One of the things we were able to see firsthand is how grapes turn into wine, and it wasn't as glamorous as one might expect!
First, the grapes are harvested, crushed and sorted to get all the stems out. Care must be taken in this step, because the stems contain oils that could negatively affect the wine. The crushed grapes go into these big bins with dry ice to cool them down. (Apiphobic author's note: While this is going on, there are BEES. Lots, and lots of bees! Shudder!)
The crushed grape juice (and skin - remember, red wine is red mostly because the juice remains in contact with the skins, not because the meat of the grape itself is red) goes into a big tank for fermentation.
Red wines usually ferment in larger containers - stainless steel tanks or large wooden vats - and then age in small oak barrels after the juice has been strained of the skins.
Here is a rare glimpse into a fermentation tank. Thanks to the wonder of modern technology, we're able to see it; the tank itself was too dark to see into. I only saw what it looked like after I looked at the picture!
We were... lucky enough (if you can call it that) to be able to sample some of this fermenting juice. It was... interesting. It was, in essence, rotting grapes. The smell was yeasty and almost sulphury, and after the tiniest taste, I spit the juice out before my taste buds really had a chance to experience what was going on. It absolutely amazed me that in between delicious grapes and delicious wine, THAT happened.
So, after the juice hangs out and ferments for a while, and the skins lend their color and tannins to the juice, it gets drained and put into barrels and ages for anywhere from a few months to many years. The barrels are usually oak, French Oak being the best and most expensive, reserved for very fine wines. Other common oaks are Hungarian and American. Wineries reuse barrels for up to 6 years, then they are discarded for new barrels. One 60-gallon barrel yields 300 bottles of wine!
We also got to taste from barrels, as well. This is at Kunde winery. The taste of the wine in the barrel was way different from the fermenting juice!
While the grape tasting, fermenting juice tasting, and barrel sampling were all fun experiences, I do have to say that my personal favorite part of the winemaking process is getting to enjoy the finished product!