Post Harvest 2018: Building Body and Structure


Congratulations! You made it through a truly challenging vintage in Virginia Wine.  Through the hard work of dedicated vignerons and talented winemakers, the crop came in, and the 2018 vintage wines are ready to age! Several winemakers have asked about ways to make the most of the wines that came in, protect them during aging and manage elevage to make the best wines possible. Concerns included thin mid-palate, lack of structure, and high VA. The following sections provide some general principles around these concerns. Topics include general cellar practices to maintain the wines you have (limit VA accumulation), ideas of balance in wine, and the addition of mannoprotein and tannin to address concerns over thin wines. There is also a section with specific manufacturer’s recommendations and contact information. Please contact the company representative directly to discuss your particular challenge(s) and do bench trials to see how these products affect your wines.

Experimentation is not limited to harvest! If you are interested in setting up trials of various aging strategies or products, and would be willing to share your results with the WRE community, please let me know and we can design a controlled experiment with lab and sensory analysis. We are currently setting up trials of lees/mannoprotein products and cellaring tannins, and are open to other ideas as well.

Know the numbers, do the test

In a season where wines may have come in with less margin for error than usual, it is very important that you know what you are dealing with so you can act accordingly.  It is highly recommended to make sure you do proper analysis and monitoring. This section outlines which tests to do and why you should care about the numbers.

Maintain good practices

 It is especially important in a year like this to maintain good cellar practice to prevent loss of quality. In many cases, these wines have higher pH, lower tannin content and higher VA than usual. This means they are more susceptible to oxidation and microbial spoilage. Good cellar practices can help protect them from spoilage as they age. This section outlines some things to keep in mind.

Body, Structure, Weight, and Balance 

“A wine is said to be harmonious when its elements form a pleasing and well proportioned whole” (Emile Peynaud, The Taste of Wine)

Though “harmonious” may be difficult to define or achieve, this section examines a few of the elements that affect the perception of body, structure, and weight and how they come together to achieve balance.  

Building Body with Yeast Lees and Autolysis Products

One of the most common tools in the winery for the addition of body during elevage is the use of yeast lees. During aging, yeast lees can add to the perception of body, fine out astringency, and protect wine from oxidation. Yeast lees can originate from the fermentation, be added from other fermentations, or be purchased from an enological company. This section looks at how lees add body, how they are employed in the winery, and some things to think about when determining if this is the right tool for you.

Tannins and Structure

Many of the manufacturer’s recommendations include the addition of tannins. This section describes tannins in general, the role they play in aging, and when you might want to consider using this tool.

Product Recommendations

This section contains specific recommendations by enological supply companies for products you may consider using given the 2018 growing season. Specifically, each company representative was asked what they would recommend for wines that are thin in the mid-palate and lack structure. They were also asked for general aging strategies for wines with higher VA and potential microbial load than usual.