Wine Making


How Wine Making Works

The primary ingredient in wine (other than water) is alcohol. Alcohol is a by-product of the process of fermentation, the action of living yeast as it eats its favorite food: sugar. We're most familiar with wines made from grapes, white or red, but wine can also be made from just about any fruit or grain that can be fermented: rice, barley, honey, bottled juices from the grocery store, flowers, tea, coffee, herbs, pumpkins, potatoes, even beets. 

When the yeasts digest the sugar they form two by-products: alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide bubbles out of the liquid--champagne is a form of wine in which this process is still going on when you open it--and the alcohol stays in. (That's the part that makes your birthday so much fun.) Yeast can't survive in alcohol, so as the alcohol level increases, the yeast dies off.
The task of a wine maker is to facilitate and monitor that process of fermentation, maintaning the delicate balance between yeast, sugar and alcohol (along with other factors such as acidity and clarity) which can make or break a home-made wine.

The basic steps in wine making are:

  1. Preparing the Must. The must is just wine before its time, the unfermented juice that will become your wine. The wine maker smushes grapes, squeezes juice, or mashes pumpkin (if he's brave enough).
  2. During Primary Fermentation, the yeast is added to the must. Primary fermantation is typically very active. The must is very bubbly and produces a lot of carbon dioxide.
  3. After a few days, the yeast begins to slow down as the alcohol content increases and secondary fermentation begins. During this stage, the wine is put into a special container to keep air away, or else unwanted bacteria in the air will try to get in on the yeast's action and ruin the wine. Secondary fermentation lasts from several weeks to several months, depending on the type of wine. The wine is very cloudy during this stage.
  4. When most of the yeast has done its job and dies, it sinks to the bottom of the wine. The wine is fermented until it is entirely clear and all the yeast has settled to the bottom. The wine must be transferred to another container, away from this sediment, a process called racking the wine.  The wine may need to be racked several times until it's clear, or sometimes once is enough.
  5. Last, the wine is aged and bottled.

We'll go over these steps in more detail in our directions and recipe sections, but for now let's take a look at what equipment you'll need to bring all this boozey magic to life.

To read about equipment for wine making, click next.

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