65-year-old Orestes Estevez, a winemaker from Havana, Cuba, has come up with a very ingenious use for latex condoms. He places them over large jars of grape and fruit juice and they let him know exactly when the fermentation process is completed.
Condoms are very popular in Cuba, but not just as a contraception method. Years of international embargo and low income have forced many Cubans to make due with whatever products they had access to. Last year, we wrote about Havana’s “balloon fishermen” who use inflated condoms as cheap lures that carry their lines far into the ocean to catch expensive fish like red snapper, barracuda and tarpon without having to leave the shore. Today, we learn about a wine maker who uses them to perfect the fermentation process of his wine.
Orestes Estevez has been making wine for a long time, but he only opened his winery, “El Canal”, in 2000, when the Communist regime made private enterprises legal. He uses Cuban grapes with all kinds of tropical fruits and vegetables thrown in for added flavoring to make a cheap yet delicious alternative to imported wines. With the average monthly income in Cuba standing at around $25, few people can afford to pay half that much for a bottle of foreign wine, so at 10 pesos (¢40) per bottle, Orestes’ wine is a popular alternative.
Estevez and his family tend to about 300 large jugs of wine at all times, and they can be seen lined up on shelves or on the floor all around their house. But what rally draws people’s attention are the condoms sealing the neck of these five-gallon containers. They are a cheap alternative to the valves and sensors used by most wineries to release gases and monitor the fermentation process.
The condoms slowly inflate as the grape juice and fruits start to ferment and produce gases. When they become firm and full of gas, Orestes punches a few small holes with a needle to allow the slow release of gas, and when the condom stops inflating and falls, he knows that the wine is ready for bottling.
“Putting a condom on a bottle is just like with a man,” Estevez recently told the Associated Press. “It stands up, the wine is ready, and then the process is completed.”