Wine isn’t always perfect. I know, I can’t believe I just said that. But it’s true! Unfortunately, the process of winemaking is so intricate & involved that it leaves a lot of room for mistakes. However, there are also a lot of things that just can’t be helped sometimes. Because of this, wine faults present themselves in a variety of ways. The big question is, how can you determine if something is a fault or a flaw? Yes, sometimes your wine can be saved. Let me break it down: I’m going to present 6 common faults & 2 that you may think fall into that category, but actually don’t need any interference at all. Let’s get into it!
Fault #1: Oxidized Wine
When wines are exposed to too much oxygen during aging, it’s called oxidation. Sometimes, it’s actually a strategy used by winemakers to develop their wine. However, if not watched closely enough, it can easily turn into faulted wine. It can occur during fermentation, or happen through a defected cork after being bottled. This often causes red wines to turn an orange or rusty color, & white wines to look different hues of brown. The flavors & aromas also tend to be stripped of their intended characteristics. Instead, it causes notes of bruised fruit, vinegar, or different nut varieties. It’s true, some wines have similarly deliberate notes or colors, but when they have a combination of the two, you can pretty safely assume it’s faulted. Unfortunately, once a wine is oxidized you cannot save it. However, it’s not harmful to drink, just unpleasant. Making sure your wine is stored in a cool, dark place & not standing upright for too long can prevent faulty corks from quickly drying up to let oxygen seep in. If you buy a fresh bottle of wine & notice it to be faulted as soon as you get home, take it back!
Fault #2: Corked Wine
This is caused by 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), which is a natural compound that forms when airborne fungi and chlorophenols (organic compounds with at least one chlorine atom) interact. Scientifically speaking, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but I’m a Marketer, not a Chemist! Basically, it means that if the wood in the cork or even the wood in the aging barrel come in contact with preservatives or pesticide residue & bacteria happens to get in there, you’re corked! To ease your anxieties, let me just make it clear that it’s VERY uncommon for this to happen & it’s pretty easy to spot, too. If you smell wet dog, moist cardboard, or mold, you’re corked out of luck. Okay, I’ll stop. Anyways, the overpowering scents I mentioned often extinguish the aromas intended for the wine. It isn’t harmful, but it makes your wine very undesirable, probably better to just throw it out.
Fault #3: Reduction
Think opposite of oxidation. When wine doesn’t get enough oxygen during the aging process, reduction happens. Similar to oxidation, this is another technique that can be used by winemakers to create smoky notes, but if it goes too far, it can result in aromas of burnt rubber, skunk, or rotten eggs. Sulfur is often added into wines to stabilize it, so this is not an uncommon occurrence compared to the other faults. Luckily, this one can be dealt with (most of the time). Remember when we talked about decanting last week? Problem solved. Chances are, the wine just needs to be exposed to a little air in order to bring it back to a palatable consistency, so decant it! In very rare cases, the wine will be too far gone for even that to work. Don’t worry though, if that time ever comes, you’ll know it when you smell it!
Fault #4: Cooked Wine
Yep, it’s exactly how it sounds. This occurs after the wine has been bottled & is exposed to excessive heat, usually during storage or transport. The heat damage causes aromas similar to jam, roasted sugar, or nutty flavors. Only, add a bit of a vinegar smell as well, since oxidation is not uncommon to also occur in this instance. Sometimes, you can tell if a wine’s been cooked before you even open it because of this very process. If the cork has expanded at all or is protruding over the top, you can assume it’s cooked. Unfortunately, this fault can’t be saved, but it can be easily prevented. You don’t always have control over the transportation process, but when you do, take control of it! For example, we have hundreds of Club Members living in Arizona. Every summer, we get the same calls to hold shipments. Why pay for something you know will be damaged when it arrives? Similarly, be aware of year-round temperatures in your home. Wherever you store your wine, make sure its in a controlled environment—Consistent temperatures are important.
