The winemaking process developed thousands of years ago and continues to thrive today. In the most simplistic terms, wine is the product of liquified, fermented fruit. Throughout the centuries, various regions have cultivated distinct grapes, and developed unique methods and processes to create an enormous yet unique variety of wines. However, the basic process of making wine remains the same throughout the world.
Step 1: It All Begins with the Fruit
Although wine can be made from any type of fruit, 99% of the world's wine is made from grapes. The color and flavor of the wine reflects the variety of grapes used, as well as the region, weather during the growing season, acidity, and the time of harvest. The fruit is crushed, sometimes manually, but usually mechanically. For red wines, the pulp and grape skins are crushed together, and the skins give the wine color. For white wines, the skins are extracted. To create variations, or roses, red and white wines may be blended, or the skins allowed into the crushing process long enough to impart slight color.
Step 2: Then the Chemistry
After the fruit is crushed, it is put into airtight containers to ferment. During fermentation, the sugars in the fruit are exposed to yeasts (either naturally occurring or infused). When the sugar is exposed to yeast, the sugars are converted to alcohol. All of the elements of this process affect the flavor and quality of the wine. The wine may be fermented in stainless steel or containers, or in oak barrels, which will influence the aroma and tannins in the wine. The fermentation process can take anywhere from three days to three months. A shorter fermentation time creates a sweeter wine, whereas a longer fermentation creates a more alcoholic wine.
Step 3: Better with Age
After fermentation, the wine is put into bottles or barrels for aging, a process that lasts weeks or even years. Beaujolais nouveau is a popular wine that is only fermented for a few weeks, and intended to be consumed in the near future. Many wines are intended to be consumed within a year or two of bottling, but aging certain wines allows the body and complexity of the wine to increase.
Winemakers - or vintners - all around the world utilize this most basic process infused with their own methods to create wines unique to their part of the world, or to their vineyard, creating an endless variety of wines to enjoy.