Are you curious about the winemaking process? Let us take you behind-the-scenes to show how RayLen Vineyards & Winery creates its award-winning wines. From tending vines in the rolling hills of our vineyards and harvesting ripe grapes each autumn, to fermentation and aging techniques used in the wine cellar, come along with us as we explore the journey of a fine bottle of wine from start to finish.
Picking The Grapes
RayLen Vineyards has over 35,000 vines spread across its lush vineyard. Every August, our skilled team hand-selects the ripest and healthiest grapes from the vines for harvest. Grapes, unlike avocados or bananas, do not ripen after being picked. Therefore, they must be harvested at precisely the right moment.
To craft wines with a vibrant acidity, certain grapes are harvested slightly less ripe. This technique is commonly employed for the production of white and sparkling wines.
To create wines with a heightened sweetness concentration, certain grapes are selectively picked when they have reached a slightly higher level of ripeness. This technique is particularly employed in the production of late-harvest dessert wines.
Occasionally, unfavorable weather conditions hinder the proper ripening of grapes, leading to variations in taste across different vintages. This can also impact harvest date decisions.
Processing the Grapes
After the grapes are picked from the vines, they’re delivered to the winery. Wineries employ specialized equipment for grape handling within their facilities and RayLen is no different. Agricultural plastic bins are used to transport the grapes from the vineyard to the winery and then, depending on winemaking decisions, they’re immediately processed. It is important to note that wine grapes are never washed, as doing so would compromise the concentration of fruit quality. Instead, they undergo a meticulous process of sorting, squeezing, and gentle manipulation.
Sorting tables are often used to separate “MOG” (materials other than grapes) from various red wine grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. This meticulous process ensures that only the highest quality grapes are used for winemaking. Red wine grapes with delicate skins and gentle tannins, like Pinot Noir, are frequently fermented with their stems to enhance the presence of tannin and phenolics. This technique not only adds complexity to the final product but also contributes to a more refined and nuanced flavor profile.
To minimize the presence of bitter phenolics and harsh tannins, grapes with thicker skin are frequently subjected to destemming. This process aids in enhancing the overall quality of the grapes while preserving their inherent characteristics.
White wines are usually made without fermenting their skins and seeds. Instead, the majority of white wine grapes are delicately pressed in a pneumatic wine press, utilizing an elastic membrane to gently extract their juice. The remnants of grapes after squeezing them are known as pomace. Grape pomace holds vast potential beyond the winery, finding applications in cosmetics and various food products.
Certain white wines undergo a brief period of skin and seed soaking. This process imparts phenolics, such as tannin, leading to an enhanced richness in the overall flavor profile of these wines.
Fermentation & Aging
After the grapes have been processed, they’re ready for fermentation and maturation. The process of turning grape juice into wine is called fermentation, which occurs when yeast feed on the grape sugar and convert it into alcohol. This process is carried out in stainless steel tank fermenters, wood fermenters, or concrete fermenters, depending on winemaking decisions. At RayLen Vineyards & Winery, we utilize stainless steel tanks.
To further refine the flavor of any given wine, various aging techniques are employed. Aging in barrels is used to reduce harsh tannins and instill complexity into a wine. Oak barrels impart their own unique flavor characteristics as well as providing an oxygen-rich environment that promotes the maturation of compounds present in wine. Steel tank aging is used to preserve the intrinsic fruitiness of a wine while concrete-aging, which is an ancient technique, imparts earthy and mineral flavors.
A number of winemakers choose to utilize commercial yeasts in order to exert greater control over the fermentation process and achieve desired outcomes. Some winemakers choose to cultivate their own unique local yeast strains, while others embrace the unpredictable beauty of nature by allowing “wild” yeasts to naturally ferment the wine. At RayLen Vineyards & Winery, we select commercial yeast strains that enhance varietal characteristics.
