Thursday, August 8, 2013

Biodynamisists worship crystals: Organics are godless atheists: Conventional wine is Capitalist: Natural wine is made by stinky hippies

There is so much rubbish written about wine and I hope I can add this wee blog to that pile. In this time of ipads, woowoes, grads and tfeads we don't want information we want categorisation and little smart aleck titles and acronyms to fill up our time instead of talking to each other. So here I go at over simplifying the wine industry in four simple categories.

Faith healing Biodynamic rubbish 
Biodynamic farming was developed in the 1920's in response to poor farming practises and deterioration of soils. It has been adapted to viticulture over the last couple of decades (note couldn't be bothered to pin down actual date, this is a Blog after all!) by farmers who have desired an increase in vine health and better quality of produce. This has been shown to have limited beneficial effects as documented in a paper by Jennifer R. Reeve in 2005. However I am sure you could refute this with a dozen other papers on the subject. For me the whole idea of healthy vineyards means that there are no chemicals either leeching into the soil and water table, a healthy strong collection of vines ,and the ability to produce grapes that when vinified need little chemical additions in order to make clean wines. I am sure many biodynamisists would agree with this but maybe they should look beyond the cow horn crystal virgin sacrifice dogma of Steiner and realise that you can do all this with a good organic approach.

Childless, atheist, ex-communist Organic nut cases

Just like all viticultural practises Organics has some dodginess built into its fabric. The biggest problem for me is the use of Bordeaux blend as a treatment against mildews. This introduces copper into the environment which in my opinion can't be a good thing for the future. However by limiting the use of copper and if you are in a relatively dry, windy environment then this approach works very well. You don't have to believe in any eastern mythology or hippy mung bean eating fantasies you just have to spray a bit of sulphur and plow your vineyards with donkeys and viola! And believe it or not you can make wines with organic grapes that tastes good. This can be a mindfield though so always check out the web pages of organic produces. Long hair and paisley clothes could mean that these smelly lavender types might be Natural wine making loonies.

Please stop the natural winemakers

I have ranted about this subject before on Winechakra so I won't waste my time here again. All I will say is that wine should taste like grapes not like cider. Add SO² you nutbags!!!

Capitalist swinedog wines

Finally we come to the last broad generalisation of wines. This is the scum money grabbing Capitalist wine companies that make up 95% (again unresearched stats) of wine produced in the world. These Monsanto funded, environmental terrorists add so much petrochemicals to your wine that it only contains traces of grape. But hell the wine is cheap and how would Tesco/Coles/Intermarché etc. survive without these wines. Look for wines that are labelled Sustainable viticulture. These are the most environmentally friendly wines you will find in the capitalist world. Unfortunately in the viticulture world some growers have to spray against diseases that cannot be controlled by organic sprays. Give them a break and remember that good farmers don't want to destroy their land with chemicals as they want to pass healthy farms onto their kids.

Happy holidays and keep on drinking.
Paul Gordon

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sulfur Dioxide in Wines

This is taken directly from Wikipedia .

In winemaking

Sulfur dioxide is an important compound in winemaking, and is designated as parts per million in wine, E number: E220.[4] It is present even in so-called unsulfurated wine at concentrations of up to 10 milligrams per litre.[5] It serves as an antibiotic andantioxidant, protecting wine from spoilage by bacteria and oxidation. Its antimicrobial action also helps to minimize volatile acidity. Sulfur dioxide is responsible for the words "contains sulfites" found on wine labels.

Sulfur dioxide exists in wine in free and bound forms, and the combination are referred to as total SO2. Binding, for instance to the carbonyl group of acetaldehyde, varies with the wine in question. The free form exists in equilibrium between molecular SO2(as a dissolved gas) and bisulfite ion, which is in turn in equilibrium with sulfite ion. These equilibria depend on the pH of the wine. Lower pH shifts the equilibrium towards molecular (gaseous) SO2, which is the active form, while at higher pH more SO2 is found in the inactive sulfite and bisulfite forms. It is the molecular SO2 which is active as an antimicrobial and antioxidant, and this is also the form which may be perceived as a pungent odour at high levels. Wines with total SO2 concentrations below 10 ppm do not require "contains sulfites" on the label by US and EU laws. The upper limit of total SO2 allowed in wine in the US is 350 ppm; in the EU it is 160 ppm for red wines and 210 ppm for white and rosé wines. In low concentrations SO2 is mostly undetectable in wine, but at free SO2 concentrations over 50ppm, SO2 becomes evident in the nose and taste of wine.[citation needed]

