STEP 1: PICKING/HARVESTING THE GRAPES
When it comes to picking grapes, timing is everything. The old saying goes that ‘great wines are made in the vineyard’ and a lot of this is to do with timing – great harvests can be ruined by a sudden hot or cold spell. Grapes need to be picked at the ideal ripeness. Too unripe and the wine will be acidic. Overripe and it will be too alcoholic. That’s why ‘hand-picked’ is often a favoured technique for top wineries – the viticultural team can ensure every grape picked is perfect.
STEP 2: CRUSHING THE GRAPES
Once you’ve got lots of quality fruit, the grapes need to be de-stemmed and crushed, releasing some of the juice and taking away some of the solids. The juice that leaks out at this stage is called ‘free-run juice’ and for white wines, it may be separated at this stage, as the skins and seeds being left behind can impart bitter flavours.
STEP 3: FERMENTATION
This is how the liquid goes from juice to alcoholic wine. By adding yeast, the process of converting the sugar in the fruit to alcohol is kicked off. There is, in fact, some yeast on the grapes already – if the winemaker depends on this entirely and does not add any of their own, it’s called ‘wild fermentation’.
STEP 4: AGEING / MATURATION
Almost every red wine (and many white wines!) will spend time maturing. Some wines will be left in stainless steel vats to preserve freshness and fruitiness, while others will be left to age in wooden oak barrels, which will impart flavour on the liquid. The type of oak (French and American oak are the most common), the size of the vessel (a smaller barrel will mean there’s more surface area for wine to make contact with) and the age of the barrel (newer oak will impart more flavour) will all affect how the oak changes the wine. This process is incredibly complicated and shows the skill of a winemaker – each varietal, vintage and blend will be different, so the winemaker must adapt to the conditions to craft the wine they envision. There’s a lot of science, but an undeniable art to it all.
STEP 5: FILTRATION & FINING
Most of the wines you love go through this process to get rid of the last bits of solid sediment and ensure the wine is nice and clear. You’ll notice more and more boutique and premium wineries avoiding these steps in recent years, believing it takes some of the flavour and body away from the wine, but there’s no doubt it can help stabilize the product and ensure a more consistent wine.
STEP 6: BOTTLING
When the winemaker is happy with the result, the wine will be bottled. Depending on the style, it may continue to develop and mature for some time – many Champagnes, for example, are left to age in the bottle. Winelovers may even run their own ageing process in their cellar, leaving wines for some time, while others may choose to dig in straight away!