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 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 20, June 2004   
Production of White WineProduction of White Wine  Contents 
Issue 19, May 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 21, Summer 2004

Production of White Wine

From white berried grapes, as well as from red berried ones, can be produced pleasing and aromatic golden rivers of Bacchus nectar, where aromas of fruit and flowers join a pleasing crispness

 Whoever is really interested in the sensorial tasting of wine - including every lover of the beverage of Bacchus - should know the many procedures needed for the production of wine. Of course, in order to taste or appreciate wine it is not required to be a wine maker - noble representatives of the wine making science - however it is indisputable that knowing how wine is produced, even though superficially, represents a huge advantage in order to better understand and know what was poured in a glass. A wine taster - if we consider this job in its typical form - is not a wine maker and does not have the same level of knowledge of a wine maker about the techniques used for the production of wine. A wine maker - on the other hand and considering this job in general terms - has a knowledge and capacity about the practices of the wine making higher than a wine taster. It should however be observed that every good wine maker should also be a good wine taster. The wine taster dedicates its profession - or its passion - to the organoleptic and sensorial evaluation of a wine - in other words, he or she evaluates the work of wine makers - and in order to do this in a reliable and objective way, it is necessary that he or she knows the fundamental principles of wine making.

 

A Simple but Complex Process

 Making wine is relatively simple, making good wine is pretty difficult, making good quality wine is very difficult. The production of wine is basically the result of a series of natural events which begin with fermentation, a chemical process in which sugar contained in grape juice - the must - is transformed by yeasts into alcohol and carbon dioxide. In case environmental and climatic conditions are sufficiently favorable, also supported by a good contribution of human work, the process naturally leads to the production of wine. Whether it is true that nature plays a fundamental role by providing the raw matter - the grape - indeed it is the intervention of other fundamental and side factors - including the intervention of man - that will lead to the production of wines having different levels of quality. No matter the overall quality of wine currently commercialized has increased in the last twenty years, consumers, also thanks to a higher and conscious wine culture, have become more exacting. This condition forces, like to say, producers to pay a higher attention and a higher strictness in the wine making practices in which the human intervention may play a role in the improvement of the quality of the finished product.


Inside view of a cellar
Inside view of a cellar

 The role of a wine maker in a winery is both fundamental and strategic, because it is this important professional figure that will make the main decisions about the style of wine to be made, to the processing of raw matters and the development of the many productive processes. These decisions are usually made according to the environment in which he or she works in, the geographic area and the type of grapes cultivated in vineyards, both traditional and introduced with the specific goal of making a wine having specific qualities. The experience of the wine maker is fundamental and its work, besides controlling the quality of all the production process, is basically based on decisions made at the right moment and in the right way. The first decision to be made is about the time of the harvesting of grapes, a crucial factor that mainly depends on the right level of ripeness of grapes and according to the style of wine to be made. This is just the first decision a wine maker has to make and this also sets the beginning of the productive processes that will lead to the creation of a new wine.

 

The Production of White Wine

 The process of the production of wine begins with harvesting, when grapes reach the right level of ripeness suitable for the style of wine to be made. The kind of grapes which are more frequently used for the production of this type of wine are white berried varieties, however, despite the fact this could sound pretty strange, white wines can also be produced with red berried grapes. The color of grape juice - of any variety and including the red berried ones - always shows a color having yellow-gray hues with nuances of green. The color in red wines is obtained thanks to the maceration of skins in the must - a factor which also depends by the coloring capacity of the grape and by the time of maceration - therefore from a must of red berried grapes, rapidly separated from skins after having being pressed, it is possible to make white wines. Most of the white sparkling wines - such as Champagne or Franciacorta - are produced with must obtained by Pinot Noir which was not macerated with its skins.


 

 Talking in general terms, it could seem like the production of quality white wines is easer than reds, indeed this style of wine requires special care and attention, a condition that must be ensured since the beginning of harvesting. In white wines it is fundamental and essential that grapes, as soon as they are harvested, arrive in the winery in perfect conditions with unbroken and not crushed berries. Any accidental breaking of the skin can in fact allow the releasing of polyphenols in the juice and the loss of part of the most delicate aromas. Moreover it is essential, in order to obtain a quality product, that soon after the harvesting the grape must be processed as soon as possible, a time which is of about 15 minutes in the majority of cases. The first procedure to which grape is being processed is the elimination of the stem - rich in polyphenols and astringent substances that would compromise the taste of white wine - by using a special machine called destemmer.

 In many cases this type of machine is also called crusher-stemmer because, besides separating the bunch from the stem, it also press the berries and therefore breaking the skin and provoking the leaking of the precious juice that will be gathered in specific tanks. Grape's aromas that characterize wine are found in the skin, however in this part are also contained polyphenols, having an astringent taste, and that in white wines is always considered as a negative factor. The extraction of aromas is favored by the maceration of the must - the grape juice - in skins while avoiding any extraction of polyphenols. For this reason the must is cooled down and allowed to macerate in the skins for few hours in order to get enriched with precious aromas. The must and the skins are then pressed by using a press therefore completing the extraction of the juice from the berries. The modern trend is to lightly press berries in order to extract only the most delicate and precious juice therefore leaving the most “ordinary” juice in the pulp of the berry. Of course, the lesser the pressing force and the lesser the produced must and the greater the quality.

