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Wine appreciation for beginners – Part 3: The wine making process

This blog is Part 3 and the final part in the series. We are going to cover the wine making process as you can’t truly appreciate anything until you understand the process involved in creating it.

White wine making

After harvesting the grapes, the grape juice needs to be separated from the skins, pips and stems by pressing. The major difference between white and red wine is that white wines are fermented without the grape skins. White wine would become bitter if it was fermented in contact with skins. In modern wine making, pressing occurs in a large rotating airbag press. The first of typically three pressings results in “free-run” juice which is highest quality.

After pressing, the “must” is then allowed to settle for 2-3 days to separate out finer solids. In modern wine making, settling occurs in a large stainless steel tank. The unwanted sediment forms at the bottom of the tank.

After settling, the “must” is moved to fermenting tanks. In modern wine making, fermentingoccurs in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. When the remaining yeast comes in contact with the grape juice, an enzyme within the yeast converts sugar in the grape juice to roughly equal parts of alcohol and carbon dioxide. To retain its natural delicacy and flavour, white “must” needs to be fermented and converted to wine slowly at low temperatures. The process takes 7-40 days.

A small amount of sulphur may be added prior to fermentation to kill off any unwanted wild yeasts and to assist in the prevention of bacterial spoilage and oxidation.

After fermentation, an oaked wine is moved to oak barrels to impart and mature flavours; and racking – to clean the wine – may occur several times before the wine is bottled. During racking the wine is siphoned off the unwanted sediment that forms at the bottom of the barrel. Note white wines are typically not oaked.

Cold stabilization is used toremove potassium bitartrate crystals that form when a white wine is chilled. Cold stabilization involves chilling the wine at 4°C or lower for several days to allow the crystals to form so that they can then be removed by the wine maker.

Fining agents can be applied to the wine before fermentation begins, after the wine has stabilized and/or just before bottling.

Filtration may be used to remove undesirable compounds such as yeast cells.

Malo-lactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation that can be used prior to bottling to soften the wine and for more complex flavours. During malo-lactic fermentation, malic (hard) acids are converted to lactic (soft) acids.

After bottling, the wine may be shipped immediately or it may be stored and bottle aged before shipping.

Red wine making

Red grapes are picked riper and red wine is fermented by maximizing contact with skins. Red wines get their deep colour from being fermented with the skins.

After harvesting, thegrapes are usually destemmed then crushed then the crushed skins and remaining solids are moved to fermenting tanks. In modern wine making, fermentingoccurs in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. The wine maker may inoculate (add yeast strains) to control the flavour. Red “must” is fermented at high temperatures i.e. 20°C to 27°C. The process takes 2-5 days.

Skins and solids in the “must” will rise to the top of the tanks forming a “cake”. To ensure more colour extraction, the “cake” is broken up by “punching down” by hand, “pumping over” or stirring.

A small amount of sulphur may be added prior to fermentation to kill off any unwanted wild yeasts and to assist in the prevention of bacterial spoilage and oxidation.

Cold soaking may be used to postpone the start of alcoholic fermentation. This may enhance colour and preserve more fruit character. Cold soaking involves soaking the fruit in stainless steel tanks chilled at 7°C or lower for several hours or days.

After enough colour and tannin is extracted during fermentation, the “must” is pressed and the juice is separated and combined with “free-run” wine.

After fermentation, an oaked wine is moved to oak barrels to impart and mature flavours; and racking – to clean the wine – may occur several times before the wine is bottled. During racking the wine is siphoned off the unwanted sediment that forms at the bottom of the barrel. Note red wines are often oaked.

Fining agents can be applied to the wine before fermentation begins, after the wine has stabilized and/or just before bottling.

In red wine making, malo-lactic fermentation is almost always used prior to bottling to soften the wine and for more complex flavours. During malo-lactic fermentation, malic (hard) acids are converted to lactic (soft) acids.

After bottling, the wine is usually stored and bottle aged before shipping.

That’s it for the wine making process. I hope you enjoyed the series and that you do now have the confidence to buy wines not based on the look of the label on the front of the bottle but based on knowing you will enjoy it; and knowing that you are getting value for money! Now is the time to find your “61 Chateau Cheval Blanc”…

Enjoy

Cheers

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