MOUNT CARMEL - Vintners across the country are raising their glasses in the coming days to the fall grape harvest.

Art Catino of Catino Vino, a wine supply store in Mount Carmel, said the availability of juice crushed by grape growers has led to a surge in do-it-yourself vintners.

"Winemaking has exploded and the reason for that is the ease of making wine," said Catino.

While in the past winemakers were limited to grapes grown locally or shipped in, vineyards have begun squeezing grapes on-site, which removes steps that add days to the process.

"Old school winemakers still use grapes," said Catino. "(But) I don't make wine from grapes anymore."

Catino estimates that he brings in enough grapes and juice every year to make approximately 50,000 bottles of wine.

Because juice is easier to ship, the cost of making wine from juice is approximately $2 less than that of imported grapes.

As a result, the cost of making your own wine can be as low as $3 per bottle.

Catino imports both whole grapes and juice for customers at his store. He estimates that 90 percent of his customers opt to purchase juice.

He said that he received the prices for this fall's California grape crop on Thursday and that the cost of both whole grapes and juice has risen slightly over last year due to drought.

With less rainwater, grapes have grown smaller in size and quantity - but smaller grapes means the juice will be more concentrated.

"The flavors will be fantastic (and) the quality will be spot on," said Catino.

Catino expects his first shipments to arrive during the first week of September. He also orders juice in from Italy, which allows his fall season to continue through the end of November, and offers a selection of South American grape juices that are available in late spring.

From vine to bottle, wine takes between six months and a year to make, depending on the type.

Upon arrival, grapes first need to be crushed because their oval shape prevents a large number from being pressed, despite the fragility of their skin.

The process, depicted in I Love Lucy with stomping, has been made easier with a device that uses a crank-operated funnel to grind the grapes. Some of these devices also remove the stems of the grapes, cutting down on what can be a tedious task.

Once crushed, red wines are left to sit for hours or days before pressing so the juice can absorb coloring and flavoring from the grape skins.

The crushed grapes are then pressed.

Large impurities are skimmed and removed, and the juice is ready to become wine.

Winemakers who purchase juice can skip all of the above steps and head straight to calculating their sugar content, which is the next step in the process.

Yeast added to grape juice converts sugar into alcohol molecules. Knowing the sugar content of the juice is essential in controlling the alcohol content - and taste - in the final product.

Winemakers can use two tools to determine the sugar content in grape juice to calculate if extra sugar should be mixed into the juice prior to beginning fermentation, or if fermentation should be stopped by adding another compound that kills the remaining yeast.

A hydrometer looks like a thermometer and bobs in the juice at a height dependent on the sugar content. A refractormeter is similar to a kaleidoscope and bends light through the juice like a prism to determine sugar content.

After the proper amount of sugar is in place, yeast is added.

Wine yeast is sold in individual packets measured to fit six gallon carboys, glass jugs commonly used to store wine during the fermentation process, and costs around one dollar per packet. The packets are also labelled for the wine types, making their selection easy for first-time vintners.

With the yeast added, winemaking becomes a waiting game.

Vintners check their wine periodically over the next weeks, occasionally "racking" the wine by shifting the liquid into new containers to remove "fines," debris that settles to the bottom as the yeast thrives.

When the desired alcohol content is reached - when all or nearly all of the sugar has been converted for a dry wine or when a small amount of sugar is left for a sweeter wine - winemakers add a compound like potassium sorbate to kill the remaining yeast.

Wine is technically ready to drink at this point, but most winemakers allow their completed product to set for a few more weeks to develop the taste.

"The longer it ages the smoother, the more mellow the wine gets," said Catino.

The wine is then bottled and corked, if so desired, and ready to be enjoyed.

Those interested in trying their hand at making wine but are nervous about the lengthy process or don't wish to wait might want to opt for a wine kit.

Boxed wine kits come with everything needed to make six gallons of wine in five weeks. They start around $60 and can rise significantly in price depending on the type of grape.

Catino currently offers a variety of the kits, which come in flavors ranging from typical grape wines to fruitier flavors. He said that in addition to the time advantage, the kits allow for wine to be made at any time of the year.