We often get asked how wine is made, and how the process differs for red wines and white wines.
Although winemaking is a combination of both science and art, there are some basic steps that are common to the process. It’s what the winemaker does differently at each of these steps that makes the wine unique.
WINEMAKING STEPS - A GENERAL OVERVIEW
GROWING AND HARVESTING GRAPES
To make wine, grapes need to be grown and harvested. Harvest (or vintage) only happens once a year and in Queensland this is between February and May depending on the conditions that year. White wine grapes are generally the first to ripen with the reds coming later.
There is much deliberation about when to harvest the grapes as the moment they are picked determines the acidity, sweetness, and flavour of the wine. It’s a juggling act as ideally you want the acidity and sweetness to be in perfect balance.
Our grapes are sourced from sustainable vineyards in Queensland's Granite Belt and South Australia's Riverland regions. As soon as the fruit has been harvested, it is delivered straight to our Tamborine Mountain winery via refrigerated transport, where our team are ready and waiting to begin processing immediately.
The Granite Belt - Queensland
The Granite Belt is one of the hidden gems of the Australian wine industry, and its vineyards are amongst some of the highest in Australia (between 800 to 1020m above sea level). The high elevation means the region is considered a cool climate region by worldwide viticultural standards. The Granite Belt has similar viticultural conditions to the Northern Rhone in France.
The Granite Belt is named as such for its free-draining, granitic soils. The elevated pH of granite promotes greater acidity in wine, and the porous nature of the rock allows vines to extend much deeper roots. The result? A product with delicately layered flavours and greater complexity.
The Riverland Region - South Australia
At its heart, winemaking is agriculture and the catastrophic droughts Queensland suffered in 2019 had a considerable impact upon grape harvest volumes that year. So that we could adequately account for such significant deficits, we looked to the premium Riverland region of South Australia.
The ancient red soils that run along the Murray are largely composed of clay, sand, and limestone particles. With its warm, dry climate and unique terroir, the conditions throughout the Riverland produce fruit of high quality, in turn creating truly unique wines of outstanding calibre.
Want to know more about grapes, check out our A Year In The Life of a Wine Grape blog post.
DE-STEMMING & PRESSING
After harvesting, all grapes are de-stemmed and crushed mechanically via a crusher-destemmer. In previous times grape crushing was done manually by stomping and, while this may seem romantic, the novelty soon wears off when you are processing tonnes and tonnes of fruit. Not only is mechanical crushing more efficient, it’s also better in terms of final wine quality and hygienic gains!
It’s at this point that the processing of red and white wines differs. With white wines, the juice is separated (pressed off) from the grape skins and solids before fermentation. With red wines, the juice, skins, seeds, and solids -called Must, all go through fermentation together and this is what gives red wines their colour, flavour and tannins (textural elements).
During fermentation yeast convert the fruit sugar to alcohol which can take anywhere from 10 days to a month. Generally, winemakers will add a commercial yeast to help the process along, but wines can also be “wild’ fermented using only the indigenous or wild yeast present on the grape skins at the time they are harvested.
For more on the Wild Ferment Process, check out our Witches Falls: The Original Wild Ferment blog post
After fermentation, wine is transferred or “racked” into a different vessel such as an oak barrel or stainless-steel tank for maturation. Most red wines and some whites (such as Chardonnay) are aged in oak barrels with the type of oak used and time spent in oak varying depending on the style and variety of wine being made.
Oak barrels do more than just impart flavour to the wine – they encourage stability and clarity in red wines and new layers of complexity in white wines.
Stainless steel tanks are commonly used to produce crisp, zesty white wines.
During maturation in oak, most of our red wines will go through a secondary fermentation known as Malolactic fermentation. In this process the more tart malic acid is converted into the softer lactic acid. This reduces acidity and produces a softer, more buttery characteristic. This process also releases Carbon Dioxide which is why a stick is placed with the bung (to release pressure).
Some white wines such as Chardonnay might also go through Malolactic fermentation which offers a creamy and rich like butter characteristic to the wine.
FILTERING & BOTTLING
Before bottling winemakers continue to nurture, test, refine and tweak the wines.
White wines are generally hot and cold stabilised and fined before being filtered and bottled. Fining refers to the process of clarifying the wine by using a protein to remove bitterness (phenolic from skins and pips). The protein added to the tank attaches to the phenolic and sinks it to the bottom. The clarified juice is then racked off and wine is ready for pH, stability testing and filtering.
Filtering occurs just prior to bottling to remove any solid particles and clarify the wine. Depending on the variety, wine can be filtered numerous times before bottling occurs.
When bottling, wine is pumped from stainless steel holding tanks into the bottling machine, where bottles are lined up on a conveyor and filled, capped and labelled. The Witches Falls bottling line is capable of filling more than 7000 bottles a day!
And finally, consumption, the final step, is everyone’s favourite part of this incredible process. Simply sit back, open your favourite bottle, and ENJOY!