In the days of Ancient Rome 'amateur' meant 'lover' and referred to an individual who engaged in something out of the love of doing it, instead of for any financial gain. Such individuals were thought of as the highest of experts because they honed their craft motivated by mere joy for their work. Despite the fact that professional winemakers continue to fill their work with skill and passion, amateurs, with the help of knowledge passed down over the centuries and modern technology, can sometimes now produce similar results.
The chemistry behind the fermentation process was not well understood until the start of the 20th century but, nevertheless, the process of fermentation has been used for more than 5,000 years. Left alone a wine grape will ripen until its skin ruptures and the juice ferments naturally. Nowadays, however, this process is controlled by a combination of science and art.
Harvested grapes are placed in a press where they are turned into must which is a mixture of juice, skin and pulp. Natural yeast (found on the skin near the stem) and additional yeast interacts with the sugars in the juice to produce alcohol (ethanol), carbon dioxide and heat. This process will continue until the sugars are exhausted or the yeast is killed by the reaction. As a result of the work of Pasteur and other scientists we are now able to tightly control the process to produce precisely the result we want. For those people who are not lucky enough to have their own vineyard close to hand, concentrated wine juice can now be purchased fairly cheaply.
Simply add acids, sugars, yeasts and nutrients (to feed the yeast) to a suitable container such as a carboy or other jug and allow the mixture to sit for a few days at around 75 degrees fahrenheit (24 degrees centigrade). Specific recipes are normally provided with the wine juice concentrate which give specific amounts and fermentation details. After several days, siphon the liquid off the pulp and allow it to ferment at about 65 degrees fahrenheit (18 degrees centigrade) for a few weeks until gas production (bubbling) stops.
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 for white wine and up to a year for red wine before tasting. Naturally, it sounds simpler than it is but it is most certainly not beyond the amateur's ability. Today, the process is monitored and sometimes adjusted daily and, thanks to cheap refractometers to measure sugar concentrations, hydrometers, thermometers, temperature controlled cabinets and a host of other items the job is much simpler than once was. Naturally things can and do go wrong as nature takes its course.
Fermentation may not start, it may start and then mysteriously stop prematurely, the wine may be excessively sweet or cloudy or filled with sediments. The wine may have excess pectin, too many bacteria, taste sulphurous or flat or even moldy. Crystals might form if the temperature is too low or secondary fermentation might result from keeping the wine at too high a temperature. Nevertheless, due in no small measure to the Internet, there are now numerous websites devoted to assisting the amateur winemaker to produce a wine which can rival those made by the wine masters.
All it takes is a bit of practice.
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