How wine is made
An illustrated guide to the winemaking process, by Jamie Goode

It all starts with grapes on the vine: and it's important that these are properly ripe. Not ripe enough, or too ripe, and the wine will suffer. The grapes as they are harvested contain the potential of the wine: you can make a bad wine from good grapes, but not a good wine from bad grapes. 

Teams of pickers head into the vineyard. This is the exciting time of year, and all winegrowers hope for good weather conditions during harvest. Bad weather can ruin things completely. 

Hand-picked grapes being loaded into a half-ton bin.

Increasingly, grapes are being machine harvested. This is more cost-effective, and in warm regions quality can be preserved by picking at night, when it is cooler. This is much easier to do by machine. 

The harvester plucks the grape berries off the vine and then dumps them into bins to go to the winery. This is in Bordeaux. 

These are machine-picked grapes being sorted for quality.

Hand-picked grapes arriving as whole bunches in the winery.

Sorting hand-picked grapes for quality. Any rotten or raisined grapes, along with leaves and petioles, are removed. 

These sorted grapes go to a machine that removes the stems. They may also be crushed, either just a little, or completely. 

These are the stems that the grapes have been separated from in the destemmer. 

Reception area at a small winery. Here grapes are being loaded and then taken by conveyor belt to a tank, from where they are being pumped into the fermentation vessel. 

This is where red wine making differs from whites. Red wines are fermented on their skins, while white wines are pressed, separating juice from skins, before fermentation. This fermentation vessel - a shallow stone lagar in Portugal's Douro region - will be filled up and then the grapes will be foot trodden, so that the juice can extract colour and other components from the skins.

This is a very traditional winery, again, in the Douro. The red grapes have been foottrodden, and fermentation has begun naturally. These men are mixing up the skins and juice by hand: this process is carried out many times a day to help with extraction, and also to stop bacteria from growing on the cap of grape skins that naturally would float to the surface.

Sometimes cultured yeasts are added in dried form, to give the winemaker more control over the fermentation process. But many fermentations are still carried out with wild yeasts, naturally present in the vineyard or winery.

These red grapes are being fermented in a stainless steel tank. During fermentation, carbon dioxide is released so it is OK to leave the surface exposed. Sometimes, however, fermentation takes place in closed tanks with a vent to let the carbon dioxide escape.

In this small tank the cap of skins is being punched down using a robotic cap plunger. In some wineries this is done by hand, using poles.

An alternative to punch downs is to pump wine from the bottom of the tank back over the skins.

Here, fermenting red wine is being pumped out of the tank, and then pumped back in again. The idea is to introduce oxygen in the wine to help the yeasts in their growth. At other stages in winemaking care is taken to protect wine from oxygen, but at this stage it's needed.

Once fermentation has finished, most red wines are then moved to barrels to complete their maturation. Barrels come in all shapes and sizes. Above is the most common size: 225-250 litres. The source of the oak, and whether or not the barrel has been used previously, is important in the effect it has on the developing wine. 

This is a much larger, older barrel, imparting virtually no oak character to the wine. This suits some wine styles better than smaller barrels.

This is a basket press: once fermentation has completed and the young wine has been drained off the skins, the remaining skins and stems are pressed to extract the last of the wine that they contain. 

This is a bladder press, used for some reds and almost all whites. A large bladder fills with air, pressing the contents gently and evenly, with gradually increasing pressure.

And this is what is left at the end - the marc. It can be used to make compost.

The inside of a tank that has been used to ferment white wine: the residue consists of dead yeasts cells.

Barrel halls can still look quite traditional. Cool underground cellars are perfect for maturing wines - a process that takes anything from six months to three years. 

Winemakers typically check the maturing red wine barrels at regular intervals, and top them up as some of the wine evaporates during the maturation process.

Occasionally it is necessary to move wine from one barrel to another, or from barrel to stainless steel tank. This cellar hand is using nitrogen gas to move the wine without exposing it to large amounts of oxygen.

Here wine is being moved from one barrel to another deliberately exposing it to oxygen to aid in the maturation process.

Some wines see no oak at all, but are kept in stainless steel tanks to preserve the fresh fruity characteristics.

Finally, the wine is ready and is prepared for bottling. Often, filtration is used to make the wine bright and clear, and to remove any risk of microbial spoilage. The glass on the left has been filtered; on the right you can see what it was like just before the process. 

See also:

How cork is made: an illustrated guide

Published 08/11  

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