Friday, 17 December 2021 07:35

Vine to Wine: A Year of Viti/Vini - December

Written by Nova Cadamatre MW

Finally, we have reached the end of the winemaking year. 

In the vineyard, soil health is a common topic of discussion now that the vines are dormant.  This is a great time to dig soil pits and send samples off to discover more about the composition of the soil layers around the root system of the vines. 

Soil pH plays a large part in the health of a vineyard as it controls nutrient uptake.  Even if the soil contains plenty of a particular nutrient, if soil pH is wrong, that nutrient might not be available in a form that the plant can use.  This can lead to micronutrient deficiencies or toxicities. For this reason, it is very important to manage the soil pH.

Lime can be added to sites where the pH is too low or elemental sulfur can be added if the pH is too high.  If adjustments need to be made, adding those inputs now gives them time to move down through the soil and become available to the roots when the vines wake up in the spring.

If a vineyard has been pulled out, or a spot is being prepared to be planted, this is a great time to make soil amendments. Not only can pH adjustments be made, but compost can be added and worked into the soil to boost organic matter.

Organic matter is important for maintaining and/or improving soil structure. Good soil structure better enables roots to find pathways to nutrients and water.  Lastly, if the site will be fallow (not planted to vines) for several seasons, crops such as buckwheat can be sown to help rebuild the natural structure and ecology of the soil environment. 

In the winery, most of the wines have reached a point where they, like pre-teen children, no longer need constant and unceasing supervision.  The fermentations that needed to be stopped with residual sugar have been.  Most of the wines which will go through malolactic conversion are doing so, and everything else is sulfured and put to bed to wait until blending. 

For early release whites, the time between the end of fermentation and blending may only be a few weeks (at the most).  High-end reds may spend 18 months or more in barrel, aging.  On occasion, one might see a particularly slow fermentation go several months before finishing—sometimes even into the spring—but many fermentations are finished by now.

Since many lots of wine will get their first dose of sulfur dioxide (SO2) this month, it is worth exploring what SO2 is, what it is not, and what it does. WARNING: Significant amounts of geekery ahead!

SO2 is a preservative, an antioxidant, and an antimicrobial agent that is used to protect wine.  It has been used for hundreds if not thousands of years. It was originally added through the burning of elemental sulfur. Today, SO2 is added as Potassium Metabisulfite in powder or liquid form through precise measurement.  SO2 is not a sulfide, it is a sulfite. Both are sulfur compounds that happen to differ by only a single ion: sulfide has two negative charges while sulfite has three.  Sulfides are most often considered faults in wine. They smell like rotten eggs, canned corn, natural gas, struck matchstick, or a host of other unpleasant aromas. However, there are many of these compounds that, in small amounts, can add considerably to the profile of a wine (looking at you Sauvignon Blanc!).

Sulfite also has a smell, but it is generally more sharp, pungent, and slightly acrid.  It is usually only noticeable in wine if added in abnormally high doses (particularly in low pH white wines).  There are a whole host of other foods which have much higher levels of added sulfites than what is typically added to wine.  (Dried fruits, such as apricots, are a particular example. It is not unusual to smell sulfites when opening a bag!)

A small percentage of the population is legitimately allergic to sulfites and those people know who they are and what foods and beverages affect them.  However, there are a great many people who think they are allergic to sulfites but are actually reacting to compounds such as histamines (a byproduct of malolactic conversion) or alcohol. If you have a reaction to wine, your healthcare provider can determine the actual allergen within it.  

Sulfites in wine are divided into two categories: free sulfites and total sulfites.  Free sulfites interest winemakers most since these molecules bind to oxygen (to protect the wine from oxidation); they also inhibit microbes.  Total sulfites can have minor protective benefits, but primarily indicate how much sulfite has been added to the wine over its lifetime. Bound sulfites are not as helpful free sulfites.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Free sulfites not only bind to oxygen, they also bind to aldehydes and sugar. Wines with high quantities of aldehydes and sugar will generally have a higher total sulfite number since so much more SO2 needs to be added (to accommodate the molecular bonding) and still remain in quantity in “free form” to offer protection against oxidation and microbial spoilage.

