North Carolina’s terrain and climate make it fertile ground for both the native
Muscadine grapes that grow primarily in the coastal plain, and several types of
European varietals grown mainly in NC’s Piedmont and mountain regions.
Grapes are harvested in the fall. Some vineyards use mechanical harvesting
techniques, but most hire workers to pick the grapes by hand.
The grapes are then brought to the winery.
Grapes were once crushed by stomping on them with your feet in a big vat. Today,
a more practical way is to use a machine, which does the job and at the
same time removes the stems. The crushed grapes and juice are called “must.”
Pressing separates the skins, seeds, and any other non-juice must items from the juice. One way to press grapes is to use a “bladder press,” a stainless steel cylinder with an inflatable rubber bladder inside. The must is poured inside the cylinder and the bladder is inflated with air. The bladder squeezes the skins against the side of the cylinder and forces the juices out. The juices are collected and sent to the fermentation tanks.
Fermentation is the step when grape juice is turned into alcohol. By putting grape
juice into a container at the right temperature, yeast will turn the sugar in the juice
into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Although a few wineries use the grapes natural
wild yeast, most add a commercial cultured yeast to ensure consistency.
Fermentation is carried out in stainless steel vessels.
The most common way wine was aged in the past was in oak barrels. This tradition continues today. Barrel aging is typically used for red wines and adds vanilla, spicy,
and sometimes smoky flavors to the wine. Reds typically age longer than whites.
After wines are aged, they can be bottled directly or blended. By law, to be labeled a varietal, a wine must have at least 75 percent of that particular grape.