90% of wine knowledge is common sense
In this article we tried to define three main dimensions that could help you to understand winegrowing & winemaking without pseudo-complications.
The most discouraging themes when experts talk about wine are usually the following: history, production techniques and soil composition. Thus we should talk namely about them.
While talking about vineyards’ history many of you might still remember reorganization of the parcels initiative, that took place in Switzerland over a decade ago. It was reducing the number of agri-/viticultural parcels in order to optimize their configuration.
The situation with too many too small parcels, took place due to the old Napoleonic Inheritance Law, according to which a proportion of your assets must be left to each child in equal shares.
Land reorganization was done another way in Burgundy. Which is why, there you can still find tiny vineyards, sometimes, they literally consist of a couple of rows.
Those vineyards can be divided by a thin path, which is less than half-meter wide, but prices of two neighboring parcels are extremely different as well as wines that their proprietors make.
It is due to the know-hows they’ve been applying to their terroir & vines for ages of ownership.
Another example of how history can affect a whole wine region and shape its modern state is well seen in case of Rioja, Spain. It sometimes called a “Burgundy-style wine with a Bordeaux history”. It is because of the natural disaster that happened to French vineyards in the mid-nineteenth century. Phylloxera vastatrix (phylloxera the devastator) an insect imported on indigenous American vines in 1862 ate its way through the European vineyards causing almost total destruction.
This is when the negociants left Bordeaux in search of quality wine and quickly realized a common affinity of dark fruit, smokiness and spice between Bordeaux and oak-aged Rioja. For the next decade, Bordeaux imported as much Rioja into Bordeaux as it exported wine to the outside world.
So if you are a history fan wine embodies an inexhaustible potential to offer you. History helps to see the relations between events of the past and modern wine styles, but also it makes wine knowledge more humanized. After all it’s just a story of a human being who has been cultivating vines all this time.
Moving towards the production techniques one must trust it’s 90% common sense.
If not, then why you can meet numerous winemakers with extremely various backgrounds?
For example there is an interesting case of a Burgundian vintner, who used to be F1 Williams’ engineer before the winemaking. We come across renowned winemakers ex-bankers, winemakers-musicians and someone like Pierre Courtois, champagne-maker from Marne valley whose day job is kinesiotherapy.
Let's look at the production in a straightforward way.
Wine is a fermented grape juice. Fermentation is when yeasts are eating sugars in the grape juice and produce alcohol & carbon dioxide. Yeast is not-seen to the human eye microorganism which is present in the winery, vineyards, skins of the grapes and in everything around where the wine grows.
Those are wild-yeasts, they are the most natural, but also the most unpredictable regarding when the fermentation process kick-starts. Which is why larger producers tend to use cultivated or commercial yeasts – they come in a packet and remind you baking yeasts available in any supermarket. With cultivated type fermentation processes goes smoothly but the aroma spectrum they create in wine is not as wide as wild yeasts.
Imagine you are a winemaker, you made it through the fermentation but there was too much sugar in your wine, because the weather that summer was too hot.
How is that related? Very easy, yeasts are eating sugars to produce alcohol in wine, if they have too much sugars to process the alcohol content will be higher than usual. That is why southern wines tend to have up to 13.5% alcohol whereas wines from northern regions just 12%.
Isn’t it pure logic that if you make wine in the cooler climate and it has less sugar it’s level of acidity – the sour sensation on the palate - is more obvious. As well as vice versa once wine is made in a hot climate it has more perceivable sweetness, which is not always the actual sugar content and more often is a fruity character that grapes develop while ripening under a lot of sun.
Production has a lot of nuances but all of them can be explained in a simple and logical manner.
Wine as a product has a very solid tires with its place of origin. Which is why a soil-talk is so natural and essential when it comes to wine appreciation.
No need to be an expert to see that if a vine-plant is growing through stones it will have different character from another wine which grows in clay. Imagine how hard is it to get through the stony soil in search of nutrients or water! Anyone in this case would man up and develop a “tough cookie” character. In terms of grapes wines from harder growing conditions are more concentrated taste wise.
Clay is a softer soil, easier to put your roots down, but it can vary a lot. Like, lets say, in Coonawarra, a clay region in the of South Australia. Centuries ago at this place it used to be eucalyptus forest it still exists not far from there. Clay soil in this area soaked in the taste & aroma compounds of eucalyptus threes. Which is why these one can feel a pronounced eucalyptus character in the wine from Coonawarra.
To see how unique soil can be you don’t need to go as far as Australia. Just a couple hours drive to Chablis or Champagne and once you look under your feet in those vineyards all of a sudden you spot fossils like at the shore. That’s when you start somehow believe thousands years ago there was a sea instead of this place.
Among those broad wine related themes, mentioned above, you can always find a subject that you lean naturally towards to.
Many believe that now is the best time in history to drink wine, since truly bad wine is getting harder and harder to find. But don’t forget that it’s also the best time to learn more about wine since it’s easier and easier to get more appealing information about it.