It was a dark and stormy night…wait, no it wasn’t!  I had always been curious about how wine was made.  Sure, I made all the fun winery trips when I used to live out in Seattle, and a ‘vacation’ was a road trip to visit a bunch of wineries, enamored by the complicated process of winemaking at a huge winery.

But what I was curious about was making it myself.  How hard could it be?  I mean, how hard is it to throw some grapes in a bucket, smoosh them to oblivion, add some water, sugar and yeast and wait impatiently for it to turn into wine?

Yeah, not so easy.

The very first batch happened because we had a boatload of grapes growing on the ancient grape vine in our backyard that came with the house when we bought it.  I had already made a bazillion batches of grape jelly, and still there were grapes for days.  So I decided to do a quick search online to see how to turn them into delicious wine.

I was clueless.

Boy, was I clueless.

I bought a bucket and a carboy and followed a simple (read: hillbilly) recipe for making a batch of wine.  It suggested that during the fermentation in the carboy you either use a balloon to cover the opening (to allow the ‘gasses’ to escape and allow no oxygen in) like so:

Since I didn’t really like the balloon idea (you know that smell a balloon has?  I was worried that it would infiltrate the taste.)  I did the saran wrap method.  I also bought a 1-gallon glass jug because I also read that using the plastic jugs isn’t a good idea, either.

I used regular old bread yeast as per the recipe I was following.  Everything seemed to be going along fine and dandy, and I transferred it several times as the ‘must’ settled and when it was finally showing no more signs of fermentation, I bottled it.

Good thing it wasn’t a very big batch.

Little did I know that reusing corks from previously imbibed wine was also not a good thing to do.  After all, there’s a hole in it from the cork screw.  But I figured if I flipped it upside down and sealed it with wax, it should be OK – you know, because the hole didn’t go all the way through.  And the wax would seal the partial hole.  I didn’t know that corks tend to disintegrate over time – and a used one?  Has seen better days already.

I let the bottles of wine sit in my nice cool, dark basement for a good six months before I decided I should open one and see how it was coming along in the aging process.

It was horrible.

The smell hit me first – that distinct vinegar aroma with a hint of lingering yeast.  I knew it was going to taste horrendous, but I forced myself to taste it anyway.  Not only did I spit it out, but I dumped the entire bottle down the sink.  And all the other ones, too.

Epic Fail.

I suppose I could have kept it for cooking when the recipe calls for wine vinegar, but I was so disgusted with my failed attempt at making actual wine, the only way I felt better was to watch every bottle do its glug-glug down the drain.  While I held my breath.

Lessons Learned:  There is no substitute for a genuine air lock or fresh, brand new corks.  The oxygen that infiltrates the wine automatically turns it into vinegar.  You also do not want to use regular bread yeast to make wine – it leaves a bitter off-taste to the final wine.You can make homemade wine vinegar simply by removing the cork and letting it sit in a warmish area for a couple of weeks.  I’ve read that doing this, homemade wine vinegar actually is better in your recipes than the store bought kind.  

I decided that if I really truly wanted to make excellent wine, I better educate myself.  So I spent the next year poring over multitudes of winemaking websites and forums and bought excellent winemaking books. I read.  And read some more. 

The next year I was ready – I had purchased more equipment including actual air locks, wine yeast, brand new bottles and corks, and various other sundries to make sure this time I would succeed.

I decided to take a chance and make a big 6-gallon batch.  Because I was sure this time it would work out. I was right.

A passion was born.

Winemaking can be an enjoyable thing, as long as you’re passionate about it.  And patient.  And have the ‘proper’ tools to do it right.  Sure, you can do it the hillbilly way if you prefer wine that will put hair on your chest or remove paint from walls.  I prefer to keep my chest hairless, thankyouverymuch, and I’d like the painted walls to remain painted.

Making a fine wine is like creating a gourmet meal.  You sample and taste and adjust as needed – to make sure the final outcome is exactly what you’re striving for.  And that others can truly enjoy, too. 

After all, why bother to make it if it can’t be enjoyed by everyone? 

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  1. YOu can technically make wine out of any grapes. You can only make fine wine out of the very best grapes. What we're discovering is that good winemaking is 80% grape farming, 10% getting processing going within an hour from vineyard to fermentation vat, then the last 10% is a combination college Chem I, cooking theory, winemaking skills and dumb luck.

  2. Look at you go! My parents have a huge arbor in their back yard. I thought it would be simple to just get a few for friend that makes wine. LOL 3 hours later I think they may have had enough for a batch … haha.

    Well maybe the wine vinegar you can use to cook with … haha 🙂

  3. I love how you take on a challenge and keep your sense of humor about it and then post it for us to enjoy.

    My dad always said tomato juice puts hair on your chest:)

  4. I don't mind some good vinegar either!

    You really have a passion for making wine. I love that it is so enjoyable to you.

  5. Wine vinegar? Yummy :S Glad you persisted and got the results you wanted to – sounds delicious!

  6. I'm curious as to whether this is an expensive hobby or not.

    I'm so lazy that I know if I had a grape arbor on my property, I'd be trying to contract it out. Oh who am I kidding? I would never buy a property with anything on it requiring work. 😉

  7. This made me laugh out loud, you have a great sense of humor but I think I'll just keep buying my wine at the liquor store, I have enough to do just getting supper ready!

  8. That is so cool that you make wine! I never would have even thought of that…of course, I won't make dinner and I hear you can make that too.

  9. You are amazing. I would never attempt wine. Though I am going to make your wine jelly soon.

  10. as with most things, tima and patience and willingness to try and fail…love the passion you put into these posts…

  11. Yikes! If it smelled as badly as you describe I don't think I would have been able to force myself to take a drink. At least you tried, and now you know what you do and do not do.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm following you now! 🙂

  12. I've thought about making wine because my dad used to, but honestly I am waaaay to impatient. I think I'd rather just head to Crushed Grapes and buy wine, then bring it home and know it'll be good. But you get lots of bonus points for actually doing something that you are passionate about!

  13. Awesome hobby there!

    The only wine I make is when I have to get up and move around when I don't want to because I am lazy. Awww snap. I am so lazy I spelled it wrong. Dang.

  14. That sounds like an experience my father in law had when he tried to make wine. Except all his bottles exploded around the basement. My MIL still talks about the mess@

  15. The only wine I've made was made at a do-it-yourself wine place. They provide all the stuff, you put it in the carboy. Then 6 weeks later, you and a bunch of friends come back and bottle it. It was fun. No guess work. And we all got our picture on the label. But still not as good as making your own at home!

  16. I think that patience is really needed in the process. Thank you for sharing this post. Nice.

  17. That is certainly something I never thought about trying…our friends own a ranch and the land is leased to grow grapes…we should try it (they let us pick grapes…how nice!)


  18. See, and now you're sharing with us how to do it the RIGHT way! I love that if/when I try this wine making thing that I have your blog to follow step by step and know that you have been perfecting the process!

  19. Well. I don't know what to say! I don't think I should know about this. Although I'm too busy/lazy to try it. Good thing I have a store less than a mile away. Very interesting.

  20. Thank you. Sadly, the thing I have taken most from this post is I am going to make my own vinegar. I think wine making may be beyond my capabilities.

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