Living in the Land of Israel, we see vineyards everywhere. I have long harbored a secret desire to have a vineyard of my own, to harvest the grapes annually and make my own wine.

Meanwhile I live in an apartment in the city with no vineyard to my name. This has not thwarted my long-held interest in making my own wine. Yet there were three main obstacles:

  1. I have no wine grapes
  2. I have no equipment
  3. I don’t know how to make wine

If you are also feeling stuck on those obstacles, this post will show you you can do it nevertheless. Next Shabbos you could be drinking your own homemade red wine!

Right now is the perfect season to do it!

Obstacle #1: I have no wine grapes

This year is shmitta and everywhere you drive around Israel countryside, you will see yellow Shmitta signs flapping on agricultural fences, including those surrounding vineyards.

Yellow shmitta sign on the gate of the vineyard we picked

This means that the farmer is keeping Shmitta and has acknowledged that the fruit of his vineyard is hefker this year – ownerless and free for anyone to take.

Guidelines for picking grapes on Shmitta

These Cabernet Franc wine grapes were just begging us to pick them

The vineyard we picked was located in the Shomron. We did not get permission as the owner is overseas. However, other people told us that he was happy for anyone to pick this year, as he was not harvesting at all. We have heard of several vineyards where the farmers are not picking and hobbyists are having a great time.

Wine grapes are coming into season now and will be in season through most of September. If you just want to make a small batch to give you wine for the next few weeks, 10 kg of grapes will be plenty. That will take you and a friend under an hour to pick.

Happy picking!

Update for 2023: It’s no longer shmitta. This year we will buy wine grapes or pick the leftovers (with permission) from vineyards that have already been machine picked.

Obstacle #2: I have no equipment

You do need some equipment to make wine. There are business that sell these supplies in Israel. If you don’t have time to schlep immediately or wait for your delivery to arrive, this is the bare bones list of what you need to start immediately.

We crushed our grapes and fermented them in a large plastic vat purchased from a wine-making supply shop near Petach Tikva.

As for the buckets, buy them at a catering supplier or rescue them from the waste of restaurants. If you just want to make a small batch, one bucket will suffice.

With these three things, you can have your own, homemade dry red wine by next Shabbos.

if you want to make a year’s supply and age it to make higher quality, long-lasting wine, in a few weeks you will also need 2 glass carboys. But you have some time to organize that.

The important thing is to pick the grapes ASAP!

Obstacle #3: I don’t know how to make wine

Here’s something amazing I discovered from actually doing it: winemaking is a natural process. It happens on its own when grape juice comes in contact with the outside of a grape’s skin. That’s how our ancestors did it, starting with Noach after the flood.

Of course, if you want to make wine that resembles the kind that our taste buds have gotten accustomed to from a life-time of buying the stuff in the store, there is a learning curve.

There are literally dozens of way to make wine but I am keeping it super simple. IN this information age, anyone can learn the basics in an hour from the comfort of the their sofa. Read a few how-to blog posts and watch a few how-to videos.

But one word of warning: stick to the simplest possible methods.

There are plenty of experts who make winemaking extremely complicated. For your first time, keep to the simple backyard guides.

We are a week into the process and our wine is already drinkable. If fact, we removed some from the barrel to use for Kiddush this Shabbos. It tastes quite a lot like the “real thing” already. I am no wine connoisseur but my more knowledgeable sister tasted it and she pronounced that “it has potential.”

This is how our wine looks today. We removed some from the vat to use for Shabbos. A week after we picked the grapes, it tastes like reasonable red wine. The grapes you see in this photo are regular table grapes from the supermarket, used just to make the photo look pretty.

Making Wine is Fun and Rewarding

This is our first time and we don’t really know what to expect, but for me that is part of the fun. We are skipping lots of common practices and keeping it barebones, because that’s what feels doable.

We are not adding oak chips. We are not worrying about pH levels or malolactic fermentation. And we are not stressing about temperature control.

Will the wine turn out well? I don’t know. I’ll write another update later and let you know.

Soon we will rack it into carboys and let it age for a few months. Hopefully by the time the wine drinking seasons of Purim and Pesach arrive, it will be a good drop to share with friends.

Let me know how yours turns out!


Update from After Shabbos:

My husband and I really enjoyed the wine on Shabbos. It tastes like a good dry red but lacks the really full mouthy body that characterizes what wine-lovers call a “big red.” Apparently that comes with the aging process, which we had planned to begin soon.

However, my husband and I agreed that we like this lighter wine better than regular professionally produces red wine, even the pricey stuff.

Update from Six Months Later:

We have racked and bottled our wine. We’re still enjoying drinking it very much!

I have meanwhile graduated the WSET Level 2 Wine Course. As part of that, some of Israel’s top wine experts tasted my homemade wine and I got very positive feedback BH!

Read about my WSET Experience and What the Wine Pros said About my Wine

I am amazed by how enjoyable both the results and process have been. Winemaking is a extraordinarily rewarding and satisfyingly city farming adventure that I highly recommend you try too!

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