One of the most wonderful aspects of Thanksgiving Day is that it prompts everyone takes a minute or two to list some of the things they are grateful for in their lives. With a wonderful life like mine, it isn’t hard to list all of the people and things that make each day a special one for me. 

I don’t know if you know this, but this summer, Mom and Dad told me that I was going to gain an exciting new title: they were going to make me a big brother!  Wyatt was a blue-eyed baby who was on his way to steal all of our hearts (and blankets, but who’s counting). It was hard for me at first to share my mom with him, but I quickly learned that the best thing about hearts is that they grow larger the more they love. In our house, there is always enough love to go around!

Having Wyatt around has meant that I always have a dog to play with (if he can talk me into it), but that doesn’t mean that playdates with my cousin, Ryland, are any less enjoyable.  The most amazing part of having Wyatt around for those is that they tire each other out, and then I get the benefit of all the puppy cuddles when they are too tired to play anymore.

Ryland isn’t the only dog that comes to see me. I adore all of the different visitors that come to the vineyard each day. Even though I am not always down there to receive them, the tasting room attendants tell me about how everyone asks about me. A few people this week sent in some special photos that they’ve taken with me over the past year, and I loved looking at all of them and remembering all of those wonderful moments that we shared.

It is often said that a business is only as good as the folks working there, and I am eternally grateful for all of the wonderful people we have in our tasting room. This group of ladies works seamlessly together to make sure that all of our visitors have a wonderful experience and also to make sure that everything that needs doing gets done. Plus, they rub my ears between their fingers and tell me my ears feel like velvet, and who doesn’t need more of that in their life?

There are some behind the scenes workers that you rarely ever see, but they are equally important to our success. Jacob works tirelessly in the vineyard, taking care of all of the manual labor, and he even comes inside to “back bar” whenever we need it! Joyce comes in once a week to make sure our floors, windows, and everything else you see sparkle. We don’t know what we would do without these two!

I think I heard a saying somewhere that fits this perfectly, “To everything there is a season…”  I have entered the season of rest, and it feels wonderful! Lately, my days have been spent laying around more and running around less, and for that I am grateful.  I am an old dog now, and lounging in the sunshine suits me much better than running from person to person and greeting them as they come in the door. Wyatt is able to take over more and more of my responsibilities, and I am happy to turn the reins over to him, so he can enjoy his season to shine!

Oooooh!  My turn, my turn!!  This is only the second time Winston has allowed me to write on a blog post, and I am so honored that he let me join in for this really important one!  I would say that I am thankful for that (which I am), but Winston is number 1 in my heart. He is the best big brother any little dog could ask for, and he has taught me everything I know (even the habits that Mom fusses at me about). Without him around, I would not be able to know all of the very important things I need to know about being a winery dog. 

Like, did you know we have people who come here every single week to see us?  Steve and Gina come in to eat dinner every Friday night by the fireplace. Steve makes sure to keep the fire going for us, and Gina tells me what a sweet dog I am in between chapters of her book! Sometimes we have horses that come to visit us, and they are even bigger than I am!  I like them a lot because they smell so good, and they can keep up when I run beside them!

I don’t meet many dogs that can keep up with me since I am so full of energy, and I am so big for my age. Last week, though, I was super lucky to meet a dog who is my age and almost my exact size! Finley is also a Great Dane puppy, and we had a lot of fun playing together – his mom even said we looked like a dog and pony show!

Even if every dog doesn’t like to play with me, almost everyone loves to give me cuddles. I love them most when they come from my mom or a from a little curly haired girl who comes to visit. We play and play for hours, and sometimes we lay down for naps next to each other, too!

Some nights are busier than others at Brix & Columns, and I really enjoyed the Friday night music series that just ended. If I was good, bands would even let me come on stage and sing with them! Speaking of singing, I am so grateful for my voice.  Mom says I can’t use it in the tasting room, but I love to talk and tell people what I am thinking.  Sometimes, when nobody will talk with me, I just lay on my bed in the corner and talk to myself! 

