Winemaking: The basic steps
The essential steps in winemaking can be summarized as follows:
- Extract the flavor and aroma from the base ingredients by chopping, crushing, pressing, boiling or soaking them.
- Add sugar, acid, nutrients, and yeast to the fermentation media or liquor to achieve the proper ratio and ferment, covered, for 3 to 10 days in a primary fermentation vessel (crock, jar or polyethylene pail) at 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Strain off the liquid from the pulp, put it (the liquid) into a secondary fermentation vessel (a carboy or jug), fit a fermentation trap (airlock) on the mouth of the bottle, and allow fermentation to proceed at 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit until all bubbling ceases (after several weeks).
- Siphon the wine off the sediments (lees) into another clean secondary fermentation vessel. Reattach the fermentation trap. Repeat after another one or two months and again before bottling.
- When wine is clear and all fermentation has stopped, siphon into wine bottles and cork the bottles securely. Leave corked bottles upright for 3-5 days and then store them on their side at 55 degrees Fahrenheit for six months (white wine) to a year (red wine) before sampling. If not up to expectations, allow to age another year or more.
You can make this process as complicated and exacting as you please, but in fact it need not be. Recipes have been developed over the centuries which pretty much make this a simple process of measuring, squeezing and siphoning. Sure, there are ports and sherries and Madeiras which require a few extra steps and exactitude, but even these methods were developed hundreds of years ago by people far less sophisticated than you, so I'm wagering that you can master even those techniques if you decide to do so. Further, there are recipes and there are dissertations on organic chemistry. While some authors seem to try their darndest to make the whole process seem tedious, exacting and highly technical, others try to get you from fruit to wine as simply as possible. I'd like to think I fall into the latter category, despite the fact that I absorb as much of the technical details as I can.
It certainly doesn't hurt to know about the finer, more exacting points of winemaking. Indeed, these do help in making better wine. But in fact, you don't really need to know them to make pretty good vino. But to assist the viewer who wants to know them, I've put together a section I call "Advanced Winemaking Basics." It's supplemented by a section devoted entirely to "The Miracle of Yeast," a subject so large as to demand its own section. You can view these at your leisure or ignore them altogether and go straight to the recipes, because the wine is in the recipes.