Are Kit Wines Really Wine?

There are Wines and then there are Kit Wines

I’ve had more than a few conversations recently about wines made from fresh grapes (production wines made at a winery) and wines made from kits (kit wines). There have been somewhat disparaging remarks from both sides about the other and I wanted to offer my thoughts on this topic.

We in BC, while hearing about the local wine industry here for the better part of 2 decades now, have also had the ability to make our own wine fairly easily at u-brews (or u-vins, call them what you will). We’ve been lucky in that respect as some other provinces do not allow businesses like that at all. Kits in those provinces (like ones that rhyme with ‘banitoba’) have to be made at home only instead of at a u-brew where the kit will be made professionally and with far more consistency than could possibly be done at home.

But, is it really ‘wine’?

My first wine job in the ‘wine’ industry was at one of these u-brews, first as a production guy and then as customer service / assistant manager. It was supposedly the second largest one in the lower mainland and could comfortably cruise at producing 120 wine 6-week kits per week. It was not uncommon to see 170 kits on the order form in a given week either. We had capacity and well-designed production layout that used every cubic inch of space in that store right up to the ceiling. We fermented on the highest shelf where it was warmer, racked to the shelf below, racked again and fined to carboys from there, and then filtered to .45 microns with a mobile cartridge filter machine. Then it was ready for the customers to bottle.

There were also added conveniences for customers that included 4 bottling stations, 2 bottle washing machines (a 30- and 60-bottle washers), and pressurized filling station for beer, ciders, and sparkling wines. When it was busy, it was really hopping. Customers had a great time with conversations between the stations and many bottles were shared and traded. It was great fun for me, especially when I got into sales, because most of the customers seemed to be as interested in wine as I was.

Up to a point.

All of the customers there generally enjoyed ‘wine’ (as a general concept) to some degree. Some were more adventurous than others but for the most part, ‘wine’ played a significant part in their daily (or at least weekly) lives. They probably all had wine glasses at home and were familiar with using a corkscrew on a regular basis. ‘Wine’ was not a foreboding or mysterious beverage that was inaccessible to them.

By 2005, I had begun to take my wine studying seriously and made the decision to enter the wine industry somehow. Working at the u-brew was my entrance which coincided with studying the first 3 levels of WSET. I had only really been drinking ‘wine’ regularly since 2000, sharing kits with my father-in-law and buying wines now and then from our local store when finances allowed. The more wines that we purchased, the more that I noticed a difference between kit wines and production wines.

So what’s the difference with kit wine and ‘regular’ wine?

In my mind, they are two different drinks in the same way that fresh-squeezed, not-from-concentrate, premium orange juice is different than orange Kool-Aid. Both are orange colored, refreshing juice drinks but are meant for different uses. Kool-Aid is more geared towards kids and is, if you’re into the drink crystal thing, a great drink to have on a hot day in the summer. I have many memories drinking it as a kid during the summers.

Premium orange juice is more expensive, is far more nutritious (although really it doesn’t take much to beat out Kool-Aid), healthier, and more natural than drink crystals could ever be. It tastes wildly different than the drink crystal version and yet both have “orange” as the flavor listed on the package. Premium orange juice tastes great in the morning with breakfast. Drink-crystal juice is great on hot days in the summer. 2 different uses, same “orange” on the package.

That’s the difference that I see between kit wines and production wines. One of them is made straight from the fruit and the other is highly processed. One isn’t inherently better than the other in any measurable qualitative way (there’s no accounting for taste), they’re just different. Which is why I would like to see kit wines labeled as something else other than as “wine” – maybe “wine product” (like cheese slices are labeled “cheese product” instead of as “cheese”).

Of course there are people (from both sides) who strongly prefer one over the other and will vocally proclaim the superiority of their ‘wine’ of choice. I’ve had great wines and duds from both kits and production wineries. In my mind, whatever it is that gets corks popping and wine glasses clinking, bring it to the table and let’s all enjoy.

For myself, I know what the kit wine world is fully capable of and at one point it was part of my life. Things have changed for me though now and I prefer production wines over kits. It’s not a financial thing – I still don’t make much more than I did then (see “Generation X”) – but I prefer things that are less processed. Wine kits have had a lot more processing than production wines, which I believe reduces their health benefits somewhat (although I haven’t researched that – feel free to find some sources for me if you’d like).

The bickering back and forth between camps is not constructive. I believe that if wine glasses are on the table, then both sides should be thanked for bringing ‘wine’ to the table. Kit wines offer an accessible way of getting into the world of wine.

Cheers to whatever is in your glass tonight.

~Luke

2 thoughts on “Are Kit Wines Really Wine?

  1. Thanks for the insightful information. I don’t know anything about kit wines myself and have always felt I should leave the wine making to the professionals, but I’ve been curious about the story of all these wine kit stores. It’s nice to hear from someone who’s actually worked there. Cheers!

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