Everyone knows that good grapes make world-class wine. Hence the need to make sure the type of grapevines I’ve been planting in our Back 40 are superior quality. I’ve also found in recent years that the quality of the kit wines has improved greatly – enabling someone who makes their own wine to expand their horizons.
Kits offer the first-time winemakers an easy introduction to the hobby – which just proves that I tend to be backwards…my first foray into winemaking was by utilizing the grapes from the giant grape vine that came with the house when we bought it. As I’ve fine tuned my winemaking with grapes and alternate fruits, I’ve also been a tad bit impatient having to wait a full year to start the process all over again.
So I looked into the kit wines. I tried the ones that you get in a packet and just add water and sugar – I wasn’t very impressed with the quality of the final product. It reminded me of the boxed wine…while I have drunk my fair share of ‘boxed’ wines in the past, and while some of them can actually be pretty good, I really wanted to make sure the wine I make is superior quality, not just mediocre.
Instead, many places online offer incredible wine kits that have a ‘bladder’ of the juice/concentrate you need for excellent wine – available nationwide at any time of the year, sourced from vineyards in California, Australia, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and other classic wine areas. You can also find kits for interesting styles, like late-harvest wines, ice wines, noble-rot wines, even sparkling wines, ports and sherries. But in any ‘first time’ mode, it’s best to keep it simple and progress from there.
Making a kit wine is less labor-intensive than making wine from fresh grapes. So even though some of the kit wines can be a bit pricey, considering the quality of wine that it makes, as well as the varietal grapes you can’t get locally, it’s worth it. To put it in perspective, to make a five-gallon batch of wine, you need almost 90 pounds of grapes, which, if you don’t grow them yourself could cost as little as $100 or as much as $400 for the grapes. Kits that yield the same volume run anywhere from $40 to $100 (higher if you want to get something ultra-special).
Another bonus is that many kits are ‘all-inclusive’. That means they already contain all the additives you’ll need, pre-measured. The recipes are easy to follow even for the basic beginner, and the results are fairly predictable. The recipes also have variations – for instance, if you want a bigger, grander wine, you add more concentrate. What it boils down to is if you’ve ever thought about making your own wine, starting off with a kit wine would be the best way to go. I wish I had known about them earlier, I would have not wasted the first 2 years of winemaking like I did with my comedy of errors… and wasted all those grapes.
How do I choose which Kit Wine is right? I’m glad you asked… Trust your taste on which kinds of wine you most prefer first and foremost. There are so many varieties out there, it’s fun to look and see what ‘sounds’ good. Then look at the kits and you’ll see that there are four main types of wine kits: pure juice; fully concentrated grape juice; partially concentrated grape juice; and kits that combine juice and concentrate.
I know, it seems so confusing even more now, doesn’t it?
Making wine from these kits is similar – the only difference is that the pure-juice kit requires no additional water. Nada. These kits are of course the most expensive due to the juice’s comparative purity, costly transport (hello! It weighs more than just concentrate) and storage requirements (as in – needs to be refrigerated).
Grape concentrates are simply grape juices that have had their water removed through a high-tech vacuum process. Some kits are fully concentrated; you have to add water (and sometimes additional sugar) before making the wine. Partially concentrated kits require less water added back – which means they produce a wine that’s truer to character…no chance of watering it down (well, you could accidentally add too much water, but not if you’re paying attention). 😉
The kit prices will vary depending on the purity of the product. Pure juice kits will be more expensive than concentrate or mixed kits.
The main thing you need to make sure before you leave the store (or before you click to order) is check the kit ingredients – some kits will include all the additives you need, like grape tannin, nutrients, wine acids and yeast. Some concentrate kits also require additional sugar; some do not. The recipe will spell it out, so just double check to make sure you have everything on hand to get started.
Two very different varieties – but that’s what I like, variety. The Spanish Tempranillo is described as medium bodied with pronounced sweet vanilla aromas and flavors of cherries, currants and coconuts; big and bold, intense and tannic. Bottled as a single varietal, Tempranillo will give Cabernet Sauvignon a run for its money. So I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how this turns out.
The Wild Blueberry Blush intrigued me, so I had to get it to make it and try it. The description of it is: This smooth blush wine is enhanced by a burst of wild blueberry flavors, producing a refreshing beverage to suit any occasion. Country of Origin: USA/California
Both wines are polar opposite of each other, but since I like the full spectrum (except for those kinds of wine that are too heavy and dry, making you feel like you have a fuzzy tongue…those I can live without) I thought it would be fun in my first attempt into kit wines to make two different types and see how they go.
