The winemaker's universe centers on a series of critical decisions, and one of the most important is figuring out when to harvest. They must delicately assess how the fruit has ripened and determined each vineyard block’s average sugar content, or Brix. Every two degrees Brix equals a degree of alcohol, so grapes harvested at 26° become wines with an average of 13-13.5% alcohol
From there, it's all about getting fruit to the winery quickly. Grapes are harvested in the early morning and rushed to the winery where they are crushed and de-stemmed (a process that liberates individual berries).
Wineries must then choose whether to utilize cold temperatures. A "cold soak" or "cold maceration" extracts more nuanced flavors and aromas from fruit. Extraction happens during fermentation, too, but a cold soak lets winemakers extract flavor without producing alcohol, harsh tannins, or astringency. It's a gentle process used mostly in the production of red wines.
White wines are immediately pressed after crushing (and before fermentation) so the juice doesn't pick up color from the grape skins. For reds, pressing occurs post-fermentation, when wines have reached dryness (aka, when all the sugar has been converted to alcohol by the yeast)
Once the wine has been pressed, it's either aged in oak barrels or stainless steel. Finally, this is the point where everyone at the winery can breathe a sigh of relief. With another harvest safely behind them, most wineries and their staff take a much-needed rest before moving on to the important business of... the holidays.
By Christine Havens
2nd Nov 2016