SO2 is also a very important compound in winery sanitation. Wineries and equipment must be kept clean, and because bleach cannot be used in a winery[citation needed], a mixture of SO2, water, and citric acid is commonly used to clean and sanitize equipment. Compounds of ozone (O3) are now used extensively as cleaning products in wineries[citation needed] due to their efficiency, and because these compounds do not affect the wine or equipment.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stuck ferment

A rich and ripe harvest
2011 has been a fantastic year in the Languedoc and here in Faugères we have been blessed with some lovely fruit. We did have some problems with powdery mildew (Oidium), which meant that we had to be very selective in some vineyards, but generally the fruit that we processed was of very good quality. The quantity was also up over most of our vineyards. Cinsault, Grenache and Carignan were the best performers with almost double the yields that we have had on previous years. The yields caused us some concern at the start of harvest as we did not know if we would get all the fruit ripe. Fortunately this was not the case and we had one of the driest harvests that I have ever done!

The curse of the sun
I have said often that Grenache is a very difficult variety to work with when you have a hot year. What can happen is that a heatwave can push the sugars up very quickly while the skins remain unripe. The resulting wine will have high alcohol, green tannins and no colour. 2011 was strange in that while the temperatures were high, the nights were quite cool. Therefore the grapes had some lovely balanced ripeness. The problem that we had though was that we could not get all our grapes off the vine before the sugars went crazy.

Stuck ferment
I really like ripe Grenache. I think it needs to be hung on the vine to get that dark cherry confectionary character. As a stand alone wine it can be too much but it blends beautifully. That said it is often difficult to nurse ferments through when the potential alcohol is high. We only do natural ferments which makes life even more interesting. So our ferments were looking really good and smelling great. The temperatures were under control, there was plenty of nutrients for the yeast but the alcohol just became to much and the ferments slowed to a crawl. Yeasts are very much like humans. They reproduce when there is plenty of food and the temperatures are good. But they also create so much waste, alcohol, that it starts to kill them!

Winemaking to the rescue
What I usually do when ferments slow down is firstly make sure the temperatures are around 26°C. This is not always easy as we are usually well into Autumn by the time you start having problems. Luckily all our ferments are in one tonne lots so I just wheel them out into the sun when the sun shines. If the temperatures don't push through the sugars then I will search for a ferment that is finishing strongly and drain off the wine. Then I will press the struggling ferment and flush the pressed wine over the active skins. This usually works but every now and then you have to be more radical.

Pied de cuve
This is the last resort and if it gets to this stage then this must work. What you do is basically cook up a small ferment that has the same conditions as your larger cuve. You do this by adding sugar, yeast food and a special strain of yeast called Bayanus which ferments to high alcohol levels. Then you slowly homogenise the pied de cuve with your struggling ferment. Then pray!

The disaster of residual sugar
The reason that it is so important to convert all the sugar to alcohol is quite complex. Basically all the bacteria and spoilage yeasts in wine love the conditions surrounding a stuck ferment. Acetobacter (volatile acidity) and Brettanomyces (viscious spoilage yeast) love these conditions and these will both destroy your wine. The bottom line is don't let the ferment stop but if it does it is very important to be pro-active in getting them going again. My praying is working and this week I press the last of my ferments and I can then sleep easy.

A Vigneron in distress

Monday, July 25, 2011

That bastard scourge Powdery Mildew

Powdery Mildew (Oidium)

This horrible scourge of all vineyards is caused by a fungus called Uncinula necator.This fungus will infect vineyards with the first spring rains and temperatures of 15°C or higher. Therefore it is important to start spraying at budburst. At Domaine la Sarabande we only spray sulfur to prevent Oidium and only when the weather dictates that a spray is necessary.

