Winemaking or vinification, is the production of wine, starting with selection of the grapes or other produce and ending with bottling the finished wine. Although most wine is made from grapes, it may also be made from other fruits or plants. Mead is a wine that is made with honey being the primary ingredient after water.
Winemaking can be divided into two general categories: still wine production (without carbonation) and sparkling wine production (with carbonation — natural or injected).
After the harvest, the grapes are taken into a winery and prepared for primary ferment. At this stage red wine making diverges from white wine making. Red wine is made from themust (pulp) of red or black grapes and fermentation occurs together with the grape skins, which give the wine its color. White wine is made by fermenting juice which is made by pressing crushed grapes to extract a juice; the skins are removed and play no further role. Occasionally white wine is made from red grapes; this is done by extracting their juice with minimal contact with the grapes' skins. Rosé wines are either made from red grapes where the juice is allowed to stay in contact with the dark skins long enough to pick up a pinkish color (maceration or saignée) or by blending red wine with white wine. White and rosé wines extract little of the tannins contained in the skins.
To start primary fermentation yeast may be added to the must for red wine or may occur naturally as ambient yeast on the grapes or in the air. Yeast may be added to the juice for white wine. During this fermentation, which often takes between one and two weeks, the yeast converts most of the sugars in the grape juice into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is lost to the atmosphere.
After the primary fermentation of red grapes the free run wine is pumped off into tanks and the skins are pressed to extract the remaining juice and wine. The press wine is blended with the free run wine at the winemaker's discretion. The wine is kept warm and the remaining sugars are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
The next process in the making of red wine is malo-lactic conversion. This is a bacterial process which converts "crisp, green apple" malic acidto "soft, creamy" lactic acid softening the taste of the wine. Red wine is sometimes transferred to oak barrels to mature for a period of weeks or months; this practice imparts oak aromas and some tannin to the wine. The wine must be settled or clarified and adjustments made prior to bottling.
The time from harvest to drinking can vary from a few months for Beaujolais nouveau wines to over twenty years for wine of good structure with high levels of acid, tannin or sugar. However, only about 10% of all red and 5% of white wine will taste better after five years than it will after just one year. Depending on the quality of grape and the target wine style, some of these steps may be combined or omitted to achieve the particular goals of the winemaker. Many wines of comparable quality are produced using similar but distinctly different approaches to their production; quality is dictated by the attributes of the starting material and not necessarily the steps taken during vinification.
Variations on the above procedure exist. With sparkling wines such as Champagne, an additional, "secondary" fermentation takes place inside the bottle, dissolving trapped carbon dioxide in the wine and creating the characteristic bubbles. Sweet wines or off-dry wines are made by arresting fermentation before all sugar has been converted into ethanol and allowing some residual sugar to remain. This can be done by chilling the wine and adding sulphur and other allowable additives to inhibit yeast activity or sterile filtering the wine to remove all yeast and bacteria. In the case of sweet wines, initial sugar concentrations are increased by harvesting late (late harvest wine), freezing the grapes to concentrate the sugar (ice wine), allowing or encouraging botrytis cinerea fungus to dehydrate the grapes or allowing the grapes to raisin either on the vine or on racks or straw mats. Often in these high sugar wines, the fermentation stops naturally as the high concentration of sugar and rising concentration of ethanol retard the yeast activity. Similarly in fortified wines, such as port wine, high proof neutral grape spirit (brandy) is added to arrest the ferment and adjust the alcohol content when the desired sugar level has been reached. In other cases the winemaker may choose to hold back some of the sweet grape juice and add it to the wine after the fermentation is done, a technique known in Germany assüssreserve.
Image from Cycle of the Months in the Torre Aquila at Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy. (estimated to be created between 1397-1407)