Thursday, February 17, 2011

Anatomy of A Winery

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Yesterday I bottled wine at Brooks Winery, whose Ara Riesling was served at President Obama's first state dinner in the White House. I got to experience another part of the wine-making process, and it made me want to break down the anatomy of a winery (how a winery works). I want to talk about the different parts of a winery to show you all the people who work together to make wine. The different components of a winery are numerous, but it's pretty easy to understand how wine is made. I'm not going to go into much detail, I'm just gonna give it to you straight (Click the image below to enlarge).



Vineyard Management

A winery might not own the vineyards where its grapes grow, but it definitely does its best to manage their development. A winemaker and the winery laboratory work closely with a vineyard manager to grow the best grapes.

Winery Laboratory Pre-Harvest

To decided when to harvest grapes, the winery lab measures the Brix, or sugar levels, to determine ripeness and potential alcohol (alcohol is made when yeast turns sugar into alcohol). The winemaker has the ultimate call here. A good Brix reading is between 22-26. If the grapes have a 22 Brix reading, the resulting wine will have an alcohol content of around 13%, Brooks winemaker Chris Williams told me yesterday.

Winery - Processing

This is what I did during the 2010 Harvest. To see photos of the winery and the work, click here. The winery workers process the fruit and put it into tanks. This is when red wines develop their colors, scents, and flavors, when the red grape juice is in contact with the skins: a process called maceration. This is also when the juice naturally ferments, turning sugar to alcohol. In the case of Pinot Noir, the laboratory waits until the Brix levels are negative 4 or so, then alerts the winemaker.

Pressing

The winemaker chooses when to separate the juice from the skins; afterward, the skins are pressed to extract tannins.

Wine Making

This is the artistic part. So far, all of the different fruit from the different vineyards have been kept isolated. One tank of wine is 100% one region's fruit, one hill even. The winemaker tastes the different results then blends them until he or she creates the perfect wine... hopefully. I say hopefully, because the wine will change over the next year or so of cellaring, and how it changes cannot be 100% controlled.

Winery - Cellar

Now the wine relaxes. It has gone through a lot. The winemaker stores it in stainless steel tanks or in oak barrels. White wines are usually left in stainless steel tanks, and because you want to keep them cool at all times (otherwise you lose they loose their fruitiness and aromas) they undergo a prolonged fermentation. Red wine, which can get warm and retain flavors, sometimes ferments as fast as 10 days. As a result, red wines can be put in barrels sooner if the winemaker so chooses.

Bottling

This is what I did in the rain, hail, sunshine, and wind yesterday (Oregon weather is schizophrenic). Bottling takes a lot of technology, and most wineries cannot afford to buy their own bottling equipment. So, a bottling company comes to the winery. The bottling facility is contained inside of a Mack truck. Bottling isn't interesting, you just put wine into bottles. Again, the wine goes through a lot and it experiences bottle shock. I'm not sure what the negative effects of bottle shock are, but you should let the wine sit, undisturbed for three months to let it recover.

Drinking

The most important part of the wine-making process: Inspiration!

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