Winemaking in Bordeaux

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007 at 12:00 am

bordeaux wineAmong the wine producing regions in the world, the one that holds a lot of prestige is Bordeaux, France. This port city in the southwest of France supplies one third of the best quality wine in France. It is not surprising considering Bordeaux has 57 appellations, around 7,000 wine-producing chateaus, and about 13,000 wine growers.

They say the soil is the main reason why Bordeaux produces great wines. The soil contains a hefty amount of gravel which gives the soil a characteristically absorbent nature keeping the heat trapped which in turn allows ripening of the grapes and expansion of the vine’s root of systems.

Wine growers in Bordeaux follow the same old wine making traditions that have been used by wine makers in Bordeaux for more than 2000 years now.

Wine making starts with the harvesting of grapes. The middle of September is the usual time of the year when grapes are harvested. Handpicking the the way grapes are harvested in the region. The youngest vines are handpicked first and then harvesters move to the oldest ones. A chateau needs about 200 pickers to finish five days of harvesting. The pickers lay the grapes on a sorting table where the bad looking ones are thrown out.

Before the start processing the grapes, the harvested fruits are destemmed. No whole grape clusters are left behind. The fruits are then crushed into a mixture of juice and skin called must. The must is then moved by minimum pumping into stainless steel fermentation tanks or in wood vats.

The use of stainless steel tanks is one of the latter innovations that wine makers in Bordeaux adopted throughout the years. During the fermentation process, the temperature is kept at not more than 32 degrees C or 90 degrees F. Wine makers add refined sugar to the must during fermentation to increase the alcohol content of the wine. In eight to ten days, fermentation is completed.

Afterwards, they let the juice get in contact with skins to add color to the wine. This process is also known as maceration. The period of maceration is usually accomplished in 15 days to 30 days. Once completed, the malolactic fermentation comes next. At this stage, the juice is transferred wood or stainless containers where temperature is maintained at 16-20 C (61-68 F). The whole malolactic fermentation lasts for 12-15 days.

Each chateaus has their own combinations for blending wines. Blending takes more time. Blending a barrel of wine can lasts for 18-20 months. Traditional French Oak barrels are still used to mature or age wines in Bordeaux.

However, since new oaks can really be expensive, some wine makers opt to use other techniques like racking the wine. Racking refers to moving the wine to a fresh, clean barrel every three months. Sulfur dioxide is added during the prevent oxidation and preserve the wine.

When they have reached the finning process, wine makers are almost through. Fining is the final clarification of the wine before it is prepared for bottling. Often, they use egg white or albumen to clear the wine. After finning, the wines are then transferred to back in tanks or barrels awaiting bottling.

At this stage, the grapes have entered a process that lasted for about two years. From harvesting, to fermentation, to aging, and finally to bottling, the grapes have spent almost 2 years in the processing stage.