When to bottle sulfite-free Cab?

The 09 is in barrels. I’ve not had the nerve to taste it for a long time. It’s the one we did without adding sulphites. What is the projected course of events, i.e. how long should it stay in barrels, and thereafter how soon should it be bottled? From the wine structure I guessed it would be a “2 to 3 year” barrel wine, but I’ve not done an so2 free wine before, so maybe it should reduce to 18 months?


How to Pair Wine and Music


Some time back (2007?) I remember listening to a show on NPR about the relationships between wine and music. I was intrigued by the idea – as a musician I have always felt that music affects many things.

Since I was planning a party I decided to conduct an experiment at the party and having people write down their impressions of wine at various points after listening to a specific track. It was not very scientific, and the results were not conclusive, but the party was a huge hit resulting in us having to kick people out in the small hours because they would not leave on their own.

I find the whole idea fascinating (not to mention a great excuse to drink wine and listen to great music). I haven’t heard much about it since then and was wondering whether you have taken this analysis any further. If so I would love to know what the next steps are for this idea.

Thanks for coming up with such an innovative concept!


Dear Barry,

There’s quite a bit on this at postmodernwinemaking.com. I do classes and presentations, and I always post a playlist that goes with my wines.

I find sometimes when people don’t “get it” when first experiencing an unusual style or varietal, they can have their eyes opened by trying it with a good music pairing. It’s certainly a way to enhance any wine experience and get more for your money.

It’s really quite easy to work up a playlist. Just pop a bottle and download 30 second snippets from iTunes. You’ll see what works and what doesn’t. It’s a fun party game. Eventually you learn the emotional modality that the wine conveys, and you match it.

Bring your friends up to Santa Rosa sometime and we’ll play.


Science and Politics

The recent attack by anti-GMO activists on an experimental planting of biotech grapes in a government-funded site in Colmar, France raises some thought provoking discussion about public safety, burden of proof and the nature of the public commons.

An article by Davis grad and plant pathologist Steve Savage “A Sad Day for Wine, A Sad Day for Science” articulates one side of the debate, and there is lively and civil discussion in the comments, including some by yours truly. Recommended reading.

Systems thinking and prediction of consequences is not something contemporary science is very good at. Consider, for example, the consequences of USDA’s recent intentional introduction of the asian ladybug to the Central US, a disaster of epic proportions.

Steve’s assertion that he is in a position to assess the risks is chilling. A sad day for science indeed when we lord our education and experience over the lay public’s legitimate concerns for unpredictable consequences.

Scientists need to state their case — the risks and the rewards — and let the public in on the decision-making process, rather than to pre-empt such a conversation and ask us simply to trust the “professional” assessment.

Aside from the fact that scientific corricula generally include little in the way of ethics, philosophical training, writing skills, or political awareness, UC Davis is a brutally tough school (I found it much more disagreable to study there compared with MIT), and graduates tend to carry the false impression that such hard-won degrees must confer special wisdom. That gut feeling of superiority results in much mischief.

Science vs Biodynamics

Stuart Smith is hosting a lively discussion debunking biodynamics on his blog.

My contribution:

While my sentiments are with you in that the origins of BD are pretty shady, and as fond as I am of Stu personally, I am disappointed in the smug, self-assured tone of this blog. As someone who knows a little about science, let me play Devil’s advocate and challenge some statements here, not so much to support Steiner but more to strengthen true science by pointing out what it is not.

Your arguments are largely circular: BD seems absurd, and therefore why investigate? Our inability to imagine the mechanisms of biodynamics does not by itself constitute proof of its invalidity, and neither does a smear campaign regarding its founder.

Say it’s the 18th century, you’re Isaac Newton, and I tell you I’ve got a box that can pull invisible waves out of the air and show us pictures and voices from people in other parts of the world and from other times. Yeah, right. Say you can discredit my credentials: does that make the claim less accurate, or just less credible?

It is this very complacency which has by its nature created alternatives to scientific progress such as the BD movement, out of shear frustration with its limitations and its lack of imagination.

The only thing I can see that really distinguishes the process which established BD from science is that the latter has a well organized system of verifiable inquiry. But this is not as cut-and-dried a recommendation as one might suppose. As practiced in the last 100 years, this inquiry is based on arbitrary and often inapplicable statistical assumptions. It also is better suited to elucidating simple, linear, analytical phenomena than evaluating whole systems, particularly human responses to intricate stimuli such as a glass of wine.

Science’s focus on isolated problems rather than systems thinking has led to a lot of problems. A pill for this, a pill for that, with no notion of the impact for this particular person’s body as a whole. The USDA importation of Asian ladybugs has been a disaster for the wine industry from Ohio to Niagara. Need I go on?

Yet science is not fundamentally reductionist; all areas of inquiry are, in theory, fair game, even astrology, voodoo and biodynamics. In winemaking, UCDavis would do well to abandon its outdated solution chemistry paradigm and to give at least tentative credibility to phenomena such as minerality, aromatic integration and profundity.

