The Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Wine is bottled poetry,” and we could not agree more. From the moment of harvesting the grapes to aging the wine in a quality oak barrel, winemakers all over the world are writing poetry for our taste buds to enjoy. Considering that winemaking has been traced back to the year 6000 BC, we could even say that this exquisite drink is one of man’s favorite poems.
While our ancestors used to crush the grapes with their feet in a beautiful ceremonial dance, this part is no longer part of the process. Even though the beautiful crushing ritual was put aside for sanitary reasons, there is still a lot of magic in winemaking, and we are excited to share it with you! First and foremost, all wine lovers should know that there are five main steps to creating this delectable elixir: harvesting, crushing and pressing fermentation, maturation, and clarification, and finally, bottling.
The first step is collecting the main ingredient straight from the vineyard: the delicious red and white grapes. There are two main methods of harvesting that a winemaker can choose: mechanical or by hand. Both ways imply various pros and cons that can be evaluated based on working conditions, cost of labor, the lay of the land, and other criteria.
Crushing and pressing
After being picked and gathered into bins, the fruits go through a mechanical destemmer which does exactly that: removes the stems from the grapes. Right after that, the winemakers use a mechanical crusher to do what men traditionally did with their own feet. If the vintner is interested in making white wine, they will instantly introduce the crushed grapes in the press to separate them from their skins.
Fun fact: Contrary to popular belief, white wine is not made only from white grapes. The difference between white, red, and rosé stems from how much contact the wine has with the skins. The skins give the wine its color and tannins that ultimately change the flavor of the drink.
Fermentation can occur naturally with the help of Mother Nature, through wild yeasts that start their activity after 6 to 12 hours. However, many professional wineries are looking for a consistent taste and period of fermentation, which is why they remove wild yeast and introduce a strain they prefer. To produce dry wine, the process continues until the sugar has completely transformed into alcohol. This process can take anywhere from a week to a month or even more.
Maturation and clarification
This is the step where the winemaker can truly add a unique flavor to their wine. There are many ways maturation can be customized, like the period of aging and the storage container. The latter is more important than you would think: choosing an American oak barrel or a stainless-steel vat can make a world of difference. The winery can choose to clarify the wine before or after aging through racking, siphoning, filtering, and fining.
Depending on the goal of the vintner, bottling can be made directly after fermentation or after maturation. This is the final step and can be fully automated or done by hand.
The winemaking process can vary from winery to winery, which is one of the beauties that make this ancient labor so special. Regardless of the methods applied, the result is the same magic potion that we all know and love.