As you sip on your pinot grigio or merlot, you might wonder how grapes go from growing on a vine to ending up bubbling in your glass. All winemakers add their own variations to the process, but in general, wine goes through five steps: harvesting, crushing, fermenting, aging and bottling. Here’s a little winemaking 101 to explain how wine is made.
Timing the grape harvest is essential for making delicious wine. If the grapes are too ripe or not ripe enough, the wine will suffer. The weather is also a factor, and winegrowers always hope for clear skies during harvest. Grapes can be mechanically harvested or picked by hand, and most vineyards hand-sort bunches after harvest to remove rotten or under-ripe fruit.
The grapes are de-stemmed and crushed. Most winemakers have replaced the traditional method of stomping on grapes with bare feet and now use mechanical means to smash the grapes into must, or freshly pressed grape juice.
Red grapes are crushed and left to begin the fermentation process naturally without removing the skin, seeds and solids. This helps to enrich the color, flavor and tannin content of red white. On the other hand, white grape juice is quickly separated from the skin, seeds and solids to prevent unwanted color and tannins from diffusing into the wine.
The fermentation process converts sugar into alcohol. Dry wines ferment longer, while makers of sweet wine stop the process before all the sugar has turned into alcohol.
Fermenting begins naturally within six to 12 hours of crushing the grapes, but many winemakers add cultured yeast for greater control over the process and to produce a more predictable end product. Punching, pumping and circulating fermenting wine introduces oxygen to help speed up the process, which can take 10 to 30 days or longer.
Red wine passes through a filter as it transfers from the fermentation tank into a different vessel, such as an oak barrel or stainless steel container, to remove dead yeast cells, tannins, proteins and other solids. There, the wine ages, a process that takes between six months and three years to complete. Winemakers check the maturity of their wine at regular intervals. When the drink passes a taste test, it’s time to bottle it.
Further filtration is often used during the bottling process to make the wine bright and clear and reduce the risk of microbial spoilage. Bottles are sealed with either a cork or a screw cap, which is purely based on the winemaker’s preference.
Now that you know how wine is made, you may have a bit more appreciation for what goes into creating the perfect bottle of wine. Share your newfound knowledge with your friends at Vinum Bar! We have an extensive wine list, available by the glass, in a flight or by the bottle for your private party, seminar or bridal shower. Come visit us in Newark, CA, or call 510-285-3585 to reserve a spot for your party today.