Part of the reason for the popularity of wine making is the ability to use indigenous fruits and vegetables for making wine. As long as a source of sugar is available, virtually any fruit or vegetable growing in the field down the street can be made into wine. The same cannot be said for beer, which requires malted barley (which doesn’t usually grow in one’s backyard), and/or malt concentrate and hops. Of course, there are quality differences. Wines made with a few pounds of cane sugar and an armload of dandelions cannot compare to a wine made with fresh, ripe blackberries, which in turn cannot compare to a well-made Chardonnay.
Home winemaking has also enjoyed special legal status in the United States. Prohibition ended in 1933 when the 18th amendment was repealed and specifically returned the issue of home winemaking to the individual states to decide. Most states decided to allow it, making home winemaking legal in most states. Because of a legislative oversight, the same was not true for beer, and making beer at home remained a violation of federal law until 1979.
The early 1970’s saw a tremendous surge in the popularity of home wine making in North America. Small specialty shops sprung up across the continent virtually overnight. Unfortunately a couple of years later, they all closed virtually overnight as well. Although the desire to produce good quality wines at home existed, the ability of these shops to deliver did not exist. Unless one lived in Central California, Upper State New York, or Lower Ontario, consumers simply could not easily access good quality fruits. Oh, there were cans of grape concentrate available, but obviously the technology to reproduce a quality wine with these did not exist, as much of the product of these cans came out tasting faintly “cooked”.
Today, home wine making is seeing another resurgence, especially in Canada, and gaining steam in the United States. This resurgence has been fueled in part by the desire of consumers to produce wines made without the use of questionable farming techniques and without the use of sulfites. It has also been made possible by the introduction of the boxed “wine kit”. This is a box usually (but not always...be sure to check the ingredient label) containing a plastic bag filled with concentrated vinifera grape juice and packaged with all the other necessary ingredients to make 6 US gallons of vinifera wine. These kits have made it possible to produce wine of a particular style, fairly easily; thereby, essentially bringing the vineyard to wine drinkers who don’t live in the growing regions.
A caveat emptor warning – With the explosive growth in demand for home wine making kits has come the inevitable introduction of questionable products. What should you look for in a wine making kit? First, all products are required to list ingredients. You will find that the second ingredient listed in many kits is “invert sugar”. While invert sugar is great for baking, and may be needed in “country wines” made with strawberries or dandelions, it has no place in good quality vinifera wines. Invert sugar will make your wine taste thin and give it a “tart” aftertaste. And to compensate for the color lightening characteristics of invert sugar, some producers have taken to adding dies to the juice to re-darken it. Second, try to ascertain where the fruit used in the kit came from. If you want a Chilean chardonnay, then by all means you should get a Chilean chardonnay. But if you want a French Chardonnay, make certain the packaging doesn’t say “made in the style of a French Chardonnay”. That’s a sure fire giveaway that that kit probably contains a cheaper, inferior grape. And if the price of that “Australian Shiraz” kit seems too good to be true, it probably is. Australian grapes are very expensive. And of course, you are not going to get the best quality product at the cheapest price. With good quality wine making kits retailing for C$75-100 / US$59-79, which equals about C$2.50/US$2 per bottle, there is no reason to skip on quality to save $0.50 per bottle.
So how exactly do you make wine with a wine kit? Here are the instructions, word for word, used in making the Coopers Australian Wine Kits. As you can see, it is pretty straightforward, takes very little of your time, a bit of patience, and the desire to astound yourself and your mates with your own hand-made Australian wine.
See how easy it is? Ready to make some really great wine? Fantastic! Your next step is to contact a good quality retailer. These are the folks who can provide you with the minimal equipment needed, and of course provide you with the only Australian wine kit that contains no invert sugar, contains only Australian grapes, and comes from Australia’s own Coopers Brewery (in cooperation with local South Australian vineyards of course).
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