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How is Wine Made?

Updated on April 8, 2012

How Wine Is Made

Crushed ripe grapes, left to themselves, ferment and make a wine of sorts. But fine wines are a product of man's knowledge, skill, and labor, as well as natural ingredients and favorable weather.

A modern winery is a factory where wine is made.

It is in many ways the same as the traditional small property, which in Bordeaux, France, is usually called (often misleadingly) chateau, and in Burgundy and Germany domain. But a private estate normally makes only one or, at most, two types of wine, while a winery often makes a dozen.

Smaller properties may make as few as 1,000 bottles of wine a year, while the largest wineries can make, bottle, and distributes about 300 million bottles a year.

What all growers have in common is the yearly round of duties divided between vineyard and cellar. These are described here as they occur in the life of a small and fairly traditional French winegrower who is conscientious about quality and sells most of his own wine to private clients- still a common practice in France.

A Year's Hard Work

The year begins with pruning. Traditionally, this was started on St Vincent's Day, January 22, but nowadays it begins in December.

Even if there is no snow, the ground is often frozen, but the sapless vines will survive temperatures down to about -18°C. Indoors, the barrels of new wine from the September vintage must be kept full and their bungs wiped every other day with a disinfectant solution of sulfur dioxide. In fine dry weather the older wine can be bottled. The bottles are then labeled and packed for shipment.


Cutting and Grafting

Pruning is finished in February, when cuttings are taken for grafting. They are grafted onto rootstocks, then placed in sand indoors. Chemical fungicides, such as Bordeaux mixture, are ordered for spraying later on in the year. In fine weather, when there is a new moon and a north wind (which are associated with high atmospheric pressure) , the new wine is racked into clean barrels to clear it. The new wine may be blended to equalize the casks.

In mid-March, the vine begins to emerge from dormancy, the sap begins to rise, and the buds burst out of their protective sheaths. Any unfinished pruning is completed and tractors begin to move down the rows, turning over the soil to aerate it and to uncover the bases of the vines. The first racking of last year's wine is completed before the end of the month. With the coming of warmer weather the sap begins to rise in the vines and a second fe1mentation begins in the new wine. The casks are kept topped up and bottling of aged wine is finished.

Plowing comes to an end in April, the vineyard is cleaned up, and year-old cuttings are planted out from the nursery. Indoors, topping up of casks continues because 5 percent of the wine evaporates through the walls of the cask in a year and there must be no air space in the cask.

Frost danger is at its height in May. On clear nights, when frost is likely to strike, workers take small stoves out among the vines and stay up to keep them going. The soil is plowed again and the vines are sprayed against powdery and downy mildews.

Suckers that drain the vine's energy are removed. As the vines begin to flower, the second racking of last year's wine begins indoors.

The vines flower at the start of June. Weather is critical at this time- the warmer and calmer, the better. After flowering, the shoots are thinned and the best ones tied to supporting wires. The second racking of new wine is completed.

The vines are sprayed with Bordeaux mixture again in July. The ground is cultivated again to keep down weeds. Long shoots are trimmed and vine growth slows down.

In August, the vintage is approaching. Grapes turn color. General upkeep, and the cleaning and preparation of the vats and casks to be used, keeps everyone busy. September is the vintage month. In about the third week the grapes are ripe and picking begins. The vats, where the wine will be fermented, are scoured and are then filled with water, which swells the wood.


The Vintage Ends

The vintage continues for about two weeks into October. Once it is over, manure is spread on the ground and the land for new plantings is deep-plowed. The new wine is now fermenting, and the year-old wine is racked again.

For the second year of aging the barrels are bunged tightly and put on their sides so that the bung stays wet and seals properly.

In November manuring is completed and the vineyard is plowed to throw soil over the bases of the vines to protect them from frost. The wine to be bottled is fined, or clarified, and given a final racking. December arrives again; if soil from the tops of slopes has been washed down, it must be carried back and redistributed. New casks must be checked and topped up frequently, and the aged wine can be bottled. Out in the vineyard pruning begins again and the cycle is repeated.


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