From Vine to Wine: The Winemaking Process Simplified
Depending on the grape, the region and the type of wine that a winemaker wishes to create, the exact steps involved in the winemaking process will vary in time, technique and technology. Despite these variations, every harvest must include six basic steps: harvesting, crushing and pressing, fermentation, clarification, ageing and finally, bottling.
When it comes to the winemaking process, it all starts with plucking grapes from a vine. Why grapes? Well, no fruit, other than grapes, can produce a reliable amount of sugar every year to yield sufficient alcohol. Other fruits also lack the acids, esters and tannins required to make wine consistently.
At Quoin Rock, our winemaker believes that the first and most important step in creating a great wine is to ensure that grapes are picked when they are perfectly ripe. A combination of science and old-fashioned tasting usually go into determining when this is. Our winemaker, Schalk Opperman believes that working together with our viticulturist, Nico Walters, is essential to ensuring a successful harvest.
Crushing and Pressing
Once the grapes arrive at the winery, our professional and well-trained staff will sort the grape bunches, culling out rotten or under-ripe fruit before crushing.
Our state of the art cellar has some of the best equipment the industry has to offer, which means we can spend time investing in new techniques while not losing touch with the traditional art of winemaking. Our Pellenc destemmer, a device used to remove the stems, is top of the range, allowing us to destem very cleanly and ensuring that only the best, correctly-sized berries are kept.
Crushing fresh clusters of ripe grapes is traditionally the next step in the winemaking process. In the past, this meant stomping or trodding on the grapes into what is known as ‘must’. Today, modern wineries use mechanical presses which have drastically improved the quality and longevity of the wine.
It is during this second step where the process for making white and red wine begins to differ. To make white wine, the winemaker will quickly press the must after crushing to separate the juice from the skins, seeds, and solids. By doing this, unwanted colour from the skin of the grape, and tannins cannot leach into the white wine.
Rosé wines, on the other hand, are only lightly pressed and red wines aren’t pressed at all until the end of the fermentation process. This is because much of the quality and character of red wine comes from the tannins found in the grape skins and seeds.
Fermentation is probably the most important step in the production of wines as it is when alcohol is created. Although this process does happen naturally, many winemakers prefer to intervene at this stage by introducing a strain of yeast to better predict the result.
Once fermentation begins, it normally continues until all of the sugar is converted into alcohol and a dry wine is produced. Fermentation can require anywhere from ten days to a month or more.
Quoin Rock’s fermentation process takes between two and four weeks, with our prestigious MCC undergoing a second fermentation. This is because it is made using the same traditional French method used to make champagne, known as methode champenoise. The secondary fermentation helps to create the tiny bubbles that are characteristic of the fine sparkling wine.
The fourth stage in the winemaking process is known as clarification. It refers to the act of separating the solids, such as dead yeast cells, tannins and proteins, from the liquid wine. This is often done by transferring the wine into a different tank or barrel and filtering and fining the wine until all solids are left at the bottom of the vessel. Fining refers to when substances are added to a wine to clarify them. The clarified wine is then moved to another vessel, where it is ready for bottling.
The final stage of the winemaking process involves the ageing and bottling of wine. This can be done in barrels, bottles, or stainless steel tanks. At Quoin Rock, our red wine is aged for a minimum of twenty months in oak barrels. Opperman explains that this allows the tannin molecules to form chains – which makes for a smooth, easy-drinking wine.
the final step in the winemaking process
Opperman usually opts to bottle-age Quoin Rock’s red wine for anywhere between two to five years but believes the wine to be of such high quality that it could be left to age for fifteen years and beyond. Our white wines can spend between two and five years in bottles before being released to the public- Opperman’s philosophy being that South African Sauvignon wines can age well.
The choices and techniques employed in this final stage of the winemaking process are nearly endless, but what is clear is that producing a quality wine is a long and arduous process.
Winemaking is a delicate science, and winemakers like Opperman work tirelessly -using traditional, centuries-old techniques, combined with modern state of the art equipment – to press, ferment, and mature the humble grape into one of the world’s most popular drinks.