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Thinking about making the plunge, should I?

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jsbeckton

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I have been making high end big red kits (WE Eclipse, RJS En Primeur) for about 2 1/2 years now. I skip the sorbate, add tannins, bulk age at least a year before bottling and cellar at 60F year round but am finding the results only ‘so so’ after 28 months. It’s not bad, just not that great either.

My question is should I expect the results to really be all that much better if I went all grape vs the high end kits or are my expectations just too high for the quality of material available to the general public? I am in Pittsburgh and there seems to be a decent distributer in the strip district so I likely have access to decent fruit if I went that route.

I just don’t want to spend a bunch of time and money making the switch from high end kits to all grape unless there would be a significant difference in the end result. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the hobby aspect of going all grape but my time is pretty limited these days with 2 young kids so quality it my top priority at the moment.
 

sour_grapes

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My feelings are similar to yours. Because I was "meh" about my kits, I decided to switch to grapes for reds (and stay with kits and/or juice buckets for whites). Unfortunately, I only have one vintage of grapes under my belt, so I cannot yet judge whether this is the right move for me.
 

NorCal

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I’m on my 5th vintage, with great access to grapes. My average wine has receive a Silver medal at the CA state fair. I’ve never made a kit, but have drank my fair share of $3-$5 bottles of wine. I have found that I can consistently make wine for $3 in material costs that tastes a lot better than anything that I can buy for that price. Tasted blind I think my wines will hold their own with $8-$12 bottles and I wouldn’t be ashamed putting my best with $20-$25 bottles, but my average wine wouldn’t stand up. I’ve blind tasted mine vs $35-$50 and my wine clearly stood out as inferior.
Not sure that answers your question, but maybe give you some idea.
 

pgentile

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I made many of the WE Eclipse series several years back. Didn't feel I was getting out of them what I liked in a wine.

For me the transition to all grape and juice bucket wines was well worth it. Not knocking kits but, except for one, my all grape batches have been better than any of the kits. With juice buckets it has been more 50/50 sometimes better than a high end kit other times not.

All grape batches will take more time and effort up front than kits as you know. You have decent access to grapes it might be worth it to try and it can be done without investment in a crusher and/or press. My first batch or two were hand de-stemmed and crushed with a 2x4.
 
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mainshipfred

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Like most I started out with kits, 4 total before I started using juice bucket and grape combos but I felt there was just something missing. Last fall I did my first all grape batch and from the get go it was much better then my previous. To be honest though there were mistakes made with the first batches.

This spring I made 4 batches, the first with all grapes and the others were juice buckets with a few lugs of the varietal grapes and used skins. All of these are coming along very nicely. Fall was all grape, 8 batches including one white, the last 2 which were the most premium are still going through MLF. As @sour_grapes indicated it's too early to be sure but there is just something special about all grape wines that I don't find in kits. It could just be the pride in knowing I did everything myself though and I strongly feel allowing it to go through MLF makes a big difference.

@pgentile is correct in your don't have to buy all the equipment. It's more time consuming without it but make no sense to purchase the equipment if you're not sure if it's the direction you want to go. The initial process is more time consuming but it is only the initial process, after that it's all the same. Take @NorCal with a grain of salt as he is just being too modest. I can almost guarantee his wines are better then he cares to admit.

You do have a quality source for grapes. I got my last batch, a late harvest Lanza PV from CPF Winemakers. I haven't 100% made up my mind yet but 95% sure we'll be going to their Wine Share in January.
 

ceeaton

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Realize that at 28 months, some of your red kits are just getting going. I'm finding that if I wait to bottle until they are 24 months plus, more of them should reach a ripe old age to 36+ months old. Think about the red wines you can purchase. I'd bet most of them aren't reaching their prime for 3 or 4 years minimum.

Having said that, my wine from grapes are much more enjoyable at an earlier age than my kits ever were. I'm going to assume that the wines from grapes I've made will become even better over time. You need to source good grapes, which there are quite a few Pittsburgh winemakers on here who I believe have sourced them from the "strip", so hopefully they will chime in. The better the starting point, the more chance that the end result will be good as well (though I can always find a way to screw up making a wine if I try hard enough). To this point I had been fortunate enough to source grapes through Harford Vineyards, and the raw grapes they were getting were in great shape for the most part. Hoping that the Washington Winemaker grapes that some on here have recently used will turn out good as well, since grapes are no longer available through Harford.
 

Johnd

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My winemaking started similarly to yours, made well over 40 kits, mostly high end, over the years and just wasn't that thrilled with the results even after years of aging. Don't get me wrong, they're not bad wines at all and I still enjoy drinking them, but wanted to make better wines. Since trying wine from grapes / frozen must, there's been no looking back. In my opinion, my worst grape wine is better than my best kit wine. I've since stopped making kits and moved strictly to grapes, the experience gained from kit wines has been invaluable to me and wouldn't change a thing.

Today, all of the toys/processes of the trade are employed to make wine, crusher/destemmer, large fermentation vessels, vacuum racking, MLF, press, appropriate lab equipment, and high quality barrels. A large investment if tackled all at once, but manageable over time.

Take the plunge, the water is fine.........
 

sdelli

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Totaly agree John.
To make something great you must first start with something great! Go to a great restaurant and they make your dinner from scratch. Go to a lower end restaurant and they cut corners with some pre mades. Both might taste good but one will never be the other.
 

jsbeckton

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Thanks everyone, this has been really good feedback. I am a long time brewer and know for sure that the beer that I made from all grain has been head and shoulders above the beer I started making from kits so I just wanted to ensure that the same potential was there.

