What Does the Word 'Maceration' Mean in Wine Making?

The words 'maceration,' 'lees,' and 'battonage' are somewhat technical wine words. My recent review of a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile included these terms that were included on the spec sheet. While the words themselves may be unfamiliar, their meanings are actually quite simple.

After the grapes are picked, the juice is extracted from the grapes to create the wine. At this point, the grape skins, seeds and stems can either be immediately separated from the juice or they can be left in contact with the juice.

Maceration occurs when the grape skins and solids are intentionally left to soak with the extracted juice.

There is 'cold' maceration (40-50° F) that takes place before fermentation and 'warm' maceration (70-90° F) that is done while the wine is fermenting. This warm maceration process, used primarily in making red wine, allows the alcohol being produced in the fermentation process to act as a solvent to extract color, tannins and aroma from the skins.

Maceration times vary, depending on the type of wine being produced. Red wines typically have extended maceration time (7-40 days) while Rosé wines get very brief maceration (2-24 hours). Maceration is not typically used in the production of white wine, but when done, it may only last for 12 to 14 hours.

Next time we'll look at the other terms 'lees' and 'battonage' used in the wine making process. Cheers!