Norton Safeweb

Monday, September 20, 2010

Backlash against over-processed wine

Wine is grape juice with the sugar turned to alcohol by yeast.  That's about it, right?

Modern winemaking can have lots of intervention in the process with different sorts of filtering, commercially grown yeast strains, enzymes, specialized bacteria, tannins, acids, oak, oxygenation, reverse-osmosis, and adding water.   Not to mention what all can go on in the vineyards with chemicals, water and pruning shears.

This is done sometimes to help prevent a loss such as using sulfur in the vineyard, but often it's done to improve the wine or reduce the cost.  The current style of highly processed "improved" wine has roots in a Helen Turley / Robert Parker connection.  So you can blame them or thank them depending on your preferences.

The old-fashioned way
Image from
 Recently there has been a growing trend towards less manipulation amongst a few people.

The organic wine movement first gained popularity about 20 years ago.  This is mostly in the growing of the grapes and not so much in the precessing of the wine.

The more recent Biodynamic farming practices gaining popularity and press in the last five years.  This is similar to organic farming, but with what I call a spiritual side.

More recently the natural wine movement.  This is unorganized at this time, but in general wants to more away from what they consider over-manipulation of the grapes.   Exactly what chemicals and processes are OK and what aren't is being debated.

The latest is the Natural Process Alliance and minimal intervention with the grapes.  This means sustainably farmed, unfiltered, but of most interest it also means the grapes are fermented with only the natural, wild yeast that are present in the air.  So not only no commercially grown yeast is added, but no yeast at all is added.   This is winemaking from many generations ago.  In fact, this is pretty close to winemaking as it first began.  And it's pretty risky to rely only on yeasts in the air.

Wines from the NPA are made to be drunk locally and soon.  In Sonoma County at least, they are using refillable stainless-steel containers, like water bottles, rather than glass and a cork.  So it's like milk delivery in the old days--you get fresh wine delivered, you drink it, they pick up, clean and refill the bottles.

So, should you care what's been done to your wine?  Perhaps chemically it's easier to see why you should care.  When it comes to processes in winemaking it may be less obvious.   For instance, does it matter that a wine had a fancy tannin added or alcohol removed?  Or does it only matter that you like the finished product?

I can't answer that for you.