Fine Canadian Winemaking with Mr. Frugal Toque

Clearly, a prime vintage has been produce.

Clearly, a prime vintage has been produced.

Foreword from MMM: Mr. Toque is back with more advanced Mustachi0-Canadian techniques! While the methods described within definitely work in Ontario, if you have similar tricks for your own area, please share them in the comments. In the mean time, at least I have my Bota Boxes..


If you grew up like me, which isn’t terribly likely, then the moderate consumption of alcohol has been a part of social gatherings your entire life. Sometime around the age of eight or ten, your parents might have started offering you sips of their drinks. By the age of twelve, when the shot glasses were passed around at Easter or Christmas, you would get a trace of whatever was being drunk at the bottom of your very own tiny glass.

When you left home, you might have carefully added the beverage of your choice to enhance your enjoyment of a quiet evening of fellowship or a raucous night of step dancing to the latest Maritime fiddle tunes. (Again, your experience may vary.)

As discussed ages ago, a proper Mustachian is a person capable of enjoying his life without breaking his bank. Instead of going to a bar and buying round after round of expensive drinks, we clever lot gather in houses and back patios, ever respecting our neighbours’ right to peace and quiet, and enjoy our lower cost beverages and the camaraderie that comes from being able to control the musical volume and thus carry on conversations. If we do go to out dancing establishments, we have a few drinks beforehand and limit our further consumption of alcohol to that required to maintain our respective buzzes throughout the evening.

All that said, the point is thus: moderate alcohol consumption has been a part of our lives for some time and will continue to be with us for years to come. So let us see what we can do to optimize the cost of it.

A Little Bit About Sin Taxes

A short aside for those living outside of Canada. Around these parts, we went through a period of alcohol prohibition because of a thing called the “Temperance Movement”. Now before you curse it out, Prohibition wasn’t all bad. It allowed criminal organizations to grow like wildfire, giving us the Godfather and the Sopranos. As well, my grandfather ran rum into the United States during their Prohibition period, which is almost as good as having a pirate in your family.

When the Temperance Movement gave up, its laws were replaced with “Blue laws”, making it very annoying to get alcohol. You had to have a permit which got filled in every time you bought any booze. The liquor stores were to keep track of you and make sure not to sell you too much. Taxes were levied to keep people from turning to evil.

Even today, every province has its own strange rules. In Quebec, you can buy beer at a corner store. In Ontario, you can only buy liquors and wines at licensed “Liquor Control Board of Ontario” outlets and beer from either a “Beer Store” or from the LCBO.

As well, such things are heavily taxed in many jurisdictions.

However …

What If You Make Your Own Wine?

There’s a trick that was discovered a long time ago and it works in many provinces in Canada and, I’m told, many states down south. People who make their own wine don’t have to pay sin taxes. How could they? All they’re doing is buying grapes from somewhere – that’s totally not alcoholic in any way, is it? Then they ferment those grapes in their basements, bottle it and drink it. Where can the Puritan/Tax Man nab you? Nowhere.

Now you’re probably saying, as a Mustachian, “Whoa, there, Mr. Toque. That sounds like a lot of work and a lot of start up cost. There must be barrels and bottles and … um … fermenting stuff. Maybe, like, sulfites? Or something?”

You’re absolutely right. Who has the space for all of these barrels? Who has the corking devices? The know how?

Sounds tricky, and I’m a guy with a rumrunner on one side of his family and a whole host of wine farmers three generations back on the other side. More on this “trickiness” later.

Why Wine?

Why not beer? Why not make your own whiskey?

Those are equally valid things to make, as you suit your own tastes. One man’s finest Scotch Whiskey is paint thinner to his wife. One woman’s fruited wine is sugar candy to someone else.

For me, wine has always been the classy way to go. Just the scent of a nice, dark red is capable of putting me in a calm, serene frame of mind; that of a man prepared to let the world be as it is while it gently floats by his window.[1]


But do I need to pay $100 a bottle. Hell, no. How about $20? That’s better, although I prefer, if I have to, to pick up a $10 or $12 bottle.

But Mr. Toque, what about tannins, and body, and bouquet! Don’t you care about those things?

Uh, no. I care about how good it tastes to me. I also resist, as is the nature of the ancient Stoics, becoming a connoisseur of material goods. Becoming the kind of person who can only enjoy the very finest and most expensive of anything, be it wine, automobile or speaker cable, is doubly wasteful.

First, you are foolishly using your educational time while you become an expert and second, you’ll have to spend the rest of your life incurring expenses as the price of having achieved such expertise.

Besides which, it’s been proven repeatedly – at least to my satisfaction – that most wine experts are just as susceptible to pretty bottles and wine glasses as the rest of us. But, hey, if you want to go on paying $200 per bottle of wine, you can skip this blog post and drive your SUV across town to that really good wine store. You should know, however, that every time you say, “I can’t imagine drinking anything that doesn’t come from the Loire”, the babel fish I stuck in my ear the last time I passed through the Betelgeuse system will always render this statement as, “I can’t imagine not drilling a hole in my head and pouring in battery acid every night.”

Back on topic, now, let’s see if we can’t get that $10 just a wee bit lower by eliminating the 19% to 29% taxes and a good deal of the marketing cost that goes into it.

How Do I Make My Own Wine?

Loading 'em up.

Loading ’em up.

The answer is that you do the wine making on some other person’s property with that other person’s barrels. The laws for making your own wine, in the province of Ontario and many other places across Canada, require you only to take part in the bottling process. This has led to a large number of small businesses popping up all over the province where you can “make your own wine.”

So, on behalf of my northern friends and blog readers, I undertook to determine exactly what was involved in this process of “wine making.” Sure the wine comes out cheaper, but what about our time? Let’s find out exactly how much this process costs and how much effort it requires from the “winemaker.”

Step 1 – Order Your Wine

Go to a wine making place nearby. I’ve never yet heard anyone warn me away from a winery, so I just grabbed the one closest to the dojo where the Toque family does their karate lessons – this particular one was called The Wine Garden, but there are many similar facilities around town. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the place was exactly what I expected: just as friendly and relaxed as you could expect a place run by a married couple who spend all day around vat after vat of every kind of wine you could imagine.

You know when you walk in to the lumber yard, take a whiff of the sawdust and think, “Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

It’s like that, but with wine.

So you’ll meet the friendly staff and, given how casual things are, they’ll probably give you a tour of their facility and answer any questions you have. For us, this was half an hour or so, since I was collecting information for all of you. In theory, you could do Step 1 in about five minutes, but just try not to hang around for a bit whilst soaking in the atmosphere

Once you’re satisfied that the facility checks out, you decide what wines you want and in what batch sizes. You can choose from a wide variety of grapes or juices from which to make the wine. Organic is one of the options and they’ll have occasional specials, not so much by price, but by what sorts of grapes from what exotic regions.

Prices ranged from $4.25 a bottle to somewhere around $7 or $8 a bottle.

Mrs. Toque and I, being the frugal sorts we are, chose to make two of the lower cost 24-bottle batches, one of Merlot and one of Pinot Grigio, so we’d have a red and a white to test.

The first step was completed when we paid the 50% deposit of $102. I also scheduled an appointment, two months hence, at which time I would come back to bottle the wine.

Cost so far: 10 minutes (at most), $102

Step 2 – Bottle Your Wine

Two months later, I came back for the bottling. I arrived during my lunch hour, noting the time to be 12:07pm.

Without any rushing at all, because you just can’t be in a hurry when your nose is full of the soothing smells of so many wines mixed together, two wine barrels were tapped to fill a pair of containers capable of holding 24 bottles’ worth of wine each.

Each in turn is attached to a machine which pumps the wine simultaneously into four wine bottles. My job in all of this is to detach the wine bottles as they fill up (the machine will not allow overflows) and move them over to the corking device. I insert a cork, close the door, listening for a satisfying “fsh” sound and then remove the bottle.

