Next step is in the making
The height of the harvest is in full swing in California’s wine country. Most of the white grapes – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Muscat and Roussanne, to name a few – are starting the fermentation process in the winery. The red grapes generally take a bit longer to ripen than white grapes, and are still hanging on the vine.The grape we use to make wine is an amazing little fruit. It has everything within itself to create one of the world’s great culinary pleasures. Left alone, a bushel of grapes will ferment into a “wine” without any help from man.
Would we like it? Probably not, but that isn’t the point. This isn’t brain surgery we are talking about – we learned that from the grapes themselves. The grape naturally has the sugar and the yeast needed to create alcohol.White and red wine production differ in small but distinct ways. The most obvious difference is that to make red wine, the grapes have to be red and the skins have to be part of the process, since the skins provide the pigments that make the wine red. The juice of the grape, or the “pulp,” in all grapes is white. So in making white wine, the winemaker wants very little skin contact with the pulp or the “must” – the fleshy part of the grape between the skin and the seeds. In making white wine the grapes are lightly pressed as quickly as possible, just enough to break the skin to allow the juice to be extracted, and then separated from the skins and seeds and put in a closed container. This is the point where yeast is added, if needed, and fermentation starts. Oxygen is the enemy to wine, so it is monitored carefully.
In making red wine, red grapes are crushed but they are not pressed before fermentation. They are pressed later in the process, usually after fermentation has been completed or after the winemaker is satisfied with the color of the wine. It is important to note that color is not the only thing extracted from the skins. There are also naturally occurring levels of tannins that are important to the taste, texture and longevity of the resulting wine.The crushing process in both red and white wines is very important and must be done with great care. If the seeds or skins of white grapes mix with the must, the wine could be bitter and harsh. If the seeds are crushed into the must of the red wine, the same result will occur. Gentle pressing means quality wine, but it also means less juice. This ratio runs all through the wine industry – quality usually means less quantity.From this stage the winemaker has choices like a chef uses spices.
Modern technology allows the winemaker to watch the fermentation closely, allowing the option of removing skins, lowering the temperature to slow the process, and monitoring sugar left in the juice. When fermentation is complete, the winemaker will need to make a choice in regards to the container the wine will ferment in or rest in. Many times this is economically driven; however, even if money is not the problem, the choice largely depends on what type of wine the winemaker wants to make. This choice, as well as whether to fine or filter the wine, whether to allow the wine to go through malolactic fermentation, how long to age the wine before bottling, and many other choices are now where the winemaker puts a signature on the wine. The grapes have done their thing, they have created wine.Susanne Johnston is the owner of Frisco Wine Merchant. For more information, contact her at (970) 668-3153.
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