My hubbs makes his own wine and i had asked him a while back to write a guest blog on wine making. Here it is:
Wine making is both fun, and economically smart (No alcohol taxes to pay on home brews). The equipment, and ingredients needed are not expensive, and there is a definite satisfaction to being able to brew excellent table and desert wines for guests and for gifts.
The recipe for wine is simple. Juice (sugar), and yeast, minus air. Yeast, like the kind used for making bread eats sugar. If yeast eats sugar, but has no oxygen to breath it will only be able to digest the sugar part way into ethanol alcohol. So, after sterilizing the bottle we fill it with juice and “inoculate” it with yeast. (Sugar may be added if one wishes to raise the alcohol content and/or the sweetness of the wine) Then the bottle is fitted with an “airlock” that allows the carbon dioxide gas to escape but not allow oxygenated air into the fermentation tank. The bottle is then placed in a cool dark area and allowed to ferment for several weeks. Some people think it’s advisable to rack the wine to another fermentation container after two weeks to mitigate any chance that the wine will pick up a musty flavor from the dead yeast after primary fermentation is complete.
A short word on airlocks: an airlock consists simply of a simple pipe that forces escaping carbon dioxide to bubble up through water. Airlocks made for the job can be bought from a wine supply store for about 1$. Personally I think it is well worth the investment. A home made airlock can consist of a tube that leads from fermentation tank and vents under water in cup or bowl beside the fermentation tank.
Also, for a better quality wine, a wine makers yeast will help significantly. A single packet of yeast is sufficient for a 5 gallon batch and costs about a buck. (Also worth the money) In traditional wine making, the yeast that grows naturally on the grape skins is what is used. Traditionally grapes were pressed in large batches, which would greatly improve the chance that one of those grapes will have the ideal yeast strain on it’s skin.
Unless we have access to a vineyard; we will likely have to make do with what we have. Fruit juice can work very well. Apple juice in particular works well nutritionally for the yeast, though it’s greatest drawback is that it tends to be a little light on sugar to ferment and can come out quite dry and with a low gravity. Also, if you must buy your juice from the grocery store; I recommend making it out of concentrate. (Yes I know some orange juice suppliers advertise that their product is never from concentrate, when concentration is nothing more than dehydration done with a vacuum pump.) Concentration is the single most effective way to preserve juice without the addition of preservative chemicals. Just stay away from the “Grape Juice Drink” stuff and get 100% juice with minimal additives.
The next step is called racking the wine. While traditionally you should allow fermentation to continue for many months until the very last of the yeast has died and settled out of the wine, it makes a lot of sense to add a mild preservative (campden tablets or sodium metabisulfite in it’s chemical name) after several weeks to kill any remaining yeast and allow the wine to clarify before racking (While this is a modern technique, it helps improve the flavor of the wine significantly. The tablets can be bought at a wine makers supply store for two or three dollars.). The whole purpose of racking is to filter the wine. In racking, the sediment from the fermentation process is allowed to settle to the bottom of the tank and the good wine is siphoned off from the top. This process works best if one has a soft flexible tube to do the siphoning with. The process is then repeated as needed to allow the wine to clarify.
After clarification the wine is ready for bottling. Be sure that all seals after bottling are airtight. Exposure to oxygen for to much time will spoil wine in any stage of its development or storage, and turn it into vinegar. Also, if you get into this, you may want to invest in a specific gravity meter which will measure the amount of sugar in your juice so that you can tell how much alcohol is in your wine.