Here in the Yakima Valley, home to author Marilee Brothers, and myself, harvest of wine grapes in the month of October brings the goal of winemaking to the winemakers: to protect and nurture those characteristics of wine that come from the vineyard. At harvest, the emphasis shifts to the cellar, where the aim is to help the wine make itself in the best possible way. How does mere grape juice become the stuff of poetry and legend? Just what are the steps a winemaker takes and what happens in the cellar? Why is white wine white and red wine red?
With a few exceptions, the juice of all grapes, red and white, is almost colorless. The difference is that red wine is fermented with the red grape skins. Grape skins also contain tannin, the backbone of red wine, which allows for aging longer than white wine. Tannin is also found in grape seeds and stems and is a factor in making red wine. So, the winemaker must make a decision whether the stems should be removed before the grapes are crushed or not. With less tannic varieties, like grenache or pinot noir, winemakers may choose to leave the stems on because they do add some tannic strength. With the naturally tannic cabernet sauvignon, stems can add excessive bitter tannins to the juice.
The soupy mass of crushed grapes, juice, skins, pulp, seeds and possibly stems, is called the must and, after the grapes are picked, is the beginning of wine making, both white and red. Following is a brief outline of winemaking for red and white wines:
This is a very brief look at how red and white (dry) wines are made. There are many elements of winemaking that give us, the consumer, the wines which create that poetry and legend for us.
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