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Wine Making 101!

Did you know that in order to make wine you must add yeast to the mixture of fruit!  This primary fermentation and the ensuing foaming is due to the carbon dioxide gas being released as the sugar in the juice is changed to alcohol, the live yeast is eating the sugar.  After a few days this foaming subsides and it is time to transfer the juice into other containers with narrow necks for the second fermentation.  These bottles as well as all equipment must be sterilized to prevent harmful bacteria from spoiling the wine, this is really important! Potassium metabisulfate is a popular compound used to add in the release of sulfur dioxide, the sterilizing agent.  Air locks are affixed to the bottles so that the harmful oxygen can not enter the bottles.  Depending upon the type of wine and temperature this fermentation may take weeks or months.  You will know when the tiny little carbon dioxide bubbles stop rising in the bottle.  It's now time for racking, the fancy word for siphoning of the wine into clean bottles leaving the yeast sediment behind.  A 3 month period of aging in the bottle as a minimum and your ready to drink it! You just hope it tastes good.  

There is so much more to know about this process---airlocks, plastic or glass; racking tubes; vinbrite filter or vinamat filters; bottles; corks; screw caps; what about corkers?   Did you forget your carboy brush?

Getting into it a little more you will find the addition of a yeast energize is helpful in making wines high in alcohol, that is over 14%.  To increase the acidity of deficient musts, oh yea, a must is the basic mashed fruit -yeast mixture; an acid blend may need to be added. The are fining or clearing agents to help clarify the wine, in France they even use egg whites.  Just like a runny jelly doesn't have enough pectin, wines need the same so a pectic enzyme may need to be added especially if your making an apple or raspberry wine.  Grape wines are usually fine.  Stop! Think of the water you are going to use.  Are you going to use that sulfur tasting well water or buy bottled water.  Some areas chlorinate there water strongly, just imagine how that wine will taste when done.  If you don't like the water's taste don't use it. I like filtered water or bottled.  Use white sugar not natural or brown as they will impart a faint molasses taste.   Most important is the type of yeast.  Although baking yeast will work, it will not settle out and form a firm sediment.  Eventually this will add an off flavor due to the dead yeast cells.  There is also the possibility that you make like your wine to be sweetened, so you might need to add a fermentation inhibitor such as sodium benzoate.

Now you'll be glad you took chemistry in high school.  Sugar---Without sugar there will be no alcohol in the wine.  Too little sugar and you'll have wine with the same alcohol content as beer and too much sugar you'll wind up with a juice drink with a kick.  The sugar content is so important that a hydrometer must be used for exact calculations.  Chef's use this sugar measurement in making sorbet too! A hydrometer is essentially a long narrow sealed tube that is used to measure density.  Lines of measure on this glass device work sort of like the water marks on a ship that shows how high or low it may be riding in the water based on its cargo's weight.  Special wine making charts are available at wine stores to help you calculate the amount of sugar to add to achieve a certain alcohol level when fermentation is completed.  Other factors to consider are the fruits sugar content (Brix), in calculating the additional sugars addition.  The hydrometer uses four basic scales, which are universally used by winemakers worldwide.  They are the Specific gravity scale, Brix or balling scale, Potential Alcohol scale and sugar scale.  There will be many samples taken and tested using the hydrometer.  Several pounds of sugar may raise the potential alcohol level of one gallon of must from 11% to 13.5%, please refer to the specific tables for exact information.  Don't forget to sterilize the testing equipment after each test. This is a must!!!

One of the more cautious tasks involves the wines acidity.  Often a wine may have the potential to not be acidic enough, so tartaric, citric and malic acid may nee to be added.  In reverse an overly acidic  wine may be reduced simply by adding water.   Otherwise potassium bicarbonate or a malo-lactic culture may be added.  The latter will cause a separate malo-lactic fermentation that will convert sharp acid to mild acid.  This fermentation may sometimes occur naturally because of wild yeast's in the air.  It's best not to hope for this to happen and introduce the process yourself.   There are all sorts of charts and tables and calculations to be made when doing this, don't just add a teaspoon here and a pinch there.

When all is said and done and you open your first bottle you will be happy that you followed the process closely.  You bought good quality fruit or grew your own.   All equipment was washed and cleaned using the proper proportions of chemicals.   Ah, the water was so good tasting and the sugar pure.  Good quality corks were properly soaked and inserted into the bottles after racking.  The bottles were stored in a cool dark wine area!  Now everything is all cleaned up and put in its place, three months have passed, the first bottle is open and is pretty darn good!  Oh no! It's time to start over again, you only made 5 gallons of must = 640 ounces - (waste-15% or 96 ounces) + testing samples = 20 (25 ounce bottles of wine).  After all the promised of bottles of wine to friend you'll only have 7 left.  Heed the advice--- make a double or triple batch next time to assure that there will be enough Chateau du Vin to put away and sample down the road against newer vintages.

rev. 10/12

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