An orange wine is made with white grape varieties with a prolonged skin contact. The name of the style only refers to the colour of the wine, as no oranges are included in the production of this wine.
Typically white wine production involves crushing the grapes and quickly moving the juice off the skins into the fermentation vessel. The skins contain color pigment, phenols and tannins that are often considered undesirable for white wines, while for red wines skin contact and maceration is a vital part of the winemaking process that gives red wine its color, flavor, and texture. Orange wines get their name from the darker, slightly orange tinge that the white wines receive due to their contact with the coloring pigments of the grape skins.
This winemaking style is essentially the opposite of rosé production which involves getting red wine grapes quickly off their skins, leaving the wine with a slightly pinkish hue. However, in the case of Pinot gris, among the more popular grapes to apply a skin-contact treatment that is neither red nor white, the diffuse nature of the term becomes illustrated, as both an orange wine and a rosé might achieve a similar expression of pink/orange/salmon-colored wine.
The practice has a long history in winemaking dating back thousands of years to the Eurasian wine producing countries of Armenia and Georgia. In recent years the practice has been adopted by Italian winemakers, initially in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine region, while there is also production in Slovenia, Croatia, France, Germany, New Zealand, and California.