Wine is beloved worldwide, but have you ever wondered exactly how those tasty fermented grapes in your glass transition from fruit on the vine into a deliciously complex bottled wine? Crafting wine is a multi-step process that begins long before the grapes are harvested and continues through meticulous winemaking procedures until the liquid is clarified, aged, blended, and finally bottled.
Here is a more in-depth look at the key phases involved in creating wine, from vineyard to table.
Grape Growing Starts the Process
The winemaking journey begins in the vineyard, where grape varietals are selected based on the style and type of wine the winemaker aims to produce. Based on climate, soil conditions, and other factors, vines are planted in rows called vineyards. Throughout the growing season, vineyard workers meticulously maintain the grapevines through pruning, checking for pests and diseases, and more.
As the grapes ripen and harvest approaches, winemakers closely monitor sugar levels, acidity, and flavour. Determining optimal grape ripeness is an art in itself. White grapes are often picked early when they are still greenish to maintain desired acidity and freshness in the final wine.
Harvest Time Starts with Picking and Crushing
Once the grapes reach perfect ripeness, harvest begins. Grapes can be picked by hand or by machine. With hand picking, workers inspect each grape cluster by hand selecting only the best bunches. Mechanical harvesters shake the vines to detach the grapes rapidly.
After picking, the grapes move to a wine press where they are destemmed and crushed. Crushing the grapes ruptures the skins and allows the sweet inner grape juice, called must, to flow out. For white wines, the must is separated from the skins immediately. For reds, the must is left in contact with the grape skins which impart colour, tannins, and other compounds to the juice.
Fermentation Transforms the Grape Must
Next, the must is pumped into fermentation tanks made of stainless steel, concrete, or wood. Here yeast is added, either from selected cultured yeast strains or naturally occurring local yeasts. This kicks off the fermentation process, where yeast consumes the natural grape sugars, converting them into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Red wine musts ferment with the grape skins and other solids to extract more colour and tannins – a process called maceration. Whites generally ferment without the skins present. The conversion process typically takes 1-3 weeks, but can last months depending on the style of wine. Fermentation stops when the must reaches an alcohol level that is toxic to the yeast.
Ageing and Clarifying Creates the Finished Wine
After initial fermentation, the new young wine is pressed off its skins and seeds and transferred to barrels or tanks for ageing. Red wines are often aged for months or years in small oak barrels that impart subtle oak flavours and textures. White may spend a short time in oak or little to no time at all to maintain a fresh profile.
During ageing, the wines undergo a process called clarification where the wine is racked or siphoned off its sediment, filtered, and sometimes fined using agents like bentonite clay or egg whites to remove bitter tannins and particles. These processes stabilise and further clarify the wine.
Bottling Prepares the Wine for Market
After proper ageing and clarification, the winemaker blends wines from different barrels and tanks to achieve the desired final blend. The wine is tested, adjusted as needed, and prepared for bottling. Bottling involves pumping wine into bottles which are then sealed with corks or screwtop closures. Labels are affixed and the glass bottles are packed into cases, ready for drinking!
Next time you open and pour a bottle, take a moment to appreciate the long, intricate journey those grapes took – from vineyard fruit to finished glass of wine!
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