Turning grapes into wine is a relatively simple process. Turning grapes into a wine that tastes wonderful and will last becomes a little more difficult. There are many who believe that wine is made in the vineyard and not in the cellar. Quality grapes, without question, are key, but fine wine is also the result of the successful completion of a series of processes.
Red wines are red because of contact between juice and skins before, during, and sometimes after fermentation. Red wine can be made only from dark-skinned grapes, while white wines can be produced from either light or dark-skinned grapes. The juice from all grapes is a light, fairly dull grey, the color for red wine coming from contact with the skins.
As harvest time approaches for a specific variety, the grapes are monitored frequently to check levels of acidity and sugar. For red wines, growers often opt to pick when grapes are fully ripe or even overripe because the tannins will be much more developed. (Tan-nins are a group of chemicals that occur in
some fruits and add astringency to their taste. They play an important role in the aging process.)
Once grapes are harvested, they are transported immediately to the winery. All grapes are fed into a crusher/destemmer before fermentation. Destemming helps to eliminate the harsh flavors and astringent characteristics that stems can impart. The juice then goes into stainless steel tanks or vats and yeast is added.
The fermentation process occurs when the sugar from ripe grapes comes into contact with yeast to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. The larger the fermentation vat, the more difficult it can be to control the heat generated by the fermentation process. Red wines, being less delicate than whites, can withstand higher fermentation temperatures. In red winemaking, the concept is to extract as much usable wine as possible from the solids left in the fermentation vat. The gentler the pressure, the less coarse the wine. An important decision is what to do with this "press wine." The character of each vintage may determine how much press wine is included in the final blend.
Virtually all red wines undergo a secondary fermentation. As well as making the wine more stable, the process, malolactic fermentation, makes the flavor softer, fuller and more complex by converting the harsh malic acid found in grapes to lactic acid.
Once the secondary fermentation is complete, the wine is stored either in bulk (usually stainless steel) or in smaller amounts in oak barrels, which provide more air contact. Full-bodied reds can benefit from a little exposure to oxygen particularly since air encourages many of the reactions involved in barrel
maturation. For this reason, many producers have a procedure of "racking" wine from one barrel to another, which can introduce an ideal amount of oxygen.
Why oak? Oak is ideal for small barrels because it is hard, strong, water-tight, and its characteristics seem to have an affinity with those of wine. Wine aged in oak becomes clear and stable in the most natural way. The newer the barrel, the more oak flavor and tannin leeched into the wine. For this reason,
new barrels are prized. In practice, new barrels are used only once or twice for the finest wines.
The variety and quality of the wine will determine the ultimate maturation process. Once the wine is considered ready, it is filtered to remove any impurities and clarify the liquid. Then, the wine is bottled.
While red wines often sit on the lees (the deposit of yeast left after fermentation) routinely, for white wines it becomes a deliberate decision. Some winemakers deliberately stir up the lees at regular intervals to give their white wines extra layers of flavors. Stirring the lees also minimizes the wine’s absorption of harsh tannins and flavors from the wood and tends to produce a smooth texture.
To ensure that wines are clear before they are bottled, they are put through cold stabilization to precipitate crystals. They are also filtered to remove any organisms that might cause unattractive odors, cloudiness, or additional fermentation in the bottle.
Spanish Sherries are aged in the Solera system to assure consistent quality and style from year to year. The Solera system is a series of barrel aging stages. When wine is required for bottling, a portion of the wine in each barrel of the oldest stage is drawn off. This portion of wine is replenished with new wine. The progressive fractional blending that occurs during the labor-intensive Solera process assure that a given type of Sherry from a given producer will always have the same style.
Sherries develop their distinctive characteristics from processing, aging and blending. Sherries show no varietal grape character and, therefore, high quality sherries can be produced from many different grape varieties grown in many different regions.
Port contains one part brandy to four parts wine and, consequently, has a high (20%) alcohol content. It is generally served with desserts or after dinner. Grapes are crushed and fermentation is conducted until enough color and flavor are extracted into the fermented wine. While the fermenting wine is still sweet, it is fortified with brandy to produce a high alcohol, sweet red dessert wine.
Madeira can be fairly dry or sweet depending on when fermentation is stopped. A unique feature of Madeira production is a baking process called "estofagem" which takes place after fermentation. During "estofagem," sugars in the wine caramelize and develop the wine’s characteristic caramel flavor. * The baking process can be done in heated tanks, heated storage rooms, or by exposure to the sun.
Marsala is made in many styles, dry to sweet, all of which are fortified after fermentation. Color can range from amber to gold to red
The first step in making Sparkling Wine is to harvest the grapes. The grapes are harvested between late August and early October.
Directly after harvesting, the grapes are pressed. In wine making three pressings of the grapes are permitted.
After the grapes are harvested and pressed, the wine maker develops the blend. The grape juice blend then undergoes its first fermentation. This is the process by which grape juice converts into alcohol.
Once the first fermentation has occurred, the winemaker adds the dosage. Dosage is a solution of sugar and wine that is added to determine the sweetness of the sparkling wine.
The final step in producing champagne is for it to under go a secondary fermentation.
The technique that we use is called Charmat process (see process outlined below). It was developed in the early part of the century by Frenchman Eugene Charmat. This process is highly revered as being able to produce consistent quality sparkling wine time after time.
In wine making during secondary fermentation the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide becomes trapped in the bottle, therefore creating the bubbles.
Another French method in which secondary fermentation is conducted in a stainless steel tank which will hold pressure. Clarification, filtration and bottling operations are conducted while maintaining counter pressure to maintain the sparkling wine’s carbonation.
1. Cuvee (a blend of wines with a relatively low alcohol content to allow for the alcohol increase during secondary fermentation) is prepared and sugar and yeast are added.
2. The blended cuvee is place in a stainless steel tank which will old pressure and secondary fermentation takes place in five to seven days.
3. The sparkling wine is filtered to remove yeast and is passed into a bottling tank.
4. Wine and sugar dosage is added to adjust the sparkling wine’s sweetness.
5. Bottles are filled under pressure to maintain carbonation, corks are put into place and wired tight and the bottles are labeled and cased.