You can buy a six gallon wine making starter kit for under $150 (plus about $40 shipping, because all that glass is heavy) but that’s an intimidating amount of wine to deal with, and if you mess it up, you’ve wasted a lot of money.
What if you’ve never made wine but want to try setting up a batch of wine this weekend without ordering special equipment or juice? I set myself the challenge of trying to make a small batch of wine using only stuff that I could buy at my local Walmart for less than $5.
The biggest difficulties here are the yeast and the airlock. Normally I use yeast sold specifically for winemaking, but all that’s available at Walmart is bread yeast. The airlock is a device that allows carbon dioxide gas to escape, but prevents air from getting in. I’ve heard of using a balloon with a pinhole in it as an airlock. The idea is that the carbon dioxide goes out the pinhole, and when the fermentation is done and the gas is no longer produced, the balloon collapses and seals the pinhole. Although most experts on the subject say not to use bread yeast, it is the same species as some wine yeast, and I found a Dutch blogger who used it successfully to make wine from apple juice.
Other missing components are additives like sulfite (which inhibits the growth of undesirable microorganisms), acid (which improves the taste and also acts as a preservative), and yeast nutrients (which help some types of yeast grow properly). The juice has acid added to it already, and because the juice is pasteurized, the yeast do not have much in the way of spoilage organisms to compete with. I suspect leaving these out will not hurt.
So here’s my shopping list:
$2.78 — half gallon of store-brand white grape juice
$0.97 — bag of 12 ballons
$1.32 — three-pack of yeast
$5.07 — grand total
Okay, so it’s seven cents over my $5 limit, but I’m not using all the balloons or yeast, so if you prorate those, we’re down to $3.30. Not bad for 2.5 bottles of wine.
The first step is to proof the yeast. This may not be strictly necessary, but it’s not hard. I just poured a little of the wine into a (very clean) dessert bowl and microwaved it until it was warm but not hot.
You don’t want to stick your finger in it to test the temperature, because the germs on your skin could spoil the wine.
Next, add the yeast to the warm wine and wait about 10 minutes for it to start to grow:
During the 10 minute wait, clean a bowl that is large enough to hold all the juice with space to spare. Dump the juice into the bowl, but save the bottle it came in, and wash it out well. Once the yeast has started to bubble, dump it into the bowl with the juice. Cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap and then with a towel. Flies love the smell of fermenting juice, and you want to keep them out.
If your house is on the chilly side, you might want to place a lamp next to the bowl for the first day. I used a small lamp with a 100 W bulb. In a few days, the juice will be bubbly and smell of fermentation. Carefully pour it back into the clean bottle and stretch the balloon over the mouth of the bottle. Using a pin, make a tiny hole in the balloon, at the end away from the bottle. The gas will eventually fill the balloon. For me, it took a few hours.
Now you wait for the balloon to collapse. This took a week for me. It does look like it has sealed the pinhole.
At this point, the only step left is to wait for the dead yeast cells to settle out so that the wine is clear. At this point, it’s only had a few days after the fermentation to settle, and it’s already starting to clear up. The settled yeast at the bottom are the lees.
I will post an update once the wine is clear. As a friend put it, the “proof” will be in the tasting.