by Ben Hilzinger
I’ve been asked the question “why grapes?” many times behind the bar of every tasting room in my career. I think it’s about time I officially address this situation. I mean, yeah, WHY grapes? Who decided that this was going to be the most commercially-produced fermented juice? All fruit has sugar and that’s all you need to create alcohol. Right? It’s a great question and one to which very few people know the answer.
To first clarify, the only fruit juice that can technically be called wine is that from grapes. Yes, you are probably familiar with apple “wine” or strawberry “wine”, but sadly it is not wine at all by definition of the word. To be sold in the US Market, it has to be clarified as which fruit it comes from in order to have “wine” anywhere on the label. But, now I’m just getting picky. ANYWAYS….
Grapes, in many respects, are the most important fresh fruit crop. According to veteran Washington winemaker and college professor at NW Wine Academy, Peter Bos, over 60.3 million metric tons of grapes are produced and harvested annually worldwide. Oranges came in a close second with 57 million while bananas and apples both show yields of roughly 45 million. This isn’t surprising, however, as many grape varieties do yield an amazing amount of fruit per acre. Basically, you get more bang for your buck. Grapes also tend to have a rather high moisture content allowing winemakers to extract more juice per ton.
Not only can they produce a lot, they can be produced in a lot of places. Every state in the union has vineyards; successful vineyards at that. All around the world, from South America to Australia to Europe to Asia to Africa and each specific, yet rather different climate, grapes are able to thrive. You can’t say that for many fruit. As long as there is sufficient water, nutrient rich soil, and enough heat during the growing season, those little buggers are happy! Fun Fact: Out of all the grapes harvested, over 70% of them are fermented into wine. Holy cow thats a lot of juice!
Now let us focus on the grape itself. Why is THIS fruit so good for making wine? Besides its high concentration of juices, grapes are one of few fruits that have a high level of tartaric acid (TA). This acid is essential during both fermentation and aging. During fermentation, the TA lowers the pH of the “must” (pressed grape juice) to a point where potentially spoiling bacteria cannot survive, and protects the wine as a preservative while aging in the barrel and bottle. Grapes are also in a small family of fruits that naturally attract yeast. Sometimes, you don’t even have to inoculate (add yeast to) the “must”, the naturally-attracted yeast already found on the skins at harvest are enough to make your wine.
There are many other reasons why grapes are used for wine, but some of it gets pretty heavy and geeky (in a good way) . In short, grapes are the perfect blend of all the right ingredients to make a complex, age-worthy fermented juice that can be readily available to almost every culture. In fact, its a culture in itself. At Northwest Cellars, we know that the best wine starts with the best grapes. We fully understand and appreciate the importance of this philosophy.
Drink Northwest Cellars. Cheers!