Frugal Tip: Make Your Own Wine I – An Introduction

This is a guest post by HBoy, a DIY personal finance and wine enthusiast, on the financial benefits of making your own wine.

Making beer, especially wine, is one of the highest after tax return DIY projects the average person can do. It typically pays $50 to $75 dollars per hour after tax.

The Savings

Here are the rough figures for wine. One can get two 30 bottle kits at Costco for about $75. These kits include everything but the equipment: concentrate, additives, yeast, labels, corks, even capsules (the shrink plastic that goes over the top of the bottle after corking). In rough figures, an inexpensive wine is $10 a bottle, so your kits represent $600 at retail for your investment of $75. So with a bit of work you can save about $500 every 60 bottles of wine consumed.

A wine making specialty store will have a wide selection of kits available at double to triple the cost of the Costco kits for more advanced vintners and/or discerning palates.

I am not going to discuss beer making here as I have not done as much of it and it is a higher skilled process.

The Work Required

How much work does wine making require? About 4 to 6 hours spread over 3 sessions is typical per kit. Say it is 5 hours per kit or 10 hours for the both. You therefor pay yourself about $50/hour. If you were to make both kits concurrently, you would probably do it all in 7 hours thus getting up towards $75 per hour for your investment in time.

Capital Costs

If you had to buy the equipment new, it would run about $100, but patient people with their ears to the ground can find gear for free. I personally have had equipment given to me from a friend, a grandparent, and a complete stranger. The stranger posted on a buy/sell internet group that he had all his wine equipment to give away and I was just lucky enough to see the offer within the hour.

There are beginners kits available in brewing specialty stores that have all the fundamental equipment.

Equipment Needed

The minimum equipment needed is:

  • a plastic food grade plastic pail otherwise known as the primary fermentor,
  • a sheet of plastic and string/elastic to hold it on the primary fermentor,
  • a glass carboy (the secondary fermentor),
  • an air lock,
  • a siphon hose,
  • bottles,
  • and a corker.

The air lock allows the waste product of fermentation, carbon dioxide, to exit the fermentor while keeping out air and fruit flies. Wine plus fruit flies (or more correctly, the bacterium carried by fruit flies) = vinegar. For an additional $20 it would be useful to have a hydrometer and a thermometer. (A hydrometer measures specific gravity of the wine to monitor sugar content and fermentation progress). You also need some sodium (or potassium) metabisulphite (available as Campden tablets or in powder format) to sterilize the equipment. I sometimes use bleach to sterilize equipment if it is particularly dirty. It is always best to store your gear clean as dried wine gunk is extremely difficult to liberate from the inside of a carboy or bottle.

In the next installment, HBoy will discuss the process involved with making homemade wine.  Stay tuned!

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6 years ago

I don’t know really that it is about saving dollars. It is kind of neat to make your own wine, naming it, labels etc. and handing over a bottle to a friend. It’s about experience and fun. You can have a decent bottle of wine and the satisfaction of knowing you made it.
The same argument could be made for preserves of any kind – it doesn’t cost much to pick up a jar of jam but a homemade jar is nice too.

The First Million
11 years ago

Nice post! I have been doing this a while now. The cost of a bottle of wine becomes negligible so you can be more free to share!

Wine Lover
11 years ago

Great post! I have been very interested with wines yet I am a bit afraid to start my own business. I have also been making my own wines using the grapes on my backyard. I just wanna know though if this can really help me save? Can you help me find premium wine kits? And how much do they actually costs?

11 years ago

Paulo Dunlop:

Just open the yellowpages. The king of the kits is the brand name “Cooper.” I got into beer making after travelling to the UK and falling in love with “live” IPA beers. I had to make it at home and it turned out quite good.

Paulo Dunlop
11 years ago

Can anyone recommend a good store in the GTA that sells home made beer kits as well as the ingredients? I would like to give it a try and see what happens! :-)

11 years ago

Bin dere, done dat, got the silver medal (Porter)! I found eventually my brewery developed it’s own unique house flavour which I didn’t enjoy. I’ve since given away my equipment, made a few batches at the u-brew, but now look to the variety available at the liquor store(s), for either beer or wine.


