The cheese-making process produces a lot of whey as a by-product — whey being a watery, yellowish-green liquid. For most of history, cheese makers simply threw out the whey, usually in the nearest river. But eventually the cheese industry began to wonder if there was anything they could do with it to make some extra money.
One possibility was to dehydrate it into a protein powder that could be fed to livestock, or bodybuilders. But in the mid-1970s, researchers at Oregon State University hit upon a potentially more lucrative use: making wine out of whey. They detailed their study in a pamphlet titled “Utilization of Cheese Whey for Wine Production.”
The reason this was possible is because the lactose in whey will ferment, if one uses the right microorganisms. The end result was a whey wine that, according to the researchers, "was acceptable to a great majority of tasters, who preferred it slightly sweet.” Which doesn't sound exactly like a glowing recommendation. Nevertheless, the researchers were enthusiastic about the potential of whey wine:
The U.S. cheese industry is in most urgent need of a development of whey by-product that would not encompass relatively expensive processes for water removal. The fermentation of sugar-fortified whey by selected wine yeast and the production of an acceptable whey wine may represent a “near ideal” solution for the whey disposal and utilization dilemma of the U.S. cheese industry. The production of an acceptable wine by whey fermentation may be the means of transposing a “cost of doing business” into a “profit opportunity.”
It doesn't seem that their dream of raking in the big bucks with whey wine ever panned out. The idea of whey-based alcohol products is still kicking around, however. Various gins and vodkas made from whey can be found, such as Bertha's Revenge Irish Milk Gin
or Sheep Whey Gin
. But I can't find any wines being made from whey.
There's more info about whey-based spirits at SevenFifty.com
, and here's an article about an effort to make whey beer.