: It's a very old technique but not a good one. There is always drip-back from the inside of the balloon into the fermenting wine. Sometimes this gives off-flavours in the finished wine.
Question: How would I make a dryer wine?
Answer: When you think fermentation has finished, put it in a warmish place with the cap nearly closed and do nothing for another week to ten days before putting it in the fridge. This gives the yeast time to use up the last of the remaining sugar.
Question: I have a 12-liter water bottle, would it be ok to double the amount of wine brewing ingredients and increase the time?
Answer: Double all the quantities but don't change the times. It still takes the same time, for any quantity.
Question: Can you use a 5 gallon bottle with the ingredients of a 1 gallon bottle? Will the empty space do any harm to the wine?
Answer: This would greatly increase the risk of oxidation towards the end of the fermentation. It would also be more difficult to separate the wine from the sediment. So, no, it is not a good idea.
Question: Can you use another juice such as apple juice to make wine?
Answer: Yes, you can. But you will need to increase the sugar addition from 500g up to a maximum of 750g. To keep a wine-like quality, it is best to use grape juice for at least half of the total quantity.
Question: When making wine from grape juice, does the sediment have to be thrown after the process or can it be reused in another batch?
Answer: You can start a new batch using as little as one teaspoonful of the sediment instead of new yeast. If you want to keep sediment for this purpose, transfer it to a small screw-top bottle and store it in the fridge.
Question: If I back off my bottle lids when making wine from grape juice, too far will I contaminate my must?
Answer: As long as the must is actively fermenting no contaminants can enter a loose cap against the steady flow of carbon dioxide. Towards the end of fermentation, when the CO2 flow is very slow, you can close the cap fully, backing it off once a day to release any pressure build-up.
Question: While making wine from grape juice, why did my brew stop bubbling after the last carton went in?
Answer: Usually it restarts after a day or two. The new juice dissolves the CO2 until saturated, then bubbles start to form again.
Question: My wine never really stops fermenting. How can I prevent it from happening? I leave it a full three days in the refrigerator. I have also tried four days. Yet whenever I open a bottle of wine that has matured for 60 days I hear the carbonation when I open the lid, and I notice the sediment in the bottom of the bottle. How can make sure I STOP the fermentation?
Answer: There are two things you can do: 1) give the wine longer to finish before putting it in the refrigerator. Try another week. Fermentation time depends on temperature. The cooler it is, the longer it takes. 2) You can add a crushed Camden tablet at the end of fermentation, before setting it aside to mature. This is safe, but some people prefer not to use any additives, in which case, more time is the answer.
Question: Can I use freshly juiced grapes to make wine?
Answer: Yes you can. If the grapes are ripe and sweet, follow the procedure exactly. If they are less sweet, increase the sugar addition to a maximum of 750 grams.
Question: You mentioned one teaspoon of yeast instead of adding an entire standard 5-gram pack. What do you suggest might happen if there is a slight overdose of wine yeast by 20-30%?
Answer: It will not make much difference. The fermentation might start more quickly, but the yeast grows until it reaches an equilibrium state which does not depend on the initial amount.
Question: The wine I made last month was fine and I’m leaving it to improve for a couple of months. However, this time I followed the same procedure but it didn’t bubble after adding the same yeast. I’ve just added sugar syrup and hopefully, it may bubble soon. If not, what remedial action should I take?
Answer: If you are sure the juice contained no preservatives, there are a few possibilities: the juice was too warm when the yeast was added, or, the yeast had become damp or too warm in storage. To save the wine, make a new yeast starter with fresh yeast and a little juice and add it only when it is active. When fermentation restarts, proceed as per the method.
Question: Like many South Africans missing their glass of vino, I tried to make my own but the mixture is cloudy with quite a few bubbles. I made it on 1 May. What has gone wrong?
Answer: Today is 8 May. That is only one week. The wine should still be fermenting (bubbling) and cloudy so nothing has gone wrong. Look again at the timescale in the article. Patience, patience. . .
Question: For my 12-liter plastic bottle, I’ll need 3 times the amount of ingredients but is it best to do just under 12 liters to allow a gap for fermentation or just not add the total amount (1500g) of sugar? Also how much sediment/residue will be left that will be undrinkable?
