He looked round the shop as if at a new world. “Is there anything you can’t drink wine with?” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned…grapefruit.”
He made a face.
“And that’s from one,” I said, “who drinks wine with baked beans, who practically scrubs his teeth in it.”
“You really love it?”
I nodded. “Nature’s magical accident.”
“That the fungus on grapes turns the sugar in grape juice to alcohol. The result is delicious.”
“For heaven’s sake…”
“No one could have invented it,” I said. “It’s just there. A gift to the plant. Elegant.”
—Dick Francis, Proof
There have been hundreds of books written and decades of courses taught to explain all the complexities of how wine is made, in other words, getting from grapes to wine in your glass! At its simplest, here are the twelve steps in making a red wine:
- Choose the right grape variety for your location and weather
- Pick the grapes at optimum ripeness for the type of wine you want to make
- Crush the grapes and remove the stems
- Put crushed grapes, juice, skins, and seeds into a steel tank
- Add yeasts
- Allow fermentation to begin
- Push the floating cap of skins down into the fermenting juice
- When fermentation has finished, separate the wine from the skins
- Put the wine into oak barrels to age
- Periodically decant the wine from one barrel to another to soften tannins, clarify the wine and enhance aromatic qualities (called “racking”)
- Clarify the wine (called “fining”). We use bentonite clay to do this.
- Bottle the wine
The art in all this, off course, is matching vineyard location with the right grape varieties, knowing when to pick the grapes, what type of yeasts work best with your grapes, judging when the wine has finished fermenting, deciding when to decant (and how often), and choosing what to use as a fining agent. All these seemingly simple decisions can make or break a wine…and a winery’s reputation. There’s a constant, subtle balancing act going on to bring all the elements in the winemaking process together into one, successful, cohesive strategy.
If it all comes together in harmony, “the result is delicious!”
Want to learn more? Buy From Vines To Wines, The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine