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.
Today, let’s chat about winemaking words.
Anything to do with the winemaking process. This includes sorting and pressing the grapes, fermentation, maturation, fining, blending, and bottling. At Emeritus, we do all of this at our winery on Hallberg Ranch.
A degree-scale measurement of sugar content in grapes at a given temperature. (Read more about the technical origins of the scale here.)
1° Brix is 1 gram of sucrose in 100 grams of solution. At Hallberg Ranch and Pinot Hill, we usually find ripeness anywhere from 22-24° Brix. (For reference, Pinot Noir is typically harvested at 22-25° Brix; Cabernet Sauvignon at 24-26.5° Brix; Zinfandel at 24-28° Brix; and Chardonnay at 22-25° Brix.)
Sugar level correlates with alcohol percentage in the finished wine, so Brix essentially indicates how much alcohol can be produced during fermentation. To get an alcohol conversion level, multiply the stated Brix by 0.55.
Crush is used to refer to harvest season, and the specific process of crushing the grapes to release the juice. When we say crush, we mean the harvest and related activities.
Historically, grape clusters were crushed by foot, and the name stuck. At Emeritus we only do it that way on very special occasions as a hands-on (so to speak) historical reenactment. Red wine isn’t typically ‘crushed’ anymore, though white wine does get pressed and fermented separately from the grape skins.
Raw grape juice is clear; the deep colors of red wines actually come from the grape skins. Maceration is the time when the skins soak in the juice, after fermentation is complete. Along with color, the juice also absorbs tannins and flavor compounds not just from the skins, but from seeds and stems as well!
Wine that naturally comes out of the fermentation tank. This liquid has been gently liberated from the grapes during fermentation and maceration. We keep this separate from the wine we get from the press.
Also referred to as “cake” when it comes off the press, this is the mass of leftover skins, seeds, and stems after they have been pressed. Once the free run wine is taken from the tank the skins, seeds and any stems are put into a press. The press gently pushes this down and remaining wine is pressed out.
At Emeritus we have a basket press, which produces juice that often has lower acidity levels, higher potassium and pH levels, more tannins, and more suspended solids (i.e. natural gum and proteins). These attributes can be interesting to blend in later in the vinification process to lend more body, aroma characteristics (such as the varietal aromas from terpenes), and greater aging potential. It’s all a matter of balance!
French for “too bleed,” this method of rosé production actually started as a way to concentrate red wines. Juice is “bled,” or removed, from the rest early in the maceration process; the bled-off juice is vinified separately as a rosé, while the juice remaining in the tank enjoys a slightly higher skin-to-juice ratio and therefore a higher concentration of color, tannins, and flavor.
Some vintner see this kind of rosé as a mere byproduct of red wine production, but it can in fact produce a richer rosé than just shorter maceration time, blending, or pressing alone. Here at Emeritus we take the time and care to develop it into our Ruby Ruby!
The process by which sugar in the grape juice (or any juice, really) is converted to alcohol, CO2, and heat by yeast cells when no oxygen is present. High alcohol (ethanol) levels eventually cause fermentation to stop, or the yeast runs out of sugars it can process.
The yeast used in this process can either be wild cultures (the local yeast or yeasts naturally occurring on the grape skins at harvest) or specifically cultured for winemaking purposes. Most wild yeast will die out around 15% AVB. The yeast most used in winemaking, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is more alcohol-resistant and can continue fermenting longer. Different cultures can affect the finished wine in different ways, enhancing certain flavors or even imparting some of their own.
At Emeritus, all our wines are fermented with native yeast. The dominate strain in our winery is a yeast native to oak trees (which are very common in our area). We believe that using native yeast is another way that we highlight our special terroir.
During fermentation, the grape skins and other solids rise to the top of the tank, pushed up by the carbon dioxide that’s released as the yeast does its thing. The resulting “cap” must be “punched down” to the continue the skin-to-juice contact that is vital to giving red wine its color, tannins, and other important qualities.
Punch downs usually occur one to several times a day, ensuring that cellar workers doing this by hand do not need a gym membership.
When, instead of pressing grapes to get the juice, entire grape clusters are put inside an tank coated with a layer of CO2 to prevent exposure to oxygen. Fermentation takes place inside the grape; once sugar is converted to alcohol and heat and more CO2, the berries burst and there you have it.
Wines made using this method are typically best consumed earlier rather than aging. Beaujolais Nouveau is the best-known wine fermented using this method.
Dead yeast cells. The fermentation process goes until the yeast either consume all the sugar or produce so much alcohol that they can no longer function. When that happens the yeast die, and we call them lees.
Also referred to as “malo” or MLF, this is when malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid. Think of the acid in a slice of apple (malic) vs. a glass of milk (lactic).
Malo is often associated with a buttery Chardonnay, but just about every red wine also goes through MLF. This process happens as the wines are aged in barrel. At Emeritus we do not inoculate the wine for MLF because it is a natural part of the winemaking process.
A tool that allows one to draw samples straight from the wine barrel, often seen at barrel tastings (and also in the picture at the top of this page).
Siphoning or pumping the wine into another vessel, such as another barrel or a blending tank. Racking can be done for any number of reasons, oxidation, for clarification, preparation of bottling, etc..
We only rack our wine before bottling, so once it’s in the barrel it stays put for almost a full year. Before bottling we use a racking spigot that goes into the barrel, with a screw on the end so that we’re not pulling wine from the bottom, where the lees that have settled during fermentation. One hose connected to the spigot pressurizes the barrel with nitrogen and allows us to extract the wine with gas pressure rather than pumping it out. This is a gentler way of moving the wine, which travels along another hose to the blending tank.
There’s a small window in the spigot, so we can shine a light through one side and inspect the wine for clarity through the other so we can stop as soon as we start to see sediment. While this does leave about 4 gallons behind, it also means that our wines are clear and don’t need to be fined or filtered.
Unfined / Unfiltered
Fining is the process of removing “unwanted” material (e.g. yeast, tannins, and other textural elements) from wine before blending and bottling. The process involves fining agents that attach to those “unwanted” particles, making them big enough to be more easily filtered out. Fining agents include egg whites, milk casein, and carbon.
Filtering is exactly what it sounds like, wine is pushed through something that catches larger particles and removes them from the wine.
At Emeritus we only fine our Hallberg Blanc; all other wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered. We feel that fining and filtering can remove too many delicious things, so we go all natural!
The process of combining the fermented wine from different barrels or tanks to create a finished wine. Depending on the winery, this can involve combining different varietals, different vineyards, different clones, and/or different vineyard blocks. The goal of blending is always to take the different parts and put them together into something even better than they were on their own.
Creating the smaller blends is like building a clay sculpture from scratch. Creating the larger blends is like starting from a block of marble and slowly chipping away.
– David Lattin
Deciding when and what to blend can vary depending on the winemaker. Our winemaking team typically starts sampling and tasting the fermented wines in February, then assessing individual barrels to determine favorites for our smaller blends around March. After many tastings (often blind) and copious notetaking. The final decision time begins in May, when David and Keith determine which barrels will ultimately be part of which wines. After that they begin racking in late June or early July, followed by a late July bottling.
Emeritus wines are 100% Pinot Noir and single vineyard wines, so we don’t do any varietal or vineyard blending. But different clones and different areas of the vineyard? Absolutely! Our Hallberg Ranch incorporates all 11 clones that we had planted; the number and the different percentages change every year based on how they taste before blending. Our single clone wines and single block wines (Don’s Block, La Combette, Pinot Hill Cruz, Hallberg Elite) are the exceptions, and really let the grapes and the terroir speak for themselves.