I also really love to lie around in the sunshine with Winston.  He doesn’t always like to play with me, but he always wants to snuggle in the sunshine, and those are my favorite naps!

I am just so happy that Mom and Dad chose ME to come live here on Six Penny Farm.  I have acres upon acres of grass to run on, I have so many new friends, and I have the best family a dog could ask for!

Man oh man, Friday night was a good time! We had to wait until Mom and Dad left for the Shenandoah Cup before we could call UberDog to come pick us up, but as soon as they were out the door, so were we! We both wore our very best black tie attire and even donned fur coats for the evening.

This evening was a very special one that came after months of planning. I (Winston) sat in on several of the phone calls and meetings that Mom had for this, but Wyatt missed out on most of them because he can never stay still for too long. The Shenandoah Cup was designed to celebrate the wines coming from the Shenandoah Valley AVA. Members of the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail (SVWT) are really excited about the delicious wines being made in the Shenandoah Valley, and they decided it was time to have a wine gala in the Valley similar to the Governor’s Cup held in Richmond each year. 

Hosted by CrossKeys Vineyards, the evening showcased some of the 50 wines that were entered into the judging process by eight different wineries in the Wine Trail. In order to be entered, 85% of the grapes in the wines had to be grown in the Shenandoah Valley AVA, and the wines had to be produced by a member of the SVWT. This two stage process was completed by the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association; during the first stage, the top six wines were selected, and during the second stage, a top wine was selected from those six.

Barren Ridge’s 2015 Meritage received the honor of winning the first annual Shenandoah Cup.  The other five wines that were recognized were Bluestone Vineyards’ 2017 Quartz Hill Red, CrossKeys Vineyards’ 2017 Cabernet Franc and 2018 Fiore, Muse Vineyards’ NV Blanc de Blancs, and Rockbridge Vineyards’ 2016 V d’Or.  I didn’t personally taste any of the wines (none of them were safe for canine consumption), but I heard plenty of people raving about how incredible they were and how much the industry has grown in our valley over the past few decades.  

Mom even invited a special guest to talk about this very topic!  Brian Yost, publisher of Wine Tourist magazine, came to speak about the merits of the Shenandoah Valley AVA.  He praised the “world class fruit” being grown in the Shenandoah Valley and said it was of a high enough quality that the “spectacular wines” coming from the area could compete on a world stage. He said that this area, ranging from the Potomac River to the Natural Bridge, is “blessed both geographically and geologically”  for grape growing and wine making. It sounds like we are some pretty lucky dogs to be living in the Shenandoah Valley!

Another very special guest was also there for this inaugural event: Emma Randel was a trailblazer for the Virginia wine industry, and she is considered the matriarch of both the Shenandoah Valley AVA and the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail. When Emma and her husband opened Shenandoah Vineyards in 1976, it was just the second vineyard opened in the state! Emma fought hard to bring recognition to the Shenandoah Valley AVA, and I can only imagine that this evening was a special joy for her as she was able to celebrate the fruits of her labor.  

Our only regret of the evening is that we weren’t able to snag one of the delicious passed appetizers we saw being brought around the room. Despite this, we have to say that we really enjoyed ourselves!  It was so much fun to see everyone dressed up, and it was even more fun to see Mom in action as she spoke to the crowd. We are so proud of her!

Winston, here!  I sure am glad that all the hard work of monitoring Mom and Jacob as they picked grapes off our vines is over.  Watching over Wyatt already keeps my paws full, and I barely had any time for napping when I had to oversee all three of them!  Now that the grape harvest is over, it is time for this old boy to take a nap, but it is also time for the winemakers to shine! All of the grapes must be processed quickly in order to extract the highest quality juice to achieve the most delicious wines possible.   

White wines are a relatively easy-drinking bunch that are sometimes viewed as easier to process than red wines. This perspective comes, in part, because most of them aren’t taken through the maceration process. Eliminating that step removes much of the decision making process from the winemaker’s hands.  

