Ever wonder how winemaking started? Winemaking, as a practice, dates to well over 6,000 years ago to some of the earliest civilizations. The process quite likely started by accident as people began to start farming, transporting, and storing fruits and vegetables, including wild grapes. Undoubtedly, as the fruit was being moved or stored for future consumption, juice would be released due to the heavy weight of the fruit in the transportation vessel or storage container, resulting in free running juice which, under the right conditions, would begin to ferment. People would have been tempted to taste the juice, finding it’s sweetness and intoxicating effects quite alluring. One species of grape, Vitis vinifera, yielded a particularly appealing fermented juice which we now know as wine. Hence, the journey to modern day winemaking began. However, it’s important to understand that winemaking starts well before the grapes arrive at the winery. In fact, what takes place in the vineyard, starting after the conclusion of the prior year’s harvest, has a profound impact on the quality of the fruit and ultimately the finished wine that the winemaker can produce. Mineral uptake, or extraction, from the soil in the vineyard by the vine root system is one of the most important aspects of viticulture impacting the quality of the fruit and resulting wine.
However, not every vineyard has the right aspect ratio and orientation to the sun, or an ample amount of warm, sunlit days followed by cool evenings to moderate and balance sugar and acidity development. Often, vineyards lack ideal soil conditions with the right amount of nutrients and proper drainage, along with perfectly synchronized, disease-free fruit maturation. Fortunately, thanks to modern day winemaking processes, the winemaker has a number of tools and techniques at their disposal to deal with many of the challenges introduced in the vineyard, whether they be due to poor mineral absorption, soil fertility, molds, and fungi infections, as well as naturally occurring wild yeasts and bacteria that can threaten the quality of the fermentation and resulting wine. Some of the key processes, techniques, and science behind the decisions that the winemaker makes will impact to the quality of the finished product, from the moment the grapes show up to the winery to when the fermented juice is placed into the barrel. Every aspect of winemaking requires attention to detail, including sanitization, the crush, additions of required nutrients to the grape must (freshly crushed grape juice, skins, seeds, and sometimes stems), fermentation, and up to and including pressing off and transferring the wine into barrel. Ultimately, leveraging the use of science, knowledge and experience (the “art”) gained, the winemaker’s goal is to produce world class wines of the highest quality.