Getting started; kit, juice or grapes, red or white. From a beer brewing point of view.

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Apr 17, 2016
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After a decade of brewing beer I want to make the step into the world of wine. I did some research online and I found there are a couple of choices to be make before I can take off, some of which I cannot really answer on my own.

I guess first is start with a kit/extract, juice or fresh grapes. There is a seller who imports grapes and juices from France (I live close to France). He sells whole grapes, mushed grapes (with the skins) for reds or juice for whites, in different varieties. Beer kits are in my opinion quite bad, so I would prefer not getting these for wine, but is this fair? To my understanding the quality of wine is largely determent by the quality of the grapes (in comparison to beer, malt quality alone for example has less impact on the final beer). Keeping this in mind, extracts must be horrible, right? The downside is that I must wait half a year for the harvest season…

Another one is white or red? What are the differences in terms of difficulty? My research stated that a white is more delicate and therefore easier to screw up. Considering I have good beer equipment (RVS tanks, temp control, pH things etc.) is it still easy to get a not-so-good white? If I would go the grape route, reds seems to take more steps, leaving it on the skins, separate etc. aka more chance to make mistakes. Or do I overestimate all this and should I make a choice based on preference?

I’m not looking for detailed descriptions on how to make a red from grapes or something, just for general recommendations on where to start. For an ‘advanced’ homebrewer. All tips are welcome!

The kits are a good starting point but you get what you pay for. With the cheaper kits you get a lot less concentrate etc and the wines can taste good but they will be very light and lack body and complexity. If you buy more expensive kits you will get more juice concentrate for the same volume of wine and from a more localized location. The most expensive kits (around 150$ here in Sweden for 23l wine) contains the most concentrate and oak additions etc and for red wines they come with some grape skins that you can use in the fermation to extract tannins etc for a more complete wine. You can add tannins etc as additives but for me its better with extraction from the skins and seeds than from oak or additives.

The kits if you follow the instructions can be bottled after 6-8weeks due to the use of clearing agents etc to speed up the process. For the white wines kits this has worked well for me with a few months bottle ageing but for red wines it works on wines that don't normally have a lot of tannins. Other like cabernet sauvignon really need a lot more time. If I deviate from the kit instructions and end up aging the whites for 6-8 months and the reds for 1-2years and allow the reds to go through malolactic fermentation etc you can end up with a really nice wine.

In terms of quality nothing is better than starting from mushed grapes with skins seeds etc for reds and fresh juice or grapes for whites. In general whites are more sensitive to oxidation since the juices does not contain tannins etc that help protect them. Getting the fermentation started and protecting the white wine with sulfides after fermentation is important.

I would do a white wine kit or fruit juice recipe right now and get some experience and when the harvest season comes around you can decide.

Have fun!
Thanks for the elaborate reply! I choose to buy a kit as you recommended, a cabernet sauvignon from winexpert (my wife got a big saying in this, fair enough she has to drink it as well). Although it probably has a long ageing time ahead I still think this can give me some experience and ideas on how to make wine, before stepping things up with juice. To be honest, beer and wine differ quite a bit and I probably underestimate it and over-estimate the value of my beer brewing experience.

Just curious what kind of kit cost 120 dollars in Sweden? Are you talking about the more exclusive range from winexpert (cost about 100 euro's here)? Is it significantly better than the 'classic' range which I bought for 50 euro?
So in Sweden for Winexpert kits its around 80 euro for the classic, 110 euro for reserve and 150 euro for the private reserve and limited editions.

I think you made the right decision starting with the classic range. As for differences, if I remember correctly classic has 10kg of fruit juice, reserve has 12kg and private reserve 16.5kg. I have not tested every kit but for some of them I noticed big difference and in some cases the difference was much smaller/negligible.

I have always in a simplified way thought about them as having the potential of being a 10-15euro wine, 15-20euro wine and 20-30euro wines. Can you taste the difference? Perhaps but is the 20-30euro wine always better and worth the extra money?

Classic range is a good starting point. If the winemaking bug gets you, there is more expensive kits, making wine from different fruits or starting making wine from fresh juice and grapes.