Homemade wine: from harvest to bottling

Homemade wine: from harvest to bottling

Aug 24, 2022


Ilaria Rosa

Wine is a sensational drink; known and loved all over the world, this delicious elixir derives from a very ancient tradition which, however, still remains of great relevance today. Italy has always been a land dedicated to wine and Italians are known great winemakers and skilled farmers. The wine culture was practically born with the Paleolithic man who has followed it in its various stages of growth up to the present day; also the oenological techniques have undergone profound transformations and improvements that have made the wine a real product of the highest quality. Wine production is basically divided into five phases: harvest, amortization, alcoholic fermentation, aging and bottling. Those who have come into possession of a small plot of land where a vineyard is also included, and want to try their hand at wine production for the first time, can try with us to study the winemaking process.

Wine is not just grape juice to drink immediately, but a product that is made through the total or partial alcoholic fermentation of grape juice, better known as must. This fermentation is triggered by natural indigenous yeasts present on the skins of the berries which, by fermenting, gradually transform the sugars present in the grape into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.

When we ask ourselves how wine is made, the harvest represents the relatively starting point of the entire production process. It is first of all important to understand the right time to harvest, since each type of grape has its own harvest period, and therefore will depend on the degree of ripeness. Thus, depending on countless factors, we can find grapes that ripen early in August, up to grapes that ripen late until November. Much also depends on the type of climate, the exposure, the type of soil and the type of grape variety. Each type of grape has its right degree of ripeness, and therefore the harvest must be done at the precise moment in which this occurs, not before and not after, in the mistaken belief of having more or less sugary or alcoholic wines.

If you have a small farm and you have to carry out the harvest yourself, then try to understand first what is the right time to start the harvest by selecting some sample grapes at least two or three times a week. Subsequently, if you do not have specialized centers to rely on to find out the level of sugars in the berries, or you do not have tools such as the mostmeter, often used by medium-sized companies, you will have to rely on yourself and that is to more "spartan" techniques such as the tasting. The taste must be very pleasant and not at all astringent, otherwise you could produce a wine with traces of acidity, such as sparkling wines. In ancient times, as per tradition, the harvest was carried out exclusively by hand, with manual shears; the harvested grapes were placed in baskets and then emptied into large wooden crates, which in turn were loaded on wagons pulled by oxen. Today, manual harvesting is still very widespread, because in this way any very harmful rotten or moldy berries can be eliminated.

We will proceed with the pressing, a practice that in ancient times took place just like in those scenes that we all have imprinted in the collective imagination, in which men and women jumped barefoot on kilos and kilos of grapes in huge wooden containers, while from a side outlet to the container could be seen descending the beautiful and colorful must. Today this phase is completely carried out by machinery; the mechanical pressing is performed with the crusher-destemmer, which has the aim of breaking the grapes in order to cause the juice to come out, and to divide the berries from the stalk, so as not to include it in the process and not to affect the flavor some wine. You will certainly have to choose how to perform this phase.

At this point, we have reached a particularly variable moment since its duration varies from wine to wine: the vinification. In fact, it is precisely during this phase that sugars are transformed into alcohol and, usually, the more structured a wine is, the longer its fermentation is. Usually, other products are also added that allow the elimination of bacteria and fungi, or that accelerate the start of fermentation. It is therefore necessary to make two distinctions, since the vinification can take place: in white or in red. In the first, the must is left to ferment clean of any residual pressing (stalks, skins and seeds) and is filtered to make it even purer; this type does not need great refinement and must maintain all its freshness. Small parenthesis for the rosé wine for which the white vinification is carried out in a partial way, precisely to give that particular pink color; while for the red vinification, the must is left to ferment with all the residues deriving from the pressing, which will be able to give the wine not only more or less intense colors, but also more or less strong structures and intense aromas.

The famous "ribollir dei vini" begins 4-5 hours after pressing: the yeasts present on the skin of the berries may not be sufficient, in which case it is useful to add selected yeasts to help start the process by diluting them in warm water and respecting the doses prescribed on the packages. It will therefore be necessary to add a little sugar to notice the formation of foam on the surface that is fermenting after a few minutes; and after 3-4 hours add them to the must. However, to activate the actual fermentation, boiling must 24h; the duration of the same can in any case vary depending on whether it is white or black grapes, in the latter case the duration will be 4-5 days. During this period the fulling must then be carried out, a practice that consists in break and sink the pomace that emerges in the so-called "hat" with the help of a fork stick, so that the skins can give the substances and dyes to the must. This operation must be done at least once every 12 hours; during this process it is recommended to carry out repeated "pumping over" by taking the liquid from the bottom of the container with a pump or by hand with buckets, and pour it directly onto the cap. slow fermentation cycle can last up to 18-21 days.

After the necessary period, the alcoholic fermentation ends and it is necessary to carry out the racking, that is the separation between the skins and the wine. For this procedure you can use a wicker sieve that will retain the seeds as well as the skins. The liquid obtained will be poured into a container filled completely, then the peels will be inserted in the press and the first pressing will begin; the product obtained will be added to the existing one, while that of the second pressing will be "cut", ie mixed with other types, to be consumed daily. The wine will then be sealed in its container, whether it be a tank, demijohn or barrel, where it will continue its journey independently, releasing deposits and sediments.

Before bottling, it is necessary to carry out three decanting with a special pump. It is a plastic tube for food that absolutely must not touch the bottom in order not to catch the "scum". A useful suggestion is not to shake the container before pouring, so as not to make the residues resurface, which in addition to making the liquid opaque, are carriers of harmful bacteria. The 1st racking, according to the lunar calendar, must be carried out between the end of November and the beginning of December. The 2nd racking in January, and the 3rd in late spring; possibly on clear and dry days. During decanting it is essential to take a sample of the new product, about ½ liter, seal it well in a bottle of the same capacity and take it to be analyzed by the oenologist or specialized shop, to get the right indications and correct any defects. To bottle the best period is from June to the end of August, after which it will be necessary to wait at least six months before being able to taste it.

We retraced together how to make wine at home, an ancient process that has been handed down over the centuries and has come down to us. Even beginners now have the necessary knowledge to make an excellent drink, to share with friends and relatives during their lunches, and perhaps boast of their success and their skills in the sector.

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