We all know how beneficial wine is for the human body. Be it Red wine or white wine both are very good drinks for the body. Red wine seems to be more popular but White wine too is preferred by many. I was always under the impression that White wine was made with Green or White grapes. Only when I delved deeper into how White wine is prepared did I realize that White wine can be prepared with red and black grapes too! Surprised, eh? Well, Red wine gets its color because the skin of the grape too is fermented whereas if the skin is left out from red or black grapes we get the juice which is white in color and can be made into a White wine.
One of the first things any winemaker should be good at, is, harvesting. The sugar accumulated in grapes depends on the period it is on the vine. The longer it is on the vine the more sugar it contains. Now, with the advent of technology the analysis for the perfect time to harvest has been made easy. Although, there are many who still follow traditional techniques vis-à-vis, tasting the grapes to tell the correct time for harvesting. But this comes with a lot of experience. After harvesting, the grapes that do not meet the wine making standards are removed from the bunch and are used for other purpose.
After sorting the grapes required, they are De-stemmed and crushed gently. This is a practice followed for White wine preparation, where gentle crushing helps in breaking open the grape skin and what is left is the berry, which on subsequent pressing helps in better extraction of the juice. However, for certain drinks like, Champagne and Sparkling wine, the pressing is carried out in clusters. The grapes are not de-stemmed in such cases.
A few winemakers who still follow traditional methods, carry out an additional process before pressing. A pre-fermentation maceration or Cold-soak process uses the skin of the grapes to add additional aroma to the white wine. However, this tradition is now fast receding and is seldom followed.
what follows next is the pressing of juice from the skin of the grapes that were separated during the de-stemming and Crushing. This is an important step and needs to be done carefully. The juice is finer with gentle pressing. The juice that is obtained from the skin of these grapes is called ‘must’. The must is allowed to settle and the heavier solid part of the juice sinks to the bottom and the clear juice part is left at the top. Rack out the solid part as we shall require only the juice for preparation of White wine. Once we have the must, we are ready for fermentation.
This is by far the most important part in Wine making. If you get this right, there slim chances that your wine will go wrong. This is where the sugars are converted into alcohol. Yeasts act as catalysts in conversion of sugars to alcohol. We can either use natural vineyard yeasts or cultured yeasts. Cultured yeasts are more reliable and consistent. Also, they are easy to handle. However, Natural vineyard yeasts give the vine a natural manifestation and a true flavor of the grape. Whichever we choose, Fermentations needs to be done with utmost care and precision and it sometimes is a sluggish part in wine preparation.
Fermentation can be carried out in different vessels. It could be steel, inert or the oak vessel. Different grapes have different affinities to each of these vessels. While Chardonnay is fermented in small oak vessels, Sauvignon Blanc fermentation is carried out in inert vessel to preserve its aromatic flavor. To decide upon the correct vessel requires experience and a careful in-depth study on how different varieties of grapes behave.
The other important thing that affects a wine is the fermentation temperature. White wines are fermented at a cooler temperature than red wine which is more structured. Always, the aroma of the grape and its distinctive taste is obtained if fermented at a cooler temperature.
After the yeasts have converted all the sugars into Alcohol what we have left, is a dry wine, which is then subjected to further steps t get the final result. However, there can be cases where the wine makers may stop the yeasts from converting all of the sugar and this may result in some amount of residual sugar remaining in the wine as in the case of Chardonnay.
A few types of White wine may be subjected to this process, which in reality is not a true fermentation. It is literally the conversion of hard ‘tart’ like Malic acid to soft lactic acid. Chardonnay is one of the famous wines that undergoes this fermentation and as a result has a soft buttery feel to it. Traditional methods allow this to happen naturally as lactic acid bacteria in the environment tend to ferment Malic acid to liberate energy. However, Wine-makers also use cultured bacteria for this fermentation. After this fermentation, Malic acid which tastes like green apples is converted to lactic acid which has a feel of butter. As mentioned, this is an optional step and is not followed religiously by all wine makers.
When all fermentation is complete the new wine usually has a heavy mass of dead yeast cells called ‘lees’. These always settle at the bottom and can be easily racked off. The heavy lees are drained off quickly but the liquid wine is allowed to rest on ‘light lees’ for a few weeks, months or in some cases even years. This is done as ageing of lees adds texture, palate and complexity to the wine. It also keeps the wine fresh before bottling. For particular wines like Chardonnay, a special process called ‘battonnage’ is carried out. This is the process of stirring the lees to give the wine a creamy texture.
Blending is the most critical steps before getting the desired wine. In few cases when almost everything seems fine, it is the blending that ruins the wine. Blending need not be only for wines made from mix of different grape varieties. It can also be in case of traditional wines where same varietal grapes are used from different vineyards. Blending gives the wine a consistency and also helps wine attain smoothness.
We are almost there now! Finishing is the last step before bottling the wine. This too is a very careful step to be followed. The wine is stabilized and clarified to make sure the wine is physically, chemically and microbially stable. Wines with residual sugar left need to be sterile filtered as even the presence of single yeast can start a re-fermentation in the bottle.
After all the above steps have been followed, the wine is bottled or packaged in containers as desirable. Even after bottled, wines are allowed to settle, depending on the varietal grape used, after which it is released into the market.
Wine is a very good drink for all times and weather. You can always grab a glass of wine and feel good about it, as it is healthy too. But as we have always maintained and shall remain to do so, Remember, Too Much is Too Bad! Frequent Consumption of Alcohol in large quantities is not advisable. It is injurious. Enjoy your drink and do share your tips on wine making if I have missed a few here or have erred.