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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Little Post on Enzymes

I‘ve just read a really interesting guest post on Fiona Beckett’s blog on enzymes, and it made me think a bit about ‘natural wines’. Yet again!

But before I set off on why I don’t add enzymes to my wines, I’d just like to say what a great initiative the people at Birds & Bats Wine Productions are undertaking. This is just the sort of thing, imho, that the wine-world needs. Some new life, a breath of fresh air, and more good and interesting wines!

I’m actually quite depressed at the moment, after my recent experience of the state of rural viticulture and winemaking in the Sierra de Gredos. I don’t actually have the time to wallow in my depression at the moment because I’m right in the middle of harvesting and fermenting, but it’s there under the surface as it were. I happen to have the time to write about this at the moment, because I’m between harvests – ie, the reds (Tempranillo and Garnacha) are all in and fermenting, but the whites (Airén and Malvar) are not quite ripe yet.

Anyway, you can read my previous post (here) about the tragic and sad state of the local viticulture and winemaking that made me depressed! But not to exaggerate! I have of course been enjoying tremendously, living life to the full and keeping myself off the streets :)

So...back to enzymes...

I had no idea what enzymes were or did, but now I’m a little wiser, after reading the article and comments! Thanks again Fiona and Birds & Bats. Well, no disrespect intended to anyone in the enzyme-adding business, but it seems like a total irrelevance to me if the winemaker’s intention is to make a low intervention wine, ‘natural’ wine. If enzymes are already present in the grapes, as the article says, then there is no valid reason (from a natural winemaker’s point of view) for adding any during the winemaking. If your vineyard soil is living and healthy, and if your vines are vigorous and healthy, then your grapes will be balanced and healthy and will contain all the enzymes required, thank you very much!

The list of practical advantages in the guest post have not convinced me:

Makes life easier for the producer”: also called taking short-cuts?

Reduces cost to the consumer”: and reduces the quality of the wine too? Why not use ‘cost plus’ pricing?

Speed up the winemaking process”: Why do that? You in hurry to go somewhere else? Let the wine take the time it needs without rushing it!

Protect customer’s health”: Yes, we’ve all heard that one before! Everyone and their auntie says that about their products, even the likes of Monsanto, McDonalds and ACME Toxins!!!

Release more potential from the grapes”: the grapes will release all the potential they need to release all by themselves, if they’re healthy and balanced and harvested at the right time

Ensure wine does not spoil”: the wine will not spoil if the grapes are healthy and balanced and harvested at the right time and if the winemaker doesn’t do anything silly during winemaking!

Protect customers and deliver a quality wine”: Nice truism! Show me a winemaker that does not want to protect his customers and doesn’t want to deliver a quality wine!!!

We cannot afford to spoil thousands of good grapes”: Relax! Don’t be so fearful! If your grapes are healthy and balanced and harvested at the right time and if you don’t do anything silly during winemaking, your grapes won’t spoil

“...sinister chemical additions such as the dreaded sulphites”: there are a lot worse things than dreaded sulphites!

But, I'm sorry for harping on so much about this! This enzyme business really is quite trivial, and there are many things that are a lot, lot worse that one can do to one’s wine. The important thing here is that someone is doing something interesting in the wine world!

I hope I haven’t come across a some sort of extremist natural wine Taliban here! I like to think of myself as quite flexible and middle-of-the-road and sensible, as far as natural winemaking goes! For example, I’m quite happy to use a bit of sulphites if necessary. But only if necessary. By default I don’t use it. My main goal is to produce lovely, delicious, drinkable, terroir-expressing wines – but not at any price! I don’t use pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, or chemical fertilizers in the vineyard or any chemicals in the winery, for reasons of pollution, health and quality of the wine! It’s easy to make a delicious wine if you use chemicals and aggressive processing. But delicious at any price is not for me! There are more important things in life that being gratified by a delicious wine – like the state of the environment that we’re going to hand on to our children and future generations!

I wonder if this whole post is counter-productive? I mean, I’d hardly even heard of enzymes before reading Fiona’s post, let alone considered adding them to my wines! And I’ve actually had to think up all those reasons above, for not adding them, when before it didn’t even cross my mind to add them!!! I think that just goes to prove that there’s no real reason to manipulate the wine unnecessarily. By adding enzymes in this case, or by adding or doing anything else either, in general.

So enzymes have been added to wine since the 1970’s, as the guest post says. So for about 8,000 years, no enzymes were added! Was the quality of the wines produced over 8,000 years so bad, that people have been waiting for 8,000 years for enzymes to be discovered? And reverse osmosis? And spinning cones? And MegaPurple? And oak chips? And commercial yeasts? And tannin powder? etc, etc, and all the other technological products and processes that have been invented over the last 50 years?

I think this goes beyond a mere question of quality, or definition of quality! Basically, what is happening is that wine has been ‘commoditized’ just like any other product in today’s industrialized, profit-driven marketplace. Certain wine brands move millions of bottles every year, so they are obliged to churn out the same standardized product/brand every year, no matter what the climate or state of the grapes. It’s a brand. It’s an industrial product. It’s made in a liquid engineering processing factory, not in a winery. So anything goes, any technology, any product, any addition, as long as it’s legal (and sometimes not even that) in order to make that product according to the specifications.

The whole concept and meaning of the word of ‘quality’ I believe has been co-opted by industry and their marketeers. For them it means mere compliance with commercial and legal and organoleptic specifications, and has absolutely nothing to do with the real, basic, intrinsic, clean, ecological quality of the soil, grapes or wine.

Enough! This is turning into a terrible rant!

Thanks again Fiona for a great thought-provoking post, and all the best to Birds & Bats.

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