How Is Wine Made?
Anish Patel @ 2022-02-14 06:03:55 -0800
Wine is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages known to man. Made from fermented grapes, much of the wine we drink today has its roots in the vineyards that the Romans, Celtic tribes, and Phoceans tended. There are endless different styles of wine, and each region has signature winemaking practices.
However, there are many things that all wine styles have in common. This guide is designed to give you an easy-to-digest introduction to how wine is made. Let’s dive in.
Where Do the Flavors in Wine Come From?
There are so many different flavors and aromas in a single glass of wine. You’ll find fruit like apple, melon, strawberry, lychee, or plum. You might find savory notes like rosemary, bell pepper, braised meat, and mushroom. Often you’ll encounter spices like black pepper, clove, and ginger. And you’ll even find some weird, unexpected aromas like leather, toffee, smoke, or wet stones.
These aromas and flavors don’t come from steeping other ingredients in the wine. They actually develop as the grape ripens on the vine, as the grapes ferment in the winery, and even as the wine sits and ages for years inside the bottle.
To understand this, we have to go back to where it all begins: the vineyard.
The Making of Wine Begins in the Vineyard.
Natural winemakers know that great wine starts in the vineyard. There are a number of factors that affect how the wine tastes: grapes, climate, weather, aspect, soil, and of course, the choices of the winemaker. Together, these elements make up the terroir, the expression of place, of the wine.
Before we jump into the steps of the winemaking process, let’s take a quick look at how terroir directly affects how your wine tastes.
First Up, Grapes.
Grapes are the fruit of the vine. Vines are plants that can live over 60 years, and they fruit just once a year, beginning in spring. As warmer months arrive, the grapes ripen and fill with water, sugar, and acids. All of these will come into play in the winemaking process. As they ripen on the vine, grapes also develop their signature characteristics.
The most widely planted red grape in the world is Cabernet Sauvignon. The classic flavors that Cabernet develops are cherry, black currant, mint, and bell pepper. However, these flavors vary by region, depending on some other factors.
Climate Is One of Those Factors, and It’s a Big One.
Different grapes ripen more dependably in different climates. Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, prefers a moderate to warm climate. Cabernet is a late-ripening grape, so it needs a climate that will stay warm well into the autumn months. Some grapes ripen earlier, so if they sit on the vine for too long, they’ll begin to lose their acidity and develop sugar levels that are too high. For these grapes, a cool climate is ideal.
Weather Affects the Grapes’ Flavor, Too.
The variable weather from year to year changes how each wine tastes. This is why almost every bottle of wine you see in the store will have the year, or vintage, clearly stated on the label. Weather conditions like frost, rain, violent thunderstorms, hail, and wind all affect the crop.
The Rhone Valley of France is an interesting example of how wind affects grapes. In this region, an intense wind called The Mistral blows through the valley at speeds as high as 60 mph. On the one hand, the wind chases away humidity which is good for the vines. It creates sunny skies which ripen the grapes while still keeping the vineyard relatively cool.
But if the Mistral blows too hard, it can tear the grapes and leaves off of the vines or even uproot the vine completely. This will ruin the crop.
Aspect Influences Your Wine, Too.
Is the wine on flat land, on a hillside, or on a steep slope? All of these influence the grapes differently. Is there a river or an ocean nearby? This affects the temperature of the vineyard, which determines how the grapes ripen.
Even nearby mountains affect how your wine tastes. A climate that is too warm at the foothills will be cooler at higher altitudes.
Soil Plays an Important Role in How Your Wine Tastes.
Vines do well where other plants don’t, thriving in soils that are infertile and depleted. Vines actually need to struggle for water and nutrients in order to yield fruit that has any character at all. But even the type of soil influences how your wine tastes.
For example, Chardonnay grows on chalk in some regions. Here it creates a racy, light wine that tastes of citrus fruit and has very high acidity. But in other areas, it grows on clay, which creates a wine that is dense and full-bodied with lower acidity.
Last, the Winemaking Process Determines How Your Wine Tastes.
The vineyard makes a lasting impression on a grape, and so does the hand of man. Each winemaker makes a series of choices that may serve to add flavor or texture. Or a winemaker may take a hands-off approach, avoiding steps that add any flavor so that the grape can shine on its own.
