Experts have traced the origins of winemaking back to the Caucasus Mountains, with evidence showing that early wine production could date as far back as 8000 BC. We explore the winemaking process, from grape picking to pouring, and the complex chemical processes that take place in between. Winemaking consists of five key stages.
Here are the 5 keys stages of making wine
Harvest is the busiest time of the year in any winery. Family-owned vintners often have their own traditions, events, and even festivals to celebrate the event. Grapes in the northern hemisphere are generally harvested in August, September, and October. In the southern hemisphere, they are typically harvested in February, March, and April.
Harvest times can vary in both hemispheres according to variables such as growing season, weather, and grape ripeness. The longer grapes remain on the vine, the greater their sugar content. Sometimes vintners leave grapes on the vine for up to a few months after the traditional harvest. This results in sweeter grapes that are perfect for dessert wines.
Harvesting may be completed by a machine or by hand. Hand-harvesting enables more precise selection. Human hands are also usually gentler than machines, resulting in less damage to grape skins and resultant juice oxidation. However, hand harvesting is significantly more expensive. For this reason, many large vineyards utilize mechanical harvesters. Some vineyards use a combination of handpicking and automated harvesting.
Winemakers harvest grapes for sparkling varietals, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, first. They generally have lower sugar levels, resulting in a dryer taste. Red grapes are typically harvested next, as they take a little longer to mature. Finally, winemakers harvest grapes for ice wines, sometimes in the form of raisin-like grapes, featuring the highly concentrated sugars associated with dessert wines.
Traditionally, when we think of pressing grapes, this conjures images of grape-stomping rituals. The reality is far less entertaining. The truth is, modern methods of grape crushing are far more effective. Foot treading is hard work, though it starts off the process just as effectively as any of the more advanced, modern methods.
Crushing breaks the skins of this fresh, delicate fruit, allowing the juice, pulp, skins, and stems to intermingle. As juices mingle with grape skins, they absorb colors, tannins, and flavors. They are also exposed to yeast, either in the natural environment, or added by winemakers. Pressing is an entirely different method in which juice is separated from grape fibers.
Fermentation is a chemical process in which sugar turns into alcohol. There are many techniques and technologies winemakers use to aid this process.
Winemakers essentially rely on the magic of microbes. To ferment both red and white wines, vintners add yeast. The most important species of this type in winemaking is S. cerevisiae. It metabolizes the simple sugars found in grape juice and produces carbon dioxide and ethanol. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, gives sparkling wines and champagnes their bubbles.
Stopping the fermentation process is one of the greatest challenges that winemakers face. Fermentation will stop on its own once all sugar has been converted into alcohol, but this results in a very dry wine, with an alcohol content of up to 18 percent. When wines reach the perfect level of sweetness, winemakers want to halt the process, to keep the flavor just where it is.
There are several ways winemakers can achieve this. Cold shock involves cooling wine to a temperature that stops fermentation, causing accumulations of sediment and partial clarification. This method does not affect the wine’s flavor. Pasteurization has the same effect, with yeast killed as the wine is heated. This method alters the wine’s flavor, however. Some winemakers halt the fermentation process by adding more alcohol. Wine fermentation stops when the alcohol content reaches between 14 and 18 percent, but adding alcohol can impact the wine’s flavor.
There are many variables to the wine aging process. Whether the winemaker selects stainless steel or oak, new or used barrels will all have an impact on flavor.
Aging is a critical stage in the winemaking process. It usually takes between 8 and 24 months. During this time, the wine’s flavor and aromas will become more developed and complex.
The winegrower will periodically taste the wine to check whether it is ready. Winemakers sometimes add elements to help bond particles suspended in the liquid in a process called “fining.” Fining can also be achieved through filtration, which makes the wine clearer.
Bottling the wine can be automated or carried out by hand. The bottle is corked, then capped with foil, to prevent mold forming in the cork. The producer then labels the bottles. In the United States, strict labeling laws managed by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau govern what labels must and must not show. Government health warnings are mandatory for all wine sold in the United States.
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