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Postmodern Winemaking

Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft

Clark Smith
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Postmodern Winemaking
    Book Description:

    InPostmodern Winemaking, Clark Smith shares the extensive knowledge he has accumulated in engaging, humorous, and erudite essays that convey a new vision of the winemaker's craft--one that credits the crucial roles played by both science and art in the winemaking process. Smith, a leading innovator in red wine production techniques, explains how traditional enological education has led many winemakers astray--enabling them to create competent, consistent wines while putting exceptional wines of structure and mystery beyond their grasp. Great wines, he claims, demand a personal and creative engagement with many elements of the process. His lively exploration of the facets of postmodern winemaking, together with profiles of some of its practitioners, is both entertaining and enlightening.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95854-8
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    I perceive today an ever-widening gap between winemakers and consumers. As in any marriage of long standing, we sometimes go for long periods without talking as much as we should, especially when changes are occurring that we can scarcely articulate. The fine folks who pay good money for wine are disconnected from wine production people, so distanced are wineries from their customers. Even at the winery, as winemaking matures as a business, visitors to the homes of the familiar brands are far more likely to encounter marketing and salespeople than actual winemakers.

    The intimate relationship that is part of the...


    • 1 The Solution Problem
      (pp. 19-30)

      Louis Pasteur’s 1857 discovery of yeast as the mechanism of fermentation ushered in a century of discovery in the new science of enology, replacing the trial-and-error approach of traditional winemaking. In 1880, research stations in Bordeaux and Davis, California, were established to apply the fruits of scientific advancement to modern winemaking.

      The advent of electricity altered traditional winemaking forever. So welcome were the advantages in lighting, labor savings, and refrigeration that one would be hard pressed today to name a winery without electricity anywhere in the world. As time-honored methods and equipment were rapidly discarded, a holistic system painstakingly developed...

    • 2 Creating the Conditions for Graceful Aging
      (pp. 31-42)

      Every wine has one of three purposes: to delight, to impress, or to intrigue. Generous, pleasant wines make us smile (the “yummy” style). Big, impactful wines with aggressive tannins and high alcohol are designed to blow us away (the “wow!” style). These styles have grown in popularity in recent years, paralleling the trend in cinema, with comedy and action/adventure films now surpassing dramas in popularity.

      Box office receipts have waned for the third style: wines that make us think. Distinctive wines-of-place that call on us to ponder new experiences are not the rage. Yet these wines represent the core aesthetic...

    • 3 Building Structure: The Basic Tool Kit
      (pp. 43-57)

      So now we’re pregnant. We have just finished a discussion of bringing wine to the point of being ready to build structure, but we have not spoken of how to do it, only how to create the condition.

      If you were making wine according to my recommendations, you would have taken certain leaps of faith and committed to a postmodern pathway, the details of which I have yet to explain. In the first two chapters, we touched on the basics of postmodern winemaking: its history, its general tenets, and its usefulness in growing and making age-worthy wines. I explored the...

    • 4 The Seven Functions of Oak
      (pp. 58-67)

      When asked what I mean by postmodern winemaking, I settled, after much thought, on the following definition: the practical art of touching the human soul with the soul of a place by rendering its grapes into liquid music.

      This apparently airy statement has proven its worth time and again as a practical working vision. In this chapter, I’d like to illustrate its use in working out a satisfying philosophical position in an area of great aesthetic turmoil for today’s winemakers. Let me start the ball rolling by asking flat-out a very loaded question: If presenting authentic flavors of origin is...

    • 5 Vineyard Enology: The Power of Showing Up
      (pp. 68-81)

      Humans are not well equipped to look beyond the simple. In his masterpiece,The Quark and the Jaguar,Nobel laureate particle physicist Murray Gell-Mann examines the challenge of conceptualizing complex systems. It appears that one of the accomplishments of twenty-first-century science will be the development of tools for working with intricacies.

      In the meantime, what we do instead is dissect complex reality into constituent parts that are easier to grasp, trying to manage the whole as the sum of the pieces. This is called reductionism. Though a poor substitute for a true grasp of the whole, reductionist rationalism often masquerades...

