How Wine is Made- WHITE EDITION
Ever wonder what really goes into making an amazing wine? Here is the inside scoop on one of the longest traditions in history. No we’re not talking about drinking wine, we’re talking about the art of handcrafting beautiful vino! This tradition has been passed down from generation all over the world, each culture having their own unique methods and practices for producing their best. The spotlight today is on producing white wine. Most white wines are made to show off their light, delicate floral and fruit aromas but some are intended as more full-bodied wines that can accompany a relatively hearty meal and will gain a complexity of character over a few years of maturation.
In general it is vital to begin the winemaking process as soon as possible after the harvest. Once the grapes are picked they immediately begin to degrade and oxidation begins. To minimize these effects the grapes are typically kept cool and covered, sulfur may be added as a preservative and they are taken to the process facility.
The first step in the winemaking process is sorting. This is where leaves and other debris, underripe bunches and damaged grapes can be pulled out before processing begins. This is usually a manual job but can also be mechanized. The more rigorous the selection the higher the production process can be. Therefore it is mostly used in the process of high end wines.
Crushing and Destemming
White wine can be made with either white or red grapes. The grapes are sent through a crusher -destemmer machine. This piece of equipment is designed to break open the berries and release the juice, at the same time the grapes are separated from the stem structure of the bunch. The major difference between white and red wine is that white wines are fermented without the grape skins. First the grapes are pressed off the skins and the sweet grape juice is collected in vats to be fermented into wine.
When making a white wine, contact between the skins and the juice is usually minimized (this helps the wine maintain its light color). The fresh grapes are poured into a machine called a press as soon as possible to separate the solids from the juice. By this point the movement of the grapes since harvest has already caused many of the berries to burst open, so a large amount of juice drains out from the press. This is known as the “free run” and is considered to be the juice of the highest quality, rich in sugar and low in tannin. After the free run has been collected, the grapes are subjected to one or more pressings to extract the remaining liquid.
White wines are typically fermented at much cooler temperatures (45-60 degrees). This is to preserve the fresh fruity flavors and aromas. If the temperature gets too high, these fruity and floral aromas can disappear into bitter tasting “cooked” flavors (nobody wants that!). The higher the sugar content of the juice the higher the resulting alcohol level will be. White wines are also much more susceptible to discoloration (e.g. turn deep gold-brown) and don’t commonly cellar as long as red wines do. So with that being said temperature control is one of the most crucial parts of the winemakers’ job.
After the wine is fermented, some wines can go through an additional fermentation called Malo-Lactic Fermentation (known in the wine biz as MLF) this will increase the texture of white wine to more of a creamy viscous liquid. MLF alters the type of acid in a wine fronm tartic (like the type of acid you taste in an apple) to malic (the type of acid you taste in milk).
After a full course of clarification, a white wine will become sparkling clear and bright and should have no sediment in the bottle.
White wines are loaded with tartaric acid. This acid is a major component of wine and is not something that can or should be filtered out during the process. In order to keep this acid the way it should most wines are “cold stabilized” meaning they are chilled at 25 degrees for one to three weeks then racked up so tartaric crystals are not found in the wine.
The last step is bottling the finished wine. The bottling line typically receives empty bottles at one end, fills them with wine, corks them, installs a capsule over the bottles necks, labels them and packages them in boxes. Each step can be automated or done manually. From there the wine is stored in the warehouse until ready for shipment.
Hopefully you enjoyed learning about what goes into producing a white wine. Whether it’s a Beach House Number #34 Sauvignon Blanc, Play Date Moscato or any of your other favorite whites, next time you’re sippin’ remember the tradition lies within the bottle!
Till next time oneophiles…Cheers!! (Insert glass of Beach House)
By, Shannon Hurley
Resources: Society of Wine Educators & Wine Folly