As a young wine lover like myself, I have always been fascinated by the production of wine. But the process seemed like foreign territory that was hard to understand. When it first piqued my interest, I didn’t have a contact who could give me the answers I was looking for. This led me to glaze over the subject altogether.
Since beginning my internship back in early February I have been immersed in the world of wine learning from my internship supervisor and AJA Vineyards Proprietor, Amanda Greenbaum. We thought if I, as someone newer to the wine world was asking these questions, maybe our readers are too. So, I sent Amanda a 5 questions I had about the process of producing wine, and I wanted to share her answers:
After a wine goes through fermentation, it enters an aging process. This is when a wine–it is no longer grape juice–is put into a vessel to rest for several months. During this resting period the wine goes through its own changing where the wine reacts within these environments to both itself and the vessel. As wine ages, micro oxygenation occurs. This micro oxygenation allows for the wine to breathe or open up over time. This process changes flavors of the wine, texture and overall complexity.
Fermentation influences the taste of the wine because it converts the sugar of the fruit into alcohol making it less sweet than grape juice. The yeast particles that spark fermentation have their own natural flavors as well which can influence the wine. Some of these flavors are savory, some are sweeter, and some add a bready taste. The aging process depending upon what agents are used to help age the wine (whether it’s oak barrels, oak staves, concrete egg, stainless steel tank etc.) can add flavors to the wine.
There are a few differences between these kinds of fermentations. On the production side, a steel tank is sealed allowing for very little oxygen to influence the wine. An oak barrel allows for more oxygenation, imparts flavor and tannic structure. These create two different flavor profiles on the wine. Often the stainless steel is explained to give the “purest” expression of the wine and the fruit since there is no flavor imparted. It creates a more linear wine, or more straight forward in flavor. The wine fermented in oak takes its flavors from the yeast, the fruit and the oak barrel and how they interact with each other. Often the oak barrels are generally smaller than the stainless steel tanks as well which creates a more concentrated flavor. There are many kinds of oak barrels, but American and French are most common. Each winery uses different barrels in their production process. At AJA, we use french oak which imparts earthy flavors as well as baking spice flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and vanilla. Lastly, using oak barrels provides more texture. The oak adds tannin to the wine and with much of the lees (yeast particles from fermentation) is touching much of the wine due to the barrel being smaller which allows for a more silky and weighted texture being added to the wine.
I love to tell people, “wine is living and breathing” and it will continue to age…even after it turns to vinegar, which all wine eventually does. After years of being in the bottle and being stored properly, it will change the flavors, quite often, for the better. But make sure, when you choose to age your wines, you choose the right wines for aging. Some wines are meant to be aged. Some wines are meant to be consumed right away.
Decanting! People often think that an older bottle of wine needs to be decanted to open the wine up. When, in actuality, the younger wines are better to decant for expressing age. As a wine gets older, oxygen seeps through the cork which ages the wine (much like when they are in barrels!) When a young wine has not been exposed to much oxygen, allowing it to breathe by putting the young wine into a decanter can actually be extremely beneficial for a “faster aging” technique. Try this technique with some of our younger wines!
I am very fortunate to get to learn about the wine industry from an expert and get some of my common questions answered. We hope that this may have taught you something new or answered one of your burning questions about wine production. AJA is excited we get to share our knowledge and love of wine with you all. We can’t wait to share more in the near future.