We have all heard the story before – a couple’s wedding wine reserve was depleted and the guests were about to be served with water. One miracle later, that same water was turned into the finest of wines. Unfortunately, winemakers cannot rely on miracles to achieve the same results. So how exactly do they do it?
Growing the grapes
By growing their own grapes, wineries are able to maintain full control over their base ingredient. Careful selection of a vineyard’s location is paramount as climate, topography and soil play an important role in a grape’s quality. Grapes grown in the Bordeaux region of France differ greatly from those grown in South Africa’s Stellenbosch region or the American State of California. As a result, the wine itself tends to vary from one region to another.
Accurate timing is the order of the day when it comes to harvesting. When a grape is harvested at its peak condition, its color, sugar level and ripeness is more liable to producing a quality wine.
Hand picking is generally the preferred harvesting method when producing fine wine. This gentler method lowers the risk of bruising the grape and negatively impacting the final product. Wineries maintaining larger vineyards and graced with lower budgets derive more benefit from using machine harvesters which, although more cost effective, are more liable to bruising the grapes.
Once harvested, the grapes are separated from their stems to prevent the fruit from acquiring a bitter taste.
The grapes are then sent to the winery where the crushing process takes place. Grape stomping is a very effective and popular method for extracting the fruit’s juice, but most wineries are replacing this old-fashioned method with the more modern and hygienic spiraled rollers.
If the juice is destined to become a white wine, the grapes’ skins and seeds are extracted from the liquid. Red wine, on the other hand, requires the juice to remain in contact with the grapes’ remnants as these contribute to its color and tannin. It is only after the fermentation process that the skin and seeds are removed from the fruity liquid.
White wine fermentation generally takes place in steel vats. Chardonnay is the exception here as it is fermented in oak barrels, much the same way as red wine. These vessels are the receptacles of choice for most winemakers although some may opt to utilize ones of a different wood.
In the fermentation phase, the grapes’ natural sugars – glucose and fructose – are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is achieved by adding purposely cultivated yeast to the grapes’ naturally occurring variant and allowing it to digest the fruit’s natural sugars. The wine’s alcohol content will generally depend on how long the wine is allowed to ferment. During fermentation, the wine’s temperature will need to be controlled as the resulting residual heat can distort the wine’s flavor.
Once the fermentation process is complete, any remaining yeast will need to be removed and the wine will be ready to enter the next stage – aging.
During the aging stage, the wine is pumped from one barrel to another in a process known as racking. This separates the wine from any sediment it may contain as well as enhancing its flavor through aeration. The wine’s quality depends a lot on the length of time it spends aging, with the finer red wines being left to age for a much longer period than white wines.
Clarification is a two-fold process by which the wine is rendered in to the clear product it is meant to be. The first part of the process is known as fining, where egg whites are used to bind tiny particles floating in the wine. This causes them to sink to the bottom and separate from the liquid. During the second part, filtering removes the larger particles from the wine.
Once the aging process is complete, the wine is ready to be bottled. Nitrogen or carbon dioxide may be used at this point to remove any oxygen trapped in the bottle’s orifice. Once sealed, the bottles are either labeled and shipped for consumption or left to age further. Usually, it is the white wines which are ready for consumption, with red wines requiring further aging.
Winemakers may at times opt to include additional processes during wine production. A wine’s color and flavor may be boosted by adding a thick liquid produced from the leftover skins and seeds of the grapes. Others may opt to enhance the fermentation process by adding malolactic fermentation. This results in less acidic red wines and mellower white wines – a process reserved for the finest of wines.
Some winemakers blend together different wines from different regions in a bid to create an altogether new product with unique features. Such ventures require great skill and experience as blending the finest wines into a convulsing product is a feasible occurrence – a unique wine indeed!
Many are the enthusiasts who opt to produce their very own wine rather than buy the commercially produced variety. Production time and processes tend to vary from one winemaker to another. These are often tied to the winemaker’s budget, time constraints and the final product’s desired quality.
Below is a quick and simple guide to making your own wine. Keep in mind that not all wines are made equally and myriad winemaking recipes have cropped up across the ages. After all, variety is the spice of life – and wines!
If growing your own vines is not an option, you should buy fresh grapes at their peak condition and crush them within a short time. Alternatively, fresh grape juice specially selected for winemaking may be purchased.
Maintain the juice at room temperature and add 0.2 ounces Lalvin dry yeast to every 5 gallons of grape juice. Allow the juice to ferment at room temperature for at least 10 days.
After 10 days, filter the liquid into a sterilized glass container and seal it with a cork. Make sure that the filtering process successfully separated the liquid from any sediment which might have piled up. Once satisfied that the juice is completely sediment-free, allow it to ferment for a further 14 days, keeping it constantly at room temperature.
After 14 days, the fermentation process is complete and the wine is ready to enter its aging stage. Allow the wine to age for at least 6 months in a cool, dark room. After 6 months, bottle the wine – which by now should have acquired a darker shade – and leave it to age for a further 6 months if the wine is of the red variety.
At this point the wine will be ready for its final and most enjoyable stage – consumption. Kudos if the wine is to your liking. If not, do not get disheartened. Experimentation is the key to success. Remember – the best wineries creating the finest vintage did not do so on their first attempt.
Speaking of wineries and the finest vintage – a complimentary bottle to your winemaking source of information would be highly appreciated should you succeed in your endeavor!