The Journey from Vine to Wine – Part 1

You may sometimes hear a winemaker suggest that great wine is “made in the vineyard”.  So, what does this actually mean?  While winemakers have a challenging job in the winery, the quality of the grapes as they are harvested is instrumental to the quality of the finished wine.  Dodgy grapes will result in dicey wine.  This week we take a peek into the life of a vine throughout the year.

With Spring in the air, the vines are starting to stir from their winter slumber.  The vines look trim and ready to take on the new growing season.  At some stage throughout Winter, vineyard managers prune their vines just right for the next growing season.

Soon, little buds will begin to emerge from the vines.  These buds will then burst open in a process known as “budburst”, exposing the new vine shoots.  Leaves start to form followed by the “birth” of baby bunches.  The combination of energy from water and nutrients from the soil together with the increasing abundance of sunlight ensures that the vines grow rapidly.

At this stage, with a forward-looking eye to the quality of the grapes at harvest time, the vineyard managers look to thin out the number of shoots and bunches.  This has the effect of improving the airflow in the vineyard which reduces the risk of vine diseases while also concentrating energy into a reduced number of bunches, providing a pathway for enhanced quality of grapes.  Spraying and late-season frost dodging are also on the burner at this stage.

Next, the grapes stop growing and start ripening in a process known as “veraison”.  The grapes turn colour and increase their sugar levels.  This is now also the time that birds show an interest in the fruit and are a constant pain in the vineyard’s backside.

In the full throng of Summer, the soil moisture is monitored to check how much water is needed by the vines to retain their health and vitality.  Once a vine looks like it’s thirsty, it’s generally too late to recover.  Access to water is critical in the hotter months.  Thankfully, the night time temperatures here are relatively cool, allowing the grapes to cool and the ripening process to slow.  Hailstorm watching is now nervous pastime too.

Into Autumn, the winemaker tastes and tests grapes from various sections of the vineyard to determine the moment to pick.  Once that decision is made, fingers are crossed for dry weather and the harvesting is generally done in the cool of the evening or early morning, allowing the grapes to keep their cool as they enter the winery.

Now that the vines have done their bit, it’s time for the winemaker to apply their craft and deliver another delicious drop.

BTW – there’s a helluva lot more to it than that, but hey, now you know the basics.

Photo of Brent Lello - Yass Valley Wine Advocate

Brent Lello – Yass Valley Wine Columnist

The Journey from Vine to Wine – Part 2

 This week, I’ll start by stating that while I’m not a trained winemaker, I do have a little vineyard and winery. Ultra-Boutique Amateur Shiraz Winemaker is perhaps one way of looking at it, but a winemaker that produces award-winning wines, I am not.

Last week we talked about the process of getting quality grapes to the winery. Now the winemaker can get down to their very important business.  The first step is “crushing and destemming”. The grapes are stripped from their stems and crushed to allow the juice to emerge.  The product of this step is known as grape “must”.

Usually, naturally occurring wild yeast cells are neutralised and the must is then allowed to sit in vats for a period of time, allowing the juice to take on flavours and colour from the skins, seeds and in some cases stems. The colour in the finished wine is a result of the colour being extracted from the skins into the juice. The longer the time the juice is with the solid must matter, the more colour and flavour in the juice. This process is known as “cold soaking”.

Next up, the winemaker “inoculates” the must with a particular strain of wine yeast. The yeast goes to work by converting the sugar in the juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  This process is known as “primary fermentation”. Throughout this process, the must is constantly plunged or pumped over so that the wine remains in as much contact with the skins as possible. Fermentation is generally allowed to continue until all or most of the sugar is consumed by the yeast. Sometimes, the winemaker will cut this process short, allowing for the wine to have some residual sugar.

The must is then loaded into a press and the free-flowing wine is “pressed” away from the solid must matter. The wine is pumped into stainless steel tanks or oak barrels where the suspended grape solids, known as “lees” are settled out from the pure wine. “Secondary fermentation” might also now take place where harsh malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid. The wine is then “racked”, where the pure wine is pumped away from the lees.

For red wine, the wine is then transferred into oak barrels, where the wine slowly matures, taking on extra flavours and tannins from the oak. Depending on the variety and the style the winemaker is looking to achieve, the wine can stay in the barrel for several months or up to a couple of years.

When the winemaker is happy with the resulting wine, it can then be bottled, labelled and on its way to us eager punters.

BTW – making quality wine is much more complicated than what I have described, but hey, at least you know the basics.