A satisfying conclusion to the experiment.

A satisfying conclusion to the experiment.

The winery offers a device for heat-shrinking caps onto the top of the wine bottle and fancy decorative label stickers for you to attach. If you’re planning on taking this wine to a Fancy Gathering, you might do this to some of the bottles for show. You should note, however, that you do have pay $0.75 for each bottle and you have to clean the stickers off when you bring them back for reuse. So consider how many annoying heat-shrunk caps you want to scratch off and how many labels you want to remove.

The bottles are placed in cardboard boxes, one dozen per box. The boxes are closed and loaded in your car.

The last invoice is $102 for the second half of the wine payment and $36 for the bottles.

The time when I sat back down in my car seat: 12:37 pm.

Total cost: 40 minutes of my time, $240.

That means it’s $5 per bottle, including the reusable bottle, and less than a minute of my time per bottle.

Even if you went to the liquor store, which is what you’d have to do in Ontario, you’d still spend more than a minute per bottle, so I’d have to argue that we can ignore the time part of this equation altogether and just say that I’m getting wine at $5 per bottle and leave it at that.

Step 3 – The Taste!

Wine has two general uses in the Toque household: drinking and cooking. First, we cooked up a beef stew (plenty of vegetables and barley), adding a cup or so of wine. This came out delicious, modified as it was by all the pleasant flavours and aromas of the finest Merlot ever created.

Dinner, naturally, was complemented by the very same same wine. It tasted as excellent and luxurious as any red wine I’ve ever tasted at any convention I’ve ever visited. The aroma brought back memories of many similar evenings and the senior members of the household received the pleasant alcohol-induced relaxation they always do. If there is some subtle difference between this and the much more expensive varieties available from professional wineries, we found ourselves unable to detect it.

What else is there to say?

The effort to produce your own wine is minimal; the cost savings is at least 50% and the taste is indistinguishable from the finest. The only question is: why isn’t everyone else doing this?


[1] – Also, please don’t go on about the value of “anti-oxidants” in red wine. The virtues of anti-oxidants, though much touted by marketers of anti-oxidizing products, have never been scientifically demonstrated. It may be that red wine is less bad for you than beer or whiskey, but let’s not pretend we know that for sure.


And don’t get me started on that resveratrol stuff, either. The science on that is equally ‘meh’, unless you’re getting 60 litres of wine’s worth of the chemical – every day.


  • Bryce January 30, 2014, 8:03 pm

    Great post. I’ve never heard of bottling at a winery or brewery in order to get the deflated cost/tax. Perhaps it’s just a Canadian thing? I’ve personally forayed into brewing my own beer to cut down on high costs of alcohol. Though the initial start up costs are moderate ($100-$200), the per beer cost comes down to about $.80 (US) once you’ve incurred the initial overhead.
    I prefer this greatly than spending $4-8 per beer when enjoying libations with friends. My friends enjoy it too, when I’m willing to share.
    Nice, practical post!

    • Mr. Frugal Toque January 31, 2014, 7:20 am

      Taxation and laws vary from province to province and state to state, obviously, so the tax money you save will also vary.
      What is constant is the cost of marketing, which you are generally avoiding by brewing your own. This is probably a larger factor when it comes to beer, where television advertising is so common and expensive.

      • Trevor January 31, 2014, 10:22 pm

        Shipping can be a big cost too, for Ontarians who are “too good” for Niagara wine.

        It always seemed silly to me how much more people were willing to pay for French or Australian wine in Canada.

    • Jenn February 1, 2014, 9:53 am

      They have bottle your own wine here in Washington as well, though it is usually a “mix your own wine” from a blend of the different wines the winery has available. I don’t think it is as cheap though.

      I do brew my own cider, which is quite a bit less expensive.

  • Tom January 30, 2014, 8:24 pm

    An even easier solution? Three Buck Chuck from Trader Joes. Can’t beat the price, and it tastes good to me.

    • Mrs. PoP January 31, 2014, 4:50 am

      Not to mention you also get to reminisce about the days when it was 2-buck chuck and suddenly realize you sound like your grandparents. =)

      For hard liquor if you’re in a location near to the border with Mexico, there also used to be the option to buy it on the cheap down there and walk it across the border. Not sure if that’s still an option in this era of tighter security, but it certainly provided a kick to the drinks of some of my aunts and uncles through family gatherings back in the day.

      • Will Murphey January 31, 2014, 9:19 am

        One strategy is to load up on any sale wines your store may have. Recently at my local grocery store, we purchased 10 or so bottles of $1.99 discounted wine ($6.99 regular price). My store also offers 10% when you buy 6 bottles or more during a single purchase, your store may as well.

        • Kenoryn January 31, 2014, 10:18 am

          Interesting – you’re in the States I’m guessing? In Canada, in addition to not being able to get wine at the grocery store (except for at outlet places attached to the store), alcohol has a minimum cost that stores are not allowed to charge less than. In Ontario a 750-ml bottle of wine cannot be below $5.60/bottle or thereabouts. Plus bottle deposit.

          • Will Murphey January 31, 2014, 3:21 pm

            Yes in the USA here. I was amazed last year at the cost of beer in Ontario. I paid close to $25 for a 12 pack at an LCBO. Even more reason in Canada to brew your own.

          • TOM February 2, 2014, 5:54 am

            Of course not every state has wine in grocery stores, either. I live in Delaware, and we can only buy at liquor stores. Each state has its own rules, some sell beer at grocery stores. Some sell beer and wine. Some (Pennsylvania) run the liquor stores themselves. As Toque says, YMMV

        • MoneyAhoy February 5, 2014, 6:22 am

          I like this tip the best – very practical and easy on the wallet.

      • mary w February 1, 2014, 12:00 pm

        Yep, you can still bring hard liquor back from Mexico. I believe its one quart per adult per month. The border wait means you’d only want to do it if you were in Mexico for other purposes.

        Mexican rum and tequila are good and at good prices. However, liquor imported to Mexico is taxed heavily by the Mexican government and not really a bargain.

    • Jay January 31, 2014, 2:08 pm

      Yep, 2/3 buck Chuck is a pretty good wine, for the price. Not to mention, that in California at least, there is a very wide selection of excellent-tasting wines for $5 or less, in any grocery store. Trader Joe’s is the best of course, but Sprouts and some local grocers also deliver in this category. And not just local wines; I’ve had excellent Spanish, French, Italian and South American wines in that price range. To the extent that we only buy $10 wine when we’re celebrating something

      • Diana January 31, 2014, 2:51 pm

        Here in TX, the wine prices can get super cheap too. Sprouts is a hidden gem for getting wine on sale, and when Austin finally got it’s first Trader Joe’s, I found a really good box wine for $10. Can’t recall the brand, but it was the only box wine TJ’s sells here, and you had two options, red and white.

        Lately I’ve been getting into beer, maybe it’s time to start brewing my own, craft beer can be pricey! Although TJ’s has some very decent beers for $1/bottle…

    • Rich February 21, 2014, 1:16 pm

      Two buck chuck gives a mean hangover. And it tastes like chalk.

      If you don’t have a personal winery nearby (and most states don’t), you can make your own very easily. A little elbow grease, chemistry, and a whole lotta fun. You end up with some of the finest wines in the world, made in your very own basement.

      My initial outlay for a semi-professional (yet small scale) worked out to $1208. This produced about 60 bottles at an average cost of $20.15 each. That’s 30 bottles of Spanish Tempranillo and another 30 of an Italian Barbera that you cannot even buy in the States.

      $1208 was a lot, I admit. But I invested in a high-end testing computer and the highest quality fermenting equipment I could as I plan on doing this for awhile. I could’ve done it for about $600, I think.

