General File



History of the vine and the wine

Wines and their soils

Wines and their type of vines

Techniques and wine making

Work of the vine

Wine making in red

Wine making in white

Other viticultural techniques



Summary return


Wine :

Surprisingly complex universal drink, the wine is known since prehistory. In addition to the soil and the type of vine, which confer its first qualities to him, it is the work of the man, by which the viticultural experiment grew rich during centuries, which grants its nobler gustatory virtues to him. It behaves then like an alive substance, having its youth, its maturity, its decline and its death. More than ever many and various throughout the world, the wines have their fine experts, who authenticate the great vintages.

The wine is an alcoholic drink coming from the fermentation of the grape juice. Although the wild vine pushed on the French territory since several tens of million years, it is estimated that production of coarse grapes containing sufficient juice so that starts fermentation does not exceed five millenia. Before the bunch, it is necessary to cut. Thus the goats, by grazing the young growths, perhaps were, without their knowledge, the first wine growers...


History of the vine and the wine:

The wine, exported from Minor Asia, conquered Egypt. Cherished by the Greeks, perpetuated and promoted by the Romans, the vine was established in Provence and in Languedoc towards Ve century before our era. Another way of penetration was the Danube valley, with the vineyards of Romania, of Hungary, of Switzerland and the south of Germany. Starting from the coasts of Provence and high valley of the Rhine, the vine was spread in almost all the areas of the French territory located at an altitude lower than 500 m, and extended towards north until Soissonnais and Laonnois, while it penetrated in the Rhineland while following the valleys of the Moselle and the Rhine. On the whole, the vineyards developed in all average and Mediterranean Europe, since the south of England to the North Africa. Later on, the vine was cultivated in the majority of the countries where the climate allowed it, like the ex-URSS, South Africa, the United States (in particular, California and the State of New York), Canada, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Australia, New Zealand and even Japan.

Among the stage outstanding of progress and some transfer achieve in the culture of vine, the manufacture and the conservation of wine, quote the use of barrel (invention Gallic), which himself replace amphora, difficult to stop and fragile, the sugaring of must, or chaptalization (XVIIe century), the setting in bottle (XVIIe century), the "champenoise" method invented by Dom Pérignon in the second half of XVIIe century, the stopper of cork, which allow some exchange subtle with the ambient air, essential with a good ageing of wine (beginning of XVIIIe century), the introduction of seedling American resist with disappearance of the Parisian vineyard (end of XIXe century), introduction of a regulation concerning the delimitation of the vineyards, production and determination of quality of the wines under the responsibility of the national Institute of the labels of origin (INAO), created in 1935 under the name of national Committee of the labels of origin of the wines and brandies. The Middle Ages until the Revolution, the role of the clergy, and in particular that of the monks, were dominating in the development of the vineyard and the improvement of the quality of the wines.


Wines and their soils:

After the consecutive reorganizations with the invasion of phylloxera and with the advent of the railroads putting the wines of the South at the range of all, the vineyards were maintained only when the soil, i.e. primarily the climate and the ground, was favorable for them. With regard to the climate, the vine fears the frosts of spring and affectionne the slopes, because freezing is more frequent and more harmful in the bottom. One does not need either too much rain for spring, because freezing in wet weather is mortal for the growths. Water is necessary for the enlargement of the bunches in July-August, but it should not remain too a long time in the ground; the sun in September matures the bunches, but, if it rains before the grape harvest, the gray rot is likely to settle and waste musts if the vine grower does not have wisdom to sort while gathering the grapes. The role of the sun is of primary importance, and the vines are planted preferably turned to the south and to the east. The microclimates play also a significant role; they are the result of favorable conjugations of the hygrometrical index, of the sunning, of altitude, the whole leading to an exceptional protection determining a soil.

Like writes it Victor Rendu in his French Ampelography in 1857, "The vine puts up with any ground provided that water does not stagnate there. In France, indeed, one sees it succeeding in the chalk of the Marne and resisting perfectly on the heavy and marly ground such as those of best believed of the Jura; it makes the richness of oolitic limestones of Cote-d'Or; the granitic remains are not less favorable to him, the excellent wines of Côte-Rôtie and of the Hermitage are there to attest it; the vines of La Malgue, close to Toulon, sat on the schist, like those of Banyuls; the vineyard of Cap-Breton rests on an almost pure sand... ". One could add to this enumeration the volcanogenic grounds, the sandstones of permo-sorted and the alluvia in Alsace, in addition to, of course, for this last area, the granites, the gneisses, the schists and limestones..., so that all the rocks, than they are sedimentary, metamorphic or eruptive, can accomodate the vineyard.

Covering the ones and the others, the ground results from the interaction between the mineral elements of the basement, the biological activity (plants and animals) and the cultivation methods which reach sometimes about fifty centimeters of depth, which confers a large variety to him. However, with regard to the personality of a wine, it is not only the rock of the basement which is in question, but also the composition and the properties of the ground which derive from it. In fact, the vine affectionne stony grounds where could thrive no other culture; paradoxically, it then produces better grapes that on the rich grounds.

