The air in North­eastern pro­fessor Ennio Min­golla’s base­ment is thick with the aroma of fruit, fer­men­ta­tion, and yeast. “It’s a mul­ti­sen­sory expe­ri­ence,” he says, refer­ring to his home wine­making operation.

Four 50-​​gallon steel drums line the perimeter of the cav­ernous, stone-​​walled room in his Wellesley, Mass., home. Each holds a con­coc­tion of warm liquid and grape skins. He plunges his hand into one steel drum, “punching down the cap” of cabernet sauvi­gnon berries, and re-​​emerges with a glass full of inky purple juice.

Combing through the liquid below the floating fruit car­casses Min­golla stirs up the deli­cious chem­ical reac­tion of carbon dioxide, sugar, and lactic acid mol­e­cules. “Depending on the batch, this is a process that I’ll do a couple of times a day until all the sugar is con­verted to alcohol,” Min­golla says.

Born in Puglia, Italy, Min­golla hails from a long line of vint­ners. He started young—“Literally, at my father’s knee,” he smiles. His father, Gio­vanni Batista Min­golla, moved his family to the U.S. in 1955, leaving their lives on the farm where they grew food to fill their plates and grapes for their income. “Upon coming to the United States, my father became a con­struc­tion worker,” Min­golla explains. “Like a lot of immi­grants of his gen­er­a­tion, making wine, as opposed to buying it, was an eco­nomic necessity.”

The elder Min­golla tests the den­sity of a new batch of wine. Photo cour­tesy of Ennio Mingolla.

After sit­ting in the steel bar­rels for a couple of weeks, most of the sugar in the berries has been con­verted to alcohol. Min­golla con­firms this with a quick test of the mixture’s den­sity, which, he says, is “an old fash­ioned way of mea­suring sugar.” He floats a hollow glass tube filled with lead shot in a beaker of the wine. “More sugar makes the liquid more dense,” he explains. “This is showing me that the fer­men­ta­tion has already gone fur­ther than I would have predicted.”

Min­golla then trans­fers the mix­ture to a vari­able capacity tank, an air­tight con­tainer that allows for give and take in the volume without exposing the aging wine to oxygen. “You need air for the fer­men­ta­tion,” he says. “Once that’s done, air is your enemy.”

Next he trans­fers the spent Cal­i­fornia berries and wine into a steel press, which uses com­pressed air to sep­a­rate the liq­uids from the solids. “The tech­nology for this stuff is beau­tiful,” says Min­golla, who has a classic wooden screw press but no longer uses it because of  its sus­cep­ti­bility to micro­bial contamination.

From this point, he waits.

Another room in Mingolla’s base­ment is crammed with ele­gant glass con­tainers that hold wine at var­ious stages in the process. Some have been there for a couple of years. “When it tastes ready, it’s ready,” Min­golla says. “It’s not much more com­pli­cated than that.”

He siphons the wine from one glass con­tainer to another, sep­a­rating the liquid from par­tic­u­late that was in solu­tion during the pressing phase but has since crys­tal­lized  over the long set­tling period. “I don’t bottle most of my wine,” Min­golla says. “Corks are expen­sive. It’s hard work get­ting the cork in. It’s hard work get­ting the cork out.” Instead he lets it sit in the loose jugs until he’s ready to drink it, a method Ital­ians call vino sfuso, or bulk wine.

He bot­tles some of the wine to give as gifts, but drinking it straight from the jugs in the base­ment car­ries on the social tra­di­tion that char­ac­ter­izes the rest of the process. “The thing about wine­making that I enjoy a great deal is its phys­i­cality and its social nature,” Min­golla says. “I gen­er­ally do it with some kind of help, be it from friends or my family members—my wife, my children.”

When the whole process is com­plete, we raise our glasses in appre­ci­a­tion: “A la salute!,” Min­golla croons: To your health.