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Restaurant Guide - Making Your Own Wine

Aug 17, 2007
One of the things that can put your restaurant on the map is serving your own in-house wine. Perhaps with some skill, you can compete with a name label. But even if your wine-making skills don't put you in ranks with the top French vineyards, the point is that you make your own house wine! Wine-making supplies are readily available through most larger culinary supply stores, and it's surprising how little is involved. Several selections of in-house wine can be a delicious and unique addition to your entertaining menu and will allow you to express your business's creativity and unique tastes.

To begin, some simple equipment is needed for your wine-making adventure. This is a basic list, with explanations for each of the items. As with most specialized activities, it's best to use equipment and pieces that are specifically designed for wine making. In general, glass or plastic equipment and containers are preferred, and plastic should be avoided, with the possible exception of white plastic of the proper grade. Polypropylene is best, because other types of plastics may be too porous and will leach chemicals out of your wine as it ferments.

You will need an airlock, which is an S-shaped tube that fits through a stopper or cork. You will put a one-percent metabisulphite solution in this bend to keep air out of your wine as it goes through its first fermentation step. The carbon dioxide which is produced can bubble out through the metabisulphite solution, but air and impurities will not be able to pass through this liquid into the wine. Some experts recommend putting a few drops of food coloring in the metabisulphite solution so that the bubbles produced by rapid fermentation are easier to see. And you'll need to keep an eye on your airlock to ensure that the liquid doesn't evaporate during the fermentation process. It is important to keep the airlock sealed with the solution to keep rogue bacteria and yeast out of the wine.

Next, get a plastic funnel and siphon tube. You will find that a tube of a legth between six and eight feet will allow you to transfer the wine between the containers without pouring. Pouring wine directly between containers makes it to easy to accidentally pour in sediment.

You will need a fermentation container made of glass or polypropylene at least five gallons capacity. This container is where your wine will begin the fermentation process, with a lid that can be fitted with the airlock. The entire container must be airtight. Filters or filter paper are sometimes needed as well, in order to strain small bits from your wine before bottling it.

Wine bottles made of glass are best to store your wine for the final fermentation and aging process. These need to be the kind of bottles that use a cork seal, and they must have no nicks or rough edges at the top of the neck to ensure the seal is air-tight. Corks or stoppers are of course used to close the wine bottles. A handy tip is to moisten the corks to lubricate them before closing the bottles. Green bottles are traditionally used for red and rose wines, the reason being that it helps protect your wine's quality from deterioration due to exposure to light.

That's it, you're ready to go!

All equipment must be sterilized. It is very important that your wine does not come in contact with rogue yeasts or bacteria that can spoil its taste or make it unsafe. Once you sterilize a piece of equipment, keep it sealed up to prevent contamination. One method of sterilization is to heat the items in an oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour. Boiling water or a pressure cooker can also work. You can also sterilize equipment chemically using sodium metabisulphite. Mix two and a half ounces with each gallon of water and soak your equipment in this solution for one hour. Rinse everything well with sterilized water - you don't want to use tap water on something you just sterilized!

Now it's time to pick a wine recipe. Wine can be made of nearly any fruit; if it's made from something besides grapes it's called 'country wine'. Recipes are plentiful on the Internet. Your recipe will give you directions for preparing the fruit for fermentation. In general, you can count on needing juice, sugar, and yeast. The yeast should be special wine maker's yeast, the kind that we generally use for baking won't do here. Brewer's yeast is good to make beer, but hold on - we're making wine here, so we can't use that either!

Remember that the fruit used to make wine should be sterilized, as well, either by boiling or rinsing it with a sulphite solution. The juice will need to be extracted from the crushed or chopped fruit. Most fruit recipes will call for sugar at this point - make sure this is cane sugar. Mix and cook the ingredients that the recipe calls for in sterile containers, and add the wine yeast as the recipe recommends. The liquid form of the yeast is often easiest to work with, but it also comes in a powdered form that needs to be mixed. Some recipes may also call for a yeast nutrient to help the yeast grow properly.

You put this mixture into your primary fermentation container, remembering to keep all equipment, storage, and measuring utensils sterile. Seal the lid and attach the airlock, then fill the airlock with the metabisulphite solution. Store the container in a warm place at about 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit to ferment, but keep it out of direct sunlight. The mixture will ferment rapidly and you will see bubbles of carbon dioxide escaping through the airlock. Your recipe will provide directions for this phase, but mostly this fast fermentation will take place in about one to two weeks. The bubbles will gradually trickle down to a few pops and then stop, indicating that the first phase of fermentation is completed.

Finally, we rack the wine. Racking is the process of siphoning your wine from the fermentation container into the bottles where it will be stored to age. You will want to do this promptly, because the wine will have sediment that has settled to the bottom of the container. This sediment can impart a bad taste if the wine is left with it for a long time. Check again that your siphoning equipment and the wine bottles and corks are fully sterilized. If there is a large amount of sediment or if your wine is especially cloudy, you may wish to filter it. Fill the bottles to about half an inch below the cork line. The wine can now be stored in the racks, turning periodically to prevent sedimentation. The time to ferment when racked varies, but generally a year will produce your first young wine.
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