Planting, harvesting, and bottling a wine grape

Planting, harvesting, and bottling a wine grape

Planting, harvesting, and bottling a wine grape.

The process of making wine is a lengthy and labor-intensive one that requires patience.

When it comes to wine, it may take up to three years to go from the first planting of a brand-new grapevine to the first harvest, with the first vintage not being bottled for another two years after that. However, when terroir and winemaking talent are combined, the end result is well worth the wait.

Poetry in a bottle has been compared to wine on many occasions. To make wine, just like with any creative endeavor, expertise, dedication, and time are required.

Following a brief overview of the grape-growing process, we’ll dive further into the winemaking process once the grapes have been picked, as well as the history of winemaking.

Wine grapes go through the whole life cycle, from the initial planting through harvesting and finally making wine, as seen below.

Planting the first seeds

Take, for example, a piece of undeveloped territory. To identify which grapes will thrive, you must first examine the soil and climatic conditions. Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme in the Napa Valley. However, this does not always imply that it is appropriate for every situation or circumstance.

Rocky soil and mild weather are ideal for cultivating Cabin Fever. Growing conditions for Sauvignon Blanc are ideal when the environment is cool and the soil is sandier.

Smaller quantities of other grapes, such as Malbec and Petit Verdot, may also be suggested by a vineyard manager for the purpose of blending.

The Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc grapes are the five “noble” Bordeaux varieties that certain estates aspire to develop.

Others, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, concentrate on a single varietal at the expense of other varieties. Fun fact: Although Malbec has become associated with high-quality Argentine wine, its origins are really French in origin.

Additionally, the vineyard manager determines how to layout rows, how to place and trellis plants and how to amend the soil, if any, in a new vineyard. This is in addition to analyzing microclimates and selecting the best grapes for each location.

As soon as the young vines are planted, they are covered with a carton to keep them warm and protected while they are growing. The following is how a freshly planted vineyard looks:

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After that comes the difficult part: waiting for the first crop. During the following few years, the young vines will need a great deal of care and attention, including careful watering, correct pruning, and protection from pests and disease, among other things.

Let’s fast forward three years and see what has happened. Finally, the vineyard will be able to produce large, wonderful bunches of grapes this year! The vines remain dormant throughout the winter months, with no foliage to be seen. This is how it looks:

The stark beauty of dormant vines in the winter is hard to beat.
Roots have, however, burrowed deep into the earth and are now consuming the nutrients required for the plant to bear fruit.

When the vines are dormant, it’s time to trim them back to their natural shape. Appropriate pruning is required to maintain the correct ratio between the number of shoots and the number of buds that will eventually yield grape clusters.

Because there are too many shots and not enough buds, the vines will have too many leaves shadowing the fruit, which will make it difficult for the clusters to mature.

A similar situation occurs when there are too many buds and not enough shoots: there is too much fruit and none of it will mature properly. Vine fruit of poor quality will simply not be produced by vines that are not properly trimmed.

Furthermore, winemakers are unable to produce high-quality wine unless they have access to high-quality grapes.

Taking Care of a Grapevine

Pruning is an important skill that may have a significant impact on the next crop.
In fact, pruning abilities are so highly regarded that the Napa Valley Grapegrowers Association sponsors a pruning tournament every year in February. In 2016, the top pruners won home a total of $4,500 in cash and other awards.

Bud Break and Flowering are two stages of the flowering process.

The first blossoms occur as the wine is reawakened from its hibernation. Bud break is the term used to describe this time, which typically begins in March. During this time of year, colorful mustard, which serves as a cover crop, covered the ground between vine rows.

In the late winter and early spring, mustard gives a splash of color to the vineyards. Aside from that, it’s a cover crop that helps to minimize soil erosion on slopes and may help to control soil-borne pests.

Early spring is a beautiful time of year to visit Napa Valley. The landscape is breathtaking, the summer throngs haven’t yet descended, and the weather is typically pleasant and dry throughout the year.

The evenings, on the other hand, might be a whole other tale. Vineyard managers keep a close watch on overnight temperatures because if the thermostat goes below freezing, all of those sensitive shoots might suffer catastrophic harm — particularly after the buds bloom into flowers — and the harvest will be hampered. The blooming stage occurs about one month following the bud break stage.

