The wine making process has been known to man longer than our earliest records can yet reveal, there is evidence of the domestication of the vine in the Near East as early as 3000 BC and it was well known to the Greek empire though the Romans were the first humans known to age wine in Barrels.
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
― Ernest Hemingway
History of Wine Making
The science behind wine making has been a constantly improving effort ever since man first created alcohol from the fermented of rotted fruit.To this end there have been continual refinement and experiments with yeast strains and organic vine movements all with the intention of perfecting the process and producing larger or better tasting yields.
There are slightly fewer than 4000 wine grape varieties as opposed to table grapes (those produced to be drunk pre-fermentation which have considerably less sugar) The wide diversity of grapes and their various blending creates an almost limitless range of flavors, colours, and aromas.
The strength of alcohol body, aromas and sweetness of the wine ultimately produced is influenced by a variety of factors beyond the grapes selected however. The topography of the region, soil and climate can make or break a particular vine. Take the Malbec for example, a traditionally French wine which has flourished and thrived in the new world to the degree that the supermarket shopping public know it only as a Latin-American wine.
Categories of Wine
Table Wine comprises the majority of the worlds wine production. All Red, White, and Rosé wines are produced in a similar manner the primary difference being in terms of the contact each has with its skin prior to and during the fermentation process. Most people do not realise that it is perfectly possible to make a white wine with red grapes or a ‘blanc de noir’ such as a White Zinfindel!
Champagne and other Sparkling Wines
Although sparkling red wines do exist the majority are either White or Rosé wines with carbon dioxide resulting from naturally occurring fermentation in either a bottle or tank or from direct injection in a similar method to carbonated soft drinks.
Not to be confused with distilled wine such as Brandy, a fortified wine is wine which has been reinforced by the addition of alcohol (typically brandy) to increase the overall ABV.
The Wine Making Process
Depending on the variety the picked grapes are processed in a crusher-destemmer which as the name suggests both removes the grape stem whilst crushing the the fruit into a pulp henceforth referred to as “must”.Tre act of crushing the grapes at this stage is not to extract juice but instead to rupture the skin and allow the grapes sugars to mingle with the naturally occurring yeast on its skin. Processing of a red grape typically requires removing the stem as it is also high in tannin where as it is often left in place for white wines until the pressing process.
For red wines the process is slightly different as the musk is transferred into fermention bins to sit in a “cold soak,” and allows for the grape juice to gain color and flavour for a few days with pressing only occurring after fermentation.
For white wines including ‘blanc de noirs’ the act of pressing the wine is the same point at which the skins and stems are removed from the equation and the grapes become ready to ferment. There are exceptions such as orange (or amber) wines where white wine grapes macerate in contact with the grape skins – this process creates Rosé.
Red wine fermentation takes place in either stainless steel tanks, large vats or oak barrels. As with Orange wines the must and the grape skins macerate allowing the production of structural tannins, flavour components and deep red wine color. The longer the Maceration time the deeper and darker the wine colour. It is also for this reason that decanting becomes important for reds.
With the notably exception of Chardonnay white wines are exclusively fermented in stainless steel tanks.
If the grapes were not ripe enough thenat this point in the fermentation process the wine may be “enriched” by the addition of extra sugar. similarly in the even of a lower level of acidity than desired “acidification” or the adding of tartaric acid may also occur at this point.
Pressing and Settling
At this point the musk is separated from the wine juice which is for all intents and purposes now wine and allowed to settle. Unlike with white wine it is also at this point that red wine grapes are pressed into a thick liquid.
Aging & Maturation
Following fermentation the majority of red wines and several fuller bodied whites undergo malolactic fermentation typically within an oak barrel. Traditionally oak barrels were used almost exclusively as the oak allowed for the mellowing of the reds tannins and enhances the complexity of flavour in both. In recent years maturation in a stainless steel tank with oak chips and shavings has become more popular primarily due to the decreased cost.
Fining and Filtration
Prior to bottling it is important to remove any remnants of pulp, dead yeast etc which cloud the wine. It is this finished product which is then either bottled as is or blended with other batches or variety for improved colour, aroma, flavour, acidity etc.