Harvesting is the first step in the wine making. Picking grapes at the right moment ensure the proper acidity, sweetness, and flavor of a brand’s wine. It’s the perfect combination of science with art (in this case – taste). Mexican wines are made predominantly with French grape varieties — white wine grapes include chenin blanc, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier; reds include all five Bordeaux varietals plus Grenache, tempranillo, dolcetto, syrah and petite sirah.
Mexican vines are some of the oldest in the American continent brought over by Spanish missionaries in the 16th century
Harvesting in Mexico, where day laborers are relatively cheap, is mostly done by hand. This ensures the grapes are not mistreated during the process. Once in the winery, they are sorted into bunches where the best of the best is selected.
Crushing and Pressing
A preliminary step in order to be able crush the grapes is to de-stem them. Just like all modern wine makers, in Mexico, crushing is done mechanically. Mechanical presses stomp the grapes into the “mosto” or must.
The mosto is the freshly pressed grape juice that still contains the skins, seeds, and solids.
Vendimia festivals held during August every year still feature the old tradition of manually crushing the grapes.
After crushing and pressing, the next step in the wine-making process is fermentation.
The mosto will naturally begin its fermentation within 6-12 hours by wild yeasts in the air.
However, most Mexican wine makers now add cultured yeast to ensure consistency throughout their wines. Fermentation can take anywhere from 10 days to one month or more as the winemaker must ensure all the sugar is converted to alcohol.
Clarification is when solids such as tannins, proteins and dead yeast cells are removed. The wine is “racked” into a vessel.
In Mexico, this is typically done in oak barrels. Then, the wine can be clarified through either fining or filtration. Fining is done by adding substances; for example, clay might added to which the unwanted particles adhere to.
This, in turn, forces them to the bottom of the tank where they be easily removed. On the other hand, filtration uses a filter to capture the larger particles in the wine. The clarified wine is then racked into yet another vessel and prepared for bottling or future aging.
Aging and Bottling
Aging and bottling is the final stage of the wine making process. Further aging in Mexico is mostly done in the bottles or oak barrels.
Aging the wine in oak barrels produces a smoother, rounder, and more vanilla flavored wine.
It also increases wine’s exposure to oxygen while it ages, which decreases tannin and helps the wine reach its optimal fruitiness. Steel tanks are commonly used by the larger wineries for zesty white wines. After aging, wines are bottled with either a cork or a screw cap, depending on the wine maker’s preference. Mexican wines still traditionally use cork.