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January 28, 2013

Comments

Ethanfries

Yes, It is the same in the USA. The people at the local Homebrew store told me I was going to destroy my cider if I didn't use packet yeast, Yeast nutrient and and all sorts of tabs to start and stop fermentation.

Thomas

Hi!
Wine consumers were not informed by any additive added in the back label bottle they bought,we were not knowing which exactly chemical additive we intake.The wine law should be enforced to make every winemaking industry to honestly disclose their additives.This is fair to the buyers!
At least one winery try to use as much additives to improve his weak poor grapes to cult wines, they should stay saying they are making good additive improved wine that will more probabily with exagerate fruit bomb,oak and mouth feel that won 90plus critics point! Ah!I missed those natural wines.

Patrick Wenck

Hi Bertrand,
Great blog. It's a nice read. I am a home winemaker in Oregon. Home winemakers have access to most of the additives that commercial wineries do. I used quite a few of them myself. After reading your blog over the past couple of years I have really started to reduce the additives I use in my winemaking. Now I use commercial yeast, yeast nutrient, sulfur (SO2), and occassionally oak chips (for color rentention). I use low levels of sulfur. At some point I might cut out the use of commercial yeast and the nutrients. I get quality grapes from a vineyard in Washington that does minimal spraying. For now I am pretty happy with the results.
Patrick

Frank

Hello Bertrand, I, too am a home winemaker. It's given me a good appreciation of the work of "genuine" winemakers.

Unfortunately the variety of local grapes is limited, so I make do with kits, with their industrial grapes and additives. In general, the kits make drinkable wine, for a modest price - $3 to $6 per bottle. Good for parties, and for general drinking/cooking. I've found that they don't always last long, especially if I don't increase the level of sulfur at bottling time.

I also get juice from the local winery. That's a bit more fun, but I doubt that our local viniculture is well-enough advanced that I can count on indigenous yeasts, so I add packet yeast.

One does what one can. The important thing is to enjoy what we drink, and respect the artisans who bring it to us.

Frank

Bertrand

Thanks for your comments, especially from those of you who are home winemakers. It's by the way odd that there are few home winemakers in France, I mean you don't see people here in cities making wine at home from purchased grapes (or frozen buckets) like people in Canada and the United States do. I was amazed when I discovered that you could have frozen juice from selected vineyards in California shipped anywhere in the US and for example also abroad like in Ottawa, allowing the amateur winemaker to try his talent event months after the harvest took place. I'm not even sure that it is legal in France although historically people have been making wine all over without needing a licence. The fact that so many people make their own wine helps the general "wine culture" of the country grow, even when you take into account this additives issue.

Michael

Hi Bertrand,

This is a very interesting post. You are right to state that, at least in certain countries, home gardeners are responsible for a greater use per square metre of pesticides. Scientific studies have proven this. I suspect that the same is true of home winemakers. And I totally agree with you when you ask 'what's the point for an individual to make the leap to set up his own miniature winemaking operation if he ends up correcting his wine at every turn like it's done for the wines he buys in the wine aisles?' Surely the advantage of making your own wine is to have a wholesome wine to enjoy without the danger of consuming additives that may (at least) mask the character of the fruit or (at worst) be harmful to the drinker.

I would differ with you a little about the assumption that the 'efficient, square enologist' or the 'wine-school-educated professional vintners' are always committed to using intervention in winemaking or a sort of formula to make wine. To make my point, I must first start with a confession: I first made wine some decades ago at home and, since I didn't really understand the science of fermentation, I followed the advice of 'experts' (the makers of these additives, not other winemakers) and I used all the advised additives - sulphur, sugar, acid, vitamin C, fining agents etc. The results were not good.

Today I still have a lot to learn but I have spent a couple of recent years studying viticulture and oenology. I now know enough wine science to know when NOT TO INTERVENE in the vineyard or in the winery and to react in a patient and measured way to allow the wine to evolve its own character. College taught me to tolerate a certain level of pest in the vineyard, to encourage beneficial insects that prey on the pests, to look after the micro-organic life of the soil and to use my knowledge to let the grapes express themselves in the wine. Maybe this is because I did my studies recently and wine education is maybe more environmentally aware than in the past? I don't know.

