We all love a delicious glass of our favourite alcohol-infused grape beverage. You might know the region the wine was produced, what year the vintage was, or even which types of grape were used... but the real question is: do you know how the wine was made?
Is it really that hard? In short, yes. If you speak to a winemaker, you’ll be told that the process in making wine is much more complicated than what most people think. Let’s review the basics, so next time you’re visiting a winery, you’ll have a better understanding of how wine is made and also a new appreciation for the process when enjoying your next glass of vino.
It's no surprise that not all wines are created equal. However, most red and white wines follow a very similar method in the way they are produced, with only minor differences between the two. Winemakers make critical decisions during the winemaking process: decisions which can make or break of a good drop, having a major effect on the final product. It goes without saying that mother nature also plays her part in the process... if the weather patterns aren’t kind, vineyards won’t produce quality grapes - or even the right types of grape - which affects what the wineries can produce. This is partly why wine is such a complicated product! Never fear, though - we have made it our mission to simplify the wonderful word of wine to maximise your enjoyment and understanding.
First things first: there are some specific tasks when it comes to making wine. Some of these include harvesting, preparation and crushing, fermentation, clarification, ageing and bottling.
Location, location, location, is perhaps one of the most important decisions when planning a vineyard. Grapes are very fussy when it comes to soil, weather and climate - which means if you get this wrong, you’ll be out of luck! The second task, which is also vital, is when to pick (‘harvest’) the grapes. They must be harvested in their prime - and when ‘prime’ is does vary depending on the type of grape - as sugar levels, colour and taste all have to be taken into consideration.
Stomp, stomp, stomp!
So we have our grapes all picked, now it’s time to separate the stems and leaves - a task done either by hand or machine. Fun fact: stems left in contact with the grapes for too long changes their flavour, giving them an overpowering, bitter taste, so be sure to remove the stems early on.
Now that we have our grapes, the question is: to skin or not to skin? Skin contact with the juices is the main difference between white and red wine. White wine grapes are crushed and the skins are immediately removed, while red wine grapes are crushed and the skin remains for some time to deliver their colour, tannins and flavour to the wine. Sometimes the crushing is known as the famous grape ‘stomping’, which is the process where you jump into a vat and crush the grapes with your bare (clean!) feet - something which can still be experienced at many wineries around the world.
This is where the magic happens. Fermentation is when the grape juice finally reaches adulthood: a grape’s naturally occurring sugar converts into alcohol. Sugar and yeast are quite often added by winemakers for consistency, used to control the end result. Winemakers monitor and keep a close eye on sugar levels, temperature and length of time as they all play big parts in the fermentation process, which continues until all the sugar is turned into alcohol. When producing sweet wines, the winemaker may choose to stop the fermentation process early to keep some sugar in the wine, which makes the end result much sweeter. Other fruits and plants, such as berries, apples, cherries, berries, palm, and rice can also be fermented (but honestly, it's just not the same).
Now comes the time to filter out any remaining skins, seeds and any solids from the fermentation process. The wine is then ‘racked’, which means it’s transferred into something else, such as an oak barrel, for ageing. Wines can be racked several times before being bottled.
Ageing and bottling
The final steps to making all our dreams come true. When the wine has reached a desired clarity from the racking process it stored and aged, allowing it to mature in darkness and peace. Oak barrels are the most common way to store wine for ageing. The oak plays a part in itself, imparting its flavour to the wine. Stainless steel tanks are becoming more popular with winemakers as well, as they don’t require replacing as often, and are very easy to clean and maintain. When using steel tanks, winemakers will add oak chips to the tanks to impart this oak flavour. Once matured, wine is piped into a bottling room, where it’s poured into bottles, corked or capped, then labelled and shipped off for us to enjoy!
So there you have it! The more you understand the winemaking process, the more you can respect how difficult it is to consistently produce a good wine - and why there’s such a huge variety of wines available for us to sample and enjoy.
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Cheers to that!
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