Wine making has been around for millennia, though obviously the techniques and recipes have changed a lot since its origins. But in its most basic production, making wine is relatively straightforward, needing little human intervention. The key to making outstanding wine is to go beyond these basics, embellishing and adjusting until you find the perfect combination.
No wine maker wants to give away their secrets – many have recipes that have been in the family for generations – but we have explored the five simple steps of wine making below. These steps are harvesting, pressing and crushing, fermentation, clarification, and then finally aging and bottling.
With these steps in mind, it seems incredible that you can have so many varieties of wine, but even a small change in the process can have a big impact on taste. Even the process of making both red and white wine is essentially the same, with one major distinction – the crushing technique is vastly different.
If you’d like to learn more about how wine is made, we’ve outlined the five main steps below:
1. Harvesting the Grapes
There can’t be wine without grapes, or another fruit, so the first step of wine making is harvesting this produce. Grapes are the fruit of choice for most wine makers, as they produce a reliable amount of sugar, and have consistent levels of acids, esters and tannins. If you were to use a less predictable fruit, you couldn’t guarantee a fantastic end product every time.
Grapes have to be harvested at a fairly specific time – preferably when at their ripest! This is usually determined by environmental metrics, as well as simply tasting the grapes. While the fruit can be harvested by machine, many vineyards choose to harvest the grapes by hand, as it’s a more gentle process.
2. Crushing and Pressing
Traditionally, grapes would be placed in large barrel-like containers, called ‘musts’, and crushed using the wine maker’s feet. These days, it’s more common to use a mechanical crusher, which allows for a more sanitary experience, as well as improving the quality and longevity of the wine.
It’s at this stage that the process for white and red wine differs. With white wine, you don’t want the tannins, not to mention colour, from the skin and flesh of the grape to mix with the juice. Only the juice is used in white wine. With red wine, the juice of the grapes is left with the skins for longer, which allows it to soak up more colour and flavour.
The fermentation process is where grape juice starts becoming wine – it’s essentially magic. Alcoholic fermentation is a process whereby yeast mixes with sugar to form ethanol. Wild yeasts can often be found in the air, which will instigate fermentation, but most wineries choose to use a more stable variety of yeast, so that they can predict the end result.
The starting sugar content will help determine the alcoholic percentage of a wine (usually between 10% and 15%), while the sweetness of the wine is impacted by the duration of fermentation. With a sweeter wine, the fermentation process is stopped before all the sugar has been converted into alcohol. Overall, fermentation tends to take between ten days to a month.
After fermentation, it’s important to remove any remaining solids (the flesh and skin of the grapes) from the wine. This typically involves moving the wine from one barrel to another, or using a filtering process.
Clarification can also be achieved through ‘fining’, which involves adding a substance to the wine, such as clay or egg whites. This substance will stick to any unwanted solids, and then settle at the bottom of the barrel.
5. Aging and Bottling
Depending on the type of wine, after clarification, it can either be bottled immediately, or left to age for a particular duration. Aging a wine will affect its flavour, as will the type of container it is kept in.
Small wooden barrels, commonly called barriques, are traditionally used when aging a wine, but you can also use ceramic or stainless steel tanks. Some wine is even left to age in the bottle. There is a common misconception that older wines are superior, but not every wine tastes better aged, and there is also personal preference to take into account!
Regardless of whether wine is allowed to age or not, if all the steps are followed correctly, the end result should be an outstanding bottle of wine.