How is wine made?
Ever found yourself wondering how wine is made?
Well, wonder no more! At Austin’s, we’ve been making wine since 1982, which is long enough to get a pretty good feel for the process in all its glory, and sometimes pain. And as we approach our 40th anniversary (time flies when you’re making wine), we’d like to share a few insights into how we do it.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the mix of art, science and wizardry that is winemaking.
What goes into making wine?
What goes into wine? Fruit! The magical liquid that is wine begins its life as the humble grape.
White wines are made from lighter-coloured grapes, and they go into the press naked, with their skins removed—they’re the extroverted type. Red wines are made from darker-coloured grapes that are a bit more prudish, so they keep their skins on.
To turn those beautiful grapes into wine, you need special equipment. Here are a few of a winemaker’s favourite pieces of kit:
- The Destemmer machine: whips off the stems and crushes the fruit
- The machine press: squashes out the precious juice
- Fermentation vats: where the fruit gets its ferment on
- Storage tanks: huge steel tanks that look a bit like spaceships and store lots of wine
- Barrels and casks: wooden, steel, or ceramic containers where the wine is aged
- Bottling machines: for filling bottles and popping on bottle caps
The process of making red (and white) wine:
The process of fermenting grapes into wine is known formally as vinification—but we usually just say “making wine.” There are loads of different techniques that vary based on the wine style and the winemaker (because winemaking is part magic, and every magician has their own bag of tricks).
But there are five steps that nearly every wine follows on its journey to your glass:
Step 1: Picking the grapes – the harvest
The first task is picking the grapes—harvest. The time of year when winemakers start to nervously check their weather apps on an hourly basis. Choosing when to pick is critical because weather conditions and time on the vine determine how flavourful, sweet and acidic the fruit is. We choose a date by using a mixture of science and tasting (and we hope for the rub of the green from the weather gods). The pick is often done early in the day so as to avoid the hot sun, or even at night if the heat is really out of control.
Step 2: Crushing the grapes
After picking, the grapes are crushed into a liquid (must). Crushing is mostly done using machine presses—but a good old-fashioned stomp can still be very effective (you can read about the joy of stomping grapes in our Rent a Vine Harvest 2021 article). And because nobody wants bits of stems in their wine, we put the Destemmer to work. We also remove the skins and seeds of white grapes to maintain a nice clear colour.
Step 3: Fermentation
The next step is fermentation—where the magic happens, and natural sugars in the grape become alcohol. Sometimes yeast is added to help start the party and keep the ferment pumping. Red wines like Shiraz can be left to ferment until almost all the sugar is converted. White wines can be fermented for a long time too, but when we make a sweet wine (like our Late Harvest Riesling), we’ll stop the ferment a bit sooner. Generally, the longer a wine is fermented, the more dry and high in alcohol it will be.
Step 4: Ageing
At this point, the wine gets to relax for a while (the work continues for its maker) in stainless steel or ceramic/concrete tanks, in wooden barrels known as barriques, or in the bottle. Barriques are often made from French or American oak, and sometimes a bit of char is added for extra flavour—just like on a good steak. As the wine matures in the barrel it softens, and the colour and intensity of flavour also change.
Step 5: Bottling
Once the wine has matured, we filter and clarify it to remove any remaining particles and bits and pieces—you can call this ‘pomace’ if you want to show off on your next wine tour. Then it’s off to the bottling line where boring, empty bottles become amazing, full bottles. A touch of gas (usually carbon dioxide or nitrogen) might be added to push out any pesky oxygen that could cause the wine to spoil. Then it’s on with the cap or cork and the all-important label, and the wine’s ready for sale.
Cool climate vs warm climate: does it make a difference?
Wine always reflects the weather in which it is grown. Hot summers, cold winters, dry days, wet seasons—they all play their part in determining a wine’s flavour. But to keep it simple, most wines are classified as either cool climate or warm climate.
Cool regions like our local Geelong or Central Otago in New Zealand, or Bordeaux in France, are known for producing “lively” wines. You might hear these wines being described as “elegant” or “fresh” with mentions of tart fruit flavours like sour cherry or apple (don’t worry if you can’t taste those things, by the way—taste is subjective). This is because grapes take a while to grow in cooler weather; think of your garden and how it grows quickly in summer but mostly takes the winter off. Grapes that thrive in cool climates include pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay.
Cast your mind to some of those warm wine regions like the Barossa or Napa Valley in the USA, or Rioja in Spain, and you’ll probably think of a big, powerful wine. That’s because in warm climates, the grapes grow quickly and create lots of sugar, which results in high alcohol content. Some of the most popular wines in warm climates are the big reds like malbec, grenache, and cabernet sauvignon.
Some varieties like shiraz can thrive in both warm and cool climates; truly a remarkable grape! A shiraz from a warm region is probably going to be full-bodied and fairly tannic (think of the drying taste of black tea). On the other hand, our cool climate Shiraz is vibrant and smooth—and it won’t sink you when enjoyed with a summer lunch.
So that’s about all you need to know about how wine is made!
If you’ve ever dreamed of making wine for yourself (but maaaaybe can’t afford to buy a whole vineyard), check out our Rent a Vine program. You’ll get your own row of vines on our vineyard, enjoy hands-on winemaking workshops to learn the craft in a fun and welcoming environment, and receive two dozen bottles of your very own wine. Treat yourself or the wine lover in your life to something truly special today.
Just looking for some delicious red wine to enjoy in the near future? It’s hard to go wrong with a Pinot Noir. Ours is fresh and light but has lots of complex berry flavours that have earned it a bunch of awards. But more importantly, it takes pride of place in our customers’ wine cellars.