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Terms Used in Making Wine

If you are new to making your own wine, you probably realized there are quite a lot of words you’re not familiar with. Learning to make wine is sort of like learning a second language. Don’t panic, we’ve got you covered. On this page we’ll try to clear up some of the confusion by providing you with a list of some of the typical words you’ll come across in the winemaking process. This glossary is a “must” read!

FERMENTATION – The breakdown of sugars to produce ethyl alcohol, carbon dioxide and energy by the action of the yeast.

DORMANT – Not actively growing. In winemaking, this usually refers to the yeast or overall fermentation process.

VOLATILE ACIDS – Acids that readily evaporate.

ACETIC ACID – The acid that gives vinegar its taste.

SULPHUR DIOXIDE (SO2) – Campden tablets and metabisulphite release this gas. They are commonly used as preservatives, but they can also be used to clean and sterilize winemaking equipment.

FLOWERS OF WINE – A white film that forms on the surface of wines exposed to air. It will speed decomposition of the wine.

ASTRINGENCY – Sensory response on the palate due to tannin, resulting in a similar taste to that of alum or aspirin.

CARBON DIOXIDE – (CO2) A gas that is produced by the fermentation process.

MADEIRIZATION – The oxidation of ethyl alcohol and acetic acid into aldehydes, as in the making of Sherry wines.

ARGOLS (potassium tartrate) – Caused by tartaric acid combining with potassium to form potassium tartrate, this causes the total acidity of the wine to drop. Argols will not affect the wine.

MALO-LACTIC FERMENTATION – Transformation of malice acid to lactic acid, carbon dioxide and energy by action of specific bacteria (this does not happen with concentrate but will happen with fresh juice occasionally) and can also be introduced into the wine as a method of bringing down the acid.

TARTARIC ACID – A natural acid of grapes, which is unstable in wine stored at cold temperatures, causing the acid salt potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar) to precipitate.

SCUD – A mold that may develop in wines that are low in alcohol.

OXIDATION – The reaction of wine constituents with oxygen (such as the “browning” of color and the formation of acetaldehyde from ethanol). Browning could indicate that wine is turning to vinegar.


FILTERING – Filter machines should be cleaned and sterilized before use and between each batch to be filtered as any yeast cells which would have attached to the plates will transfer to the next batch. Filter pads should be soaked as per instructions, avoiding any breakage of the pad. It is recommended to let the wine settle for a few days prior to bottling. Never use your filter to bottle the wine, as it will result in surging or spillage of your wine.

BOTTLING – Bottles should be cleaned, sterilized and rinsed well. The use of a bottle washer, sulphiter and bottle drainer will be very useful at this time. Unless filling is done quickly, efficiently and with a minimum of exposure to the air, delicate table wines can be adversely oxidized. Excessive foaming may reduce free sulfur dioxide preservative levels to the point that browning (oxidation) may result, or worse, inhibited yeast cells may be rendered viable, causing re-fermentation. Spillage from poorly engineered bottling operations may cause significant product shortages and microbiological contamination. Bottles should be left standing for a few days prior to putting shrink capsules on.

SHRINK CAPSULES – Besides being decorative, shrink capsules are an important part of your winemaking as it protects the cork from unwanted pests such as spider mites, fruit flies, etc. while still allowing your wine to breathe.

CORKS – Should be soaked in a mild solution of sulfite. Glycerin may be added to the solution for soaking corks to make their insertion in the bottle easier or use a VS1 cork.

GLYCERINE – May be used before bottling to remove harshness in new wines by adding 20ml per 23 liters of wine at the bottling stage.


BENTONITE – a form of clay. It is used as a preliminary fining agent in wine clarification. Small doses added to the must help accelerate fermentation. Use bentonite by adding it directly to the must before adding the yeast. Tip: Stir the bentonite thoroughly in hot water as directed, then sir it into the must.

POTASSIUM SORBATE – Acts as a permanent stabilizer by inhibiting the reproduction of yeast cells. Sorbate does not kill yeast cells but will prevent renewed fermentation (cork popping). Tip: Make sure your wine is dry enough for your taste prior to adding any potassium, as you will not be able to ferment your wine any drier afterwards.

POTASSIUM METABISULPHITE – Prevents oxidation, aids in clearing and reduces the chance of contamination in your finished wine. It also deters bacterial & renewed yeast growth. The wine industry has used this product for over 400 years. Used in moderation, it poses no health threats. The amount used in these kits is far lower than store bought wines. Tip: It is added to your wine as a solution then shaken to release gas in the form of small bubbles. Filtration also reduces dissolved gas. Also a solution made by dissolving 50 grams of metabisulphite in 4 liters of water is an excellent sterilizing agent for equipment and containers.

ISINGLASS – A natural product (fish protein) extracted from the swim bladder of certain fish. It starts clearing your wine within 24 hours. However this process usually takes 4 days. It will enhance the flavor of your wine by removing unwanted yeast particles. Tip: After 48 hours gently shake the vessel. This will reduce sediment clinging to the vessel, let sit for an additional 48 hours.

SPARKOLLOID – Extracted from seaweed and sold as a powder, it is an excellent general purpose fining agent. But it has to be pre-mixed with wine and boiled. It takes approximately 10 days to clear your wine.

GELATIN / KIESELSOL – This is a mixture of unflavored gelatin and silicon dioxide. If there is too much gelatin, some of the flavor of the wine can be stripped out.

ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C) – An astringent substance found in grapes that is essential for flavor and quality.

So now that you have the vocabulary, you should have a solid understanding to expand on your winemaking knowledge. You’re well on your way to enjoying your own homemade wine in your very own fun wine glasses. Perhaps the best way to enjoy your homemade wine is by sharing the fruits of your labors with friends and family. A bottle of your own homemade wine is one of the best wine lovers gifts imaginable.


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