How to Make Wine From Grape Juice
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.
Guaranteed! This wine will contain no chemical additives or artificial preservatives. That is a promise you will not hear from many commercial winemakers. Your wine is made with pure fruit juice and therefore (if drunk in moderation), will do you nothing but 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.
Comments Are Welcome
Before asking a question, why not read through the comments below? I have already answered many questions, so you may find your answer is already there!
If you do try making wine by this method and run into any problem, describe it in a comment and I'll do my best to help, or at least explain what's gone wrong.
If you have a go and it works out well (which is most likely), share your success to encourage others to join the winemaking community.
I'm also happy to answer queries about home winemaking. Although my starter method is simple, it is based on sound principles. Advanced winemaking involves more equipment and processes. If the interest is there, I'll base a few more articles on the finer points.
Questions & Answers
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?
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.Helpful 75
Do you know what the alcohol content was of your wine made of grape juice?
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.Helpful 49
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?
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%.Helpful 38
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?
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).Helpful 24
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?
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.Helpful 8