    • 6 The Vicinal Diphenol Cascade: Red Wine's Defining Reaction
      (pp. 82-90)

      In this chapter, we finally confront the greatest fear of modern winemakers. That would be chicken wire.

      I’m sorry, but it has to be done. Yes, I will now attempt to render palatable the topic of phenolic chemistry, at least to open a door to its baffling collection of hexagonal pictograms guaranteed to drive the bravest enologist into fits of terror and ennui.

      After five chapters of beating around the bush, it is time for my loyal readers to join with me to take on red wine’s defining process, the peculiar and counterintuitive reaction with which red wine builds structure,...

    • 7 Redox Redux: Measuring Wine's Oxygen Uptake Capacity
      (pp. 91-101)

      Academically minded winemakers often encounter frustration while studying Ducournau’s methodology in that suitable instrumental methods have yet to be developed to supply “hard numbers” and automate oxygenative wine treatments. Instead, sensory assessment of aldehyde, sulfides, and the openness or closedness of aromas has proven the simplest and most sensitive methods. I say it’s a good thing that in order to run an operation with wine, one must actually be trained to taste the changes in tannin types and detect aroma variations. This is no less reasonable than to be expected to look out the windshield of a car when driving....

    • 8 Speculations on Minerality
      (pp. 102-110)

      Some of you are already wincing. No topic has wrought more confusion and ruffled more feathers among dedicated enophiles than the incessant bandying about of the lofty-sounding “M” word. For some (myself included), asking whether minerality exists is like asking whether we think the sky is blue. Yet for many, the term just isn’t nailed down.

      The current confusion over minerality is hardly surprising. The well-known sour/bitter confusion is another example of the poverty of linguistic palate training that most Americans receive in youth. Yet no one doubts the existence of these sensations. Why is this particular descriptor so elusive?...

    • 9 Winemaking at High pH
      (pp. 111-119)

      In this chapter, we consider the winemaking terrain above pH 3.6. Since the standards existing today (though not necessarily tomorrow) dictate freshness rather than aged characteristics in commercially acceptable white wines, this discussion is limited to red wine production. Consumer expectations for red wine differ from whites in several salient ways:

      More tolerance of browning

      Less emphasis on clarity

      Less emphasis on fresh fruitiness

      More value placed on complexity, less on cleanliness of aroma

      Greater longevity expectations

      The dominant themes of low pH winemaking are prevention and control. In high pH winemaking, we often acknowledge that we have given up...

    • 10 Integrated Brettanomyces Management
      (pp. 120-130)

      One of the most controversial topics in winemaking is the role of the yeastBrettanomyces(together with its spore-producing twin,Dekkera). People’s reactions to its peculiarly earthy, animalia aromas vary considerably, due in part to the widely varying mix of flavors that strain and substrate produce and in part to differences in personal sensitivities and interpretation (one man’s “sexy” is another man’s “disgusting”). With some exceptions, though, most connoisseurs have experienced on different occasions both faces of Brett: the sultry, profound earthiness and the repulsive barnyard stench.

      There is a growing feeling that there is no close relationship between concentration...

    • 11 Harmony and Astringency: Nice and Rough
      (pp. 131-140)

      Just as the heart of rock and roll is the beat, the foundation of the soul of wine lies in its texture. In this book I have often discussed the connection between fine colloidal structure and the aromatic integration that leads to soulfulness. Beyond this physical feature, great wines are tuned into harmony, an illusion that we as humans hold in common. For the postmodern winemaker to work in this medium requires both technical expertise and artistic instincts.

      Over the past two decades, researchers have developed a language for tannins and a road map for their evolution. Much technique lost...


    • 12 Winemaking's Lunatic Heroes
      (pp. 143-151)

      The notoriety of California and its attempts to out-France France in the 1976 Judgment of Paris are paradoxical in view of the notion that wine is, by its nature, a product of place. Our breeds are origin-driven, so to judge a California Chardonnay superior to a white Burgundy makes as much nonsense as to find that a Great Dane is superior to a schnauzer or vice versa. What could this possibly mean?