Fault #5: Brettanomyces
Bretta-whata-myces? Don’t worry, it’s just a name for wild yeast. You can call it “Brett” for short. This one is tricky. Some people are much more sensitive to this smell than others. Most of the time, it’s actually intentional. That’s right, another strategy used by winemakers to add complexity to their wine. This one tends to give notes of barnyard, hay bales, or band aid. Despite how unappealing I just made that sound, the truth is, some people like it. Because Brett is naturally present in almost every wine (starting with the grapes themselves), its nearly impossible to prevent it. However, Sulphur dioxide is often used to limit its expansion in the wine. Although lighter wines should almost never have this fault, bolder, red wines often do. It’s said to enhance other rich notes, being why it’s also the most occurring one on the list. Too much though often overpowers a wine & cannot be saved once it happens. If this happens to you, give it to a friend that is more resistant to the odor. Genetics play a big role in detecting this one, so it’s possible.
Fault #6: Volatile Acidity (VA)
Another tricky one, VA is present in most wines. It occurs when yeast or bacteria enters the wine during aging & creates acetic acid (the main component in vinegar, besides water). So, what do you think it smells like? You got it, vinegar (sometimes even going as far as acetone/ nail polish remover). Again, this fault is often an intentional choice made by the winemakers, sometimes not. At low levels, VA adds character to a wine, giving similar notes to that of balsamic vinegar (red fruit like cherry or strawberry). At higher levels, it completely diminishes the other notes present in the wine & overpowers with its acidic flavor. In this instance, the call is totally up to you—Another fault based on preference. Many experts say that there is nothing to do to save your wine after this, but some say you can chill it to make it more palatable. If even then you can’t stand it, save it. Make some vinegar!
Sediment & Wine Diamonds:
You know how sometimes your bottle has little visitors of residue in the bottom of it? Well, it’s actually okay. Sediment often is intentionally kept in wine to preserve flavor & “wine diamonds” (crystal-like residue formed when when potassium and tartaric acid bind together) are just naturally occurring. No biggy. If either of these happen, just decant the wine before serving & you’re good to go!
Who knew wine was so touchy? It’s a complicated process, guys. The truth is, some of these faults are bad for everyone, & some of them aren’t. As you become more acquainted with wine, you may end up enjoying certain notes that you didn’t before. It’s important to keep your mind open, but also know when to take back your bottle. Hopefully, now you have a better idea. Above all, I hope you have more of an appreciation for winemakers, everywhere. I know I do!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
With Harvest season fast approaching, I think it’s only fitting to be a little curious about how wine grapes make it from vine to glass. We’ve already talked about the winemaking process, so we’re gettin’ somewhere— Let’s get into the life-cycle of grape vines, next. Again, this will only be a summary into the growing of wine grapes, but nevertheless, should still give you a pretty good idea of what happens.
Before we break it down by season, let me first mention that when a new vineyard is planted, substantial clusters of grapes growing on the vine may not happen for a few years. Row orientation, soil allocation, climate assessments, vine spacing, & varietal differences are only a few of the considerations when planting a new vineyard. It’s a battle of patience & test of experience when trying to start from the ground up, & even following that, it’s never an easy task. So, let’s learn what that means for those older vines.
Most of the foliage has been removed or died off at this point & the vine has gone into dormancy for the winter. Anything left on the vine is pruned (cut back for future growth). This is when the pruner chooses which canes (pictured above) will be used for this year’s growing season. With this factoring into the both the quality & quantity of fruit, it is a critical decision at this point in the life-cycle.
Bud break begins! This is when the buds (pictured above) begin to swell & open up. This is where potential shoots emerge (pictured above). Although an exciting time, it is all at once a very stressful one for vintners (someone who grows wine grapes, produces, or sells wine), too. The buds are very delicate at this time, making any drastic change in weather catastrophic to the potential for harvest. However, if the buds do survive, they begin to create shoots & flowers. Fun fact: These flowers can actually pollinate themselves without any help from bees! How cool is that?
