Wine-making without yeast, which helps in the fermentation process, can be done simply by using just one ingredient: the fruit or berry of your choice. And, while grapes are the most commonly used wine-making ingredient, you can also ferment many other fruits, including plums, blueberries, blackberries and peaches. All of these work equally well in making wine without yeast. Making wine at home is a relatively easy process – it just takes a little bit of effort and time to frequently stir the ingredients together and wait for the wine to ferment and become ready for consumption.
What Is Yeast?
Yeast are single-celled microorganisms that are classified as part of the fungi family. They are the key ingredients in making alcohol and are responsible for the process known as fermentation. This chemical reaction occurs when there’s an absence of air or oxygen that results in the yeast converting the sugar in the fruit into alcohol and giving off carbon dioxide gas in the process.
Fermented grapes that are sweeter – or in the case of homemade wine, other fruits like peaches or blueberries – result in an overall higher alcohol content. More sugar means more food for the yeast to consume and convert into alcohol.
The variety of industrial yeast used to make modern wines is a strain called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, while the yeasts that naturally occur in vineyards and on grapes are typically wild yeasts called non-Saccharomyces.
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Wine-Making Without Yeast
Instead of using prepared or industrial yeast cultures to ferment sugar and water into alcohol, a homemade wine recipe without yeast is called natural wine and relies on a process known as wild fermentation. Just because yeast are tiny enough that we can’t see them with the naked eye, doesn’t mean they don’t exist in nature. In fact, yeast are present all around us, and until we learned about their existence thanks to Louis Pasteur in 1863, we didn’t know they were responsible for turning grape juice into alcohol. For the longest time, freshly harvested, ripe grapes were all that was needed to make wine because the wild yeast naturally occurred on the outside of the grapes.
Fermentation Process of Natural Wine
Grapes ready for harvest have enough sugar needed for wild yeast to undergo wild fermentation, and the amount is enough to turn the liquid alcoholic, with the right amount of acidity to keep it fresh and naturally preserve it. So in theory, making wine from only grapes is an easy process, one that has been done successfully for hundreds of years: All you have to do is crush the grapes and store in a closed container to begin the process of fermentation.
The wild yeast, which are part of the non-Saccharomyces species, are already present on the outside covering of the grapes. When the grapes are crushed, the wild fermentation process begins as the yeast acts on the sugar that naturally occurs in grapes. The sugar is their source of food, and when digested, these sugars release two waste products: alcohol and carbon dioxide, which is physically seen as bubbles fizzing to the top of the liquid. During this process, the yeast are also responsible for developing the wine’s flavor component and texture.
The wild fermentation of natural wine automatically stops as the level of alcohol increases. Yeast cannot stand high levels of alcohol, and as a result die off, causing the fermentation process to stop. If there are any naturally occurring strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae – the yeast that is used conventionally – they ferment the mixture just a little before also eventually dying off.
Benefits of Natural Wine Making Without Yeast
Natural wine, which has only recently been increasing in popularity, is made from one key ingredient: grapes. Natural wine is free from additives and extra ingredients that conventional wine often uses. The fermented grapes make use of naturally occurring wild yeast during the process of fermentation, while also develop their flavors over time. The result is a unique natural wine.
Recent studies have also shown that wild yeast is unique to a geographic location, so using wild yeast in the wine-making process results in an alcoholic wine that is truly regional and contains the flavors of the soil, atmosphere and nutrients tunique to that location.
Problems of Wine Making Without Yeast
Because the natural wine making process is well, wild, and uncontrolled, you never know what strain of yeast is being used to convert the sugar into alcohol during the fermentation process. The resulting flavors of natural wine can sometimes be funky due to the yeast in question or because of the presence of bacteria, which can convert some of the alcohol into vinegar and produce an unappealing flavor. To prevent this from occurring, add a wine preservative like sulfur dioxide and make sure the grapes or other fruits used are fresh and organic, free from pesticides and other harmful chemicals that might otherwise alter the wine’s final taste, flavor and smell.
Equipment and Ingredients Needed
Making natural wine at home is not a complicated process. It is, however, a bit time-consuming from start to finish, but the results of your homemade natural wine make it all worth it.
To ferment wine at home without the use of conventional yeast, you need a large ceramic bowl, a piece of cloth to cover the bowl to prevent bugs from getting in and letting carbon dioxide release during the beginning stages of the fermentation process, and finally, an air lock and a large glass jug like a carboy with a small mouth for the slow fermentation process. Before you begin fermenting your wine, it’s essential to sterilize your container prior to use. To do this, add it to boiling water, dry it off and wipe it down with isopropyl alcohol.
While you can use grapes to make your homemade wine without yeast, berries are also a great option and make for a flavorful homemade wine. They contain the right amount of acid, sweetness and taste for the wild yeast to act on.
How to Make Grape or Berry Wine Without Yeast
The first step in the natural wine-making process is to add fruit to the sterilized container, making sure it has a nonreactive coating like glass or ceramic or stainless steel, and begin to crush the fruit with your hands. Try and break up every berry or grape that you can and squeeze as much of the liquid out of the fruit as possible.
If using grapes, you can leave some stems in the container – the stems contain tannins that are present in some types of wine and give the wine a dry texture and helps to slowly age the wine over a period of time. While completely optional, adding a teaspoon or two of raw, organic honey will also add yeast to the fruit juice and help in the fermentation process.
Secure the cloth over the top of the jug using a rubber band. To get the process of fermentation going, stir the liquid at least four to five times a day for the first few days. You can tell when fermentation of the fruits has begun when you begin to see bubbles form as you’re stirring the mixture. The wild yeast have begun to eat and digest the sugars occurring in the fruit, resulting in the release of alcohol and carbon dioxide, both byproducts of the fermentation process.
Wipe off any mold that begins to form from the sides of the bowl. When the bubbles start to decrease, strain the mixture into the glass carboy. Place the air lock on top of the carboy to prevent oxygen from entering the mixture while allowing the carbon dioxide to escape. To start, remove carbon dioxide at least twice a day. After a week, reduce this step to once a day. Taste the wine to see if it’s to your liking. If not, leave it to mature for another week before you pour it into old wine bottles and cork loosely. Keep in a cool, dark place during the rest of the fermentation process and taste every week until it’s at your desired alcohol level and flavor profile.
You can also follow this recipe with fresh peaches to make a homemade peach wine without yeast; a natural muscadine wine; or just use organic red or white grapes for a more traditional take on homemade natural wine.
Christabel Lobo is a freelance writer focusing on all-things food, travel, and wellness. Her writing has appeared in Tenderly, SilverKris, Byrdie, Trivago, Open Skies, Fodor’s, London’s Evening Standard, Silkwinds, HuffPost, Barclays Travel, Pint Size Gourmets, and on her personal yoga & travel blog, Where’s Bel. Feel free to check out her design and writing portfolio: christabel.co