September 16, 2015 | Shannon Hurley
Red Wine Production
Growing and Harvesting Grapes
Naturally, the wine making process begins with the acquiring of its most essential ingredient: red grapes. It’s not an instantaneous process though; grape vines will only produce fruit after three years, minimum, of growth. Inversely, the individual stalks on which the grapes grow will only produce before it turns 1 year old. Since this process is so time-sensitive, many viticulturists (the people who study & grow grapes) will prune their vineyards yearly to prompt growth. The grapes are either cut from the vine by human hands with shears or they are removed by a machine. At this point in the process, the grapes are still intact with their stems, along with some leaves and sticks that made their way from the vineyards. These will all be removed in the next step.
After the grapes have been harvested they typically have their stems and leaves removed to reduce the potential of hash tannins making it into the final product. After they’re all sorted, the grapes are crushed in huge presses and moved to a location that’s favorable to yeast growth. The skins are left on the grapes to help give red wine it’s bold, rich coloring.
Simply put, fermentation is where the sugar converts into alcohol. There are plenty of techniques and technologies used during this process to accompany the different kinds of grapes. In red wine making carbon dioxide is released during fermentation which causes the grape skins to rise to the surface. Winemakers must punch down or pump over the “cap” several times a day to keep the skins in contact with the juice. Some wineries prefer their yeast growth to happen naturally, whole others will add specific strains in a process called inoculation, to provide greater control over the red wine’s flavor. Red wine is fermented at a much higher temperature than white wine. The length of the fermentation process is used to control the wine’s dryness. The longer it ferments, the less sugar there is, and the dryer the red wine will be.
Aging the Wine
Winemakers have lots of choices in this step, and again they all depend on the kind of wine one wants to create. Flavors in a wine become more intense due to several of these winemaking choices:
Aging for several years vs. several months
Aging in stainless steel vs. oak
Aging in new oak vs. ‘neutral’ or used barrels
Aging in American oak barrels vs. French oak barrels
Aging in various levels of ‘toasted’ barrels (i.e. charred by fire)
While a wine ages, additives are usually added to remove certain proteins, resulting in a clearer wine. This process is called “fining.” Next the red wine is usually filtered for any errant particles and bottled. Some wines are not fined or filtered, to create bolder wines with a stronger body.
Bottle the wine
When we feel that a wine has reached its full expression in aging, then it’s time to bottle the wine for consumption. Most dry reds need 18-24 months of aging before bottling. And the rest is history, my friends.