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What does “surely” mean when referring to winemaking? I can’t find a definition anywhere.


Michael Ann Williams • Dallas, Texas asks,

Hi there! I’m a teacher of wine at the Olive Garden restaurant in Dallas, Texas. I was wondering if you could help me understand what “surely” means when referring to winemaking. Something I read said it means, “on the yeast.” I still don’t understand. I have looked in several reference books, and have yet to even locate this term let alone find a definition.

I’m so glad you wrote with this question! How many of us have stood there baffled, not knowing what to do or where to turn, when faced with an unfamiliar wine term — usually written in another language! Well, here’s the answer to your question. What you’re describing as the word “surely” is really the French term “sur lie” (you knew it would be French, didn’t you). In French, “sur lie” (pronounced “sewr lee”) means “on the lees.” “Lees” is a general word for the gooey, gloppy, sludge-like deposit that collects on the bottom of a fermentation vessel — say, a barrel — after the yeast fermentation is done. Let me give you a simple example of how this term applies to winemaking: A winemaker has just pressed a load of Chardonnay grapes and has siphoned the juice into a 35-gallon barrel (133-L). She then adds some yeast (to begin the process of turning the juice into wine), plugs the barrel with a fermentation lock and walks away. After about a week, the yeast will have eaten up the sugar
Response by Alison Crowe.