Winemaking: How is Wine Made?

Harvesting grapes at a vineyardMaking wine is actually a much easier process than one might expect. Although winemaking is a skill that predates most recorded history, many wine aficionados do not understand the basic process. This article attempts to break down the winemaking process into five simple steps for transforming vineyard grapes into delicious wine:

Step One: Extracting Flavor

The luscious flavor and aroma must be extracted from the fruit before any other step in the winemaking process. This can be accomplished by chopping, crushing, pressing, boiling, or soaking the grapes. Before taking any of these actions, the fruit must be properly prepared. Sometimes, the grapes are peeled and the seeds are removed, though neither of these actions is essential to the procedure. Before extraction, all grapes with brown spots or signs of mold or rot are rejected from the winemaking process.

Step Two: Additional Ingredients

Once the flavors are extracted, the grape compound must be protected against bacteria, mold, and oxidation to preserve the life and quality of the wine. For example, sulfites are added to protect against bacteria and oxidation. Pectic enzymes are also added to assist in breaking down the cell walls of the grapes, which will in turn make it easier to extract all the flavors and aromas in aged wine. Tannins are a natural compound found in most fruit skins, and they produce the familiar “bite” in wine. Most red wines will have a sufficient amount of tannins naturally, but many white wines actually require more tannins to be added during the winemaking process. Finally, some wines need extra yeast or water to be added to the grape compound, in order to assist in fermentation.

Step Three: Fermentation

Before beginning fermentation, the liquid must be strained from the grape pulp. This liquid is poured into a secondary fermentation vessel, such as a carboy or jug, and then fitted with an airlock in the mouth of the vessel. This is a delicate process, as the wine cannot be exposed to very much oxygen due to potential damage of the final product. Careful funneling the grape pulp reduces the amount of oxygen added to the wine. The fermentation process occurs at 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit and continues for several days, sometimes stretching into weeks, or until the liquid stops bubbling.

Step Four: Racking

As the wine sits during the fermentation process, sediments from the yeast deposit in the bottom of the fermentation vessel. Whenever fresh deposits are visible in the bottom of the vessel, the wine needs to be racked. Racking is a purification process that involves siphoning the wine from the sediments. The wine is then returned to another fermentation vessel, with an airlock placed in the mouth. The racking process can be carefully repeated every few weeks, as this step is only complete when sediment no longer appears at the bottom of the vessel.

Step Five: Bottling the Wine

When the fermentation process is complete, the wine is siphoned into bottles with secure corks. These bottles sit upright for 3-5 days before they are turned on their sides for storage at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. White wine needs to remain in storage for at least six months, while red wine really shouldn’t be sampled until a full year has passed. After the appropriate amount of time in storage has elapsed, the wine is tasted to ensure premium quality. If the sample is satisfactory, the wine is ready to be sold, shipped, and savored by wine lovers everywhere.

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