“Wine is one of the loveliest and most intricate of nature’s gifts to us, since its creation is unlocked by human interaction and it enables us to taste the landscapes and seasons of the natural world with extraordinary precision. To drink wine is to drink nature. This is why most of us love wine; it is also a kind of love for the world itself, for being alive and being here.”
– Andrew Jefford
Wine is fermented grape juice, yet so much more. Yeast transforms the natural sugars in the grapes into alcohol. Simple really… Well, not really…
The production of wine is an ancient practice. Interestingly enough, the first evidence of winemaking dates back 7500 years to north-western Iran. The first wines must have been crude drinks, but millennia of careful study and skill has refined winemaking into a sublime mix of skill, intuition and science.
Wine can be made from many kinds of fruits, but grapes have the special ingredient of tartaric acid which prevents the wine from spoiling, as long as it is not exposed to air.
Red wines in particular can be preserved in bottles for decades, even centuries. Red wines are made with the skins included in the fermentation process. The hues of the grape skins, colour the wine.
White wines are made from the juice alone, without the skins. It is possible then to make white wine from red grapes, simply by extracting the juice and discarding the skins.
Sparkling wines such as Champagne are often made from white and red grape varieties such as Pinot Noir.
There are thousands of different varieties of wine grapes. Many of the finest originate from a belt across Western Europe stretching from northern Spain across the southern half of France and into pockets of Italy, Austria and Germany.
Winemaking in Australia dates back 200 years, but our country’s global reputation has been forged in just the last few decades. The industry’s success has been built on technical excellence that yields consistently high-quality products, and innovation unconstrained by the European mania for complex rules and regulations.
The source material is, naturally, crucial to the final product. The art of growing top-quality wine grapes depends strongly on the site of the region and vineyard: the place, the soil and the climate. The French call this the ‘terroir’ – a word describing the particulars of the vineyard’s land, climate and environment. Vines must get just the right balance of sunshine, wind, water and natural soil nutrients to grow truly fine grapes, and they must be protected from a myriad of bugs and viruses. The grapes must be harvested at exactly the right moment and transported to the winery with minimum delay to ensure they can be transformed into an endlessly complex, subtle and magnificent wine.
The other crucial aspect is the skill of the winemaker. Natural elements of the grape juice, such as sugar levels, tannin and acid must be carefully balanced during the production process. The actual fermentation (when yeast transform sugar into alcohol) generally takes from seven days to six weeks.
Then there is a careful process of either allowing the wine to mature in a tank (most white wines) or in oak barrels (some reds and occasionally white wine). Picking the best oak barrels is an art in itself. White wines are generally released fairly quickly, but premium red wines might wait several years before being bottled.
Finally, there is the choice of either sealing the bottle with a cork (more traditional) or a metal screwcap (more reliable) and at last the wine is ready to do what it was created to do – to be enjoyed.