How To Make White Wine With Vigilance

White wine in glassesA friend of mine asked me the other day how to make white wines from fresh grapes. The question came at me completely out of the blue and kind of knocked me for a loop. My friend has been around wine making by way of being around me for some time, but he has never shown any interest in making any wine of his own.
I told them the process is not so different from making a red wine. Procedure-wise, the only difference was that with white wines you press the grapes before fermentation. With red wines you press the grapes after fermentation.
But there’s another aspect to making a white wine, one that doesn’t involve procedure as much as it does finesse. White wines are more delicate than reds. If there are any off-flavors or aromas in a white wine it shows much more clearly than if it were a red. Another way to say it is, whites are less forgiving.
In general, when you talk to someone about how to make your own wine, you usually talk in terms of procedures, but when you talk about how to make white wines, specifically, you talk in terms of vigilance. Vigilance toward keeping the equipment sanitized. Vigilance toward keeping air exposure to a minimum. Vigilance toward making sure the fermentation environment is optimum. Keeping your wine yeast out of stress will result in a cleaner tasting wine.
I explained all this to my friend and he said he understood. He told me how he was starting to see how making white wines could be more of a challenge. Not that they shouldn’t be made, but one should get in the right frame of mind before beginning such a project.
To sum it all up, if you’re the type that likes to get a wine going and–except for a few rackings–just let it do its own thing, you may to stay away from making white wines, from fresh grapes anyway. These wines are more demanding and require more attention than you are willing to give. However, if you like the intricacies of wine making and don’t mind baby-ing a batch here or there, you may be the perfect candidate for making white wines.
In either case, realize that you can still make exceptional white wines from wine concentrates. By taking the crushing, the pressing and the clearing of the pulp out of the equation anyone can make incredible white wines with a concentrated grape juice for wine making.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.