The Myth of Non-Alcoholic Wine
Wait a minute! Of course there's non-alcoholic wine, we've all seen it in our grocery stores, plus there's the ever popular Welch's grape juice that many churches use for communion. There is no disputing the fact of non-alcoholic wine existing today. The question is; when did we first get non-alcoholic wine and grape juice? The answer comes as surprise to many people raised in churches that have said that all alcoholic beverages are evil or that Jesus only drank non-alcoholic wine.
Until 1869 there was no such thing as non-alcoholic wine or grape juice apart from drinking it the very day it was squeezed. Until that time and actually for a number of years afterward, every church that celebrated communion (or the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist) used alcoholic wine. It was the only thing available! To understand why, we need to take a few minutes to consider how wine comes about (or is made).
When grapes are crushed the resultant grape juice is, at the moment, true grape juice. Unless it is processed in a special manner that was invented in 1869, the grape juice almost immediately begins a natural process of fermentation.
Fermentation happens rapidly, caused by natural yeasts in the environment. In modern settings, specific yeasts are often introduced to enhance flavor. In fact, some natural yeast can introduce distinctly undesirable flavors. In theory, in a perfectly sterile environment the grape juice would not ferment. In practice the grapes themselves are covered with these yeasts and sometimes other contaminants (some that can even ruin the wine). Regardless, in ancient times, the stone or wooden vats and buildings would easily have had everything necessary to start the process of fermentation.
Wine Presses: Many of the ancient wine presses remain to the present day. Ordinarily they consisted of two rectangular or circular excavations, hewn (Isaiah 5:2) in the solid rock to a depth of 2 or 3 feet. Where possible one was always higher than the other and they were connected by a pipe or channel. Their size, of course, varied greatly, but the upper vat was always wider and shallower than the lower and was the press proper, into which the grapes were thrown, to be crushed by the feet of the treaders (Isaiah 63:1-3, etc.). The juice flowed down through the pipe into the lower vat, from which it was removed into jars (Haggai 2:16) or where it was allowed to remain during the first fermentation. (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia)
For emphasis, it must be again noted that the freshly pressed grape juice begins the process of fermentation almost immediately. The process is that of the yeast converting the sugar into alcohol. In modern settings winemakers have ways of stopping the fermentation process to make the wine sweeter if desired. During ancient times the process would continue until the sugars were consumed.
Fermentation: In the climate of Palestine fermentation begins almost immediately, frequently on the same day for juice pressed out in the morning, but never later than the next day. At first a slight foam appears on the surface of the liquid, and from that moment, according to Jewish tradition, it is liable to the wine-tithe (Ma`aseroth 1:7). The action rapidly becomes more violent, and while it is in progress the liquid must be kept in jars or in a vat, for it would burst even the newest and strongest of wine-skins (Job 32:19). Within about a week this violent fermentation subsides, and the wine is transferred to other jars or strong wine-skins (Mark 2:22 and parallel's), in which it undergoes the secondary fermentation. ... At the end of 40 days it was regarded as properly "wine" and could be offered as a drink offering (`Edhuyyoth 6:1). (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia)
Drinking the wine at earlier points would have meant that it would have less alcoholic content, but after the secondary fermentation was complete, there would be little change in alcoholic content. Modern wines (excluding those that are fortified, meaning they have extra alcohol added) vary from 8-14% alcohol. As fermentation stops when the sugar level drops below 0.1%, the alcohol content is dependant on the sugar content of the grapes. Grapes grown in different areas, and different types of grapes, will yield varying alcoholic content.http://www.bibleistrue.com/qna/qnadrink.htm#NonAlcoholic