      Anyway, my big purchases are done. Each batch of 30 bottles costs between $80 and $110, depending on what type of wine I’m making. My next one will probably be an Amarone, which costs anywhere from $45-$400 per bottle. I will be making that for less than $4 per bottle.

      Not bad, huh?

  • writing2reality January 30, 2014, 8:31 pm

    Fantastic! I love the “make your own” wine concept. As a non-connoisseur myself, I’ve always been pleased to discover how tasty a bottle of two (now three) buck Chuck is in comparison to pricier competitors. As you’ve said, glitzy labels and sizable price tags always seem to render some individuals incapable of making a rational and tasty decision.

    • Joe January 30, 2014, 8:37 pm

      I’m sorry, but the three buck Chuck are just not worth drinking. I’d rather drink less often…

      • Dustin January 30, 2014, 9:13 pm

        Blasphemy! Three buck chuck is excellent stuff

        • Ellie January 31, 2014, 2:03 pm

          Especially the chardonnay!

      • DFoltz January 30, 2014, 9:27 pm

        > Three Buck Chuck isn’t worth drinking.

        Are you sure your perception isn’t contaminated by anticipation?

        • JA February 2, 2014, 2:02 pm

          I tried Two Buck Chuck really hoping to like it to cut down on any of my wine costs. I couldn’t finish the bottle let alone the glass I had poured. It definitely wasn’t about perception/ anticipation here. Really wanted to like it…

          • Jake February 4, 2014, 6:22 am

            Sometimes you just get a bad bottle, and it’s not just cheap wines that have bad bottles..

            • rob aka Captian and Mrs Slow February 9, 2014, 9:18 am

              Funny we just moved to Germany and you can get a fantastic white wine for under 5€, sometimes under 3 on sale

      • writing2reality January 31, 2014, 7:02 am

        Ultimately, everyone has different tastes and preferences. I think the overall message here is that you don’t need to spend $50 or more dollars on a bottle of wine when something significantly cheaper will be more than satisfactory.

      • Anne February 4, 2014, 4:21 pm

        Two/Three buck chuck isn’t great, but is still better than say, Gallo, and if you add some fruit it cuts the cheap wine taste and resembles yummy sangria! For traditional wine drinking I’ll spend $8-$10 on one of Trader Joe’s many other fine offerings.

    • Chris January 30, 2014, 9:07 pm

      And MMM, you may be happy to know, that Trader Joe’s, who sells Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw Wine), will be opening several locations around Denver in two weeks, including one in Boulder. Because, although $5 for a bottle of wine is good, $3 is even better.

  • Joe January 30, 2014, 8:33 pm

    That sounds really interesting. I have never heard of a place where you can make your own wine. We live in Portland, OR and there are a ton of winery around. I think they make as much as they can sell and they probably won’t let you make your own wine. I will check around and see if I can find a place.

    The price is right at $5 a bottle. Pretty awesome. Most local wines here are at least $20/bottle.

    • Yossarian January 30, 2014, 10:12 pm

      They are basically homebrewer supply shops. I’m from Ontario and I have heard some shops let you use their equipment, but I’ve never tried it out (and I don’t have the space in a 600sqft apartment for my own gear).

      I’ll look into trying this out. Except I don’t own a car and I’m not sure how fragile two cases of wine are. I wouldn’t want a bad Canadian pothole shattering the bottles on my way home with the wine in the bike trailer.

      • Ishmael January 31, 2014, 5:06 am

        They’re actually surprisingly strong. I watched my Dad break some kindling on a beer bottle before, and I myself have dropped a bottle of precious wine on my concrete basement floor, amazed that it didn’t break.

        Just line your trailer with a rubber mat or blanket or something and you’ll be fine.

        • Kenoryn January 31, 2014, 11:55 am

          Something funny about seeing Ishmael talking to Yossarian.

      • Mr. Frugal Toque January 31, 2014, 6:48 am

        I suppose what you’d have to do is either use public transportation that day and carry the case in your hands, or wrap layers of painting blankets or such things around the bottles.
        But really, the boxes are quite sturdy and those glass bottles are pretty strong, so I wouldn’t worry about breakage too much.

        • Mr. Money Mustache January 31, 2014, 1:35 pm

          Man, if bike trailers were incompatible with cases full of bottles, my whole retirement would be destroyed. They do just fine in there, unless your route home from the store involves descending an unpaved mountainside.

      • Gerard January 31, 2014, 8:42 am

        Not a terrible time to splurge for a taxi. Or, you might find that your car-owning friends are very willing to drive you somewhere when it involves picking up several cases of wine.

      • Jay January 31, 2014, 2:04 pm

        I carry my wine (usually 2 bottles at most) home in a rucksack on my back, riding my bike. The rucksack also contains the rest of the week’s groceries. Nothing’s ever happened to it

      • nancy May 3, 2015, 8:20 am

        The home brew places will also let you ‘bottle ‘ your wine in plastic bags with spigots then placed in a dispensing box. much easier to transport and super convenient.

    • Terry January 31, 2014, 12:38 pm

      I’m in Oregon, too. In the Owen Roe wine club. Pricey, yet I am restrained enough to enjoy a few bottles, and cellar (in a plastic crate wrapped in an old hemp shower curtain) the rest. In a few years, I’ll quit and have an excellent ‘stache. This compilation is for their stunning reds. I’m quite happy with Bota Box pinot gris for summer!

  • Ravi January 30, 2014, 9:09 pm

    Wish there were a way to do this with boxed wine. My wife and I are cheap dates (i.e. we have a low tolerance), and I always hate wasting the second half of the bottle.

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 31, 2014, 1:29 pm

      How does it get wasted? I find a half-bottle of red wine will keep well in the fridge for a week or more if you put the cork back in. Maybe your consumption is even more moderate than this, and if so I commend you :-)

      • Garrett January 31, 2014, 8:28 pm

        Or use a vacuum cork. They’re a rubber stopper with a little vacuum pump to suck the air out of the bottle. We got ours as a gift but I’m sure they’re cheap. And even wine snobs say they work well.

        • Trevor January 31, 2014, 10:19 pm

          Yes, they’re cheap. I bought a pair of them for my dad for Christmas at full retail price; I think they were $10 CDN each, including a pair of stoppers?

          With one of those, wine will keep for a month refrigerated, or a few days at room temperature, iirc.

      • Ravi January 31, 2014, 9:22 pm

        We only crack a bottle once a month or so. Although, I guess I should use it as cooking wine!

    • Edward February 1, 2014, 10:04 am

      Don’t waste the second half of the bottle! I know there are wine snobs that would freak out for me saying this, but freeze it. Pour it in a Tupperware container and use it in stews, soups, or spaghetti sauces. Or add it to a bit a fruit juice and make winesicles out of it.

    • Amelia February 3, 2014, 9:30 am

      If you really won’t get around to drinking the second half of the bottle you might consider your own home vinegar making production. You can look up instructions online, it’s pretty simple and the results are said to be far superior to store bought. Or you can simply plan a meal around using up the remainder of the bottle. I love a good pot roast braised in wine.

    • Neil February 4, 2014, 12:21 pm

      I bought a bunch of 375ml (half-sized) wine bottles and mix those with the normal size bottles. Then when it’s just two of us having a glass each, we use a small bottle. If we have friends, or expect to want a glass in the next day or two as well, a normal bottle.

      No problem!

  • Jordan Read January 30, 2014, 9:37 pm

    Great post, and very timely. For me, especially the part regarding the reference to Stoicism, is a major plus, due to some issues I have with becoming a major consumer of delicious alcoholic beverages. That being said, I used to have Beer Making Equipment, but it’s kind of rubbed me the wrong way since I went primal, and I love the idea of making wine. Thanks a bunch!!

