The winemaking process starts with grape selection at harvest and finishes with a bottled wine.
All along its journey the winemaker’s role is to make key decisions to do with techniques and timing. His or her choices determine the style and quality of the finished product.
Here’s how red wine is made.
This happens when aromas, flavours, sugar and ripeness align, with Mother Nature’s help. From March onwards, winemakers check weather reports and test grape sugar levels for ripeness. They want the fruit to ripen on the vine for as long as possible to get maximum flavour, but adverse weather may prompt a call to pick immediately.
DESTEMMING & CRUSHING
An optional step that removes the stems and breaks the skins. If the winemaker chooses this step, it occurs as soon as the fruit arrives in the winery so he or she has the freshest juice to work with.
This process, the “stirring” or “plunging” of the grape skins and seeds that float to the surface back into the juice to impart flavour and colour, is particularly important for red wine. Red skins and seeds give wine its colour, but there is a point where a wine goes from bright and vibrant to murky and bitter.
Yeast converts the sugar in grape juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Although this occurs naturally, the winemaker can add yeasts that are known to complement the style being made in order to control the process.
DRAIN & PRESS
Once the wine has primary fermentation, from the skins and seeds through draining, with the skins and pulp pressed to extract all the wine. What’s left is called marc and is often returned to the vineyard as nutrient.
With the exception of Rosé and some lighter-bodied styles, all red wine will be put through a malolactic fermentation, a process that converts the tart, naturally occuring malic acid into softer lactic acids.The resulting softness on the palate makes the wine more pleasurable to drink.
Full-bodied reds are usually left to mature for a period of time. This process takes place either in tank or barrel, but barrel adds more complex characters to a wine’s aromas and flavours. The winemaker’s role is to choose tank or barrel, and decide on the barrel’s age (new barrels impart strong character, used have a more subtle influence), and origin (French or American). The winemaker also decides how long the wine will mature in oak, which is usually between 6 and 12 months.
The idea behind blending is to create a finished wine that’s an improvement on the individual components. It should add complexity, balance and structure.
New Zealand and Australian winemakers aren’t averse to blending wines from different regions or vineyards, and sometimes even from different vintages. Worldwide it’s common to blend different varieties that complement one another.
FINING, STABILISING & FILTERING
This cleans and clarifies the wine so it looks clear in your glass. At this point the winemaker may choose to stabilise the wine to remove the unstable compounds that form a haze, or deposit in the bottle.
Often red wine isn’t filtered or cold stabilised to the same degree as white wine so tartrate crystals and tannin sediment can appear in aged wines. Decanting the wine before serving usually takes care of any sediment.
Once the wine is checked for stability and clarity it’s ready to be bottled. Because red wines are often already stored for longer than whites, have lower sugar levels and have gone through malolactic fermentation the chance of any yeast or bacterial activity after bottling is severely reduced. At this point the decision is made whether to seal the bottle with a cork, or screwcap
Now it’s ready for you to cellar or enjoy