Making White Wine

LESSON ONE: Making White Wine

Vino Blanco, Vin Blanc, White Wine!  As we dive into our white wines, let’s take a minute to review a few principles of wine growing and the influences climate can have on a vineyard. We’ll discuss specific varieties in greater detail, but we at DOMSOM find it useful to highlight what processes all white wines share as a starting point for understanding the many different styles of white varietals and what contributes to making them taste so different.



Step 1: Grape Harvest 

  • Just Ripe grapes have been determined by the vinter to have the perfect amount of sugar (called Brix), acid and flavor
  • Late Harvest grapes have more concentrated sugar and flavor and may have lower acidity depending on the variety

Step 2: Crushing

  • Vintners can remove stems from the grapes prior to crushing or crush grapes stem and all 
  • Crushing is typically done by machine, although some vintners still use age-old foot stomping, but this is very rare

Step 3: Pressing

  • This step separates the juice from the skins, pits and stems which is critical for white wines to prevent color from the skins seeping into the juice
  • Multiples presses may take place. The juice from the initial, first press is often reserved for a winemaker’s best wines

Step 4: Alcoholic Fermentation

  • Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol + CO2
  • Yeast occurring naturally on the grapes can start the fermentation process, but often additional yeast is added to speed the process or achieve specific results
  • White wines can be fermented in stainless steel tanks which do not impact the wine’s flavor, or in oak barrels which can have little to great impact on the wine’s flavor depending on the type of oak used and the age of the barrel (French Oak barrels are more subtle than American Oak and older barrels are more subtle than new barrels)
  • White wines are fermented at cooler temperatures than red wines which can result in lighter, fresher wines with high, bright acidity

Step 5: Storage & Maturation

  • Most white wines spend time in either stainless steel tanks or oak barrels prior to being bottled or packaged
  • Vintners mature white wine in stainless steel tanks if they do not want to introduce additional flavors into the wine from oak barrels.  Flavors can be added to the wine during maturation from either of these processes:
    • Lees – after the yeast interacts with sugar to create alcohol, the yeast cells die but can remain in contact with the wine creating flavors of bread, toast, cheese or yogurt
    • Malolactic Fermentation – after fermentation completes, wine can interact with unique bacteria which gives buttery, creamy flavor to the wine and can help balance higher acidity
  • Vintners mature white wine in oak barrels if they want to add flavors such as vanilla, clove, dried fruit or coconut to the wine – this is sometimes beneficial if the acidity of the wine is felt to be too high, extensive maturing in oak continues to impact a wines flavor over time

Step 6: Bottling / Packaging

  • Glass bottles are still the most frequently used vessel for wine, although boxed wine, cans and other options are showing up more frequently as wine production has grown.
  • White wine bottles will be either clear, pale green or deep green.  Those in clear bottles are meant to be consumed immediately as they do not provide protection from light which can damage a wine and change its flavor.  Green bottles block damaging light keeping the wine fresh and true to the desired style of the vintner
  • Wine bottles can be sealed with traditional cork, synthetic cork or screw tops depending on the winemaker’s preference.  How a wine is sealed should not necessarily be considered an indicator of the quality of the wine
Wine stoppers come in many shapes, sizes and designs. On the left is a stopper used with a device which extracts oxygen from the bottle preventing oxidation while the stopper on the right is more decorative, but its rubber rings serve to prevent additional oxygen entering the bottle.

Now that you understand the steps involved in making white wines, we can start to break down what happens to the wine at different stages in more detail.  The decisions a vintner makes at each stage, and the changes a wine undergoes based on these decisions impact both the smell (aroma) and taste (flavor) you experience when you open a bottle of wine.  Even though DOMSOM likes to keep it simple, learning some basic wine lingo and terminology will help you not only know why a wine tastes or smells a certain way, it also will help you order, buy or recommend wine with greater confidence – in other words, wine will be a heck of a lot more fun!

Don’t forget, your DOMSOM resources within this course includes a dictionary of wine terms for you to reference throughout your wine journey!