Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"Wine is Made in the Vineyard"

I was pointed to this old thread on eBob. The comment below by Mark Squires deserves a Medal of Honor as it ties in nicely with my thinking on terroir and winemaking.

"The myth that wine is made in the vineyard."Of course, it's a myth, at least as stated so baldly. In fact, the conceit that wine more or less makes itself, and the innocent winemaker humbly shepherds it into the bottle is just that--an utterly ridiculous conceit. Just like it's a myth that there are "non-interventionist" winemakers. EVERYONE intervenes. Just depends on where.

That said, no one disputes that you have to have a good vineyard, and have meticulous viticultural practices. If you don't start with both of those two things, you can't have great wine.

But wine is made by winemakers--who make 10,001 decisions from start to finish which affects how the wine shows. Acidification? (NB: Steve Edmunds is portrayed as a non-interventionist winemaker. I know he's acidified some wine...isn't that intervention? Of course it is.) Oak? What kind? Barriques? Let sit on the lees? How long? Stems? Carbonic Maceration? Chapitalization? I could go on--and we haven't even begun to discuss the decisions made in the vineyard that affect the wine, too. But all of these common decisions are made by winemakers. They make the wine. It's the one-sided monomaniacal emphasis on soil that Thackrey is rightly protesting."



Blogger caveman said...

EVERYONE intervenes, just depends on HOW MUCH.

March 15, 2006 2:32 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Are you agreeing that there is no such thing as a truly 'natural' wine - and that the designation of such is just for marketing purposes?

If so, then I think we can agree that the discussion needs to be about where the 'how much' becomes too much...and dispense with the 'authentic' and 'natural' smoke screens.


March 16, 2006 9:50 AM  
Blogger caveman said...

As i said on my blog post, this question has been turning my brain to jello. We agree that it is a human construct. The angle that I am working on is the differnce between interventions like vineyard and vinification practices (which all winemakers must practice) and the issue here of additives. On one hand, super -ripe (notice i didn't say over) new world style necessitates certain additions (acid, sometimes tannin) at a minimalist level. then there are those who take it a step further. Is there a continuum here.
The real definition of Vin Nature comes from a small but growing group of french winemakers who believe that the only thing which is allowed to be added are the minimal amount of sulfites to stabilize the wine. And for some , even that is breaking away from the principle of the movement.

But I agree, for those who do, then how much is very much part of the question.


March 16, 2006 11:06 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

I think the premise that " world style necessitates certain additions (acid, sometimes tannin)" needs some work, specifically that the style being discussed may lead to a greater potential for those adjustments but doesn't always necessitate them.

And thank God that there are "a small but growing group of french winemakers" who can save the world by defining what "[t]he real definition of Vin Nature" is. [sarcasm off]
I think the French need to focus on how to get their wines sold in the marketplace first...their current oversupply isn't due to their being 'un-natural' but decline of the popularity of their style and - dare I say it? - their "terroir", as painful as that may be.

Respectfully cheers,

March 16, 2006 11:39 AM  
Blogger caveman said...


I have spent tha last couple of months talking to aussie and cali winemakers and the use of acid is quite universal (tannin-no). Indigenous or wild yeast becasue of teh ph is a problem and thopse who have tried it often have to add scavenger yeasts to finish the job (these are both tenets of teh nature manifesto).

Keep the sarcasm, it makes you more cuddly.

The 'vin nature' guys do what they do to make disticntive wine and not to become the jesus of the wine industry. In fact, most of them can't make enough wine to fill the orders so they are certainly part of the oversupply problem.

But this digresses from the point of treh discussion. The real question is do the use of additives remove a wine from it's terroir more than not using them and is less manipulation even woth the effort?


March 16, 2006 11:57 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

While it may be "common" practice and is legal, I dislike the term "universal" implies that all are using it, which has not been my experience. I have been in both the International (New World) and the US (California & West Coast primarily) wine scene for quite a bit of time now, and though I've seen my share of vintners adding various combinations of tartaric and malic acids to musts and wines, I have yet to be convinced that practice doesn't produce better drinking wines more often than not.

