Why are wines made from winemaking kits ready to drink so much sooner than commercially made wines?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Commercial wines can take a year or more before they're ready to drink. But wines made from wine kits are ready to drink in six weeks or at most six months. How is that possible?

—Don, Burnt Hills, N.Y.

Dear Don,

You’re correct that most commercial wines are released a year or two (or longer) after the grapes are harvested.

But not always—turning grapes into wine doesn’t have to take very long at all. Fermentation, the process that converts the sugar in grapes into alcohol, can take as short as a week. But most wines go through additional processes—slower fermentations, additional lees contact, malolactic conversion, barrel aging, fining and filtering and so forth—to make the wine more polished and complex. Many wines are also held bacl at the winery after they are "finished," to be released only once they start showing their best.

Winemaking kits typically use packaged juices or concentrate, and there is a big difference between using fresh fruit and those juices. Using only juice will make things go faster, since you don’t have to worry about destemming, crushing and so forth to get to the point of juice. Kits also will simplify the part of winemaking where the wine is separated from any solids leftover in the wine—racking, fining and filtering. Keep in mind that a winemaking kit is also making wine on a very small scale.

And some commercial wines are released rather soon after harvest. The most famous is Beaujolais Nouveau, the light-bodied reds that are always released on the third Thursday of November. It’s almost Beaujolais season now! In winemaking countries in the southern hemisphere, it’s not unusual to find wines—especially light-bodied whites that aren’t barrel aged—made from grapes harvested in March and released in August or September of that same year.

—Dr. Vinny

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