Ask Wine Wizard

Sediment In A Fruit Wine


Mary Joyce Fink — Fort Collins, Colorado asks,

We have been making country wines for over a decade. We only bottle once they are sparkling clear. They are stored in wine racks in the basement with no heat. Earlier this year we noticed that previously clear wine now has sediment in it. Two different batches of plum, one batch of rhubarb, one batch of pear and one batch of grape. If left standing upright the wine on the top of the bottle is clear and smells and tastes as it should. But there is thick sediment on the bottom of the bottle. These batches were bottled over a two-year timespan. We would like to know what has caused this so we can make adjustments so it never happens again. We are thinking of putting each batch back into the secondary fermenter and using more finings to reclear the wine. Any information would be helpful.


I definitely would re-think your pre-bottling aging and fining procedures. Many wines, especially those made with fruit other than grapes, are susceptible to flocculation (a fancy term for sediment) and visible fallout. Wine is a complex chemical soup and many reactions take place over time; wine isn’t always what it seems to be in early days and sometimes can surprise us. Fruit wines, especially, have additional pectin and other polysaccharides that are sometimes difficult to settle out.

This very tendency of all wines to do this to some extent is why the “bulk aging” stage is so important. All wines, no matter their type, need to be in barrel or carboy (i.e. not in the bottle) long enough so that these condensation and settling reactions occur to such an extent that they won’t happen in the bottle. Classic red wine aging times are 18 months in barrel while white wines like Chardonnays tend to need bulk aging anywhere from 9-12 months before bottling.

But what to do when you either want to bottle faster than this horizon, or are dealing with a fruit wine you suspect of potentially having additional settling or stability issues? This is when your choice of fining agent and settling timeline pre-bottle is really important. Anytime I’m making a fruit wine I use a pectinase enzyme (like Scott Laboratory’s Pec5L) post fermentation. This helps break up the gluey, gloppy pectin that can cause troublesome hazes and sediments later on (for more information about using pectic enzymes, read the “Beginner’s Block” in this issue, on page 14). For your grape wine, you most likely have a protein precipitate, in which case bentonite would be recommended.
However, anytime you’re using a fining agent it’s wise to do a “bench trial” first, that is a trial on only a small portion of the wine. In your case, as you are trying to figure out whether you un-bottle everything and treat it with a fining agent, why not just dose one bottle with a small amount and see if it helps before opening up all the bottles and scaling up? Usually most fining agents settle out within a few weeks. After good settling has occurred you can rack the clear wine off into clean containers. Hopefully the fining agent will have “eaten up” (bound with) the haze or sediment precursors and will preclude any further precipitation in the bottle.

That’s great that you store your wines in a cool basement. Heat and even UV light can both be culprits, which can trigger instabilities. With careful attention to fining beforehand you probably will have clearer wine over time. However, a basement without heat also brings up the possibility if you did not do a cold stabilization prior to bottling that your wines were not cold stable. Cold stabilization is done by allowing your wine to settle for a short time in the upper 20s °F to lower 30s °F (-2 to 2 °C) prior to bottling.

Response by Alison Crowe.