This post on how wine is made is not going to get into the extreme specifics from beginning to end, with complex images and scientific explanations. Instead I’m sticking to the basics which will give you a better understanding of how wine goes from vine to bottle (unless you already know how wine is born) without drowning you in unnecessary information.
From beginning it takes 3+ years for a grape-vine to grow and produce the first fruit (and sometimes up to 8 years depending on variety, location, climate etc). Once the grapes are ready for harvest (when the winemakers decide, and harvest time also depends on the type of wine being made) the grapes are picked and put into large containers.
From here the grapes are crushed to extract the juices, after some time the yeast from the grape combines with the sugars in the juice, and slowly changes that sugar into alcohol.
Winemakers get to control a lot of variables, like whether they use oak or stainless steel barrels, size of the containers, temperature/climate controls, fermentation duration, addition of preservatives, blending grape varieties and a lot more.
That is the very brief version of the process. If you were interested in learning more in-depth specifics you can find out more anywhere on the web, or if you stick around on the blog here, I’m currently researching wine courses online, then I’m going to take one or more of the courses and will be sharing with you the relevant info I learn along the way.
After the grapes have been crushed, the juice is needed to be kept cold to prevent oxidation (which causes browning). The juice is pressed quickly to minimize loss of phenols, which includes tannins in the skins, stems and seeds. A majority of white wine is kept in temperature controlled vats and is bottled directly from there.
Tannin is the main factor when it comes to the taste difference of white and red wines. Crushed red wine grapes actually produce clear liquids like white wine, but leaving the skins in during fermentation gives red wine its color. On top of that, the skins from red wine grapes also contribute to the tannins which gives red wine their specific tastes. As I mentioned above in the white wine part, tannins are a natural compound that is found in the skin, stems and seeds from the grape.
The difference between champagne and sparkling wine is that champagne is from a region in France. If somewhere wants to use the word champagne in their name they have to accompany it with the name of the region (like Hunter Valley champagne, Marlborough champagne, California champagne etc). If the wine has no accompanying region next to the name “champagne” you can bet that it is from France.
Sparkling wine grapes are harvested earlier, typically from chardonnay, meunier and pinot noir varieties. The grapes are pressed immediately without crushing to avoid the coloration you would normally get from some grapes.
Sparkling wine contains carbon dioxide which is a gas that is a natural bi-product formed during the fermentation period.
In a nutshell a syrup containing sugar and yeast is mixed with the juice then the bottles are filled. The bottles are then sealed and cellared to start a second fermentation period. From there, methods are used to extract the dead yeast cells (which has already done its magic in flavoring the wine somewhat). The desired amount of sugar is then added and the bottle is topped off before it is corked
Blah, blah, blah, I hope I didn’t lose you there. There is more to it, but for you it’s not something you would be typically asked by a guest, and if you are, it’s okay not to know the answer, but ask other workers or management if the guest really wants to know.
Rose or Blush wines
These wines are made from red wine grapes, but they only let the skins ferment with the wine for a short period so they don’t become a deep red color. Few tannins are present in these wines and are usually fermented like white wines in a stainless steel vat, with little aging. They are made into a dry or mildly sweet style.
You don’t have to be an expert when it comes to selling wine to a guest. Actually a lot of the “behind the scenes” making of wine is not something that your guests are interested in. Most of the time someone will know what specific blend they usually like, and will order that type of wine because of that.
As a server it’s good to know these basic fundamentals, I find the ins and outs of wine making fascinating and I know that when I’m talking wine with my guests I can speak to them about it with confidence, which in return assures them that they are in good hands when it comes to helping them make a decision on what they want to drink.
I’ll be writing some blog posts soon that will explain the main grape varieties for both white and red wines. I will also talk about tastes and styles.
Some other posts I wrote that relate to this topic are:
Thanks, and have a great day.