If you are familiar with the world of wine, then you will know that wine comes in three distinctive colors: red, white, and rose pink. The question is, do you know why they come in these colors and what the winemaking process is for each wine? The basics of the winemaking process are pretty simple. First, you need to grow and harvest the grapes used for making wine. Secondly, the grapes are crushed to extract the juice. The third process is fermenting the juice into alcohol, and finally, the last thing is to remove unwanted particles along with storing and bottling the wine to be distributed in the market. It looks simple enough for anyone to make wine.
But is making quality wine that simple? There is more into the winemaking process than what meets the eye. Many things determine the quality of the wine. The harvest of grapes a day late will alter its sweetness by a significant margin. If the grapes are not stored properly, and the temperature goes up or down by a few degrees, the entire batch will be ruined. As you can see, the winemaking process is more knotty and strenuous, and to support this fact, let’s take an impromptu tour to understand how to make wine.
How Is Red Wine Made?
To make red wine, dark-colored grapes are harvested, crushed, fermented, stirred, and separated from the skins by a press. Nowadays, the quality of red wine is improved by better containers, presses, and cellars. Improved winemaking processes have also simplified the winemaking process by a significant margin. There is no cooking involved in making red wine. The only ingredients needed are grapes, yeast, and sulfur dioxide for the preservation of wine.
Using Grape Skin for Red Winemaking: Like white wine, there is no significant difference in making red wine. The only difference is the grapes are fermented with their skins combined with the juice in a vat or a tank. The skin helps to bring out the color, textual compounds, and flavor in the juice, while yeast is utilized to convert sugar into alcohol. The pulp produces juice, and the skin gives the wine its red color.
Crushing and Harvesting Red Wine Grapes: Typically, In late summer or early fall, red wine grapes are ready to harvest. It is when the initial green color of grape has turned dark red or blue-black after several weeks in a period called veraison. Grape bunches or clusters are cut from the vines. This process is either done using hands or machines that are self-propelled to shake or slap grapes off their stems, collecting berries and juice individually. Winemakers now need to sort out unwanted raisins, leaves, mildewed grapes, and debris. The clusters are then crushed to extract grape berries, gently squeezing them to produce juice. Grapes harvested by machines are readily available for fermentation. As a routine, the majority of the winemakers add sulfur dioxide at this stage and afterward to minimize oxidation and also kill undesirable microbes.
Pressing and Fermenting Red Wine: In the fermentation process, yeast is used to consume sugar, turning it into alcohol. Yeast strains are either added or manifest themselves naturally in the juice and are used to control wine’s flavor. In making red wine, fermentation usually takes place in warmer temperatures than white wines. They are also fermented until the yeast consumes all the sugar. This results in a dry wine. Must, which is a combination of juice, skins, and seeds, is transferred into wine presses to separate them from each other to come up with wine.
Aging and Clarifying before Bottling: The majority of red wines need to age first before being bottled and distributed. The aging process may take months and even years in big tanks. The preferred storage for high-quality, traditional-style red wines while aging is either oak barrels or vats. Malolactic fermentation, which is a process of converting wine’s tart malic acid into softer lactic acid, occurs in maturation. The process is supposed to manifest naturally, but it can be catalyzed using malolactic culture.
The maturation process involves racking, refining, and filtering red wine to clarify it. Racking refers to the process of pumping or siphoning the now-clear wine off the sediment, to later discard it. Red wine that tastes too tannic or appears dusky may be adjusted with a process called fining that binds egg whites, isinglass, or bentonite clay. In this process, unwanted substances are settled at the bottom of the tank or barrel. An essential step in making red wine is called blending. Here, perfection and complexities are achieved by blending wines from different barrels and tanks.
Filtration and bottling Red Wines: Many winemakers choose to filter red wine after it matures before bottling. Before drinking, unfiltered wine should be decanted. A final dose of sulfur dioxide is often added to red wine before it is bottled to preserve it. The closing process is removing oxygen from empty bottles before they are being filled with wine, corked, and distributed. That is how to make red wine!
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How is White Wine made?
