Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Terrace View - Wine and Microbes

Did you see Nicholas Wade's recent article in the  November 25 NY Times about wine and microbes?

If you did, you might be as perplexed as I was. The basic idea expressed here is that researchers in the US have scientifically determined that specific fungi and bacteria that grow on the skins of grapes can have a determining factor in terms of how a wine smells and tastes. Furthermore, these characteristics can be specific to region and can help to prove the French concept of terroir.

One of the researchers actually said this, "The reason I love this study is that it starts to walk down a path to something we could actually measure," Dr. Mills said. "There are high-end courses on terroir, which I think are bunk. Someone has to prove that something about terroir makes it to the bottle, and no one has done that yet."
Really? Terroir is bunk? Winemakers, wine lovers, and scientists in California are just coming around to the idea that every little factor involved in the vineyard and the winemaking process counts? That this still has to be proven? Doesn't the fact that Chablis and Meursault taste completely different from each other while also showing regional traits, even down to the specific vineyard, count for anything? What about winemakers who don't manipulate and filter, and use the yeasts, bacteria, and fungi on the grapes to their advantage, making beautiful individual wines by having a natural fermentation? What about the winemakers who have mold on the ceilings of their caves and will not remove it? Do we have to have a definitive study of the mold? Of course not, because these winemakers know that the personalities of the wines living in those caves for years, or even decades, will be shaped in part from that unique environment.
This is what makes wines different, honest, and totally interesting. What's next? Will wine supply companies offer prefabricated wine additive kits where you can order Hermitage or Barolo microbes? I'm always disappointed when some winemakers feel that they have to control everything. Why do we have to measure everything in order to believe it? I can see that works by Picasso and Dali are different, I don't have to put a paint sample under an electron microscope. 
With wine, one can taste it.