From grape to glass
Learn about the process of wine making and how it transforms from grapes in a vineyard to the wine in your glass. With top tips for buying wine from Peter Tompkins, Rothschild Wine Expert.
Peter Tompkins, Rothschild Wine Expert
Peter Tompkins is Waddesdon’s Rothschild Wine Expert. He has worked at Waddesdon in different roles since he was 15 years old, before joining the wine team 9 years ago. First as a Wine Shop Assistant, then Wine Shop Manager and now in his current role where he is buyer, and advisor to both the Manor Restaurant and Five Arrows hotel. He is also responsible for wine operations across the estate, including the Manor Restaurant, Dairy and Five Arrows and designs the wine lists for these areas. He represents Waddesdon at events where wine is served and speaks about wine choices at external events. He’s hosted dinners at Le Manoir, Queen Elizabeth (Cunard), Spencer House, Phyllis Court and the Rothschild Bank, and taught the employees of Cunard about Rothchild wines being served on cruise liners. He has a Diploma with Honours from the Wset (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) and is looking to do his Master of Wine qualification soon. This can take up to 7 years to complete, and the passing rate is just 5%.
Peter has a real passion for wine and people, and enjoys seeing their reactions and enjoyment from the wine he recommends. Pop into the shop and pick his brains for some great wine choices.
Peter's top wine tips
- follow wine producers not necessarily a certain grape variety – grape varieties will reflect where they are grown and the resulting wines will differ from region to region. I advise that you follow good quality producers. It takes decades or centuries to build a good reputation, and good producers will not put their name to bad wines.
- experiment – there are thousands of grape varieties and regions that produce great wines. Don’t just stick to what you know, come to a tasting and broaden your palate.
Wine making is a natural process which has been around for thousands of years. It takes years to master but there are several crucial steps that influence the quality and style of a wine;
- flowering – this is a crucial time in the vineyard, successful and abundant flowering will ensure a healthy yield of grapes. A late frost can destroy the flowering process meaning that the yield will be very low or non-existent.
- harvesting – again, a crucial step. Rain or hail during frost can seriously damage the yield or potential quality of the resulting wine. Grapes will ideally achieve physical ripeness with a plump exterior and healthy skin. Internally, the grapes should have the correct balance of acidity and sugar – a crucial element that determines how balanced the resulting wines will be.
- pressing – once sorted, grapes may be fully or partially de-stemmed and then gently crushed. Most wineries do this mechanically but some still crush grapes by foot. The grapes are then pressed into a juice called ‘must’, it contains seeds, skin and solids from the grape. The level of extraction from the pressing will determine the style of the resulting wine.
- fermentation – this process begins once the crushing and pressing has finished. It starts naturally within 6 to 12 hours for natural yeasts, and much quicker for cultured yeasts – another process will dramatically affect the final wine.
- clarification – tannins, proteins and dead yeast are removed from the wine in the clarification process. Depending on the style of wine this can happen before or after the ageing process. Clarification can be carried out in numerous ways, including using egg whites.
- aging – the final stage of wine making. Many winemakers prefer to use oak barrels for aging as it adds a rounder mouthfeel to the wine and imparts compounds to the wine that aid complexity. Wine can also be aged in steel tanks or bottles. Once this process is finished the wine is bottled. Not all wine is aged, for example Rosé will be bottled immediately after clarification.
This is just a simple and rough guide to wine making, and you’ll find practices and beliefs vary hugely from region to region. Technology continues to enable winemakers to produce better wines, but you cannot make great wine from poor vineyards. It is only the finest vineyards that can produce the greatest of wines.
Did you know?
In white wine grapes are pressed as soon as they have been crushed. In red wine they are left together to ferment.