How to Make Wine for Your Reception

How to Make Wine for Your Reception

Wine is the first and last beverage at a wedding: it starts the reception, complements the dinner, and then fuels the party afterward. For some weddings, it plays a part in the ceremony itself. If you love wine and want it at your wedding, consider making a couple of cases yourself.  Making your own wine for your wedding can be a unique group activity and with the ingredients and equipment available today it’s surprisingly easy make great wine.

If you picture winemaking as including scenes of harvesting grapes at their predawn peak, processing them with unfamiliar and expensive equipment and letting the juice ferment and age for months or years in oak barrels stored in a musty cave, know that there is another and much simpler want to make wine: kits.

If you can follow basic instructions for making soup, you can make astonishingly superb wine from kits.  All of the ingredients—not merely the concentrated juice and yeast, but preservatives, fining agents to clear the wine, and even oak chips to give reds their tannins and vanilla notes—are included in numbered, pre-measured packets and accompanied by simple and clear instructions. The concentrates come from the finest grape-growing regions in the world. But probably the most surprising aspect of the kits available today is their relatively low cost. Whatever quality of wine you prefer, if you make it from a kit, expect to pay less than one-quarter of the price for similar bottles purchased retail.

For example: a bottle of Merlot from the Stags’ Leap Winery is about $45 a bottle. You can buy a kit to make a Merlot from the Stags’ Leap AVA in California's Napa Valley, meaning the juice comes from the same geographic area as the winery, for about $6.00 a bottle. The total effort to complete a batch of wine from a kit is about four hours spread over the 30 days it takes the wine to ferment and clear.

To make wine for your wedding reception, you’ll need the wine kit, the equipment to ferment, clear, and bottle the wine, and the time to make it. Although nearly all wine kits are designed to take a total of 30 days from start to finish, I would plan on starting your wine at least three months before the wedding and preferably six. You are going to have dozens of details when prepping for the wedding, and making wine should be enjoyable, not one more item on a checklist to hurry up and finish.

The Equipment 

The basic equipment needed to make wine at home costs about $100 and can be purchased online or at a store that sells home beer brewing supplies. If you have a friend who is a homebrewer, you already know someone who has nearly all of the equipment and experience needed to make wine. The only additional gadget a beer brewer needs to make wine is a corker.

The Kits 

For your reception, buy a premium or super premium kit that includes four gallons of concentrate and makes six gallons of wine, which is about 30 bottles. The juice in these kits has been analyzed in a lab and the nutrients and pH adjusted to the optimum levels. These wines age well, just like wines made from fresh fruit. The kits also come with the basic instructions you need and labels for the bottles. If you’re feeling creative, design and print your own labels. This can make your wine a keepsake as well as a beverage to enjoy at the reception.

Choosing among various kits, especially if you shop the Internet, can be daunting. A good approach is to determine the varietal of wine you want to make, then use an Internet search engine to look for a “gold medal kit” of that grape type. Read the kit reviews, check the ratings, pick your manufacturer, then search on that manufacturer and wine kit name to find the best price. Note that some wine kit providers offer free or reduced shipping, so take that into account when comparing prices

The Process 

While one or two people are all that’s needed to make wine from a kit, winemaking is also a great excuse to get together with your friends. Starting a batch of wine takes less than an hour so it can be an interesting project to tackle before having a dinner. Four or five weeks later, it’s time to bottle and, especially if you designed your own labels, it’s very satisfying to bottle, label the wine, and add foil capsules to create a professional looking package.

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