When Life Gives You Grapes, Make Wine

We all enjoy a good glass of wine; whether your taste turns more toward red or white, sweet or dry, there’s a wine out there that suits you and your pallet. And when you think of where the wine is made, where the grapes are grown, where the bottles are filled, corked, and labeled, you probably think of some far off winery in California or some ever farther off vineyard in Italy. However, our very own state of Georgia – our very own corner of the state even – has a booming wine industry that brings local produce and local flavors to wine glass across the South.

Everyone knows that wine comes from grapes. But did you know that the type of wine made depends on where the grape is grown and the type of grape grown? Grapes become ripe at different times in different regions, so several types of grapes are often combined to develop the right balance of flavors and acidity. Dry red wines such as merlot, pinot noir, and cabernet sauvignon are made with red grapes of the same names; both dry and sweet white wines such as riesling, sauvignon blanc, and semillon are made from white grapes of the same names. There’s even a grape, the muscadine, that’s local to South Georgia and used to make super sweet red and white muscadine wines that are particularly pleasing to our southern taste buds.

Wine grapes are planted and cultivated with the utmost care. The type of grape planted is determined by regional climate, as certain grape types fair better in Mediterranean climates (mild to warm temperatures, long growing seasons), others in maritime climates (warm summers, cool winters, temperatures moderated by large bodies of water), and still others in continental climates (hot summers, cold winters, distinct seasonal changes). Soil pH, which affects the grapes’ ability to absorb nutrients, is tested and adjusted to ensure that the grapes grow in the most fruitful conditions possible. While watering schedules vary depending on a number of factors including soil type, climate, grape type, and irrigation system used, schedules are strictly adhered to once established. Muscadine grapes love heat and humidity, slightly acidic soil (a pH of 5.8-6.5), and little water once established, making them the perfect choice to grow in South Georgia.

Grapes are planted in the early spring, grow all throughout the spring and summer months, and are harvested in late summer and early fall. They’re picked at peak ripeness either by hand or by machine, depending on the needs of the grape and the wine. Mechanical harvesters can be driven over rows of grapes while little “arms” shake the grapes from the vines; loose grapes are caught and carried in bins (that can easily hold 1 ton of grapes each) on a separate tractor. While more efficient in terms of time and quantity of grapes picked, mechanical harvesting can also easily damage grape vines and grapes. Some grapes don’t release easily from their stems, and the vines need to be beaten senseless for the grapes to fall, which damages the vines. And some grapes will always be crushed during the mechanical harvesting process, which ruins the flavors of more delicate wines. Hand-picking grapes, while slower and more labor intensive, preserves the grapes’ integrity, thus preserving the wine’s flavor. Because they don’t grow in tight clusters like other grapes, Muscadines can be picked individually over the course of a few weeks as they ripen. Ripe muscadines have a sweet scent and release easily from the stem like tomatoes.

Once picked, the grapes are transferred to a wine-destemmer that, as it sounds, removes the stems and lightly crushes the grapes. White grapes are moved to a press, a machine that squeezes all the juice from the grapes while keeping the skins separate. The juice is moved to a tank to allow sediment to settle to the bottom and then moved to another tank to ensure all sediment is strained out, leaving behind only juice, before fermentation begins. Red grapes, skins and all, are moved to a tank to immediately begin fermentation. This is what gives the wine its red color; without the skins, red grapes would also produce white-colored wine. Red wines are pressed and filtered after fermentation. Muscadine grapes can follow either of the two processes as they can be used to make both red and white wines.

Yeast is added to both red and white wines to help in the fermentation process, which converts sugar into alcohol. The wines are then stored and allowed to age. Storage methods (stainless steel vats vs. wooden barrels, type of wood, charred vs. uncharred wood, new barrels vs. used barrels) and length of aging both drastically affect a wine’s flavor. White wines typically take a few months to one year to age, while red wines can take up to five years, although most can be consumed after two. Muscadine wines can be bottled after just one year of aging, but the best flavor develops after three to four years.

While the wine industry seems relegated to far more luxurious locals, the humble hills of South Georgia are perfectly suited to the task of growing grapes and producing wine. Try a homegrown wine and support your local farmers, because we all know that everything’s better that’s Georgia-grown and Georgia-made.

Health Life – March-April2017

When Life Gives You Grapes, Make Wine

Written by: Anna Limoges

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