5 Stages of the Wine Making Process

10704109_10152716982443838_1744792670155061479_nWine making has been around for thousands of years. It is not only an art but also a science. Wine making is a natural process that requires little human intervention, but each wine maker guides the process through different techniques. In general, there are five basic components of the wine making process: harvesting, crushing and pressing, fermentation, clarification, and aging and bottling. Wine makers typically follow these five steps but add variations and deviations along the way to make their wine unique.

Harvesting

Harvesting is the first step in the wine making process and an important part of ensuring delicious wine. Grapes are the only fruit that have the necessary acids, esters, and tannins to consistently make natural and stable wine. Tannins are textural elements that make the wine dry and add bitterness and astringency to the wine.

The moment the grapes are picked determines the acidity, sweetness, and flavor of the wine. Determining when to harvest requires a touch of science along with old fashioned tasting. The acidity and sweetness of the grapes should be in perfect balance, but harvesting also heavily depends on the weather.

Harvesting can be done by hand or mechanically. Many wine makers prefer to harvest by hand because mechanical harvesting can be tough on the grapes and the vineyard. Once the grapes are taken to the winery, they are sorted into bunches, and rotten or under ripe grapes are removed.

Crushing and Pressing

After the grapes are sorted, they are ready to be de-stemmed and crushed. For many years, men and women did this manually by stomping the grapes with their feet. Nowadays, most wine makers perform this mechanically. Mechanical presses stomp or trod the grapes into what is called must. Must is simply freshly pressed grape juice that contains the skins, seeds, and solids. Mechanical pressing has brought tremendous sanitary gain as well as increased the longevity and quality of the wine.

For white wine, the wine maker will quickly crush and press the grapes in order to separate the juice from the skins, seeds, and solids. This is to prevent unwanted color and tannins from leaching into the wine. Red wine, on the other hand, is left in contact with the skins to acquire flavor, color, and additional tannins.

Fermentation

After crushing and pressing, fermentation comes into play. Must (or juice) can begin fermenting naturally within 6-12 hours when aided with wild yeasts in the air. However, many wine makers intervene and add a commercial cultured yeast to ensure consistency and predict the end result.

Fermentation continues until all of the sugar is converted into alcohol and dry wine is produced. To create a sweet wine, wine makers will sometimes stop the process before all of the sugar is converted. Fermentation can take anywhere from 10 days to one month or more.

Clarification

Once fermentation is complete, clarification begins. Clarification is the process in which solids such as dead yeast cells, tannins, and proteins are removed. Wine is transferred or “racked” into a different vessel such as an oak barrel or a stainless steel tank. Wine can then be clarified through fining or filtration.

Fining occurs when substances are added to the wine to clarify it. For example, a wine maker might add a substance such as clay that the unwanted particles will adhere to. This will force them to the bottom of the tank. Filtration occurs by using a filter to capture the larger particles in the wine. The clarified wine is then racked into another vessel and prepared for bottling or future aging.

Aging and Bottling

Aging and bottling is the final stage of the wine making process. A wine maker has two options: bottle the wine right away or give the wine additional aging. Further aging can be done in the bottles, stainless steel tanks, or oak barrels. Aging the wine in oak barrels will produce a smoother, rounder, and more vanilla flavored wine. It also increases wine’s exposure to oxygen while it ages, which decreases tannin and helps the wine reach its optimal fruitiness. Steel tanks are commonly used for zesty white wines.

After aging, wines are bottled with either a cork or a screw cap, depending on the wine maker’s preference.

13 Responses to 5 Stages of the Wine Making Process

  1. rahel fitwi June 24, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

    Thank you for the brief explanation on wine production.I have a comment its more like a question what is the actual effect of aging the wine and when its bottled because its not exposed to oxygen can it be said that its aging?
    Also does the wine get bad or posses bad test upon time and also are there any preservatives added to prevent this?
    Again thank you, looking forward for your reply.

    • Kim Myers August 24, 2015 at 3:13 pm #

      Hi Rahel,
      We use only natural cork at Laurel Gray. This allows the wine to slowly age by letting a very small amount of oxygen into the bottle. That is why a dry red wine always improves after time in bottle, as long as the producer used natural cork, which is much more expensive than synthetic cork or a screw cap.

      If you’re looking for more information on how wine can go bad check out our blog post 4 Things That Are Ruining Your Wine.

  2. kenny August 17, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

    that was simple and helpful

  3. Menorah October 1, 2015 at 11:45 pm #

    How long does it take before red wine is consumed after the wine making

    • Kim Myers November 3, 2015 at 8:23 am #

      Depends on how dry and tannic the wine is when completed. A nice rich dry red with substantial tannins should be better after a few years in the bottle and may very well
      be at its best after 10 or 15 years or possible even longer. If your wine is a red that is lighter, a lower alcohol, with less tannins it is meant to be enjoyed young, so drink it within 5 years. If the red wine has residual sugar drink it within one year.

  4. john October 29, 2015 at 1:42 am #

    If we are using yeast for fermenting can we have it air tight closed. .?

    • Kim Myers November 3, 2015 at 8:22 am #

      No, if you close it airtight you will stop the release of gas that the yeast produces when it eats sugar.

  5. Amogh Tijare October 29, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    Is there any raw material which can be used for wine making process except grapes?

    • Kim Myers November 3, 2015 at 8:22 am #

      Actually wine can be made from anything that contains sugar. Yeast must have sugar to eat.

  6. Zeno Potas October 30, 2015 at 9:25 pm #

    I would get some of the best wine ever from a friend who has since passed away and would like to try making my own. He would order several different grape juices from the winery and make his wine from their juice. Can you tell me how this effects the instructions you provided here?

    • Kim Myers November 3, 2015 at 8:22 am #

      Other than destemming, soaking, and pressing fresh grapes the process for making wine is the same if using grape or other fruit juice to make wine.

  7. rmiddlebrooks November 6, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    After wine set for 3-months can you syphon off clear part of the wine, put it another container to clear it up. (How to do away with residue at the bottom, and the next provess?)

    • Kim Myers November 11, 2015 at 7:21 pm #

      Yes you can certainly and should syphon off the clear wine and leave the solid and semi-solid particles in the bottom. This is thrown away. After doing this you should check your sulfur levels and adjust if needed. Try to always keep the wine in a container that is appropriately sized to have the least amount of free space for air as possible. If you have air space you should gas it with CO2.
      Kim

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