 

From Must to Wine

 After the operations of crushing and pressing, the must is almost ready to be transformed into wine. Before proceeding with the fermentation, the must is usually decanted or filtered in order to remove any solid substance - such as pips - and in order to obtain a limpid liquid. The must is usually made limpid in a relatively short period of time by using specific filters or by centrifugation. The next stage is fermentation, a process which is generally spontaneously activated by yeasts found in the environment as well as in the skins to which the juice has been in contact with even for a short time. It should however be observed that some wine makers prefer to add selected yeast cultures to the must in order to have a better and more accurate control over the fermentation process. Moreover it should be remembered that fermentation, besides transforming sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, develops most of the wine aromas - generally defined as secondary aromas - whose finesse is also dependent by the quality of yeasts.

 Of course, the main goal of fermentation in white wines is to transform sugar into alcohol, however it is also essential the keeping of freshness and elegance of aromas, therefore this process is usually done at a temperature of about 10°-18° C (50°-65° F). This temperature - lower than the one used for red wines - also allows a slow fermentation, essential for the keeping of the best aromas. The fermentation of white wines is usually done in special steel tanks in which the temperature is constantly controlled in order to avoid excessive and dangerous raising of temperature above the desired one. In particular styles of wines, usually the ones produced with Chardonnay, the fermentation can also be done in casks in order to increase body as well as to enrich the wine with aromas passed from wood. In this case the cask is partially filled, in order to avoid the spilling of the must because of fermentation, and temperature, in this case higher, will favor the extraction of the aromatic components of wood while covering the fresh aromas of grapes which will be replaced by more complex ones.


Concrete tanks for the fermentation
of wines
Concrete tanks for the fermentation of wines

 At the end of the fermentation process, yeasts, after having transformed sugar into alcohol and having no more food available, deteriorate and deposit to the bottom of the fermentation container while forming a thick mush. At this point the wine can be transferred in other containers, or it can be left in contact with its yeasts for some months, sometimes one year, in order to increase the aromatic and gustatory complexity. One of the typical and main characteristics of white wine is represented by the strong and agreeable acidity, therefore this gustatory factor is kept in most of the cases. For this reason - except for particular white wines with a higher structure - the activation of malolactic fermentation is scrupulously avoided, that is the chemical and spontaneous process that occurs in springtime and with the raising of temperature in which malic acid - harsh and sour - is transformed into lactic acid, sweeter and less harsh. Malolactic fermentation in white wines - a process which is useful for red wines - besides lowering the acidity of wine is also responsible for other organoleptic alterations, in particular the development of banana and butter aromas, typical, for example, in wines produced with Chardonnay that underwent this process.

 Malolactic fermentation is usually avoided in white wines by means of proper filtering in order to completely remove any yeast and bacteria that can activate this process. Other methods used for avoiding malolactic fermentation are chilling the wine to a pretty low temperature or by adding sulfur dioxide. The next stage is about stabilization of wine, an operation which is usually done by chilling the wine to pretty low temperatures and by keeping it to this condition for some days. The goal of this stabilization is to promote the precipitation of tartrates - crystalline formations and byproducts of tartaric acid - in order to avoid their formation during the practices of keeping and aging. The presence of tartrates - it should be remembered - does not influence the organoleptic qualities of wine and it does not represent a negative factor, however it affects wine's appearance and for this reason they are being removed by means of stabilization.

 At the end of stabilization, the process of the production of white wine is about to enter the last phase consisting in the aging and refinement. The aging is done in specific containers in which the material used for their construction will influence the development and the evolution of the wine's organoleptic character. The containers typically used for the aging of wine are made of steel or concrete, therefore inert materials, or wood, that is casks having different volumes. The choice of the usage of casks will cause a pretty strong transformation of wine's qualities, by adding aromas, structure and typical characters of wood while covering the freshness and finesse of fruit and floral aromas. The strength of the “woody” characters depends by many factors, including the level of the toasting of the wood as well as the period of time the wine spent in the cask. White wine aged in inert containers will keep its fresh aromas of fruit and flower and this is the practice used for the majority of wines produced with delicate and aromatic grapes.

 At the end of the aging, the wine is ready to be bottled. Before proceeding with this operation, white wine is further filtered and clarified in order to remove any possible impurity produced during the aging and therefore obtaining a more refined product with no faults. After bottling, the wine is usually left in cellar to age for some months - usually from three to six months - and finally it is ready for being commercialized and to gladden the glasses of wine lovers.

 




 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 20, June 2004   
Production of White WineProduction of White Wine  Contents 
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