People have been making wine for thousands of years.
Do you have any idea how it’s made, though?
Today, we’ll be outlining the specifics of this natural process that calls for remarkably little by the way of human intervention. By the end of this short guide, you’ll know exactly how your favorite wine gets from grape to glass.
First, a quick overview so you can get to grips with the basics.
The Stages of Wine Making
Wine making follows 5 broad stages:
Although this is a general outline, there are endless variations to liven up the process. This is part of what makes wine-making such great fun. It’s these deviations that decide how each wine stands or falls, too.
If you’ve wondered about whether you use a different process for red and white wine, you don’t. Each type of wine relies on fundamentally the same process. Rose wine or sparkling wine is different, but falls outside the scope of today’s glimpse at making wine.
So, let’s explore how to make wine in a little more detail, fleshing out the above framework.
The Wine Harvest
The quality of the wine in your glass depends largely on the vineyard it comes from. Wine is truly born on the vine, and the grape will start flourishing at this point.
Key factors include the location of the vineyard, the quality of the soil, rootstocks, and vines, as well as the terrain, irrigation systems and how pest management is handled. Also, both time on the vine and exposure to the sun play a part in the success or failure of the wine in question. Both elements will impact the development of the grape and the level of sugars.
The annual grape harvest, then, is where wine making begins. This can be taken care of manually or using mechanical harvesting gear.
As you would expect, mechanical harvesting is much more efficient and therefore more cost-effective, too. Mechanical harvesting works especially well on vineyards occupying large expanses of flat earth.
With hand-harvesting, it’s possible to be more precise with selection. The juice content of the grape is also better protected from oxidation.
Wine makers will usually taste wine throughout the year to help determine the most appropriate harvest date. This will help them assess sugar levels and acidity.
When the chosen time arrives, the harvest takes place, either mechanically, by hand, or using a combination of the two methods.
Immediately following the harvest, there’s a frantic rush to crush and destem the grapes.
If desired, the stems are removed from the berries at this stage of processing.
When the grapes are crushed, the goal is not to extract every last drop of juice, but rather to rupture the skin so the juice begins to run. This allows the sugar to mix with the yeast that occurs naturally on the skin of the grapes. This mixture of sugar and yeast is converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
There are 2 methods of crushing grapes:
- Mechanical crushing
During this phase of wine production, the stems and the juice are separated.
Here, the grape skins are removed if the end goal is white wine. The grapes will then be pressed before the next step of fermentation. Once pressed, the juice is swiftly shifted to a tack so it can settle and the sediment can be racked off.
For red and orange wine, the skins are left intact to macerate. These provide the tannin and color characteristics of red wine.
The process of fermentation is easy to understand:
- Yeast + sugar = alcohol + CO2
Winemakers used either natural or cultivated yeasts for this step. Native yeast fermentation is also known as spontaneous fermentation. It takes much longer using this method, but it’s credited with producing more complex wines.
The residual heat that occurs during fermentation needs closely monitoring. If left unchecked, this can distort the flavors.
Fermentation takes place in large stainless steel tanks, or sometimes in oak barrels when making Chardonnay.
The contact phases is referred to as maceration. Here, the color, tannin structure and flavor profiles of red wines are developed. The more time red wine grapes spend in contact with the skins, the bigger the overall taste.
Sugar can be added during fermentation to mitigate grapes that are not ripe enough. This is known as enrichment.
If acidity is low, acid can be added.
When fermenting white wine, there’s an additional step called “stirring the lees”. Any yeast left behind after fermentation is mixed up to enhance the flavors.
Pressing takes place directly after crushing with white wine grapes, and post-fermentation for red wine grapes.
The solid sticky parts from the grape is squeezed to obtain a thick, gloopy liquid. This helps to enhance both the flavor and color of the wine.
Extra Fermentation for Red Wine
Red wine then undergoes an extra stage called malolactic fermentation.
Bacteria converts malic acids into lactic acid so the overall feel of the wine is softer and more inviting to the palate.
Some white wines also undergo this process in the barrel if they need mellowing out slightly.
Aging wine is the home stretch in a lengthy journey from vine to bottle.
Wine can be aged in steel, oak, cement, glass, or clay. The vessel plays a large part in the end result.
The objective of aging wine is to create a non-oxidative environment. This allows the wine to come into contact with oxygen.
Old oak doesn’t impart any taint to the wine like some new oak does. Oak will protect the wine while drawing out the flavor and allowing small amounts of oxygen inside to ease the tannins.
Stainless steel is becoming more popular for reasons of economy. Sometimes, wine makers add oak chips to compensate for the lack of oak.
When the juice is moved from barrel to barrel, this is called racking. This serves to separate the juice from the sediment below while also aerating it so the flavors are fully opened up.
There are several steps involved with the finishing process.
Initially, the wine is filtered or clarified to remove the vast bulk of the particulates in the wine. Floaters are sometimes weighed down using egg whites so they go to the bottom of the barrel where they can be easily separated from the wine.
Larger solid pieces are removed through filtration. This removes any cloudiness from the wine.
Blending wines can create new wines by mixing varietals.
Wines are blended for many reasons including:
- Improving color, flavor, and aroma
- Adjusting pH levels
- Tweaking alcohol content
- Altering tannin content
Blending wines requires a great deal of skill and experience and is best left to the master winemakers with suitably refined palates.
Bottling is the final phase in the lengthy but rewarding process of wine making.
The majority of wineries today have mechanical bottling lines. While smaller wineries often rent bottling rigs when required, large estates will take care of bottling onsite.
Bottle are slowly topped up with either carbon dioxide or nitrogen. This serves to displace any residual oxygen.
The bottle is then finished using either a traditional cork or a more modern screw top.
The bottles are then sent directly for distribution.
Well, if you started out today with no idea at all about how wine is made, that should have changed by now.
We’ve tried to skip the science today and to explain the complicated process of wine making in plain English.
You might be surprised that there are only minor differences in the way red and white wine is produced. This centers mainly on the way the stems are removed from white wind during the crushing phase, but left intact on red wine so the flavors and tannins better develop.
Come back soon for our investigation of how sparkling wine is made. For this, the process is slightly different, but we didn’t want to complicate today’s look at red and white wines.
Before you go, take a moment to bookmark BriccoWine. We have a very busy content calendar in place for the coming months. If you’re still shaking off the rigors of the holiday season, be sure to pop back soon for more detailed buying guides, impartial reviews of the best wine coolers and accessories. Also, if you have any queries, feedback, or requests, feel free to get in touch any time. We have a small, responsive team, and we’ll get back to you promptly.
We’ll see you the next time you need to know anything about the world of wine!