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Harvest Glossary


Posted: August 26, 2002


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Wondering what makes the difference between a Latour and that stuff that comes out of a box? Well, a lot of it has to do with how wine grapes get into the bottle. Here's a glossary of harvesting terms.

AMERICAN OAK: Increasingly popular as an alternative to French oak for making barrels in which to age wine as quality improves and vintners learn how to treat the wood to meet their needs. Marked by strong vanilla, dill and cedar notes, it is used primarily for aging Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel, for which it is the preferred oak. It's less desirable, although used occasionally, for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. American oak barrels sell in the $250 range, compared to more than $500 for the French ones. See also: French oak.

BOTTLE SICKNESS: A temporary condition characterized by muted or disjointed fruit flavors. It often occurs immediately after bottling or when wines (usually fragile wines) are shaken in travel. Also called "bottle shock." A few days of rest is the cure.

BRIX: A measurement of the sugar content of grapes, must and wine, indicating the degree of the grapes' ripeness (meaning sugar level) at harvest. Most table-wine grapes are harvested at between 21 and 25 Brix. To get an alcohol conversion level, multiply the stated Brix by .55.

CARBONIC MACERATION: Fermentation of whole, uncrushed grapes in a carbon dioxide atmosphere. In practice, the weight of the upper layers of grapes in a vat will break the skins of the lowest layer; the resultant wine is partly a product of carbonic maceration and partly of traditional fermentation of juice.

CHAPTALIZATION: The addition of sugar to juice before and/or during fermentation, used to boost sugar levels in underripe grapes and alcohol levels in the subsequent wines. Common in northern European countries, where the cold climates may keep grapes from ripening, but forbidden in southern Europe (including southern France and all of Italy) and California.

CLONE: A group of vines originating from a single, individual plant propagated asexually from a single source. Clones are selected for the unique qualities of the grapes and wines they yield, such as flavor, productivity and adaptability to growing conditions.

COLD STABILIZATION: A clarification technique in which a wine's temperature is lowered to 32° F, causing the tartrates and other insoluble solids to precipitate.

CRUSH: The time during harvest season when the grapes are picked and crushed.

DOSAGE: In bottle-fermented sparkling wines, a small amount of wine (usually sweet) that is added back to the bottle once the yeast sediment that collects in the neck of the bottle is removed.

EARLY HARVEST: Denotes a wine made from early-harvested grapes, usually lower than average in alcoholic content or sweetness.

FERMENTATION: The process by which yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide; turns grape juice into wine.

FIELD BLEND: When a vineyard is planted to several different varieties and the grapes are harvested together to produce a single wine, the wine is called a field blend.

FILTERING: The process of removing particles from wine after fermentation. Most wines unless otherwise labeled are filtered for both clarity and stability.

FINING: A technique for clarifying wine using agents such as bentonite (powdered clay), gelatin or egg whites, which combine with sediment particles and cause them to settle to the bottom, where they can be easily removed.

FREE-RUN JUICE: The juice that escapes after the grape skins are crushed or squeezed prior to fermentation.

FRENCH OAK: The traditional wood for wine barrels, which supplies vanilla, cedar and sometimes butterscotch flavors. Used for red and white wines. Much more expensive than American oak, it can cost more than $500 per barrel, as opposed to $250 for American. See also: American oak.

GREEN HARVEST: The trimming of unripe grapes to decrease crop yields, thereby improving the concentration of the remaining bunches.

GROWN, PRODUCED AND BOTTLED: This phrase indicates that the winery handled each aspect of wine growing.

LATE HARVEST: On labels, indicates that a wine was made from grapes picked later than normal and at a higher sugar (Brix) level than normal. Usually associated with botrytized and dessert-style wines.

LEES: Sediment remaining in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation. Often used as in sur lie aging, which indicates a wine is aged on its lees. See also: sur lie.

MACERATION: During fermentation, the steeping of the grape skins and solids in the wine, where alcohol acts as a solvent to extract color, tannin and aroma from the skins.

MADE AND BOTTLED BY: This phrase indicates only that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled a minimum of 10 percent of the wine in the bottle.

MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION: A secondary fermentation occurring in most wines, this natural process converts malic acid into softer lactic acid and carbon dioxide, thus reducing the wine's total acidity. Adds complexity to whites such as Chardonnay and softens reds such as Cabernet and Merlot.

MUST: The unfermented juice of grapes extracted by crushing or pressing; grape juice in the cask or vat before it is converted into wine.

PRESS WINE : The juice extracted under pressure after pressing for white wines and after fermentation for reds. Press wine has more flavor and aroma, deeper color and often more tannins than free-run juice. Wineries often blend a portion of press wine back into the main cuvée for added backbone.

PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY: This phrase indicates that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled at least 75 percent of the wine in the bottle.

RACKING: The practice of moving wine by hose from one container to another, leaving sediment behind. This is done for purposes of aeration or clarification.

SUR LIE: Wines aged sur lie (French for "on the lees") are kept in contact with the dead yeast cells and are not racked or otherwise filtered. This is mainly done for whites, to enrich them (it is a normal part of fermenting red wine, and so is not noted). Originated in Burgundy, with Chardonnay. Popular in Muscadet, Alsace, Germany (Riesling and Pinot Gris) and California. Adds complexity to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc; can occasionally be overdone and lead to a leesy flavor that is off-putting.

TANNIN: The mouth-puckering substance -- found mostly in red wines -- that is derived primarily from grape skins, seeds and stems, but also from oak barrels. Tannin acts as a natural preservative that helps wine age and develop.

TERROIR: The over all environment within which a given varietal grows. Derived from the French word for earth, terre.

VINTAGE DATE: Indicates the year that a wine was made. In order to carry a vintage date in the United States, for instance, a wine must come from grapes that are at least 95 percent from the stated calendar year.

VITICULTURAL AREA: A legally defined grape-growing area distinguished by geographical features, climate, soil, elevation, history and other definable boundaries. Rules vary widely from region to region, and change often. For example, in the United States, a wine must be 85 percent from grapes grown within the viticultural area to carry the appellation name. For varietal bottling, a minimum of 75 percent of that wine must be made from the designated grape variety.

VINTNER-GROWN: Wine from a winery-owned vineyard situated outside the winery's delimited viticultural area.

VITIS VINIFERA: Classic European wine-making species of grape. Examples include Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Compare Vitis labrusca, North American grape species used mainly for New York state wines. For example, Concord.

YEAST: Micro-organisms that produce the enzymes which convert sugar to alcohol. Necessary for the fermentation of grape juice into wine.


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