Article - RareWine Academy

Winemaking In The Modern Wine Cellar

"Great wine is made in the vineyard" is the mantra of winemakers these years, but the very best winemakers can create magic in the cellar. Here we reveal their secrets...

Before the wine is poured into your glass, a long process has gone before. Any decent winemaker will claim that good wine is produced in the vineyard, but you cannot neglect the fact that the wine also has been processed in the cellar. The wine must be made with a particularly “loving hand” in the cellar. According to EU terms, wine is the fermented juice of fresh grapes. Here you can get an insight into the most essential processes that red wine goes through during production from arrival at the winery.

Grapes For Wine Production

The grapes used for winemaking grow on a vine of the species Vitis Vinifera. The grape ripens through a process in which sugar is formed inside the grape pulp by means of photosynthesis. The grape itself contains everything that is needed to make wine.

On the outside of the skin, you find the natural yeast cells. They can be used to ferment the wine if you do not choose cultured yeast that is stronger - More on that later in the process.

The skin itself contains various acids, tannins, color, and flavor components as the main parts. Therefore, the skin contributes character to the wine.

The grape pulp contains primarily water and sugar, as well as small amounts of aromas and acids.

The pips contain primarily bitter oils and tannins, so the winemaker will avoid squeezing them. The stems contain tannins, which can be interesting for the producer if he wishes to use them in the production.

grapes, vitis vinifera Grapes for the production of red wine

Destalking And Sorting Of The Grapes

The first thing that happens when the grapes arrive at the winery is that the stalks are taken off in a destalker, which at the same time breaks the skin and lets the juice come into contact with the skin. From here, the grapes are placed in a cold environment and in contact with the skins so the producer can gently draw the first aromas from the skins. This cold pre-fermentation can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. After this, the alcoholic fermentation is started.

The Alcoholic Fermentation

The making of wine is quite simple; the sugary juice inside the grape comes in contact with yeast. This starts the alcoholic fermentation where sugar is converted into alcohol. In this process, there are two by-products: carbon dioxide and heat.

The alcoholic fermentation starts when the yeast begins to eat the sugar in the juice. The higher the sugar level at the time of harvest, the higher the potential alcohol in the wine. How the weather affects the sugar level can be read in this exciting article. When the wine ferments, the tannin from the skins will also be extracted into the wine. During the actual fermentation, in addition to alcohol, Co2 and heat are also formed. For the same reason, most fermentation tanks will be open at the top so that the carbon dioxide can escape. The heat can be a problem, as the juice must not get too hot during fermentation.

The fermentation temperature is essential. At different temperatures, different aromas are drawn into the wine. In general, it can be said that a cooler fermentation creates lighter wines with more freshness. A hot fermentation will often promote aromas of darker fruit and thus a heavier wine.

The Two Types Of Fermentation In Wine Production

The fermentation can take place with two main types of yeast, both of which are natural. The winemaker can choose to use the natural yeast that sits on the grapes. It will often be referred to as "natural fermentation", "spontaneous fermentation" or "wild fermentation". The second possibility is that the winemaker chooses to add a cultured yeast, also known as a cultivated yeast strain. In either case, it will be active yeast cells that can attack the sugar and convert it into alcohol. The process around fermentation is extremely complex and experts can talk about this for days.

The grapes' own yeast gives a fermentation where the winemaker has less control, but which can give a more complex style. The yeast lives naturally on the outside of the grapes, and this natural yeast may lack a little "muscle", which can cause fermentation to stop before all the sugar has been converted.

Fermentation Tank For Winemaking

The fermentation can take place in many different types of tanks. The biggest difference is whether the wine ferments in a wooden tank, or in a neutral tank. In a wooden tank, the wood will add flavors during fermentation, which will affect the taste. In a neutral tank, which can be a large old wooden barrel, a steel tank, a cement container, or a plastic bucket, no taste is added. These traditional tanks have straight sides that make the must lie still. The size can vary from a few liters to many hectoliters.

In recent years, several winemakers have started working with cement tanks shaped like eggs. These "cement eggs" allow the skins to move freely inside the egg during fermentation, which gives more flavor intensity to the wine. Some producers believe that their wines on "eggs" have a cleaner and more precise fruit than wine fermented in a steel tank.

During fermentation, the skins are involved in red wine production. These skins float on top, transported by the carbon dioxide during fermentation. To draw color, tannin, taste, etc. out of these, they must be in contact with the juice. This can be done either by "punch-down" or "pump-over". Two processes that make the skins wet and get them in contact with the juice. It will be very much up to local traditions or the winemaker's thoughts on which method is chosen. When all the sugar has been converted into alcohol, you actually have wine - but there are still a few significant processes left.

What Is Orange Wine? - Nuances Of Wine

As a starting point, we have become accustomed to the fact that there is red wine and white wine. In recent years, orange wine has gained ground. Basically, white wine is made from green grapes and red wine from black grapes. All the color is in the skins, so white wine can also be made from black grapes. Blanc de Noir is the term in Champagne when white sparkling wine is made from black grapes.