In a nutshell, yeast metabolizes the sugar present in grape must (the freshly crushed grape juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit) and subsequently produces ethanol as a byproduct. The sweetness of grape must is quantified using the Brix scale, where 1 degree Brix corresponds to approximately 0.6% alcohol by volume. This simple yet effective measure provides a valuable insight into the sugar content and potential alcohol yield of the must. For instance, when grapes are harvested at a sugar content of 24º Brix, the resulting wine will have an alcohol content of approximately 14.5% by volume.
Red wines generally undergo fermentation at slightly higher temperatures compared to white wines, typically ranging between 80º – 90º F (27º – 32º C). In some cases, winemakers may intentionally allow fermentations to reach even higher temperatures in order to fine-tune the flavor profile. In contrast, white wines require careful preservation of their delicate floral and fruit aromas. For this reason, they are often fermented at cooler temperatures, typically around 50º F (10º C) and above.
Punch Down Vs Pump Over
During the fermentation process of wine, the release of carbon dioxide leads to the ascent of grape seeds and skins to the surface. Some winemakers choose to utilize a method called “punch down”, which involves manually pushing these solids back down into the fermentation vessel. The other technique, known as pump over/rack and return, consists of gently pumping the fermented grape juice from the bottom of the vessel and pouring it back on top in order to submerge any floating matter. The decision to “punch down” or “pump over” during winemaking is heavily influenced by the grape variety and desired flavor profile. Typically, lighter wines benefit from punch downs while bolder wines benefit from pump overs. However, in the world of wine, exceptions are plentiful!
Racking the Wine
Racking the wine is the process of separating wine from its lees, which are the sedimentary solids that form during fermentation. To rack a wine, it is pumped from one vessel to another and filtered through an appropriate filter. The purpose of racking a wine is twofold; firstly, it allows for greater precision when blending different lots of wines and secondly, it removes any overpowering flavors or aromas from the lees.
The juice that flows naturally, without being pressed, is widely regarded as the epitome of pure and exquisite wine. Known as “free run” wine, it bears resemblance to the concept of “extra virgin” wine. This exceptional liquid, carefully crafted, embodies the highest quality and purity within the realm of winemaking. The remaining wine is often referred to as “press wine” and generally possesses a slightly more rustic character, with more pronounced phenolics that can lend a harsher taste. The wine obtained from pressing is usually combined back into the free run wine.
Élevage is French for aging, and it’s a critical part of winemaking. During the élevage process, wines are aged in barrels, bottles, or storage tanks. While some wines patiently mature for five years before they are released, others may only require a few weeks of aging. Throughout this period, wines undergo a meticulous process of racking, testing, tasting, stirring, and blending.
Most red wines (and some white wines, such as Chardonnay) undergo Malolactic Fermentation (MLF). During this process, microbes consume sour acids and produce smoother, buttery acids.
The last step in the winemaking process is bottling. Bottles and corks must both be sterilized before being filled with wine, ensuring that no bacteria will contaminate the wines during maturation. After the bottles are filled, corked, and labeled, they are ready to be distributed to customers around the world!
The entire winemaking process requires passion, patience, dedication, and experience. Each winemaker has their own unique style and approach to crafting the perfect wine. The marriage of science, tradition, innovation, and creativity empowers winemakers of all kinds to craft wines that embody their vision for perfection.
No matter what type of wine you choose, each batch will have its own flavor profile that stands out from the rest, making it that much more enjoyable to savor and appreciate. From grape growing to bottling, every step of the winemaking process is an important part of creating something special — a bottle of fine wine!
At RayLen Vineyards & Winery, winemaking is a complex and involved process that requires precision, attention to detail, and years of experience. We believe in crafting authentic wines with character and soul through traditional techniques. From our hand-picked grapes to the aging of each vintage, we strive for excellence in every step of the winemaking process. Our commitment to quality is unrivaled, and our passion for excellent wines is evident in every sip!
Whether you’re looking for bold reds or delicate whites, we always strive to provide our customers with the best wines on the market. Join us in celebrating the craft of winemaking and savor every moment! We look forward to sharing our wines with you.
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