Answer: My original article is for 5 litres, not 4. If you want to make 12 litres, multiply all the quantities by 12/5 = 2.4.
Question: I put my sugar solution in too soon and don't know if my wine is fermenting. All the juice is in there, there is fizzing but no frothy head. What would you recommend apart from learning to follow instructions better?
Answer: If it is fizzing, it is fermenting. Just let it run its course and when all visible activity stops, refrigerate it. No harm done.
Question: When making wine from grape juice, on day one should you keep the lid of the bottle full open or halfway?
Answer: On day one it is safe to keep the bottle fully closed. It takes a little time for the yeast to start and there is plenty space in the 5-litre bottle to accommodate the amount of CO₂ that will be produced.
Question: What do you recommend for bottling, caps etc?
Answer: For serious maturing of good wine, the best is still green or brown glass wine bottles, good quality corks, and a shrink-fit capsule. But for 'vin ordinaire' for everyday drinking, clear plastic coke bottles with screw caps are fine. Store them in a dark place as sunlight will spoil any wine.
Question: What is the difference in taste between white and red grape concentrate?
Answer: Red usually has a richer flavour with a hint of bitterness from the grape-skin tannin.
Question: How can I remove the smell of yeast from the finished wine?
Answer: If you have used baking yeast there will always be a noticeable sharp smell. If you have used a proper wine yeast and given the wine time to clear properly, there should not be a dominant yeast aroma. Letting it rest for a few months before drinking greatly improves the taste and aroma of any wine.
Question: I’m a Saudi living in Saudi and I have begun to make wine with RED STAR Premier Classique instead of your suggested yeast. In the first stage when I mixed the yeast with the half liter carton and locked it with the lid tight, I noticed the bottle is full of gas and about to explode so I had to release the pressure a little bit. Is this normal?!
Answer: I have not used Red Star myself but it has a good reputation. It is also a fast starter. In Saudi, ambient temperatures are high which also accelerates fermentation. Your wine started quickly, which is good, and you were right to release the pressure. For the rest of the fermentation, the bottle cap should be loose enough to let the gases escape, as explained in the method.
Question: Where do you find a 5-litre container? I've looked everywhere and can't find one?
Answer: Drinking water is sold in 5-litre containers throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. If you are in USA, you might have to make do with a gallon container instead. It will still work.
Question: How would you use a 5-gallon container? Unfortunately, where I live these are the only ones available.
Answer: The best way to use a 5-gallon fermenting vessel is to multiply all the quantities by 5 but don't change the times. In other words, make 5 gallons of wine.
Question: Can Muscadine grapes be used to make wine?
Answer: Yes, gather the grapes when they are as ripe as possible, for best sugar content and lowest acidity and prepare an active yeast starter in advance to ensure a quick start to the fermentation.
Question: Why do you add the juice incrementally, instead of just adding the lot with sugar and yeast right at the beginning of the process? Does this technique not lead to a sweeter wine?
Answer: You can mix everything together at the start if you like. It will usually be OK. But the incremental method ensures that the yeast is alive and the juice is fermentable (free of preservatives) without the risk of wasting a large quantity if there is a problem. And, the incremental method avoids the problem of frothing through the lid and making a mess. There is no difference to the final dryness of the wine.
Question: What brand of dark or light grape juice in the United States do you recommend for making wine?
Answer: I don't know what is available in the States, but most grape juices will be fine. Always check the label: there should be no preservatives or antioxidants as these will prevent fermentation from starting. Most juices are made from concentrates. This is OK, but the best quality juices are simply pressed, filtered and pasteurised without concentrating them. These are more expensive but will give a better result.
Question: How much yeast in total do you use for a 5-liter batch of wine? Will adding more yeast make the finished wine more alcoholic? Does the wine this recipe makes have to be kept refrigerated after it's been poured into separate containers?
Answer: I use half a level teaspoonful. My method says one tsp, but that is to make sure that beginners see fermentation start quickly. Alcoholic strength depends on sugar content in the juice, not on yeast quantity. If you have fermented to dryness (recommended) you do not need to refrigerate the finished wine. It will mature better if you don't.
