The Winemaking Process: An Ancient Art

At KingsBottle, we love wine just as much as you do. From fruity, sweet whites to dry reds, the sheer variety of wines means that you’ll likely never run out of new ones to taste. But how, exactly, does wine become wine? If you’ve ever wondered how wine is made, read on to learn how wine goes from the grape to your glass.

Picking the Grapes

The winemaking process begins with the grapes. Grapes play the biggest role in determining the quality of the wine: the higher quality the grapes, the higher quality the wine. Factors that contribute to grape quality include grape variety, the weather during growing season, soil minerals, soil acidity, time of harvest, and pruning method. 

In the northern hemisphere, grapes are generally harvested from early September through early November. In the southern hemisphere, harvesting occurs from mid February through early March.

There are two main methods of grape harvesting: mechanical and manual. In mechanical harvesting, special tractors straddle the grapevine trellises and use rods to dislodge the grapes. While mechanical harvesting can cover a large area in a short time, it’s also likely to gather extraneous things like leaves or moldy grapes.

Manual harvesting is done by hand. While it takes more time, effort, and manpower than mechanical harvesting, manual harvesting has several advantages. When grapes are picked by hand, the picker can avoid unripe grapes or bunches with rot or other defects. Manual picking can be a great first line of defense from preventing inferior fruit from contaminating the wine.

Crushing the Grapes

The next step of the winemaking process is to crush the grapes. For white wine, the grapes go into a press that extracts the juice from the grapes while leaving the skins, seeds, and stems behind. The grape juice is then transferred into large vats where it is allowed to settle. Periodically, the juice is “racked” or filtered into a settling tank to remove any excess sediment. White wine grapes generally aren’t destemmed before pressing since the stems get removed during pressing.

For red wine, the grapes are put through a destemmer, which does exactly what it says: it removes the grapes from the stems. The grapes are also lightly crushed to release the juices. Red wine grapes remain with the skins during the fermentation process, which is what gives the wine its color.

For rosé, the process begins like red wine grapes. The grapes remain with the skins just long enough to achieve the color that the winemaker desires. Then, the grapes are pressed like white wine grapes, and the rest of the process proceeds as if it were a white wine.

From Grape to Wine: The Primary Fermentation Process

In order to really understand how wine is made, you must consider both of the fermentation processes that wine undergoes: primary and malolactic.

During primary fermentation, yeast is added to the grape juice. Although yeast is naturally present in grapes, it’s often not enough to bring fermentation to completion. The added cultured yeast feeds on the sugars in the juice and multiplies, creating carbon dioxide and alcohol.

The temperature of the juice during fermentation affects the speed of the process and the taste of the wine. For white wines, the temperature can range from 15 to 18°C (59 to 64.4°F), and for red wines, the temperature can range from 22 to 25°C (71.6 to 77°F).

 Special care has to be taken while fermenting red wines, since the carbon dioxide can cause the grape skins to rise to the surface. The winemaker has to punch down or pump over the “cap” to keep the skins in contact with the grape juice.

Whereas white grapes are pressed before fermentation, this part of the winemaking process occurs after fermentation for red wine grapes. Like white wine grapes, the red wine grapes are racked to ensure all sediment is removed from the wine.

Malolactic fermentation occurs when lactic acid bacteria turns malic acid into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Not all wines undergo malolactic fermentation. This type of fermentation does not increase the alcohol content of the wine, but it does influence its taste. Malic acid has a very harsh, bitter taste, so wines that undergo malolactic fermentation will be less sour and more gentle.

Secondary Fermentation and Aging

The secondary fermentation part of the winemaking process typically takes several months to several years. During this time, the wine is kept under airlock to prevent oxidation as the fermentation slowly continues. Wine can be stored in several different vessels, depending on the winemakers’ goals for taste. Commonly, wine is aged in stainless steel or oak barrels.

If the winemakers chooses to use oak barrels, there are even more choices to be made. The winemakers can use new oak barrels or ones that have already been used to ferment wine. They can also choose between American or French oak barrels. Some winemakers will even choose to use toasted oak barrels, which means that they have been charred by fire. All of these types of barrels can impart different tastes into the wine as it ages.

Bottling the Wine 

Bottling occurs only after the winemaker thinks that the wine has reached its full flavor potential. For white wines, this can happen after just a few months, whereas dry reds can take 18 to 24 months to properly age.

To help preserve the wine, sulfur dioxide is added to prevent bacteria from growing. Wine produced under even the most strict conditions is still subject to bacterial spoilage if preservatives aren’t added.

As any wine aficionado knows, wines are traditionally sealed with a cork, though alternative sealing methods are becoming increasingly popular. After the bottle is sealed, a capsule is put on the top of the bottle and heated to ensure a tight closure.

The winemaking process is certainly something that’s best left to the professionals to ensure that you get a high-quality product. Once that fine new bottle makes it into your hands, make sure you properly store it.

At KingsBottle, we offer the best in wine storage to keep the winemakers’ hard work at peak flavor.  Browse our full line of wine coolers for your collection and have a toast to the winemakers across the world.