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.

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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.

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Oak in winemaking; dissecting the origin, selection and science of barrels

For over 2000 years oak has been a fundamental component in the production, maturation and transport of wine. First used by merchants as a vessel for transporting finished wine, its capacity to transform the liquid within was arguably a serendipitous byproduct of its initial purely practical use. Decisions associated with the preparation and use of oak in winemaking are arguably some of the most influential in defining style, be that regional, site-specific or that of an individual vigneron. Often under-appreciated, the journey of the oak barrel from forest to cellar reveals an intricate and complex story, one of nature, craft and science.

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In pursuit of excellence: 130 years of La Rioja Alta

Since the first Phoenician settlers arrived in 11th century BC, Rioja has had a long and colourful winemaking tradition. As early as the late 13th century there is evidence of Rioja's wine being exported into other regions and from the 15th century on, the Rioja Alta was particularly well-known for wine growing. As is the case across most of Europe, viticulture in Rioja can be traced back to the Roman empire and continued there even during Moorish occupation. As a result of the phylloxera epidemic, during which the French were the first and hardest hit, immediate and insatiable demand for all the wine Rioja could produce swept across France. By 1890, the influx of French négociant and winemakers, who had brought with them extensive knowledge, techniques and experience, had brought about a period of unprecedented growth for the region's industry. That same year, five Riojan and Basque families founded the 'Sociedad Vinicola de La Rioja Alta' which would later, after merging with the Ardanza winery, become La Rioja Alta S.A. 130 years later, La Rioja Alta, as well as being the only winery in Rioja to make 3 Gran Reserva, is globally recognised for its age-worthy, quality-driven, and consistently overperforming wines. To celebrate this laudable anniversary, and to mark the release of the 2014 Viña Arana, I discussed some of the estate's most impactful changes in recent decades with La Rioja Alta winemaker, Julio Sáenz.

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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.

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Rotundone: putting the pepper in shiraz

The aromas and flavours associated with particular grape varieties and regional specific wines are more often than not a result of large numbers of compounds, of varying origin, interacting with one another and forming various olfactory and gustatory qualities. There are however a number of compounds (in this case sesquiterpenes) which have an individual aromatic quality associated to them. The distinct aroma of pepper so often associated with cool climate Shiraz/Syrah is the result of one of these sesquiterpenes ...

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Yeast in winemaking: the unsung heroes of aroma

As a 16 year old I remember working in the cold, damp warehouse of a recycled clothing store. Frequently I would find myself muttering frustratedly under my breath that I was certain the store's customers would never give me any credit for my work and that the more glamorous store assistants would be the recipients of their gratitude. I think that if our beloved yeast could speak they would vent similar frustrations. So often we wax poetic about the beauty of soil, terroir, vineyard management and climate but less often do we give yeast their fare share of our appreciation. This article will explore in a little more detail the role of yeast in winemaking.

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Petrol aroma in riesling: what the TDN?!

Exactly what it is which forms the final flavour profile of a wine is complex, multi-faceted and in the most part unknown. Despite this particular dominating aroma or flavour have come to define particular varieties. The petrol aroma in Riesling is one of them. I don’t know why, but I just can’t get enough of it, I’m a petrolhead. But what exactly is it? A fault? A varietal characteristic? Whatever it is, it‘s aroma that divides wine lovers and mystifies the casual wine drinker. This post will explore its origins and discuss in more detail viticultural and climatic factors affecting its presence and concentration.

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