It’s simple really. A grape grows on a vine, and a few months later it has transformed into your favorite red. But what kind of sorcery is happening that turns that beautifully sober grape into a full-bodied Malbec? Here are the deets.
Also, just an FYI, I’m skipping over the nitty-gritty of how grapes are grown, but if you’re really curious, check that out here. Now onto the good stuff – the juice.
September or October are typically the months when your precious grapes are plucked from their vines. The grapes are either hand-plucked or machine harvested depending on the vineyard. If using a machine, sometimes stems, sticks, and leaves make their way into the harvesting bins, but don’t worry those will be removed.
Crushing grapes is not as medieval as it used to be (when people would stomp on grapes with their dirty feet). Thankfully, it’s a bit more advanced (and hygienic) nowadays. First, the grapes are de-stemmed and lightly crushed by a machine. The type of wine being produced (red or white) alters the crushing process.
For white wines, the grapes are juiced and separated from their skins. The juice is then removed and placed in different tanks. After residue from the crushing process settles to the bottom, the juice is “racked,” which is a fancy wine word for saying that the liquid is sifted to make sure all the residue is gone before the juice is turned into your precious vino.
Red wine goes through the same process as white wine, except the juice is left to soak in its skins. This process is what creates that rich red color and gives reds a higher tannin level, which produces the more bitter taste that reds are known for. With red wine, the juice and skins are left to ferment together.
First things first, fermentation is the process where sugar converts to alcohol. If winemakers are producing a sweeter wine, they’ll interrupt the fermentation process so that not all of the sugar converts. While reds and whites ferment differently, both begin with the help of a little yeast. For reds, since they ferment with their skins, winemakers will often go into the vats (basically the big tanks where grape juice is turned to wine) and pump the skins down that rise to the surface so that the juice remains in contact with the skins.
How long does this process take? Oh, anywhere from 10 days to several months.
After fermentation, the wine leaves the vats and is then transferred, or “racked” into either an oak barrel or stainless steel tank, depending on the desired flavors. If you’ve ever heard winos rave about their wine aging in oak barrels, there’s a reason it’s a big deal in the wine world. Oak barrels make wines taste smoother and rounder, and even add a hint of vanilla. These barrels also expose wine to more oxygen, so that the fruit-forward attributes in your wine are intensified. If you prefer a zesty white, it most likely spent some time aging in steel tanks.
After the wine gets its beauty rest, it’s filtered again to capture any larger particles and then (finally) ready to be bottled.
You know this step very well. Perhaps as well as we do. But now that you understand how your vino went from vine to wine, you’ll have a greater appreciation for what’s in your glass. We know our glass is always half full. Cheers!