How do you make wine? This might seem like a simple question, especially if you understand how fermentation works, but there are so many steps that effect the final product. Understanding these will help you get what you want in your glass, and help you to understand why phrases like, “Estate Bottled”, “Unfiltered”, “Sur Lie”, “45hl/ha” and “Sans Soufre” are important to you as a consumer. In the next few posts, I’m going to break down wine production step by step, from the barren vine in the middle of winter to the finished wine.
We’ll start with viticulture, which is the growing of the grape.
The whole process starts in January (move everything forward six months in the Southern hemisphere). The vines need to be pruned. The French call this La Taille. This is necessary to control vine vigor and directly effects final yields. Why is the quality-conscious wine maker concerned with yields? The more grapes they have, the more wine they have to sell, so they should want as many grapes possible! Right? Not true. The more grapes, leaves, bark, twigs the grape vine is producing, the less energy goes into each individual berry, so wine makers control these vine processes very closely.
Think of a grape vine like a packet of Tang, and each grape is a glass. You only have so much Tang (the amount of energy and nutrients the vine can absorb). If you fill one pitcher (the clusters of grapes), the Tang will be delicious, just as you expected. But imagine trying to fill three or four pitchers with that same amount of Tang powder. The pitchers (grape bunches) get more and more watery and dilute, less concentrated. Generally, we like concentration, but it’s also going to be gross if you make only one glass of Tang with a whole pitcher’s worth of powder. This what people talk about when wine is “over-concentrated”. The vines have been over-pruned and the fruit is too ripe. Some people would claim that there’s no such thing as “too concentrated”, but you try Pinot Noir at %16 alcohol and tell me what you think.
Go Skiing. Every wine maker goes on Vacation in February.
Vineyard preparation begins in March. The rows in between the grapes are plowed and planted with “cover crops”. Again, this is an effort to limit vine vigor. If there’s no other plants competing with the vines for nutrients in the soil, they can overproduce. Planting wildflowers, mustard seed, or just grass helps to combat this. Competition is good. Also, it increases the biodiversity of the vineyard, helping to bring different types of helpful critters (earthworms, ladybugs, etc.) onto the vineyard. Again, this isn’t a universal rule, but most quality-conscious producers will do this.
Coming up next post: Desuckering, frost damage prevention, shoot positioning, bud break and all sorts of other exciting things.
Things I drank this week, stealing the one-word review format from Cory Cartwright over at his great blog Saignée:
Dorigo Schiopettino 2007 from Friuli: Lupine
Drie Fronteinen Oude Gueuze: Raging
The Entire Fredrick Wildman & Sons German and Austrian Catalog: Riesling