  • Anonymous January 31, 2014, 1:52 am

    While I can certainly appreciate the ingenuity involved in working around unnecessary taxes and associated unnecessarily expensive goods, I can’t help but look at this article the same way I’d look at an article about rolling your own cigarettes or cigars to save on the expense: yeah, there’s certainly an economy to DIY rather than paying for expensive cigars/cigarettes and associated taxes, but that’s not the most obvious solution to the problem.

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 31, 2014, 6:41 am

      hmm.. then you probably wouldn’t like my article on the benefits of recreational marijuana use either :-)

      As with any experiment, Anonymous, for some of us there is fun to be had in experimenting with alternate states of mind. I view it differently than cigarettes, which don’t give you these completely different experiences and creative journeys that proper drugs do.

      But your experience may vary. If your life is better with zero alcohol than moderate consumption, you win! I make the same calculation myself regularly and it still comes out in favor of a wine or beer occasionally.

      And of course Marijuana, which although now legal in Colorado, is still just as much fun as when it was illegal :-)

      • kiwano January 31, 2014, 1:00 pm

        I’ll have to object to the comment on the value of tobacco as a creative mind-altering drug. I’ll gladly grant that the set/setting, dose, and route of administration under which tobacco is most commonly consumed are not going to produce a high that’s good for much beyond a maintenance dose, or “taking the edge off”. That said, I’ve read plenty of reports on different forms of use by indigenous Americans, with perceived effects as profound as a heavy acid trip.

        It’s certainly hinted at quite strongly by existing posts on drug use (whether alcohol and other recreational drugs, coffee or other functional drugs, etc.), but there’s a lot of savings to be had (and pleasure to be gained) simply by exerting a proper degree of control over the low/no-cost details of how a drug is consumed.

        Drinking wine with friends in a backyard where you can choose appropriate music, and set the volume at an ideal level to allow conversation, after savouring the smell coming out of the freshly opened bottle, etc., is an excellent example of this sort of optimization of set and setting to get the best high out of one’s drug. Likewise “just enough to keep the buzz going” while dancing, is just as good an optimization on dosage.

      • Anonymous February 1, 2014, 3:57 pm

        I wasn’t complaining about the choice to consume alcohol or experience its effects; I don’t, but I don’t particularly care (nor do I feel I have the right to interfere) if others do.

        I suppose it just seemed odd to see an article here whose point was effectively “here’s how to spend less on a luxury” that didn’t explicitly acknowledge it as a luxury item. The usual approach taken here seems to be “optimize away any costs you don’t need, and then if you can afford it, choose the luxuries you consider worthwhile and spend as little on them as necessary to get the benefit you want”. That seems like a completely sensible approach, and consistent with this article assuming you classify wine as one of the luxuries you want to splurge on. However, the articles about choosing an efficient car still tend to hint at face-punching for unnecessary car use even of an efficient car, and for similar reasons I’d tend to expect an article about spending less on a luxury to still point it out as a luxury.

        • Isabela February 3, 2014, 12:01 pm

          Good point, Anonymous. In the end, it still comes down to choosing one’s priorities carefully and spending less than one earns.

          I also had a problem when reading through this blog with the no-car approach while splurging on housing. To me, a mortgage (huge around here, in Vancouver) still means splurging, and there are reasonable ways to cheaper housing, while the car, evil as it is and costing some money – but not overly pricey – is actually making me feel grateful when driving it and it is most useful with 3 kids and full time job. But, then, I learned that I’m not supposed to copy the exact lifestyle of MMM: I’m supposed to take what I feel is useful from this blog, and others, and adapt to my situation and priorities, and leave the other stuff for others because for sure somebody will find some values in the teachings that I can’t apply to me.

    • Elyse January 31, 2014, 11:01 am

      Also remember, by DIY you can make things exactly the way you want.

      So, this is as much about price as it is control. My mother makes wine. My father brews beer. Both have their own set ups in their basement. My dad likes his beer to taste a particular way, so he makes it himself. To buy the kind of specialty beer he likes, he’d be paying an increased price.

      So he both cuts out price and gets exactly what he wants.

      If you really don’t care about the taste and you really don’t care enough about wine to find a cheaper way for it, then you can easily take that time to find what area you do want to optimize.

    • Kenoryn January 31, 2014, 11:19 am

      Agree, not drinking works out very well for me, but my spouse does not agree. ;) I never got a taste for alcohol – the paint thinner reference in the article seems pretty apt to me, but apply it to all alcohol.asw I think maybe it’s something to which you have to become acclimatized when you’re young, in which case you would be doing your kids a financial favour by not giving them the sips-of-whatever-the-grownups-are-having.

      • Isabela February 3, 2014, 12:09 pm

        That’s not entirely true. I was given sips-of-whatever-the-grownups-are-having since age 3. I know, boo-hoo. However, I don’t have a taste for alcohol. I will drink one or two drinks if everybody drinks around me, but I can go forever without and not missing it. Maybe it’s because it didn’t excite my curiosity from a young age?

    • Marcia January 31, 2014, 1:32 pm

      I love wine! But as I age, I just find that I cannot drink it as much. I am too prone to weight gain (and am trying to lose baby weight). Plus it interferes with my sleep (I am prone to insomnia, and I have a toddler, so sleep is elusive).

      I got a lot of wine for Christmas presents, so here I sit on a case and a half, and I just don’t drink it. I will probably donate several bottles to our school for a fundraiser.

  • Fredrik von Oberhausen January 31, 2014, 2:28 am

    It is interesting to see that the drinking culture in Canada is more or less the same as in Sweden. I wonder if that is weather based.

    Due to extreme taxes in Sweden on alcohol as well as clubs more than acceptable margins on alcoholic beverages we always had pre-parties before going anywhere and indeed only some smaller amounts of alcohol was bought in the club to keep the buzz.

    As a student I was producing my own red wine. It was very easy to do starting with a juice and not the grapes and usually only took 7 to 14 days to finish. Sure the taste was not always the best but like the Spanish people one can always make calimocho out of it.

  • Dom January 31, 2014, 6:26 am


    I don’t know about Canada but here in the UK the law seems a lot more relaxed.

    Home brewing from kits / fruit is still fairly niche although quite passionate communities are around to give pointers.

    I put a simple recipe for cider making using apples a couple of empty drinks bottles and some yeast on my blog (link above).

    If you have a few hours it can be quite rewarding, although I’ve never brewed in such large quantities as 24 bottles before, however if you have an apple tree the cost is almost free!



    • theFIREstarter February 2, 2014, 3:31 am

      Another alternative and long time tradition for us UK residents “lucky” enough to live in the South East is to do a booze cruise to France twice a year (or so… depending on consumption levels!)

      You can get the sea ferry over for about £25, and the bottles are around £2-3 per bottle. So let’s say you buy in bulk as you naturally would and buy 50 bottles at an average of £2.50 per bottle, you are looking at around £3.50 per bottle after petrol and ferry costs. If you spend over £150 in most of the warehouse stores in Calais they will pay for your next ferry trip back, so next time round you should be looking at around £3 per bottle all in.

      If you don’t want to buy so much wine, and lessen the amount of trips you have to do, get 3 or 4 groups of friends / family to all go in on it, then you will easily hit the “free ticket” level for the next trip, and share the trips evenly between the group.

      • Dom February 3, 2014, 3:09 am

        Firestarter you might want to check out http://www.thebrewmart.co.uk they have wine starter kits on there that will produce 30 bottles and are about £50. If you have a weekend or two free it can be quite a nice hobby.

        With the added benefit of new skills learnt and cheap alcohol at the end!


        • theFIREstarter February 3, 2014, 8:25 am

          Cheers Dom, appreciate the link. I will bookmark it for a time when I have available space as I’m still living in a fairly small flat right now! (Hmmm maybe I could make room somewhere though :) )

          A friend of mine has been doing homebrewing for about a year, I have to say I thought the wine was pretty rank, but I am sure the results can vary, and I’ll give anything a crack once so it’s definitely worth a try!


