How is wine made?
Wine has come a long way from the bare-foot stomp days to the advanced science of sharp reds and crisp whites. The techniques, embellishments, and intricacies that go into vinification have no doubt seen a significant amelioration since 6000 BC spurring the interest of oenophiles all across the globe. The intrigue for many is the vine-to-wine process- all the fine details and actions leading up to the momentous uncorking of their wine bottles. Well, here’s what we’ll say: the art of wine crafting is no simple feat; vintners cap wine production as quite comprehensive, with the process taking anywhere between several weeks to years.
Winemaking is a craft to marvel at; from tending humble grapes to engineered refinement and bottling, the science of it all is admirable. While most people are admittedly versant with the origins and notes of their favorite merlot and pinot noir bottles, only a few know how they came to be. So before you let your imagination veer off to some eager toes waiting to press your grapes, let us take you through the five universal steps of winemaking.
Grape harvesting season typically begins 30-70 days after fruit set; during this period, the grapes will have a noticeable color change, an increase in sugars, and a cutback on acids. Upon these indications, hand-pickers and mechanical machines are employed to snip the grape clusters from the vines. Vintners opting to use devices for this step generally enjoy a quicker and cheaper harvest; the drawback, however, would be the steep slope terrain of vineyards which are challenging to navigate with heavy machinery. Alternatively, vintners could go old school and hand-pick their vines for less damaged grapes.
NOTE: Traditional grape picking is done at night when the weather is much more forgiving to the hand-pickers.
After picking and gathering the grapes, it’s time to destem. This step is self-explanatory; the grapes are put through a destemming device to separate them for their stem, after which they’re run through an industrial press for crushing. The crushing will extract the juice from the grape, separating it from its skins and seeds. The grape extract will then be filtered out for sediments through racking. This phase will look a little different for red wines and rose as their grapes are lightly crushed to preserve the tannins.
Now we move on to the most critical step of winemaking- fermentation. At this point, the filtered grape extract is stored in tanks where yeast is introduced to trigger alcoholic fermentation. Scientifically, a chemical reaction between sugar and yeast produces carbon dioxide and ethanol. So when the sugared grape extract is combined with yeast, it ferments into alcohol. This process usually takes five days to several weeks, depending on the wine being manufactured. To speed this process up, wine producers use small batches of yeast and temperatures of 70-85 degrees for red and rose wines and 45-60 degrees for white wines. Of course, this is also when artificial colors, sweeteners, and preservatives are added to the wine.
NOTE: Fermentation can either be done by cultivated or native yeasts, a factor that often distinguishes the quality of wines.
Aging, otherwise known as maturation, is storing fermented wine in stainless steel tanks and barrels to intensify its flavor. Ideally, aging will play within three factors- time, place, and process. Take time, for instance; the longer you age your bottles, the better they taste; hence, the phrase aging like fine wine. Similarly, if a vintner chooses to age their wines in french or American oak barrels, they build on the flavor and character of the wine. Thanks to wood’s qualities and porous nature, oak-barrel wine will have a smooth texture due to oxidation, and one could easily pick up smokey and subtle hints of spice and vanilla from them.
To nip it in the bud, wine producers move on to packaging. With the help of automated machinery, the now fully aged wine will be filtered and fined for clarity. Filtration is typically done using a porous material to trap any unwanted particles in the wine before progressive fining with the help of fining agents to coagulate any residual sediment. The commonly used agents for this step are bentonite, gelatin, egg whites, and isinglass. After fining, the clarified wine will be filled into industrial tubes and packed into sterile wine bottles. The bottles are then corked or screw-capped to keep out bacteria, and the wine is ready for distribution.
There you have it, a step-by-step guide to winemaking for wine enthusiasts. The craft has revolutionized since the centuries-old toe-kneading phase into a delicate science of thoughtful production. Today, the wine industry is defined by a comprehensive, unique selection of wines capitalizing on modern-day technology and the dynamic market demand for tasteful masterpieces. So the next time you’re cracking open that bottle of your favorite pinot noir, take a minute to appreciate how far it has come; it’s origin, its birth, its process, and raises a glass to every hand that curated that grape to wine.