The vineyard crews of Napa Valley are wrapping up their harvest, and the carefully tended grapes are heading to their respective wineries. Since early in the year, the vines have undergone many changes, from early bud break to the ripening or “veraison” stage that brings the grapes to perfection, ready to be converted into some of the world’s finest wines.
So, after the grapes are taken from the vineyard and transported to the various Napa wineries, what happens next?
Crushing the Grapes
Technology has transformed the crushing process from the centuries-old “foot-stomping” method we are familiar with to a more precise, controlled, and highly efficient mechanical approach. Using the latest technologies, Napa Valley wineries employ stainless-steel equipment to begin the conversion into world-class wines.
Upon arrival, the red wine grapes are first channeled to de-stemming equipment that separates the bunches and removes the stems to yield individual berries. In some Napa wineries, scanners are deployed before the crush to identify specific qualities that meet defined specifications and separate those grapes that do not match the requirements.
After this initial preparation and inspection, the red wine grapes are first gently crushed before heading to a specific vessel where the juice and skins begin a fermentation process.
Grapes for white wines head for the press with the bunches intact and are gently pressed to release the juice, then separated from their skins before channeling into the fermentation vat.
Fermenting the Juice
In Wine Country California and the rest of the wine-producing world, fermentation is the core process for converting sugar-filled grape juice into wine. With yeast to enable the process, winemakers must determine the best techniques and time the liquid should remain in the fermentation process to achieve their target flavors and other attributes.
With a wide range of varieties now available in Wine Country California, winemaker techniques vary considerably throughout the region.
Fermenting variations, according to napavintners.com, often includes barrel fermentation for Chardonnay to achieve the targeted creamy notes. Or some lighter white varietals may be held in stainless steel vats at cooler temperatures to preserve their fruity essence and target acidity.
To produce high-quality Pinot Noir, winemakers often allow the grapes and skins to sit for a few days before beginning the fermentation process. Doing this “cold soak” enhances the color of this thin-skinned variety.
Napa wineries will also leave their high-tannin red grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petite Verdot to spend time after fermentation mingled with their skins. This procedure softens the tannins and creates deeper color and a denser mouthfeel.
Once the fermentation process is complete, the liquid is separated from any remaining skin or other impurities before beginning the aging process. The liquid may be placed in stainless steel tanks or wooden oak barrels with various levels of toasting that impart subtle influences on the final flavors.
Take a Wine Country California Winery Tour with Platypus Wine Tours
Napa and Sonoma County wineries and winemakers never stop experimenting with their fermentation and aging processes to create the most highly-rated wines in the world.
During harvest season, visitors can come to Sonoma and Napa wineries to view the ongoing grape crush and the beginning of the fermentation process while learning more about the art of winemaking from the experts.
The safest and best way to visit the wineries, see parts of the process and sample some remarkable wines of past vintages is to join in or reserve a private winery tour with Platypus Wine Tours of Napa, California. Visitors will enjoy traveling from one winery to the next in modern transportation with a delightful tour guide to point out various aspects along the way.
A guided tour with Platypus Wine Tours is a far safer and more educational way to enjoy Sonoma County and Napa wineries.
To learn more about Platypus Wine Tour’s highest-rated Wine Country California tours, visit the Platypus website, where you can also reserve your place for an upcoming tour.
If you still have questions, you may also phone Platypus at (707)-253-2723.