Winespeak – Vinification

The process of making wine from berries is fairly straightforward, as natural processes take care of the majority of the magic that turns sugar into alcohol.  (There is actually a study of winemaking, called oenology. Who knew?  During my college years, I thought the only study of this was hands-on research after hours)

As I have alluded to before, the vintner is simply the curator of a complex set of exchanges whereby our Creator continues to systematically provide life in a world of His design.  For grapes, this happens from seed to berry, berry to wine, season to season.  Science and research have improved grape potential in quality, quantity, and diversity, just as technology has improved upon production processes; however, these human achievements simply pale in comparison to the daily orchestra being performed through earth, water, and sunlight.  In a letter to a French acquaintance, Benjamin Franklin once wrote:

“We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana, as of a miracle.  But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes.  Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!”

A grape is roughly 70% pulp (mostly sugar and water, some acid), 20% skin, and 5% seeds.  As a grape matures, sugar is increased in the pulp and acid is decreased.  Harvesting is all about delicate timing as the vintner tries to pick the grapes at the exact moment the balance of sugar and acid is reached for the varietal, and what the goals are for each particular wine.  Harvesting too early can sacrifice potential, and too late can expose the grapes to adverse and often unforeseen weather changes.

Sugar: Found in the pulp of a grape and critical to the process of making wine.  Sugar is the meal that feeds the yeast and gets the whole winemaking (vinification) process started.  It also dictates the sweetness of the wine and the alcohol content. 

Acid: Can affect growth of yeast during fermentation and protects wine from bacteria.  More importantly, acid affects the balance, color, and taste of wine.  It plays a key role in balancing out the sweetness and bitterness in wine that come from sugar and tannins.

Yeast: Microorganism that occurs naturally in nature.  Yeast is present on the skins of all grapes.  When a grape is crushed, the yeast begins feeding on the sugar and converts these carbohydrates to carbon dioxide and…you guessed it… alcohol!  Once all the sugar is used up, the yeast die out.  Vintners can be creative and kill off the yeast before primary fermentation converts all the sugar in order to leave residual sugar for a sweeter wine.

Fermentation: The incredible process of yeast converting sugar to alcohol.  This has happened naturally in nature since right around the beginning of time.  Fermentation lasts a brief period prior to the wine moving on to be aged.  Certain climactic conditions and sanitation precautions must be taken in order to ensure a successful fermentation.

I am certain that I’m not a scientist, nor have I ever shown any natural ability toward the subject.  If this is also the case for you, mastering just the terms shown above is enough to at least carry on a decent conversation with people that know much more about it.  From a laymen’s point of view (mine), it is simply fascinating to think of the process that took place to turn a grape to wine.  Here is a fun challenge for you: next time you are drinking a glass of wine, really concentrate on the interworking of nature, microorganisms, timing and work by the vintner that all transpired in order to get that glass into your hand.  Or for that matter, the bottle, plastic cup, coffee mug, etc.  The vessel that the wine rides in on the way to your mouth when you are enjoying wine can vary, but it’s what’s inside that counts.

Now, applying these same concepts and processes, it’s fairly straightforward when making wine from juice or a kit.  Side note on kits: I’m not overly familiar with them because frankly, they aren’t our style.  Asher is a scientist, after all.  Our “kits” are recipes we find mixed with our own creative liberties, combined with good old fashioned trial and error.  From what I have seen, kits are expensive and get mixed reviews anyway.  So c’mon people, it’s an exciting world out there, live a little!

Without the help of a kit or “instructions”, it is quite possible to make wine from fruit juice.  The theory is the same: pour juice into a bucket, add all necessary yeast, sugar, and acid.  The juice gives the wine the flavor you desire, but there is not enough sugar for a successful fermentation.  Therefore, sugar is added and once the yeast is combined, the fermentation process begins!

Whether it is from grapes you have grown, fruit from the store, or any old juice you can find, homemade wine is just a few steps away.  It is as rewarding as it can be frustrating.  Raise a glass to yourself when you make some wine that you thoroughly enjoy… and then go back to that same batch of wine if your next attempt is awful, and raise a glass to yourself again.  They can’t all be winners, and it takes cloudy nights to truly appreciate the stars.

Cheers!

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One thought on “Winespeak – Vinification

  1. Pingback: October 2012 – In the Lab | Dale Hollow

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