Wine is passion from the root of the vine. It is culture, color and flavor. But what happens until we can taste it in our glass? How exactly is that process?
The incorporation of new technologies to the field has allowed to modernize the wine-making process.
However, the use of these new tools should not hide the fact that, in their essence, the steps to transform grape juice into excellent broths are exactly the same as those followed by our ancestors .
An ancient art that endures thanks to the increasingly well-trained winemakers and that convinces the palates of any corner of the world.
How is wine made?
The operation that turns grapes into wine is called winemaking . To get an idea, it takes between 1.3 to 1.5 kg of grapes to obtain a liter of wine.
Obtaining stable and well-preserved wines requires a whole series of interventions starting with the harvest, during which the oenologist will carry out palate tests and decide what is best at all times.
Wine production process
The production sequence differs according to the type of wine to be made and even the variety of grapes chosen from the moment the vine is planted. But, in summary, the five essential stages of winemaking are:
Harvest or harvest
To obtain a good wine, the grapes should preferably be harvested when they are physiologically ripe. A combination of science and tasting is often used to determine the ideal time for harvest, often with the involvement of outsiders as consultants.
Harvesting can be done mechanically or manually. However, many farms prefer to postpone manual harvesting, as mechanical harvesters can often be too harsh on the vineyards, damaging the grapes.
Once in the winery, the winegrowers select the bunches, separate the grapes from the bunch and remove the rotten or insufficiently ripe fruits before crushing them.
This part of the process was traditionally done by hand, but the destemmer has existed for years, a machine capable of performing the function effectively.
Pressed or squeezed
Today, the use of mechanical crushers has replaced the traditional treading of the grape.
Through the use of mechanical presses, a significant health benefit is obtained in winemaking, while improving its quality and longevity and reducing the need for preservatives.
This phase is crucial , since the pressing required by each type of wine must be studied and, at the same time, avoid the breaking of the seeds, something that would cause a bitter taste in the final broth.
Shredding does not necessarily follow harvest. Sometimes, winegrowers choose to ferment whole grapes without crushing, to take advantage of their natural weight and remove the skin, known as skins, before pressing them.
Maceration and fermentation
The juice begins to ferment naturally between 6 and 12 hours after extraction. However, for various reasons, many winegrowers prefer to intervene in this phase with natural yeasts to be able to more easily predict the final result.
Regardless of the path chosen, once fermentation begins, it normally continues until all the sugar is converted to alcohol and a dry wine is produced. Fermentation can last from ten days to a month or even longer.
There are two types of fermentation : alcoholic fermentation and malolactic fermentation . In the first, usually carried out in stainless steel tanks, the sugar is transformed into alcohol and in the second, the degree of acidity is reduced, which is essential in the production of red wines.
After fermentation, the racking is carried out , which consists of changing the wine container on successive occasions, to separate it from the solid sediments and aerate it.
The purpose of clarification is to remove all residues from the wine before bottling. Winegrowers can choose between filtering and clarification techniques.
While the first method consists of using a filter that will retain the residues , the second consists of introducing substances into the wine that adhere to unwanted solid foods and force them to settle at the bottom of the tank.
After clarification, the winegrower can choose to bottle a wine immediately or give it additional aging. The aging can be performed in the bottle, in stainless steel or ceramic, or wooden barrels.
The options and techniques used in this last step of the process are almost endless, as are the final results.
Specific phases in winemaking
Soil, vine and grape . They are the three fundamental elements to obtain a high quality red wine. Its appropriate combination will determine the success of a wine project.
Red wines are born from red grapes and their production process complies with the five traditional phases with their peculiarities.
In this sense, it is necessary to devote special attention to three very delicate moments.
The red grapes are crushed to pop the grains. This operation releases the pulp and juice of the grape, called must.
Maceration and fermentation
The harvest goes to the fermentation tanks. Alcoholic fermentation is activated and, in the case of red wines, lasts an average of four to ten days.
At the same time, the dyes and tannic elements contained in the skin diffuse into the must.
Depending on the type of red wine you are looking for, the maceration will be more or less prolonged. In fact, the most recognized red wines require a longer maceration to obtain a good structure and an aptitude for aging.
Drainage and clarification
The winemaker puts an end to the maceration thanks to the drainage that allows the wine to be separated from the pomace by gravity. This clear juice is sent to the vat and recovered to extract it by pressing the wine that it may still contain.
The pomace is then pressed without bursting the seeds to obtain a wine rich in tannins. At this stage, the broth is ready to age.
White wines can be obtained from both white and red grapes. Each stage of its production requires different conditions to those of red or rosé wine.
The extraction of the juice is carried out with the utmost care using crushing, draining and pressing. During all these operations, excessive contact with oxygen should be avoided because white wort is very sensitive to oxidation.
In addition, the pressing must be powerful enough to get all the juice, but not too strong to avoid crushing the stems and skin, which could release its components. Commonly used devices are hydraulic presses, horizontal presses, and continuous presses.
Fermentation of white wines is slower than that of red wines and should occur at a temperature of approximately 20 ° C.
In this process, bentonite is used to eliminate the protein from the must, since it allows better clarity and greater stability of the future wine.
Malolactic fermentation is generally discarded because white wines endure a certain acidic freshness and this secondary fermentation can affect their typical aromas.
New winemaking methods
In recent times, many winegrowers of this type of broth have opted for a new technique: a maceration prior to fermentation.
This practice occurs especially in wines that are more fruity and characterized by the aroma of the variety thanks to the exchanges between the juice and the skin. It is practiced on a ripe and healthy grape, for a period of between 4 and 8 hours at a temperature of 18ºC.
Contrary to popular belief, rose wine is not a mixture of red and white wine. With the exception of rosé Champagne, this blend is prohibited by law.
In reality, rosé wines are obtained from red grapes with colorless or slightly colored juice, to which one of the following two processes is applied:
- A suitable or direct white winemaking elaboration of red grapes. To avoid a too colored must, the pressing must not be too intense to avoid the release of too much coloring matter.
- An intermediate vinification between white wine and red wine, which consists of purging the vat after a slight maceration of the harvest. Drainage is carried out when the must has reached the desired color.
Be that as it may, winemaking represents one of those popular customs rooted from generation to generation that keeps centuries-old vines and wines alive.
It is not surprising that more and more wine lovers are trying to produce broths with their own vine plants.
In any case, the important thing to remember is that wine is a living and noble product to work with with passion. The secret lies not so much in the what, but in the how.