Orange wine occurs when the skins of green grapes are allowed to stay in the must during fermentation. The skins will float atop the tank and be exposed to oxidation. This oxidation helps the skins to become more orange, and this is reflected in the wine. You may come across an orange wine that is not orange in color, but where the skins have still been there without oxidizing. The advantage of leaving the skins with the juice is to add extra complexity to the white wine, from the tannins in the skin.

Pressing - Press Wine

The wine that can be drawn directly from the fermentation tank, his is called "free-run-juice". It is the purest and most elegant part of the wine.

To get the last juice out of the skins, these are put into a wine press. Here the winemaker will get the last and strongest juice out. The so-called “press wine” is used to a greater or lesser degree in the final wine. The “press wine” will have a higher content of tannins, which are pressed out of the skins, as well as more intensity. Often this wine will be more powerful, but at the same time, less elegant. At the great Châteaus in Bordeaux, the “press wine” is used as a “spice” in the final wine. At the small Domaines in Burgundy, all the wine will be blended to get enough wine in total.

Storing Wine On Barrels

Wine can be stored for a shorter or longer period of time, depending on the type of wine. A fresh red wine where the fruit should be dominant will only be stored for a short time. A powerful red wine with many tannins will often be stored for a longer time.

Wine can be stored and matured in many ways. Most often we talk about maturation on the barrel. A barrel can be many things, but most often it is a wooden barrel made of oak. A wooden barrel affects the wine to a great extent, but not all wines get better just by getting on the barrel. In order for the wine to win by barrel aging, it must have enough structure for the wine to interact with the aromas and tannin of the barrel. If the wine is too light, then the barrel will take over the taste and structure of the wine.

Normally a wooden barrel is made of oak. The two most common types are French or American oak. In general, the French oak trees are older, and they have gained a denser structure. This immediately gives a little less flavor to the wine, but greater finesse. The American oak trees generally add more sweetness and aromas of vanilla to the wine. In terms of price, an ordinary French barrel of 225 liters costs approx. € 1000 and an American barrel is half the price.

A wooden barrel can come in many different sizes depending on the area you are in. In Bordeaux, 225 liters are the standard, while in Burgundy 228 liters are most often used. In Portugal, for port wine production, the barrel is typically 550 liters. In other regions, you can also find the above sizes, and sometimes even much larger barrels. In recent years, there has been a tendency to use larger barrels to get less flavor from the barrels into the wine.

The barrel contributes three essential things to the wine: tannin, taste, and oxygen. The tannin is in the wood and is released to the wine - However, mostly when the barrel is young. The taste comes both from the wood itself, but also from the roasting that the barrel undergoes to be shaped. These are aromas of both cigar box, tar, tobacco, coffee, and chocolate. Last but certainly not least, oxygen comes through the wine when it is in the barrel. A barrel is waterproof, but not airtight. From below, small bubbles will appear which causes the wine to undergo micro-oxidation when it is placed in the barrel. The little oxygen that comes to the wine here will cause the tannins and acids in the wine to be rounded off while the wine is lying here. In an old barrel, there will be less tannin and flavor.

A barrel has the greatest value in the first few years, when it adds most tannin and flavor, then it drops in price. A quick calculation shows that half of the value is deducted in year one, and it must be distributed over 300 bottles. This gives a production cost of approx. € 1,3 per bottle. Everything else being equal, it is the most expensive single item in the production of wine.

In Italy, many large old barrels are used. This is because grape varieties such as Nebbiolo and Sangiovese have a high level of tannin by nature, and therefore benefit from being rounded before the wine is bottled. This will happen through the micro-oxidation in an older barrel.

When the winemaker thinks that the wine is ready for bottling, you start the blending process, which is the last before bottling.

barrels, storing wine Wine stored on barrels

Blending Of Wine

All wine is a blended wine, as the final wine in the vast majority of cases will consist of several elements. At the large end of the scale, you see that winemakers have tanks of several million liters. They are used to make the final blends of the big brands.

Even in small productions, the final wine will be a blend of either different grapes, different parcels, or at least a selection of barrels. Quite a few wines in the world are produced in such small quantities that there is less than one barrel.

Bottling And Shipping Of Wine

For the last many years, the most quality wines have been bottled at the winery itself. In most cases, it takes place on a large machine, where the wine is filled into bottles. In the coming years, you may have to get used to the idea of ​​good wine in other containers, ranging from bag-in-box as we already know, to perhaps a tetra-pack carton a la a milk carton. With increasing focus on the environment, you can expect to see more and more wine, especially in the consumer segment, bottled as close to the end-user as possible.

So even if good wine is made in the vineyard, one should certainly not underestimate the many processes that the wine goes through in the winery before it eventually ends up in the glass. This is where the winemaker can really go into details and create taste experiences beyond the usual.

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