That being said, of all the bells and whistles, what would you say are the bare minimum equipment needed to dip my toes into all grape (besides good fruit)?
 

mainshipfred

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Thanks everyone, this has been really good feedback. I am a long time brewer and know for sure that the beer that I made from all grain has been head and shoulders above the beer I started making from kits so I just wanted to ensure that the same potential was there.

That being said, of all the bells and whistles, what would you say are the bare minimum equipment needed to dip my toes into all grape (besides good fruit)?
I guess the first question I would have is how much do you plan on making?
 

NorCal

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Thanks everyone, this has been really good feedback. I am a long time brewer and know for sure that the beer that I made from all grain has been head and shoulders above the beer I started making from kits so I just wanted to ensure that the same potential was there.

That being said, of all the bells and whistles, what would you say are the bare minimum equipment needed to dip my toes into all grape (besides good fruit)?
I'll take a carboy worth of grapes being a "toe dip". You would need around 120 pounds of the best quality grapes you can find.

As far as equipment, this is what I would buy. All the below prices are delivered free via Amazon Prime. For under $100 I think I could put together equipment that would make really good wine. You could find a used carboy on craigslist and bring the cost around $75.

- Hydrometer: $7 and will suffice
- pH meter: $7 with calibration packets
- Destemmer: $17 milk crate (you get 2, to have an extra to put the carboy in)
- Fermenter: $8 food grade bucket X 2
- Press: Another $8 food grade bucket with holes in it
- Storage: $38 five gallon glass carboy
- Bung/airlock - $7, you get qty 3


This would be a really fun challenge; you can only use the equipment listed and have a blind taste challenge.
 

jsbeckton

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I should clarify that I already have everything to make kit wine/beer so pretty much everything listed. Guess all I need is a milk crate!

Say I wanted to spend another $500. How would you spend that? If it matters, I’d say my expected production would only be about 18-24gal/year since I also have a love for beer.
 

ceeaton

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I am a long time brewer and know for sure that the beer that I made from all grain has been head and shoulders above the beer I started making from kits so I just wanted to ensure that the same potential was there.
I've been brewing beer since 1990, your experience about grain vs. beer kits can be correctly applied to whole grapes vs. wine kits. And as you know your equipment to produce an all grain batch has probably lasted you a long time. You can expect the same for any wine making equipment you buy.
 

Boatboy24

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I should clarify that I already have everything to make kit wine/beer so pretty much everything listed. Guess all I need is a milk crate!

Say I wanted to spend another $500. How would you spend that? If it matters, I’d say my expected production would only be about 18-24gal/year since I also have a love for beer.
Crusher/destemer. Press. Vinmetrica SC-300. All used. New, those three things would be a cool grand. If you don't have a pH meter of any kind, I'd get the Vinmetrica first. You can always go w/ juice buckets or buckets and a small amount of grapes to start. They can be crushed, destemed and pressed by hand. Then you can move up to a C/D and press from there if you like the results. If you don't, you can probably use the Vinmetrica in your brewing.

I agree with what the others have said. When I first started making wine, I thought my kits were pretty darn good. I'm currently drinking my first premium kit - a Cellar Craft Showcase OVZ started in April of 2012. Yes, 2012. It doesn't hold a candle to wines from fresh grapes that I started 60 days ago. Never did.

Edit: I can't believe I didn't mention the All In One pump, as NorCal did. I use that more than any other tool in the arsenal.

And as Paul does, I still make white wines and rose from kits or juice buckets. Very good results with those.
 
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StevenD55

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I think kits are more controlled and are probably therefore easier. A lot of adjustments to pH and sugar levels and so forth are taken care of. My first attempt with a kit was good enough to get good reviews from self-proclaimed wine afficienados who have had no problems critiquing my wine from grapes.

But it’s much more rewarding to me to turn out a successful batch of wine from my grapes and a wine that people like. Especially true, if it’s from a challenging grape varietal....of which I have a couple that are just that.
 

Stressbaby

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I second @NorCal on the All in One pump. You can get around the crusher/destemmer/press for now - you could find someone with equipment to borrow/trade; the brewshop where I get my grapes lets you crush/destem when you pick up the grapes, that may be another option.
 

masic2000

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I have been making wine from 100% all juice grape must (no concentrate, no water added) from Mosti Mondiale, http://mostimondiale.com/
They pre-inoculate their products with all the proper yeasts and ingredients. All I do is open the pail, add grape skins and oak, let it return to room temp. and the fermentation begins. It saves you the time and money of buying and using a crusher/destemmer/presser since this is already done for you. The quality of wine you get is just as good as starting from grapes, IMO.
 

Sage

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Don't know about where you are but here a lot of small vineyards are pick your own and will let you use their destemer/crusher. Some free use some small cleaning charge. Lots of different varieties.
 

Kraffty

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I've been off kits and on grapes for the last 3 years now and want to add just a note of caution. Kits can be really consistent, give 5 of us the same kit and they'll probably come out pretty similar. Give 5 of us 3 lugs of grapes and you'll probably get 5 very different wines. There is a bigger learning curve and if your first go-around isn't what you expect don't give up. I think you'll end up with a better wine and speaking just for me a much better experience. Best of Luck! Mike
 

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