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Dear Dr. Vinny,
How long does it take to make a bottle of wine?
—Rick, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.
The process of turning grapes into wine doesn't take too long at all—the fermentation process by which yeast turns the sugar in grape juice into alcohol can take as short as a week. But winemakers usually want to massage that young wine in a few different ways before it goes into bottle, and they also may want the wine to age in bottle for months or even years before releasing it to the public.
Once fermentation is complete, winemakers typically want the wine to stabilize a bit, allowing the solids suspended in the wine to settle out. This process can include several rackings, when the wine is moved from one container to another, leaving sediment behind. Or the winemaker might want the wine to spend some extra time exposed to those leftover solids, called the lees, for added complexity. Other steps, like malolactic conversion and barrel aging, can take months or years, and the blending process (and letting a wine age additionally after bottling) can also take time.
The fastest commercially produced wine to go from grapes to bottle that I know of is Beaujolais Nouveau, which is picked and bottled in a matter of weeks, to be released each year on the third Thursday of November. There are other examples of wines that reach shelves the same vintage as they were harvested, like crisp whites from the Southern Hemisphere, where harvest takes place around March and the wines can be released around September.
But wines typically take at least a year or more to reach retail shelves. One of the most extreme examples at the other end of the spectrum was on display at the New York Wine Experience in 2016, when Marqués de Murrieta's Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga treated guests to a white wine from Rioja which was released 28 years after the grapes were picked. It matured for 21 years in American oak barrels, then matured for another 67 months in a concrete tank. And it was phenomenal.
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