Now that you know how many things affect the wine before it even reaches the winery, let’s take a closer look at how wine is made.
How Wine Is Made: 9 Steps Explained
The winemaking process is quite complicated. In the simplest terms, this is what it looks like:
The winemaker carefully chooses a time to pick the grapes. They have to be sure that the grape has had enough time to ripen. They also have to gamble with the changing weather of autumn that could bring frost or rain. Leave the grapes on too long, and they could get damaged by frost. Pick them too early, and they may not be ripe enough.
After harvesting, the grapes are brought into the winery, pressed, crushed, and fermented. The fermented grapes might then be combined to create a signature blend and aged in oak. Then the wine is clarified and bottled.
However, almost all of these steps are optional. And each grape requires something slightly different. Each region creates its own formula from this blueprint that creates a totally unique wine.
There are some major differences in how red and white wine are made.
How White Wine Is Made
Grapes are harvested either by hand or by machine. This depends on the resources of the winery, but sometimes the vineyards are on such steep slopes that the only option is to harvest by hand. Some winemakers are also just that stubborn; they prefer to harvest by hand because they believe it makes better wine.
The grapes are crushed and pressed. Crushing the grapes splits the skins open so that fermentation can take place. However, in many regions, grapes are gently pressed. Whole clusters (stem and all) are carefully placed into the vessel. This creates less particulate matter to be removed later and helps preserve the wine's subtle aromas.
The unfermented grape juice is chilled and left alone for a few days. The grape juice, called must at this stage in the process, is left alone so that suspended particles can fall out of it.
The skins of the grapes are removed and typically discarded. The main difference between red wine and white wine is that white wine is fermented without the skins. As we’ll see soon, this changes several things about the wine.
The must is moved into a vat so fermentation can take place. The most common types of fermentation vats are stainless steel, concrete, and oak. Each vessel makes a different impression on the grape. Oak adds flavor while stainless steel doesn’t. This is why aromatic grapes, like Riesling, are fermented in stainless steel: so that the floral notes aren’t drowned out by the bigger flavors of the oak.
During fermentation, yeast converts the sugar in the grapes into alcohol. When it finishes its job, it dies and falls to the bottom of the vessel. Depending on how the winemaker wants their wine to taste, they might leave this in the final product or move the wine off the dead yeast cells immediately.
Wines are blended and/or aged. At this point, if the winemaker wishes to make a blend, they blend the wines. They also might choose to age the wines in oak or concrete. This adds new flavors and aromas and allows the wine to interact with oxygen in a slow and controlled way, which develops existing flavors and creates a bigger, more complex tasting wine.
The wine may or may not be clarified. If the wine is natural, the winemaker typically skips this step. Conventional winemakers remove all solids by fining and filtering. This process is often aggressive but might be necessary if the quality of the fruit is bad. Small producers choose to ensure the best quality fruit so that the nuances and subtleties aren’t compromised during the filtration process.
Finally, the wine is bottled.
Red Wine Is Made Differently Than White Wine
There are a few major differences in how red and white wine are made.
The biggest difference is that red wine is fermented right along with the skins, whereas white wine is fermented after the skins are removed. The grape skin contains pigment; this is extracted during fermentation. But it also extracts tannins and flavor from the skins. This is why white wine doesn’t have tannins, and red wine does.
Last, red wine is fermented at slightly warmer temperatures than white wine. Warmer temperatures allow for more extraction of color, tannin, and flavor. And this makes a concentrated, structured wine.
How Rosé Is Made
To make rosé, a little bit of each process is applied. Rosé is a pink wine made with a process similar to that of white wine, but it uses red grapes.
The wine is fermented for a short amount of time at cooler temperatures–but with the skins intact. Then, the grape skins are strained off, and the remainder of the fermentation process is done in a white wine style: without the skins.
The cool temperatures and shorter time on the skins allow for a light extraction of color, so you get a light pink wine rather than deep red. Common grapes that are used to make rosé are Pinot Noir, Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, Syrah, and Sangiovese. But all kinds of red grapes are used.
So now you understand how the main three styles of wine are made. Next time you raise a glass to your lips, give it a swirl and smell it, savor it and appreciate the endless factors that went into making it what it is: a delicious glass of wine for you to enjoy.
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