The Latin word 'amateur' means
'lover' and originally referred to those who chose to do something
out of the love of doing it, rather than for the profit. These
people were regarded as the highest experts because they honed their
craft motivated by joy rather than profit.
Even though professional wine makers still imbue their work with
passion and skill, amateurs can often approach similar results with
the assistance of modern technology and the knowledge that has been
passed down over many generations.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, fermentation biochemistry
was not well understood. However, the process has been used for over
5,000 years. If left alone a wine grape would ripen until the skin
ruptured and the juice fermented naturally. The process is today
guided by art and science.
Grapes are harvested and then put into a press where they are turned
into must, a mixture of skin pulp and juice. Both natural (found on
the skin, near the stem) and added yeast interacts with the sugars
in the juice and produces ethanol (alcohol), carbon dioxide and
heat. This process continues until all sugars are reacted or the
yeast is killed by the buildup of the reaction products.
The process in now tightly controlled to produce just the desired
result, thanks to Pasteur. Juice concentrates can be purchased for a
modest cost, for those that are not fortunate enough to have a
vineyard close by.
Sugar, acids, yeast and nutrients (to assist the yeast) must be
added to a container (a carboy or jug) and allowed to sit idle for
3-10 days at 75F (24C).
Specific recipes available with concentrate will give amounts and
details. Strain the liquid from the pulp and allow it to ferment at
65F (18C) for several weeks until the bubbling halts. Then siphon
off sediments (lees) and store the bottles on their sides at 55F
(13C) for six months (white) to a year (red) before tasting.
This sounds much easier than it is, however it is not beyond the
dedicated amateur's ability. The process should be monitored and
occasionally adjusted daily. This has been made easier by
inexpensive refractometer to measure sugar concentrations,
hydrometers, thermometers, temperature controlled cabinets and many
It is less expensive than the average photography fanatic's budget
and provides equally pleasurable results.
There is no surprise in the fact that much can go wrong while nature
takes its course. Fermentation can fail to start or cease
prematurely, the output can bee too sweet or hazy and full of
sediment. It could contain too much pectin, bacteria; have a flat,
sulphurous, or moldy taste. Crystals can form from storing too cold
and secondary fermentation can result from storing too warm.
Sometimes these are deliberate.
There are hundreds of websites devoted to helping the eager amateur
vintner in producing wines that rival the masters, thanks to the
Internet. It is only necessary to practice for about 100 years.
Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.
Sip of Wine
Wine Aging Table
Wine and Cheese
Wine and Health
British Columbia, Canada
Cotes Du Rhone