Finance Matters
11 years ago

I’ve been home brewing for almost 20 years and making wine for 6 years. Premium wine kits in the $100 range can e better than most wines I pay $25 for in the store. I make full bodied reds mostly. As for beer making, I make all styles from stouts to Belgian ales. My beers are way better than the majority of beers in the beer store (not just my opinion). It may help that I have a masters degree in Biochemistry. Good ingredients are a key and an adventurous soul to be willing to try new things. I’m going to try making some mead next!

Mark in Nepean
11 years ago

You can get a decent bottle of wine, 750 mL, from the LCBO, for about $8.00. Yes, they are out there.

It takes 5 min. to purchase that wine bottle, versus the 5+ hours of your own time you need to invest/kit. It may not be frugal to spend $8.00 on a bottle of wine, but given that it will cost you anywhere from $3.00 – $6.00/bottle to make your own, my time is worth at least that.

For those that love the MYOW (Make Your Own Wine), keep enjoying the hobby.

Otherwise, if you’re trying this to save your your hard-earned money, there are better ways.

Auto Insurance Rates Guy
11 years ago

I’m definitely down to try this, but I’m really not wanting to waste my time for terrible wine.

11 years ago

@Elaine – VQA is in place to ensure that grapes are all locally sourced. For instanct, VQA Ontario means 100% of the grapes must be from the four recognized areas in Ontario. It can become more specific, ie.- VQA Prince Edward would be 85% grapes from the Prince Edward County Appelation, and 100% from Ontario. They can be further broken down to the 10 sub-appelations as well. So I doubt I’m wrong about origins when I buy a Niagara VQA wine. The same holds true for BC VQA wines.

Similar standards are in place in the classical winemaking regions of Italy and France after unscrupulous vinters started mixing cheap imports with a small percentage of local grapes and selling it as the real thing. The practice hurt many regions for a while before strict rules were put in place to restore their pedigree.

If it lacks the VQA marker, then grapes can obviously be imported for the production. But speaking to winemakers at the various wineries in the area (I’ve been to around 23 or so of the Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries, and had rather in-depth discussions with some of the winemakers, owners, and other invested persons, especially at the smaller wineries), many are trying to stay as local as possible. Some have gone the imported grapes route in the past and been very disappointed with the results, as the grapes aren’t nearly as fresh or flavourful when shipped from overseas or California when compared to what’s available next door.

I have a wine fridge full of bottles from small wineries, where a staff of only a few people work and will happily tell you what they use, how they use it, and then offer you a taste from the casks. Long gone are the days of the crap that used to come from Ontario wineries. Even the notion of Canada only being good for ice wines is fading. The winemakers these days are a very proud lot who put a tremendous amount of effort into producing world class wines. We reap the benefit of their anonymity through low prices for fantastic and unique vintages. If you have the chance, I recommend doing some tours of Ontario wine regions (be it Niagara, Pelee, or Prince Edward County), and avoiding the big wineries, and talking to the people behind the tasting counter. They know their stuff.

And that knowledge and access goes a long way to making a superior product than someone following the instructions on the back of a box.

Try some 2007 vintage Niagara wines. Every single person I spoke to in the region commented that 2007 was their best year EVER for grape quality and were loving what was coming from them. When you’re that proud of the raw product, why would you alter it with an import from a completely different part of the world?

@Tom – The 10 for 10 swap isn’t a bad idea. I honestly can’t see myself going through 30 bottles of the same wine, especially since I have to wonder how well Costco kit wine ages. It’s one thing if a wine will mature over time. It’s another if it slowly turns to vinegar.

I also wonder on the quality of the grapes being used in the consumer market. One could assume that the top quality grapes are sold to the winemakers, while the second or third tier product makes it to the make-your-own shops. An increase in quality usually = an increase in price.