Friday, November 19, 2004

Water added to your wine?

There was a time a few years ago when this wouldn’t have been publicly discussed…I applaud those winemakers who are willing to bring this topic up.

Now most of the article is fairly accurate. Though I’d recommend anyone interested in the regulation to read it for themselves…

27 CFR 24.176

[Please pay attention to the fact that this is part of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR’s) and applies to all the US, not just California (hence “Federal” regulations). People may add water in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Arkansas, New York, etc. In hotter drier climes, the probability of finding fruit which may require water added generally increases.
Colder short harvest regions – like Long Island, or France for example – usually have the reverse problem…not enough sugar & too much acid. So they may have to add grape concentrate in the US, or ‘chaptalize’ with beet sugar in France instead.]

I’ve been around a few fermentations during my day, and I’ll confirm that these water adds are not that uncommon. But most winemakers make these additions as a last ditch effort to keep fermentations from sticking (stopping before all the sugar’s consumed).

No winemakers that I’ve ever come across have added it for the purposes of ‘extending’ their stock (just increasing volume). Generally speaking, they’ve worked far too hard to get the intensity of flavors in the fruit to just casually dilute it for a longer bottling run. When these decisions are made, they’re made with improved quality and drinkability in mind.

With some varietals – namely Zinfandel – the long flowering period and uneven ripening causes quite a few raisins to be present in the fruit when it’s harvested. When crushed, those raisins take a few days to rehydrate, and when they do they add quite a bit of sugar to your ferment. I’ve seen ferments that don’t appear to be moving at all (sugar being released at a rate roughly equivalent to that being consumed), and yet others that were ‘fermented dry’ until pressing, when sugar from some rehydrated raisins was squeezed out, sweetening it back up.

(This also happens in other varietals, but Zinfandel is truly the 'poster child' of this effect.)

Many times this fruit shows up at your crush pad at, say, 24 °Brix, only to reveal itself to be 28.5 °Brix after a few days! I’ll drink an occasional late harvest Zin, but I don’t like it when it happens throughout an entire vintage…

There are some areas grapes are grown that have a tendency to cause this sort of thing happen more often. Areas that have higher heat, and are drier will see fruit like this as a common occurrence later in harvest. Unfortunately, those same conditions usually cause high sugar levels without true flavor ripeness, fruit that lacks intensity, and tannin development that’s incomplete. California's Central and San Joaquin valleys are areas where fruit like this is exceedingly common.

Adding water to wines made from fruit like this further dilutes the anemic flavor profile, and decreases the quality of the finished product. It’s doubtful anyone would go back for a second bottle…

I have no problem with a judicious water add that’s provided for by law. I think the law’s a recognition of the fact that Mother Nature sometimes sends you a curve ball.

If the French view this practice as fraudulent, it’s mostly a cultural phenomena: in France with it’s weather, the only reason anyone would add water is just for that – fraud.
Just as we in America tend to think that sugar adds are fraudulent, because here they’re not so common (especially in California).

Finally, I wish that Wente wouldn’t try to position itself at the $50/btl level. From the sound of the article it appears to be mostly an ego hit for them as they’ve never been in that segment before (my memory is that they play in the $10~$19/btl range). It almost feels as though they’re turning away from the consumers on this one…


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