Last month we talked about knowing what is in your wine glass. Now we’ll talk about how wine is made.
Grapes will turn into wine all by themselves if left alone. The natural yeasts that live in the vineyard will automatically start converting the sugars into alcohol. If you’ve ever made your own apple juice you will know that within a couple of days that juice will begin to ferment and turn into cider. Wine is a natural process. But there are some things a winemaker does along the way that helps that natural process go from making a by-product of nature to something really delicious.
Growing the grapes: 90 percent of winemaking is done in the vineyard. If you have bad grapes, you won’t have good wine, no matter how talented a winemaker the winery employs. Good grapes are the result of good vineyard practices (i.e. hand purned, hand picked, low yields on the vines, etc.) and the right growing site. Grapes are basically a weed..they’ll grow anywhere. Cabernet could grow in Hawaii…but it will taste bad. Therefore, it’s important to plant the right grapes in the right soil with the right climate. This is often referred to as terroir.
Harvesting and Crushing: Once the grapes are ripe, they are harvested. Harvest is when the winemaker gets involved with the grape growing because they are the ones who choose when to pick the grapes. The winemaker makes this decision by measuring the grapes brix (the percentage of the grape that is sugar. So if a grape is at 25 brix then that grape is 25 percent sugar). They look at the seeds in the grape..if they are green the grape is not ripe. They consider the weather. Is it going to rain? If so, how badly? And last, but not least, they taste the grape. If the grape tastes good, if it has enough brix, and if it is fully ripened, the winemaker tells the vineyard manager it’s time to harvest.
When the grapes are harvested the grapes are crushed. A big mass produced winery does everything mechanically. The grapes are thrown into crusher/destemmer. They say grapes, but actually, all the bugs, rotten fruit, mice, lizards, and other flora and fauna that are in the vineyard will go in that crusher/destemmer as well. The juice will go into large stainless steel tanks for fermentation. The wine will “age” there too, with oak chips thrown in for flavoring. This is the wine that is most often found on your super market shelf.
However, when it’s a small winery, the process is very different. The grapes are first hand picked. The winemaker or vineyard owner is usually there to do a preliminary sort to pick out the lizards, mice, and rotten fruit. Then the grapes are taken to the crush pad where they are thrown onto a conveyor belt. This is where the grapes as whole cluster can be sorted. Next the grapes go through a destemmer that gently removes the grapes from the stem. Those individual grapes are put on yet another conveyor belt where they are sorted again. The grapes are then put in the stainless steel tanks for fermentation. The weight of the grapes will crush themselves.
Once fermentation has taken place (fermentation is the process of converting sugar into alcohol) the wine will either go into barrels or tanks to be aged.
Usually, red wine goes into barrels. Winemakers often refer to barrels as their “spice rack.” Barrels can give flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, caramel, spice, and more according to where they were grown, how tight the grain of the wood is, and how the inside of the barrel is toasted.
The winemaker decides how long the wine should age. They also decided how to blend the wine and with what. Perhaps a Cabernet needs better aromatics, if this is the case they might add a little bag of Cabernet Franc.
Once the wine is aged and blended, it goes into bottle where if it’s a red wine it is usually aged an additional year.
All these decisions translate directly into what is in your glass and whether or not you’ll like it. You might not like the loud spicy notes that American Oak gives wine. Or you may love a chardonnay that smells like crème brulee. Maybe you love the crisp sharp lines that stainless steal aging gives Sauvignon Blanc. How the wine is made has a lot to do with whether or not you’ll like the wine. Take the time to ask about the winemaking process when visiting wineries, you’ll not only increase your wine knowledge, but you’ll begin to figure out what you like and why.
Spotlight winery: Canon Del Sol
Canon Del Sol is the passion project of Victor Cruz. Canon Del Sol is the first Latino-owned winery in Washington State. Since 1999, Victor has been making award winning wines with a strong focus on Bordeaux Blends, Syrah, and Viogner. Victor’s first career was as an engineer. After 18 years as an engineer, Victor and his wife, Kim, decided to delve into the wine industry. At that time there were only 100 or so bonded wineries in Washington State. Now there are over 700. The precision and science of an engineer, along with the passion of a Latino, has not only made Victor a success but his wines are delicious!
Vino Latino is a wine club that celebrates the influence and contribution Latinos have given to the American Wine industry. All the wine we feature in the club is made with Latin passion in the USA. For any additional questions please feel free to respond to this post or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.