Authentic Wine, Goode & Harrop (2011)

Update 30.10.2012(29.10.2012)billn

Published by UCP.
Buy from Amazon (eBook also available).

I’ve read the 250 pages of ‘Authentic Wine’ on and off, for about the last couple of months – and I’m so happy I did. NB, that’s 250 pages in a relatively small font – so it could easily have been 400 pages in a different format – this is, after-all, no pocket-sized book, weighing-in at somewhere between A4 and A5 size.

I assume that writing a book such as this is far from straight-forward, not from a content perspective, but rather because there were two authors – Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop – and I’m really left wondering how they put together such a seamless piece of work. I have to assume that they have different writing styles and that their thoughts didn’t always dovetail, hence, I would have expected the text to have occasional ‘clunks’, but the introduction excepted, far from it. The introduction sets out what to expect from the book and also sets forth the various starting points for the authors – I actually found that text less easy to read and for a while wondered what I’d taken on, but this section only lasts for about 8 pages, and it is pretty-much an essential baseline for what follows, i.e. that the divisive term ‘natural wines’ is to be avoided, and that:

“by coining the term authentic wine, we aim to differentiate between wines that are headed in the direction of homogenization, and wines whose origins have their roots in terroir, which are made from appropriately right fruit, free from faults, and made sustainably.”

This book is a treasure-trove of interesting information – much of it technical – and even as a chemist, there were some passages that I needed to read two or three times to make sure I was following, I can’t realistically comment on how it reads for somebody with no technical basics, but I’ve finally found a text that cements my understanding of the role of SO2 and equilibrium between free and bound sulfur (discussions) – I can almost say the same for the chapter on yeasts, despite the potatos analogy 😉
Actually, I think it’s almost worth buying the book only for the three pages written by Ted Lemon (Littorai Wines) to listen to the thought-processes behind his winemaking philosophy. Interestingly the book finishes with sections on the carbon footprint of wine and the marketing of (authentic) wine – here the authors change tack, choosing to make comment and recommendations in many areas, their-own value judgments contrasting to the more explanatory earlier chapters. I’m not sure it actually sits that well with the rest of the content, but if authors cannot use such a rostrum, then who(?) It is a book I heartily recommend, not just for those with a horse/dog/vine in this race, but for anyone who wants to know just a little more…

A few quotes, observations and talking points form the book:

“…and while the makers of agrochemicals are clearly motivated by profit, it would be wrong to cast all agribusiness as an evil empire plotting to conspire against the earth.”

Amen! The ‘chemicals are unclean’ mantra has become too much of a fetish. The agrobusiness as essentially about keeping the global population alive by feeding people – yields are king – vines are something quite apart.

“Chilean producer Cono Sur, part of the large Concha y Toro group, has moved a significant portion of its vineyards to certified organic status. Currently it has 266 hectares of certified organic vineyards…”

“…the biodynamic grower won’t always get a polite response, but what we are increasingly seeing is that while initially the presence of biodynamic vineyards may arouse contempt or suspicion, in time it is the conventional growers are reaching out and asking questions…”

But how long is ‘in time’? A far from untypical experience for biodynamic growers in Burgundy can be outright aggression: “You are the one that has contaminated my vines with rot and cut my income – what are you going to do about it?” Some of the aggressors take solace in sabotaging the equipment of biodynamic domaines – almost inverse Luddites! It will be a long road as exemplified by the next quote (even if it is at odds with the Cono Sur example)…

“Although many practitioners may disagree, organic and biodynamic farming will likely remain the preserve of relatively small, high-end wineries.”

“Because vines are highly disease susceptible, in the EU grapes account for 3 percent of all cropland but are responsible for 15 percent of synthetic pesticide applications.” (!)

(Elevage:) “At one extreme, exposing wine to too much oxygen simply results in oxidation. At the other extreme, total exclusion of oxygen slows the development process of wine; what is more, it alters the pattern of the wine’s evolution. A different destination will be reached.”

“Dr. Elizabeth Waters and her colleagues have found that hydrogen sulphur is in some cases generated in the…”

Above, the only typo I spotted…

Table 12.1 (p230) tries to come up with a numerical value for the carbon footprint of bottle closures. ‘Natural’ (or should that be authentic ;-)) cork certainly looks to come out the best, but I have a feeling that if you were to factor-in losses due to TCA, i.e. not just the loss of the cork, but the capsule, bottle and wine, the position of DIAM might become much more attractive…

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

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