All wines, from the most sought-after Bordeaux to the simplest table wine, navigate a series of steps along the journey from vine to bottle. It's a complex process, full of science and mystery, and this slide show makes no claim to cover it comprehensively. Instead, we've tried to illustrate the stages of winemaking in broad strokes--to give you a general understanding and, we hope, to spark your interest in learning more.
Slide 1 of 10
Cutting Chardonnnay grapes at Champagne Mumm.
Winemaking begins in the vineyard, with proper care and attention to the vines during the growing season, but we begin our slide show when the grapes are picked. The most active harvest months in the northern hemisphere are September and October, though picking often begins in August and can stretch into November and even December in the coolest growing regions. In the southern hemisphere, March and April are the busiest months.
Timing the harvest is critical because the quality of the fruit determines the desired style of the wine (i.e., early harvest for a lean Champagne versus late harvest for a full-bodied sweet Trockenbeerenauslese dessert wine). As the grapes mature, acidity decreases and sugars and flavors increase. Pick too early, and the flavor won't be fully developed and the sugars will be too low. Pick too late, and the wine will taste dull, without sufficient acidity.
Sugar level is an indicator of ripeness and is measured in Brix (or, outside the U.S., in Baume or Oechsle). Grapes for table wines are usually harvested between 20 and 25 Brix, with lighter-bodied white wines closer to 20 and fuller-bodied reds closer to 25.
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