All You Ever Wanted to Know About Wine
The art of turning grapes into a glass of wine. Yes, ART, an ancient art! It is not as simple of a process as turning grapes into alcohol, filling a bottle, and it ending up in a store to soon reach a glass in your hand. However, modern innovations have vastly improved methods and outcomes.
The entire winemaking process from Grapes-to-Glass is nothing short of an Art form. A vast amount of effort from a large team goes into the winemaking process in order for an Oenophile to appreciate every sip as much as they do.
Firstly, there are countless options for you to order – you can pick from sparkling wines, white or red wines, rose or dessert wines. Then you have all these fancy terms, like a foreign language to some but second nature to others – Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir. I could go on.
A quick dive into the science & basics behind all these wines:– Wine is an alcoholic drink typically made from fermented grapes. Yeast consumes the sugar in the grapes and converts it to ethanol, carbon dioxide and heat. Different varieties of grapes and strains of yeasts produce different styles of wine.
The red wine production process involves the extraction of colour and flavour components from the grape skin. Red wine is made from dark-coloured grape varieties. The actual colour of the wine can range from violet, typical of young wines, through red for mature wines, to brown for older red wines. Many of you may understand that white wine is made of white grapes alone, but actually, it can be either red or black grapes. Fermentation of the non-coloured grape pulp produces white wine. The grapes from which white wine is produced are typically green or yellow.
Dry (non-sweet) white wine is the most common, derived from the complete fermentation of the wort and has only a small amount of residual sugar. Sweet wines are produced when the fermentation is interrupted before all the grape sugars are converted into alcohol.
Sparkling wines, which are mostly white wines, are produced by not allowing carbon dioxide from the fermentation to escape during fermentation, which takes place in the bottle rather than in the barrel. A rosé wine incorporates some of the colour from the grape skins but not enough to qualify it as red wine.
For wines, grapes are generally picked earlier when sugar levels are lower and acid levels higher. Except for pink or rosé sparkling wines, the juice of harvested grapes is pressed off quickly to keep the wine white.
Not only all these options in flavour & aroma, did you know you have wine available in options other than glass bottles?
Yes, most wines are sold in glass bottles and sealed with corks or screwcaps, but many wines are packaged in thick plastic bags within corrugated fibre-board boxes. These are called “box wines”, or "cask wine". Tucked inside the package is a tap affixed to the bladder (bag in the box), which is later extended by the consumer for serving the contents. Box wine can stay acceptably fresh for up to a month after opening because the bladder collapses as wine is dispensed, limiting contact with air and, thus, slowing the rate of oxidation. As of recently, cans have been one of the fastest-growing forms of alternative wine packaging on the market.
New Zealand is best known for its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and more recently its dense, concentrated Pinot Noir. This all began in New Zealand in 1973, when Montana (now Brancott Estate, owned by Pernod Ricard Winemakers -PRW) planted Marlborough's first vineyards and produced its first Sauvignon Blanc in 1979, labelled by year of production (vintage) and grape variety. It, fortunately, took off and the industry has been growing since.
But have you ever wondered what happens inside a wine bottling plant? It certainly is not as simple as it may sound. There are a vast number of precautions put in place in order to achieve that perfect final product. Bottling of wine is an extremely critical and delicate phase because after having sealed the bottle with a cork or screwcap, in theory, it will not be possible to work on the quality and stability of wine. So, all the hard work must be done prior to arranging things in order to make sure the wine will be bottled in its best possible conditions.
The process of bottling wine begins at the depalletiser, where the bottles are loaded onto conveyors for the bottling to commence. At Pernod Ricard Winemakers, a large portion of the line is automated by machines so that makes the process quick and easy as compared to manual handling.
The bottles move towards the cam-sensor which is essentially a camera detecting & rejecting any defected bottles. If too many rejects are found, the line comes to an automatic stop to verify the reason for the rejects. A nifty system so you don’t miss the problem!
The bottles without any defects move towards the ‘Monoblock’ which is a 3 step system which includes the rinser, filler & ROPP.
At the rinser, as the name suggests, the bottles are rinsed using high water pressure to remove any potential foreign matter. The freshly rinsed bottles are drained & immediately enter the filler where 40 filler heads work at once to fill the bottles with the specified wine. The filler can work as fast as speeds 160 bottles per minute (9600 bottles per hour). It surely is a sight to see.
From the filler, the bottles enter the ROPP (Roll on Pilfer Proof) where the bottles closures (screwcaps) from the hopper are placed on and screwed shut. Some products have corks rather screwcaps. Champagnes and sparkling wines are further sealed with a muselet (wire) which ensures the cork will not explode off in transit.
The bottles are lot coded to ensure traceability & fed through the labeller where the front, back and sometimes the neck labels are applied. PRW pay very close attention to the orientation & application of labels to maintain their brand. Many details such as artwork, label height, side to side gaps of labels & orientation are verified multiple times to pick up on any inconsistencies.
As the labelled bottles move towards the packer, simultaneously the formed cases leave the case erector. The ‘Pick-and-Place’ machine can load 56 bottles into cases at a time. From here again the cases are lot coded & move forward to be sealed with glue.
Once the cases are sealed, the rest is quite a process to see. The palletiser stacks them according to the pattern specified by the export criteria or each country. The pallet is then automatically transported towards the wrapper where it is shrink-wrapped. An SSCC sticker is automatically applied for shipping compliance & the pallet is ready to be transported to the warehouse. It will soon be on its journey to reach a store near you.
A large focus is given to ensuring traceability, making sure the lots codes are correctly & accurately printed. Making sure the labels are in the perfect placements to the mm, the cap orientation in line with the front label – something only PRW (Auckland site) does. Things consumers may not even notice but most certainly are a big deal to the company and its brand.
Some bottles such as the premium Church Road Tom are hand labelled and hand packaged. This really enhances its prestige feel.
Next time you pour yourself a glass, remember, your wine could have taken anywhere from a few months to 2 and a half years to go from the harvest of grapes to the joy in your glass.
Life is too short to drink bad wine, so à votre santé (Cheers)!
Views expressed are solely those of the author.
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