My first two forays into winemaking were with the cheapest kits I could buy on Amazon (even cheaper than this): first a white (“Chardonnay”), next a red (“Merlot”). (Quotation marks added because, at least with the Merlot, the packaging clearly called out that it may not actually be Merlot, but grapes like it instead.)
I already had most of the equipment from my apple fermenting days, so the initial investment wasn’t huge. I did, however, need to get some new, wine-specific tools along the way, like a degassing power drill attachment, a bottle-filler siphon attachment, corking contraption, and a couple carboys. Carboys in particular, because I only used buckets for the apple fermentation, since it wasn’t hanging out long exposed to oxygen, and was destined for other ends.
With the wine, the idea was to follow the kit instructions as closely as possible and not screw up. I mean, I should have known better. If there were a lesson I learned from all my other alcohol making projects it was that it’s kind of hard to screw up. Hell, I made Welch’s grape juice wine 12 years ago on instinct alone. Wasn’t great, but it was wine.
I think this time, however, I wanted to learn the “right” way to do things before winging it. So, I used all the little packets of additives, aggressively degassed, and had my wine bottled in a snappy four weeks.
With each, I started by picking up some drinking water from the local grocery store and mixing it with the concentrate that makes up the heart-and-soul of the kit. To that, I added the bentonite, which assists clearing later in the process, and the yeast. I’m almost positive it was EC-1118 yeast as that has a reputation for a reliable and flexible strain. After a week or so, I racked it into a carboy and waited another week or so to let the fermentation finished. From there, I added potassium metabisulfite to stop the fermentation and I popped the degassing tool onto a power drill and worked that wine for a good long time before I felt that a lot of the carbon dioxide was gone. Finally came the kieselsol to start the clarifying and I bottled after another week or so.
The results were . . . passable! The white/Chardonnay was drinkable pretty much off the bat. That was satisfying. It even received reviews like “mild” and compliments such as drinkers not making faces. But really, it could have passed as something bought at the corner store. And, successful enough to tempt me for another go.
The red/Merlot was basically only slightly better than my Welch’s Wine experiment all those years ago. After a year in the bottle though it’s started to become, again, passable. It tastes like wine! There are some days/bottles that still taste pretty grape-y, but the direction is pretty clear.
Also, I took no notes of my process or measurements, so I’ve got no recollection of what the final alcohol is on either the Chardonnay or the Merlot. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
For the next attempt, I wanted to do things a bit differently. Maybe try to steal something from a wine I actually liked to try to make the cheap kit something better than passable.
In all, the inexpensive kits were a good way to get back in the fermentation habits, build confidence, and kick off winemaking. It certainly got my curiosity to a level it hadn’t been at before. And at least more conscious about how the wine I drink is made, what goes into it, and what’s taken out.