2011 Growing season in Faugères

We had an amazing start to our growing season in Faugères. We had a huge dump of rain in early spring and then very warm temperatures for a good two weeks. The vines had a lot of energy to start growing and as we had two low cropping years previously we had a huge bunch initiation. We also had a very good flowering this year so our vines are finally about to show us their true potential. The downside though is that there is more leaf on our vines this year so the fruit is more hidden and doesn't have the usual airflow which keeps the disease pressure low. That said we still have managed to keep our sulfur sprays to a minimum but we have had a real outbreak of Oidium late in the season which has especially attacked our Carignan vines. Carignan is a brute
as it is very susceptible to Oidium and our vineyard is especially vunerable as it is very old as has not been treated well in the years before we took over the vines.

The Sorting Table

As we pick by hand it is quite esy for us to sort the grapes when they come into the winery.
Hopefully we get through the next few weeks without too much infection. Nothing is ever easy
in the vineyards so lets hope we can keep the bastard scouge at bay!

Ready to infect your vineyards.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Natural wine and SO2

There is a large amount of hype surrounding the 'Natural' wine movement in France and the UK at the moment. I would just like to offer some thoughts on these wines and the use of SO2 in winemaking.

Natural wines
For those of you who will be in London between the 15th-17th of May there is a Natural wine fair being held at Borough Market. Isabelle Legeron MW is organising this event which should be great craic. To be 'Natural' the wine must fulfill the following requirements;

* ALL grapes are, at a minimum, organic
* ALL grapes are hand-harvested
* NO added yeasts
* NO added sugar
* NO rectified acidity
* Little or no sulphites are added during fermentation or at bottling*

*For us, low sulphite levels means that the grower is ultimately aiming to add as little SO2 as possible but whether or not (s)he does so, or indeed how much they add, is dependent on the year.

These are pretty broad parameters and quite frankly they are what most quality wine producers do anyway. As someone said to me recently, "If these wines are 'Natural' does that mean that quality producers World wide are making unnatural wines!" Therefore there is a more radical element to this movement which goes one step further and shuns the use of sulphites, filtration and fining.

Sulphites in winemakiing

The use of sulphites has been common practice in winemaking since Pasteur clarified there use at the end of the 19th century. They are used for a variety of reasons. In White/Rose winemaking they are commonly added when the grapes are crushed/pressed to act as an anti-oxidant to preserve fruit characters. They also can stop any wild yeasts from kicking off while the wines are settling. Of course only a small amount is added at this stage as alcoholic fermentation can be retarded by sulphites. After fermentation sulphites are generally added when the wine is racked off yeast lees. This is to stop Malolactic fermentation occurring. Of course if it is desirable for the wines to go through MLF then sulphites will be added after it is finished. In red wines it is common to add a small amount at the crushing of the grapes to avoid oxidation and again at the completion of MLF.

The dangers of making white wines without sulphites are complex. Firstly the fresh fruit caharcters that we are used to in white wine will not be generally present in 'Natural' wines. Oxidation will effect these fruit aromas and the wines will generally smell like apples. Spoilage yeasts could detrimentally effect the fermention also. Besides throwing out funky unusual aromas the spoilage yeasts could also create toxins as a by-product which could stop fermentation. The unfermented sugar could then be consumed by numerous bacteria causing volatility (vinegar aromas) and dirty MLF which will also effect the aromas. These are worse case senarios as if the grapes are clean and have no disease then the wines will generally be better but they must have a lot of natural acidity which will be the only line of defence against bacteria and spoilage yeasts.

Red wines are a bit more robust as the grape tannins will provide some defence against spoilage. Again it is very important to have clean grapes and a strong acidity. Oxidation is a major problem as appely aromas in red wines are disgusting. The other major problem is Brettanomyces which is a common yet highly undesirable spoilage yeast. Often described as a barnyard smell and quite well liked in small quantities in red wines. However with no sulphites these yeasts can continue to chew very small amounts of sugar in bottled wines leaving the palate dry and astringent.