      I explore these inanities in more depth in chapter 24, where I advocate for judging reform. Placing these injustices to one side for the moment, in the present...

    • 13 Gideon Beinstock's Mountain Magic: Handling Extreme Terroir
      (pp. 152-158)

      If anyone deserves the title Terroir Extremist, it is surely Gideon Beinstock (fig. 20). After some thirty-five years with Renaissance Vineyard and Winery, one of the state’s highest and remotest sites, he has now moved a mile down the road to his own certified organic home vineyard, Clos Saron, which turns out one of California’s top Pinot Noirs in absurdly tiny quantities from an unlikely mountain glen. Renaissance, located in Yuba County in the Sierra foothills, has been declared “California’s best-kept Cabernet secret” by the likes of wine critic Matt Kramer, and even the controversial writer Alice Feiring reserves praise...

    • 14 Randall Grahm: California Dreamer in Search of the Miraculous
      (pp. 159-169)

      Søren Kierkegaard famously observed that life must be lived forward but can only be understood backward. If the past is any guide, Randall Grahm’s seeming oddball eccentricity has consistently morphed into tomorrow’s mainstream normality (fig. 21). His wacky promotion of Rhône varietals in California turned out to be simple common sense. His offbeat packaging and effetely clever newsletters sired an entire generation of imitators. The rise of screw caps is directly traceable to his wooing support in the media. There is no denying his impressive nose for the next big thing, and I have little doubt that a decade or...

    • 15 Bob Wample: Thinking Like a Grape
      (pp. 170-178)

      Robert L. Wample is a get-’er-done kind of scientist. After reaching the summit of his academic career as chair of California State University Fresno’s Department of Enology and Viticulture, he shocked the industry by leaving his seat to jump into private practice. “I saw an entirely new level of thinking about vineyards,” he explained, “and simply needed to dedicate myself to implementing it instead of just talking about it.”

      Dr. Wample now serves as a plant physiologist for STI (Soil and Topography Information, Inc.),¹ a Madison, Wisconsin–based hightech agricultural start-up firm that he is assisting in penetrating the wine...


    • 16 Pressing Matters: A Postmodern Tale
      (pp. 181-189)

      The sweeping changes in method and perspective that our industry has experienced since World War II call for a careful reexamination of our current position in order to ensure that what was gained outweighs what was lost. Since wine’s innate impermanence precludes direct comparison with earlier eras, however, evaluating changes is a dodgy endeavor.

      More generally, it’s always difficult to assess how much true progress is occurring. The abandonment of knowledge goes unheralded, while the new and improved is proclaimed. Absent eternal vigilance, gains reliably upstage losses.

      Of all we have learned in the past hundred years, what will our...

    • 17 Some Like It Hot
      (pp. 190-201)

      Wine alcohol levels have certainly climbed. Elin McCoy’s survey of Napa wine labels indicated a rise from an average of 12.5% in 1971 to 14.8% in 2001. Australian Wine Research Institute figures show the same trend for Australian wines based on actual analysis, from 12.8% in 1975 to 14.5% in 2005.

      Mind you, in the ’70s, common practice was to take advantage of the federal leeway of 1.5% to allow vintners to print labels covering multiple years (with a vintage neck strap) for wines that had not even been made yet, so the label declaration was in many cases meaningless....

    • 18 The New Filtrations: Winemaking's Power Tools
      (pp. 202-218)

      Twenty years ago, any winemaker you asked about the purpose of filtration (myself included) would have named clarification and microbial stability. This twentieth-century view of wine filtration contains the embedded notion that wine is a liquid, so anything suspended in wine is an impurity, the removal of which can only increase its purity. The postmodern view is that the suspended structures in fact contain wine’s essence, and that their exact nature determines wine’s ability to touch us in a special, soulful way.

      As postmodern ideas catch on, membrane clarification and sterile filtration may become as unknown in future wineries as...

    • 19 Flash Détente: Winemaking Game Changer
      (pp. 219-228)

      Seldom appears a new winemaking technology with benefits so compelling that it promises to shift the entire industry.