It may be hard to believe, but all juices pressed from wine are clear. This is where maceration comes in. What is this maceration, you may ask? Maceration is the term used to refer to the amount of time grape juice sits on the skins after the grapes are crushed. By allowing the skins, seeds, and, often, stems to soak in the juice, the juice is able to extract all of the elements that you have come to expect from a fuller-bodied red wine: rich color, delicious aromas, complex structure, and the ever-important tannins that allow the wine to age. The maceration process can take place in three different ways – the two that are common in our area are cold soaking and extended maceration.  

Cold soaking, as you may imagine, takes place in cooler temperatures (below 55°) that ensure no fermentation takes place during the time the juice is on the must (the collective term used for the skins, seeds, and stems). The huge benefit of using the cold soaking method is that the winemaker has almost total control over the extraction process. Lasting between 12 hours and 5 days, it allows the juice to achieve more color extraction from the skins while lessening the influence of tannins in the wine. This is a great method for grapes that have thinner skins because it deepens the color. After the winemaker determines maceration has finished, the juice is warmed to a temperature conducive for fermentation.

Red grapes going through the maceration process.

Extended maceration takes place over a longer period of time and produces wines that are rich and supple and ready to age. Typically taking between 3 and 100 days, this sort of soaking results in wines that are lighter in color but richer in tannins. The longer soak not only has the added benefit of increasing the tannin count, but it decreases the bitterness of them by enlarging the size of the tannin molecules. Because wines that go through extended maceration are fermenting while soaking, the winemaker has less control over the process. In order to regulate this, winemakers have to manage the cap several times a day.  Cap is the word used to describe all of the bits of skin, seed, and stem that float to the top of the fermentation tank. By either punching this down into the wine or pumping the wine over the cap, the vintner is able to regulate the temperature, to ensure equal contact of wine with the must, to equally distribute the yeast, and to introduce oxygen to the blend. 

Clusters of Cabernet Franc still on the vine.

Carbonic maceration is not nearly as common a method as the other two; in fact, this particular style of maceration results in a particular style of wine: Beaujolais style. In this process, grapes are dropped into a vat in whole cluster form. The vat is pumped full of carbon dioxide in order to deprive the grapes of oxygen. As they starve for air, the grapes begin to release an enzyme that converts the sugars in the grapes into alcohol. This process continues until the alcohol level reaches 2% or until the grape cluster is crushed under the pressure of the clusters above it.  Wines produced in this style, in mere weeks after harvest, are known for their lively flavors and bright noses. They will not age well, due to lack of tannins, but these wines give an excellent declaration of the terroir in which they grow. In France, Beaujolais’ wines are released for sale on the third Thursday of November making them the perfect wine for this time of year!  

After all of this research, I am fairly certain that I am chock full of tannins; after all, have you ever seen such a handsome and distinguished dog as I? There has to be a factor of ageability going on here!

Winston is a regal gentleman! Photo by Greg Murray.

Winston here!  I took a few weeks break from writing this so Wyatt could take his own turn at blogging, and so I could turn my attention to harvest.  Good news! All of our grapes except ⅔ of our Chambourcin crop have been harvested and have been transported to Michael Shaps for him to work his wine-making magic.  As I am sure you can imagine, the entire world is enamored with Wyatt, his cuteness, and his speed of growing. Heck, I am even starting to love the little guy even if he gets a little more attention than me these days.  I guess that is a part of getting older, and I am happy to let Wyatt share the spotlight with me as long as you all (and especially Mom) remembers who the best boy is (ahem!).

One of the folks who came to visit last week kept saying, “Look at that guy, he’s all legs!”  I wasn’t exactly sure if they were talking about wine or Wyatt, so I decided it was time for the wine dog Winston to do a little sleuthing. Could legs be a wine term too?  Or were they just referring to Wyatt’s long, lanky legs?  

Wyatt and Winston laying next to each other on the rug.

It turns out “legs” is a term used in the wine world to refer to the droplets that roll down the side of the glass when someone gives it a swirl; these can also be called “church windows” or “wine tears”, but depending on who you ask, it is highly contestable that these droplets can actually tell you anything worth knowing about wine.  

Look at the shadows to see this glass of Cabernet Franc showing its legs.

The phenomena itself is an example of the Marangoni effect, and it occurs when the alcohol evaporates out of the wine that has been swirled away from the bottom of the glass and onto the greater surface area of the glass.  When this happens, a war is waged against the remaining water (which has a higher surface tension than alcohol) and the wine. The difference in surface tension pushes the water up towards the rim of the glass to fill the spaces left vacant by the evaporated alcohol. Eventually the pressure of gravity becomes too intense, and the water beads up to roll back down the glass to join the wine.

In sweeter wines, these droplets roll down more slowly because of the viscosity of the remaining water.  In wines with higher alcohol content, there are more droplets on the side of the glass.  

Our Lil Em has slower moving legs than our other wines.

All of this can change, though, based on the humidity levels and temperature in the room, so it is questionable if you can ever really tell anything from these wine legs at all.  If there is any pair of legs I know how to read, though, it is Wyatt’s. When they are getting closer to me, I know he is on his way to cause more mischief; when they have disappeared under a table, I know he is on the hunt for any fallen crumbs; and when they keep getting longer each week, I know he is nowhere near the end of his growing!

Oh boy! Winston told me yesterday that this time of year is when you wait, wait, wait for the grapes to be ready to harvest.  He said he was too busy to sit down and write today because between watching me grow and the grapes ripen that he had enough work to do this week.  You know what else he told me? He told me that one day I was going to take over this job because he was going to retire, so he could spend his days laying in the sun and waiting on Mom to bring him treats.  

Can you believe that a little boy like me is going to have a big grown up blog like this?  He said that if I wanted to practice this week I could. He even said it would be good for me to write down everything I’ve learned, so I can remember it better when I get excited. 

I’ve learned a lot about how to be a good winery dog, but these are the 10 most important rules for me to follow:

  • Say hi to all the people and all the dogs!  My job as a greeter is very important. Winston says nothing makes a person feel better than for you to tell them hello with a tail wag and a smile.  He also says dogs are the only ones lucky enough to get away with sniffing each other to say hi!
  • No barking in the tasting room.  Mom always tells me that I have so much to say, but Winston keeps reminding me that there is a time and place for everything and the tasting room is not the place for barking. He said some old man once said, “The quieter you become, the more you hear.”  The guy’s name was Ram Dogs, or something like that, but I doubt he had as much to say as I do. All I know is that when I am quiet, I just hear more things I need to investigate.  
  • I can’t eat the grapes. Winston reminds me of this whenever we go for a walk in the vineyard, and I start sniffing around too much.  He says they are toxic for me; I don’t really know what that word means yet, but I’m pretty sure it means they taste bad.
  • Stay close by! I’m just a little dog in a big, big world, but Winston says I can’t ever go too far away from home.  He said I can never go in the parking lot because cars aren’t always looking. He also told me that there are these really great stinky, smelly animals that run around sometimes.  He said they are black and white and they like to play chase, but he also said Mom gets really frustrated when he plays chase with them. I guess if I stay close to people who care about me, I won’t get into any trouble I can’t handle. 
  • No food, period.  Let me be clear here.  Winston is all about the food.  I’m all about the food. Do you know who is not all about the food?  Mom! She says that it is really important for us to have this thing called “table manners”.  She says that when we have this, we won’t ask anyone for food. She also says we are absolutely never allowed to put our heads on tables.  This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since that is where all the food is, but I am going to listen to her anyway because I don’t like to make her mad.  
  • “Curiosity killed the cat.”  This is one that Mom tells me all the time.  I don’t actually know what this has to do with me because I’m a dog and not a cat, but I don’t know if she’s just confused because she’s not a dog.  The problem with this is that Mom tells me this right before I’m about to make a really cool discovery, so I’m still deciding if this is the best rule for me to follow.    
  • Paw at the door to get back inside.  This is a really great trick, and it doesn’t take me long at all to teach the humans what I want when I do it!  Winston says this world is never going to know what you want unless you speak up, so he told me that whenever I really want to go inside or outside I should just paw on the door to let the world know.  The best part is when Winston plays a game I like to call “in-out-in-out”. When he’s playing that game, he waits for the people to sit down and then he paws on the door. As soon as they let him in or out and sit down again, he goes to another door and paws again.  He keeps going until he feels like they are tired, and then he just stays out and lays in the sunshine for a while.  
  • Naps are really important.  Is there anything better than curling up in a comfortable spot to snooze away?  Mom says when I don’t get enough sleep, I am not well-behaved. This is because when I get really tired I like to do lots of silly things to keep me awake, and this is always when I get put into time-out.  I usually lay down when that happens, and before I know it, I hear people talking to me and I am back to normal again!
  • Chew on toys, not humans or Winston.  I don’t know about this rule. My teeth are growing and they hurt sometimes.  The best way for me to make them feel better is to chew on something soft, but whenever I try to chew on Winston’s soft, soft ears to make them feel better, he growls at me.  When this happens, Mom tosses a toy my way. My favorite right now is a chipmunk that has ropes on it!
  • Sit down when I am asked.  You know what happens a lot when you are a winery dog?  You get your picture taken. Winston says I need to hold very still when that happens, and the best way to do this is to sit.  He told me that one day I would be big enough to sit my bottom in a chair like he does, but until then I need to learn to sit very still when I am saying hi to people or having my picture taken.  He also said I need to learn how to always stay down off of people’s laps because even if I am little now, I will be very big one day, and I will be too big to not listen when I need to.  