The usage of massive wind generators in vineyards helps to circulate the air and prevent cold air from hurting the grapes.

However, although living amid the vines is definitely attractive, being startled out of a deep sleep at 3:00 AM by a massive fan that creates as much noise as an airplane flying low above is a significant downside. But what’s a few hours of wasted sleep if it means saving the crop in the process?

Other vineyards safeguard new growth by saturating the plants with water via the use of massive sprinklers. The freezing of water on vines may seem to be counter-intuitive, but the fact is that the freezing process generates a little amount of heat, which helps to keep the vines protected. It’s a matter of science.

The Napa Valley has so many diverse microclimates that blossoming may occur over a two-month period due to the variety of microclimates.

Those fans and sprinklers may go off on a regular basis, particularly in colder places like Carneros and on mountainside vineyards like Howell Mountain and Atlas Peak, where the temperature drops during the night.

Fruit Platter.

The majority of grapevines pollinate themselves, which results in fruit sets. Small, green bunches of grapes on the vines will be seen during this time period. If the weather isn’t cooperative, vineyard managers will still have to worry about frost in the months after the fruit set. Because not all of the vines will be pollinated, the fruit set is an important predictor of crop output and should be monitored closely.

Yields will be poor if a large proportion of the vines are not producing fruit clusters. Low yields may be a financial catastrophe for vineyard owners in Napa Valley, where Cabernet grapes can fetch an average of $6,300 per ton of harvested fruit.

This is also the time of year when vineyard personnel will be working on canopy management, also known as leafing, in order to regulate the amount of sunshine and air that the fruit clusters get.

Grapes need sunshine in order to mature, but too much sunlight may cause the fruit to get sunburned. The Napa Valley Vintners Association estimates that in a single growing season, vineyard workers may tend to each row of grapes 20 times.

Additionally, the vineyard workers will examine the fruit clusters and remove any clusters that aren’t growing correctly, in addition to canopy control. For producers, seeing so much fruit lost might be discouraging, but crop thinning allows the vines to direct their energy solely to the best clusters, resulting in higher-quality fruit.

The Napa Valley Vintners point out that, despite the fact that Napa vineyards produce only about half the fruit per acre when compared to other grape-growing regions, the price per ton of Napa grapes is approximately five times higher than the price per ton of grapes from other California growing regions.

As a result, quality control is beneficial in the long term.


Veraison is the wonderful period during which those hard, green grapes change into luscious, delicious clusters of grapes.

Veraison is most visible in red grapes, as the fruit changes color from green to purple as it ripens. The clusters of white grapes, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, change color from a brilliant green to a more mellow golden-green as the fruits ripen.

Planting, harvesting, and bottling a wine grape.

During veraison, the grapes are showing signs of ripening as well as generating sugars. This often occurs in Napa between the months of July and August, respectively.

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Those working in the vineyard will be keeping a close eye on the clusters. In order to allow for additional ripening, they may cut the canopy of grape leaves again, or if they perceive too many clusters or uneven ripening, they may drop even more fruit.

With warm to hot sunny days and colder evenings, Napa has a Mediterranean climate. Sugar growth and ripening are encouraged by the high temperatures of the day, while the lower temperatures of the night prevent the grapes’ acids from entirely dispersing.

The perfect balance of sugar and acid in Napa grapes is what makes them so popular for winemaking.


Harvesting those magnificent grapes has finally arrived, and it couldn’t come soon enough! However, how can producers determine when to harvest their crops? Although winemakers and vineyard managers will monitor the sugar levels in the grapes, it is not an exact science, it is a useful tool (called Brix).

Because ripening occurs quickly in warmer weather, a string of warm days might expedite harvesting. Harvesting might be delayed if temperatures are cooler than normal. The taste profile of the grape, on the other hand, is what finally dictates when it should be picked.

Grapes grown for white wine are picked earlier in the season than those grown for red wine. Those used to make sparkling wine, on the other hand, are picked the earliest of all since they have a lower sugar level than other grapes.

