How To Make Wine From Almost Any Store-Bought Juice

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how-to-make-wine-from-almost-any-store-bought-juice

I got my start in homebrewing in the middle of the desert. I was stationed in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, and alcohol of any form was prohibited. On a whim, we decided to try making our own wine. I really didn’t know the actual technique beyond a vague idea–your take fruit, water, sugar, and yeast, let it ferment for some length of time (was it 2 days? 2 months?), and you had wine (or something close to it).

So I combined several packages of freeze-dried fruit from our MRE (Meal, Ready-To-Eat) packages, some sugar, and bread yeast. I rigged up an airlock with a piece of medical tubing, duct tape and a water bottle. After a couple days it was bubbling, so it must have been working! I gave it probably a week or so, then strained it through some mosquito netting. I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to capture the unique taste that resulted from this whole process, I’ll just leave it to your imagination!

So How Do You Actually Make Wine?

A simple wine fermentation involves adding yeast to a mixture of fruit, water and sugar. Then the yeast eats the sugar, turning the mixture into approximately half alcohol and half carbon dioxide.

For example, if you had a gallon of juice with 2 pounds of sugar in it, and let the yeast consume it all, you would end up with a gallon of wine that had about 1 pound of alcohol in it.

Of course this isn’t exact, you probably won’t get exactly a 50/50 mixture of alcohol and carbon dioxide, but it’s pretty close. And you don’t necessarily need to pour in all that sugar either–the fruit (or juice) that you start with will have sugar of its own.

How To Make Wine At Home From Bottled Juice

There are basically two methods of making your own wine at home–you can either buy the individual tools and ingredients you need, either online or from your local homebrewing store, or you can buy a simple kit that contains everything you need.

First let’s look at a kit by Spike Your Juice.

how-to-make-wine-from-almost-any-store-bought-juice

The kit comes with a fermentation lock and stopper that should fit almost any bottle of juice, six packets of yeast (with a bit of sugar added), and six labels for your newly-spiked juice bottles–you don’t want the kids confusing their grape juice with your grownup version!

The manufacturer recommends any 64 ounce (or so…) bottle of juice that doesn’t contain any preservatives. Just like making hard cider or grape soda, the preservatives in juice would kill off the yeast. Also, the juice needs to have at least 20 grams of sugar per serving–you have to give the yeast enough to eat to produce alcohol!

how-to-make-wine-from-almost-any-store-bought-juice

I started with a 48 ounce bottle (I figured that was close enough) of Welch’s Farmer’s Pick Grape Juice at room temperature; the same juice I had made grape soda with previously.

how-to-make-wine-from-almost-any-store-bought-juice

The instructions say to just pour in the packet of yeast, but as you can see the yeast just kind of sits on the top, so I gave the bottle a bit of shake as well to mix things up.

how-to-make-wine-from-almost-any-store-bought-juice

Then you simply insert the stopper with the airlock, fill the airlock with water, and let the fermentation begin.

After anywhere from 8-48 hours, you should see tiny bubbles forming in the juice–it looks a bit like a bottle of soda after it’s been opened. The bubbles will escape through the fermentation lock (or airlock); the water allows the carbon dioxide that is being formed to escape, but does not allow the outside air in, which could let in unwanted strains of bacteria.

The manufacturer says that you can drink your spiked juice after only 48 hours. I really didn’t think that was near enough time to produce much alcohol, so I decided to track the progress using a hydrometer.

A hydrometer is a specialized tool that measures the ratio of the density of a liquid compared to the density of water–a number that is called specific gravity. If you know the specific gravity of your juice at both the beginning and end of the fermentation process, and plug those numbers into a simple formula, you can calculate the percentage of alcohol by volume.

how-to-make-wine-from-almost-any-store-bought-juice

To start, I took a measurement of the pure grape juice, before the yeast package was added. The specific gravity was 1.066.

how-to-make-wine-from-almost-any-store-bought-juice

Then, I measured the juice after 48 hours of fermenting, and got 1.062.

The formula for calculating alcohol by volume is: ABV% = (OG – FG) x 131.25, where OG is the Original Specific Gravity, and FG is the Final Specific Gravity. So, plugging in the numbers I measured, I came up with .525% alcohol by volume. Not a very high percentage at all, and a quick taste confirmed it–I had basically made grape soda at this point, with the yeast giving it a bit of a fizz.