As was mentioned last month, a wine’s pH also plays a role in the amount of sulfites needed to protect a wine from oxidation and microbial spoilage. Lower pH wines need less total SO2 to maintain an adequate level of free SO2 (often called the level of molecular SO2). For example, a dry Riesling with a pH of 3.1 might only need 20 parts per million of free SO2 to adequately protect it from oxidation while a Cabernet with a pH of 3.8 would need close to 40 parts per million to have the same level of protection. 

Finally, let us touch on what makes a wine age worthy. It is a well-documented statistic that 98% of all wine is drunk within 24 hours of purchase.  In reality, most wines are not meant to age, and contrary to many consumer beliefs, most wines do not benefit from additional aging.  However, it is also true that some wines can last decades.   

There are several key components that, in elevated quantities, contribute to a wine’s age ability: acid, sugar, tannin, and alcohol.  If at least two of these factors exist in elevated quantities in a wine, the chances are good that it is set up to age and develop over a long period of time. This is why sweet styles of wine such as Auslese-level Riesling and Sauternes age so well. They have plenty of sugar and acid. This is also why Barolo and Bordeaux’s combination of high tannin and elevated acid help these wines age for decades.  Port has a trifecta of sugar, tannin, and alcohol and Madeira is just about bulletproof with a plethora of all four components.

Now that we have explored the entire winegrowing and winemaking year, hopefully there is a greater understanding and appreciation for what it takes to craft the wine in your glass. Perhaps an old toast encapsulates this blog journey best: Here’s to the grape whose thin skin is but a veil between the workday and the holiday! Cheers!


“Vine to Wine” is a new blog series that chronicles what is happening in the vineyard and in the winery each and every month of the calendar year. Nova Cadamatre, MW and winemaker, will author these authoritative and detailed posts drawing upon her studies (Cornell Viticulture and Enology graduate) as well as her winemaking experience in California, China and the Finger Lakes.

Each “Vine to Wine” installment details that month’s vineyard and winery tasks with deep dives into a particular grape growing or wine making topic such as pruning methods and training systems or barrel aging and fermentation vessels.

The series is designed to give wine students and educators an opportunity to develop or hone their technical savvy.

Want to know when new blog articles are released? Join this list to be notified! 

Want to know when new blog articles are released?
Join this list to be notified!

Study Viticulture and Winemaking on WSG Studio

Beyond the Basics: Reduction and Oxidation
With Nova Cadamatre MW
Meeting of the Minds: Heroic Viticulture
With Andrew Jefford, Caro Maurer MW, Paul Symington
Where to Put the Wine? An Exploration into Winemaking Vessels
With Nova Cadamatre MW
Climate, Grapes and Wine: Sustainability in a Variable and Changing Climate with Greg Jones, PhD
With Greg Jones, PhD
Beyond the Basics: Yeast and Fermentation with Olivier Humbrecht MW
With Olivier Humbrecht MW
Demystifying Winemaking : Part 3: Everything Else You Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask! with Nova Cadamatre
With Nova Cadamatre MW
Sulphites in Wine with Simon J. Woolf
With Simon J. Woolf
Why Sustainability Certification Matters - A Winery’s Commitment to Environmental Stewardship with Martin Reyes, MW
With Martin Reyes MW
Meeting of the Minds: Climate Change
With Andrew Jefford, Dr. Greg Jones, Josep Maria Ribas Portella, Michelle Bouffard
Beyond the Basics: Wine Tannins with Vincenzo Gerbi and Maria Alessandra Paissoni
With Maria Alessandra Paissoni
Demystifying Winemaking: Part 2 - Reds with Nova Cadamatre, MW
With Nova Cadamatre MW
Demystifying Winemaking : Part 1 - White and Roses with Nova Cadamatre MW
With Nova Cadamatre MW
What Are Varietal Thiols And How Are They Expressed In Red Wine? with Marco Li Calzi, PhD
With Marco Li Calzi PhD
Meeting of the Minds: Evolution in Wine-Making Aesthetics and Wine-Making Trends
With Alberto Antonini, Andrew Jefford, Fiona Morrison MW, Pedro Ballesteros MW, Rosemary Cakebread
Why Altitude And Genetic Diversity Will Save Wine with Dr Laura Catena
With Dr. Laura Catena
The Myths of Terroir with Dr. Kevin R. Pogue
With Dr. Kevin R. Pogue
The Grafted Grapevine Part III: Rootstocks, a solution for climate change?
With Thomas Dormegnies
It's the Nitrogen, of course! The Backstory of Biodynamics with Romana Echensperger, MW
With Romana Echensperger MW
The Grafted Grapevine  Part II: How to Maintain Diversity?
With Thomas Dormegnies
You, Me, and VSP: Exploring the Difference Between Training and Trellising Methods with Nova Cadamatre, MW
With Nova Cadamatre MW
The Grafted Grapevine Part I: How to Produce a Grafted Grapevine?
With Thomas Dormegnies
Introduction to Geology, Soil, and Terroir with Brenna Quigley
With Brenna Quigley
Have Your Say: Natural Wine with Andrew Jefford and Simon J. Woolf
With Andrew Jefford, Simon J. Woolf
Natural wine - exploding the myths with Simon J Woolf
With Simon J. Woolf
From the Ground Up: Grapevine Anatomy 101 with Nova Cadamatre MW
With Nova Cadamatre MW
Heroic Viticulture: Europe's Most Dramatic Vineyards with Tanya Morning Star
With Tanya Morning Star
Rosé: Up Close and Technical with Elizabeth Gabay MW
With Elizabeth Gabay MW
Fortified Wines from Around the World with Guilherme Marques Martins, PhD
With Guilherme Marques Martins
The World of French Fortified Wines with Guilherme Marques Martins, PhD
With Guilherme Marques Martins
Tannins, the Backbone of Red Wine: Concepts and Craft with James Kennedy
With James Kennedy
Optimizing flavors and aromas in wine grapes: A case study of Riesling with Justine Vanden Heuvel
With Justine Vanden Heuvel
Postmodern Winemaking with Clark Smith
With Clark Smith
Viti 101: An Introduction to Viticulture with Tracy Kamens
With Tracy Kamens
Genetically Modified Vines and Yeasts with Christy Canterbury MW
With Christy Canterbury MW
Cultured vs Indigenous Yeasts with Christy Canterbury MW
With Christy Canterbury MW
French Oak: Forests, Coopers and Techniques with Roger Bohmrich MW
With Roger Bohmrich MW
Brettanomyces with Christy Canterbury MW
With Christy Canterbury MW
Organic, Biodynamic and Reasoned Viticulture with Roger Bohmrich MW
With Roger Bohmrich MW
Climate Change and Wine with Roger Bohmrich MW
With Roger Bohmrich MW
Soil and Wine: What do we really know with Roger Bohmrich MW
With Roger Bohmrich MW
Vine Stress with Christy Canterbury MW
With Christy Canterbury MW
Photosynthesis with Lisa Airey, CWE, FWS
With Lisa Airey
Pirates and Pyrazines with Lisa Airey, CWE, FWS
With Lisa Airey
The Barrel Regimen with Lisa Airey CWE, FWS
With Lisa Airey

Nova Cadamatre MW

Nova Cadamatre is a winemaker, writer, and blogger. As one of the first graduates of Cornell’s Viticulture and Enology program in 2006, Nova relocated to California to assume a number of winemaking roles. She has worked for numerous iconic wineries in CA including Robert Mondavi Winery, Souverain, Beringer, and Chateau St. Jean. She was also involved as a contestant in the Ningxia Winemaker Challenge making wine in Ningxia, China with Lansai Chateau from 2015-2017.

In 2017, she became the first female winemaker to become an MW in the US and in 2014, Cadamatre was named to Wine Enthusiast’s Top 40 under 40 list. She has numerous 90+ scoring wines to her credit and writes her blog at

Originally from Greer, South Carolina, Cadamatre began her career in wine after moving to New York to pursue horticulture. She splits her time between the Finger Lakes where she and her family have their winery, Trestle Thirty One, and Napa, CA where she is Director of Winemaking for Robert Mondavi Winery.


The opinions and views expressed in blog posts are those of the author of the post and do not necessarily represent the views of The Wine Scholar Guild or constitute any part of its educational programs.

Sign up to receive our latest updates