additives-in-winemaking

Demystifying additives in winemaking and viticulture

Growing awareness of the impact of food on wellbeing is a good step forward in terms of public health. However, there is growing concern over whether it is problematic to consider all preservatives and additives in general as harmful. An unfortunate byproduct of growing public concern has been that unscrupulous charlatans are more able to sensationalise objectively harmless additives and capitalise upon unsuspecting consumers. Admittedly there has in the past been genuine scandals creating cause for concern, the 1985 diethylene glycol scandal an example of one. With that being said, robust regulatory systems, regular review of the science, and a large amount of data now required pre-approval, should give consumers confidence that they are buying wine free of harmful additives. Winemakers are well aware of the stringent regulations they are subject to and have a good track record of compliance. Modern consumers expect to purchase quality products (albeit this is a somewhat subjective measure) which are free of spoilage and have a long shelf-life. In order to achieve a consistent quality product in a commercially viable manner, winemakers have available to them a number of harmless additives. Whilst there may be over 60 additives available to winemakers, the reality is that only a handful are used in often small, measured quantities. In this article, I hope to demystify common additives in winemaking and provide a more nuanced exploration of what these ‘additives’ are, how, why, and in what quantities they are used, and to discuss their harmless nature.

soil-microbiome

Soil and root microbiome: discovering the grapevines greatest weapon

Following my recent polemic against the claims of biodynamic winemaking, I spoke with Keith of Mise en abyme who asked me what I’d like to see emerge from the discussion around the legitimacy of biodynamics. My response? A more practical and evidence-based school of thought centred around achieving healthy soils and diverse, resilient ecosystems. Although understudied, it is widely accepted that microbiome is essential in upholding the fabric of life. Our gut, mouth and skin each host their own unique microbiome community whilst healthy soil microbiome is crucial for the growth and longevity of crops and wildlife. Nurturing this symbiotic relationship between this community of bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi and protozoa is a core tenet of biodynamics. However, a number of studies have shown biodynamic preparations to be ineffective in improving soil health metrics. In this article, I explore microbiome in more detail and discuss working, proven practises for strengthening and diversifying soil microbiome.

Phosphorus in viticulture and winemaking: an exploration from soil to bottle

Besides that which is essential for photosynthesis, namely carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, grapevines also require a range of nutrients to grow, survive and prosper. These nutrients are split into two groups depending on the scale of requirement, macro and micronutrient, the former being those required in larger amounts. Phosphorus is essential for plant growth. It is a component of cell membranes and DNA and plays a vital role in photosynthesis, the movement of sugars, and carbohydrate storage within the vine. Deficiency of phosphorus in vines can result in reduced vine vigour and yellowing of the interveinal area of basal leaves. In extreme cases, this may be followed by early defoliation of these leaves. Poor bud initiation and fruit set may also be observed. In this article, I will explore phosphorus in viticulture from soil to bottle.

piedmont-viticulture

Viticulture in Piedmont: optimism and adaptation in the face of a changing climate

In years gone by Piedmontese farmers could expect at best, two great vintages in a decade. The years spanning 1940 to late 1970 were challenging. But the climate is changing, Silvia Altare tells me the region faces more sudden, dramatic weather and a general shift toward less and less normality. Despite frost in late April 2017, Barolo saw the hottest summer of the last 150 years. Hail storms, having typically been common in summer, now crop up in Spring and Fall. Despite this, the vigneron remain both positive and optimistic. The Langhe people are resilient, over the years much has changed, now more than ever they demonstrate their hardy nature. With the help of some of the regions most lauded producers, I explore viticulture in Piedmont, discovering how they are working with the vine through a changing climate.

nitrogen-viticulture

Nitrogen in viticulture and winemaking: an exploration from soil to bottle

Besides that which is essential for photosynthesis, namely carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, grapevines also require a range of nutrients in order to grow, survive and prosper. These nutrients are split into two groups depending on scale of requirement, macro and micronutrient, the former being those required in larger amounts. Nitrogen is the most abundant soil‐derived macronutrient in the grapevine. It plays a major role in all processes and a significant amount of nitrogen is essential for normal vine growth. In viticulture a nitrogen deficiency may affect key metabolic functions and retard shoot development and bunch formation. In winemaking a shortage of yeast assimilable nitrogen can result in problematic fermentations. In this article I will explore nitrogen in viticulture from soil to bottle.

potassium-winemaking

Potassium in viticulture and winemaking: an exploration from soil to bottle

Besides that which is essential for photosynthesis, namely carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, grapevines also require a range of nutrients in order to grow, survive and prosper. These nutrients are split into two groups depending on scale of requirement, macro and micronutrient, the former being those required in larger amounts. Potassium is the second most abundant mineral nutrient in plants and has a number of roles. It is associated with the movement of water, nutrients and carbohydrates whilst also helping to regulate stomata and supporting enzyme activation. A deficiency can reduce yields, fruit quality and increase susceptibility to disease. Too much can cause a finished wine to lose acidity. In this article I will explore potassium in viticulture from soil to bottle.

grape ripeness

Grape ripeness: pursuing the optimum with Ruinart’s Frédéric Panaïotis

Selecting a date upon which to begin harvest is arguably the most pressing, influential and troublesome decision required of any vigneron during the annual growing cycle. There is the romantic notion that growers arrive at this decision as a result of intuitive tasting of selected grapes picked randomly from a particular plot or row. Whilst intuition often proves invaluable, particularly in tough vintages, times are changing and the role of technology in tracking optimum grape ripeness is proving increasingly valuable. In no region are they pursuing optimum ripeness quite as comprehensively than in Champagne. I got to grips with just how this pursuit is evolving with Frédéric Panaïotis, Chef de Cave at Ruinart.

Minerality in wine: exploring the topic from the ground up

As a descriptor, minerality didn’t crop up in the wine industries lexicon until the late 80s. In a recent Decanter article Prof. Alex Maltman recalled writing his first piece on the topic a little over 15 years ago. Maltman posits the term to be of ‘pragmatic usefulness’ despite there being no clear consensus on what it actually means. We wine-lovers are relentless in our indulgent pursuit of translating perception and sensation of wine in to sometimes simplistic terminology. Vast may our parlance be, minerality is arguably amongst the most ubiquitous of its terms. Why is the topic so challenging? Is it helpful? What do we know about it? In this piece I will explore the research and piece together my thoughts.

Tackling the 2019 MW Exam Part 2: Discuss the role of the following factors in the production of high-quality grapes: aspect, vine density and row orientation

It is often said that one can produce bad wine from good grapes but cannot produce good wine from bad grapes. There is little room, if any, for debate when it comes to the importance of viticultural decision-making in producing high-quality wine. From the very beginning of a vines life the decisions taken in the vineyard, from planting to clonal selection, will go some way toward determining the quality of the finished wine. Factors often principally touted amongst fact sheets are aspect (direction) vine density and row orientation. But exactly what role do these factors play when it comes to producing high-quality grapes …

Tackling the 2019 MW Exam Part 1: Are yield restrictions necessary to produce high-quality wine?

Fruit thinning, green harvest, restricted yield, whichever name it may go by there are few canards as distinctly pervasive as yield-restriction. Across Europe, the belief that yield restriction is directly correlated with amplified wine ‘quality’ is so widely held that one can almost predict the nature of questioning at any tasting, visit or seminar. Let’s stop for a second; just how accurate is this belief? Is yield restriction really a fundamental requirement of high-quality wine production or is this hypothesis flawed?