This is an awful lot for a little dog like me to know, but I know that if I try really hard, I can be the best puppy ever.  Winston told me that one day, a long time ago, he was just as little as I am now (pictured above!). He said that when he was little, he had a big brother named Vladimir, and Vladimir taught him everything he knows.  Mom even says that Vladimir had better manners than Winston! I hope I can be just as good of a dog as those two; I know with Winston showing me the way, I will have no problems at all!

Today, Mom received a call in the tasting room that made me think twice.  Someone was calling to ask if our wines were vegan, and Mom ensured the person that all of our wines are vegan.  Then she mentioned that we don’t use egg whites for our fining agents. This was a brand new term for me – I’ve actually never heard “fining agents” mentioned in the tasting room until today.  

This seemed like a case for Winston the Wine Dog, so I decided to nose out a few facts about this part of wine making process.  That way, all of us can understand it better!  

Basically, fining agents are added to wine while still in the barrel to help remove unwanted materials.  These unwanted materials of the wine, called colloids, are not quite big enough to see. Colloids consist of elements that are already found in wine, but when they are not in the right quantity, the wine may become cloudy, bitter, or astringent.  

Colloids are positively charged, so they won’t bind together on their own.  They do eventually lose their charge, and some winemakers get around using fining agents by allowing the wine to rest and then periodically racking it to remove any colloids that have binded together.  Winemakers are able to fast forward this process by using fining agents. Because fining agents have a negative charge, they cause the colloids to bind together as soon as they are introduced to the wine.  Once binded, colloids are easy to remove.  

Bentonite, egg whites (or albumen), and casein are a few of the  “agents” most commonly used for this process. Bentonite is typically used in white wines and alumen in red wines, but our winemaker uses bentonite for nearly all of his fining (and ALL of the fining of our wines).

While some purists choose to leave colloids in their wine because they want to preserve all natural flavors and textures, removing colloids through the fining process leaves a wine that is more stable and less prone to spoilage.  

In France, where wineries go the more traditional route of using egg whites for their red wines, they usually have a favorite recipe or two that they keep on hand to use up all those extra egg yolks.  I found two that look especially delicious. (Click on the names below to link to their recipes.) If you make either of these, let us know! Better yet… bring us a taste!

Parisian Flan and Cannelés

Vidal grapes and Cabernet Franc grapes growing side by side.

