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Nature or Nurture – Second Thoughts

by David on December 20, 2006

So, I’ve been thinking, drinking and reading since my last post and have run across some interesting material to continue our ponderance.

Here’s a straight-on opinion from wine guru Bob Pepi, who also happens to be a consulting winemaker for Goosecross: “The best wines begin in the vineyard culminating in the single most important decision the winemaker can make, when to pick.”


There was a short, interesting article about the significance of yeast selection in “Our research clearly shows that the yeast strains used during alcoholic fermentation play a significant role in determining the colour, aroma, mouthfeel and overall flavour of Shiraz,” according to Associate Professor Skurray of University of Western Sydney. “…different strains of yeast can produce different wine smells, such as blackberry and plum, or black pepper and other spice aromas.” While we’re on the subject, why is it that almost every time you read an article on wine research, it’s being done by the Aussies?

And the August issue of Wine Business Monthly had an in-depth article on choosing the best yeast for Chardonnay. Along with advice about vigor, alcohol tolerance and good choices for barrel vs. tank fermentation they made recommendations about which yeasts would bring out the fruity or floral or give the wine a better mouthfeel.

Winemaker Tasting

Then, there was this fascinating article by Lance Cutler, again in Wine Business Monthly, on barrel profiling and how it can influence whether your wine shows more coconut or coffee bean or tobacco. He contends that “Aside from grapes themselves, nothing influences the aroma and flavor of wine as much as oak barrels.” He may be in for a debate with the yeast producers.

So, we’ve got terroir, picking at the right time, selecting the right yeast vs. wild fermentation, matching the barrels to the wine in the best possible way…anyone else care to weigh in?

In the industry we love to say “When you’ve got great fruit, get out of the way” and talk about being non-interventionist and all that. And it’s certainly true that you don’t want to over manipulate great fruit any more than you should over work the buttery dough for pie crust. But it matters whether you sort. It matters how you crush, if you cold-soak and what press you use and when. It matters whether you pump-over and aerate or punch down. Blending REALLY matters. These and the other myriad decisions along the way make the difference between a wine that’s pleasant and a wine you remember for years to come. So, maybe our friend in Provence had a good point. During the intense discussion about terroir that’s taken place over the last several years perhaps we’ve lost sight of the indelible impact the winemaker makes. Jon Bonne’s assertion that house style trumps terroir when it comes to sparkling wine was a good reminder. Terroir can take you only so far. People, in concert with nature, make great wine.

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