losthighwayz wrote:You mentioned wood chips for aromas. Ive read somehere on these forums that chips are frowned upon by most winemakers. Why is that? Second, are all wine aromas derived from chips and/ or barrels? If so, seems like winemakers have huge leeway in manipulating wine! I always thought aromas, taste, and color came from manipulation of the grapes via chemistry with a little vanilla or caramel notes from toasted oak barrels. Am I completely off base?
Let me summarize Chapter 4 in Postmodern Winemaking, The Seven Functions Of Oak.
When I got into the industry, the only barrel alternative was some really crappy uncured chips called Oakmore - full of sawdust and plankiness. This created a bad attitude about chips from most winemakers, myself included.
French oak barrels are made from 200-year-old trees planted by Napoleon for a future French navy. When the logs are sawn to length and the bark and heartwood discarded, about 25% of the good wood that is left is suitable for staves for barrels - the rest is discarded. This is a terrible shame, because it means we are destroying these trees four times as fast as we need to. There is nothing wrong with the rest of the wood except it consists of the odd pieces between the staves and can't be fashioned into a piece of fine furniture that holds liquid.
There are many uses for oak extractives beyond flavor - extracting color, anti-oxidative properties, tannin for structure and so forth. After Patrick Ducournau at Oenodev invented micro-oxygenation, he wanted the use of these capabilities, but thought the wastefulness of barrel production was deplorable. And he saw the opportunity to make better use of the waste. He set up a company in the 1990s that set as a goal to make a the finest and most consistent chip that can be made.
What resulted was a line of about a dozen products: all air-cured for 1-2 years just like a stave, some untoasted, the rest roasted like coffee beans to different temperatures to accentuate different flavors such as coconut, clove, vanilla, toffee or espresso, available in mixes that are similar to the complexity of a barrel, where these differences are obtained because the wood lies at varying distances to the fire.
On one line of products, the Swiss decaffination process is used to leach out tannins, and these are available for use in very small quantities late in ageing to tweak aromatics.
Since then, there have been dozens of companies trying to imitate Ducournau's chips, make them cheaper, or sell them with sexier-sounding formats like staves, beans, balls, spirals, and javelins. It's largely BS because a chip is arguably the best format - not too large to be consistent (the most expensive format is staves, and they are laughably inconsistent), and not too small that they act as an adsorbent, stripping the wine of aromatics, as oak dust is used.
This is a rapidly evolving area, and more and more winemakers are learning how to play. The ones who are not playing are largely motivated by a clinging to tradition - remember Thomas Jefferson was afraid to give up his slaves. But consumers are also to blame, because they have made it plain that anyone who is honest with them will pay a price.
Now let me quote directly from my book about this most destructive concept you have mentioned:
1. treatment or operation with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means, especially in a skillful manner.
2. Shrewd or devious management by artful, unfair, or insidious means, especially to one's own advantage.
I’m going to assume that readers are all in favor of wines made according to definition #1. Those are not grapes in that glass. As everyone knows, wine is perhaps the most manipulated of all foods, and that’s just what we want. Pick ‘em, crush ‘em, ferment ‘em, press ‘em, age ‘em, bottle ‘em, and nobody minds. Those aren’t, per se, offending manipulations.
So I don’t think I am going out on a limb to interpret the desire to avoid manipulation as somehow connected to the moralistic accusations embodied in definition #2. The ire and vitriol which characterize this debate have the taste of betrayal and broken agreements.
My writing, teaching and consulting concerns working with wine in a skillful manner. What, exactly, is unfair or insidious about trying to make wine skillfully? What are the rules I ought not break?
An honest, open debate on this topic would have been well-settled years ago. Proponents of the new techniques would present their wines and skeptics would taste them and discuss their reactions. That’s what Wolfgang Puck does on TV when he shows off sous vide technology or freezes cheese with liquid nitrogen. It’s fun.
But in winemaking, none of this is happening. Unlike the free and open ‘70s and ‘80s, winemakers are lying low and keeping mum while paparazzi fire live ammo over their heads. Meanwhile, the gap is widening, and consumers can smell the inauthenticity a mile away. Benign neglect does not make the best wine. Vins de terroir take a lot of effort, a sort of intensive doing nothing. If you want winemakers to be as straight with you about their practices as I am, don’t lead with a slur.
My recommendation is that you put this offensive language on the shelf along with 404 - Page not found, kike and Pollack. I’m confident we can put enmity behind us once we realize that all the players are good guys who want the same things.