Wine Jargon: The Growing Process

The wine world is filled with its own jargon. Acronyms easily replace long complex words or drawn-out phrases. But what do they mean, and how does one use them?

In the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at some of the nomenclature used in three major processes: wine growing, wine making, and wine tasting, all in an effort to get a handle on the terminology largely specific to this world. Today we’ll look at wine growing. But, be careful. Sometimes, as they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

  • AMERICAN VITICULTURAL AREA (AVA): A grape-growing area that has officially been given appellation status by the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). AVAs vary considerably in size, and are largely determined by geography, geology, climate and history, although politics can play a hefty role as well. AVA examples would be Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley, Paso Robles etc. (See Sub-AVA below.)
  • AMPELOGRAPHY: The study of grape varieties.
  • APPELLATION: Describes the AVA, where a wine’s grapes were grown, such as Napa Valley or Knight’s Valley. In order to use an appellation on a California wine label, 85 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must be grown in that area.
  • APPELLATION D'ORIGINE CONTROLEE (AOC): The French system of appellations. To use an appellation in this system, a wine must follow strict rules describing the area the grapes are grown in, the varieties used, the ripeness, the alcoholic strength, the vineyard yields, and the methods used in growing the grapes and making the wine.
  • BOTRYTIS CINEREA: Noble Rot. A beneficial mold or fungus that attacks grapes under certain climatic conditions and causes them to shrivel, deeply concentrating the flavors, sugar, and acid.
  • BRIX: A measurement of the sugar content of grapes, the grape must, and the wine, indicating the degree of the grapes’ ripeness (sugar level) at harvest. Most wine grapes are harvested at between 21 and 25 Brix. To get an alcohol conversion level, multiply the stated Brix by .55.
  • CLONE: A group of vines originating from a single, individual plant propagated asexually from a single source.
  • GREEN HARVEST: Refers to the process of removing green, immature clusters from the vines. This is done to allow the plant to concentrate the sugars/flavors in the remaining clusters.
  • LATE HARVEST: On labels, this 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.
  • NEGOCIANT (NEGOCIANT-ELEVEUR): A French wine merchant who buys grapes and vinifies them, or buys wines and combines them, bottles the result under his own label and ships them. Particularly found in Burgundy. Two well-known examples are Joseph Drouhin and Louis Jadot.
  • PHYLLOXERA: Tiny aphids or root lice that attack vine roots. The disease was widespread in both Europe and California during the late 19th century, and returned to California in the 1980s.
  • SHATTER: A condition occurring in early grape development. The tiny grapes have a small “cap” on the end. Normally, as they start to grow, this cap pops off. However, in a cool, wet spring, the grape fails to develop early and the cap toughens. When warmer weather finally hits and the grape grows, it pushes against this tough cap. Instead of the cap popping off, the grape shatters. This drastically reduces yields, clusters, and berry count.
  • SUB-AVA: A smaller AVA located within a larger AVA. Example: Green Valley of the Russian River Valley.
  • TERROIR: (tehr-wha) The “sense of place” component that seems apparent in a wine’s aromas or flavors. The term is used to generally describe nuances imparted by soil and climatic factors in certain wine-growing regions.
  • VARIETAL: Refers to a type of wine, rather than a grape. Thus, cabernet sauvignon is the variety of grape that comprises the majority of grapes that go into wine varietally labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon. For varietal bottling, a minimum of 75 percent of that wine must be made from the designated grape variety.
  • VARIETY: Refers to the type of grape itself, rather than the wine.
  • VERASION: Color change of a grape; the moment color appears in the normally green grapes. It also signals a shift in the development of the grape, which now begins the long process of ripening.
  • VINICULTURE: The science or study of grape production for wine and the making of wine.
  • VITICULTURE: The cultivation, science, and study of grapes.