How to Make Wine
How is wine made? The process of making wine is a long, arduous journey; the steps involved in making wine are relatively simple, however, producing a premier wine such as a Lafite Rothschild, Petrus or Le Pin is extremely complex and the necessary methods and techniques have been perfected over decades, if not centuries.
What is Wine?
Wine is essentially an alcoholic beverage made from fermented fruits, usually grapes. Other fruits can be used to make wine however they are usually called after the fruit from which it came, for example ‘apple wine’ or ‘mead’.
Bear in mind that different types of wine are achieved through differing methods in the production process, for example red wines utilize the grape skins while white wines do not. Apart from the basic differences when making different types of wine, wineries will differ ever so slightly in all aspects – grape selection and amounts, blends, fermentation and maturation times and a host of other factors; for this very reason every wine has their own unique taste and flavor, and these methodologies is what differentiates a good wine from a top wine, and a top wine from an elite wine.
The art of making wine is known as ‘vinification’, which covers the entire process from starting with a selection of grapes to bottling the wine once it is deemed ready. A maker of wine is known as a ‘vintner’ or winemaker, and the science of wine production is referred to as oenology. Without delving too deeply into the scientific approach or finer nuances of creating a luxuriously elegant wine, we have detailed a brief outline of winemaking process.
The Process of Making Wine
Grapes are grown in a vineyard, which can be as small as a garden, to a massive, sprawling area covering hectares and hectares of land. Herein lies the concept of ‘terroir’ – a term used to detail several factors such as the types of grapes, the type and chemistry of the soil and even the elevation and shape of the vineyard. The grapes used in wine production are crucial; one can produce a bad wine from good grapes, but one cannot make a good wine from bad grapes.
It all starts with picking the grapes in the vineyard. Generally the harvest is done between September and November (in the Northern hemisphere) where the workers will handpick the grapes straight off the vine. Alternatively, some chateaux now use machines for harvesting. The plucked grapes are destemmed and collected in large containers and then shipped to the wineries to initiate the production.
The grapes are then ‘crushed’ to release the contents of the grapes. Depending on what type of wine is made, skins may or may not be removed. Traditionally, wine crushing was done by trampling on the grapes by foot however, with the advancement of technology, machines are increasingly coming into play.
Fermentation is defined by 'the chemical breakdown of a substance, usually by bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms.' In terms of wine it refers to the process whereby the sugars in the grape turn into alcohol due to the already present yeast content, and/or with surplus ingredients at the vintners discretion. Temperature control and constant attention is required to keep the fermentation process successful. The process can take anywhere between a couple of days to several weeks. A secondary fermentation process is also optional.
Thereafter, the wine is transferred to large containers, in most cases enormous oak barrels (traditionally with a capacity of 225 liters) held in cool, underground cellars. This process of maturation can take anywhere from several months to several decades; in fact, wine keeps maturing even after it has been bottled. Even during the maturation stage, constant care, chemical testing and additional supplements are required to keep the wine production on track.
Blending, as the name suggests, is the act of mixing the wine with other batches, to achieve the desired taste. Fining agents and preservatives can also be added at this stage. The blending procedure is crucial in determining the quality of the wine; finding the right balance of all the wines, supplements and additives can be the difference in creating an average wine or an exceptional wine.
This penultimate step in the production of wine is filtration. Filtration serves two purposes; clarification and microbial stabilization of the liquid. Clarification can be for aesthetic pleasure or taste, whereas stabilization ensures the wine remains pure and unspoiled.
This refers to the filling and sealing of the wine in a bottle. Traditionally, wine bottles are sealed using corks, but one can also opt for caps or synthetic corks. Even the cork can affect the wine quality, as factors like leakage and debris will influence the taste. The final finishing is adding the capsule to the top of the bottle to keep it airtight and sealed as tightly as possible.
As you can see, the art of making wine is a long and complex process. Throughout the entire production chain, there are numerous intricacies, techniques and methodologies that all have a profound effect on the final outcome. The next time you enjoy a delicious wine, take a moment to think about the long arduous journey of the grape; from the vineyard all the way to your glass.
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