The Basics of Winemaking

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007 at 12:00 am

winemakingThe process of making wines is not just a simple one track process. It involves a series of different stages. Each of these stages will eventually affect how the finished product will come out. Understanding the complex process that allows grapes to be made into wine would help one fully appreciate how valuable each sip would be on the wine glass.

Cultivation of the grapes

The first stage of the wine making process actually involves the proper cultivation of the grapes. Different grape varieties have different cultivation periods and do not mature all at the same time.

There are grapes that are easy to care for and require shorter cultivation periods before being harvested and there are other varieties that are harder to care for and may take longer cultivation times. Every grape grower should know the proper times when the grapes should be harvested in order for them to eventually be processed and made into fine quality wine.

Harvest of the grapes

Next in the process of wine making is the actual harvest of the grapes. Only grapes that are harvested at the right time come out as fine quality wines. Early or late harvest may produce wines that come out either as less in quality or totally bad wine.

The reason for this has to do with the condition of the fruit itself. The insides of the grapes contain the sugar that initially provides the flavor in the fruit. The skin contains the natural yeast that will help break down the grape sugars and initiate the fermentation process.

Fermentation

One of the most important stages of the wine making process is he actual fermentation of the grape juice as it slowly turns into wine. It is this process that will eventually determine how the finished product will come out. One should bear in mind that there is a fine line between wine and vinegar. A mistake in the wine making process would surely turn the grape juice into vinegar. That is why every care and attention is being given into this sensitive wine making process wherein the grape juice is made to ferment.

Fermentation involves a two step process. The first step is the alcoholic fermentation where the first flavors of the wine are being produced. As the grape juices are made to ferment, they begin to develop or form natural yeast that eventually breaks down the sugars in the grape. Sometimes cultivated yeasts are being added, depending on the location where the grapes are being fermented. In warm climates, the yeasts in the grapes would be enough to form naturally while it might not be the same case for the grapes being fermented in colder areas. In this case, sometimes the grape juices are heated first in order to kick off the fermentation process.

The first step in the fermentation process may last from two to three days for lighter colored red to almost a couple of weeks for deep red wines. For white wines this first step process may last for a minimum of a month and usually fermented in stainless steel vats in order to preserve the clarity of the wine. Fortified wines on the other hand are processed by half-fermenting the grape juice and then added with brandy or other alcoholic spirits in order to stop the fermentation process and preserve the sweetness of the wine. The second step called malolactic fermentation aims to reduce the acidity of the wine. Bacteria in the fermented grape juice turn malic acid into lactic acid and is then used in various ways depending if the wine being produced are reds, whites or fortified.

The different types of wines are created through the fermentation process. In the case of red wines, it is the tannins in the grape skins that provide the color for the wine. It is for this reason that the grape skins are made to ferment along with the juice in order to give the wine its distinct color. But there are also so-called rose wines that are prepared differently. The mixture of grape juice and skin are allowed to ferment together up to a certain time. After that, the grape skin is then separated from the grape juice in order to give the wine a lighter rose color.

In the case of white wines, extraction of the grape skins is a considerably important factor. Since quality white wines aim for clarity most of the time, it is important that the grape skins are removed immediately after crushing to make the clearest whites. Other methods include mashing the grapes with the juice and grapes together and then put into a press and separate the solid matter from the liquid by means of centrifugal force or through gravity. Another method consists of allowing the crushed grape juice to naturally drain to produce a slightly colored white wine.

Maturation process

The next stage in the wine making process is the maturation. It involves mellowing out the wines for a certain period before they are bottled. Most red wines have very high tannin contents that can make them undrinkable. But if they are made to mature for a certain period to allow some of the sediments to settle, the bitterness in the wines decreases.

It is during the maturation process that the character of the wine is eventually formed. Flavor of the wine is also affected during this process, depending on the container used, the time period and the temperature in which the wine is made to mature. The maturation process can take from a year to up to four years.

Clarification process

After maturation, the eventual product is made to go through a clarification process to separate the juice from unwanted sediments.

Bottling process

The final step in wine making is the bottling process where timing is always essential in determining when the wine would be perfect for bottling after the maturation. Bottling involves first putting the wine into a pasteurization process to sterilize the wine, allowing it to be preserved for many years.

Then the wine is then placed in bottles usually filled with nitrogen and then sealed tight so that air is prevented from reacting with the liquid inside and prevent further decay.