Grape clusters are formed! Each fertilized flower turns into a grape. This is also a time very crucial to the wine grape’s fate. Weeding, summer pruning, fertilizing, pest control/spraying & several other factors all play a role in this season of growing. Then, every year around the time we’re in right now, veraison occurs. This is when the wine grapes begin to show their color & the varietal characteristics really begin to develop. Prior to this process, grapes are still sour & immature. This causes them to plump up & sugar levels to start rising.
Harvest begins! At the discretion of the winemakers, some grape varieties are harvested before the “fall” season, but this is really the sweet spot for this step in the vine’s life-cycle. White grapes are often harvested before red grapes. This is due to the acidity levels decreasing & sugar levels rising, with time. We know now that acidity brings crispness, & especially here at Wiens, we love our “Crisp Whites!” However, this again is completely up to the winemakers’ plans for future wines, so there really is no recipe for the sequence. Fun fact: We hand-pick all of our grapes to maintain their various characteristics later present in the wine! Sometimes, wine grapes are kept on the vine until later in the season & used for a sweeter “late harvest” wine, like a dessert wine. Regardless, after all the grapes are harvested (sometimes taking up to three months with different varieties), the leaves change color & bring a beautiful glow to the vineyards. No more fruit, no more growth. Then, the leaves fall, dormancy occurs, & the cycle begins again.
Now, you have a very small insight into the cycle of a vine. In all honesty, I had the privilege of visiting each of our vineyards a couple weeks ago & I learned more in those two days than anything I could teach you in several of these blog posts. There are so many decisions to make, incidents to predict, & plot-twists to solve, in the case of growing wine grapes. It’s a really beautiful thing! I hope I at least gave you an appreciation for what it takes because our team works hard to give you the Wiens wine you keep coming back for!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
Our Barrel Room, Cellar Room, & Member’s Pavilion, all have barrels lining the walls. I’m sure you’ve noticed on any visit the beautiful aesthetic they add to our property… but did you know they’re functional, as well? That’s right. Those barrels are all full of aging wine. Notice the cooler temperatures in those rooms, too? Yep— For the benefit of the wine! As someone pretty new to wine myself, when I first saw these barrels, I was amazed to find out they were actually developing to a finish all around me— but I thought that was all wine. Nope! It’s actually a strategy winemaker’s use to enhance different flavors & tannin levels in their wine.
So, because they can play such a big role in winemaking, I thought it would be helpful to give a few fun facts about barrels & how they relate to the wine process.
1. Oak is toasted before being used to age wine.
When I say toasted, I mean it. They literally toast the inside of the barrel like a golden marshmallow; exposing the barrel to an open flame without direct contact, until they reach their desired result. The level of toasting actually has a lot to do with the different flavor profiles present in the wine, as well. A lighter toast will often give notes of vanilla, marshmallows & coconut; medium toasts can offer notes of spices like cinnamon, cloves or brown sugar; & darker toasts tend to give notes of roasted coffee, wood smoke & chocolate. Oak from different regions can change the end result of the wine.
2. Oak from different regions can change the end result of the wine.
The two most popular oaks are American & French. Of course, there are others from many other regions of the world, however these are the ones most often used in winemaking. American oak tends to offer more intense flavors & less integrated tannin levels, while French oak often gives lighter tasting notes & gives more of an elegant tannin.
2. There is a difference between New & Old Oak.
When you see something similar to “Aged 14 months, 25% New” on a wine profile, this is exactly what it’s referring to. Oak can be used brand new, or reused over & over again. Oak barrels can actually last up to 100 years, so it’s not uncommon for them to be reused. However, as time passes & wine filters in & out of the barrel, the oak begins to lose its flavor. This isn’t always a bad thing, though— It can be exactly what the wine needs.
3. Barrel size matters.
Smaller barrels are more commonly used. This is because the smaller the barrel, the more contact between oak & wine, offering more room to breathe through the wood. Ultimately, this gives the wine a stronger essence of oak, in addition to the flavor profiles toasted barrels can bring. In contrast, larger barrels give less oak influence due to the smaller amount of wine that touches the surface of the barrel.
