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Winemaking: A Step by Step Guide

June 29, 2020 Leave a comment

Today I would like to offer you a guest post by William Reed, who is a passionate winemaker that continues his family’s the age-old tradition of producing quality homemade wine. With respect to
heritage and classic concepts as well as a zesty touch of the modern, William continues to explore the vast world of winemaking all while sharing his thoughts, ideas, and processes on his own personal website at myhomewine.com.

Winemaking or vinification is the process of making wine, from start to finish, which ends up having a lot of detailed steps you should know, so are you ready to begin this long but incredibly rewarding journey?

Some people say it’s easy to make wine but making good and fruity ones is only for the experts – well that’s not entirely true as we’ll see below. Summed up, the major steps on how to make wine are the selection of grapes, their fermentation to alcohol, and, lastly, the bottling. You can make all types of wine but the most common ones are red wine, white wine, or rosé, and even though they are pretty different between, their process is very similar.

Wine has been produced for thousands of years, being almost considered as an art, having an important role in religion and there is even a science that studies wine and winemaking, called oenology. Generally speaking, wine is an alcoholic drink made from fermented grapes with 5.5 – 15.5% alcohol and is a cultural symbol of the European life, changing from a nutritional supplement to a food complimentary beverage, compatible with a good lifestyle. Drinking isn’t safe for everyone and doing it more than moderate amounts can lead to health problems, however, a study from 2018 proved that wine can have great benefits because it contains antioxidants and it promotes anti-inflammatory and lipid-improving effects.

The classification of this beverage can be done according to its origin, methods, vintage, or variety used. Practices can be different in each country and have varied over time to achieve progress. Wine-growing regions all over the world have been improving their conditions with technological innovations to have better hygiene and control over the production process, contributing to the creation of wines suited to the taste of consumers. In fact, global wine consumption has risen with the purpose to enjoy in moderation, as part of a modern, sustainable, and healthy lifestyle. You can also take a look at the following guide in case you want to learn how to make wine at home.

With that said, I will now present you with the process of winemaking, in a thorough but also easy to understand step by step manner:

1 – Choosing the Perfect Grapes

The first step of all is harvesting! It’s one of the crucial stages in this operation, and it’s really easy to understand why – the better grapes you have, the better the product will be!

The moment the grapes are picked from the vineyard will determine their sweetness, flavour, and acidic and tannin levels – now we know why it’s called science. Some of the tracked conditions are the weather, the time of harvest and even the way you pick them – hand picking or mechanical harvesting. Even though there is a lot to consider and to control when it comes to reaching a nice final product, don’t get too scared, as you’ll only reach perfection through trial and error.

2 – Crush!

Once you have the grapes picked up from the vineyard, it’s time to de-stem them and gently squeeze them to liberate their content. This process, in the past or in traditional smaller scale farms, is done by foot. Nowadays, and in bigger wineries, mechanical presses are used to turn grapes into must (pulp) in a much faster and efficient way. Some say this can affect grapes negatively but it’s a more sanitary crushing step and also helps the quality of the final result. Personally, I’d prefer the machines rather than drinking wine crushed by some random farmer’s feet!

What is tapped from the must depends on the type of wine you are making. If white wine is what you want, then the seeds, solids and skins are removed from the grape juice. On the other hand, if red wine is what you prefer, the seeds, solids and skins should stay along with grape juice to offer it more flavour and that beautiful red colour.

3 – Sugar into Alcohol: Fermentation

It’s true, the third step is fermentation and is quickly defined as a transformation from sugar into alcohol – it seems like magic, am I right? It only seems like it, because here is where this process is the longest and most complicated, as it determines the quality of the final result.

As you already know, the product obtained from crushing will ferment because of the present yeasts that transform the sugar, as an energy source, producing ethanol and carbon dioxide. This explains the primary fermentation, which is called alcoholic fermentation, and will last from 5 to 14 days, requiring a lot of careful control (if the goal is a high premium luxurious wine). The second one is called malolactic fermentation, lasts another 5 to 10 days and it characterizes the pH 3,8 of red wines and 3,55 of white wines. Pure science! Temperature, speed and level of oxygen are also extremely important considerations and must be optimized. This whole process can take weeks or even months.

4 – Clarification and Stabilization

After fermentation, it’s time for clarification! This is where pulp, proteins, dead yeast, and other unwanted residues, created during the chemical reactions, are removed from the juice that you can almost call wine at this point. Particles that are insoluble and float, can be filtered and the ones that are soluble but still undesirable, can be centrifuged. Both of these methods need to be optimized to obtain a clear, healthy and appropriate wine. Some natural winemakers don’t clarify because they believe that it diminishes the aroma, texture, and color, so they leave the particles and compounds in red wines for aging – I follow this school of thought.

At this point, you already know that wine can be claimed as a complex mixture built upon microorganisms, and that it can be unstable and reactive depending on the environment and the condition submitted. One of the techniques to stabilize it is cold stabilization and it consists of exposing the wine to low temperatures, close to freezing, for two weeks. The complexity of this whole step is amazing because it enables winemakers to deliver their individual appeal to each wine.

5 – Aging and Bottling

This is the final step but one that is very important in winemaking, because it’s the relocation of the wine into oak barrels (my preferred vessel), stainless steel tanks or bottles.

Wine aging can be defined as a group of reactions that changes the properties of wine and allows it to develop unique flavors over time. Premium wines need to pass through this maturation step to acquire some amazing characteristics like aroma, color, flavour, texture and mouthfeel. Other light and fruity wines don’t need aging and reach their quality peak in a shorter time.

The major considerations in bottling are what kind of bottle to use, type of closure (sealing), (maybe cork), and if you want to add gas or not (not recommended at all for beginners). There are also a lot of kits available for you if you want to experiment making wine at home in a small but very educational manner.

Enjoy it – with Moderation!

Here is every important and crucial step in the winemaking process and you can apply them at your own industry or even at home! Yes, you can make this fruity, incredible juice without leaving your house. If you’re not interested in making your own, you can think about this whole procedure when you’re enjoying it, remembering the magic behind and realizing the work put on it.

Winemaking can be difficult because there are a lot of conditions you need to optimize, starting from picking the grape, to the act of bottling the wine, to the temperature you apply and the cleanliness. Now we can agree that this is almost an art and you have to learn a little bit of science too! Don’t forget that drinking wine in moderation has positive benefits linked to some cardiovascular disease due to the amount of antioxidants, isn’t that great? Thank you for reading and let’s have a glass of wine!

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