In its simplest terms, wine is made by crushing grapes, allowing their juices to ferment and putting the resulting liquid into bottles.
For Winemakers it is more complex than that because of crucial decisions that need to be taken in every step of the wine making process: Pruning, pest control, irrigate (or not), picking, storage (wood, metal, clay, glass). These decisions can either make a great wine or supply you with a great amount of vinegar.
The basic wine making steps are:
Choosing the ideal grape for the vineyard.
The location chosen to plant grape vines is perhaps the most important decision a wine maker has to make. Climate, weather, topography, and soil composition must be perfect for the vines to produce and ripen properly. The wine maker needs to know what is the best grape for that type of soil and weather conditions.
Deciding when to grape pick
Assessing the right time to harvest (pick) the grapes can be tricky as the weather will determine how fast or slow a grape is ripe. The grapes must be harvested in relation to its own variety determinants to get the result desired for that particular wine. Several factors will be considered including sugar levels, colour, and taste. A grape that has not reached its peak may produce a wine with high tannins and acidity which is great for some wines but not for others.
It’s also important for grapes to be picked carefully so they’re not bruised or split. Both hand picking and machine harvesting procedures are both used today. Hand picking is the method preferred by many fine wine producers and used most often in France.
Preparation And Crushing
At some point, the grapes will be separated from their stems and leaves, usually by a special machine. If left in contact with the grapes too long after harvest, stems can give off a bitter unwanted taste.
It is at this point that red grapes will be treated differently than white grapes.
White wine grapes are crushed and their juice is separated from their skins and Red grape skins will remain with their juice for their colour, tannins, and flavour that it adds to the wine. The crushing process nowadays is done mechanically, however small producers still use traditional methods such as grape stomping, manual operated machines etc..
Fermentation is a naturally occurring process that transforms sugar to alcohol. All wine grapes have some wild yeast present already, however some producers might add extra agents to control fermentation. Fermentation can take place in several types of vessels, depending upon the type of wine being made.
The proper length of time and correct temperature are very important in fermentation. It usually takes 10- 15 days for a wine to ferment and another week to settle. It is advisable that it is left a further 4 weeks to mature before consuming.
Racking – Fining – Filtering
Once the appropriate alcohol content has been reached and fermentation is complete, the yeast and any other particles left behind must be separated from the finished product.
This is done by racking – process of pumping just the liquid out of the fermenting vat or container then fining – process of further clarifying the liquid and finally filtering if necessary.
Bottling and Aging
The final step in the wine making process is putting the finished liquid into its bottle and labeling it. Some wines will be ready to drink right away. Most will be aged for a time. The aging period will depend on the wine and at times on regional legislation.