In fact, Mumm Napa is usually always the first vineyard to harvest its grapes. Mumm began harvesting on July 22, 2015, which was the earliest start in the company’s storied history.

Following that, white wines such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are harvested, which typically takes place between August and September.

This is simply due to the fact that these grapes need less time on the vine to mature. Following that are Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Malbec. Cabernet Sauvignon and other powerful reds such as Petite Sirah are picked towards the end of the growing season.

Vineyard workers harvest grapes.

Crush takes place in the winery after the grapes have been gathered in bins.
Early in the morning—perhaps about 3:00 a.m. or so, when the air is still cool—harvesting normally gets underway.

Winemakers do not want the grapes to begin fermenting before they get to the crush pad, and it is very impossible to prevent fermentation from occurring in hot weather.

It’s been three long years since the first harvest, and we still don’t have a drop of wine to show for it. Never fear: after the grapes have been gathered in their whole, the vinification process may commence. The following is a description of what occurs after grapes are harvested from the vine and deposited in the harvest bins.


Grape juice, whether it is made from red wine grapes or white wine grapes, begins as a transparent liquid at room temperature. This interaction between the skins and the liquid is essential in order for red wine to develop its gorgeous color.

After being sorted via a de-stemmer, the grapes are pressed to extract as much tannin as possible from the stems, which will be transferred to the wine during fermentation. In order to open the fruit, the grape bunches are then smashed.

Grapes are crushed in this manner.

Grapes are crushed in the traditional manner. Modern-day vineyards almost exclusively use automated equipment.
The red grapes are placed in a tank for primary fermentation after they have been crushed and destemming, respectively.

White wine grapes, which are picked sooner than red wine grapes, are often transported directly from the vineyard to the winery’s pressing facility.

The grapes are often crushed before being fermented, although other winemakers choose to omit this process altogether. As an alternative, they crush full bunches of grapes, including skins, stems, and seeds, and the juice is pumped straight into a barrel or a tank to begin the fermentation process.

It is customary to press white grapes fast in order to ensure that the juice has as little contact with the skins, stems, and seeds as possible.

Using this method will ensure that the final white wine does not acquire any undesirable color or tannins..

Upon pressing the grapes, the skins, seeds, and stems clump together to form “pomace,” which may be used to fertilize the vineyard soil after being returned to the vineyard soil.

Until after primary fermentation has been completed, red grapes will not be crushed.

Fermentation in the First Stage

At this stage, the red grapes have been destemmed and crushed, the white grapes have been pressed, and the process is complete. A month or more will pass before the major fermentation process starts.

Once the sugars in the grapes have been converted to alcohol by yeast, the red wine grapes are pressed and the liquid is poured into barrels (or some other vessel) for age, before being bottled.

The varietal of white wine determines what occurs next since the grapes have already been crushed.

To create creamy, buttery tastes, Chardonnay needs malolactic fermentation, which is why it will be fermented in barrels for a second time.

Because a particular amount of sharp acidity is desired in Sauvignon Blanc, winemakers will work hard to avoid malolactic fermentation from occurring in this kind of grape.

The Effects of Aging and Malolactic Fermentation

Once primary fermentation is complete, it has been a month or more since the harvest was completed. The vines are getting ready for winter, and the vineyards in Napa are starting to display some autumn color.

The air is crisper, and the atmosphere is more relaxed. The winemakers, on the other hand, are still hard at work.

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The Napa Valley’s interpretation of autumn color.
A winemaker will move the wine from the fermentation tank to another vessel for maturing once the main fermentation process is completed. Sauvignon Blanc is often fermented in stainless steel tanks or concrete eggs, while Chardonnay and red wines are typically fermented in oak barrels. What is the new French oak?

Is that an American oak? Is that a Hungarian oak? Do you want a light toast? What do you mean, dark toast? Barrels that have been used before? When it comes to choosing which wood barrel to utilize, many winemakers are quite enthusiastic about the matter.

There is no one correct response. Everything is dependent on the taste profile that the winemaker is attempting to create.

Malolactic fermentation (ML) is a kind of fermentation that occurs throughout the aging process. All red wines, as well as select white wines, such as Chardonnay, are subjected to ML testing before release.

