Vinification: The Art of Wine Making

The journey from grape to bottle is defined by two very important processes, beginning with life in the vineyard. The best grapes will thrive in good vintages, influenced by the very soil they grow in, the conditions around them and their proximity to other vines and how and when they are harvested. But what happens next is as important – the process of vinification. This is where the grapes are manipulated by the winemaker in order to maximise the quality of the end product.

Grape crushing machine and oak barriquesTradition meets innovation: modern wine making starts with the mechanical crushing and destemming of the grapes (left). The use of small oak barriques (right) have been gaining popularity in Italian wineries, replacing of the much larger "botti" common in the past. © iStockphoto and Stockbyte/Thinkstock.

For red wines, the must of the grapes undergoes fermentation together with the skins. Fermentation yeast is added which converts the sugars into alcohol. The "free run" wine is pumped off and the skins are pressed to extract more flavour. Then a second fermentation takes place, converting malic acid into lactic acid, which gives the wine a softer taste. If a wine is destined for oak ageing, it is transferred to the barrel.

Italian red wines are known for their full bodied style, and this has historically been achieved by extended ageing in large "botti" (oak barrels). Often it was written into the DOC laws that wines had to be aged for a substantial period. The barrels were topped up at intervals as wine evaporated, and oxidation was common. While this method of long term ageing has not always been successful, many of Italy’s best wines were aged this way, and some of these can still be found at auction fetching high prices. But many wines were criticised for being low in fruit and high in tannin. Consequently the barrique was introduced, a much smaller barrel of high quality oak - also referred in Italian as "carato" or "caratello") that ensured that the wines would not emerge as oxidised and unapproachable.

White wines are made by crushing the grapes to extract juice and the skins are removed at this point. Historically white wines from Italy tended to have a deep straw colour, with no distinct bouquet and a flat, lifeless taste - far removed from the crisp, delightful aperitif wines that we enjoy today. The main influence on the change has been the introduction of refrigeration in the winery. This enabled fermentation temperature to be controlled, preventing malo-lactic fermentation which is desirable in reds but can produce off-flavours in white wines.

Stainless steel has also been important in achieving the clean modern wines that have gained great popularity. Balance is crucial, as we have learned in recent years that Italian whites can be neutral to the point of lacking flavour, but fortunately we have seen a shift back to delicately aromatic wines with secondary flavours in abundance. Italian white wines are often regarded by the winemakers as accompaniments to food, rather than for drinking alone, and so their neutrality is often seen as a positive attribute. Either way, the desired effect is achieved in the winery.

Wine bottling machine and stainless steel fermentation tankArt meets science: the introduction of stainless steel fermentation tanks and automated bottling systems has greatly improved the productivity of Italian wineries and the quality of their output. © iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

The Italians have a great respect for tradition, particularly in the vineyard where the affinity of grapes with their climate and soil has long been responsible for producing wines that are distinctively Italian and bursting with character. But in the winery there is room for creativity - through experimentation and innovation the Italians have become a pioneering nation of winemakers who others look to for inspiration.

Vinification

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For thousands of years, people have practiced winemaking, a process that is also known as vinification. Unlike the methods for making other alcoholic beverages, vinification is relatively simple and requires controlling the fermentation with little effort. Nowadays vinification is
basically divided into Vinification in Red and Vinification in White, these not meaning the color of the produced wine but just the color of the grapes initially used. Aside from some minor differences, both the Vinifications go through a well-defined path of refining and polishing.

A great variety

Depending on the vintage, modern Italy is the world's largest or second largest wine producer around the world. But Italy is also the richest country for grape varieties: they are about 370, scattered in the territory and deeply influenced by differences in climate and landscape.

Harvest and transportation
Grapes are either harvested mechanically or by hand. They must be preserved from crushing until the transportation is over.
Crushing and destemming

Crushing is the process of squeezing the berries and breaking the skins to start freeing the contents of the berries.

Destemming is the process of removing the grapes from the rachis (the stem which holds the grapes).

They also contains
tannin which
an excessive content
sets teeth on edge

Alcoholic fermentation After the first fermentation begun, the yeast cells feed on the sugars producing carbon dioxide gas and alcohol, which affect solid grapes parts and starts their steeping.
The holder is closed in order to mantain the right temperature (not over 85°F, depending on grape variety) and avoid other yeast to reach the must.
Pressing

Grapes are pressed to separate juice.

During the pressing,
cultured yeast is added to the must, and the alcoholic fermentation starts, producing carbon dioxide gas and alcohol.

The rise of the temperature pushes the grape skins toward the roof of the holder, forming a solid cap.
The holder must be opened twice a day to break the cap and avoid the production of unpleasant acetic acid (vinegar) as a by product.

 

Malolactic fermentation

At the end of the first fermentation, when all the sugar from the grapes has been transformed into alcohol, the wine is transferred to another container and the malolactic fermentation begins: bacteria metabolize malic acid and produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide in its place, at a controlled temperature..
Final producing
steps

After the malolactic fermentation, wine can go through different processes to obtain a fine product: different types of wine can be mixed before bottling to achieve some desired features; filtration is used to remove tannins and microscopic particles. High quality wines will be stored in oak barrel for aging.

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