Ever wondered what goes into making a top drop of wine?
Assume that you have been nurturing a top class Shiraz grape vineyard for the past 10 years...
Your premium grapes have to be harvested from the vine at exactly the right time.
You know when this is by long experience – part art and part science – but you're aiming for just the right balance of flavour, sugar and acid. You taste and measure the grapes daily as "vintage time" approaches, sometime in Autumn.
On the big day your team of hand pickers start (gently!) stripping the vines.
You gently split the grapes in the crusher to release all that luscious grape juice.
If you were making white wine, you'd also separate the juice from the seeds, stalks and leaves.
But since you're making red wine, you want to ferment the juice with the other bits for a first to get that rich red colour and flavour. That's right: red wine is not made from red grape juice, but from colourless grape juice fermented with red skins and seeds – called the "must".
The must goes into your stainless steel vats along with wild yeast found naturally in the grapes, or you might add an introduced yeast strain for greater control.
Natural bacterias also play a part in fermentation: turning the glucose and fructose into alcohol – from mere juice to (almost) wine.
You press the must after fermenting to get every last drop of young wine ready for the next stage.
Next you stabilise and clarify the fermented wine by removing particles left over from fermentation.
Some winemakers use "finings", a substance such as gelatin that attracts the particles to them, making them heavy enough to fall to the bottom of the vat. But you know that the best way to do this is with patience: simply let the particles fall naturally to the bottom over a period of time, so the wine can be poured off the top.
Your wine now spends anything between a few weeks up to a few years ageing in barrels. Wines stored in oak barrels slowly accumulate vanillin and other substances from the wood.
You debate with fellow winemakers about whether French or American oak, new or old barrels work better...
Now you – the winery – have decided to bottle this batch as "cleanskins", without the label.
Sometimes this is because the quantity is too small to be worth the expensive labeling process.
Sometimes more of the wine is made than can be sold labelled.
Or maybe you simply needs the fast cash flow!
cleanskins.com customers get the savings because you haven't spent money on marketing, design, labeling and distribution expenses.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Zealand.