I would like to start this with a story that goes back a long time. I worked with an Italian guy on opposite sides of the desk for a number of years, and he told me how his dad, who was living in a nursing home in Southern Alberta, got in trouble with the RCMP. It seems one of the other residents took exception to the fact that this old Italian gentleman was making wine in his room in a gallon jug. Making alcoholic drinks was a prohibited activity at the time. So he reported the crime to the local RCMP detachment, who had to investigate. They did so, and while no charges were ever laid, the jug was emptied out with little ceremony, and the old fellow was told to abstain from doing this again. The RCMP, hated doing this, but they had little choice, and went the route they did and there never was any paperwork produced.
About this time, Alberta for one, decided that maybe it was OK for one to produce wine in small quantities for personal use without attracting police attention. It was about this time that I took up wine making, and after meeting a fellow in the town of Hanna, who happened to be a volunteer curator of the local museum. I enjoyed wine, and it seemed like a no brainer when he showed me his rig, and how he brewed his wine.
It is a very simple process, yeast converts the sugar in the juice into carbon dioxide and alcohol. That in a nutshell is how it works, there are a few other things that happen but they don’t impede the basic process. If one uses a modern kit to start with, the whole thong takes place in 28 days! Yesterday I bottled 29 bottles of a very nice Shiraz, that already tastes very good, but will be even better in another 6 months.
I make between 4 and 6, 30 bottle batches a year for personal consumption and for entertaining. It is against the law to sell, but you can offer it by the glass when entertaining. I make both white and red wine. I prefer the red, for the body. In time, for me, it takes maybe 6 hours in total to make 30 bottles of wine. This is not Dom Perignon, but is more like a 7 – 10 dollar wine. Disregarding the equipment cost, my cost is about $1.50 a bottle depending on where I buy the kits. That assumes I pay around $45.00 for the kit. You can pay more or less, and I will describe how and where. I am using a kit called “Prestige” that I buy either at a wine making store of our own Superstore. It includes a very professional looking label for the bottle. Co-op sells a kit that is about the same price, but it includes not only the label, but the corks and the seals or capsules for the top of the bottle. That will save you another $8.00 or so. Costco also sells these kits, by the same people that sell the Co-OP version, but about twice a year they offer a 2 kit package for around $50.00. All the extras are included as well! It is quite deal, and you make a nice wine for about 75 cents a bottle.
Since the juice you get is considered a food, there is no GST! Nice huh?
There is the need for some equipment, and this too can be found at wine making stores often at a discount if you buy a wine kit at the same time. This cost me around $75.00 as I recall a few years ago. It doesn’t wear out and you can pass it on to your kids. The kit is made up of a food grade container that looks like a small garbage pail. It is the primary fermenter. Then there is the 23 litre carboy, usually clear plastic today, it is lighter than the glass models, and ie easier to lift. It is used for the secondary fermentation. There will also be some plastic tubing, a tube clamp, and a pickup pipe used to siphon the wine from one container to another. You may also get a floating thermometer, and a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the wine before and after brewing. An airlock is also included for the carboy to prevent air from getting in to the process. A bottle brush and a long spoon usually completes the compliment.
The wine kit will include all the stuff you need to make 30 bottles of wine. You will find a plastic bag with the wine concentrate, a bag with labels, a bag with some small bags with some chemicals that improve the brewing process. There will be some Bentonite, (assists clearing) some Potassium Metabisulphate, to stop fermentation, a preservative, (Sorbate) and a couple of other liquids to assist clearing and stabilizing. Some kits, particularly the reds will include some oak shavings either loose or in a kind of tea bag affair, that will simulate the aging in an oak cask. Full instructions for making your wine step by step.
Now you just need about 30 bottles. Today screw caps are all the rage, replacing real corks. I have used corks for years now and have never had a problem, but it is estimated that a percentage of all wine is contaminated by a poor cork. You can rent a corker from the place you buy your kits (but not Co op, or Superstore)
For years I made mine in the kitchen, but today I have a couple of wash tubs set up in the basement along with some counter space and a small elevated stand to place the fermenter on during fermentation and siphoning.
I would like to leave you with this bit of my history in wine making. Wine will not continue to improve over great lengths of time. It is a food and will decay eventually, so if you hear of somebody who has a 50-year-old bottle of wine, it is likely junk. Wine is self-limiting as to how strong it will be with alcohol. As the fermentation process goes on, the alcohol content will rise quickly to anything up to 17% or 18%. The alcohol kills the yeast and further fermentation will stop. Commercial table wines run to 13%, most of mine top out at 15 – 16%. Cleanliness is paramount, follow all instructions on keeping the equipment and product clean. (I use a javex solution with TSP, and rinse it off with lots of water) You can make wine with just about anything that grows from dandelion flowers, rhubarb, berries, and I have tried a lot of them, few were successful. Some of these efforts could be best described as Drano! I have never experienced a failure using the kits. I reproduce 100% good wine every time. A few times many years ago, I used sparkling wine bottles and plastic corks, and since I didn’t have a wine rack as I have now the wine was stored upright. Many times we heard the wine corks blow out of the bottle in the middle of the night and hit the steel shelf above, It would wake you up. This happened when we didn’t stabilize the wine before bottling.
One final word about bottles, try to get bottles without the pushed up bottoms, the flatter the better, they clean a lot easier. Barring a good supply of bottles, for free, you can buy new ones at wine making stores. It’s about a dollar a bottle, but they are new and can be reused forever.
I will do a follow-up on this in the next blog. Happy wine making!