From Grapes to Glass: Winemaking 101

In the world of winemaking, the time leading up to harvest is crucial. For many winemakers, it's a period of anticipation and excitement as they spend 12 months planning, growing, and ripening the grapes. As harvest approaches, the vineyard and winery come alive, buzzing with people who work tirelessly to bring in the crop and kick off the winemaking process. 

At S&K, the beginning of each year marks the arrival of a vintage team, usually made up of experienced cellar hands or vineyard assistants who travel the globe picking grapes and making wine across many continents. These dedicated individuals play a crucial role in ensuring the success of the harvest. Under the guidance of our winemaker Adriaan, they work long hours to pick the grapes at the optimal time and carefully transport them to the winery for processing.

The contribution of the vintage team is just one example of the teamwork and passion that goes into winemaking. From the vineyard to the bottle, each step of the process requires skill and attention to detail. But for those who love wine, it's all worth it in the end. The joy of tasting a beautifully crafted wine that reflects the unique characteristics of the terroir and the vintage is what makes winemaking such a special craft.

Adriaan Foot, senior winemaker at S&K, agrees that the excitement surrounding harvest is palpable. "It's a busy and exciting time of year for us," he says. "We spend a lot of time preparing for harvest, making sure we have everything we need to bring in the grapes and turn them into wine." In the vineyard, the winemaker is constantly monitoring the grapes, looking for signs of ripeness and flavour development.

Adriaan and his team keep a close eye on the weather, as temperature, sunshine hours, rainfall, and soil all play a crucial role in shaping the grapes' flavours. Once the grapes are deemed ready for harvest, they are picked by hand or machine and transported to the winery. The winemaking process begins, and the winemaker's creativity and skill are put to the test.

Adriaan describes the winemaking process as an art form, as it offers endless opportunities for creativity and experimentation. "There's so much you can do with winemaking," he says. "You can play around with different techniques and styles, and you can really bring out the best in the grapes."

As the grapes are crushed and then fermented, Adriaan pays close attention to every detail, from the temperature of the fermentation to the type of oak barrels used for aging. He believes that the key to making great wine is to be respectful of the fruit and to let it speak for itself. "Ultimately, it's the grapes that make the wine," he says. "Our job as winemakers is to guide the process and bring out the best in the fruit. We strive to make wines that are true to the vineyard and the region and showcase the unique character of each vintage."

For Adriaan and his team, winemaking is not just a job, but a passion. They put their heart and soul into every bottle, and they take great pride in sharing their wines with you, our wonderful S&K customers. Whether it's a crisp and refreshing white or a bold and complex red, each wine tells a story of the land, the people, and the art of winemaking.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Adriaan and exploring the intricacies of the winemaking process, gaining insight into the skill and dedication required to craft each bottle of S&K wine, from the careful selection and harvesting of the grapes, to the fermentation, maturation, and bottling stages. So, let's jump into a crash course of winemaking 101! The following paragraphs detail the winemaking process for table wines. To learn how we make fortified wine head over to our blog post 'Handcrafted for Generations:Fortified Winemaking 101'


The first step in crafting wine is to have perfectly ripe grapes. As the start of vintage approaches, our senior winemaker, Adriaan Foot, makes his rounds through the vineyards to check on the fruit's progress. When he's happy with how things look, our vineyard crew will start taking samples by randomly choosing bunches of grapes from different locations along the vineyard rows.

Once they've filled a bucket, these grape samples are sent to the winery, where the team gets to work. They hand crush the grapes and carefully analyse the juice for pH (acidity), TA (total acidity) and Baumé (sugars). This process usually kicks off at the end of January, but in 2023, we experienced some unseasonably cold and wet weather, so we had to push back our start date to mid-February.

As the fruit in the vineyard approaches the desired levels, Adriaan heads out to the vineyards to taste the grapes. He's searching for several factors that indicate the grapes are reaching their ideal state. These factors include the fruit's flavour profile, the browning of the grape seeds, how easily the fruit separates from the stem, and the colour present in the skin (for red grapes). Adriaan evaluates these indicators to determine if the grapes have achieved their ideal ripeness and are ready for harvesting.


Once our winemaking team is satisfied with the ripeness of the grapes, we begin the harvest. Typically, we pick the white wine grapes first as they tend to ripen earlier than red varieties. Red wine grapes require a higher sugar level, which means they usually need more time to ripen fully.

To preserve the flavours and aromas of the grapes, we pick them when they are still cool. We start our harvest in the early morning when the temperatures are low. This approach helps to slow down the oxidation process, which can cause the juice to lose flavour and colour.

While most of our grapes are harvested using a machine, there is one notable exception. The Shiraz grapes from our 101-year-old 'Jack's Block' vineyard are always handpicked. This is not just for the sake of tradition but also out of necessity. The vines are old and gnarly, and using a machine harvester would damage them. That's why we opt for the gentle touch of handpicking. It requires more effort, but the result is worth it. The wine produced from this block is consistently exceptional and some of the best that S&K has to offer.


Once the grapes are harvested, they are put through a de-stemmer. A destemmer is a machine that separates the grapes from the stems and leaves. We feed the stalks and grape marc to our stock. Sometimes we skip this step and do "whole bunch" fermentation.


During the fermentation process, yeast turns the grape sugars into alcohol. Adriaan carefully oversees this crucial stage as it sets the style and character of our wines. Red and rosé wines are fermented in vats with grape skins for varying lengths of time, which imparts colour, f lavour, and tannins. In contrast, our white wines are pressed first and fermented without the grape skins. Adriaan ferments white wine at lower temperatures to preserve its fresh and fruity flavours. At S&K, our white wines, such as Moscato or Alvarinho, are fermented in stainless steel tanks, which helps keep the wine crisp and fruity. While our Chardonnay and Arinto varieties are barrel fermented to add texture and oak flavour. The decisions made during fermentation have a significant impact on the wine's final style.


After red wine completes its fermentation process, the grapes undergo pressing to extract the juice and remove the skins. However, for white wines, the pressing process is done before fermentation begin. This process creates two different types of juice. "Free-run juice" which f lows out of the press by gravity or low-pressure, and "pressings" which require more pressure. Pressings are generally more phenolic and astringent but have an intense flavour. Both play an important part when it comes to creating the final wine blend.


After the primary fermentation is complete, many red wines and some whites undergo a secondary fermentation known as 'malolactic fermentation.' This process involves converting malic acid, which is a sharp acid - think green apple - into lactic acid which is a much softer acid that contributes to the creamy, and velvety texture in our wines. Adriaan and his team carefully monitors this stage to ensure the desired flavours, body and textures are achieved.


Our white and rosé wines will go through a cold stabilisation process. This involves lowering the wine's temperature for several days to remove unstable tartrates - a crucial step in preserving the wine's quality.


The maturation or ageing process is the stage where the wine will build f lavour and texture. At S&K, our wine is matured in French or American oak or stainless steel. Depending on the style, wine is aged for several months or as long as several years. At S&K, we typically age our white and light red wines between two to six months and our red wines for six to twenty-four months.


The winemaking team will put together the final wine blends ready for bottling. Sometimes we blend the same variety from different vineyards, as each vineyard produces different characteristics. Other times we blend two, three or four different varieties together to create our Shiraz Durif, The Prince, Terra Mãe or S&K Red blends.

After the blending process is complete the wine is filtered. Filtration helps to produce a more polished and refined wine. The process involves passing the wine through a filter to eliminate any cloudy appearance and microorganisms that can cause instability.


Once the winemaking and ageing process is complete, it's finally time to bottle our wines, ready for customers to enjoy!