  • bobwerner January 31, 2014, 6:48 am

    although we refer to wine as headache juice at my house, I do occasionally buy it. Walmart and other discount stores have a wide selection of wine available for $3 per bottle. if you’re a connoisseur try the Rex Goliath Merlot or cab. they are rated over 90 and often sell for $5 per bottle

    • Ellie January 31, 2014, 2:09 pm

      There are a couple of organic reds on the market that have no added sulfites. Trader Joe’s sells one for $6.99. Way less headache-inducing, at least for me.

  • Lucas January 31, 2014, 7:36 am

    I’m a huge winemaking fan. You can even do it without “equipment”. A packet of yeast and some sugar in some apple or grape juice from the store, some rubber hose (blowoff tube), and a few weeks time. Use the rubber hose to siphon it off the yeast when done into a new container, and then “bottle” and drink it from the container it came in. Bam. Alcohol. $1/bottle, or less. But be warned, it’s addictive, and you’ll want to better your processes, and then you’ll have a full-blown hobby. But, the great thing? Your expenses can pay for themselves as you use your product as gifts for folks, food to bring to parties and events, and etc…
    Mine started with a 1-gallon batch, and now I have 27 gallons in my basement!
    All bottles from the recycling center (5 cents each), and inexpensive ingredients. Yummy….Mango, Apple Cider, Jalepeno-Apple, Pear, Pumpkin, Fresh Apple, Hard Lemonade…

    • Mr. Frugal Toque January 31, 2014, 8:21 am


      • Mr. Frugal Toque January 31, 2014, 8:24 am

        I was hoping this would be a gateway hobby to better things.

        • Self-employed swami February 1, 2014, 9:07 am

          My husband actually took a part time job at the wine and beer supply store, to save on the costs of brewing even more (a 30% discount, and a wage of about $80/week to pay for more than we could ever drink ourselves!).

          In our basement we now have equipment for making:
          -Beer (both from kits and from grain brewing)
          -Apple/fruit cider (actually the cheapest to make, when you can pick apples from the neighbour’s overflowing trees in the fall)!

          It makes fantastic gifts, and with the help of Kijiji, cheap bottles and used equipment can be found for quite the discount (I got 20 dozen empty and cleaned wine bottles for $80 last summer, so we will be good for YEARS!). And in our province, we can legally have 400L of wine, 400L of beer, and 400L of the allowed spirits (so not moonshine, sadly).

          Mmmm. My husband also donates a great deal of items to his community theatre group’s bi-annual raffle fundraisers. His homebrew is often the most-desired auction item!

  • Sarah January 31, 2014, 7:44 am

    I go the much cheaper and more convenient route of making my own, mostly from grocery store juice. But I’m not a connoisseur, just a fan of the occasional buzz, so YMMV.

  • Tracy January 31, 2014, 7:51 am

    I started making my own wine about 15 years ago. The initial cost was about $100 for my winemaking kit and another $40 for the type of grape juice to make White Zinfandel. Over the next few years, I made several delicious bottles (merlot, chardonnay, etc.) at the cost of $1 a bottle. I sanitized old wine bottles and designed my own labels. I also ventured into making fruit wines from our own fresh fruit (pears, blackberries, peaches) and picked grapes at a friends vineyard. This is a great hobby. I had a small spare room that I used (a closet without carpet would work), which I no longer have. There are a few days when the juice starts fermenting, when you could smell the wine and hear the glug, glug, glug of the airlock. I kind of miss doing it, and I highly recommend it as a hobby!

    • Bob January 31, 2014, 8:42 am

      100% agree with Tracy! I’m a home winemaker for about almost 5 years now, brewing from widely available wine kits that cost anywhere from $60-$150 (each kit makes 30 bottles). It’s a fun hobby, I’ve produced more than 50 gallons of wine during this time, every single batch turns out just right. I’ve never had a failure and at a cost of about $3-$4 per bottle the price is a real value when you open a bottle and taste the results months (or years) later. If made correctly I’m convinced 99% of the general population cannot tell the difference between homemade wine from kits and a store bought wine of the same variety. And the results of the alcohol are identical!

      • Jake February 4, 2014, 7:01 am

        I make beer at home. It’s a fun hobby – but it sounds like wine is a bigger money saver. I can brew a beer that competes with a $40 case of beer for about $25 a case, so still a bit over a dollar a bottle. And it also makes very good gifts – I don’t drink enough to consume a 5 gallon batch before it starts to lose quality, so I share about half of what I make with friends. (I use kits – if you start with raw-grain, your price per case will drop about $5 a case for a 5% abv beer).

        • Bill December 4, 2015, 3:49 pm

          Wine is a huge moneysaver and much easier. The bottles are a buck or three total cost for what is a very good wine, and there is no boil. From a kit, you just add water and yeast, and the rest is moving wine around and bottle washing.

  • E. E. Took January 31, 2014, 8:15 am

    Extra points for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference!

  • Early Retirement Extreme January 31, 2014, 8:54 am

    I’ve been making my own wines for about $3 per gallon(!) for a couple of years now. Also meads although that’s gonna cost more like $6-7/gallon.

    Don’t restrict yourself to grapes. That’s so mundanely bourgeoisie ;)

    I make wines out of everything: potato, tomato, orange, apple, tea, coffee (you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted homemade coffee mead), ginger, … Almost any fruit or vegetable is possible. Just google for recipe, e.g. “potato wine recipe”.

    My favourite is potato. It tastes like candy and you can eat the potatoes because only the potato water goes in the primary fermenter. I call that a twofer.

    The equipment required is a food grade bucket as your primary. A 1 gallon glass jug as your secondary (you can buy those at WMT for $10 depending on location with wine in them. Drink the wine and keep the jug). Then you need a $1 air lock and a #6 drilled stopper. You also need about $5 worth of chemicals available from a brew store. If you buy by the pound it will be 10 times cheaper and you’ll have a lifetime supply. (Some chemicals last forever, others don’t).

    And you’re good to go.

    It’ll take about 2 months to finish a batch.

    • Jordan Read January 31, 2014, 10:01 am

      Coffee mead?
      I’m so doing this.

    • Elyse January 31, 2014, 11:02 am

      My favorite is blackberry.

      I love blackberries.

  • Three is Plenty January 31, 2014, 9:07 am

    Ontario has some awesome wineries! We brought back about 13 bottles when we visited Niagara on the Lake this September…
    I’ve been making my own wine at home from kits for the last 5-6 years. I tend towards the higher end kits at about $120-$150/kit $4-$5/bottle. Sometimes things go well, sometimes not. The wine is *always* decent to drink, but not as good as some of the cheaper wines available in the store (like Black Box). And should things go south, you can always make wine vinegar instead…

    The states aren’t much better about blue laws – I went to college in a “dry” county – everyone just drove across the county line to get their beer/wine/booze.

  • Matt January 31, 2014, 9:25 am

    Any idea how much further the cost could be taken down if you did it all at home? Bought the kit, made it in your basement, etc?

    I ask because my Dad recently passed away, but years ago he used to make his own wine and beer from the kits. I found all that equipment the other day and have been considering giving it a shot.

    • Carrie February 1, 2014, 6:15 am

      We make wine at home from kits. Costs about $60-$100 a kit for 36 bottles of very good wine. The kit is pretty much foolproof and the wine is equivalent to a $20 a bottle. Initial startup is about $75 unless you have your friends collect their used wine bottles for you (which we’d do).

      We make about 3-4 batches a year and share it with our family/friends/gifts and to trade for homemade beer and spirits other friends make. There are so many options you can easily do at home.

  • CJ January 31, 2014, 9:27 am

    Beer is my preference, but the savings are comparable to wine. After about $100 in capital costs, a five gallon batch of beer costs in the range of $30-$50. That works out to about five dollars per six pack. Plus, you earn the chance to think up novel brews, and tailor common styles to your exact tastes.