The relations between the soil and the quality of the wines are particularly striking throughout the Cotes de Burgogne, exposed to the east. Names " great vintage " or " first vintage " are produced on slopes from 5 to 20 % where the pierrosity is high (10 to 40 %) and the content of clay, weak. Regional or under names " Burgundy " thrive in bottom of slope (less than 2 %) with a pierrosity lower than 5 %, while communal names occupy an intermediate situation.


Wines and their type of vines :

The personality of a wine depends at the same time of the soils and of type of vines and varieties of the Vitis Vinifera species (one counts of it more than one hundred). In the case of the clonal selection, each seedling results from a single foot selected in a population and multiplied by cutting. Among the most widespread type of vines in France, the pinot noir gives the large red burgundies, but also champagne. The gamay noir with white juice is the base of the beaujolais wine, the grenache, that of the wines of the South, while the type of vine dominating of the Medoc, large clarets, is the cabernet-sauvignon, to which one associates the cabernet franc and the merlot. For the white wines, it is necessary to quote the chardonnay great vintages Burgundian and Champagne, the chenin of the Loire Valley, the Riesling in Alsace, the sauvignon with Sancerre and in south-west, the sémillon also, in Bordeaux. Let us stress that the influence of the soil and as the practice of the wine making make as a same type of vine can give very different wines: thus the pinot noir and the chardonnay, the two principal type of vines of Burgundy, are also those of Champagne... The champagne results thus from an assembly of several wines resulting from different type of vines, as the claret where marry in particular the cabernet-sauvignon, the cabernet franc and the merlot. On the contrary, the beaujolais wine is vinified only starting from one single type of vine, the gamay noir with white juice, which gives a young and light wine on calcareous ground, whereas it is fleshy and vigorous on schist and granite. The cabernet franc, introduced in Bordeaux one into the Loire Valley under the name of Breton, produced, according to the soil, the rosé ones of Anjou and Saumur or the red wines of Chinon, Bourgueil and Champigny. Each type of vine is adapted to a determined soil, outwards of which it does not reach the same performances. It is for example the case of the Riesling, the Sylvaner and the gewurztraminer in Alsace.


From vine to wine - wine making and techniques :

Work of the vine :

The wine grower year begin with the winter cut, which decreases the number of the branches, shortens those which remain by preserving only some buds. Those " strip " in March-April, period during which the vine is vulnerable to the frost. The branches grow, the sheets and the gimlets develop, and, in June, the flowers open out, letting appear the future bunches. In cold weather and wet, pollination is carried out badly (run-out). In July, the bunches develop (the rain is then beneficial) and, in August, the grains mature and change color (ripening); maturity is completed in September-October following the areas (essential sun...), and the gathering (vintage) intervenes at once.

During this cycle of vegetation, the wine grower carries out one or more processing, in particular against the mushrooms (oïdium, mildew), directs the branches, practical trimming and stripping, this last being intended for better exposing the bunches to the sun. In autumn, if the weather is rainy, a mushroom, Botrytis Cinerea, are installed on the grains and the fact of rotting (gray rot). However, under particular conditions, this mushroom has a beneficial action (noble rot), and in particular on the type of vine sémillon of Sauternais, of which it decreases acidity and increases the sugar content, essential to the production of a liqueur-like wine.

The vintage is manual or mechanical. The manual gathering makes it possible to maintain intact the bunches to the cellar; it is the only possible one for the great vintages.

Wine making in red :

The traditional wine making proceeds according to following operations': picking off or "éraflage", which consists in detaching the grains of the remainder of the bunch (but which can not be practised for certain old and traditionnal wine makings), then the pressing, which leads to the extraction of the juice by crushing of the grains, work which was practised formerly with the feet and today with rollers with variable spacing. The pressed vintage is sent by pumping in tanks where is carried out alcoholic fermentation : transformation of carbon dioxide and ethanol sugar under the action of yeasts, unicellular microscopic mushrooms present in the grape or introduced by the wine grower. These chemical reactions release from heat, so that, not to exceed 30o Celcius, it is sometimes necessary to cool the tanks. During alcoholic fermentation, the maceration of the skins and residue (marc) must attentively be controlled, because it has a great influence on the quality and the conservation of the wine: one activates it by pigeage or reassembly of the juice. When one considers the maceration sufficient, one taps the wine by the bottom of the tank (draining). The marc, which floated, settles there, and, if it is not already completed, fermentation, calmer, can continue after draining. One lets the new wine then rest at a temperature of 18 with 20o Celcius during a few weeks to support the malolactic fermentation, which consists of a transformation of the malic acid into lactic acid with a weak carbon dioxide outburst. The lactic acid combines with alcohols to form esters, which increase the bouquet of the wine. The residues of fermentation settle at the bottom of the tanks (dregs). The wine is then clarified by filtration, centrifugation or joining, before being generally preserved one or two years in barrels out of wooden of oak. It is stabilized and evolved/moved slowly, before being bottled after a new filtration. There are different modes of wine making in red : thus wine making in whole bunches, by carbonic maceration, for obtaining the beaujolais wines.

