Winemaking is an art that is influenced by science more and more each year. Happy barefoot
grape stompers have given way to machines crafted to gently extract the juices without
destroying the skins. Fermentation is carefully controlled. And yet, with all of the
science, it still comes down to a flavor mix to please the winemaker's palate.
The steps listed below explain how a red wine is typically made. Steps vary for white
wines, and especially for Champagne, which
uses the methode champenoise. If you ever get a chance to, visit your local
winery! They often give tours and you can see first-hand exactly how wine making works.
The first step in making a red wine is to have the grapes perfectly ready to be picked. They need to be picked not only at the proper time in their life cycle, but also at the right time of day to ensure the acids and sugars are all at the right balance for the wine. The grapes are picked carefully, to prevent bruising, and often first put into a cleaner that removes spiders and leaves (and, one winemaker told us, occasionally mice!).
Next, the grapes are put into a machine which gently squeezes the juice out.
Depending on the type of wine, the stems could be left in (for a more tannic flavor) or
removed. This mix of wine is called must and is put into a fermentation vat. For red wines, the skins are left with the grapes during fermentation to impart the red color and tannic flavor.
The must is held in a stainless steel vat for crisper reds, or in oak barrels for more mellow reds. In whichever container, the sugars inside the grapes
are turned into alcohol by yeasts. Some wineries use only the naturally occuring yeasts
that are found with the grapes. Others have cultured yeasts that they use year after year.
This fermentation process typically takes from 3-4 weeks.
The solids (skins and stems) in the mixture float to the top, where they are pushed back down into the mixture. They are removed from the mix when the
liquid has gotten the right amount of flavour and color from it. Temperature is very
important during this stage - it also affects flavour and color. Often cooling pipes or
even garden hoses with holes in them are run around the vats, to maintain the correct temperature.
When fermentation is complete, the first run off from the vat is called the
vin de goutte.
Next, the mixture is pressed and the vin de presse comes out, dark and tannic. These
two are mixed proportionally for flavour, and the result is put into oak barrels.
Aging can be done in barrels, or now it is even done in stainless steel vats with oak
chips along their bottoms. Often, during aging, a special bacteria is added which
allows malolactic fermentation to occur.
This additional fermentation, often
noted with a "ML" on the barrel being used,
converts the malic (sharp) acid into a lactic (mild) acid. Barrel aging in general
allows the wine to absorb some of the flavours of the barrel, giving it an oaky and
The wine is stored for anywhere from 9 months to 2 1/2 years to give it the correct amount
of flavor. It is then put into bottles, and these bottles are aged even further, both by the winery and also by the consumer, to bring the wine to the perfect point for consumption.
Do you want to make your own wine? Check out the Primer on Home Winemaking!
Winemaking Main Page