North316 wrote:Lucas, I know you have talked about this before, can you explain a little further your basis for doing this. Do you do this with all of your wines? Do you feel that this at all hampers the wine from showing the true characteristics of the varietal and/or the specific vineyard/appellation (I'm not saying it does, just asking your opinion/reasoning)? Is this fairly common in the wine industry, and if so/not, is it more common among smaller or larger producers? You like to teach, and I like to learn, and since you are the only winery that I have seen really openly discussing acid and water additions, I just had to ask!
Man, this is like a baker's dozen of big-opinion-based-caveat-riddled-theoretical-slash-philosophical-winemaking-idea-swamp questions. Let me see if I can do this efficiently.
>> "Can you explain a little further your basis for doing this. Do you do this with all of your wines?"
The basis is this: The lower the pH of a juice/wine, the more inherently hostile it is to spoilage organisms (at least in the wine pH range of 3.0-4.0, it actually gets less hostile again below 3.0). I could give you the full explanation why, but it would take a few hundred words and I'm already boring. Long story short, the more acidic a wine is the cleaner it will stay all by itself, but more importantly, the more effective the Free SO2 will be in preventing microbial issues (pH directly affects the amount of SO2 that remains in molecular form versus bisulfite or sulfite form, the molecular SO2 is the effective anti-microbial).
You can see what I mean by checking this pH vs. Free SO2 required to achieve .3, .5, and .8 molecular SO2: http://www.enartisvinquiry.com/download/TECH_INFO/Distribution%20of%20Free%20SO2.pdf
That's the sciency reason, at least. More importantly, from a style perspective, we just like our wines more acidic. My dad grew up drinking French wine, and parts of what the French do are very important to what he values in a wine, thus our house style reflects those personal values. My dad is all about acidic wines because they increase barrel aging stability (which is necessary for us because of our primary ferm style), bottle stability, aging potential, and most importantly, the wines drink better with food.
We *pretty much* do this with all of the Meeker wines. We want to finish most or all of our wines with ~14.8% alcohol and < 3.5 pH. This is not always possible (some vineyards/varietals don't lend themselves to that pH target, increased must potassium levels buffer pH against TA and reduce pH reduction potential), but it's a good starting point. That said, we don't treat any vineyard/varietal/etc. with a recipe. So while that's sort of our typical jumping off point, it really is just a jumping off point. Meaning in some cases we might not acidulate as aggressively, in some cases we might acidulate even more. Tough to summarize, but that's sort of our assumed first step, though it's modified more often than not to tailor fit a given goal/must.
>> "Do you feel that this at all hampers the wine from showing the true characteristics of the varietal and/or the specific vineyard/appellation (I'm not saying it does, just asking your opinion/reasoning)?"
No. I don't feel that way. For a few reasons.
1. I think the "purity"/"vineyard expression"/"terroir-driven" angle is really a hyped-up way to make certain style choices seem more honest or organic or something like that, when it's not really a fair depiction of winemaking choices. Because ultimately, even if your choice is to do nothing, you've still made a winemaking choice. This goes back to the idea that one way of winemaking is "best". Not only is that competition un-winnable, it's also a huge waste of energy. Moreover, it's just a bummer. The concept that one way of winemaking is more "pure" or "terroir-driven" than another is really a cheesecloth-thin marketing veil. To frame it in a moralistic purity-oriented betterness scale is just silly.
2. Why is it assumed that making an acid or water addition is inhibiting the vineyard/appelation/varietal expression as opposed to vice versa? You could just as easily argue that by increasing the acidity and lowering pH you're preventing microbiotic spoilage from interfering with the natural expression of the vineyard. But you could argue from the other side that "wild" (lol wild) yeasts are a more "pure" choice. But then you could argue against that by saying that there's no such thing as wild/native yeasts in a commercial winery (true). Ultimately, all of these arguments are just style and preference, and trying to make one sound more "pure" than the other is just marketing fluff. They're winemaking decisions. Different people make different ones. That's what makes wine worth drinking and thinking about and paying attention to and caring about and etcetera.
Or to frame it more simply: tartaric acid has no discernible flavor effect (acid is acid is acid). Why would adding acid be any more of an effect on the expression of a vineyard/varietal/appellation than using French oak barrels that are from a forest 6000 miles away that contribute massive amounts of phenolic character, polysaccharides, ellagic tannins, etc?
This is what blows my mind: the "purity"/"vineyard expression" people are frequently also the ones that brag about their 60% new French barrel program.
Cake/eat it too?
>> "Is this fairly common in the wine industry, and if so/not, is it more common among smaller or larger producers?"
Totally common at wineries of all sizes. There are, of course, people who won't do it (for whatever reasons they have), or people who would prefer not to, or people who don't want the effects that these additions make. Lots of people want to make high pH, high alcohol wine and lots of people like that wine. So, yes, very common, but not everybody does it with every wine (we don't either, some wines come in ready to rock, no additions needed), and like I said above, achieving a given target might not always be possible (depending on what the target is and what level the target is).
But I'll put it to you this way: Water additions are common enough to have created the joke-term Chateau Le'Hose. And tartaric acid additions are common enough that one of the biggest fermentation supply companies is called American Tartaric Products, and their first question on Tartaric pricing is whether you're buying a whole pallet or not.
What is certainly a lot less common: Citric acid additions. That's something the bigger wineries (typically, but others do as well) do on their whites to develop citrus character.
What is less common in the high-end wine world: acid REDUCTION. Like I said, there are a lot of people who want high pH wine. Wine ages faster at a higher pH, so increasing pH reduces time-to-market (ever wonder why you see Australian reds on the shelf in December of the harvest vintage?) and increases fruitiness and all sorts of other stuff (especially in tandem with high alcohol and residual sugar).
Okay, that should cover it. I can touch up some details if necessary. I need a Gatorade.