The modern wine industry needs tools for process control and quality assessment in order to better manage fermentation or bottling processes. During wine fermentation it is important to measure both substrate and product concentrations (e.g. sugars, phenolic compounds), however, the analysis of these compounds by traditional means requires sample preparation and in some cases several steps of purification are needed. The combination of visible/near‐infrared (Vis/NIR) spectroscopy and chemometrics potentially provides an ideal solution to accurately and rapidly monitor physical or chemical changes in wine during processing without the need for chemical analysis. The aim of this study was to assess the possibility of combining spectral and multivariate techniques, such as principal component analysis (PCA), discriminant partial least squares (DPLS), or linear discriminant analysis (LDA), to monitor time‐related changes that occur during red wine fermentation. Samples (n = 652) were collected at various times from several pilot scale fermentations with grapes from either Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz varieties, over three vintages (2001–2003) and scanned using a monochromator instrument (Foss‐NIRSystems 6500, Silver Spring, MD) in transmission mode (400–2,500 nm). PCA was used to demonstrate consistent progressive spectral changes that occur through the time course of the fermentation. LDA using PCA scores showed that regardless of variety or vintage, samples belonging to a particular time point in fermentation could be correctly classified. This study demonstrates the potential of Vis/NIR spectroscopy combined with chemometrics, as a tool for the rapid monitoring of red wine fermentation. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.