Right now is an exciting time at the vineyard, and you don’t have to look far to see the changes.  No, it’s not Wyatt that I am talking about. It’s pretty exciting to watch him grow, too, but you will have to wait until Friday for me to tell you more about that!  For the last blog, I wrote about veraison, which is the color change that indicates grapes are beginning to ripen. This week I am going to talk to you about the timeline as we move from veraison to harvest season.

During the weeks following veraison, you will notice the vines getting “woodier”.  This is another indicator that they are putting all of their energy into making the grapes sweeter instead of continuing to spread. The grapes are growing plumper by the minute (this is called engustment), but this plumpness slows down airflow in the some of the clusters.  As a result, our vineyard workers Gene and Jacob have to watch closely to make sure the grapes aren’t being attacked by any fungus or bug infestations.  

During this same time, they are taking samples from all different areas in each varietal lot to determine if the grapes are ready to harvest.  Because grapes ripen at different rates even on the same vine, they have to be sure to collect samples from all different rows, from different sides of the vines, and from different heights of the vine.  These samples are sent to Michael Shaps, our winemaker, so he can run tests to determine the levels of sugars (measured in brix), tannins, acids, and flavor compounds. He is waiting on the perfect combination of all of those factors to tell us that the grapes are ready to harvest. You can watch this informative video from Jordan Winery to see the entire process.

Meanwhile, we are also watching the weather very closely so we can choose to pick early if there are any threatening meteorological events that we need to schedule around.  Often, vineyards will choose to pick before a storm hits to keep their grapes from becoming damaged. We had to make this decision last year when Hurricane Florence was scheduled to dump several inches on us.  

Harvest season is often considered to be the most exciting time at a vineyard.  It is a time when the vineyard workers are able to see the fruits of their labors, when vintners are able to start their visions for next year’s wines, and when vineyard visitors are given a brief glimpse of all the work that goes on behind the scenes to produce their delicious favorites.  

I don’t know if you’ve seen my new little brother, but Wyatt has some pretty big paws to grow into and not just physically.  As I slow down, I am making sure to teach Wyatt everything I know about grapes, vineyards, wines, and (most importantly) how to walk up and greet each of you as you come to visit us at the vineyard.  Don’t worry, Mom, I am not teaching him how to ask for food. 

Winston whispering all of the secrets of being a wine dog!

Part of Wyatt’s training has taken us on many walks through the vineyard, and we noticed something really interesting happening this week.  Our grapes have reached the veraison phase of the season! This phase is when grapes start changing color and is most visible in red grapes as they turn from their bright green to purple hues.  You can also see it happen in the white grapes if you look closely; the color of those change from bright green to a more translucent golden color. Once this happens, the grapes will fully ripen over the course of the next month or two. 

Veraison presenting in our Viognier grapes.

This milestone in the grape’s development occurs when the vines begin to focus on nourishing the grapes with their energy instead of just creating more energy.  As a result the grapes double in size, their sugar levels increase, their acidity falls, and the aroma compounds that make wines fruity and complex begin to develop.  

Petit Verdot Grapes

During this time, the grapes also develop polyphenols in their skin.  This helps to protect the grapes from environmental elements like the sun and wind.  Unfortunately, these polyphenols don’t protect the newly sweet grapes from all of the creatures who want to eat them, and you will see us wrapping our vines in the protective netting in the next few weeks.  

Cabernet Franc in all of its “hue”ty!

Make sure you take a trip to see the vines before the beautiful colors are covered up, and if you are lucky, you might just see me showing Wyatt the ropes of being a winery dog!

Now, I know I am no expert in this world of wine. My specialty is more along the lines of being able to sniff out who has the good food stashed in their coolers, but I have done a lot of research and a lot of listening around the tasting room.  One term that seems to have everyone scratching their heads – including me – is minerality. Even after all my research, I don’t have any real conclusive information to share with you.

A lot of people think that minerality comes from the vines soaking up the minerals in the soil in which they grow.  From my understanding, that would technically be impossible since the trace amounts of minerals present in the grapes are so small that they could never be detected by human taste buds.  Besides that, many minerals are added to and taken from the wine during the wine-making process. What is curious about this theory is that some regions produce more wines with noticeable minerality than other regions.    

