I got started on this project by reading Jack Keller's recipes for cherry wine. If you are serious about trying this, you should definitely read through his winemaking basics page as well.
To make four gallons of cherry wine, you'll need:
In any fermentation process, the key to success is sterility. So start by washing the bucket, lid, and airlock carefully with soap and water, then sterilize by washing with boiling water and close to protect from dust. During the winemaking process, you must resterilize anything that comes into contact with a non-sterile surface.
I bought dark unsweetened cherries from Ralphs, but I would have tried the fresh fruit if it had been in season. The frozen option does have advantages, however - the cherries are (hopefully) picked when fully ripe and frozen immediately, instead of being allowed to ripen over several days on the store shelves, and frozen cherries have no stones. Let the cherries defrost and put them into the bucket:
Boil 10 lbs of sugar in 3.75 gallons of water:
Add tea to the boiling water. Tea contains tannins similar to those found in grapes and oak, leading to a tastier wine. Unfortunately, I have no idea if this is enough tea to make a difference. While the water is still hot, pour it over the cherries to sterilize them. Wear safety glasses and be as careful as possible, because boiling sugar water is hotter than 100C and sticky!
Crush two campden (sulfite) tablets, add with the acid blend, and stir. Make sure to sterilize your spoon. Yeast cells, particularly those bred for wine production, are much more resistant to sulfite than bacteria, so this is an important step in preventing undesirable infections. But add to much sulfite and you will kill the yeast or give the wine a bad flavor.
Close up the bucket, remove a cup of cherry juice from the spigot, taste a bit, and add yeast. Starting the yeast in a small volume of juice lets you make sure that it is alive before you dump it into the bucket.
Cover the yeast and let everything sit overnight. Note the lemon being used as a cat repellent:
Since the juice has had time to flow out of your cherries and in to the water, you can now measure the sugar content using your hydrometer. Floating it in a small amount of juice. It should read 1.095, which is enough for a final alcohol concentration of 13%. Jack Keller has a good page on sugar concentrations.
The yeast/juice mixture should now be extremely bubbly. If it isn't, your yeast is dead. Take out some more juice and try growing a new packet of yeast - you should see bubbles within an hour or so. When you have verified that your yeast is alive, pour it into the bucket and stir:
Fit an airlock. I fill it with water that has 1 campden tablet added to kill any microorganisms that try to sneak into the wine. Note: I realized after I took this picture that I needed to add water up to the line to make the airlock work correctly. Also, according to Jack Keller, the yeast will get a better head start if you leave off the airlock (but cover the opening with some cloth) for the first two days so that they can breathe some oxygen and reproduce quickly.
Bring a sample to lab, measure pH (should be around 3.5) and observe yeast under microscope (with DIC, if available). The diameter of the yeast cells shown here is about 10 um. Note that almost all of the yeast are budding, and there are no visible bacteria. Also, the nuclei of the yeast cells will be clearly visible if your scope has DIC. From this picture I estimate about 5x107 cells per ml of solution, or 8x1011 cells in total, all working to produce wine for me! There will be even more in a few days.
The airlock should be emitting bubbles once every few seconds now, and it will continue to do so for a week or two. Your house will smell like sourdough and wine, yum!
The are still producing gas, though slowly. Most of the fermentation is complete. Here's a picture of the yeast at this stage. Note the smaller cells, most of which aren't budding. Cell denisty, however, is similar to what it was on day 3. Presumably we missed a time in the middle when there were many more cells present; most of them have broken up or sedimented by now.
Somwhere between two and three weeks the bubbling completely stops, as the yeast have both run out of sugar and raised the alcohol concentration to toxic levels. Most of what we want to drink has been produced, but we need to clean up the the wine, giving the yeast cells and bits of cherry time to settle out. I want to transfer ("rack") the liquid into four gallon-sized glass carboys, since that's what I have around, though a big four-gallon carboy would be easier to deal with. Clean out the carboys with soap, water, and finally a little boiling water to sterilize. Then fill the carboys from the bucket. Remember to flush the tap for a second before filling carboys to wash out any bacteria hiding there. The wine will be bubbly with carbon dioxide and taste like soda. I needed a siphon to pull out the last drops of wine, which were full of bitter-tasting sediment (mainly dead yeast cells). Hopefully the taste will improve after the cells settle out again.
Here you can see the wine that has been racked into the carboys. Note that the last one is clearly full of sediment. I actually got an extra half gallon beyond what you see here, but since I don't have any half-gallon carboys, I discarded it after using it to fill each of the others as full as possible. This is important, since volume will be lost at the next racking, and any airspace will cause oxidation in the wine. The sulfite you added earlier may have dissipated by now, and with the aeration from racking plus risk of contamination bacteria, it's a good idea to re-sulfite the wine now. Add 1/2 crushed campden tablet to each gallon of wine. Make sure the carboys are as full as possible, then fit airlocks. Store them in a dark place for another month or so. The yeast may become active and bubble for a few days because of the newly available oxygen, but it won't have much sugar left to eat at this point, so the wine should be fairly quiet. Use your empty bucket to start a new batch!