Home Winemakers

The Latin word 'amateur' means 'lover' and originally referred to those who chose to do something out of the love of doing it, rather than for the profit. These people were regarded as the highest experts because they honed their craft motivated by joy rather than profit.

Even though professional wine makers still imbue their work with passion and skill, amateurs can often approach similar results with the assistance of modern technology and the knowledge that has been passed down over many generations.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, fermentation biochemistry was not well understood. However, the process has been used for over 5,000 years. If left alone a wine grape would ripen until the skin ruptured and the juice fermented naturally. The process is today guided by art and science.

Grapes are harvested and then put into a press where they are turned into must, a mixture of skin pulp and juice. Both natural (found on the skin, near the stem) and added yeast interacts with the sugars in the juice and produces ethanol (alcohol), carbon dioxide and heat. This process continues until all sugars are reacted or the yeast is killed by the buildup of the reaction products.

The process in now tightly controlled to produce just the desired result, thanks to Pasteur. Juice concentrates can be purchased for a modest cost, for those that are not fortunate enough to have a vineyard close by.

Sugar, acids, yeast and nutrients (to assist the yeast) must be added to a container (a carboy or jug) and allowed to sit idle for 3-10 days at 75F (24C).

Specific recipes available with concentrate will give amounts and details. Strain the liquid from the pulp and allow it to ferment at 65F (18C) for several weeks until the bubbling halts. Then siphon off sediments (lees) and store the bottles on their sides at 55F (13C) for six months (white) to a year (red) before tasting.

This sounds much easier than it is, however it is not beyond the dedicated amateur's ability. The process should be monitored and occasionally adjusted daily. This has been made easier by inexpensive refractometer to measure sugar concentrations, hydrometers, thermometers, temperature controlled cabinets and many other items.

It is less expensive than the average photography fanatic's budget and provides equally pleasurable results.

There is no surprise in the fact that much can go wrong while nature takes its course. Fermentation can fail to start or cease prematurely, the output can bee too sweet or hazy and full of sediment. It could contain too much pectin, bacteria; have a flat, sulphurous, or moldy taste. Crystals can form from storing too cold and secondary fermentation can result from storing too warm. Sometimes these are deliberate.

There are hundreds of websites devoted to helping the eager amateur vintner in producing wines that rival the masters, thanks to the Internet. It is only necessary to practice for about 100 years.

Bonne chance!

Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.

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