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How Wine is Made: From Grapes to Glass


October 27, 2014 Blog » Learn About Wine » How Wine is Made: From Grapes to Glass

A picture guide of how wine is made, from picking grapes to bottling wine.

Depending on the grape, the region and the kind of wine that a winemaker wishes to produce, the exact steps in the harvesting process will vary in time, technique and technology. But for the most part, every wine harvest includes these basic vine-to-wine steps:

  1. Pick the grapes
  2. Crush the grapes
  3. Ferment the grapes into wine
  4. Age the wine
  5. Bottle the wine

Here’s a photo guide of each of the steps of how wine is made from the moment the grapes are picked until the wine is put into bottles. Enjoy!

Wine Harvest 101: From Grapes to Glass

1. Pick the grapes

Most vineyards will start with white grapes and then move to red varietals. The grapes are collected in bins or lugs and then transported to the crushing pad. This is where the process of turning grapes into juice and then into wine begins.
 
Red Wine Grapes Hermann Missouri AVA
An indigenous red American grape called Norton, prior to being picked in the 2nd week of October, 2014 in Hermann, Missouri
 
Man vs. Machine: The grapes are either cut from the vine by human hands with shears or they are removed by a machine.

Hand Picked Grape Harvest in 2012 Douro Portugal
Hand harvesting is more labor intensive but can offer superior results for small wineries. Quinta de Leda, Douro, Portugal.

Wine Grape Mechanical Harvester in Hermann Missouri 2014 Harvest
A mechanical harvester goes down a row of Vignoles vines at Chandler Hill Estates in the Augusta AVA in Missouri.

Night Harvest vs Day Harvest: The grapes are either picked during the day or at night to maximize efficiency, beat the heat and capture grapes at stable sugar levels.

Night Harvest Chardonnay in Sicily at Donnafugata
Night harvesting is common in warm climate regions. This is the Chardonnay harvest at Donnafugata in Sicily

At this point in the process, the grapes are still intact with their stems—along with some leaves and sticks that made their way from the vineyards. These will all be removed in the next step.

White Wine Grapes Hand Harvested in a basket 2014
A basket of Vignoles grape, a rare hybrid grape of unidentified origin that grows well in cool climate regions.


2. Crush the grapes

No matter how or when the grapes were picked, they all get crushed in some fashion in the next step. The destemmer, which is a piece of winemaking machinery that does exactly what it says, removes the stems from the clusters and lightly crushes the grapes.
 
Sorting-Table-Chardonnay-Night-Harvest-Sicily-Donnafugata
These Chardonnay grapes are being sorted on a ‘sorting table’ before going into the destemmer and crusher at Donnafugata Winery in Sicily.

White Wine grapes being put into the grape crusher
White grapes being put directly into a crusher where they are separated from the skins and seeds for the entire fermentation process.

White Wine: Once crushed, the white grapes are transferred into a press, which is another piece of winemaking equipment that is literal to its name. All of the grapes are pressed to extract the juice and leave behind the grape skins. The pure juice is then transferred into tanks where sediment settles to the bottom of the tank. After a settling period, the juice is then “racked”, which means it’s filtered out of the settling tank into another tank to insure all the sediment is gone before fermentation starts.

White Wine Press
This is what the bottom of the grape crusher looks like as the juice is squeezed out.

Red Wine: Red wine grapes are also commonly destemmed and lightly crushed. The difference is that these grapes, along with their skins, go straight into a vat to start fermentation on their skins. This is what imparts the red color into red wine, otherwise, red grapes would also make a white wine.

A bin of red wine grapes
Red grapes wait to be crushed and put in fermentation tanks.

White Wine Juice Before it it fermented
 
Here’s what the juice from white grapes look like prior to fermenting and becoming wine. It’s quite frothy and will range in flavor from sour to sweet —depending on the grape.


3. Fermenting Grapes into Wine

Simply put, fermentation is where the sugar converts into alcohol. There are plenty of techniques and technologies used during this process to accompany the different kinds of grapes. To keep things simple, this stage mainly includes:

  • red and white wines: yeast is added to the vats so that fermentation can take place.
  • red wines: carbon dioxide is released during fermentation which causes the grape skins to rise to the surface. Winemakers must punch down or pump over the “cap” several times a day to keep the skins in contact with the juice.
  • red wines: the grapes are pressed after fermentation is complete. After racking to clarify the wine, the reds will spend several months aging in barrels.

Red Wine Fermentation
A view from above looking into a large fermentation tank in Portugal.

Wine Fermentation Yeast Starter
 
Some winemakers use yeast nutrients to bolster the fermentation. This is a bucket of white grape juice, yeast and a yeast nutrient called Diammonium Phosphate. The winemaker waits 20-30 minutes for the mix to start bubbling and then adds it to the fermentation.


4. Age the wine

Winemakers have lots of choices in this step, and again they all depend on the kind of wine one wants to create. Flavors in a wine become more intense due to several of these winemaking choices:

  • Aging for several years vs. several months
  • Aging in stainless steel vs. oak
  • Aging in new oak vs. ‘neutral’ or used barrels
  • Aging in American oak barrels vs. French oak barrels
  • Aging in various levels of ‘toasted’ barrels (i.e. charred by fire)

Stainless Steel Wine Aging Tanks
Stainless steel tanks are readied for harvest by Tavis Harris, the enologist at Stone Hill Winery, Hermann, Missouri.

Barrel Room at Dinastia Vivanco cellaring Rioja wines
The barrel aging room at Dinastia Vivanco in Rioja smelled richly of vanilla and spice.


5. Bottle the wine

When the winemaker feels a wine has reached its full expression in aging, then it’s time to bottle the wine for consumption. And the rest is history, my friends.

  • Some white wines are ready to be bottled after a few months.
  • Most dry reds need 18-24 months of aging before bottling.

Bottling lines can be completely automated or done by hand. This bottling was at W.T. Vintners in Washington.

Thanks
Special thanks to the head winemakers, Tavis from Stone Hill Winery and Tom from Chandler Hill Vineyards, for letting me witness their biggest parties of the year.


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By Katie Eigel
Katie is a self-proclaimed #WineGeekInTraining who spends her days writing for various wine publications. Follow her sips and tips on @eieigel