Ask Wine Wizard

Can you make wine out of anything?


Sharon Freed — Omena, Michigan asks,

Though most of us think “grapes” when we think wine, I live in Michigan and can’t help but notice that wineries out here make wine out of a lot of other fruits, like cherries and peaches. I’ve even heard of dandelion wine and wine made from grass clippings — can you make wine out of anything?

A dear professor of mine in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at University of California at Davis used to say, while pointing down at his wooden podium, “Technically, you can ferment anything, even this tabletop here.” Smirking slightly he added, “Provided you can find the right micro-organism to do it.” What Dr. Kunkee was trying to point out was that while none of us would try to make a drinkable wine out of wood, there are certainly micro-organisms out there that can use some of the carbohydrates in wood (and almost anything else) as an energy source. These microbes might not be able to survive on wood alone and they might have a really complicated enzymatic pathway that allows them to break down the wood into useable bits. However, given the right conditions and the right organism, it just might be possible to technically “ferment” wood (or dandelions, grass clippings or elderberries for that matter). This is an example of the academic definition of “fermentation”, which sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of everyday winespeak. Talk to a knowledgeable
Response by Alison Crowe.