Mark and Danielle had scheduled a special Wine & Dine Tour at the O’Vineyards near Carcassonne. We engaged several taxi cabs to transport our group to the beautiful winery estate owned and operated by Joe, a U.S. citizen now living in Southern France. Wine making has been around for thousands of years and is both an art and a science. The growing of grapes is known as “viticulture” and there are many varieties of grapes.
Owner, winemaker Joe O’Connell conducts tours of his winery, with wine tasting directly from barrels and tanks at his facility. After showing us the beautiful vineyards, Joe went through the wine-making process that generally consists of five main steps.
First comes the harvesting of the grapes, which can be done by machine or by hand. Most vintners prefer hand-picking, since mechanical harvesting can be tough on the vines and pick up clumps of unripened grapes and foreign debris. The quality of the grape determines the quality of the wine more than any other factor in the wine-making process. The moment the grapes are picked determines the acidity, sweetness, and flavor of the wine; however, harvesting is also heavily dependent upon the weather.
Second comes the Stemming and Crushing or Pressing. In traditional and smaller-scale wine making, the harvested grapes are crushed by using a small-scale crusher that uses paddles or rollers. Joe showed us his machine for separating the stems from the grapes and his machine for crushing the grapes.The resulting product is called “must” or pulp, juice that contains skins and solids. For Red wine, the juice is left in contact with the skins to acquire flavor, color, and desired tannins. For White wine, the wine maker quickly crushes and presses the grapes in order to separate the juice from the skins, seeds, and solids to prevent unwanted color and tannins from leaching into the wine.
Fermentation is the third step, which involves yeast. Fermentation can occur naturally with 6-12 hours; however, many wine makers add a commercial cultured yeast to ensure consistency and a predictable result. The temperature during fermentation affects both the taste of the end product, as well as the speed of fermentation. Fermentation continues until all of the natural sugar is converted into alcohol. Wine makers will sometimes stop the fermentation process to create a sweeter wine. Fermentation can take anywhere from 10 days to one month or more.
Clarification or Filtration is the next step and is the process in which solids are removed. Dead yeast cells and tannins are removed via a chemical process. After clarification in a tank, the wine is placed in clean stainless-steel tanks or in oak barrels.
Joe was very forthcoming regarding filtration; he prefers letting the sediment settle to the bottom. Clarification/Filtration of the wine can take place naturally by putting the wine into refrigeration. The wine takes about a month to settle and it is then clear. No chemicals are needed. This keeps the anti-oxidants in the wine, which is what makes Red wine good for you. Red wine is normally sold in bottles with a concave bottom, this helps keep any remaining sediment at the bottom of the bottle while pouring a glass of wine.
The final step is Aging and Bottling
The wine can be either bottled right away, or given additional aging in the stainless-steel tanks or in the oak barrels. Oak barrels tend to produce a smoother, more vanilla flavored wine. When bottling wine, a dose of sulfite is added to help preserve the wine and prevent unwanted fermentation in the bottle.
Tour at O'Vineyards
If you’re planning a trip to Carcassonne, we highly recommend this special wine & dine tour at O’Vineyards. If your time is limited, you can make reservations for the winery tour only.