    Previous commenters have mentioned mead, and that is an underexplored area. There’s a batch of habanero mead ageing upstaris now, and I have plans in the works for jalapeno, rose, and cirtus-basil, for example. This is another case of Costco being exceptional value; their honey is not synthetic, very well filtered, tasty, and cheap. Just be sure to use a mead yeast, and not a campaign one.

    In short, homebrewing is an excellent way to unleash your hedonist without opening up your bank account.

  • Nina January 31, 2014, 10:21 am

    I grew up on the homemade/inexpensive stuff and now, like at least one of the other commenters, would rather not drink at all than drink homemade/cheap swill (acknowledging that through a rare stroke of luck one might occasionally get a batch that is a hidden gem). I have also grown to admire the knowledge, artistry, and amazing synergy of climate, soil and sun that makes for a well crafted wine/beer/other. I find it surprising that someone with an appreciation for quality and a dislike of crap would DIY using a process that short-circuits the knowledge and tradition of a process refined and passed on by generations of humans (and their earth and plants). I’ll take a single trappist ale every quarter over a 2-4 of home brew any day. And I don’t buy the “if alcohol is an acquired taste, then acquire a taste for the cheap stuff” argument. I googled “cheapest alcohol to make” and found this: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Kool-Aid-Wine. Do you really want to go there?

  • Prairie Practicality January 31, 2014, 10:22 am

    If you want to start making wine at home, get on Kijiji or Craig’s List. Where I’m from you can buy all the necessary stuff for cheap, I buy extra Carboys to make multiple batches. Like the pros I let my wines age, so it’s great to get a stockpile (right now there’s over 100 bottles waiting for me) and drink it when it peaks.

    My home wine from free fruit (I pick) comes in well under $1/bottle. I used kits when starting out, also a great option. Some I make to replace wine (fancy flavor profiles), some I make to replace wine coolers (sweeter and better for campfires). The good stuff becomes gifts, which essentially saves me from spending $10-20 as well.

  • Flannel Guy ROI January 31, 2014, 10:32 am

    I really like making mead (honey wine) to keep around the house. A few nice things about mead include:

    1. you can make your own honey to keep things natural and cheap (keep bees.. you could also sell excess honey and / or reserve it for culinary uses or give as gifts)

    2. you don’t need to boil or cook anything. just mix honey and water, throw in a handful of yeast (or let it ferment with wild yeast naturally available in the air).

    3. honey is naturally resistant to bacteria and fungi that can ruin other fermentations such as beer, so sanitation, while still really important, isn’t as big of a deal

    My best mead so far was a sparkling dry hopped apple cider / mead combo. I don’t know what the process is for cider (I just used TJ apple juice), but I would assume it isn’t that far off from mead, although pressing the apples might be harder and also the pre-fermented must might be a little more susceptible to bad microorganisms.

    Next mead on deck is a tulasi-infused (holy basil) blackberry honey mead. Crossing my fingers for a good flavor combo.

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 31, 2014, 10:54 am

      Wow Mr. Flannel, I am impressed with your ingenious combination of booze and culinary creativity. Bees are a great hobby too – truly local honey is the ultimate gift, and yet it is almost impossible to buy in most areas.

      • Elyse January 31, 2014, 12:34 pm

        In the Southeast, everyone is selling local honey.

        I love it because local honey helps with my allergies. And most of them will sell me some wax to make candles. The candles smell like honey naturally, so no artificial scents.

        Local bee keepers are awesome!

  • Tgod January 31, 2014, 11:29 am

    Great Timing! I’ve got 2 batches on the go at our local U-brew. One is the mid-grade 80$/box and the other is the other is a “finer” wine at $120/box for an average bottle price of 4.16 after including their fees. This was a well thought out Christmas gift from my hubby.
    I tried making wine at home as we have all the equipment for my husband’s beer making but after spending $300 on grape juice ( split with a friend) our red ended up going off, and turning into a carbonated beverage. We use it for cooking and my husband drinks it when my wine box is running low. The white has turned out ok, but not great. I am much more interested in having it done somewhere else and I just come and bottle it.
    I know some people might question the quality, but the range is pretty large, and you can get some great wines for $120 (I usually get 30 bottles for a batch). We did a Gewürztraminer for our wedding years ago and ended up having it sit for a year, it was amazing!!!!
    This is a great option for those of us in Canada where it can be next to impossible to find decent wines at less than 8$/bottle (and that is a sale price). I drink my wine out of boxes as a general rule and the best I can do for something that doesn’t make even me squirm is about 30$ for a 3L box.

  • Sister X January 31, 2014, 11:31 am

    My husband has been brewing his own beer for a couple of years too. It’s awesome. I’m not much of a drinker, and I especially don’t like beer, but I do appreciated that he gets a craft brew for the cost of a PBR.
    My MIL started making wine with her excess produce a couple of years ago. The first was rhubarb wine but she’s since expanded, and even made mead with some of the honey my BIL got from his bees.
    As for the people who are dissing 3-buck-chuck: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/23/wine-tasting-junk-science-analysis. Remember that taste is in part in your head. If you’re judging it based on cost, you’re fooling yourself. If you honestly can’t stand it, then to each their own but don’t insult everyone else by calling it “undrinkable” or “swill” or whatever.

  • Kenoryn January 31, 2014, 11:35 am

    I have this great book my mom found for me at a library sale called “Canadian Country Preserves and WInes”. It has recipes for wines, cordials, port, “melomels”, jams, jellies, teas, etc. from pretty much everything that grows in Canada. ;) Evidently it’s from a time when more people knew how to do this, because the recipes are pretty scant on actual instructions and quantities. But there are recipes for wine from blackberry leaves, clover, dandelion, goldenrod, hawthorn, rhubarb, maple, rosehips, rowanberry, sage, quince, parsley, and all the normal things like apples and blueberries as well.

  • Frugal Epecurean January 31, 2014, 11:41 am

    Interesting post. I started making wine in the mid 90s when the price per bottle was very high (and my net worth and savings were very low). I found that I had the best results with Barolo and Chardonnay — cabernets and pinots never quite came out as tasty. I also found that diluting the juice too much to bring the price-per-bottle down made undrinkable rinse water.

    In this decade wine prices seem to be down (at least in the states) and my net worth and income are up. Bota-Box is now my go-to. So my wine-making material was snagged by my college son who converted it to beer-brewing equipment.

    Mr. Flannel, I might try your mead experiement, if my bees survive this tough winter!

  • MikeW January 31, 2014, 11:41 am

    I tried making wine once with disastrous results – cough syrup would have been better. But having read the other comments, I clearly have to try it again. I didn’t have much money into it. The bottles were reused. We were in rural France about this time (mid-80s). Everyone there had a little shed where they stored their used bottles. I’m looking forward to another attempt!

  • Cindy January 31, 2014, 11:55 am

    I’m faulted with liking ridiculously sweet red wines, and lucky enough that most of the local wineries agree with my style. I can buy my favorite at most grocery stores for $6-7, although the winery is so close I’ve been thinking I really need to just stop by and buy a case, which would make it even cheaper. Bonus, I get to feel good about supporting a local small business.

  • Kevin January 31, 2014, 12:14 pm

    I used to work at a U-brew in BC. The great part about that job was the staff discount which was 50%. I got to try ALL the beer recipies and most of the wine types…. Sometimes I miss that job.

  • Val January 31, 2014, 12:20 pm

    My boyfriend brews mead, has been getting into it the past few years. Has some buckets rigged up with the things that let it remain mostly sealed but will let gas escape (I ought to know the word, but it’s escaping me). I’ve had a lot of fun tasting the various results. I’ve made it very clear that I’m very very approving of a relatively environmentally friendly, frugal, productive hobby.

    • Elyse January 31, 2014, 12:35 pm

      A tank with a relief valve?

