How is wine made?

How is Wine Made?

Harvesting the Grapes - After the decision is made that the grapes in a given vineyard are ripe, they are harvested. Harvesting can be done in multiple ways from traditional hand picking to machine harvesting. When harvesting it is important to ensure that the grapes are healthy and not damaged, while also discarding unripe, rotten or otherwise unfit grapes so that only the best grapes are used in the wine. Most winemakers are meticulous about sorting out only the best looking grape clusters.

Fermentation - The process by which sugar is transformed into alcohol; how grape juice interacts with yeast to become wine. After sorting, grapes are usually either partially or completely de-stemmed. They are then usually pressed (although not always), then are placed in either stainless steel tanks or oak barrels to undergo fermentation. Most of the time the winemaker will add a yeast that is known best for a complete fermentation of the varietal. Over several days the yeast will start growing and they will consume the sugar in the grapes, converting it to alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) and carbon dioxide (which comes out as gas bubbles). During this process the fermenting grapes' temperature is usually controlled somewhat and the grapes on top that rise to the surface are occasionally "punched down". Alternatively, juice from the bottom of the tank is pumped over the top to promote color extraction. Eventually, for dry table wines, all the sugar is converted by the yeast to alcohol and the fermentation slows and eventually stops.

Malolactic Fermentation - A secondary fermentation, often occurring in barrels, whereby harsher malic acid is converted into creamier lactic acid.

Barrel Fermented - A process by which wine (usually white) is fermented in oak barrels rather than in stainless steel tanks; a richer, creamier, oakier style of wine.

Aging - After fermentation most wines undergo some type of aging prior to bottling. For very fresh wines that are meant to be drunk right away, this still can be skipped, but for more serious wines with more depth and complexity, aging helps them develop more complexity, bringing them into a more balanced wine, while also rounding out its finish, leading to a more complete wine. Aging can be done in many ways, the most common probably being aging in oak barrels. The type of oak used, the size of the barrels, the age of the barrels and the amount of charring of the oak can influence the effect this has on flavor tremendously. New oak, with higher char and smaller barrels can all lead a very toasty, oaky aroma and flavor to the wine, while larger, older, and less charred oak barrels just let the wine age without as much oak flavor influence. This is the choice of the winemaker depending on the style their looking for. During the aging process, the winemaker generally tastes the wine occasionally to determine when the wine is ready to bottle.