Production of Red Wine

by Ralph Kratzer

Rotwein_1I’m sitting at my computer and in front of me on the table, there is a glass of red wine.

Red wine is my favorite drink. I love a good wine for dinner and for a nice evening together with my  girlfriend and/or other friends. In summer, however, I prefer normal table wine, cooled and mixed with soda water, known in Germany as “spritzer”.

Sitting in front of my glass I thought to myself: what do you really know about the production of red wine? And I realized that I know very little about it. So I started to investigate …

Short history:

As the oldest reference for the production of wine an eight thousand year old pressing plant is known near Damascus. Other signs are from Iran and Mesopotamia (5th millennium BC). Red wine is known from ancient times as an important drink and remedy. Among other things, it was prescribed in 400 BC by Hippocrates in disorders of the cardiovascular system.

About the production:

Rotwein_2The colour of red wine often represents a discriminating factor and also a prejudice in the evaluation of its quality. Red wine, as we know it commonly, is exclusively produced from red berried grapes. But the grape juice of every grape, red or white, has always the same greyish-greenish colour and is certainly far away from resemblance to red. The colouring substances of a grape are all concentrated in the skin. The quantity of these substances, called pigments, changes according to the sort of grapes and the environmental conditions in which they grow. A higher colouring capacity means a higher quantity of the so called “tannins”.

But not only the quantity of the tannins, the quality is more an important factor for red wine production and depends on different factors, eg ripeness level, climate, area and wine making practices.

Rotwein_3After harvesting, the grapes are de-stemmed, then pressed in order to break the skin without excessively damaging. At the end of this procedure the grape ‘must’ comes out ready to be fermented.

Before the fermentation starts it’s possible to change some characteristics of the grape ‘must’ eg by adding sugar in order to get a higher quantity of alcohol.

The ‘must’ is now ready to begin its journey to becoming red wine through alcoholic fermentation. This is nowadays normally done in stainless steel tanks, filled with the must, skins and kernels.

Rotwein_4During fermentation, from time to time, the layer of skins swimming on the top of the tank (the so called cap), has to be broken and plunged into the ‘must’ again to avoid oxidation which would impair the wine.

After fermentation the wine has to age, normally in casks. The aging period depends both on the sort of grapes and the style of wine to be produced, it can be several months up to several years.

Rotwein_5Many red wines are a blend of different sorts of grapes. After aging they are assembled and allowed to stabilize for a certain time. At the end of the stabilization procedure the wine is bottled and can further age in the bottle for some months or some years before being marketed.