Moving on the the required equipment needed to make the Kit Wines. Remember the post where I outlined all the equipment that makes home winemaking much easier? Well, we’re going to tap into that list for the kit wine:
- Gallon jug: This glass container will be used exclusively to prepare the sanitizing solution to clean your equipment. (It’s also good to have these on hand for when you make wine from fresh fruit so you can make sure none of the fermenting nectar goes to waste).
- Primary fermenter: This is the food-grade plastic pail in which you will start the batch. You should also have a hard lid or plastic sheet to cover it.
- Large measuring cup (2 quarts or bigger): This will be large enough to measure and pour the water for the recipe.
- Small measuring cup (1- or 2-cup capacity): The small cup will render very accurate readings for the smaller volume ingredients you will be measuring. You’ll also need some measuring spoons.
- Long-handled plastic (food-grade) spoon: Anything smaller will make mixing a five-gallon batch quite ineffective. Note: Wooden spoons will eventually rot and can provide refuge for bacteria!
- Hydrometer: This two-piece set (including the hydrometer and the plastic chamber) allows you to measure the specific gravity (SG) of the wine must.
- Siphon hose (5 feet): This PVC-grade plastic hose allows you to transfer wine from the primary fermenter to a carboy or from one carboy to the next.
- Two carboys (23 liter or 6-gallon): I have both glass and the newest trend, the ‘Better Bottle’ plastic carboys that are guaranteed not to retain the previous wines that pass through them to taint the new/different batch of wine. I love them, as they are easier to handle when you’re having to move them from Point A to Point B and/or clean and sanitze them, but I do have both types in 3 gallon, 5 gallon and 6 gallon.
- Airlock and rubber bung: This water-filled plastic device set into the rubber stopper allows carbon dioxide gas to escape from the carboy while preventing air from getting in. Air is wine’s worst enemy. Unless you are trying to make vinegar.
- Large food-grade plastic funnel: A funnel will make it easy to transfer cleaning agents or any additives you may want to pre-mix with extracted wine.
- Wine thief: This long, tubular device is for extracting must and wine samples from a carboy.
Makes the list of ‘necessary equipment’ look less intimidating, doesn’t it? That’s the beauty of wine kits – you don’t need to get all the additives that go into fruit wines, they’re already included in the kit. Luckily when the grapes and apples are ripe enough to pick, I do have all the necessary additives already waiting for the process.
The kits break it down for you on what you need, along with what the ingredients are:
The one thing that I highly recommend having is a Wine Thief:
It pulls the wine easily from the carboy for testing and tasting during the process, and eliminates the need to have a separate testing jar for the hydrometer – you can drop the hydrometer right into the wine thief to get a reading. Sanitize it (and the hydrometer) before using, and you have less of a chance of introducing germs and/or bacteria into the wine and ruining the whole batch. The key word for any of the equipment and surface area you’re using is sanitize.
The other ‘must have’ is the hydrometer – that way you check levels to make sure you’re making wine and not grape juice (or vinegar):
Next week I’ll have pictures of the process, but this week I’ll just keep it simple. Meanwhile, this week I’ll also be bottling the wine that has been bulk-aging all year long, so I’ll have pictures of that process next week as well. The grapes on the vine out back are really starting to ripen, so I just ordered a refractometer so I can test the grapes before we pick them to make sure they’re at the perfect mode for the perfect wine.
The apples on the apple tree are not quite ready yet either, but should be in the next few weeks. It’s going to be a busy winemaking time of year, so I’ll try not to overload you with too much information all at once! Enjoy your week – stop by next week to see the wine kit ‘in action’!
Here’s a great answer on kit wines that I found online:
Q. What’s the difference in making wine from a kit versus making wine from fresh grapes?A. Kits use grape concentrate which make them very easy to use, and they are by far the best way for a beginner to learn winemaking. So easy in fact that if you follow the directions, they’re almost fool-proof. A concentrate kit will generally be ready to drink sooner, and there’s no choosing, crushing and pressing of grapes. As well, for many people, space is an issue, and making wine from a concentrate requires very little. However, it is important to buy a quality kit, and to ensure that the grape concentrate you use is fresh.Making wine from fresh grapes is a more complex process but can be more rewarding. For the most part, the main differences can be found in preparing the must (that’s what the juice or crushed fruit that you are going to ferment is called). With concentrate, the sugar and acid levels are for the most part adjusted for you. However, when you’re making wine from fresh fruit, you must adjust the sugar and acid levels yourself. Because wines from grapes tend to be more complex in taste, a lot of home winemakers start with concentrates and eventually graduate to fresh grapes in order to improve the quality of their wine.