This will give you an idea of what percent of alcohol by volume is in various drinks:

  • Kombucha–.5% or less
  • Beer– 4% to 7%
  • “Boone’s Farm” types of fizzy, fruit wines– 4% to 6%
  • White wines–about 10%
  • Red wines–about 12%

So I put the fermentation lock back on to give it more time. I noticed during the following day that I was getting way more bubbles than the first 48 hours; you could tell that the fermentation process had really kicked in.

how-to-make-wine-from-almost-any-store-bought-juice

After another 48 hours (so 4 days total), I again measured the specific gravity, and this time got 1.02. Plugging that number into the formula gives an alcohol by volume of 6%. At this point it was less like grape juice and more like a slightly dry red wine–it kind of reminded me of the communion wine we’ve always had in church.

how-to-make-wine-from-almost-any-store-bought-juice

There was also a visible difference in the color of the juice–it had become a lighter shade, as you can see in the jar on the left.

One thing to remember about how fermentation works is that the yeast is eating the sugar and turning it into alcohol, so the higher the alcohol content goes, the less sweet (or more dry) the wine will be.

If you continued to let the juice ferment, it will eventually reach about 12%-14% alcohol by volume, although this may take many more days (or even weeks). You can slow (but not stop) the fermentation process by placing the juice into the refrigerator. You should NOT place the original cap back on the juice bottle unless you can do it very loosely–the fermentation process will still be going on, and could eventually cause the bottle to explode. Instead, just leave the fermentation lock on, or if you don’t have room for something that tall you can remove it and leave the stopper in. The stopper has a hole at the top that will allow the carbon dioxide to escape safely, but this also means your juice/wine will quickly lose any carbonation it still has.

how-to-make-wine-from-almost-any-store-bought-juice

Don’t forget to label your newly-spiked juice!

While the Spike Your Juice kit certainly makes the process easy, it’s definitely not economical–the kits itself costs about $20, and comes with the airlock, stopper, 6 yeast packets, and 6 labels. In comparison, you could purchase a pair of fermentation locks and stoppers for about $6, and a package of wine yeast for less than a dollar. One package of yeast should be enough to ferment as much as the 6 packets in the kit. At that price you can even buy a hydrometer and still have spent less than the Spike Your Juice kit.

To make wine using your own ingredients (rather than the kit), you would follow the same basic process, except you may want to proof your yeast at the start (make sure it is still alive and ready to eat all that sugar).

I’ve talked about proofing yeast before when making hard cider and soda, and the process is the same. Heat a small cup of juice up to about 100 degrees (not too hot or it will kill your yeast), add about 1/8 teaspoon of yeast and a pinch of sugar, stir, and wait. After 5-10 minutes the yeast should start to foam as it begins to consume the sugar; then you know it’s ready to add to the juice bottle. Pour it back in, add the fermentation lock, and wait, just like you did (or would have) with the Spike Your Juice kit.

One big difference between this process and “traditional” wine making is that the traditional process has a primary and secondary fermentation, while here we are only doing what would normally be the secondary fermentation. In a primary fermentation you would leave the yeast/juice mixture open to air; the yeast will multiple as many as 200 times if it has enough air to breathe. By putting the airlock on right away, you’re not allowing the yeast to multiply as much. This will result in a fermentation that would take much longer to reach a higher alcohol level, but if you’re using this method you’re probably more interested in a sweeter, more fruity wine anyway.

Of course you don’t have to use grape juice–you could use pomegranate or cranberry juice for more of a sangria flavor, or go wild and try something like mango.

I’m not totally against the Spike Your Juice kit–I think it fills a certain niche. It would make a fun gift for someone who has never tried any type of homebrewing, and it would be a fun thing to do for a party that’s coming up soon (since this is not really a wine you’d want to store long-term). I’d say it would be a fun project for the kids (they’re fascinated with the fermentation process and the bubbling) if it weren’t for the whole pesky alcohol aspect.

However, I think that once you’ve had a taste (no pun intended) of home wine making, you’ll want to move past budget kits and store-bought juice to better ingredients and tools.