Because of this procedure, Chardonnay has a creamy texture as well as part of its trademark buttery taste and aroma.

This process results in the conversion of malic acid, which has a taste that is frequently characterized as “green apple,” into lactic acid, which is creamy, smooth, and buttery in texture.

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It is possible to detect a nutty fragrance and a satiny texture in red wine, but you will not necessarily experience buttery flavors in red wine. ML is responsible for creating a smooth and rich mouthfeel.

What about Sauvignon Blanc and other white wines, such as Gewurztraminer, in which ML is not desired? The process will be stopped by the winemaker, who will filter the wine to eliminate the bacterium that is responsible for it.

Winemakers will often add a very little quantity of sulfur to the wine once the ML process is complete in order to preserve the wine and stabilize it.

“Without sulfur, you end up with an unstable wine that does not age gracefully,” says Dave Bos of Bos Wines, a vineyard consultant and winemaker who specializes in Bordeaux varietals. “In other words, the wine would be a boiling mess,” says the author. Despite the fact that some customers are concerned about sulfites, Bos points out that there is more sulfur in a handful of dried fruit than there is in four bottles of wine.

In addition to adding sulfur to the wine, winemakers may employ a process known as “fining” to remove proteins and excess tannins from the wine, which may create haziness or undesirable tastes.

Winemaking is not a precise science, as many people believe. In order to produce a bottle of wine that is sure to get a good rating from wine reviewers, there is no ideal formula to follow. As a result, the winemaker will continue to taste and analyze the wine throughout the maturing process. Slowly but steadily, a taste profile will develop.

According to Bos, Sauvignon Blanc starts to develop its taste character after around three months in the bottle. “Making red wine is more like cooking in a slow oven,” he claims. “You could put a pig shoulder in a slow cooker and have it ready in two hours, but it wouldn’t be anything you’d want to consume.”

For the tastes to fully emerge, additional time is required.” With Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s the same situation. The wine still has an unfinished flavor after six months. It is possible that it will not develop a true taste character until it has been aged for a year or longer.

It is up to the winemaker to determine how long a particular wine should be aged, but in general, Sauvignon Blanc should be aged for four to six months, Chardonnay should be aged for 10 to 16 months (depending on the style the winemaker is aiming for), Pinot Noir should be aged for 12 months in the barrel, and Cabernet Sauvignon should be aged for 18 months to two years, or even longer.

Racking and bottling are two different processes.

When the wine is nearing the conclusion of its age period, winemakers will test it regularly to check that the flavors are exactly as desired. They do this with the use of a “wine thief,” a specific gadget that allows them to take a little bit of wine from the container in which it is maturing.

Making use of a Wine Thief

In order to sample unfinished wine while it is aging in the barrel, winemakers employ a gadget known as a wine thief.
In order to remove sediment and clarify the wine before bottling, the wine is either racked or filtered or a combination of both. After a long wait, it is finally time to start the bottling line!

Tiny manufacturers, such as Bos, may put up a small bottling line in less than an hour and finish the bottling process in less than an hour.

However, he is only bottling 55 cases at a time. A single vintage of Chardonnay from larger growers such as Grgich Hills, where Bos previously worked as a vineyard manager, may result in up to 30,000 cases being produced.

There are 200 cases of beer that can be filled in an hour since they employ considerably more powerful bottling lines than others. If you use the most advanced technology, the procedure will take longer the more wine you have to bottle.

The Bottle that has been “Finished.”
The winemaking process, rather than the finished product, according to Bos. “People age wine because they believe it will improve with time, and in many cases, they are correct. It’s also interesting to see the little changes that develop as the wine ages.”

Yes, the wine will continue to alter as it is stored in a glass bottle. It is for this reason that good wine storage is so vital. Storage in a climate-controlled setting with the appropriate degree of humidity can guarantee that a rare bottle you bought will still be drinking 10 or even 20 years from today.

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After all, the bottle of wine you just bought may have been in the making for five or more years.

Don’t be afraid to treat your wine with care by storing it properly in a wine refrigerator so that you may enjoy it today — and for many years into the future.