      I don’t know if there is a specific word for it

      • backyardfeast January 31, 2014, 3:50 pm

        I think she means an airlock.

  • Erica January 31, 2014, 12:27 pm

    We have been making our own wine for a few years. First we started with Mead. It was very easy to make from local honey. We even tried an effervescent strawberry Mead. We served effervescent mead that we made at our wedding. In many cultures drinking Mead at a wedding is said to help the couple have a male heir (worked for us :)). Last year we were able to pick the leftover grapes from a local winery for free. Unfortunately the wine got some wild yeast and tasted terrible, but we learned so much. Our own grapes are still growing. We made a Pomegranate Zinfandel from a kit this year. The result is a totally drinkable wine that goes with almost any meal. I can’t wait to pick out another kit for wine this year. The best part about making wine is giving it as gifts to friends.

  • totoro January 31, 2014, 12:37 pm

    I’m interested in wine and mead-making.

    The thing is I really don’t enjoy all wines. I’ve read the studies on how wine tasting is bs and, generally, what they have found is that tasters can be off by four points on the same wine in different competitions. But some tasters are only off by 1 or 2 ever. And for those with wine training there is a positive correlation between price and enjoyment: http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/handle/37328

    There are some folks out there that are blessed or cursed with a more sensitive palate or they’ve had training. I have been to lots of wine tastings and events because of the area I’m from. I couldn’t use the crazy wine chat to describe wine (peppery blah blah blah) without cringing, but I certainly can distinguish between poorly finished wines and ones that have been done well. I can’t unlearn this.

    What I know for sure is that, while it doesn’t have to be expensive, some really inexpensive and home-made kit wines are unpalatable and undrinkable for me.

    If anyone with similar inclinations has a recommendation for a good red wine kit wine I’d appreciate if you could share it.

  • Ted in AZ January 31, 2014, 12:44 pm

    Hard cider, it can be bubbly or flat, sweet or dry, low to high alcohol content. Ridiculously easy and cheap to make. If you’ve done a lot of traveling over the US (don’t know about Canada), there are old apple orchards all over. They weren’t planted for eating the apples, but for making cider. Until the Germans came over in the mid 1800’s, bringing their own elixir of the Gods (beer), cider was America’s main drink, as the available water wasn’t always the safest to drink.

    To buy, hard cider is outrageously expensive. I’ve made it for family, but now my son, to save money brews it regularly and has tried many recipes and has been pleased to drink it all.

    • Frugal Fool January 31, 2014, 4:57 pm

      There are indeed plenty of abandoned apple orchards in Canada, as well, many on public land such as parks. Hint: look for streets, parks, and neighbourhoods that have “orchard” in their name, and go for a nice bike ride to scout for trees… they sometimes come by the name honestly. It’s really amazing once you start to look for trees, and even just a couple of nice trees will set you up for gallons of fun. I picked over a hundred pounds of apples this fall, and pressed over 20 gallons of juice. It makes a delicious cider, with lots of scope for experimentation. My set-up costs were $396, although a big chunk of that was $181 for a shiny new stainless steel 3/4 hp Insinkerator to pulp the apples.

      I made 122 750ml bottles of cider, so that’s $3.25 (Canadian!) per bottle But, every year from now on, my consumables costs are going to only be about $20. I also plan to scale up production a bit, so I’m looking at costs of less than 10 cents a bottle. It’s pretty time-consuming, but very fun.

      • Ted in AZ February 2, 2014, 12:57 pm

        We’re lazy. We just buy regular apple juice at the grocery and then apple concentrate if we want to add it to “up” the flavor and/or alcohol content. It’s not as inexpensive as your method and probably not as satisfying, but the apple orchards here in Tucson, Arizona, are a bit of a drive away (Wilcox is the biggest in the area), a 1 1/4 hour drive. And then we would still have to pay for the apples. It saves on equipment. All that is needed is the initial bucket, another one for clarifying and then we recycled the apple juice bottles, put in a teaspoon of concentrate to and pop ’em in the fridge, where they very slowly ferment a little more and become carbonated. Just gotta crack the lids occasionally, if you don’t drink them relatively quickly, but the cider will be carbonated.

  • Noonan January 31, 2014, 2:39 pm

    I’ve discovered a lot of great tasting boxed wines. I usually spend around $16 per three liter box, which works out to about $4 per bottle. Once opened, the wine keeps for a month in the fridge (an that’s about the time it takes for me to finish it).

    Costco picks solid values when it comes to both bottles and boxes, so I do most of my shopping there. When I’m buying boxes, I like the House Wine Cabernet and Black Box Merlot.

  • Diana January 31, 2014, 3:06 pm

    Great post! I did grow up in a similar fashion, where alcohol was not a big deal and we were given the opportunity to sample in very small quantities. As a result, I never got into drinking during my 20’s and early 30’s. Moving to TX made a big difference in that, as alcohol is a big part of socializing, but I still keep it in check and do it frugally.

    As a kid, my Dad had all the wine-making equipment and he actually made two barrels worth every year! We had some pretty impressive equipment that would take the grapes off the vines, and then a press to draw the grape juice out. In a similar vein, I also made tomato sauce w/my Mom, and Dad would sometimes make sausage or fermented olives. We truly had a fall harvest, and it was great!

    After Dad passed away, it didn’t make sense to make that much wine, but I really didn’t want my Mom to miss my Dad AND his wine, so I came across one of these partial DIY wine places. We used their services for a few years, filling up two 15 gallon glass containers at their facility and handling the fermentation and re-bottling at home. Your photos show that the process has become a bit more refined these days, I can’t tell you how many times I choked on wine as a kid b/c we used a more rudimentary siphoning process!

    Good memories, thanks for taking me back there. :)

  • Mrs Random January 31, 2014, 3:57 pm

    We have something similar down here in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. I’ve banded together with friends several times to buy a barrel at Rainsong Vinyards. We have a bottling party (and any needed instructions and education from the charming winemaker), followed by a potluck on their patio. We got to use all their equipment, and they were around to help with any hitches. It was a great way to get inexpensive bottles. I think one year it was a red table wine for something like $6 a bottle, then we did cabernet one year, and that was a bit more expensive, maybe $7 or $8. I liked that the bottles were unlabeled. We used some of them for gifts – we made up labels with pictures of the recipients, printed them out and glued them on. Fun all the way around. But a barrel is a lot of wine. You have to have enough friends that are interested to make it practical.

  • backyardfeast January 31, 2014, 4:01 pm

    Ok, I freely admit it. I’m a wine snob. And a foodie. And a locavore. And we love single malt scotch. So…ummm…we don’t save as much money as we could. But! We try and strike a balance around the usual quest: what is really worth spending money on?

    We grow lots of apples and hops. DH has a long history of homebrewing, and his passion is for beer. So the energy, time, space, and equipment at home goes to beer, which is so cheap it’s ridiculous.

    With our apples, we tried one year to do all the grinding and pressing and cidering ourselves, but it was a huge amount of work and time and didn’t produce the results we were hoping for. But we discovered that our local U-brew allows you to bring in your boxes of fruit, drop them off, and then come back and bottle as Mr Toque describes! For about $2/ 650ml bottle, that’s a winner.

    I LOVE my red wine, and as totoro says, I can taste the difference, and it ain’t about price. But with minimum pricing in Canada, a wine I will really enjoy is about $15/bottle. I’m ok with that–I just save it for special occasions, rather than everyday.

    Luckily, we also know other brewers and home winemakers, so all of this is amply supplemented by exchanges of cider and soap, etc for mead and blackberry wine.. we have the best of all possible worlds, I think!

    • totoro January 31, 2014, 4:28 pm

      What province are you in? I’m in BC but have never heard of being able to drop fruit off for bottling. I have access to lots of fruit…

      • backyardfeast February 1, 2014, 9:28 pm

        Hi Totoro,
        Our u-brew is in Duncan, on Vancouver Island: http://www.mcbarleys.com/

        I don’t know if all u-brews do fruit, but it would be worth calling around…it’s awesome!

