For simplicity, in this introduction I am not going to delve too deep into the whys of each step of the wine making journey or it’d end up far too long. Instead, I’m going to explain how you go from the fruit to the wine and what each step in the wine making process achieves. For those interested in the nitty gritty of each process read on on to the end.
Step 1: The Ingredients or Flavour
Making wine with fruits or vegetables is slightly different to making wines with grapes. The thing about grapes is they have all the correct nutrients, sugar levels, acidity and tannins present in their natural state and these are all the things you need to make a well balanced wine.
For example when making blackberry wine, those blackberries don’t have the optimum levels of acid or sugar so will need helping out. We know what blackberries taste like so we know they are going to make an incredible wine but we need to add sugar, water and a little acid (such as citric acid from lemons) to help it on its way.
To summarise the process what we do is we mush up the blackberries, put them in a fermenting bin with the water, sugar and any other additions then add some yeast. This will will break down those blackberries even further extracting more flavour and colour and the yeast will start making alcohol. This fruit mixture is called a “must”.
Step 2: Primary Fermentation
So before I said we add yeast. Yeast is the most important ingredient in winemaking, without the yeast there is no wine. Yeast are living organisms that turn all the sugar in our must into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is why when you taste a dry wine it isn’t sweet like a fresh grape, the yeast have consumed all the sugar, whereas a dessert wine is still sweet because the yeast are stopped before all the sugars can be consumed.
The amount of sugar available, among other factors, affect how much alcohol there is in the finished wine, yeast can only create so much alcohol, up to 16-18%, before it gets too tired and starts to die.
After a week to ten days it’s now time to separate the liquid from the fruit. At this point enough of the flavour compounds from the blackberries will be in solution giving us a beautiful bouquet in the finished wine. Strain out the solid and debris using something like a straining bag or cheesecloth. The wine can be transferred from the fermenting bucket into a demijohn or carboy.
Step 3: Secondary Fermentation
When the wine is in a demijohn the yeast are still working away creating alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fitting an airlock in the neck of the demijohn allows air out but not in. This airlock allows the CO2 to escape but prevents any air getting in which could possibly spoil the wine. The wine will then begin clearing and the yeast will slowly consume all the nutrients and sugars available and slowly fall to the bottom.
Step 4: Racking, Clearing and Aging
As more and more debris falls to the bottom of the demijohn it’s important to move the wine off the old dead yeast and debris that has built up so no off flavours can affect the wine. Once in a clean vessel the wine can continue clearing and maturing. There are still flavour changes occurring in the wine and this maturation process can last months.
Step 5: Bottling
Now the wine has cleared and all activity has stopped the wine is then syphoned into bottles and sealed with a cork. The wine is matured further in the bottle allowing the flavour to develop further. This process is how you end up with vintages in the commercial wine world, and country wines are exactly the same, able to keep for 4 or 5 years if brewed carefully.