Monday, April 21, 2008

Primary Fermentation

The first stage in making ethanol, or in this specific case, wine, is primary fermentation. This is when the fruit and yeast are mixed together, with some other stuff, and then it sits for a bit.

Now, the fruit can be anything. I could pick the grapes and crush them with my bare feet, but given my need for a pedicure, trust me when I say that you are glad that I don't do that. Or I could chop rhubarb, or peel and mash peaches. It doesn't matter. The fruit is chosen for its flavour (I am not prepared to go into a discussion of why grapes are so prominent. That's beyond my expertise, if you can call it that. I suspect that it has much to do with the climates where wine originated and then, tradition).

Instead, I buy kits, which contain fruit concentrate and several packages of stuff to add.

After cleaning your equipment, the first step is to pour about four litres of tepid (half cold, half boiled) water into the primary fermenter (the bucket). Then bentonite is added, and the mixture is vigorously stirred for about a minute.

Bentonite is basically clay, and it has many interesting and useful purposes. For wine-making, however, it is used to remove excessive amounts of protein.

The next step is to add the fruit concentrate. Oh, the yummy smells that erupt after popping the seal. It's heavenly. I tend to put a little tepid water into the bag and squish it around a bit, to get every drop of concentrate out. I want to get my money's worth, after all.

Then, we fill the bucket up to the 23 litre mark with tepid water. It's important to make sure the liquid is between 18 and 24 degrees C. I have little thermometer stickers on all my buckets and carboys so I know what the temperature is.

At this point, there may be a package or two of additives. Most commonly, the additives are dried elderberry leaves or oak chips. This is meant to imitate the barrel-aging process. Commercial wines are aged in barrels, but since I'm using plastic and glass, something has to be substituted.

Sound gross, I know. Trust me, it gets worse.

At this point we add the yeast. Yeast, like bentonite, is very interesting, and has even more varieties and applications. Yeast is in the air. It's a micro-organism in the fungi family. It's present in the air we breathe. It has good and not-so-good uses (umn, infection, anyone?). We use yeast because it ferments. So, sprinkle in the yeast, slap on the lid and put the bucket in a place where the temperature is constant. Preferably out of direct sunlight.

Now we wait. At least three days. I tend to let it go for a week, just because it's easy to remember.

For some general history about wine, go here. As always, take Wikipedia with a healthy glass of (ahem!) skepticism. And your likker of choice.

Important note: water weighs about 11 pounds per gallon. 23 litres is approximately 5 gallons. Therefore, each bucket weighs about 55 pounds, probably more, because it's not just water.

Lift with your legs, not your back! I, when I had five minutes to spare, moved the three buckets from the floor to the counter. That was two weeks ago, and I am still walking funny. Seriously, I'm in pain.


Anonymous said...

Can I come to your house to sample many bottles of home made wine????

clashfan77 said...

Personally, i've never been interested in making my own wine. Until now, that is. The more you post about it, the more compelling it becomes!