The days of home winemakers as amateurs are a thing of the past
In the days of Ancient Rome 'amateur' meant 'lover' and was used to refer to somebody who did something from a love of doing it, rather than for any financial gain. Such people were thought of as the finest of experts because they honed their craft motivated by mere joy for their work.
Despite the fact that wine professionals continue to imbue their work with passion and skill, amateurs, assisted by modern technology and knowledge passed down over generations, can generally now produce similar results.
The chemistry of the fermentation process was poorly understood until the start of the last century but, even so, the process of fermentation has been used for more than 5,000 years. Left unattended a wine grape will ripen until its skin splits and the juice naturally ferments by itself. Now, however, this process is controlled with a mixture of science and art.
Grapes are placed in a press where they are turned into must which is a mixture of juice, pulp and skin. Natural yeast (found on the skin near the stem) and added yeast reacts with the sugars in the juice to produce alcohol (ethanol), carbon dioxide and heat. This process will continue until the sugars are depleted or the yeast is killed by the reaction.
Because of work carried out by Pasteur and others we are now able to tightly control the process to produce exactly the result we wish for. For those people who are not fortunate enough to have a vineyard close to hand, wine juice concentrates can now be purchased reasonably cheaply.
Simply add acids, yeats, sugars and nutrients (to feed the yeast) to a suitable container such as a carboy or other jug and allow the mixture to sit for several at around 75 degrees fahrenheit (24 degrees centigrade). Specific recipes are normally provided with the concentrated wine juice which give specific quantities and details of how to ferment the wine.
After several days, siphon the liquid from the pulp and permit it to ferment at about 65 degrees fahrenheit (18 degrees centigrade) for several weeks until gas production (bubbling) ceases. Then, siphon the wine off the sediments (lees) and store the bottles on their sides at 55 degrees fahrenheit (13 degrees centigrade) for six months in the case of white wine and up to twelve months for red wine before tasting.
Of course, it sounds simpler than it is but it is most certainly not beyond the dedicated amateur's ability. Today, the process is closely monitored and sometimes adjusted on a daily basis and, thanks to cheap refractometers to measure the concentration of sugar, thermometers, hydrometers, temperature controlled cabinets and various other items the job is a lot easier than it used to be.
Of course things can and do go wrong as nature takes its course. Fermentation may not begin, it may begin and then stop prematurely, the resulting wine may be excessively sweet or hazy or full of sediments. The wine may have excess pectin, too many bacteria, taste sulphurous or flat or even moldy. Crystals can form if the temperature is not high enough or secondary fermentation can result from storing the wine too hot.
Nevertheless, thanks in no small measure to the Internet, there are now several websites devoted to assisting the amateur winemaker to produce wines that can rival those made by the wine masters. The only thing that it needs is a bit of practice.
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