Though shrouded in overtly-romanticised metaphysical and spiritual notions, biodynamics offers little in the form of practical, measurable benefit. Touted as progressive, tolerant, enlightened and ecologically-sound, its roots can be found in anthroposophy. Second, only to Waldorf schools, biodynamics is the most widespread example of applied anthroposophy. A worldview invoked by Rudolf Steiner in 1912, anthroposophy is patently racist, it’s origins found at the intersection of nationalism, right-wing populism, and esoteric spiritualism. Having found philosophical affinities with National Socialism, the 1930s saw biodynamics, a practical byproduct of Steiner’s karmic racism, exert a powerful influence on the ‘green wing’ of German fascism. Steiner’s racial and ecological concerns, centred around re-energising the mystical connection between soil and man, were arguably a byproduct of his concern with the wellbeing of what he considered to be the superior race. These racial concerns, compounded by his mystical outlook on soil and land, resonated firmly with the Third Reich’s infamous ‘Blood and Soil’ slogan. Facing increasing political polarisation, a resurgence of extreme right-wing populism in Europe, and a heightened need to tackle climate change, the wine industry must acknowledge the perils of pseudoscience and reflect on the political susceptibilities of romanticised esoteric environmentalism and reactionary ecology. In this piece, I explore the need for a move away from mysticism and a shift toward robust and rigorous ecological agricultural practice.
Though almost universally referred to as malolactic fermentation, the process through which tart-tasting malic acid is converted to softer tasting lactic acid and carbon dioxide released is not technically a fermentation. More accurately it is a conversion or transformation. Though likely as old as wine itself, practical understanding of malolactic is a relatively recent breakthrough. As early as 1837 German oenologist Freiherr von Babo described a “second fermentation” which resulted in increased turbidity. Von Babo’s advice to winemakers was to immediately rack their wines and add sulfur to stabilise. Following a string of influential breakthroughs in the late ’80s, in 1939 the French wine scientist Émile Peynaud outlined the importance of malolactic in making great Bordeaux. By 1960, following work by scientists in California, France, and Portugal, isolated strains of lactic acid bacteria were successfully used to carry out malolactic fermentation in the winery. Nowadays winemakers have a range of malo-centric variables at their disposal. Some choose to inoculate with bacterial cultures while others opt for spontaneity, some experiment with particular cultures of bacteria while others negate warming with site-specific blocking of malolactic. And though not often discussed, there are those who consider delayed malolactic fermentation as being amongst the most impactful of these variables. In this piece, I explore this topic in more detail with the help of some of the worlds most-lauded winemakers and writers.
In 1770, during his voyage to New Zealand, Captain James Cook would discover a stretch of land spanning New Zealand’s South Island, to the south of the Marlborough Sounds and north of Clifford Bay. Cook’s discovery coincided with regional flooding, which washed large amounts of sediment into the sea. Noticing the water’s opaque appearance, Cook christened the area Cloudy Bay. Cloudy Bay’s name was later officially altered to Te Koko-o-Kupe / Cloudy Bay, with the Māori name a nod to the early explorer Kupe. 215 years later, seasoned winemaker David Hohnen, convinced of Cloudy Bay’s potential to produce great wine, invested in the best land the region had to offer and established Cloudy Bay Winery. Now under the ownership of LVMH, many consider Cloudy Bay to be amongst the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc, including wine writer, George Taber. Defined in part by mouthfeel, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc also boasts intense, concentrated fruits, namely grapefruit, passionfruit, and guava. Joining via Zoom, following the recent launch of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2020, winemaker Daniel Sorrel told how chasing one particular thiol, 3MH, has come to help shape these defining characteristics. In this article, I examine thiols in more detail and explore more closely how Cloudy Bay and others hunt 3MH.
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.
Viticulture is a long-term endeavour, one which is intrinsically linked to the wellbeing of the planet. Much more than being an organisational buzzword, to Ruinart, sustainability is the realisation of their responsibility to preserve. Extending this responsibility beyond the vineyard, for the past 10 years, Ruinart has progressively implemented eco-conscious practises across the entire business, from project proposals to service to packaging. Having already redesigned their existing gift boxes, the second skin is the evolution of this aspect of their commitment. The result of 2 years of research & development, the entirely recyclable second skin saw 7 prototypes prior to completion, is 9 times lighter than previous gift boxes and achieves a 60% reduction in carbon footprint compared to the current solution. Beyond this, working with manufacturer James Cropper and packaging expert Pusterla 1880, the manufacturing process itself is both efficient and sustainable. The impact of climate change on viticulture simply cannot be understated, effectively tackling this is a much broader undertaking than working the land. With the help of Chef de Caves, Frédéric Panaïotis, I took a more detailed look at the second skin packaging.
As early as the fourth century Egyptians are believed to have used cork for fishing buoys; however, there is no consensus as to when the first cork was used to stopper a bottle of wine. Corks have been found in Roman shipwrecks dating from the fifth century BC, though it does not appear to have been the usual method of closure. After the fall of the Roman empire, global trade vastly decreased, between 500 and 1500 cork farmers from the Iberian Peninsula struggled to their products and cork gradually disappeared. In the 17th century cork reemerged and for almost the last four centuries virtually every bottle of wine has been sealed using a cork. However, since the 1970s alternative solutions began to emerge and the cork monopoly looked to be in question. The cause of the onslaught, amongst other things, was a chemical compound known as TCA, otherwise known as cork taint. Despite the growing presence of alternative closures, millions of winemakers drinkers around the world refuse to budge. In this article, I will explore the history of cork, it’s production, faults and the future.
As we head into the 15th week of forced closures, industry across the length and breadth of the UK faces an unimaginable demand to adapt or risk the inability to continue trading in the long-term. 67 Pall Mall is a haven for wine lovers, the exclusive members club in London not only has one of the most expansive wine lists in the world but also a spectacular array of sommeliers and events. In the face of their club being closed for the foreseeable future, owner Grant Ashton, vowed to keep all 130 staff on full pay, transform the club’s service and revolutionise the way we experience wine tastings at home. I spoke to Ronan Sayburn MS about how the club has adapted, transformed its service to members and how these changes will change the club looking to the future.
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.
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.
In order to make wine, grapes must undergo alcoholic fermentation. In the case of red wine, the vessel used for fermentation, dependent upon winemaker preference, will also contain the skins, seeds and stems. During fermentation, yeast produce carbon dioxide, this carbon dioxide causes grape solids to rise creating what is referred to as a cap. The cap can present a number of risks, a combination of acetic bacteria, the warmth of fermentation and oxygen could easily convert a vat to vinegar. For this reason, winemakers must manage the cap. Cap management also forms part of the winemakers desired stylistic preference. Tannins, anthocyanins and flavour compounds, all essential to a wines character, are found in large quantities in grape skins and so varying methods of cap management will greatly alter a finished wine. Fail at cap management, and you may well have failed the wine.