So, whether you purchase a kit or the individual ingredients, I think you’ll have fun making (and of course drinking) your own fruity wine. If you find a particular favorite variety of juice, please let us know in the comments!

 

How to make wine at home from just about any type of store-bought juice, either with your own tools and ingredients or with a kit.
  • Christina Mitchell says:

    LOVE that the kits come with labels. Sounds like such a simple idea but if you have kids, it’s invaluable. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks.

  • Brittany says:

    You mentioned that “this is not really a wine you’d want to store long-term” but if I bottled and corked it in glass after the fermentation process, couldn’t it be kept indefinitely? I am thinking about starting this project now to have bottles for Christmas gifts in December. Thanks for your advice!

    • Bill Osuch says:

      It could likely be stored 1 – 2 years if properly corked. I just meant it’s something you’d typically stock in a wine cellar for a special occasion…

    • kevin says:

      well only is you either strain out the yeast and any possible bacteria (and yeast both wild and added yeast) with a 1 micron strainer. if you do not you still have the pressure possibility of exploding bottles, unless you keep it refrigerated the entire time. that is the other way to keep it for long times. OR you can use sulfites that put the yeast to sleep. And the # of times you transfer it into new containers leaving the yeast that settles to the bottom also helps (of your not using the methods above) but having yeast still remaining is problematic. Also this is worse if you back sweeten the wine (Add more sugar after it has fermented to make it taste better) because now you have given the remaining yeast more fuel. If you dont remove the yeast it will continue to ferment and if you have it corked with no way for the carbon to escape, boom!!!

  • Lisa says:

    I’M ALL IN !!!!!!!!!!!!

  • D malcolmson says:

    I am very interested in the wine making process. I have made 3 batches of wines at wine making stores because I am worried about making all the right measurements. I would like to try one at home. I have a medium sized carboy and a air stopper thing. How do I know how much of what to add?
    Donm

  • John says:

    If you want to do it really on the cheap, here’s how I did it:
    62oz Welch’s grape juice – Pour off about 1/3 of it and save it – Add about 1 1/2 cups of sugar and shake it up to mix it – Add yeast (I used Red Star Premium Blanc from Amazon because I had it) and give it a shake to mix it – Pour as much of the saved juice as will fit, back into the original Welch’s bottle – Drink the extra juice – Put a plastic Snack bag over the mouth of the bottle, fastening it with a rubber band. and making sure the bag has plenty of room above the mouth of the bottle (the bag will fill with CO2 and balloon out) – Prick a TINY hole in the Snack Bag (like the tip of a pin). You’re done. After a week taste it. It will taste awful! After two weeks, taste it. Not so bad now! Drink some every day. Be sure to leave the cap loose on the bottle so it won’t blow up because it is still fermenting. You might refrigerate yours – I didn’t, just left it sitting on the counter. You could filter it with a coffee filter or decant it into another container to remove the lees – I didn’t, just drank it as it was, right out of the bottle. No need to bottle it because it was all gone in a couple weeks. This isn’t fine wine but it’s cheap and quick and it did give me a buzz.

  • Deborah says:

    I like a sweet wine. Can I add Liquid Stevia to the wine to make it sweet?

  • JIM CAVINESS says:

    WHEN USING 64 oz. GRAPE JUICE AND 1 1/2 CUPS SUGAR IS 1/8 TSP YEAST ENOUGH??

    • Bill Osuch says:

      Yes – you would typically use an entire package when making a 5 gallon batch (640 ounces), so 1/8 tsp is plenty to get the smaller batch going. The yeast is going to multiply initially anyway.

  • Kathy says:

    How do I know that is a preservative in the juice I use to make wine?

  • Laurie says:

    Have you ever tried using pineapple juice? If so, what was it like?

    • Bill Osuch says:

      I’ve never made a pineapple wine, but there’s a Mexican drink called Tepache that’s fermented with pineapple rind and brown sugar. It’s usually a low-alcohol drink, about 3% ABV, closer to a hard cider.

  • Chris says:

    If you are going to be making this on a regular basis you may want to consider investing (it’s cheap) in yeast nutrient , yeast energizer and wine tannin. This will help with an efficient fermentation and produce a better quality wine. I equate the wines I’ve made from “off the shelf” grape juice to a Pinot Noir as far as depth. Good luck!

