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No Experience Necessary

2012 February 10
by Eric Hwang

Adding sugar to the must before fermentation is called chaptalization and is done in some cooler climate states to compensate for low sugar levels in the harvested grapes. Chaptalization increases the amount of alcohol produced and generally improves body and mouthfeel.

The other day I was attending an event at a local (read Woodinville) tasting room. While I was waiting, I was sampling some of the wine and overheard part of a conversation between a tasting room employee and someone else attending the event (and a potential customer). I’m paraphrasing here:

Customer: Your rosé is very dry. I like mine a bit sweeter.
Employee: That’s because we don’t add any sugar to our rosé. To make it sweeter, they add sugar to the wine. (spoken with true authority)

I cringed as I heard this, and later, when the employee was alone, I explained that they don’t add sugar to make the wine sweet. In fact, some states such as California don’t allow sugar to be added. I went on to explain the fermentation process and that grapes have sugar which is converted to carbon dioxide and alcohol. A dry wine has had all the sugar fermented and  to make a wine semi-dry, the winemaker stops the fermentation when the desired level of residual sugar is reached.

Obviously, this was all news to them as they listened and learned, but it made me start thinking. The misinformation that this employee said will perpetuate that customer’s ignorance about wine. It’s possible that the employee just didn’t know and made this up or was told the same misinformation at some point and didn’t bother to check the facts.

One of the reasons I like going to a winery or tasting room is the opportunity to learn more about winemaking. I’m sure I am not alone in this motivation, but I realize that not everyone is as passionate about wine as I am. Working for a winery gave me the opportunity to learn more about winemaking. But it’s rare that I get to speak directly to the winemaker when I’m at a tasting room. Therefore, the tasting room employee becomes the representative of the winery. Shouldn’t they know a little about the products they are selling? Shouldn’t people working in the wine industry have, at the very least, a rudimentary understanding of how wine is made? Or are they just warm bodies? Thoughts?

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