Overconfidence in science as a repository of truth, despite its inability to tackle currently vexing problems like balancing a sustainable ecosystem or turning a $30 Pinot into a $50 Pinot, has driven some very smart people such as Randall Grahm and the Benzigers to try another way.
Just as Western medicine has a theory of disease but not one of wellness, scientific winemaking has stumbled badly by trying to dissect wine. It’s great for fixing defects, but has no advice for increasing wines soulfulness, harmony or even longevity.

Having solved the easy problems, our current scientific practice is no longer the engine of progress in these areas – it is the caboose. It will fall to scientists in the future to evaluate the efficacy of BD systems wrought by true believers rather than to second guess now in an area where our methods have no predictive traction.

Field Oxidation

Clark- can you elaborate on the following text from your TONG paper? Specifically, the relationship between “active tannins and sulfides”? Also, what do you mean by “field oxidation”?

“Alcohol adjustment enabled California winemakers to achieve full ripeness, but that resulted in new problems. Ripe musts full of well-extracted, active tannins produce stinky sulfides. These unpleasant but transitory compounds are a sign of healthy life energy, but they are disconcerting to the novice winemaker and require a new skill set.

Instead, reductive behavior in highly concentrated wines like Cabernet and Syrah has prompted many winemakers to drive the life energy out of their grapes by excessive hangtime and field oxidation.”



Red grapes at peak ripeness have a maximum reductive strength. A typical Napa Cab Sauv will take up 60 – 80 mls of oxygen for a month. If deprived of oxygen, it will become very reductive, often producing H2S as an artifact. These sulfides have nothing to do with dusting sulfur and are an artifact of very low redox potential.

Flavonoid phenols such as catechin exist in grape skins as monomeric, and also as two types of polymers. During early ripening they form enzymatically into non-oxidative polymers with 4-8 bonds and a compact macrostructure. These bonds are acid-labile, so from a functional point of view can be regarded as banked monomer, and become monomeric in must as soon as they are crushed.

The second type of polymeric linkage is oxidative. These are not 4-8 linkages, but instead are initiated by oxidation of the B ring, which contains an ortho-diphenol structure, and result in random linkages which are covalent and permanent, not subject to acidic hydrolysis. For example, the epicatechin gallate polymers in seeds become oxidatively cross linked in seeds during ripening, reducing their solubility and harsh flavor, making berries more palatable to birds.

The field oxidation process takes place in the late stages of ripening, resulting in permanent structures which are oxidatively inactive. Since anthocyanins are compartmentalized in skins, they are not optimally incorporated into these structures, which are prone to over polymerization and precipitation after a few years, leaving a dry, gritty impression on the palate. They are also incapable of forming copigmentation colloids.

Thus field oxidation robs the wine of both anthocyanins and active tannins. A typical Napa Cabernet with three weeks of excessive ripeness will be able to consume only 30 – 40 mls of oxygen for 3 – 5 days, having lost approximately 90% of its reductive strength. Those extra three weeks on the vine steal a decade of cellaring potential.

The technique of field oxidation was perfected by the Australians to soften tannins so no cellar elaboration was necessary, as an easy means to produce bottle-ready fruit bombs today’s marketplace demands. This is fine as long as it is understood that the effect is transitory. It’s all very well for production of flavorful (if shallow) wines intended for current consumption. The problem arises when the technique is used for expensive wines with ageworthy reputation, such as the modern anathemas currently perpetrated in Barolo and in Napa Cabernet.

Postmodern Winemakers do their cooking in the kitchen, not the field. A trained hand will pick ripe but not overripe and utilize oxygen to convert reductive energy into structure, taking advantage of active tannins and monomeric anthocyanins in intimate contact, and producing a rich, light, stable tannin soufflé using oxygen as the wire whisk, building and balancing reductive strength in the process. The result is wines of both youthful finesse and enhanced longevity, to say nothing of the enhancement of profundity of flavor and character.

Jesus Saves PEI Vineyards

Apropos of nothing, I just had to repost this item off Jancis Robinson’s blog commenting on her article about Canadian wines. It’s among the funniest things I ever heard.

From Valerie d’E Miller, Millers Landing, Ontario:

Thank you for an excellent article on the Canadian wine scene. We have a small vineyard in Canada and have found the whole situation mighty frustrating. You covered it beautifully.

California Dreamer in Search of the Miraculous

Here’s a link to my recent article interviewing my great friend Randall Grahm. It’s not your typical RG article, and if you are a winemaker yourself, it contains much food for thought to ponder your relationship with the public and perhaps with your Marketing Department.

I have been writing this column for Wines and Vines on Postmodern Winemaking since January, and the previous articles are now posted. I strongly recommend the whole series to lovers of this blog, starting with January’s column, The Solution Problem: Overcoming Enology.