Whether you’re a just getting into wine or a seasoned aficionado, this glossary of terms will help shed light on the terms that often appear in these E-Files and when describing the basics of viticulture, vinification, and the wine itself.
First up, vineyard words.
The cultivation, or study of cultivating, grape vines. This includes everything from rootstock considerations, planting, clonal selections, grafting, and trellis training, to pruning, suckering, leafing, thinning, and deciding how and when to harvest.
In our vineyards, it also includes the decision to dry farm. Rather than adding supplemental water through irrigation to aid in the annual growth of the vines, dry farming allows the vines to establish a natural balance of root mass, foliage, and fruit. This balance means the grapes achieve full ripeness without dehydration, which can change the flavors. As you can taste in the glass, this decision in the vineyard makes a noticeable impact on the finished wine, as well enhancing the vines’ natural ability to adapt to weather variations.
This is a big word for us here at Emeritus, because we strive to shine a spotlight on the terroir of each vineyard, each block. Translated from French it literally means “soil” or “earth,” but the term is often translated as “somewhereness.” It encompasses climate, weather, amount of sunlight, and more. The fact that we dry farm emphasizes and concentrates the sense of place in our grapes, making each wine the most honest reflection of that vineyard and vintage; our winemaker, David Lattin, uses a minimalist and gentle approach that allows the finished wine to continue to reflect that heritage.
For example, the western slope of Pinot Hill gets more afternoon light and warmth than the eastern slope, where the direct sunlight light is filtered through morning fog. Because these differences are part of each slope’s terroir, and a tasting of the Pinot Hill West, Pinot Hill East, and Pinot Hill (the composite of the whole vineyard) are three entirely different experiences, even though they are all Pinot Noir from the same vineyard.
AVA / Appellation
Appellations in the United States are called American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs, and refer to a specific area where grapes are grown. As you can see in the image below, our Hallberg Ranch and Pinot Hill vineyards both fall within the Sonoma Coast , as well as the Russian River Valley sub-AVAs. Hallberg Ranch is mostly within the Green Valley sub-AVA, and Pinot Hill is quite close to the Petaluma Gap AVA.
These different areas are designated to help describe the wines that are produced there, particularly from a growing standpoint. For example, the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley AVAs are known for having a cool climate and high rainfall relative to other parts of Sonoma County due to proximity to the Pacific Ocean. It is best known for cool-climate Burgundian varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Referring to an AVA, for those who are familiar with them, instantly conjures an understanding of growing conditions and what qualities you might broadly expect from the wines produced there.
Appellations are called AOCs in France, DOCs in Italy, and DO in Spain. In France, the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC system, refers not just to where the grapes are grown, but what kind of wine it is: specific grape varietals, ripeness, minimum alcohol levels, and even vineyard planting density and yield.
The kind of grape. At Emeritus, we work exclusively with Pinot Noir. This particular varietal thrives in the climate we have here in west Sonoma County, as does Chardonnay. Other varietals include but are not limited to: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Syrah, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Zinfandel.
Varietal can also refer to other plants cultivated for desirable characteristics, such as apples and roses.
A clone is a genetic individual within its varietal group, clipped and propagated (naturally bred—as in no genetic engineering in a laboratory, just good old fashioned farming practices that select for naturally occurring desirable qualities) from an existing grape vine. Despite the slight mutations that differentiate the various clones, all clones are considered genetically part of the same variety.
Different clones are chosen by growers for all kinds of different qualities, all of which are considered in combination with terroir and what the winemaker has in mind for the finished wine(s). Some clones are temperature sensitive, making them mores suitable for specific climates or microclimates among AVAs and vineyards. Some are known for rich colors, or disease resistance, or density of the foliage they put out (which affects ripening and yield size). They can also contribute certain textural qualities to finished wines, or primary aromas. These qualities are just tendencies, not guarantees, which is part of why every vineyard and vintage makes slightly different wines.
Some varietals, such as Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, are more prone to mutations and therefore have more clones. There are around 1,000 clones of Pinot Noir in the world (though not all of them are distinct enough to be commercially relevant); we had 11 different clones planted in our Hallberg Ranch vineyard until recently, when we added 3 more for a total of 14. This is reflected in our Hallberg Ranch wine, which incorporates all the clones grown on the vineyard, as well as single-clone bottlings like our Don’s Block, La Combette, and Hallberg Elite.
The general concept of pruning is pretty self-explanatory: the removal of branches, foliage, or fruit.