Wine making in white :

It is carried out by fermentation of the only grape juice without maceration of residue. One can thus make white wine starting from black grapes with white juice, with the proviso of extracting the juice without wound from them the coloured skins: a number of champagnes are thus produced starting from the only pinot noir vine type. It is then a "blanc de noirs" (white of blacks) which one should not confuse with the "blanc de blancs" (white of white) resulting from the only type of vine chardonnay. The fermentation of the white wine takes place at a temperature not exceeding 20o Celcius. In the marrowy or liqueur-like wines, fermentation is stopped and part of sugar is preserved. It is the case of the white wines of Sauternes or natural sweet wines like the muscatel of Frontignan.

Other viticultural techniques :

The rosé wines are only seldom white and red wine assemblies (rosé champagnes), but generally result from a red grape fermentation, accompanied by a maceration in a very short duration.

The manufacture of champagne, or champagnization, consists in putting the wine out of bottle as of the end of the first fermentation. Carbon dioxide resulting from the second fermentation dissolves in the wine and makes it semi-sparkling. This operation, very slow, is carried out in the famous Champagne cellars, dug in chalk.

The liqueur wines, whose alcoholic strength lies between 16 and 24 %, result from the addition of alcohol coming from distillation from residue (marc). It is the case of the pineau des Charentes and the Champagne ratafia. Production of wine brandies (Cognac, Armagnac, etc.) develop the wines of worse quality but of strong output.

Regulation and the marketing of the wines :

The production of wine is a very supervised world and the French vine growing is controlled in a strict way at the national level, by the INAO and the services of frauds repression, but also at the European level. Since June 15, 1970, there is a European Common Market of the wine; two categories are distinguished : common beverage wines on the one hand and wines of quality on the other hand.

The common beverage wines themselves are subdivided out of wines of table and local wines. The wines of table have their alcoholic strength indicated on the label; they can be mixtures of wines of various Community countries European economic (the EEC), and nothing indicates it on the label. The local wines, with indication of the geographical source, are wines of table whose area of origin is fixed by ministerial decree; they are wines coming from traditional type of vines and not from hybrids, and which are subjected to a control by analysis and tasting.

For the wines of quality, the EEC distinguishes the wines of quality produced in given areas (VQPRD). It is, in France, the delimited wines of higher quality (VDQS) and the classified wines controlled (AOC), fixed by decree. The geographical and geological delimitation is very stricte ; moreover, vines, methods of culture, cuts vine, maximum output with the hectare, minimal natural alcoholic strength, proceeded of wine making and of conservation, possible enrichment are regulated, and the wines, are controlled systematically by a tasting accompanied by a chemical analysis.

The co-operative cellars, 1200 approximately, play a driving role in the marketing of the wines, and most dynamic realize at the same time the wine making and marketing. Today, the French vineyard extends on a million hectares, twice less than in XIXe century, for a production of 65 million hectolitres, which corresponds to an average output of 65 hl to the hectare, which doubled in less than forty years. On these 65 million hectolitres, more than 10 million are exported, the EEC by absorbing two thirds. Ten other million is distilled, whereas one cannot any more but make alcohol. France and Italy produce each one 20 % of all the wine of the world (120 million hl). With Spain (40 million hl), these three countries thus produce more half of the wine of the sphere, while others, new come, take an increasingly significant place. It is the case of the United States, which was classified with the fifth rank of the viticultural countries in 1990, with 16 million hectolitres, including nine the tenth resulting ones from California.


Oenology :

If the "science of the wine" is initially that of its manufacture and its conservation, it is also that of its tasting. A wine is appreciated according to its specific qualities, that complete the conditions of its ageing, but also of its faculties to sublimate savours of the dish which it accompanies. It is all the task of the wine waiters of advising the best choices. The "robe" (dress) of a wine, which indicates its color, and its bouquet, which indicates its flavours, are the first criteria of appreciation of the oenologist. Then, when the wine is in mouth, one will say of him, for example, that it has body or of the roundness; one will find that it is packed, generous, even heady, and, generally if it is about the one of its best years, that he is complete. The enlightened amateurs will be able to also judge the marrowy one and smoothness of a wine, but only the most exerted palates will be able to attest that this one has race, and that it enters among the greatest years of the vintage.


[Definitions] [Glossary]
[ List and classification of AOC/VDP, vines, wines, vineyard and vinum ]
[ Dates, production, quotations and secret ] [ general File ]
[ wine making and the type of vines] [ the best and the worst ]
[ Temperature, Apogee, Longevity, Flavour and Food/wines ] [ Links ]