Historically, romance has lavishly influenced our fantasy of wine, but the reality of the journey from grape to glass is one filled with heavy lifting, 16 hour days, unbearable temperatures, creepy crawlies and endless anxiety.
As the 2022 Texas Hill Country Harvest nears an end, the cellar work begins! Let’s examine how those picturesque berry clusters find their way to your glass.
Harvest And Transport
Grape harvesting for wine is often still done the old fashioned way – by hand. A worker (or dedicated volunteer) reaches into the vine and cuts free a grape cluster, depositing it into a mundane five gallon bucket which is periodically emptied into a larger container for transport and processing. As soon as grapes have been picked, they begin to degrade. If left in the open air for too long, the grapes are at risk for oxidation.
Gravity is also slowly crushing the heavy clusters, causing berries to break. The broken berries are at risk of premature fermentation from leaking juice exposed to the natural yeast on grapes. While awaiting the trip to the crush pad, sulfur may be added to the freshly picked clusters to inhibit the growth of yeast and bacteria.
Certified Sommelier Jennifer Beckman at harvest.
Wine at ReRooted
This is where the grapes are processed from raw fruit to the first stages of what will become wine. After the grapes have been sorted to remove any unwanted matter (leaves, under ripe fruit, etc) the grapes are dumped in a crusher-destemmer machine. This contraption pulls the stem from the cluster while gently breaking the berries open with little to no pressure. The stems are discarded and the grape solids (seeds and skins) are now saturated with free flowing juice in a slushy mix. The grape slush is poured into a large, solid plastic bin that resembles a hollow lego brick. From here, the lego bricks of grape slush are separated to be pressed according to the vintner’s instructions.
This is where our grapes hit the proverbial ‘fork in the road’. The goal of pressing the wine slush is to extract the juice without breaking the grape seeds or breaking the cells of grape skins, which would release unwanted tannins into the wine. Most wineries use a ‘bladder’ style press. The juice is poured into a slatted cylinder, and then a bladder is inflated, gently pressing the juice and solids against the sides of the cylinder. The juice flows through the slatted perforations leaving the grape solids behind. The dried grape solids are called ‘pomace’, a highly compostable byproduct of wine making.
The timeline and goals for a successful press vary for red and white fruit:
White Grapes- White fruit is typically pressed very quickly after the berries are broken on the crush pad. The grape slush may undergo techniques to extract aroma and desirable phenolics such as ‘cold soaking’ before press. Once crushed the white juice is moved to fermentation tanks to await transformation!
Red Grapes- Red juice gains its intense ruby or garnet hue from contact with the skins of the grape. The tannin structure (which offers dryness or astringency to the palate) is also formed from extended contact with the skins and seeds. This period of contact of juice and solids is called maceration. As opposed to being pressed immediately, red grape may be moved to a vat, tank or barrel to begin maceration and fermentation.
Obviously we wouldn’t have ‘wine’ without the alcohol. Fermentation is a highly complex series of chemical reactions that ultimately results in the release of alcohol. While yeast spores are naturally present in the winery and vineyards and are found on the skins of the grapes, it is rare that there is enough natural yeast present to fully complete fermentation. At this point the winemaker decides to add, or inoculate, with cultured yeast. This begins the process in which the yeast consumes the natural sugar found in the grape and begins to produce ethanol and CO2.
During Fermentation, the CO2 causes the solids in the red juice to rise to the top forming a ‘cap’. The winemaker painstakingly ‘punches down’ this cap several times a day to ensure that the juice remains in contact with the solids, continuing to gain color and structure.
After fermentation is complete, red wine is now pressed!
Aging a wine can range from as little as a month to several years, depending on the desired result. Aging in stainless steel tanks preserves the bright characteristics of the fruit allowing the natural properties of the grape to shine. Aging in oak barrels will offer a richer body and add to the wine’s tannin structure, aroma and flavors. The type of oak, the age of the barrel, and the treatment of the wood offer the wine maker an array of options in how barrels will influence the wine.
While aging, the wine must be kept as sterile as possible to avoid bacterial spoilage. Year round work in the cellar includes regularly ‘racking’ the barrels. The winemaker removes the juice from the barrel into a sterile tank and ‘racks’ the lees (dead yeast cells) from the bottom of the barrel to create a clean environment for the wine. As wine makers are constantly checking on their precious liquid, the aging process is a fantastic opportunity to visit local wineries and explore wines from the barrel to view their progression.
Finishing, Blending & Bottling
Once desired maturity is achieved, the winemaker chooses whether the wine needs to be blended for complexity or clarified with filtering or fining before being bottled. After bottling, most reputable wineries will allow the wine to settle for varied lengths of time to avoid ‘Bottle Shock’ – a result of the physical trauma of bottling when juice flavor and structure profile feel disjointed on the palate.
Slow down and savor this artistic labor of love created upon the tired shoulders of so many passionate individuals!
If you are interested in learning more about viticulture, winemaking, food and wine chemistry and regional wines of both Texas and the World, make reservations for your education at ReRootedwine.com.
Jennifer Beckmann and her husband John own the Re:Rooted 210 Urban Winery in Hemisfair
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