5 Years & Counting
So much has happened since I decided to make a 90 degree turn in my professional life...
The Path to Making Natural Wine
May 3, 2017
I had been following wine trends for a bit more than a couple of decades.
I tasted a lot of wine. I had my opinions of what I liked and didn't like, but it wasn't always easy to say why.
By the time I decided to make wine, I had some general ideas of how I wanted to do what I wanted to do. For instance, I knew I liked the idea of low intervention, of not squeezing something to fit an aesthetic. I told myself that I was ready to make wine naturally and to allow for the year over year vagaries that would result in my not manipulating a wine to be something it couldn't be on its own.
Now some might say that the whole winemaking act is unnatural, but I would argue that that isn't so. Grapes, if left unattended will become wine on their way to becoming water, carbon dioxide, and a few minerals, the carbon cycle. My idea, intent, was only to halt, or postpone, that end point.
I was set against adding agents that would alter the basic qualities of the grapes I received. I knew I wanted to ferment without adding lab cultured yeasts, or enzymes, or adding acid, or de-acidifying, or adding water, or concentrating, or adding various poisons like copper or velcorin, or color, etc., etc. There is a lot of "stuff" that can be added to wine, to make wine something of a creation rather than a reflexion.
Finally, all my 13s are in bottle. I've learned a lot, but I know there is much much more to learn...
Bottling, I like bottling. At first, I was bottling with a small pump, that really works like a siphon. It was fine, but the constant buzzing as the hours passed really began to grind on my nerves. This was tedious work. I spent many many hours just plodding along, and I knew there was a better way, for me.
So, I gave it up. I shelved the specially designed pump. Now, I bottle with a long stainless steel tube, several feet of silicone hose, a small hard plastic tube, a plastic clamp that cuts off the flow of wine as needed, and argon. Argon is great, because it's inert, so it doesn't react with the wine, but it's heavy so it covers the wine like a blanket, protecting it from oxygen. The argon fills the empty bottles and tops the freshly bottled wine before corking. Oh, also, I have a small primitive Italian corker. It works with a pin, long armed handle, and a coordinated apparatus that squeezes the cork readying it to be forced into the bottle. That's it. A friend helps to cut the time down; we are now able to bottle from a sixty gallon barrel in about 2.5 hours.
The process is very efficient. I place the steel tube into the barrel, connect the silicone hose to it, connect the plastic tube to that, slide on the clamp and draw some wine through the whole thing. Because I elevate the wine several feet, gravity forces it into a continuous stream out of the barrel and into the bottles. It's all done by hand, quietly, elegantly, beautifully.
The idea of Terroir...
I've been having a difficult time with this concept, not because I don't believe in it, but because I see it as so esoteric for the average person, including me, as to be irrelevant. The problem is that as terroir relates to the expression of a specific place and time through a grape into wine, it would be impossible to be able to understand this expression, to know what it is, unless a person has a vast amount of experience with a specific site. A good example would be a grower/winemaker who works with a site over many years, or a Sommelier who might have exposure to the wines of the same vineyard over time, but few of us will ever have this luxury, opportunity. What then are we to make of terroir? How can it be used in a meaningful way for the rest of us? I'd like to offer that perhaps we could use it as a descriptor for something unique. This is likely going to exclude fruit components or things that express typicity. Typicity in say a Syrah, might include blue fruits, flowers, meat, smoke and herbs. Once these "elements-of-typicity" are subtracted from the wine, terroir can become obvious. Maybe this would be a more successful way to incorporate the term in the assessment of a wine, or maybe not. Maybe it's an idea that can only truly be understood and used by the very few who get the chance to taste the same wines year after year after year. But I hope not.