Otherwise I only have a problem with the thought that the pH is the driving factor for 'indigenous' vs. pitched yeast ferments. Yeasts do quite well at higher pH's (wine commonly lies in the 3.2 to 4.0 pH range which is quite comfortable for yeasts), as do the ml bacteria.

Adding "scavenger" yeasts is to make sure your wine goes dry, as there's no way of being certain that will occur if the yeasts present normally are weakly fementing ones, and that's based upon the sugar content and potential alcohol of the ferment, not so much the pH. It's nigh impossible to tell if your local yeasts are tolerant of wine level %alcohols before they start into the ferment, so it's pretty much a craps shoot at that point. Even so, I don't see any trouble or conflict by using indigenous yeast to start or carry out the majority of the ferment, and then add a known performer to finish the job if needed. It makes for an interesting if somewhat chaotic house style, but I'd hesitate to label it 'noble', 'artisanal', 'authentic', 'natural', etc.

I think there's a place for wines made in both manners - and my stance is that there doesn't really need to be a differentiation based on additives (or not) if the wine is of a style and quality which the consumer wants. Those additives are already controlled by federal laws, and everyone has the same access to them if desired. Otherwise we are in danger of becoming 'wine Nazis' (substitute other preferred totalitarian regime if desired) dictating what other people should or shouldn't like.

I still feel that 'terroir' is what the winemaker makes it...only the weather and macroclimate are truly variable and beyond human intervention - though an argument can be made that man has already manipulated that by planting vines in certain climates.


March 16, 2006 12:29 PM  
Blogger caveman said...

lets just say almost universal on the acid question and fair enough on the tired yeasts drowning in their own alchohol..

This has been (like always) an interesting exchange... but again the question on the table remains the nature-additive question and it,s effect on terroir. If terroir is the result of the combination of soil, exposure and micro and macro climates (with weather being the variable), could it not be argued that the necessity of using additions is in fact a response to inadequacies found in the juice (ie. lack of acidity due to ripeness which is due in large part to climate)? If so, then we can say as Randall Graham believes that moving towards naturalness is in the service in renderring terroir more transparent.


March 17, 2006 8:12 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

"(ie. lack of acidity due to ripeness which is due in large part to climate)? "

Yes, this is true for parts of California - notably the hot interior valleys (Sacramento and San Joaquin) - but again not for all...and clearly not along it's cold coast regions.
Also, some additions are not necessarily made due to inadequacies but rather preference of the winemaker and his/her consumer base.

I think the question at hand is more on the lines of "do the comsumers want more of what is commonly called 'terroir'?"...even though 'terroir' is still too ill defined to really lend itself to a discussion.
Certainly there is a component of the wine buyers who obviously are searching for these elusive connections, but I'd argue both that many consumers aren't concerned with it (other than the romantic concept), and that wines of that kind will always exist and aren't in danger of extinction (even if the definition of what the 'terroir' is varies from one person to the next).

Enjoyable as always, Bill, probably becuse it's such a different view than my own.


March 17, 2006 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a winemaker here in California I think it's right to point out that many times a wine changes as it ferments, specifically the malo-lactic fermentation in relation to wine and it's acid profile.

The pH does rise slightly, and the malic acid ir replaced with lactic acid by the bacteria. This can sometimes leave the wine slightly different than desired, and tartaric acid is added back to the wine. There are very few organisms which will consume the tartaric acid while there are many more which use the malic acid, and this in effect stabilizes the wine against these organisms.

Neither side is right or wrong, it's just a different perspective.
And all winemakers DO interefere in many ways during ripening and fermentation through to bottling - though the extent to which they do varies greatly.


March 17, 2006 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work
» »

November 30, 2006 12:49 PM  

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