Yeast is necessary for making wine. The trick, experts tell us, is to get the right yeast working on the wine. Myriad varieties of yeasts circulate all around us; some are beneficial, some are not. Wine making works best when a good, strong batch of a yeast with the right properties dominates your batch of wine, excluding undesirables.
Thus, home wine making “requires” putting a packet of wine yeast into each batch. These tiny packets aren’t expensive. We pay less than $1.00 each. However, I don’t know of a local source to buy yeast, so we have to mail order them ahead of time.
With a little bit of maintenance and care, we can stretch one packet of yeast over many batches of wine.
We’ve had 20 years of experience maintaining another strain of yeast, our family sourdough. Stretching wine yeast is similar, although even easier than sourdough.
I set up a yeast expander to perpetuate my batch. I chose a brown glass bottle (a beautiful Grolisch beer bottle with a bail stopper) to diminish exposure to sunlight. I made a homemade bubbler using the smallest pill bottle we had on hand, to minimize the size of the tool. If this is something that will hang around the house indefinitely, it made sense to minimize size where possible. I bought a pre-drilled gum stopper that fit the bottle’s neck, and attached the bubbler.
A day or so before beginning our first wine batch, I boiled a small amount of water and sugar in a ratio of 4:1, let it cool, and added the yeast packet. That worked overnight, reaching a very lively stage before going into the primary fermenter. I put most, but not all of the yeast mixture into the wine. The rest, I kept in the expander.
I now keep the expander in the cool box. I feed it about once a week or more. I usually use more cooled sugar water, but if we have a pitcher of fruit juice available, I just give it a short “drink” of that. If I plan a new batch of wine, I’ll keep it inside to warm up and work up a good head.
Expanding wine yeast is practically fool proof. If I add the expanded yeast to a new batch of wine and discover that it isn’t working well enough, I can always open a new yeast packet and add it to the batch. The weak yeast mixture will act as extra nutrient for the new yeast.
Using this method, I made two batches of wine on one packet before deciding it wasn’t active enough. I started a second packet, and have used that on all subsequent batches so far. As I’ve gained experience, I realize that I was too impatient with that first batch—it would have worked fine on the other batches, if I’d only had the experience to nurture it further.
I questioned if this makes much sense, given that yeast packets are so inexpensive. Then I considered other costs of wine making, which gave me a bit of perspective. I have been scrounging 1-gallon glass jugs for wine making, but they’re becoming rare, and I’ve had to order new ones. That’s more expense than I’d like, even after finding them for about $6.50 a jug including shipping and handling. But, unlike yeast, which is a consumable, those jugs will be used repeatedly, ammortizing the cost, so they’re a better investment.
Looking at it this way, expanding my yeast has paid for one and a half jugs so far, with more to come. A penny saved, as they say . . . .