How Grapes Grow: From Vine to Wine
There's nothing like sipping a nice glass of California red wine with dinner. But have you ever wondered where American wine, and the grapes that turn into it, grow?
Grapes grow across much of the country. You've probably been eating Concord grapes in your PB&Js since childhood. However, only certain types of grapes become wine. Wine grapes have higher sugar levels than table grapes, and it's sugar that turns into alcohol during fermentation, making the magic of wine.
Interested in how grapes go from the vine to your wine glass? We're going to walk you through the process.
Where is American Wine Made?
You can buy wine made in every state, yes, even Alaska. However, California produces 81 percent of American wine. It's also the fourth-largest producer in the world, behind Italy, France and Spain.
While Californians have been making wine for generations, it's only been relatively recently, historically speaking, that American wine grapes have become popular on the world stage.
Beyond California, there are pockets of vineyards popping up all over the country. Washington State, New York, Oregon and Texas follow California as the states producing the most wine.
The Midwest is getting into the game, too. Ohio takes the 10th spot on the list in wine production and, as of 2021, has over 300 wineries.
How Do Wine Grapes Grow?
Wine grapes traditionally grow in areas with warmer weather. Historically, grapes first appeared around 7,000 years ago in the region now known as Iran. Spanish missionaries brought grapes to California in the 1700s, and the grapes thrived in the warm climate.
Grapes grow on a vine. The vines are planted in the spring in long even rows about six to 10 feet apart. Within each row, individual vines are planted six to 10 feet apart as well; you need a lot of acreages to grow grapes. Trellises run along the rows to ensure the vines don't fall over or tangle and make it easier to harvest the grapes.
How is Wine Made?
Red and white wine is made essentially the same way, with one big exception. Red wines include the skins in the process, while the skins are removed to produce white wines. Are you curious about the process of making wine? Here are the basics:
Step 1: Harvesting
The harvest begins in late summer or early fall. For white wines, it's usually in late August through September, and for red, it's typically mid-September through October.
Step 2: Pressing
Picked grapes go to the winery to get pressed (or crushed). A large mechanical press squeezes the juice out of the grapes. For white wine, the grape skins are removed during the pressing process. The juice goes into a large tank, and the skins are cleared from the press.
Step 3: Settling
After pressing, the juice sits in the tanks to settle before fermentation. Settling also helps the pressed skins separate from the liquid. The length of the settling process varies depending on the type of wine and individual winemaker. It can last from a few hours to a few days.
Step 4: Fermentation
Grape juice transforms into wine during the fermentation process. To accelerate the process, winemakers add yeast to the juice to start fermenting. The yeast interacts with the sugars in the grapes, turning the sugar into alcohol.
Fermentation takes around two to three weeks to complete. Some wines go through a multi-step fermentation process. For example, red wines are pressed a second time to get more juice from the skins before fermenting again.
Step 5: Aging
Next, the wine goes into oak barrels for aging, which can last for as little as a few weeks to many years. The oak barrels help add flavor compounds such as vanilla or smoke to the wines that the liquid absorbs from the barrels. Wooden barrels also allow a slow flow of oxygen to mix with the wine, helping it taste smoother.
Winemakers also transfer wine between barrels and through a filter a few times during the aging process. Filtering helps remove any solids from the wine, such as stems and seeds, to ensure it's clean and clear (and sanitary!).
Step 6: Bottling
The wine is bottled once it's clean and clear. From there, the bottles sit until the winemaker determines the wine is ready for consumption, and it varies depending on the type of wine. White wines go from vine to store more quickly than reds because drinkers prefer freshness, whereas red wines may age for years or even decades before selling.
Making wine is a time-consuming process that often takes years for winemakers to master. However, the end result is undoubtedly delicious! Next time you're cracking open a bottle of wine, take some time to think about the process it went through to get from grape to table.