The making of Red Wine

Red grapes are harvested by hand or machine and dumped "gently" into what are called gondolas or 4 x 4s in California,
a neutral plastic bin that is 4 feet long and 4 feet wide and about 3.5 feet deep.
They hold about a 800 to 1000 pounds of grapes. The minute the grapes in the bottom of the bin
start feeling pressure on them as more grapes are piled on,
they start giving up their juice which with the naturally occuring local yeasts on the skins and stems,
starts to ferment. To stop this uncontrolled fermentation, SO2 or sulfur dioxide ,
which is usually a gaseous form of sulfur is applied to the grapes
in the bin at a very low concentration which is measured in parts per million.
Once the yeasts are controlled and the sugars measured by the "sugar cops", the grapes are introduced
to the crusher/destemmer that both breaks the grape skins to release the juice and
remove the stems and some leftover leaves. This is done as quickly as possible after harvest.
The grapes only have their skins "broken" to the extent that the juice may "start" to flow,
the seeds are still contained for the most part, in the grape flesh.
The "must", which is the name for the crushed grapes and juice together,
is then transfered back to clean (sterile) 4 x 4s for small batches
of wine (which is what I prefer) or to larger metal or wood casks for commercial operations.
Transfer can be done by bucket in small operations or by pump and hose in larger operations.

A "dose" of a yeast selected for its specific properties, i.e. high alcohol production,
low alcohol, red wine, white wine, etc. is mixed separately
in warm water (and yeast food sometimes) to activate it and possibly it is mixed
with a "yeast food" to help it blossom and start fermentation faster.
Once the yeast starts to foam it is mixed into the static must.
Some winemakers will pour it into a corner so it stays warm enough to start fermentation
immediately and other mix it throughout the batch and let it bloom
through out the batch. We like the first option whereas a small portion of the must
in the 4 x 4 starts the ferment, taking on its true desirable yeast
characteristics and then in the next day or two later "punching down" the batch
so it is fully homogenized. Each day after that it is necessary to "punch the wine"
to continue to expose the skins, which contain the color and tannins,
to the juice ( we do this with bare arms cause it is nice and warm).
This is called maceration when the skins and flesh are in contact with the juice
and break down to contribute color and other taste factors to the juice.
When a winemaker wants a darker wine he extends the time that the juice
is in contact with the skins, this is called "extended maceration".

Personal note, "Meee likes extendedd maceration, hehe". (Done in Chris Farley's Voice!!!)

Ok, I am back. Went back to Sonoma there for a minute.
All this time fermentation is taking place and alcohol is being produced
along with a thousand other chemical reactions that produce favorable acids
and bioflavinoids and... and ... and...

After about 4 to 7 or 8 days of fermentation and 3 times daily "punching the wine"
and sips and sips and sips and ...oh... hydrometer tests and .......

We Get The Call.....

Time to press the wine. In our operation we have a "very old" 30 gallon plus basket press
(35-40 years old, "very old") using a worm screw to place pressure on sanitary
(man, we wash everthing with tri-sodium-phosphate and a citric acid and clean water rinse,
if that ain't clean, I don't know what is!)
oak wood planks cut especially for the round shape of the basket.
The press has been retrofitted with a rachet handle assembly, so one man, usually ME!
-the low man (heaviest guy) on the vintners totem pole,
could operate the pressing operation while others caught the oh so
wonderful "dark royal purple" liquid we call "WINE" in 5 gallon buckets.
Well, it is wine but it still needs a few more steps to reach maturity.
First though, all of the must is bucketed into the press until full and then the pressing
commences (with several beers,beers,beers and such in between).
As a boutique winery, we catch the Best Cabernet juice in sanitary 5 gallon buckets
and actually pour it through a large funnel into our prized $600 a pop French Oak Barrels
(they last us about 4 years each), to give it that Vanillan quality we love for
our best garage wines,ie. 2002 "Litigation" - Alexander Valley Meritage,
other wines are put into American Oak or glass carboys and stainless beer barrels.
Sangiovese and other reds are put into older "neutral" barrels
as we can transfer them later to impart special barrel characteristics,
vanilla,caramel,spice,cedar, etc....and sometimes we want
the wines to stand on their own as a more traditional style.

P.S..American oak should lend oak and cedar to a wine not vanilla.

Here is where the clump of skins and seeds come in, after each pressing in the basket press,
a large "cake " is left, about 15 to 30 pounds.
We can actually break down the sides of the basket press and all that
is there is a cake-shaped solid compressed mass of purple, left over skins,
flesh and seeds. It is actually very beautiful.
In Italy and Greece it is actually saved to be purchased by "ouzo artisans"
in the local villages to make Ouzo. Here in the U.S. there are
some brokers buying "cake" for the seeds, to make low quality grape seed oils and products.
Most wineries take it back to its beginning and return it to the soils,
our choice is that we compost it and put it between the rows of vines.

Once the wine is in containers, wood barrels, glass or stainless,
we seal each "BUNGHOLE" with a "BUNG" airlock to prevent the introduction of oxygen/oxidation.
Air kills wine processes and is undesirable during and after wine is complete.
With an airlock, CO2 goes out but air should not enter the container.
CO2 or carbon dioxide is a compound given off during the fermentation process
and will produce pressure in a wine container if not offered a way out.
Barrels have been known to EXPLODE violently when enough pressure built
up in a barrel or glass carboy. All living things need,... RELEASE!! Yeah baby...Release....SEXXY!!!

Sorry, had to do the Wine /SEX connection there for a second!!LOL!!
I am Outta Control!!! NOT!! I am OK now!

So, the next process is called racking, Man every thing about wine is sort of a sexy "S and M" thing,
punch down, explosions, racking, release, what the Hell!!!???

Ok, so anyway,after a couple months of making sure the barrel is still "working/fermenting",
racking should take place. Racking is when a hose is placed into the bung,
( Folks, I am not making this up, OK?!!)
hole and the hose goes to almost the bottom of the barrel.
It is placed just above the "lees" which are the precipitates or sometimes called the "dregs".
Lees are the chemical and yeast leftovers from the fermentation process of winemaking.
Suction is applied through the hose along with gravity and a flow (siphon)
to another container transfers the clear wine liquid without any of the undersirable lees to another barrel.
This process may happen a couple more times to clarify the wine before final bottling.

Finished except for bottling.


Useful Links

Sexy Wines
Losing my cork
Wine Tasting Notes
Wine Mile

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