Exploring the art of wine making: A day at Sula winery

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Nashik, Feb 21 (IANS) With its roots deeply embedded in history and religion, wine has over several centuries forged an integral place among liquor connoisseurs. The process of wine making is as important as appreciating the drink itself, and the famed lush green Sula Vineyards in northwestern Maharashtra takes care to ensure the best quality wines reach the market.

Taking an extensive hour-long trip to Sula’s winery, which is equipped with modern machines and solar-powered lights, one would find how the white and red wines are created.

Karan Vasani, associate winemaker at Sula Vineyards, said its wine-making team samples the grapes during the harvest season and intricately checks their flavour as well as sugar and acid levels.

“Once the grapes have been harvested and have reached the winery, the processing method used differs depending on whether a white, red or rosé wine is to be made,” Vasani told IANS.

When making a white wine, the stems, skins and seeds of the grapes are discarded and only the juice is used, he said.

“The grapes are loaded into an elevator which carry the grapes up to a pneumatic balloon press. In the press, the grapes are pressed and the juice is extracted. This entire process is called Whole Bunch pressing. The juice is pumped into a tank and fermentation is effected,” Vasani added.

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However, the entire grape berry is used to make red wine because the “colour is in the skins of the grapes.”

“The grapes are passed through a machine called Crusher-Destemmer which separates the berries from the stems and also partially crushes the berries. The separated berries are then pumped into a tank with the help of a must pump where fermentation is carried out,” Vasani said.

But that’s not at all. The process of fermentation is integral to wine making.

“Fermentation is the process of converting the sugar of the grapes to alcohol via the action of yeast. When making white and rosé wine, in order to preserve the delicate aromas and flavours of the wines, fermentation is carried out at relatively low temperature of 12-14 degree Celsius and last for a period of about three weeks,” Vasani said.

In the case of red wines, the fermentation is carried out at warmer temperatures of 28-32 degree Celsius in order to extract the colour and tannin from the skins.

“At these hotter temperatures, fermentation takes a shorter time and typically lasts for seven to 10 days,” he said.

The process is elaborated even further for sparkling wine, which is made in the traditional method called “méthode traditionnelle”. It undergoes two fermentations — one as per normal in a tank and one in bottle.

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“A base wine having a relatively low alcohol level of about 11 percent is first made in tank. This wine is then mixed with yeast and sugar syrup and is bottled in sparkling wine bottles that are closed with crown caps,” Vasani said.

Still wondering how the sparkling wine gets its bubbles?

“The yeast converts the sugar in the bottle to alcohol, causing the alcohol to rise from 11 percent to the final level of 12.5 percent. During this process, Carbon Dioxide is also produced but because the bottle is closed, the CO2 is trapped and dissolves in the wine thereby giving the wine its bubbles,” he explained.

“Simultaneously as a result of being in contact with yeast, the wine acquires toasty, bready, biscuity flavours (flavours normally associated with yeast). This process is called secondary fermentation and lasts for about 15 to 18 months,” he added.

Yet, that is not all. The yeast must be removed before sending the bottles to the market. This is accomplished through two processes called ‘riddling’ and ‘disgorging’.

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After the process is complete, all the yeast sediment collects in the neck of the bottle. The upside down bottle with the yeast sediment in the neck is then taken and the neck is dipped in a glycol solution with a temperature of about -34 degree celsius.

“The bottles are kept in this solution for a few minutes which causes the wine in the neck to freeze, thereby trapping the yeast sediment. The bottles are then turned straight up and the crown cap is opened,” he said.

Lo and behold! The pressure in the bottle that has been created because of secondary fermentation causes the ice and the yeast to fly out of the bottle.

“The bottle is then topped up to the required level by the addition of the ‘dosage’. The bottle is subsequently closed with the cork and wire cage, washed, labelled and dispatched to the market. This entire process is called ‘disgorging’,” Vasani said.

Next time you buy a bottle of wine, especially Sula’s offerings, you would know what you are paying for. As evident, wine making is clearly a labour of love, and appreciating it must come with love too.

(The writer’s trip was at the invitation of Sula Vineyards. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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