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Dear Dr. Vinny,

How do wines from home winemaking kits compare to commercial wines in quality? Do they go through the same fermentation process, and do they have aging capability?

—Elton, Chambly, Quebec

Dear Elton,

The number (and quality, I’m told) of home winemaking kits has really increased over the last few years. I think that they are a great introduction to a winemaking hobby, but the wines they make tend to be low-alcohol, easy-drinking and fruit-forward at best, and possibly and weak and watery at worst. I’ve heard they are comparable to $5 and $10 bottles of wine you can find at the grocery store, and I don’t think they would have the potential to age for a long time.

The types of kits vary, but they all include ingredients for the primary fermentation that occurs in all wines, when the sugar from the grapes is converted into alcohol with the help of yeast. Some of the kits use pure grape juice (these tend to be refrigerated), while others use grape concentrate, which is grape juice with the water removed. Typically, commercial winemaking, on the other hand, involves much more interaction with the grape skins and seeds, which is where much of the flavor and aromatic details emerge, as well as body and structure. I was surprised that there are kits where you provide the fruit, whether grapes or something else. But remember that the grapes that you find in grocery stores are very different from wine grapes.

There are a lot of other options with these kits. I like the all-inclusive ones, which include all of the materials and equipment you need to make wine (though none of the ones I've seen included bottles, so keep that in mind). Some set-ups take more space than others, and the process can range from 10 days to four weeks from start to completed wine. I’ve read that some kits are light on instructions, so if this is your first time making wine, you might want to check out some online videos. Some home winemakers start out with a kit, and then start tinkering with different types of yeasts, or buying a barrel to age the wine in, taking the next steps to making wines more like the professionals.

—Dr. Vinny

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