Cuba is known for rum and cigars, not wine. But one Cuban winemaker is making wine his life work, and he’s making it happen using what’s at hand: condoms, tropical flavors, and Cuban grapes.
Orestes Estevez and his family make 6,000 liters of wine a year at the “El Canal” winery without traditional winemaking tools, the Associated Press reports. Since opening in 2000, the winery has produced flavors ranging from guava, to beet, to ginger and hibiscus.
The U.S.’s decades long trade embargo with Cuba kept the tools normally used in wine production out of the island nation, so Estevez uses what he can find. Five gallon jugs take the place of large steel fermenters, and condoms take the place of airlocks, the traditional tool used to tell when wine is fermenting.
“Putting a condom on a bottle is just like with a man,” Estevez told the AP. “It stands up, the wine is ready, and then the process is completed.”
How it works
As the juice inside the 5-gallon jug ferments, carbon dioxide is released. That CO2 pushes itself up out of the jug and into the condom, causing it to inflate. A small pin-sized hole in the condom keeps it from getting so big it pops. When the condom goes limp, the fermentation is complete.
The condom serves other purposes as well. Mainly, it keeps the wine safe from the world outside the condom. It keeps flies and other creatures out of the jugs of wine. It also keeps oxygen from going into the jug and oxidizing the wine. Many home winemaking blogs suggest using balloons, which serve a similar purpose. From personal experience, the balloon method can leave a bit of a rubbery taste. Perhaps Estevez’s condoms avoid that, though it might just add a latex flavor.
Airlocks are just like fancy wine jug condoms. Airlocks are “s” shaped pieces of plastic that are partially filled with water. The water keeps oxygen and bugs from getting in the wine while letting oxygen out. They aren’t expensive, but they’re many times more expensive than a condom. And when you’re selling wine for around 0.40 cents like Estevez is, every penny counts.