From Grape to Glass: The Winemaking Process

Updated by Jim Deckebach

People have been making and enjoying wine throughout the world for thousands of years. The winemaking is a mostly natural process, supplemented and made easier with the help of specialized equipment. Here is an in-depth look at the process of winemaking, all from grapes to glass.

The first process in growing grapes is choosing the type. Grapes vary in appearance and flavor depending on varietal and where they are grown. There are three major types of grapes: European, Muscadine and American. The American grapes do well in the warm and sunny climates, like in central California. Muscadine does best in the Southern United States, while the European grapes perform best in the Northern states and Europe. Different types of grapes vary in color, flavor, size, and texture. If you are not sure about which grape is best suited to your locality, visit a local nursery to get professional help in choosing what to plant. The next step is choosing a good location, prepare the space, the soil, trellis, and plant the vines.

After grapes have been grown, they must be harvested. Proper harvesting can help to ensure the quality of the end product. It is important that you know when and how to pick grapes, as this is the moment that will determine the sweetness, flavor, and acidity of your wine. Determining if the grapes are ready for picking involves a bit of science besides the traditional method of tasting. You must ensure that sweetness and acidity of the grapes are well balanced. The weather also plays a huge role in influencing the acidity.

After harvesting and sorting the grapes, you are ready to go to the next step, which is de-stemming and crushing. You can do this manually, but to make it easier, you can go the mechanical route by using a wine press to crush the grapes and extract the juice, called must. This is fresh grape juice which contains seeds and grape skins. If you are making white wine, you must do the pressing immediately following the maceration of the grapes in order to separate the juice from the solids and seeds and prevent tannins from getting into the wine. However, with red winemaking, you should wait for some time for the wine to acquire color and flavor from the skins.

After extracting the must from the grapes, you then proceed to fermentation. The fermentation process may naturally begin within 6 to 12 hours. In commercial winemaking, some choose to add cultured yeast to aid in the fermentation process. During fermentation, the sugars present will be converted into alcohol. If you are looking to make sweet wine, the process is stopped before all the sugar is turned to alcohol. Fermentation typically takes between 10 and 30 days.

The next part of the winemaking process is called clarification, during which unwanted solids, like dead yeast and tannins, are removed from the fermented wine. You can clarify the wine either by filtration or fining. Fining is whereby you add something such as clay to the wine for clarification. Filtration, on the other hand, is when you use a filter to capture the solids. Once the clarification process is complete, the wine is ready to be transferred to steel tanks or barrels to be aged.

Aging and bottling are the last stages of winemaking. Here, you have two options. You can choose to bottle the wine immediately, or you can give it some time to age. Aging can be done in steel tanks or in a wine cellar for wine cellular temperatures to acquire a much smoother and flavored wine. Aging also gives the wine more exposure to oxygen which is an excellent way to eliminate tanning and develop different flavors.

Ensure to cover the bottles with corks and put them on wooden wine racks for storage. Wine corks and bottles are the main methods of storing wines. Corks are bottle stoppers used to keep the wine in bottles fresh. They are made from different types of materials, including synthetic plastic compounds and cork oak bark.


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