Wine production

Let’s talk about one of the most popular drinks: wine. Wine has many fans, lovers, experts and for some, it’s taboo because of the alcohol. From a gastronomic perspective, this beverage can make or break a meal. There are hundreds of different brands and varieties. And then there’s the price difference that ranges from €2 up to € 2000 per bottle. Pretty crazy right? In this article, I’ll tell you the basics of wine production and the differences that contribute to the price.

As you probably know, wine is made of grapes. And that’s it. Just grapes and probably a bit of sulfite to extend the expiring date. So how is it possible that a drink made of fruit ranges so much in price? There are two possible factors: the grapes and the process. Let’s start with the grape farmers.

ORIGIN

One of the first factors of the wine flavor is the origin of the grape. The plant converts sunlight into sugar, among other things. So the more sunlight the grape plant is exposed to, the sweeter the grape will get. This means that sweet wines overall come from warm countries like Chile and Africa, while dry wine comes from countries with fewer sun hours like Germany.

SOIL

The vine gets its nutrients and flavorings from its soil. If the farmland has multiple layers like clay, graphite, and dark soil, this really enriches the flavor of the wine. Garden plots in France have an extraordinary restriction when it comes to grape harvesting: the farmers are not allowed to water the plants. And that’s for this reason: vines can get up to 120 years old. Through that time, their roots keep growing and the less water there’s available at the surface, the deeper they will grow. This can be up to 80 meters! That means that the plant will get its nutrients from all the different layers. So by not watering it, the plant will have to develop such long roots to find water and survive. The farmer most often buys farmland where the vines are already growing. Depending on its age and soil, the prices can be really high. Some of the most expensive grounds are in Champagne and Bordeaux.

HARVESTING

As you can imagine, the older plants have a product of better quality, but their yield is much lower. Where younger plants have about thirty bunches of grapes, the 100-year old plants cut that down to 15 or even 10. This means the energy converted into sugar and flavor also more concentrated per grape. For this reason, some farmers manually reduce the number of bunches per plant. This means they harvest way less product, so the price of the grapes (and wine) has to be higher to make the same income.

And then there’s the harvest itself. In a bunch, the grapes are never all perfectly ripe at the same time. The best (and obviously most expensive) way is to pick them grape by grape. Another fine way is to manually harvest the bunches. The third and most common way is to harvest mechanically. In the use of machines, many overripe and unripe grapes are harvested as well as leaves, small twigs and snails and insects. Since the entire yield is pressed in one batch, these have a huge impact on the flavor.

PROCESSING

The white wine is made of white grapes, red wine of blue grapes, and rose wine is made of blue grapes, but the grape skins are extracted after a few hours. So at first, the fruit is pressed into a pulp. This pulp is put into barrels to ripe. Stainless steel barrels are the most common nowadays, but the traditional wooden barrels add a sweet vanilla tone to the wine. The downside to wooden barrels is that they cost a couple of hundreds of Euros and only last a few years.

The best wine is riped in wooden barrels, made of carefully, individually picked grapes from a sunny country and farmland with rich soil and really old vines. The cheapest way to produce wine is made of a young, fast-growing species of grapes that is industrially harvested.

A special thank you to Eventure, a Dutch employment organization for festival catering staff. They let us attend to an inspiring wine course. The conversation we had with the expert afterward was the trigger to this article.

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Article written by Marieke Schouten

Photos: unsplash.com

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