4 Steps of Winemaking You Should Know
From the vineyard to the bottle on your table, how is wine really made? Without complicating matters, these are the steps that you need to know about.
Heart and soul of a wine are the grapes used and it is very important to pick them at the right time. It is often said that wines are made in the vineyards and not the winery. A huge part of a winemaker’s task is to ensure the grapes are healthy, disease free and then to decide when the grapes are ready for picking. Ideally, different plots of grape varietal are picked at different points of time during harvest. Grapes picked earlier will have less sugar and therefore will produce crisp and dry wines. Those harvested in the later phase of harvest will be mature grapes with more sugar leading to sweeter wines.
The first step of fermentation starts with crushing and pressing of the grapes. It is after this that there is a difference in procedure between red and white winemaking. White grapes are crushed and the juice strained from the stems, seeds and skins so as to avoid any coloration. Red grapes on the other hand are crushed and left with the stems and skins to macerate for a while before it is strained. Red wines get their color from the skins of the grapes and the maceration process achieves that. Tannin also develop in the wine during this time.
The second step is where the magic really takes place. Grape juice starts fermenting within 6-12 hours of crushing due to the naturally present yeast in the fruit. But this yeast strain alone may not be enough, so the winemaker adds strains developed in labs to boost the process. In a gist during fermentation, yeast converts sugar in the juice into alcohol. This process is also controlled by the winemaker depending on how dry or sweet he wants the wines to be. Red wines are fermented at higher temperatures, around 26-37º Celsius, as compared to white wines which are fermented at 6-10º Celsius.
After the first stage of fermentation is complete the wine is then transferred into stainless steel tanks or oak casks. Till now oxygen had a major role to play in the winemaking, from here on it is considered disastrous for good winemaking, so these tanks and casks are designed to be airlocked. Whatever remaining yeasts and proteins remain in the wine breakdown now, the progress in this stage is very slow.
The idea of using either oak casks or stainless steel tanks depends on how the final wine should be. Oak adds additional flavors like vanilla and woody notes which add to the smoothness of the wine. Oak is used mostly in red wines although white wines like Chablis are also known to go through oak treatment. Stainless steel is commonly preferred for white wines as it helps maintain the freshness of the wines.
This is the final step. Depending on the demand from the market, a winery will bottle wines for sale. Many wines are further aged in bottles before they are released in the market; this is just to ensure that when you buy the bottle of wine it is in perfect drinkable condition. However, if you wish to keep it in your cellar for longer you can.
A big debate has always been about bottle closures – corks versus screw caps. We believe that with modern technology and advancements the need for this debate is quite passé.