In the vineyard, it’s a vital part of vine management, and when done well can have a profound effect on the resulting grapes. It is also an opportunity to address disease or vine damage. Pruning decisions impact the volume of fruit produced for harvest, with less foliage and fruit to spread its resources around to, you get:
- Fewer but more concentrated, flavorful grapes
- More even ripening throughout the vineyard
- Less overcrowding
- More space for air circulation, which helps prevent mildew and rot
During late winter and early spring, we focus on pruning back the canes (the older, woodier vine branches) and spurs (younger branches, usually about a year old) while the vines are still dormant. Climate is an important consideration here, because pruning too early means any new growth might be hurt or killed by late frost, while too late means new shoots will struggle to catch up all season. We prune the vines down to just certain number of buds on each to grow and produce grape clusters, so the potential sprawl of the vines as the growing season approaches is already strategically controlled.
Pruning also includes green harvesting, the practice of dropping excess clusters of unripe grapes during the growing season. This reduces yields, concentrating the vines’ efforts into enriching the flavors in the remaining grapes.
See also: Canopy Management, Suckering
A process by which vine scion wood is attached to vine rootstock. This mainly came into common use as a way of combatting Phylloxera and other soil-based pests and diseases; certain rootstock are less vulnerable to these than others, which helps protect the vine as a whole. However, rootstock can also be selected with an eye towards other vineyard conditions, e.g. drought, vine vigor, and the pace at which the fruit ripens.
There are two main types of grafting: bench grafting (typically done in greenhouses) and field grafting (typically done in the vineyard). We don’t graft often, but when we do we tend towards the chip bud method of field grafting. If we want to change what clone is planted, we cut two small slopes in both sides of the rootstock and cut a small scion into a small bud. The scion bud fits into the cuts made on the rootstock, and held tightly together with tape until the graft takes, and from there the vine grows as all one plant. (You can watch an example of our vineyard crew grafting at Hallberg Ranch here.)
Also known as budburst, this is the first true sign of spring in the vineyard as temperature begins to rise. The dormant vines wake up and the vine begins to send out new growth, including what will become grape clusters. Budbreak is the start of the new growing season, but also causes some anxiety as frost or rain can damage the new growth and fragile buds.
This is when climate conditions (rain, wind, extreme temperatures) during spring bloom cause some of the flowers on the future grape cluster to remain closed and unpollinated, failing to develop into fruit. Vineyard managers sometime refer to this as “poor fruit set;” the French call it coulure. It takes place during the spring blooming period.
Luckily for Emeritus, Pinot Noir is not as prone to shatter as other varietals like Merlot and Grenache.
As extra buds become extra shoots, vineyard crews make multiple passes through the vineyards to remove them.
During the initial growing period at the start of spring and budbreak, the vines put out a lot of extra growth. Even though during winter pruning only an optimal number of buds on the vine, if given the water and nutrients to be able to do so it puts out more. They push out through buds previously hiding under bark, or the same bud sends out an extra shoot(s)—an evolutionary fallback in case something happens to the primary shoot.
Every one of these growing extras are a weight on the vine’s energy, spreading it thin over the business of growing and ripening the intended crop of fruit. This is the best time to remove them because the shoots are still relatively loose on the vine and be plucked off easily (with care not to remove the shoots that we do want to leave in place). Wait any longer and removal becomes more complicated, requiring actual pruning sheers and more time.
This refers to anything that keeps the growth of the vine in-check so they can ripen fruit to the desired complexity and sugars. This includes leafing (pulling off some leaves) and hedging (pruning the tops of the vines, or giving the vines a “haircut”).
Grape clusters need the right amount of leaves and shoots around them to optimize exposure to sun and air. Too much sun and the fruit can be sunburnt, making the skins less desirable for winemaking; sun-ripened grapes also tend to be sweeter than grapes that ripen in the shade. On the other hand, too little air circulation can lead to mildew and rot. It takes a skilled crew to manage the canopy just right for premium Pinot Noir.
Grapes changing color as they ripen on the vine. The visual difference is more striking with red grapes than white, which simply become more translucent, but it does happen for both.
This is a fungus that can settle on grapes and leech away the fruit’s water content. For some dessert wines Botrytis cinerea is intentionally used to concentrate the sugars the sugars in the grape; in this case it is called Noble Rot.
On the other hand, without the sunny afternoons to dry things back out, this is also known as Grey Rot. No one likes to see this. It does not taste good. It’s why at Emeritus we are very, very grateful that western Sonoma County tends to catch afternoon ocean breezes that help regularly air-dry our vines.
A type tiny insect responsible for a near decimation of the European wine world in the late 1800s. Phylloxera was first discovered in North America, and once introduced to Europe (via rootstock sent from the United States for grafting purposes) the bug exploded in population and scope. The result was an invasive species classic: vineyard after vineyard was destroyed because European vines don’t have the adaptations to recover from the tiny bug bites all over their vines and roots.
The problem was mostly controlled by replanting European vineyards with more resistant US rootstock, but it’s still something vineyard workers keep a sharp eye out for.
Join us next month for more Geeky Wine Words: Winemaking Edition!