Learn About White Wine Production

Learn About White Wine Production

If you’ve been following along as I relate everything you need to learn about wine online, you may have noticed the recent excessive bold text lately. Simple reason, Bolding certain words seems to make me rank higher for the keyword phrase learn about wine. This is something I learned from a friend who knows how to make money online by using the right keywords. Making money from this wine blog would be nice, but that’s not my main interest for writing about wine. I want to rank higher for wine keywords because I want more readers who want to learn about wine, especially novices wanting a free course on wine for beginners. I want more people to learn everything about wine. Wine isn’t as daunting as it might seem or has been portrayed. Wine is yummy. Wine is user-friendly. These days you can find a great bottle of wine for as much as a six pack of beer. Long gone are the days of a $5 twelve pack of PBR. You have to dish out $10 or more just for a six pack of Corona at some stores. Corona! Really? Are you kidding me? I drank Corona out of a plastic cup for 7 pesos at my first bullfight in Mexico City. Do you know what 7 pesos equates to in USD currency? I can’t bear to tell you. If I did you would smash a broken Corona bottle in your eye. And for some reason someone smashing broken glass into their own eye reminds me of white wine production. So let’s talk about that this time. Enough of the ranting, let’s learn about wine. Read on.

White wine isn’t necessarily made just from white wine grapes. Essentially, it can be made from every grape as grape juice and grape pulp is clear. The red color of red wine comes from the skins of the wine grape. Avoid the skins, make white wine. Simple.

A shining example of this is Blanc de Noir sparkling wine. Made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, nearly black grapes, Blanc de Noir is a fantastic white sparkling wine.

So you might gather that to derive the color a winemaker is seeking in his wine production, grape skin contact becomes a function of the winemaking process. Blush or Rosé production involves allowing only a few hours of skin contact so that just a hint of peach or pink pigment is transferred to the juice.

I can see already that this is going to be a long-winded post so I’m going to break this topic up into a series. I for one don’t have the attention span to read over 2,000 words in one sitting and I don’t expect you to either. I’ll go through the white wine making process from start to finish starting with crushing the grapes and/or pressing the grapes. I’m guessing I can do it in about three posts of moderate length so let’s go.

Crushing and Pressing the White Wine Grape

The winemaker may choose to press or crush and press both depending on what the end goal of the finished product is.

Crushing the wine grape is literally the ripping and tearing of the white wine berries to expose their pulp and juice for fermentation. In the process, a good deal of matter (seeds, skins, stems) is incorporated into the grape must. Tannins with their astringency and bitterness are also introduced to the mix. One thing though, if the grapes are crushed, they must be pressed before fermentation to separate the juice from the skins.

Pressing white wine grapes is a little more gentle in extracting the juice and pulp. Grapes clusters are poured into a winepress without being crushed. The weight on top of the pile of clusters slowly “presses” the clusters on the bottom to produce what is called “free run” juice. This is the cream of the crop, the crème de la crème of grape juice used for wine production. It is rich in sugar and low in acidity and tannins.

After the free run juice is exhausted, the grapes are pressed to extract the remaining juice from the grapes. The pressed juice has less sugar, more acidity and more tannins. The skins, stems and seeds are tossed after the final pressing.

Prepping the Wine Must Before Fermentation

A couple things done to wine before it is left to ferment is some SO2 (sulfur) addition and basic skin contact. A winemaker can add sulfur to grapes before crushing/pressing or to the must afterward. What this accomplishes is it inhibits any wild yeast fermentation before it’s time, it slows the growth of possible spoilage bacteria, it prevents the juice from browning and it stops oxidation. Sulfur then is a preservative.

Skin contact is minimal in white wine production, but when done it will concentrate varietal aromas and flavors giving the finished wines more impact, power and richness. One note though is that a white wine that goes through skin contact is usually made to drink within a couple years only. After that it picks up rotting vegetable flavors. Not good.

Next a winemaker opts for Juice Settling, Acidification and Chaptalization

Juice settling or débourbage is a technique sometimes used after pressing to allow matter to settle out of the must. The force of gravity pulls any solids to the bottom of the tank. This can happen naturally or a centrifuge is used to save time. Chilling the juice can produce the same effect. The idea is to start the fermentation process with a clean juice so that the finished wine needs less clean up in the end.

Acidification is the process of adding tartaric acid to a low-acid grape juice giving a flat “raw product” some kick. You typically find this done in warm wine regions where acids take a precipitous fall during harvest. Obviously not every wine is processed this way. In some wine regions the practice is illegal.

The last optional process is Chaptalization. This involves the addition of sugar to the musts of grapes that didn’t ripen fully. It’s a common practice in colder regions and is done only to achieve stable alcohol levels in the finished wine so that there are no leftover sugars after fermentation. If you recall from my last post, yeasts metabolize sugars during fermentation. Chaptalization offers a balance to this process.

This is the stuff I actually like talking about, winemaking. Knowing how your favorite wine is made actually helps you learn about wine from the ground up. No pun intended. And you can really enjoy your glass of Chardonnay knowing what process it went through, how it made it to the bottle, why it went through so much to be so great. And you’ll even get a better idea of why some wines are so expensive and others are not.

Next time I’ll go into the primary fermentation process and racking the wines or separating them from their sediment. Stick around, it’s good reading.

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