The etymology of the word “amateur” takes us back to the Latin amator, or one who loves. In the context of making wine, an amateur is one who makes wine not for commercial gain, but for the love of the product and craft. Although we commonly think of an amateur as less skilled than a professional, an amateur winemaker can be an expert. Earning an income has no necessary connection to one’s knowledge or skills as a vintner.
Most professional winemakers, of course, are thoroughly adept in and rather passionate about their vocation. A home or hobbyist winemaker can be just as passionate and, thanks to the wealth of education materials and abundant sources of winemaking supplies now available, can become so accomplished he could, if he chose, compete for a professional position.
In fact, that path is more common than one might think. History is full of winemakers who began their careers crafting beverages for household consumption and perhaps to barter with their neighbors. Prior to the twentieth century, a great deal of winemaking was carried out by glorified hobbyists or, in any case, workers whose income was primarily dependent upon other activities.
Today, we take the science of brewing and fermentation and fermentation for granted, but through the nineteenth century, brewing and fermentation biochemistry was incompletely understood, despite the fact that people all over the world have produced fermented beverages for perhaps 5000 years.
Home Winemaking Simplified
The earliest, most crude wines were a product of wild fermentation—a pot of grapes would be left too long uneaten, and begin to ferment. Contemporary home winemakers, let alone commercial wineries, have a dizzying array of equipment and several millennia worth of knowledge and science at their disposal. Making wine is no longer a matter of happy accident.
Yet, the basic winemaking process remains the same.
- Grapes are pressed to form a must: a jumble of grape pulp, skin and juice.
- To whatever yeast nature put on the grapes, the winemaker adds more yeast.
- The yeast metabolizes the grape sugars, creating alcohol, specifically ethanol, and carbon dioxide. Fermentation also throws off heat.
- The winemaker allows fermentation to continue until the yeast has metabolized enough of the sugar to please the winemaker. Sometimes, however, fermentation stops because the yeast dies a victim of its own products.
Even Simpler Home Winemaking
Home winemakers who prefer to forego pressing grapes can purchase juice concentrates from winemaker’s supply store. The basic steps to make a wine from concentrate will involve:
- Adding sugar, yeast, some acids and nutrients to help the yeast perform.
- Storing the mixture for at least three and up to ten days, per the recipe that comes with the concentrate.
- Straining the liquid out of the must.
- Permitting the juice to ferment for a few weeks.
- Clarifying the wine of sediment.
- Bottling and storing for six to twelve months.
* Optional Step: Notifying your marketing team that it’s time to pitch media coverage of the first tasting. Then again, you might not want to publicize that inaugural batch of Chateau You. The media can be pretty pesky.
Admittedly, the process above has been oversimplified, but only to show that, by following a set of straight-forward steps, one can make wine at home, even if that means one spends time taking daily measurements with thermometers, refractometers, and hydrometers, and making various adjustments based on those readings.
Whether you follow simple steps or a complex recipe, home winemaking is like playtime in the lab, but better because you can drink the results.