How wine is made
The process of making wine is a tradition that has been handed down from wine makers in the Old World, and is now used throughout the globe in order to create wine from fruits, particularly grapes. The process starts with the selection of a suitable vineyard. This is usually done with the help of a specialist expert, often qualified in viticulture, who can calculate exactly where is the best location for a vineyard, depending upon the type of grapes that are going to be used. In South Africa, it is common to find traditional wine estates dating back hundreds of years still producing wine today.
The next step is to select the grapes that are due to be harvested. In South Africa, it is not unusual for wine farms, that is the cellar involved in actually making the wine from grapes, to not be connected to a vineyard. Instead, they will get their fruit from local wine estates, and then process these. For those who do grow their own grapes, harvesting will usually occur between February and March, depending upon the ripeness of the grapes. For wine makers hoping to produce a sweet dessert wine, it is common to have a later harvest, and the wines are known as Late Harvest for that reason.
The grapes can be harvested either by machine, or by hand. In some areas it is difficult to get a machine that can pick the fruit and avoid damaging them, so all of the harvesting is done by hand. This is also the method recommended by fine wine producers, since it is less likely to damage the grapes. Once picked, the grapes will be taken into the wine farm, and then stripped of any stems, leaves and other plant matter. This can be done by machine, or by hand. All stems must be removed, because they can add a bitter taste to the wine.
White grapes are crushed immediately after the stripping, and their skins are discarded. They are then left to ferment, which converts the sugar in the grapes into alcohol. The majority of wine makers add yeast to this process, in order to create an even result, and so that all the grapes are ready at the same time. Red grapes are also crushed immediately, but their skins are left on, in order to allow the juice to absorb extra tannins and colour from the skins. The red juice is also left to ferment. In straw wine, the grapes are not crushed after sorting, but are instead left to dry on racks of straw, sometimes for two or three days. This turns the grapes into raisin-like husks, from which wine is then produced.
The fermentation of grapes can take place in a variety of different places, from modern stainless steel tanks to the more traditional French Oak barrels. The grapes are then flavoured with spices, and placed into oak, or the tanks, in order to be aged. This can take several months, and sometimes years. Once aging is finished, the wine is poured into bottles and labelled.