The answer is yes, you can certainly make wine from store-bought grapes or juice. But the real question for the budding home winemaker might be: Should you make wine with store-bought grapes or juice?
Winemaking is straight forward: juice from grapes (or any fruit for that matter) is fermented converting sugars into alcohol, it rests for a while, and then is bottled. However, that simple process consists of many different steps and adjustments along the way.
To answer the burning question, let’s start with the grapes.
Wine from Store-Bought Grapes
Before you head to the grocery store to buy those Thompson or Flame grapes, let’s learn the differences between table grapes and wine grapes.
All the grapes that are used to make that incredible glass of wine you are drinking come from the Vitis vinifera species, native to Europe and the Mediterranean. Some table grapes come from this species, but the chances of finding them at the grocery store here in the US are slim to none. North American table grape species are usually Vitis labrusca or Vitis rotundifolia which are delicious to eat.
Table grapes are big and crunchy, with thin skins and small to no seeds. They are grown to be sturdy and picked before they are ripe to survive the trip from the vineyard, to the store, to your home. On the other hand, wine grapes are much smaller and have thicker, chewier skins and big seeds. They are more fragile, picked when ripe, and deteriorate much faster after picking. Thick skins and bigger seeds contribute complexity and structure to wine.
You might think the opposite, but wine grapes are much sweeter than table grapes. Part of this comes from the species itself and part comes from harvesting later to concentrate the sugars. Wine grapes are harvested around 22-30% sugar while table grapes might be closer to 10-15% sugar.
Finally, the vineyard yield between the two is also vastly different. Table grapes use a trellis system that allows the grape clusters to hang without touching, giving each vine the ability to produce as much as 30 pounds of fruit. A winemaker is lucky to get 10 pounds of fruit per vine, and often less for a premium wine.
To make wine, grapes need a lot of sugar for the yeast to convert their juices to alcohol. Table grapes are large, bursting with juice,but a lot more water. More water means less sugar, so you might want to add some extra sugar so your grapes will ferment.
Table grapes are crisp and refreshing, but they are grown for huge crop yields and are picked before they are ripe. This makes them a delicious afternoon snack, but they don’t have the skin-to-seed-to-pulp ratio to produce the concentrated flavors and structure for good wine.
Yes, you can make wine from table grapes, but the result is likely to be thin and tasteless.
Wine From Store-Bought Grape Juice
Heading to the grocery store, you will find many kinds of grape juice to choose from. Whatever you choose, make sure it is 100% juice with no additives.Some might have added Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and that is fine. If you are unsure among the many bottles on the shelf, there’s an iconic brand that you should consider.
For those of us who grew up in the US, Welch’s grape juice has been a part of our culture for years. In 1869, Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch, a Methodist minister, pioneered the use of pasteurization to prevent the fermentation of grape juice into wine. He then persuaded local churches to use this non-alcoholic beverage for Holy Communion, calling it “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine”. Today, the company is a co-op, owned by the farmers who grow its grapes.
Dr. Welch’s Fermented wine, anyone?
You can also use juice concentrates, either canned or frozen. Flavor can be increased by using more cans. With the frozen concentrate,you can add less water when you reconstitute it for a more concentrated flavor. Keep in mind, this flavor will be one dimensional (Concord grape), not necessarily bad, but without complexity.
So, should you make wine from grocery-store grapes? The resulting product will not resemble the wine you are used to drinking. It might be a better idea to buy wine grapes. Depending upon where you live, you may find some at a grocery store. You can also check with a local winery to see if they will sell you some.
Should you make wine from store-bought juice? That’s a more intriguing question.It seems like it could produce a more tasty wine and be a fun way for a would-be winemaker to learn the ropes. Let’s check it out.
Making Your Wine at Home
The internet is full of ideas and recipes on how to make wine from grape juice. How about a kit with yeast and an airlock stopper? Simply pour the yeast into your bottle of juice, place the stopper on it, and wait. Voila! You have wine. By now you are probably laughing at how ridiculous this sounds, which proves a point: carefully vet anything you read online and verify the source.
You can find step-by-step instructions and lots of detailed information from valid sources to help you. Homebrew companies are a good choice and if you don’t have a local one, you can find them online. Whether through chats and forums or in person at a store, it is good to get advice from someone who has done it before. Homebrew companies are also a good source for some of the supplies you will need.
There are many recipes for making homemade wine online, including this one using Welch’s grape juice. Here are the bare necessities for your grape juice wine:
- Wine yeast
- Airlock for the jug
- Stirring utensil
- Siphon (or a turkey baster)
It’s last on this list, but one of the most crucial aspects of winemaking: sanitizing.
Anything that touches your future wine must be thoroughly sanitized. Before you use it, after you use it, every time, including your work surface. You don’t want bacteria to ruin your wine.
The basic process in most recipes involves combining grape juice, sugar, and water, pouring it into a jug, and adding yeast. Enjoy watching the bubbles as the yeast starts to convert the sugars to alcohol and place the airlock on the jug. Find a good place for your creation to ferment, check it frequently, and wait patiently for at least a month for fermentation to finish. Easy! Of course, there are a lot more specific steps, but you get the idea.
Do you like your wine sweet or dry?
Tasting the wine after the fermentation has completed is a good idea to determine if you need to add more sugar and let it ferment more.
Do you want to know the alcohol content of your wine? If so, you can use a hydrometer to measure before starting fermentation and after it is finished to gauge the alcohol content. If it is too low, adding more fermentable sugar (or honey) to get it to the desired level is an option. Wait for it to ferment and then measure again. Fermentation is complete when all the sugar has been converted to alcohol.
Your wine is not quite ready to drink yet, though. Yes, you still have some time to wait until all the sediment and dead yeast cells settle to the bottom. Then it is time to rack (siphon) your wine to newly sanitized bottles or another jug. Depending upon how much wine you are making, and the amount of patience you have, a turkey baster can do the job. Otherwise, use vinyl tubing or an auto-siphon (duly sanitized).
Tasting Your Wine
Have you ever tried Manischewitz wine? Your wine probably won’t be that sweet, but it will no doubt have that same strong flavor of Concord grapes.
Time to sniff and taste your creation.
Other than the Concord grape, is there another distinctly different note? If yes, you are experiencing the hallmark smell and flavor of fruit from the Vitis labrusca species of American table grapes.
Your wine is foxy. Yes, “foxy” is the term used to describe the musky, wild animal smell that defies description and comes through to your taste buds.
Some have compared the smell to that of a fur coat. It is caused by an ester called methyl anthranilate, common in North American grape species, and especially strong in the Concord grape. To many people, this musky odor is disagreeable and so obtrusive that it overshadows everything else. No one really knows how the term originated but calling a wine foxy is not a compliment.
Foxiness may explain why European immigrants brought their beloved Vitis vinifera vines with them to North America. While natives were familiar with this distinct flavor in their wine, Europeans found it extremely unpleasant and longed for wines like they had in their homelands. Can you imagine how different the wine scene might be today if this had not happened?
Armed with more knowledge and a new term in your wine vocabulary, you can now answer the question: should you make wine from grape juice? It ultimately comes down to how you feel about foxiness: a challenge to tackle or to run from as fast as you can.
So there you have it. Are you ready to start making wine?