Summer has come to a close. The school year has started, the sunsets come earlier, and the temperatures are gradually dropping. In a short while, the cold brush of fall will repaint the treetops with bursting colors.
Another sign that summer is ending is the scheduled opening of cellar doors for the fall release of wines. Most wineries have scheduled their fall release wine tastings to mark the beginning of the new season. Fall is the time for the first release of the season’s wine and a fine excuse to shine a spotlight on the intricacies of the wine making process. The fall release enables the wine-loving population to enjoy old familiar wines as well as newly debuted vintage.
The Wine Making Process
Grapevines produce sweet and versatile fruits. Grapes constitute the largest fruit crop in the world. Grapevines prefer temperate climate – warm and dry summers with mild winters. Dormant, bare-root vines are planted, six to ten feet apart, during the early spring. Trellises used for support must be prepared prior to grape planting. The grapevines must not be allowed to produce fruit for the first few years.
Harvesting grapes is the next step in the wine making process. Ripe grapes contain the necessary ingredients to make wine – acids, esters, and tannins. Determining when to harvest also determines the sweetness, acidity, and flavor of the wine. Harvesting is done mechanically or by hand.
Harvested grapes are sorted, de-stemmed and crushed. This process used to be done manually by people who crushed the grapes with their feet. Nowadays, crushing and pressing are done mechanically.
After crushing and pressing, grape juice is allowed to ferment naturally. Commercial wine makers intervene by adding cultured yeast for a consistent, predictable result. The process continues until most or all sugar has been converted into alcohol.
The next step, clarification, is the process of removing all solids such as tannins and dead yeast cells. The clarified wine is transferred into vessels for bottling or aging. The wine maker can bottle the wine right away or give the wine time to age. Aging can be done in bottles, oak barrels, or stainless steel tanks.