Home Winemakers Are No Longer Amateurs

In the days of Ancient Rome the word 'amateur' meant 'lover' and was used to refer to somebody who engaged in something out of the love of doing it, instead of for any financial gain. These people were considered to be the highest of experts because they honed their craft motivated by simple joy for their work.

Although wine professionals still fill their work with passion and skill, amateurs, assisted by knowledge passed down over the centuries and modern technology, can often now produce similar results.

The chemistry behind the fermentation process was poorly understood until the start of the last century but, nevertheless, the basic process of fermentation has been used for over 5,000 years. Left alone a wine grape will ripen happily until its skin ruptures and the juice naturally ferments by itself. Nowadays, however, this process is guided with a mixture of art and science.

Harvested grapes are put into a press in which they are turned into must which is a mixture of skin, juice and pulp. Natural yeast (which is found on the skin close to the stem) and added yeast reacts with the sugars in the juice and produces alcohol (ethanol), carbon dioxide and heat. This process will continue until the sugars are exhausted or the yeast is killed by the products of the reaction.

As a result of the work of Pasteur and other scientists we are now able to tightly control the process to produce just the result we want. For those people who are not lucky enough to have a vineyard handy, wine juice concentrates can now be purchased relatively cheaply.

Merely add yeasts, acids, sugars and nutrients (to feed the yeast) to a container like a carboy or other jug and let the mixture sit for several at about 75 degrees fahrenheit (24 degrees centigrade). Specific recipes are often provided with the concentrated wine juice which give specific amounts and fermentation details.

After a few days, siphon the liquid from the pulp and let it ferment at about 65 degrees fahrenheit (18 degrees centigrade) for a few weeks until bubbling (gas production) stops. Then, siphon the wine from the sediments (lees) and store the bottles on their sides at 55 degrees fahrenheit (13 degrees centigrade) for six months for white wine and up to twelve months for red wine before tasting.

Of course, it sounds simpler than it is in reality but it is most certainly not beyond the dedicated amateur's ability. Today, the process is closely monitored and often adjusted daily and, thanks to inexpensive refractometers to measure sugar concentrations, hydrometers, thermometers, temperature controlled cabinets and a range of other items the job is a lot simpler than it used to be.

Of course things sometimes go wrong as nature takes its course. Fermentation might not begin, it may begin and then mysteriously stop prematurely, the resulting wine might be excessively sweet or cloudy or filled with sediments. The wine may have too much 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 at too high a temperature.

Even so, due in no small measure to the Internet, there are now numerous websites devoted to helping the amateur winemaker to produce wines that can rival those made by the wine masters. All it needs is a bit of practice.

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About The Author, Donald Saunders
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