How Wine is Made

The winemaking process can differ greatly depending on region, grape varietal, winemaker, vintage, style of wine, and more. While the basics of the winemaking process usually stay the same; the additives, how long a wine ferments, how long wine ages, types of oak used, and the blending process can vary greatly out of preference of the vintner or necessity.

Below are the basic steps in wine production that you can expect from most wineries.

White Wine Winemaking Process

Making white wine is the most simple out of all the winemaking processes. Many people wonder why white wine is often cheaper than red wine. As you can see from comparing the winemaking process of white and red wines, there are some big differences that affect the cost of the wine.

The oak used to age red wines (and sometimes select white wines) is very expensive. Red wines are often aged for one or two years before release, thus increasing the cost (and quality) further.

  1. White grapes are collected and sorted. This can be done by hand or mechanical harvesters.
  2. Grape bunches go through the destemmer and crusher.
  3. Grapes are pressed and the juice is separated from the skin and seeds.
  4. The grape juice or must is fermented into wine in a stainless steel vat. In order to get sweet or off-dry wines, the fermentation process is stopped before all the sugar can be converted into alcohol.
  5. Wine is kept cool in the stainless steel vats for a short time in order for them to settle and stabilize before the next step.
  6. Some white wines like Chardonnay or Roussane are aged in oak barrels. If this is the case, the wines would also go through malolactic fermentation. This is where the tart malic acid is converted into a softer and creamier lactic acid. All red wines go through this process as well, which is why you don’t get tart citrus or green apple flavor in red wines. You will sometimes see white wines aged in oak in France and Napa Valley.
  7. Some white wines are aged on the lees, or dead yeast cells.
  8. If making a blend, the winemaker would blend the wines after the fermentation process is complete for each separate varietal. This allows the winemaker to take the finished wine and blend it accurately to create the wine that they want.
  9. Wines are filtered and unwanted particles are separated. The wine is then bottled, and released.

White wines are typically at their peak upon release. Some white wines are worth aging, however.

* Please keep in mind that this is a simplified version of the winemaking process.

Red Wine Winemaking Process

The process for making red wine is a bit more complicated and takes longer than white wine. This is why you may see a 2017 vintage being released in 2019. Often, red wines should be aged before drinking, even upon release.

  1. Red grapes are collected and sorted.
  2. Grape bunches are destemmed (sometimes not).
  3. Grapes are crushed and the juice is fermented along with the skins and seeds in a stainless steel vat.
  4. The wine is then separated from the pomace (seeds, stems, skins). The pomace contains tannins. 
  5. Wine is aged in oak barrels or a stainless steel vat with oak chips at the bottom of the tank.
  6. Tart malic acid is converted into soft and creamy lactic acid (the same acid found in milk and other dairy products).
  7. Wines go through fining (sometimes with egg whites), are filtered and bottled.
  8. Red wines are often bottle-aged for some time before being released for consumption.

* Please keep in mind that this is a simplified version of the winemaking process.

Rose Wine Winemaking Process

Essentially, rose wine is red grapes being made in the process of white wine. There is no oak or extensive aging. Upon release, rose is ready for consumption and not usually suitable for aging in a cellar.

  1. Red grapes are collected and sorted.
  2. Grapes are destemmed and crushed.
  3. The juice is fermenting with the grape skins for a short amount of time.
  4. Once the desired color is reached, the juice is separated from the skins.
  5. Fermentation continues until completion.
  6. Wines are then chilled and stabilized in a stainless steel vat.
  7. Wines are filtered, bottled, and released.

Common grape varietals made into rose include Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese.

* Please keep in mind that this is a simplified version of the winemaking process.

Sparkling Wines Winemaking Process

Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, and other sparkling wines each have their unique winemaking process. This often varies by region.

The making of sparkling wine is very similar to standard white winemaking. However, there are two ways you can get bubbles.

Tank “Charmat” Method- The wine goes through secondary fermentation and produces carbon dioxide in a stainless steel tank before bottling.

Traditional Method- Still white wine is bottled before going through secondary fermentation inside the bottle. These wines often taste bready and yeasty, due to the dead yeast that are still in the bottle. Most of this is taken out before release.

The pressure of secondary fermentation and the bubbles means that sparkling wines need heavy-duty wine bottles in order to not explode. This is also why they have a large cork with a wire cage around it. A regular cork or a screw cap could not stand the pressure the wine made.

* Please keep in mind that this is a simplified version of the winemaking process.

Dessert and Fortified Wines Winemaking Process

There are many types of dessert and sweet wine and the winemaking process varies greatly based on region. The winemaking process for sweet wines often starts in the vineyard, ensuring that the wine grapes have high sugar levels before harvest. High sugar content results in a high alcohol content wine or a wine that has a high level of leftover sugar.

Fortified wine- Wines are preserved by adding spirits (usually brandy) before all the sugar is fermented.

Late-Harvest Wine- Grapes are harvested late in the season when the sugar content is concentrated and the juice levels are low.

Passito- AKA dried grape wine. A common dessert wine in Italy, the grapes are laid out in the sun to dry. The juice levels are very low and the sugar content is very high.

Ice Wine– Grapes are harvested late in the season during frost. The grapes are picked and pressed before they are thawed which results in a very sweet and crisp wine.

Noble Rot- Common in areas of France, noble rot wines are made from vines affected by the Botrytis cinerea fungus. This causes the grapes to shrivel and sweeten before the grapes are harvested.

* Please keep in mind that this is a simplified version of the winemaking process.

Types of dessert wines include Madeira, Marsala, Port, Sauternes, Sherry, and Vin Santo.

Learn more about the different types of dessert wine here.