When you enjoy that great taste of either Moscato D’Asti or Stella Rosa Peach, I bet you always wonder how such an exquisite tasting wine came to be. Well, here is how white wine is made. As much as the grapes used to make white wine are classified as ‘white grapes’, they usually contain varying levels of color on the skins. What makes white wine different from red or rose wine production is the absence of grape skin in the wine fermentation process.
Crushing and Harvesting White Wine Grapes: It is the level of grapes freshness that determines the quality of white wine. The rush of making white wine starts as soon as the crew plucks the last butch of grapes. The perfect time to harvest white wine is early in the morning since the grapes are still cold from the night air. The grapes are quickly delivered to the winery using bins, trailers, or truck beds. The grapefruits are pressed in hours to retain their freshness. This is done to get the juice and pulp out of the skins. Grapes, if hand-harvested, are usually in clusters or bunches. In case they are machine harvested, they have already removed from their bunches. The Bunches typically go through a machine to separate stems from grapes.
Pressing the White Wine Grape Extracts: After the grapes are harvested, the next step is pressing them to extract the juice from the skins. The tender the pressing, the finer the must (juice). The must is now ready to go through the fermentation process. This is the point where many winemakers use potassium metabisulfite or sulfur dioxide gas to negate any native yeast or blight microbes on the grapes. These compounds also stop the juice from absorbing too much oxygen. In the white winemaking process, there a period of cold settling where solids in the juice are allowed to fall to the bottom, and the juice is then racked to leave the remaining juice clearer. Must clarity depends on the winemaker’s taste and preference.
Fermenting White Wine: Here comes the role of yeast, which is used in the fermentation process to convert the sugar into alcohol. The yeasts are either be specially selected cultured yeasts or natural yeasts from the vineyard. With cultured yeast, you can easily control the fermentation process making it consistent. Subsequently, natural yeasts ensure authenticity in the manifestation of the vineyard’s terroir. However, they are unreliable. A significant number of winemakers ferment their white wines in stainless steel tanks. But some wines like Chardonnay may be fermented in oak barrels.
Compared to red wines, fermentation in white wine is attempted in colder temperatures. Fresher temperatures help to retain the wine’s underlying fruit aromas and flavors. High wine fermentation temperature is used to make more structured wines. For a dry wine, all the sugar from the juice has to be converted into alcohol. However, there are instances where the fermentation process is stopped to retain sugar to create off-dry or medium-sweet wine.
Undergoing Malolactic Fermentation (MLF):
Some white wines may undergo a process called ‘malolactic fermentation.’ This is not the real fermentation, where sugar is converted into alcohol. Instead, it is used to convert any remaining ‘tart’ malic acid to the softer lactic acid. If you have noticed, many Chardonnay wines have a buttery note which is brought about by this process.
Aging and Clarifying before Bottling: After all the fermentation processes have taken place, the new wine is now laying on top of dead yeast cells called ‘lees.’ Racking is usually done to the heavy lees to let it drain quickly. The majority of winemakers will leave new wine on lees for a couple of weeks, months, or even years. It helps to improve the wines texture, palate weight, and also remains fresh as it awaits bottling.
As it ages, the wine is clarified in several ways, one of them being racking the wine from one barrel to another barrel it leaves behind its sediment. Another method is through fining, where egg whites, isinglass, or bentonite is added to clear up dull-looking wine. The final adjustment is made with sulfur dioxide levels in wine. Most of the varietal wines are blends that are used to achieve desired consistency and smoothness in the wine.
Stabilizing and Bottling White Wines: ‘Finishing’ is the last step which is performed before the wine bottling. Several steps are involved here, including clarification and stabilization. It requires performing sterile filtration of wine to get rid of any yeast cell that can start re-fermentation in the wine bottle. Finishing needs to be done with caution to retain the quality of the wine.
White wine is quite fragile when making the journey from tanks to the bottle, can or pouch. These movements may reduce the wine’s age and distort its fruitiness due to oxidation. Now that white wine is made, the waiting begins for the next wine’s harvest season. Voila! That is how to make white wine!
Now that you have learned all the processes that both red and white wines go through before they are served on our tables, you can use it for the next time you sit down to take that sip of your favorite wine. Take some time to appreciate all the efforts that go into its making.