December 14, 2017
By Simon Black
I often hear the phrase ‘non-intervention’ being bandied around in wine marketing circles suggesting this type of winemaking is the ultimate form and the only way to vinify grapes. That this term is then used to suggest that the less one does, the better the wine is, is misleading.
Winemaking by its very nature is interventionist.
It is the skill of the winemaker and his or her level of intervention that creates quality, not his or her nonchalant hands-off approach.
It is without question that quality grapes are the driving force behind quality wine and I think the conversation has moved past this point and this idea is now widely accepted.
It’s the winemakers’ knowledge and understanding of a particular vineyard that enables them to know when and how much to intervene in order to coax out the best expression of a specific site. This is a subjective matter and you could no doubt give the same grapes to 10 different winemakers and get 10 different outcomes with varying levels of quality and site expression.
There is a lot of myth around wine promotion. One common example is the suggestion that older soils make better wine, which is absurd given that soil is purely a medium to grow a vine in. The type of soil and the management of the vine growing within are of course tremendously relevant, but to suggest that ‘millions of years old’ soil somehow has a greater capacity to enhance quality is unfounded prattle.
Likewise, that soils impart ‘minerality’ into wine is also a wine industry promoted myth. Grapevines do not extract mineral flavours out of the ground and then deposit them into grapes as some kind of flavour enhancer 101. Vines can only draw upon ions in solution and translocate these into their metabolic pathways together with photosynthesis to enable growth and function.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to balance which is achieved through meticulous attention to detail. In the vineyard, an intimate knowledge of the soils, vine physiology, canopy management, water and nutrient status all contribute to a healthily balanced vine capable of setting and ripening a crop with desirable chemical and organoleptic qualities.
In the winery, it’s about choosing when to intervene and how to handle the fruit in order to create a wine with complexity and a balance across all facets including alcohol, acid, tannin, sugar, oak, flavour and colour to name a few of the key elements.
The wine industry, including journalists, have a responsibility to investigate claims before spruiking unfounded nonsense and to educate consumers with credible and accurate information rather than selling myth.
Surely as an industry, there’s enough beauty, creativity and innovative spirit at our disposal that we can come up with more informative, relevant, factual and interesting ways to promote wine to consumers with an already insatiable appetite for information.