Although sometimes described as a taste, minerality really describes an experience, instead.  The term helps describe the combination of the smell, taste, and mouthfeel of the wine. One article I read called minerality the umami aspect of wine.  When I read that, I knew I had heard the term before, and I quickly recalled that it was mentioned during a meeting with Mikey from Mashita, he explained the umami taste and why it is important to lend savory qualities to foods.  

Minerality works in the same way with wine.  It helps the wine drinker notice all of the other characteristics of the wine by activating the salt receptors in the taste buds.  While it is difficult to put this experience into words, some words that you might hear used to describe a wine that has a minerality quality present are chalk, graphite, oyster shell, wet sidewalk, or crushed rock.  When you are tasting wine at Brix & Columns, you may notice the quality or minerality in our rosé and cabernet franc wines.  

Even though it hasn’t made its way onto the Davis Wine Aroma Wheel, minerality is a term making rounds more and more frequently in the wine world, so you are sure to hear it as you make your rounds to all the great vineyards in Virginia and beyond.  While not everyone understands completely what it means, I hope this blog gave you a bit more grasp of it next time you hear it in the tasting room. I’ll keep nosing around for more information, and hopefully I will find some tasty treats my mom has stashed away for me along the way!

If you’ve stopped by the vineyard and met me, I don’t think there is any denying that I am the sweetest thing all around, but after me, there are a few other sweet items in our tasting room.  Our name itself gives you a hint of the sweetness that can be found in some of our wines. Brix & Columns is named, in part, after the unit of measurement in which sugar is measured in wine. I actually wrote my first blog about brix (read “What are These Brix, Anyway?” here) and we named our first semi-sweet wine, White Brix, as a nod to those brix.  

We get a lot of questions about what constitutes a sweet wine, specifically what is the particular point where a wine goes from dry to sweet. There is not a black and white answer (a Winston, if you will) to that question, but there are several well-defined gray areas to follow:

If a wine is 0% residual sugar, it is considered “bone dry”.  Our Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, and McGahey all fall into this category.  

If a wine has between .1% and 1.7% residual sugar, it is considered “dry”.  Our Viognier, Petit Manseng, Rosé, and Cabernet Franc fall into this category.   

If a wine has between 1.8% and 3.5% residual sugar, it is considered “off-dry”.  These wines often start sweet and finish dry. Both our White Brix and Kerus fall into this category.  

If a wine has between 3.6% and 12% residual sugar, it is considered “sweet”.  Our Lil Em falls into this category.

Finally, if a wine has more than 12% residual sugar, it is considered “dessert”.  We don’t currently have any wines that fall into this category.

Inevitably, the question will lead to what determines the level of sugar in wine.  That is actually determined by the quality and ripeness of the grapes when harvested and the goals of the winemaker.   During the fermentation process, the yeast in the pressed juice eats the sugar (fructose and glucose) and turns it into alcohol.  In dry wines, all of the sugar was eaten which is why dry wines have a slightly higher alcohol level than sweet wines. In sweet wines, the winemaker stopped the fermentation process in order to have a sweeter wine.  

Sometimes wines can taste sweeter than their residual sugar suggests they would taste.  This is because humans (much like dogs) rely on their sense of smell to influence their taste.  If a wine smells sweet, it is perceived as sweeter by the drinker. This happened frequently with our 2016 Viognier.  Also, the more tannins a wine has in it, the less sweet it appears to be. This can be seen when you taste our White Brix and Kerus side by side.  The White Brix tastes sweeter even though it has less residual sugar than the Kerus.

Speaking of tannins – did you know that you can reduce the presence of tannins by drinking the wine with food that is salty and/or fatty (you know, every cheese board my mom has NEVER let me eat)?  You know what would be really sweet? If you talked my mom into letting me have a hunk of cheddar with some slices of salami, but since we know that will never happen, continue happily drinking your wines every time you come to see the sweetest aspect of Brix & Columns Vineyards: ME!