Wine kits, juice pails or fresh fruit?

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Wondering if you should start with wine kits, juice pails or fresh fruit? Now that you have sorted out what equipment you need (you did read that article, right?), it’s time to look at the question in detail.

The question I get most often from people new to wine making is, should I start with wine kits, juice pails or fresh fruit? Typically, people who ask this question are interested in making country wines from fresh fruit. And, they want to jump right in without any experience. That’s usually not the best idea. Below I will talk about pros and cons to each as well as which I recommend for beginners.

Wine Kits

For the beginner, I look at wine kits as crawling before you can walk. Starting with wine kits make wine making easy, especially the low-end wine kits. They provide all the ingredients needed (including the yeast) and come with nearly full-proof instructions. The first wine kits I made were from WinExpert and typically took less than six weeks to complete. For absolute beginners, I’m a huge fan of wine kits.

When you’re learning to make wine, I believe the most important thing is to see positive results quickly. This, in turn, builds your confidence. With low-end wine kits, you can do just that. These wine kits have no requirements to perform complicated measurements (just hydrometer readings). Kits don’t require testing to make sure the juice is balanced or to buy extra ingredients. And there is no need to worry about losing a lot of money if you mess it up (low-end wine kits are cheap, around $50, which makes 30 bottles). Simply follow the directions and make sure you keep everything sanitized. Then, in six weeks or less you will have a drinkable wine that you made yourself. How’s that for a confidence boost?

Pro Tip: I do want to point out that while you can have drinkable wine in 6 weeks, the longer you let the wine age, the better it’s going to be. The point here is that you can get a drinkable wine in a short time.

By now, I’m sure you have researched wine kits. You might even have been told or read that wine kits aren’t the best quality. Some people might even have told you that they have a “kit taste”. Don’t let that scare you off. I’ve personally done countless kits and I’ve never experienced “kit taste” as all the kits I’ve done have tasted great. The kits have even received compliments from people I’ve given bottles to as gifts. Several of them have asked for more bottles. The highest compliment a wine maker can get is people asking for more of your wine, in my opinion.

It is true, however, that the more expensive kits are better quality. Many of the higher-end kits come with grape skins and better quality juice, which in turn results in a better finished product. You could only make these wine kits for the rest of your life and be happy. I know many people who are.

For some quick win wine kits, try this Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay kit.

Fresh Juice Pails

As an intermediate or experienced wine maker, fresh juice pails are great. Twice a year during harvest (northern and southern hemispheres) you can buy these freshly pressed juice pails from wine shops. Typically these are 6-gallon jugs of juice (sometimes more) and usually don’t come with anything else.

For the beginner, juice pails present some hurdles to overcome. First, they don’t come with any of the required ingredients that kits do. So, if you don’t know what you need, you have to research that and buy them. There are also additional steps required such as testing to make sure the juice is balanced. More times than not, the juice is already balanced. However, if it isn’t, you will have to figure out how to do that and buy what you need. Also, you won’t find instructions included telling you what to do and when to do it. And, since there is usually no yeast included, you will have to figure out which type of yeast best suits your juice.

Do any of these things mean you shouldn’t try juice pails? No, of course not. They are actually a lot of fun. But I’d recommend that you have several wine kits under your belt first so you know all the basic steps such as keeping things clean, understanding how to use your equipment and why you do the steps that you do, before trying a juice pail.

Fresh Fruit

Fresh fruit presents similar challenges as juice pails. Not only will you need to buy or pick the fruit but you will also need instructions and extra testing equipment. Your juice will almost certainly need to be balanced by you, which will require you to buy testing equipment and figure out how to use it. You will also need to buy additional wine making supplies such as pectic enzyme (helps extract the maximum amount of juice from the fruit).

I would rate making countries wines from fresh fruit more difficult than juice pails but it is a lot of fun. Much like juice pails, I’d recommend that you have several wine kits completed before jumping into fresh fruit and country wines.

Conclusion

As a wine maker you have many choices in how you go about making your wines as well as how hands on you want to be with your wine making. For the best results, as well as the least amount of stress, try to do several wine kits prior to moving into juice pails or fresh fruits. It will serve you well to fully understand the wine making process, how to use your equipment and why you do the steps that you are required to do, before jumping into more advanced wine making.

About Bryan Peabody

Bryan has been a home wine maker for over 20 years. He gets as much enjoyment out of writing about wine and sharing his knowledge of wine making, as he does tasting his latest vintage.

View all posts by Bryan Peabody →

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