On my journey through California during crush season, I realized that a lot of hard work goes into that bottle of wine that I uncork on a Saturday evening with friends. Long hours are put in by winegrowers and winemakers so that we can enjoy a glass of vino. Above all else, winemaking is a science, and something that I would never have the patience for, but I can appreciate those who do!
For those of you just beginning to learn about wine, here are some terms that I took away from my trip that may be beneficial to you…
Cooper: A person who makes the wine barrels. There are several different kinds of barrels used for the winemaking process. There are different grades of toasting that contribute to a wine’s profile, but not all wines ferment in oak barrels. Some barrels are used a handful of times and then sold to distilleries for their spirits or to your local home improvement store as planters.
Fermentation: The process in winemaking where grape juice is turned into alcohol. This requires yeast to be added with the sugars of the grape juice to create ethanol, commonly known as ethyl alcohol, and carbon dioxide (as a by-product). Fermentation can happen in stainless steel tanks, which is common with white wines (you’ll notice that you get a clean, crisp taste, not oaky), inside the bottle itself, or in oak barrels.
Grafting: It takes a long time to grow new root stocks, and even then, some don’t make it because of a bug known as phylloxera, which eats roots of grapevines. Grafting is the process of taking an established root stock and placing a new type of vine on the top of it to produce whatever you want to produce. This is common practice for many of the vineyards that we visited because it speeds up the growing process.
Harvest: For winemakers, it all comes down to harvest — otherwise known as crush. Taking place August through November in the Northern Hemisphere (February through April South of the equator), the harvesting of grapes is an important step in the winemaking process. Winemakers must decide what style of wine to produce; whether or not to utilize hand pickers or mechanical harvesters; and they must battle the elements of weather.
Mechanical Harvester: A mechanical vine harvester is a huge machine that moves up and down the vineyard and works by beating the grapevine with rubber sticks to get the vine to drop its fruit onto a conveyor belt that brings the fruit to a holding bin. Mechanical harvesting is relatively inexpensive. Per Wikipedia, a harvester is able to run 24 hours a day and pick 80-200 tons of grapes, compared to the 1-2 tons that an experienced human picker could harvest.
Tannins: Ever wonder why the wine you’re drinking tastes dry? This would have to do with the amount of tannins in the wine. Tannin adds both bitterness and complexity to wine. Grape tannin comes from the skins, seeds and stems of a wine grape. Tannins are most often found in red wine, but do exist in some oaky, white wines.
Trellis Systems: There are several different vine training techniques used to grow grapevines and assist in canopy management. The trellis used depends on the climate and the grape that the winegrower is trying to grow. Some grapes are lower to the ground then others, some need more sun, and some need more shade.
Wine Thief: This curved glass/plastic wine accessory (I liken it to a turkey baster) is used to siphon wine from a fermentation device like a barrel.
There are so many other terms that I could discuss in this post, but I’ll save that for another time. Hopefully I’ve passed a little glimmer of knowledge over to you so the next time you open a bottle of wine you can appreciate the labor that went into it!