The Basics of Winemaking
Here you’ll find some of the basic points in the making of wine. There are many, many variations, and today winemakers are using all sorts of methods, from ancient to super-modern, to make their wines. The best part is drinking them all, and finding out what you like.
Grapes must first be harvested when they are fully ripe, with the right amount of flavour and sugar development. This depends on the weather of the growing season, but generally takes place in early Spring. Grapes are clipped from the vines by hand or by a machine harvester, and transferred to the winery.
Sorting and Crushing
The grapes are bought into the winery, for sorting and crushing (even though good pickers would have done some sorting whilst harvesting). Sorters look for deformed, underripe, overripe, or discoloured grapes and remove them to make sure that no strange characters make their way into the wine. Some wineries like to keep the grapes as whole-bunches, whereas others like to completely separate the grapes. It all concludes in slightly different flavours in the finished wine.
Crushing takes place next (foot-pressing was the old method!), and the grapes are transferred into a hydraulic or basket-press (depending on the wine style and winemaker preference). The pressed juice is extracted, but winemakers are careful not to press too much, as the first-pressed juice is the most desirable, and this is called ‘free run juice.’ ‘Pressings’ or the ‘taille’ in French, is used in lower quality wines.
For red wines, after sorting and crushing the grapes spend time on skins, and this is how they begin to get their colour. Pressing can take place to stainless steel or oak barrel, as with white grapes.
Fermentation takes place in tank or barrel, depending on the wine, and this is where yeast is introduced in order to turn the sugars to alcohol and make ‘wine.’ Some wineries use natural, wild or ‘indigenous’ yeasts in a more traditional style, and others will use specially chosen yeasts for a specific style of winemaking. ‘Racking’ can take place here, where with white wines the juice is removed from solids before fermentation, and with red wine, it is done after. During red wine fermentation, the skins rise to the surface, and they are continually plunged or ‘pumped over’ to ensure the colour goes through the juice.
Maturing the wine
Maturation choices are for winemakers are many, and they must decide whether to use oak, stainless steel, concrete, terracotta, or many other maturation vessels. They must also choose the length of time to mature the wine, so that it develops the right flavour balances.
Wines are bottle after a period of maturation, and depending on the wine, this can take place after a few months, or a few years of maturation. The winery has the choice of using cork or screwcap (Stelvin) closure on their wines, or these days, they could choice artificial or enhanced corks, like Procork, DIAM, or Vinolok.