Question: I'm in Kuwait, not sure if you are too. If so, I take it that it's OK to order the yeast from Amazon with no issues?
Answer: I have always hand-carried small quantities of yeast in my baggage when returning to the Gulf States from the UK. I don't have personal experience of having Amazon deliver to these countries.
Question: I am coming to grips with the hydrometer. Particularly, using the 'sugar scale' (brix?) to help me expand into a variety of fruits with a variety of starting sugar levels. Am I correct that if I want a final 12-13% ABV, and the scale says '200gms sugar/litre required' and my must without added is currently '150 gms/litre' then I'd add 50gms sugar per litre to begin everything from the right starting line? Am I on base?
Answer: You are on base, but the question is too technical for this beginners' article. I cover the topic here: https://delishably.com/beverages/How-Strong-is-my-...
Question: If I am using a gallon or 4-liter container, what adjustments to the recipe do I make?
Answer: Adjust all quantities by a factor of 0.8 but do not change the method or the timings.
Question: Can you use a siphoning tube to move the wine out of the fermentation bottle?
Answer: Yes, you can if you like, but make sure you sterilise it first.
Question: What if I added table grapes to the first batch of grape juice wine to use as the yeast starter? Then once it got going, I could just eat the grapes and leave the wine to finish up!
Answer: You can cultivate the natural yeast found on the skins of some grapes and use it to start a batch of wine. Having done it once, you can harvest some of the sediment to start future batches. I've explained this in the comments section of the article. If you scroll down you can find it.
Question: For how many days did you ferment the wine? And after how many days will the wine be mature to start bottling?
Answer: Total fermentation time is typically 4 weeks, but this varies with temperature and juice sugar content. It can be bottled after three days in the fridge, but it is not 'mature'. It is a fresh young 'vin ordinaire'. it will improve for several months.
Question: I made homemade blackberry wine (although it was more like liquor and was at least 80 proof) using just fresh berries, water, sugar and yeast rolls in plastic garbage bags. I started a new batch each week as the berries grew in my back yard and had enough bottled up to last for many months! I've never seen a recipe using yeast rolls but I figured it was worth a shot & boy did it work! Have you ever tried this method & if so, did you have success?
Answer: 80 proof is equivalent to 40% Alcohol by Volume (ABV). Sorry, but you cannot achieve that strength by fermentation alone, only by distillation. A realistic maximum yield is more like 15% ABV. I can't comment further because you don't give any detail of your method.
Question: I have now made two batches of wine, one white, one red. Both have come out well and my thanks for sharing the information. The only criticisms I have received have been from people who prefer a drier wine, one of these being my wife! Is it possible to make the wine drier by reducing the sugar at Day 4-5, or will this upset the process in any way?
Answer: If you reduce the sugar, the wine will turn out less alcoholic and possibly slightly drier. This might be OK for you, but a better approach is to give the wine more fermenting time. Delay the refrigeration step by up to two more weeks keeping the wine in a warm place with the screw-cap closed, but open it briefly once a day to let gas escape. (I don't suggest this in the article because most beginners are impatient!)
Question: Why did the color of my wine come out a very light red?
Answer: True red wine begins with pulp fermentation of crushed grapes. The alcohol formed in this stage extracts the strong color from the grape skins resulting in deep red wine. Using supermarket grape juice, there is no pulp fermentation stage so the wine turns out a dark rose rather than a true red.
Question: I have been making wine at home for about a year now. Thank you for helping to debunk the mystery about wine making. Have you tried any other juices? Particularly cherry/plum?
Answer: I have found that for the wine to have a vinous quality (i.e. to be wine-like) at least half of the juice should be grape. But grape/cherry and grape/cranberry blends work well for reds and grape/apple for whites. In all cases (except maybe mango) you will need more sugar than with pure grape.
Question: How do you know if the wine is fermenting, will there be obvious bubbles like in a carbonated drink, or is it more that it just forms a foam at the top?
Answer: You will see bubbles rising from the bottom and bursting at the surface. Try it and you will see for yourself.