Have you ever wondered what it takes to bring a bottle of wine from the vineyard to your dinner table?
We often romanticise the process because it’s easier to talk about how producers pour their passion and love for the wine into their products. But we don’t often talk about the practical aspects of the process or the fact that it takes a ton of hard work to create even a single bottle of wine. Passion is such an important driving force because making wine is no easy task. Italian wines go through several stages before they even see the inside of a bottle. And even once they’re in the bottle, a whole lot more tends to go on before you’re pouring from that bottle into a glass.
So, this article aims to demystify the process.
We’re going to take a general look at the six stages that make up the lifecycle of a bottle of Italian wine. We’ll take you from grape to bottle and, hopefully, help you to appreciate the work that goes into your favourite Italian wines just a little bit more.
Stage #1 – Preparing the Vine and Growing the Grapes
All great wines start life in the vineyard. The first stage of the production of any wine involves preparing the vine and taking all of the relevant steps needed to ensure the grapes it produces are of the highest possible quality.
We’ll assume that the vines are already planted in our hypothetical vineyard. This means the winemaker has already done all of their research into the location, terroir, soil composition, climate, and the types of vines they can work with in their region of operation. This assumption, by the work, covers an enormous amount of work that must occur before the vine is even planted!
But we’ll assume all of this is done and the vines are already in place.
As the year begins, the vines are much like any other plant. They start to bear fruit, slowly but surely, as the temperature rises and conditions become more favourable. To aid in this process, the producer must tend to the vine, tackling pests, trimming leaves, pruning, and constantly examining the progress of the fruit to ensure they’re getting what they expect.
In many cases, the producer will take samples of their grapes to test their sugar levels and track their quality, especially as harvest time approaches. The point is that growing grapes takes a lot more than simply planting vines and waiting a few months for them to bear fruit. It’s a very involved process that requires a lot of quality checking, as well as traditional agricultural knowledge.
Stage #2 – The Harvest
This is where the creation of the wine officially begins. During the harvest, the grapes are picked from the vine and prepared for the production process. How they’re picked will depend on the producer. Many automate the process with machinery. However, there are some producers who handpick their grapes, either because they’re smaller producers or because they prestige producers looking to find the perfect grapes for a vintage that will have a limited run.
Specific harvesting periods vary depending on the grape, as some reach maturation earlier than others. They can also depend on the wine itself, as some wines may use grapes grown to a different level of maturity than other wines that use the same grape. Regardless, the harvest is often a time for a celebration of the hard work required to bring the grapes to fruition. And this period is typically accompanied by festivals throughout Italy.
Stage #3 – Processing
It’s here where the grapes become wine, at least in the early sense. The fruit undergoes a pressing process, which extracts the juice while getting rid of all of the pulp. Again, this process will vary depending on the producer, though it’s typically done mechanically in the modern era.
In many cases, the juice will go through various filtration processes before entering storage. It’s also important to note that some producers delaying adding yeast to trigger fermentation, particularly in red wines where cold storage may be used to extract more colour and flavour from the grapes.
Stage #4 – Fermentation
It’s at this stage that the grape juice begins its transformation into wine. There are many different methods of fermentation, many of which we’ve covered in previous articles in this blog. But on a general level, this stage involves introducing yeast to the juice and simply waiting.
Over time, the yeast converts the grapes’ sugars into alcohol and we end up with something close to the wine that will be bottled. Following fermentation, the juice will again be filtered to extract the must that is a by-product of this process.
Stage #5 – Ageing
Very few wines go straight from fermentation to consumer. Most wines undergo a period of ageing, usually in barrels but occasionally in the bottle. This ageing period can last for anywhere from several months to years! It all depends on the specific wine being made.
The ageing process is the least labour-intensive part of the wine’s lifecycle, with producers simply needing to wait until they feel the wine is ready to distribute.
Stage #6 – Bottling
Assuming the wine hasn’t undergone part of its ageing process in the bottle, the final stage of the wine’s lifecycle involves extraction from the barrel used for ageing and placement into the bottle that you will eventually end up seeing on a store shelf or in the Xtrawine catalogue.
That bottled wine goes through various delivery processes before it ends up on your table. And once you have it in your hands, all that’s left to do is pop the cork and enjoy!
The Final Word
There are some specifics of the lifecycle that we haven’t covered here. For example, Stage #6 may involve further ageing once you buy the bottle of wine, depending on your preferences. However, this generally covers the steps followed to take a wine from the grape to being a drink that you’re able to consume.
And of course, we have many wines in our catalogue that have undergone the final stage of the lifecycle and are ready for an introduction to your wine glasses. Feel free to browse our extensive range and we’re sure you’ll find the Italian wine that’s right for you.