An interesting aside as well is that a study in Canada has shown that headaches caused by wine are thought to be mainly from amines from rogue MLF bacteria. Proff that sulphites are not solely responsible for headaches, hypertension and migraines in many people.

I very much wish that I could attend the 'Natural' wine fair in London. I believe that there will be some very interesting wines and great personalities involved. It would also be fascinating to talk to the producers to see how they overcome the problems that I have stated above.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Malolactic fermentation

Winter is the time when vignerons world wide kick back and reflect on their years work and what is to come for the coming season. Very important work is being done in the vineyards as last years growth is being pruned and the vines are being set up for the coming season. Also there are some fascinating developments occuring very slowly in the winery as the red wines are undergoing Malolactic fermentation.

What is Malolactic fermentation (MLF)?
MLF is the conversion of Malic acid to Lactic acid by Lactic bacteria. This conversion will occur in all wines but is stopped in most white wines as it adds undesirable flavours and alters the acid balance of wines.In red wines it is essential that all malic acid is converted to lactic acid. Otherwise this conversion could continue in bottle and spoil the wine. The only truely effective way to stop MLF is with Sulphur dioxide SO².

How is MLF initiated?
MLF will occur spontaneously as there is always a population of Lactic bacteria in wine. However the process can be helped by the addition of a bacterial culture. This can be added at the same time as an yeast culture is added. However this can cause an increase in acetic acid, which can impede primary fermentation, as the Lactic bacteria chews up the sugar in the must. The most common timing for this addition is at the copmpletion of primary fermentation. At this stage the inhibiting effects of any SO² adds have been reduced and there is only a tiny amount of sugar left that will not cause any acetic acid problems. Critically the temperature of the wine is generally quite warm at this stage which is necessary for the bacteria to work. The third method is allow the bacteria to occur naturally. This is the method that we employ at Domaine la Sarabande but it is crucial that the conditions are correct for a clean MLF to occur.

The optimum conditions for MLF?
There are three types of bacteria that are most common in MLF. Leuconostoc is the most favourable and is the main bacteria in any freeze dried cultures. Pediococcus and Lactobacillus are considered spoilage bacteria but are unfortunately quite common in winemaking. At the completion of primary ferment there is a tiny amount of unfermentable sugars (pentoses, arabinose and xylose) plus residual fermentable sugars ( glucose and fructose). Lactic bacteria can live on these tiny amounts of fermentable sugars. It is also important that the pH of the medium is suitable low (3.30-3.40) so that Leuconostoc can dominate the MLF. The other important factors that enable a clean MLF include temperature (+18°C), keeping SO² additions low at crush and by not overly clarifying or racking the medium.

What can go wrong?
Leuconostoc dominates at lower pH but is slower working than the other spoilage Lactic bacterias. This means nthat MLF can take several months. Therefore it is important to have vessels full so that Oxygen cannot oxidise or feed other spoilage bacterias. However if the wine has a high ph (3.50+) then you are in a world of spoilage bacteria pain! At best Pediococcus and Lactobacillus will form high levels of diacetyl. This is perceived as buttery but can also be like sour milk and is very unpleasant. Spoilage bacteria will also cause a condition which the French call Graisse or Ropiness in English. The wine will appear gassy and thick in the glass with ropy thick legs in the glass. Tourne is the French expression that is the fermentation of Tartaric acid by Lactic bacteria. This is serious spoilage as the acid is what keeps wine stable. Loss of tartaric acid can turn wines brown and open to numerous other spoilage. Wines can go cloudy and develop a mousy aroma. Again this happens in high pH wines especially if no SO² is added in the wines life. This can be quite a common fault in 'natural wines'.

It is the winemakers role to ensure that wines get to bottle unspoilt. Malolactic fermentation is a time when numerous things can go wrong. It is importatnt to have the correct conditions so that a clean MLF can occur. This is mostly down to having a stable pH at the end of primary fermentation. Easier said than done and dependent on to many factors to get into here! It can be a long winter until the wines are through MLF and SO² additions can be made. Patience is the key!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Biodynamics article