Hopefully, now you have a better idea of the influence oak can bring to the wine you’re drinking. Even having no influence (“Not oaked” on a wine profile) plays a role in your wine! Essentially, knowing this information can be useful the next time you’re tasting wine. Those wine profiles I mentioned are available for all of our wines on this very website, & should be available in some form or another at any winery you visit, as well. If you decide you want a lighter wine or a certain flavor profile you’re looking for, now you know what to avoid or actually pay attention to. You’re welcome!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
Alright, so wine— How do you make it? Good question. Well, they don’t just pick grapes, & let them ferment for a few months… It’s actually a lot more scientific than you may think (& a lot more interesting, too). To make it simple for you (of course when I say you, I also mean me), I’ll break it down into five important steps: Harvesting, Crushing, Fermentation, Clarification, & Aging & Bottling. To make it even simpler, we’ll only talk about red & white wine today because, fun fact: The process varies with each wine type. Let’s get into it!
Step 1: Harvesting
Once veraison (the changing of grape colors) finally occurs, grapes are picked (typically white grapes before red, due to the reduction of acidity that time on the vine can bring) at the discretion of the winemaker. We like white wines at Wiens with lower alcohol/lower sugar at harvest, which in turn means higher acidity, keeping our whites light and crisp.
Step 2: Crushing
Next, the grapes are brought to the winery & de-stemmed. This is another point in the winemaking process that varies from wine to wine. Both red and white grapes initially have clear juice. However, to make a wine red, the grapes need to ferment on the skins, extracting color, flavor, and tannin from the red skins. Because of this, red wine is often kept with the grape seeds & skins when fermenting (“whole berry” fermented), then later pressed & separated from the rest of the grape before aging. In contrast, white wine grapes are often pressed immediately, then put into fermentation tanks for however long the winemaker decides is proper for the wine being made. Ultimately, this step is basically up to the discretion of the winemaker in terms of sequence. The pressure applied when pressing & the time allotted in between steps can result in different tannin levels & tasting notes.
Step 3: Fermentation
Simply put, fermentation in wine is a process often catalyzed by yeast to transform sugar into alcohol. In this step, yeast causes carbon dioxide to be released, which can also affect acidity. However, in the case of red wine, this carbon dioxide causes the skins & seeds to float to the surface of the juice, requiring the winemakers to pumpover (a process resulting in higher intensity tannins) or punch down (resulting in lower intensity tannins) the wine multiple times a day to keep them in closer contact with each other. Fermentation also creates heat. Managing the heat produced during fermentation also plays an important role in the flavors and tannin profile of a wine. Wine can again be fermented up to the discretion of the winemaker.
Step 4: Clarification
This process is basically what gives you a nice, clean wine, free of withheld particles like the yeast & grape skins I mentioned before. First, they rack (transfer from one container to another) or siphon (using a tube relying on gravity & pressure from its placement to essentially perform the same task) the wine, multiple times to properly separate these fragments from the wine. Winemakers often add compounds that bond to these added elements & weigh them down to the bottom of their containers to make the process easier, this is called fining. Filtration can also be used (think of it like straining).
Step 5: Aging & Bottling
After clarification, winemakers can either decide to further age the wine in either oak barrels, stainless steel tanks, or their individual bottles, or to bottle & sell immediately. Yet another step left up to the winemakers to determine. However, these decisions result in nearly endless possibilities & tasting notes later presented in the wine itself.
So, there you have it—an extremely simple version of how to make wine… & that’s only pure white & red wines, not to mention blends, rosé, sparkling, fortified, aromatized, natural, etc.! Even then, there are still so many more steps in between these ones that give you the finished product. It’s both an art & a science, in addition to the passion that our winemakers add, too. Cheers to Joe & Brian for all they do to create a product that you know & love… & are (hopefully) starting to understand, as well!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop