The dictionary definition of amelioration is “to make better”. In wine making this is exactly our aim when we ameliorate our wine must, however, as wine makers we have a much more specific definition of the term.

To ameliorate wine you simple add water to dilute the acids or sugars.

Not the best way to ameliorate!

Ameliorating wine is simply adding water to unfermented must with the purpose of making the finished wine better. Some wine makers use the term ameliorate to describe the addition of water or sugar to a must, however, this can get confusing so we’ll use the term ameliorate to describe the addition of water to must.

Why Ameliorate Wine Must at All?

There are two reasons you might want to add water to a wine must, either you need to dilute the acid or dilute the sugar. Of course you can’t dilute just one or the other, you will actually be reducing both the acid and sugar in as well as the flavor, aroma, and color.

Amelioration can come in handy when grapes are harvested early and the acids are high. You would add an amount of water to reduce the acid to a more reasonable level. Under ripe grapes already have low sugar and the water used to cut the acid further reduces the sugar content. Thus you would want to add sugar to your wine as at the same time, a process known as chaptalization.

Amelioration is also used in a similar fashion with grapes that have been harvested late. Late harvest grapes are high in sugar and low in acid. Thus you would add water to cut the sugar and then use an acid blend to bring the acid levels up.

These methods can largely be avoided by harvesting at the ideal ripeness. However, there are circumstances which can arise that would force you to work with fruit harvested early or late.

While there are chemical means to reduce a wine’s acid many winemakers will avoid this if at all possible in order to cut down on the chemical additives they’re throwing in. There is not a chemical way to reduce sugar content though, adding water is your only option.

The following grape varietals can benefit from amelioration in order to reduce acidity: Concord, Delaware, Steuben, and Catawba. Traditional Napa and old world wine making grape varietals do not often need amelioration except, however, in circumstances such as a early or late harvest or in cooler climates

How to Ameliorate Your Wine

If you find that you must ameliorate your wine it is best to go slowly. There’s not a lot you can do if you add too much water. Your flavor, aroma, color, and wine chemistry will suffer.

The best time to ameliorate is prior to fermentation. This is true with any adjustments you may make to your wine. You want to get your must all set before pitching the yeast because the during the fermentation process your yeast serve to integrate everything into a cohesive finished wine. Adding water during or after fermentation can lead to watered down flavors and a lack of body.

To ameliorate with the intent of reducing acid I recommend making a sugar-water mixture that has the same specific gravity as your wine must. That way you’ll be maintaining the same sugar content while diluting the acid. If you were to add just water until the acid is perfect and then add sugar you could end up further diluting the acid due to the volume of sugar added.

To dilute the sugar you would want to add plain water and then add the acid blend (if necessary) to bring your acid levels back up. The volume of acid blend that you would need would not be significant enough to further dilute the sugars. Your best bet is to ameliorate and then test your pH and acidity so that you can make informed adjustments.

When you’re ready to go, add your amelioration solution slowly, mix it thoroughly, and test your specific gravity or acidity (whichever you’re trying to adjust)  between each addition. Again, you don’t want to take this too far.

Photograph by: Matthias