There are two choices for how to make wine , kit wines or wine from grapes. Each method has distinct advantages and disadvantages. These are the main differences between the two methods to help you decide which is better for you.
Price difference between wine kits and grapes
The price for grapes usually is between $30 and $40 per 30 pound crate of grapes. Grapes from Napa Valley, raised on bottled spring water and blessed by the patron saint of wine may cost even more. It depends on the year, but usually three crates will equal 6 gallons of wine. You can also buy a 6 gallon bucket of grape juice already pressed for about $50. I’ve had great results from the white grape juice buckets; however red wines typically are not sold in the bucket. You can buy merlot grape juice, but it will not contain the skins. In the past few years, grapes have cost me $120 per 6 gallons. You might be able to get the cost down even more by buying in bulk.
Wine kits usually range from $50 to $150. The price range is determined by the quality and amount of juice in the kit. For example, you can purchase a 7.7 liter (2 gallons) wine kit for about $50. An expensive wine kit will have 15-16 liters of juice (4 gallons) and possibly grape skins. Besides the volume of juice included, the higher end kits use grapes from specific vineyards and contain higher levels of total dissolved solids. The dissolved solids give the kit wine flavor and aroma. The price and volume of juice are directly related to the quality of wine produced.
I usually buy the premium wine kits, so all in all I have not noticed a huge price difference between the two.
Labor and Equipment
Other than hard cider , there is nothing easier to make than a wine kit. If you follow the directions religiously, you will get a good wine. You do not need any additional equipment other than your normal homebrewing equipment.
Making wine from grapes includes more know-how and significantly more work. If you buy your grapes from a wine making store, you likely will be able to use their equipment for free. My first year I purchased grapes, but I used their crusher/de-stemmer and their wine press. The problem with using a store wine press is you need to crush your grapes on premises, take it home and ferment the wine, and then bring the wine back to the store to press the wine. I eventually purchased a wine press , because it is difficult bringing grapes back and forth to a store 20 minutes away.
Given wine kits are so easy to make, the score goes to wine kits.
Advantage: Wine Kits
When I first started drinking wine, I never understood what people were talking about when they referred to the “aroma” of the wine. I could not smell anything. When I attended my first wine festival, I went to a wine pairing dinner and realized it wasn’t me it was the wine. A good wine will have a very pleasant smell. The aroma of a nice wine cannot be beat. It can smell of grapes, flowers, cherries, and perfume. I finally understood what everyone was talking about.
I never notice this smell with wine kits, and I only make the high end kits. Kit wines just do not have the same aroma. Sometimes you can pick a few notes or raisins or fruit, but the scent is much more subtle. The aroma is a huge part of the wine experience, but kit wines fall into a lesser quality category of wine.
With my grape wines, the smell is amazing.
Advantage: Grape Wine
I’ll probably get lots of hate mail or hate comments for even mentioning “kit taste”. Look on any winemaking or homebrewing forum and the “wine kit taste” topic will eventually come up.
Many swear there is an off-flavor from kit wines; others say it is the taster’s imagination. The taste is described as sweet, caramel kool-aid or “jolly rancher” flavor. For a dry red wine, this flavor can be distracting. Even worse, only some people can detect the off-flavor. It is maddening for some winemakers to hear there is an off-flavor in their wine which they cannot detect. Personally I am in the “I can taste it” camp.
The “kit taste” in kit wines comes from the pasteurization process. Some of the sugars in the wine bond to form more complex sugars which are not fermentable.
Still there are few people who can detect the flavor. I’m the only one in my family who can taste it. The “kit taste” only affects red wines. I’ve never tasted it in white wines. I still have to give the advantage to grape wines.
Advantage: Grape Wine
After reading the last two points, you probably think I hate kit wines. It’s not true, I like kit wines.
I can make a kit wine any time of the year. Most varieties are available in kits year round. Grape wine can only be made at the end of the summer when the grapes are harvested. You have much more flexibility with a wine kit.
With kit wines you can make wines which normally might not be possible for you. For example, I live no where near South Africa, but with a wine kit I can make a good Pinotage wine. When you make wines from grapes, you are limited to the grapes in your area. In Colorado, we can get some grapes from California. These grapes are shipped in refrigerated trucks and stored in refrigerated warehouses. It can sometimes take several days before you can crush the grapes. The types of wine you can find in a kit are usually better than what you can get locally.
Finally wine kits consistently win awards in head-to-head competitions with grape wines. Grape wines win as well. Nothing can speak stronger than a first place ribbon in a blind taste test. The key point to take away from this is a kit wine can be compared side-by-side with a grape wine. In some cases, a kit wine can be a better wine.
Advantage: Wine Kits
So it really depends on what you want from your wine. Personally I like the aroma and flavor of grape wines more than kit wines. If you have limited equipment, a kit wine is a much better choice. I often make kit wines through the year while I wait for my grape wines to age. Most kit wines benefit from aging, but the aging process for grape wines is much longer. And remember, the best wine (kit or grape) is the wine which makes you want another glass.
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