      The advent of electricity and refrigeration in the early twentieth century and the widespread use of stainless steel, inert gas, and sterile filtration just after World War II changed the winemaking world forever in a very short time. These technologies created new wines we could sell, increased the practical scale of our operations, shifting the economics of production, the architecture of wineries, the expectations of consumers, and the working notions of winemakers.

      Sweeping consequences ensued for vineyards, the workforce, and the global...


    • 20 Spoofulated or Artisanal?
      (pp. 231-251)

      With some consternation, I have devoted here a chapter to clearing the air concerning the tired old topic of wine manipulation. This issue began to be raised in 2000 in a string of articles in which I was interviewed about wine technology. Prior to this, I had found that the few visitors I received to my remote eyrie were deferential and well behaved. These folks were different. I found that in their interviews, they were not particularly good listeners. Many who had come seeking a thirty-second quote on wine technology were so frustrated by my unexpectedly complex point of view...

    • 21 Science and Biodynamics: The Limits of Rationalism
      (pp. 252-261)

      The same modern science that ushered in an era of sound winemaking has left us in the tall grass when it comes to producing soulful, transformative wine styles to excite today’s competitive market. Modern agriculture has also left many winegrowers dissatisfied regarding the dangers that chemicals may present to the worker and the environment.

      Postmodern winemaking respects the fundamental mysteries of nature and the human soul. Excellence sometimes requires us to operate outside the shallow waters currently illuminated by science, leading us into territory where formulas fail.

      Varietal purity and sterile bottling may be fine for a Riesling, but you...

    • 22 Natural Wine Nonsense
      (pp. 262-276)

      The consumer has never had it so good. We have twenty times the choices we had two decades ago, and poor wines have nearly vanished from the shelves. If what you are after is drinkable quaff, you will find it more consistently and cheaply than ever before.

      But there is growing discontent with fruit-forward styles that die young and global monster wines that are hard to tell apart. The Internet now resounds with voices demanding “somewhereness.” Many critics, newly aware of the recent technological revolution in winemaking, have sought to demonize new winemaking techniques as sources of shallowness and sameness....

    • 23 Yeast Inoculation: Threat or Menace?
      (pp. 277-285)

      Report from the field. Heads up, ye vintners. A panel discussion I participated in at the Portland Indie Wine Festival in 2009 called “Natural Wine in the Age of Technology” was a shocking reality check, at least for me. It underlined, much to my surprise, the truly scary disconnect that has emerged between conventional winemakers and their formerly doting groupies.

      It was great to be invited by Alice Feiring to bat around ideas with Natural Wine folks. My hope was to arrive at a definition for that concept, perhaps even a certification mark. If a list of Natural Winemaking practices...

    • 24 New World Identity and Judging Reform
      (pp. 286-294)

      We’ve all seen it coming. European wines are sold on place, the fledgling New World wines on grape variety. As a result, Europe’s designations are more consumer-friendly, while America remains a confusing science project. The time is approaching to convert our industry into a real business by identifying and promoting just what our regions offer.

      The prime directive of postmodern winemaking is to present in our wines distinctive terroir expression. This means the winemaker is encouraged to remain as invisible as possible, assisting the character of place in its best expression.

      Today, varietal New World wines from a growing multiplicity...

    • 25 Liquid Music: Resonance in Wine
      (pp. 295-302)

      Annual revenues for music worldwide exceed those of pharmaceuticals. Brain scans of listeners deeply moved by a musical piece show activity in the same cognitive areas stimulated by sex and addictive drugs.¹

      The special allure of wine is similar. There are no $100 beers. We agonize about spending $10 on a bottle of olive oil that will last for months, then cheerfully lay out twice that for a bottle of Cabernet that will be gone in the hour.

      In chapter 11, I concluded the section on postmodern principles with a discussion of harmony and astringency, touching on the importance of...

  10. APPENDIX ONE Winemaking Basics
    (pp. 303-307)
  11. APPENDIX TWO Navigating the Postmodern Calendar
    (pp. 308-310)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 311-318)
  13. Glossary of Postmodern Terminology
    (pp. 319-332)
  14. Index
    (pp. 333-343)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 344-344)