The most important part of any wine is the grapes.
It begins with finding the right place to plant the grapes. Winemakers must look at the climate, weather, soil composition and topography to find the most promising place for their vineyard. Wine grapes do well on marginal soils on south-facing slopes.
Different grape varieties produce different types of wine. There are many different varieties available.
Choosing when to harvest the grapes is another major factor in how the wine will ultimately turn out. Sugar levels, color and taste will determine when the grapes are ready. For the best results, each grape is hand picked (machines are used sometimes, but not traditionally), taking painstaking care not to be bruised or split.
Once the grapes are picked, they must be properly crushed and the stems must be removed. If the stem is left attached to the grape for too long, it will give off a bitter taste later. When the stem is removed, it must not break the skin of the grape. A specially designed machine typically handles that process.
The grapes are slowly crushed to extract liquid. For white wine, the skins of the grapes will be removed. For red wine, the skins will remain in the juice (the combination is called "must"), which helps give the wine color and additional flavor.
The grape juice is placed in fermentation tanks, usually stainless steel vats for white wines and oak barrels for red wines. During the fermentation process, the grapes' natural sugars are converted into alcohol by wild yeasts that form on the grapes as they grow. Today, wineries often use cultured yeast and refined sugar for more predictable results. Fermentation time varies, but is usually seven to ten days. For red wines, the skins are removed during or after the initial fermentation.
Once the proper alcohol content is achieved, the wine must be separated from any skin, particles or yeast in the fermentation vessel. The process of transferring wine from one vessel to another is called "racking." The liquid is gently pumped or bucketed by hand from the fermentation barrels into clean barrels. They will be aged to the winemaker's specification, being moved from barrel to barrel which will, over time, separate out sediment, and clarify the wine. Due to natural evaporation, the barrels must be topped off with wine from the same batch before being recapped (exposure to air can introduce bacteria that will contaminate the wine).
The wine is finally racked, by hand, into bottles. The bottles are corked and labeled. Some wines are ready for immediate consumption, yet others must be aged. Typically, white wines can be consumed any time but red wines must be aged according to winery's directions; the most common exceptions are the "nouveau" reds, such as Beaujolais, which are consumed the same year they are produced.
The Value of Tradition
Of course there are machines that can handle each of these processes, creating quality wines at relatively low cost. However doing it all traditionally, by hand, can increase the value and sometimes the taste of the wine.
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