Wine has been around for centuries and is synonymous with sophistication. The earliest evidence of fermented wine dates back to 7000 B.C. It has appeared in history throughout critical literary works from authors such as Homer and was harvested by ancient Romans who considered it a staple of their diet.
The success of wine can be attributed to diversity. There are red and whites and various types of each that suit different palettes. The growing and harvesting of grapes is similar for each, but the distinct differences in profiles begin to take shape during the crushing and fermentation process.
The harvesting of the grapes is one of the most critical components to the taste and quality of the wine. Everything about the winery will affect the result: soil, sunlight, when the grapes are picked, how the grapes are harvested, the pesticides, and climate. Sunlight alone can change the sweetness of the grape and its sugar levels. The irrigation system will determine the growth rate for the vines and play a role in development.
Picking is referred to as harvesting. When to harvest the grapes is almost like a science. Grapes have natural acidity, esters, and tannins to produce quality wine. The tannins found in the grapes are a textural element that provides bitterness to the final product. The second the grapes are picked, the sweetness, acidity, and tannins are determined. The winery wants to find the right balance of each to contribute to the taste. Consideration of when the grapes are picked is a pivotal component.
The Harvesting Process
The development of the grape is not the only contributing factor to the profile. When and how the grape is picked is essential. The two methods include hand and machine harvesting. Hand-picking is considered to be one of the best ways to keep the integrity of the grape. There is more control, and less damage is done to the juices. Like most fruit, grapes are sensitive to air. Oxidation can take place if too much of the skin is damaged. Mechanical harvesting is slightly more dynamic. Machines work their way through the fields to collect the precisely ripened grapes. While it can take less time and workforce, mechanical harvesting can cause more casualties. Deciding between the two will depend on the goals of the end product.
When to harvest also pertains to the time of day. Climate does play a role in the quality of the grape. The hotter the climate, the higher the chances the harvesting commences at night. It offers an opportunity to not only beat the heat but to capture the grapes at their peak sweetness and stable sugar levels.
After grapes are harvested, there is a sense of urgency to get them through to the crushing stage. Crushing, despite the name, isn't just a process for obtaining the juices out of the grapes. The process is important because it begins the fermentation by combining the natural sugars in the liquid and yeast found in the skins. Exposure to carbon dioxide found in the air will bring this stage to fruition. Getting the juices and the yeast to mingle happens via a couple of different crushing methods: mechanical or human. The machinery will utilize a steel roller and the human consists of crushing them with their feet. One isn't necessarily better than the other as both split the skin for the process to start.
When grapes are harvested, they still have their stems attached. Removing the stems is called "must" in the wine industry and is a pivotal juncture. After the stems are removed the red and white wines embark on different journeys.
Once crushed white wine is transferred to another machine where the skins are removed. The extraction is squeezing the pure juices and leaving behind the skins. Skins on a white grape might provide additional coloring or acidity that is not typical to white wine. Therefore, this stage is critical in producing pure white wine. When the juice is extracted, it's transferred into a tank to allow sediment to descend at the bottom. After the settling period, the juice is transferred leaving behind the residue and preparing it for fermentation.
The characteristics of red wine are the color and the tannins. The removing of the skin turns the grapes into white wine. Keeping the skin will give the distinct profile of red wine. Grapes destined for red wine will be crushed in a similar manner, but the skins will be kept after the extraction process.
Fermenting is a continuation and necessary part of turning the grapes into wine. The sugars mixing with carbon dioxide and some controlled heat will produce the final product. During the crushing phase, the grapes were separated to produce red or white wine. Fermentation also looks different for each product.
White Wine Fermentation:
White wine fermentation includes transferring the juices into a stainless steel vat. Winemakers use lower heat temperatures and add yeast to help it along. Oxygen levels for white wine are strictly monitored. The only exception might be Chardonnay. Some winemakers prefer to use oak barrels to influence flavor.
Red Wine Fermentation:
The fermentation for red wine is more unique. Similarly, the grapes can be transferred to a stainless steel vat, but some winemakers utilize barrels for red wine. The contact of the juices with the skins is influential on the final product. The longer they are in contact with each other the bolder the taste.
The fermentation process can start anywhere from six to twelve hours after crushing. It finishes when all of the sugars have converted to alcohol which transpires after about a month. But, the fermentation isn't the last step before transferred to the bottle. The wine needs clarification to remove skins, yeast, and other components. Filtering can mean the wine goes straight into the container or transferred into another vessel. Moving the liquid provides some aeration and the option to mature the wine using oak barrels. Using an oak barrel gives the wine a smoother, rounder flavor. A zesty white wine might remain in a stainless steel vat. Which option to choose depends on how the type and brand that will set the winery apart.
The Brindiamo Group has decades of experience working in the wine and adult beverage industry. Our intimate knowledge of the production process enables us to better assist our clients with everything from production to effective branding.