This past Saturday, my husband and I took a wine making class at Old Sturbridge Village. We've been wanting to make wine for a long time, and so when news about the class popped up this summer, just as my parents were asking me what I wanted for my birthday, we jumped on it.
On the surface, wine making is pretty simple. You can pretty much turn anything into wine - fruit, vegetables, stinky athletic socks, whatever. All you need is water, sugar, fruit (I'm skipping the sweat socks myself, your mileage may vary) and yeast. A food-grade plastic bucket to ferment it in, a few sterilized glass bottles to rack it in, and food-grade tubing to siphon it with. Listerine makes for a great sterilizing agent for your corks and tubing and that sort of thing. Rubber gaskets and corks may be the most expensive part of the deal, and those can be reused, albeit carefully. The bucket can be gotten for the asking from a local restaurant. Glass bottles can be picked up at a recycling center. If you plan to strain your ingredients, bleach an old pillow case.
Wine making can be dead cheap. Well, okay, unless you want to make really good wine, then it can get more complicated, and potentially more expensive. But you can make some pretty good stuff with a minimum of cost and effort. After all, people have been making wine for thousands of years before you could have frozen grapes shipped from Napa or before a hydrometer was even invented.
Which brings me to my philosophy around hobbies. The modern approach to hobbying seems to be an expensive one. Take biking, or skiing. Buy expensive, brand-new bike or skis. Buy matching gear and single-purpose footwear (bike shoes that clip in, say, or $300 ski boots). Then go out and play, after an investment of considerable money. By then, of course, playing is serious business. After all, look at what you have spent!
My personal opinion is that approach is backwards. First decide if you like to do something, having made the most minimal investment possible, then put your money into it. Let's take that biking example again. Borrow, buy on CraigsList, or find on sale an inexpensive bike. Buy a helmet, since spending $30 is worth not spending your remaining days as a drooling vegetable. Put on some old sneakers and go for a ride. Enjoy.
Love it? Fine, invest. Padded bike shorts definitely make long rides more pleasant. Better, lighter bikes are much faster and easier to lug around, and you'll offset the cost by reselling your old bike anyway. Hate it? Resell your cheap stuff and make your money back.
You may not look as fancy, but that isn't the point of a hobby. The point is to take up something you enjoy. I can't tell you how many good sets of golf clubs I see at yard sales for a fraction of the cost, after spending a few years gathering dust in the owner's basement.
Try it first. Decide if you like it. Then spend your money. Chances are you'll make better decisions about what to buy anyway.