Michael

I know there are still vignerons and winemakers who apply pesticides/additions preventatively (i.e. BEFORE there is a problem) but, in my experience at least, these are not people who have been to wine school. They do what their Dad did and what their Grandad did, and Dad and Grandad did what the sales representative from the chemical company advised without questioning the advice because they knew no better. I shudder to think how dead their vineyards are, after decades and decades of chemical treatment.

When I work in a vineyard, I observe the progress of the vine and watch out for pests and disease, I monitor their progress and calculate the risk. I work with low yields and try to produce high quality fruit so that I can produce high quality wine - you've heard the expression 'wine is made in the vineyard'. I only intervene when the risk to the vine/fruit/vendange of not intervening is too great or too costly in terms of quality or yield (yes yield, because even though I work to produce low levels they cannot be TOO low - I cannot remain as a winemaker if I cannot pay my bills!).

In the winery, I avoid circumstances that will harm the wine (uncontrolled oxidation, contamination etc) so that I don't need to intervene to address un-necessary problems - as the saying goes 'prevention is better than cure'.

I think this short article is one of the most important you have written Bertrand because it also reaches beyong the world of wine and makes us think about the use of pesticides in our gardens and vegetable plots and I hope will make people think also about additives in food in general. Sorry for being so long-winded but you have touched on a very important subject. Well done.

Regards,
Michael.

Bertrand

Hi Michael,
Thank you very much for this comment, this is very useful and contributes on the subject !
This is interesting to learn that the wineschools tend to be more moderate on intervention. I noticed myself on the other hand also in France that winemakers who had inherited their winery from their dad and grand-dad and hadn't been to wine schools (or had been there just for the form) were indeed high users of all the stuff, both in the vineyards and the cellar.
Another question is : What will be the policy of the additives companies if the wineschools don't push less and less for intervention ? They have been making lots of money in the trade and they also have been helping fund wine schools and enology departments in universities here and there, and it will be interesting to see how they're going to switch their strategy to stay afloat if there is really a diminishing use of additives (which I keep doubting to be frank).
Cheers,
Bert

Michael

I think the agri-chemical companies will not only survive, but flourish! Bear in mind that these companies generally produce agri-chemicals for all aspects of agriculture, not just viticulture. According to Croplife International, the value of the total world-wide agricultural pesticide market in 2009 was $38 billion and it is predicted to RISE to $52 billion by 2014, an increase of 37% in just 5 years. Much of this expansion is predicted to be in Africa, the Americas and Central Europe. I think one can assume this is being partly driven by the globalisation of the agriculture/food industry (including wine) and the super-sizing of the industry leaders through buy-outs and mergers, as the big companies grow even larger to achieve ‘economies of scale’. There is, unfortunately, an overwhelming market for cheap food (and wine), where price is the main criterion. This is why Lidl and Aldi etc. are so successful. This requires production on a grand scale. Mega-large-scale agriculture is not compatible with the hands-on approach of the artisan. Modern ‘conventional’ agricultural methods must be used. In the wine industry, this means maximising mechanisation and automation, such as pruning machines & mechanical harvesters, and the formulaic use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides programs, cultivated yeasts, sulphur addition, aroma and flavour enhancers, enzymes, oak dust, commercial tannins, acids and sweeteners, fining agents, stabilisation, reverse osmosis, centrifuges, cross-flow sterile filtration etc. So if small artisan winemakers reduce or stop using commercial yeasts and other additions, the big agri-chemical companies will not loose too much sleep as they have ‘bigger fish to fry’. And so, yes, even if there is a growing interest in non-interventionist winemaking or in natural wines, and even if the wine schools are teaching a broad range of practices and reasoning that ‘lutte raisonée’ makes sense, the agri-chemical business is still looking healthy on the stockmarkets! Their share value will probably not go down in the short to medium term future. Things may eventually change, but it will take time and can only happen if it is driven by consumer demand for environmentally safe and sustainable food and wine. I think that artisan wines, hand-made wines, natural wines, will always be a niche market, known and loved by a minority. Once again, a great post Bertrand. The more people become aware of this subject, the better. It is only by raising our voices and expressing our concerns that change will (eventually) happen. (Sorry for yet another long post)
Michael.

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