grapes harvest vineyard

Winemaking for Beginners

Winemaking is part science and part craft. But for the most part, there are several basic steps that always occur. This is a high level overview of those steps.

STEP 1: Grow the grapes

Tending to the vines growing grapesMany traditional winemakers will tell you that the magic happens on the vine. That is, the most important part of winemaking is starting with a healthy and balanced grape. Healthy means it is free of disease and mildew. Balanced means the grape has the right levels of sugars and acids. Other factors that contribute to the overall quality of the grape include:

  • Type and frequency of vineyard treatments
  • Microbial “aliveness” of the earth
  • Number of grapes grown per vine
  • Irrigation practices

STEP 2: Harvest the grapes

When the grapes have achieved balance they need to be picked. Many large vineyards use mechanical harvesters, which are machines that shake the grapes off the vine. Many small vineyards manually harvest so they can pick only the best grapes to maintain quality.

STEP 3: De-stem and crush the grapes

De-stemming and crushing can both be executed manually or by a machine. In white wine, the skins are immediately removed during this step.

STEP 4: Alcoholic fermentation

Crushed grape juice contains sugar and natural yeasts. At the beginning of the process the yeast turns the sugars into alcohol. In red wine the skins are left with the juice for some period of time during fermentation. Some winemakers leave the skins in contact with the juice for days while some leave them for weeks. In most cases the alcoholic fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks although it can occur in oak barrels. Some wines go through a second malolactic fermentation.

wine cellar oak barrels aging

STEP 5: Age the wine

After fermentation the wine is aged. The length of aging can be from weeks to years. The winemaker decides exactly how long. It can be aged in stainless steel tanks, concrete, fiberglass or oak barrels (new or used). Some simple wines are not meant to be aged and should be drank 1-2 years after bottling. Tannins, sugars and acids are natural preservatives and wines rich with these elements can age for a long time. Oak aging results in round, complex, dynamic wines that are incredibly enjoyable.

STEP 6: Prepare wine for bottling

Wine can be fined or filtered (process of removing excess sediment in the wine) and preserved before bottling. The more carefully a wine is made, the less it needs these processes. Many mass produced wines are heavily treated before bottling, while high-end wines from small vineyards are often only slightly fined or filtered. Some special wines are not fined or filtered at all.


wine bottling labeling line

STEP 7: Bottle the wine

When wine is bottled 99.99% of the time a bit of sulfur is added for preservation. Many small winemakers strive to use as little as possible while many large wineries add excessive amounts. Once it is bottled, the winemaker can decide to continue aging it in the bottle before she or he releases it.

SECRET NAUGHTY STEPS

It’s tough to get to the bottom of how a wine was made without being at the winery and having a relationship with the winemaker. Many nasty things are added to mass produced wines on the market. Excessive yeasts, enzymes, chemicals, synthetic tannins, preservatives, meat gelatins, fish oils and lots of other stuff that we think is gross is often added to wine. What a pity! The wines we choose are always very minimalistic and natural. If you ever have further questions about how any of our wines are made we invite you ask.

To check out our wines, click here.

To learn more about wine, click here.

Free PDF: Get access to a free downloadable PDF: '9 Tips for Choosing Wine at the Store.' Contains the tips and indicators I use when I want to buy pure, delicious and affordable wine from a store. Download now.

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