  • Mike Z. says:

    I have used sodium benzoate and pottasium sorbate in welches grape juice wine after racking twice into sanitized plastic bottles. Is it necessary to do this to preserve the wine for a long period of time, or is it ok not to use them?

    • Bill Osuch says:

      These aren’t necessary in most cases – the main preservative in wine is the alcohol itself (assuming an alcohol content above 10%), and the pH (acidity). Additionally, the tannins in red wine act as a natural preservative.
      Now, if by long term you mean over 7 years, then you may need some added preservative – most winemakers traditionally use either sulphur dioxide, potassium metabisulphite (both easily available at homebrew shops and from Amazon).

  • Randy says:

    I use store bought gallon of water, frozen juice concentrate, 4 cups sugar, and a balloon.

  • DEBBIE POLLEY says:

    When I make wine I use 2-48oz of grape juice ( not cocktail )and two 48oz of apple juice about 4 to 6 cups of sugar and one package of yeast. I have done that for years. I am 66years old and have made wine for like 35 years you can go all out with the fancy stuff or you can make it in gallon bottles . I have a bottle that makes like 6 fifths at once . I put it together and let it go for like 6 months . It makes wonderful Christmas gifts or just to give a gift . Drinking it is a lot of fun too. I am not sure how strong it will be til I try it, But it does get you drunk . Two glasses and your on your way . T
    hank you

  • David K says:

    Bill,

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that was doing home brew in Saudi in 1990!

  • Kennedy Musyoki says:

    Am very much interested in wine making. Does different acidic value of the fruits you use affect your wine and what is the acidic level which enables you to pick a certain fruit for wine making

    • Bill Osuch says:

      Just about any fruit (regardless of acid level) will ferment into wine; in most cases you’ll actually be raising the acidity level in your fermentation rather than trying to lower it. You can test the acid level with simple pH strips, and then use either an acid blend to raise it, or add a little more sugar and water to lower it.

  • Yaakov Cohen says:

    I heard you could just put the original cap back on-loosely-and that would be fine??

    Also, after everything is done fermenting, how do you get rid of all the yeast in the bottle, and get it clean for drinking??

    • Bill Osuch says:

      If the original cap is on loosely enough to let the CO2 escape, then it’s also loose enough to allow bacteria in. You might be ok, but then again you might not…
      You can either filter out the yeast through something like a tight cheesecloth or tea towel, or carefully pour off the wine and stop before you pour anything that has settled to the bottom.

  • Jill says:

    I lived in Saudi Arabia for four years and have fond memories of making red wine! My first attempt was by using the 5 gallon plastic water bottles. Instead of using a plastic bag to seal the top of the bottle, I used a condoom. The longer the wine firmented, the larger the condoom became. Huge infact. When the wine was ready, the condoom would deflate…the the job was done. However I quickly moved on to using 50liter plastic bins to do the Job. With the temperatures in the middel east often teaching 50 degrees plus, every four weeks I had 50 liters of red wine for the compound. Fond memories, great time in Saudi.

  • Angel says:

    Hello, I am going to try several flavors for making my wines, and I was wondering, several people have told me that bread yeast gives wine a strange after taste and does not create a strong wine, that’s untrue, isn’t it? Let me know please ๐Ÿ˜Š

    • Bill Osuch says:

      That is true – bread yeast will only ferment up to about 8% alcohol by volume, and it produces several enzymes and fatty acids that can change the taste. Also, it doesn’t settle to the bottom as easily, so it can be difficult to make a clear wine.

  • Steve Nelson says:

    You mentioned in one of your replies that this wine could keep for up to (2) years if properly corked. Would you consider a push in cork with plastic top a proper way to corked this wine.
    What would suggest?

  • Marley says:

    Why have I read about using only 100% juice? Is that imperative if adding sugar?

  • L says:

    Does it leave any smell at all? I don’t want my flatmates to have to deal with that.

  • Mr_Scientist says:

    Letting the yeast ferment in the juice for two weeks should let the flavor mellow out nice. People should know the temperature of the fermentation should be between 60 and 70 degrees fahrenheit for optimal results.

  • Amrita says:

    Hi! I tried your process of brewing wine at home with store bought cranberry juice. It turned out to be quite nice. My friends really liked the sweet fruity flavour. Thanks for your great guidance.

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