Grape skins and winemaking: how important are they?

Carly Merrett

Kiss of wine

What do grape skins do, and how does it affect wine?

Grape skins — thankfully, they don’t appear at the bottom of your wine glass. However, have you considered what role they actually play in winemaking? It turns out, they’re pretty darn important in the winemaking process!

Despite the clean finish of most conventional wines, grape skins play a significant role in defining the best parts of your favourite wines. Yes, every single one. How wine looks, tastes, smells and finishes largely depends on how much contact the grape juice has with its skins. And, well, that sounds pretty essential if you ask me.

So, here’s the rundown of how exactly grape skins matter for each style of wine!

red wine

Red wine 

Red winemaking is where grape skins have their time to shine. That’s because the skins largely determine red wine's famously deep and vibrant colours. Not only that, they determine the flavour and structure, both of which decide the overall quality of a wine. By structure, we mean the tannins, which give red wine its bitterness and astringency. 

Red wine is fermented with the skins for several days, weeks or even months. This allows time for the grape skins to infuse the wine with colour, tannins and phenols. 

Then there is maceration, which usually comes after fermentation. Maceration involves leaving the wine in with the leftover skins and stems to steep a little longer. The alcohol draws the last of all that goodness from the pomace, the official name for leftover skins and stems

rose wine


Think of rose wine as using both red and white winemaking techniques.

The wine macerates early to get the pink hue that we love in a good rosé. Before fermentation, the wine macerates for only a matter of hours before achieving the pink colour. Then the wine is separated from the skins and stems and moves on to fermentation. 

Like white wine, rosé ferments at cooler temperatures to preserve their fruit, fresh and delicate flavours. 

vineyard grapes wine

White wine

Opposite to red winemaking, winemakers separate the grape juice from the skins before fermentation. This, along with lower fermentation temperatures, ensures the clean, crisp finish typical of white wine. 
orange wine grapes

Orange wine

Perhaps a more unusual style of wine, orange wines are drier and more intense and aromatic than a typical white wine. This is due to their lengthened contact with the grape skins. They also have more robust tannins and a sometimes coarser finish. 

To learn more about orange wine, otherwise called skin contact wine, check out our post here


Wrap Up

When you consider flavour, colour, aroma, structure and finish, you realise that grape skins are integral to winemaking. By adding this little information to your repertoire, impress your posh wine folk friends with these titbits when studying your next wine list.

Have you heard the buzz around natural wine? If you’d like to learn more about styles of wine or want to get some info on other winemaking techniques, check out our post here.

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