Thursday, July 2, 2015

Correcting Lukacs' Inventing Wine with Clark Smith's Postmodern Winemaking?

In a previous post, I reported on Isabelle Legereon's issues with modern-day winemaking (as presented in her book Natural Wine) and utilized information from Lukacs (Inventing Wine) to refute/contextualize some of her arguments. Information gleaned from a reading of Clark Smith's Postmodern Winemaking shows that some of the post-WWII winemaking innovations identified by Lukacs were (i) much more granular than indicated and (ii) originated in Germany, rather than in France (and Emile Peynaud).

As I described it in my earlier post,
The concept of human control of the winemaking process was not new, according to Lukacs. It began with Enlightenment scientists such as Antoine Lavoisier and Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal in the 1700s, continued through Pasteur (with his discoveries of the role of yeasts and bacteria in fermentation and spoilage) and the work of Emile Peynaud, both in his lab and working with the Bordeaux Chateaus to convert his research to actionable inputs into the winemaking process. Peynaud's contribution included refrigeration, understanding the role of malolactic fermentation, and the need for rigorous selection in the vineyard. His efforts changed the stylistic and qualitative character of the Bordeaux wines such that the "whites became less tart and vegetal and the reds more supple and sensuous, fuller in flavor but less astringent."
Based on Clark Smith's interpretation of the history of that period, the "tools of 20th century winemaking" were stainless steel, inert gas, refrigeration, and sterile filtration (a product of nuclear energy) and this "modern winemaking revolution exploded out of Germany" in the form of Rieslings that were fresh, sterile-filtered, and completely without oxidative characters. According to Smith: "the idea of a light, sweet, fresh, fruity wine like Blue Nun was as world changing as color television." 

These tools and techniques were adopted by Peynaud and other scientists in France and, from there, migrated to the US. According to Smith, prior to the 1960s, 95% of California wines were either port or sherry styles. With the introduction of Blue Nunn, and the adoption of the associated technologies in Bordeaux, US winemakers followed suit such that, by 1970, the majority of California wine contained less than 14% alcohol.

Adoption of these new technologies was not trouble-free. According to Smith, fully 50% of the wine produced had one or more of the following afflictions:
  • Volatile acidity
  • Aldehyde
  • Geranium tone
  • Heat instability
  • Cold instability.
Heroic work at UCDavis on issues such as pH, sulfur dioxide management, sanitation, oxidation prevention, temperature management, and control of malolactic fermentation led to "an era of clean, competent table wine production."

This base of quality production, plus their success in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, caused the US producers, according to Smith, "to shift from light European knockoffs to big Chardonnays and Cabernets that the French could not match."

In closing, while Lukacs identifies the post-WWII period as important, as it relates to quality winemaking, if Smith's history is accurate, then Lukacs missed both the origin and scope of the advancements.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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