Winemaking is a complex and fascinating process that involves numerous steps, each playing a crucial role in creating the delicious wines that we love. From tending to the vines in the vineyard to bottling the finished product, winemaking is a labor of love that requires skill, knowledge, and patience.
As wine lovers, it’s always a good addition to your area of knowledge to understand the art and process underlying the wine we drink, so join us as we shed light on the journey from vine to glass.
Step 1: Vineyard Management
The winemaking process begins in the vineyard, where grapevines are carefully cultivated and managed throughout the growing season. This includes activities such as pruning, canopy management, pest control, and irrigation. The goal is to ensure that the grapes achieve optimal ripeness and flavor development, which is essential for making high-quality wine.
Pruning is an essential practice in wine grape cultivation – helping to manage the vine’s growth and shape, ensuring that it grows in a controlled manner, and produces optimal fruit quality. It also promotes the development of healthy buds, which are responsible for producing new shoots and eventually grape clusters.
Importantly, pruning allows for better airflow and sunlight penetration into the vine’s canopy (canopy management), reducing the risk of diseases and promoting even ripening of the grapes.
Canopy management refers to the deliberate manipulation and maintenance of the grapevine’s foliage, shoots, and grape clusters in vineyards to optimize yield for winemaking. There are various techniques involved such as pruning (covered above), but also shoot thinning, leaf removal, and positioning of shoots and grape clusters.
Canopy management aims to create an ideal microclimate within the vine’s canopy, allowing for adequate sunlight penetration, airflow, and disease prevention. Proper canopy management is crucial in vineyards for wine production to achieve optimal grape quality, and the highly sensitive flavor development linked integrally to the ripening of the grapes.
Step 2: Harvesting
Harvesting is a critical step in winemaking, determining the quality and style of the wine. Depending on the vineyard’s size and the winemaker’s preferences, they may opt for either hand harvesting (using manual laborers) or machine harvesting – with traditional winemakers preferring the former and more industrial operations typically opting for the latter.
Timing of the harvest is crucial, as it affects the sugar, acid, and flavor balance in the grapes. For example – white wine grapes are typically harvested earlier in the season in order to retain higher acidity levels, while red wine grapes are allowed to ripen longer in order to increase both sugar content and flavor depth.
Step 3: Crushing and Pressing
Once the grapes have been harvested, they are then transported to the winery – for crushing and pressing.
Crushing breaks the grape skins and releases the juice, which is then separated from the solid grape material which is either used for a later part of the winemaking process, or retained for use (or sale) as fertilizer material.
For white wines, the juice is usually pressed off the skins immediately after crushing to avoid extracting color and tannins. For red wines, and blush wines, the crushed grapes are fermented with the skins to extract color, flavor, and in the case of reds – tannins.
Step 4: Fermentation
Fermentation is the process by which the raw grape juice at this stage of the process is converted into raw wine.
Yeast, either naturally occurring or added, consumes the sugar in the grape juice and produces alcohol as a byproduct. Fermentation can occur in stainless steel tanks or barrels, and the temperature and duration of fermentation are carefully controlled by the winemaker to influence the wine’s style and character.
Step 5: Aging
After fermentation, the wine is aged in tanks or barrels to develop its flavors, complexity, and structure. For red wines, this aging process is what aids the development of more complex flavors and softens the tannins – which is exactly why older aged red wines often exhibit far more complex flavor palates than their younger cousins.
Oak barrels can impart flavors such as vanilla, spice, and toast, and can also help to soften tannins and add complexity to the wine – and are often used for many reds or specific whites which benefit from the addition of these notes to their profile.
Step 6: Blending
Blending is an art form in winemaking, where different wines are combined to create a final blend with the desired characteristics. While some wines are exclusively made from a single grape and vintage, many incredible wines are actually blends of numerous grapes which each enhance an aspect of the wine to produce the finished product.
This can involve blending different grape varieties, wines from different vineyards, or wines aged in different types of barrels. The winemaker’s palate and experience play a crucial role in achieving the desired flavor profile and balance in the final blend.
Step 7: Clarification and Stabilization
Before bottling, wines are often clarified and stabilized to remove any remaining solids or impurities and ensure their stability during aging and storage. This may involve fining, filtering, or cold stabilization processes, depending on the style of the wine.
Step 8: Bottling
The final step in the winemaking process is bottling, where the wine is carefully transferred from the aging vessels to bottles. We’re going to keep the details light here, as we’ve explored the differences in wine bottling and different wine vessels in other posts, but suffice to say once you’re through to the bottling process you’re very nearly at the point we all love – drinking.
So there we have it – winemaking, from grape to glass!