Tanning and Tannins

You are what you eat, right? Or in our case, we are what we drink. Believe it or not, we’re a lot more similar to wine grapes than we thought, and not just because we can be both sweet, and bitter, at times.  We’re talking about how a grape’s skin reacts to the sun almost the same way ours does. Here’s what happens when wine grapes get their tan(nin) on.


Wait, what are tannins again? There are so many terms in the wine world it can be hard to keep them all straight. Tannins are the compounds in your wine (typically red wines) that cause that drying sensation in your mouth after you take a sip. It’s usually the tell-tale sign of which wine you’re sipping on (for example,
Petite Sirah is chock-full of tannins). Tannins develop for two main reasons. First, they can be a result of wine aging in oak barrels, thanks to the wood. They also result from the grapes’ juice soaking with the skins, seeds and stems. As you can guess, the longer the wine macerates (soaks) in this mess, the stronger the tannins are and the more color your vino will have. Similarly, the longer you lay out in the sun, the more color you’ll get (and slack from your mom for not putting on enough sunscreen).

But grapes don’t have SPF to protect their precious skins, and they can get sunburned too. It’s called sunscald and it happens when the little grapes get burned in the vineyard. Sunscald can result in weird flavors and colors of your vino that you otherwise wouldn’t see. In Argentina, grapes grow at some of the highest elevations in the world. And being so close to the sun, these grapes can only withstand two to three hours of direct sunlight. Any extra time in the sun, and our little grapes could get sunscalded. Yikes. That’s why a lot of grapes grow under the shade of their leaves and vines. If those little grapes get too much sun, they’ll lose their acidity and taste too sweet. But if they don’t get enough sun, you’ll pucker up at the wine’s bitter, tart flavor. Winemaking is a tricky art.


For us, it seems like instinct to position our towel in the direction the sun is shining. You don’t want to get an uneven tan, do you? We’ve definitely come back from the beach before with our left side more golden than our right, and depending on which direction the sun is shining, grapes can get an uneven tan too.
So how do they protect themselves? Since the direction of the sun shining on the vineyard is crucial, winemakers ensure that their grapes receive southern sun exposure for evenly ripe grapes.

Similar to the sun drying out or skin, tannins dry out our mouths. And while we can moisturize and SPF our skin to no end, grapes don’t have that same luxury. But as with our skin and a grape’s skin, too much sun is never a good thing. Who knew we had so much in common?

Sources: Wine Folly, Winemaker’s Academy, VinePair

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Bright Cellars

Our staff is full of winos with a passion for vino. With our amazing wine director at the helm, we’ve been schooled on all things wine. We came together to write this article, in hopes of spreading a little wine-ducation with you.

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