        • totoro February 3, 2014, 3:02 pm

          Thanks – we are in Victoria which is close enough to this to work!

  • Rezdent January 31, 2014, 5:53 pm

    I urge you to give it another go (or more). I’ve been a home brewer now going on 20+ years.
    You’ll get a feel for it. I’ve made some beautiful wines over the years. I’ve made some not so great which come in handy for cooking. Mostly they were comparable to $10 – $15 retail wines.
    I’ve only made two that were awful; both times my own fault. I have made beer but its more complicated so wine gives me the best bang for the buck.
    Wine making can be incredibly low cost if you get creative. I had some neighbor whose primary fermenter was an old ice chest with a broken handle.
    And you can certainly make very good wines for under a dollar a bottle.

  • Rachel January 31, 2014, 5:59 pm

    “I was pleasantly surprised to find that the place was exactly what I expected”

    But how can you be surprised to find what you expected?

    • Mr. Frugal Toque February 1, 2014, 6:50 am

      I’m guessing that irony would be required.

  • Sol January 31, 2014, 6:03 pm

    I did a quick search and it appears that you guys don’t have Aldi in Colorado… Whenever opportunity presents itself, I’d love to see how you stack up Winking Owl wines from Aldi against your BotaBox wines!

  • Phil January 31, 2014, 6:15 pm

    We make our own fruit from seasonal organic fruit, grapes from a vineyard manager client of mine. We also use our own fruit, passion fruit and feijoa(a fruit only available in New Zealand) most of the time I wouldn’t know it wasn’t shop bought wine. My personal favourite is black currant followed closely by blueberry. When using our own fruit the cost is virtually nothing once you’ve invested in a few Demi-johns and air locks they truly are an investment.

  • Ann January 31, 2014, 9:15 pm

    If you’re into describing wines in terms of tannins, chocolate, fruit, leather, etc. check out Cinderellawine.com, https://www.invino.com/signup/?invite=9fc9f4964114756c0f729597799cfc83a439d2af and http://www.lastbottlewines.com/invite/923ee058328efd6fbd4961d43411b9faaf1f887f.html (DH’s referral link…the trade for him giving me the site) My DH has a very non-mustachian wine budget, but he typically gets really good (retail $40-60) bottles of wine for $10-$20.

  • Jen January 31, 2014, 11:09 pm

    We stay in Singapore, where alcohol cost an arm an a leg. Thus drinking here should really be done in moderation :) Cheap wine costs about $20 per bottle, don’t even know how much expensive ones do.
    To those here from Singapore- We found one good “cheap” wine. NTUC supermarket carries a cheap brand called “Naked Grape”, really nice and smooth. Regular price $20 (SGD$26), but every couple of months it goes on sale for $10 (SGD$13.80). That is the time we buy a case or two (order online). The price is simply unbelievable (for Singapore), and the taste is superb. Cheers!

  • Pamzarella February 1, 2014, 2:29 am

    I am a big fan of make your own wines and frequent a similar establishment in Ottawa. It is worth noting that not only do they taste great, but because of the lack of sulfites in home made wine the lovely hangover many of us experience after drinking wine is significantly reduced. Bonus!

  • DM February 1, 2014, 3:28 am

    Hi. Long-time follower of your fine blog, but a first time contributor. Interesting to see the Canadian take on what constitutes home winemaking ! Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that here in the UK – anyone making wine to be sold commercially in any form must continually monitor the fermentation process of each and every batch, and make advance stage payments of duty (tax) whenever particular alcohol content thresholds are reached. So at the end of the process, even if it’s subsequently bottled elsewhere, all the tax due has already been paid over and the producer would need to include these costs when selling it on. However, no such problems in making wine yourself from scratch for your own consumption….


    Keep up the good work and ignore the naysayers !

  • RetiredAt63 February 1, 2014, 6:49 am

    We grew up like Mr. Frugal Toque (in Quebec), small amounts of wine for special dinners, sips of parents’ drinks when they held a big party, enjoying the flavour instead of getting loaded. What a change in culture when I went to university in Ontario, the goal was to get drunk, not enjoy the flavours. Our age (late teens.early twenties) may have been a contributing factor ;-)

    My Dad made wine and beer at home – his red was the only red wine that didn’t give me headaches. He also made rhubarb wine and dandelion wine, both had very delicate flavours. Very nice, very labour intensive.

    He found the quality of the wine was directly related to first, the quality of the grape concentrates he bought, and second, how careful he was in the brewing. He also got better results once he had more experience, so those who are starting, it is like anything else, keep working on your skills.

    If anyone has enough of them, strawberries fermented like red grapes make a wonderful wine, there is a winery near St. Andre Avellin in Quebec that does this and it is amazing. Also pricey.

    Commentors from the US don’t seem to realize what cheap booze they have, just Google LCBO or SAQ and look at prices of things you can get at home. And be sure to be sitting down when you do this.

  • Bryce- Ottawa February 1, 2014, 7:58 am

    Hey Frugal Toque, I live in Ottawa and if I remember right you’re in the area. So, give up the goods. Where was this winery, and what, exactly did you make? My main barrier is fear of having a bunch of crappy wine so you’ve served as a taste-tester for me. I’ll look out for the details here, or in the forum if you prefer.


    • Mr. Frugal Toque February 4, 2014, 9:47 am

      Hi Bryce,
      We added a link to “The Wine Garden” in Kanata in the article.

  • Self-employed swami February 1, 2014, 8:53 am

    “As well, my grandfather ran rum into the United States during their Prohibition period, which is almost as good as having a pirate in your family.”

    My Great Grandfather was also a booze-runner during the prohibition for the mob (southern Manitoba was his turf). It is things like this, who make our family histories fun and entertaining.

    At the end of the prohibition, they expected him to start running drugs instead, but apparently that was where he drew the line.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque February 2, 2014, 1:33 pm

      Oddly, my grandfather drew the line at “figuring out what was in the trunk of the car he was driving.”
      As far as he knew, these “nice eye-talian guys” would give him $10 or $20 (a week’s pay? roughly?) to drive a car over the border into Buffalo. He would sit in the car while *something* was unloaded at a warehouse, then drive back and collect his pay.
      When one of his friends told him what he was doing, he told the gentlemen in the pin-stripe suit that he wasn’t going to drive for them anymore. Seeing the guilty, anxious look on his face, they agreed that he was done running rum.

      • Bryce- Ottawa February 3, 2014, 8:22 am

        Hey Frugal Toque, are you up for sharing the location of your wine-maker and the actual type of wine you made. It would take a lot of the guess work out for me in trying this out.


  • David McKenna February 1, 2014, 9:07 am

    Mr. Tuque, great article. Definitely a way around taxation. How have you find the shelf life of your home made wine? In my house 48 bottles of wine will last a long time, and I’d be worried some home made wine may not last until I get to the later bottles.

    Another taxation option, is to only drink duty free. If you’re fortunate enough to have friends visit regularly from the US, they can bring in liquor, which doesn’t go bad, and has many equivalent servings.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque February 3, 2014, 8:51 am

      As a wedding gift some 14 years ago, my parents made two large batches of wine for us.
      We had one of those bottles on our 10th anniversary and found it to still be quite good.
      There are 3 or 4 such bottles still left in our cold cellar. We’ll have to see.
      As for the stuff we just made, it’s only been 2 months, so I can’t really comment on the longevity of the stuff.

  • Captain Mike February 1, 2014, 9:42 am

    The wise words of a bartender always help me in my purchasing decisions of wine….”does a $90 bottle of wine really taste TEN times better then a $9 bottle?”

  • phred February 1, 2014, 11:15 am

    Won’t that chronic daily dose of alcohol eventually give you oral cancer?


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