A glass of pinot noir from one place often tastes different from a glass of pinot noir from another distant site. While it’s hard to control all the variables such as grape ripeness and winemaking, the resulting differences are often ascribed to the terroir, or growing microclimate. It’s such a powerful yet nebulous concept that the French institutional structure for most winemaking (the AOC system) is based on protecting terroir.
However, a study that appeared today by some American researchers suggests something less prosaic: microbes. The fungi and bacteria that appear on grapes and subsequently in pre-fermented juice (called “must”) affect the rate of the fermentation. They appear to have stable characteristics within regions but vary across regions according to data amassed from 273 samples for the study. The researchers, David Mills and Nicholas Bokulich of UC Davis as well as John Thorngate of Constellation Brands and Paul Richardson of MicroTrek, Inc., used new methods of studying genomic sequencing to arrive at their findings, published in The Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.
“The reason I love this study is that it starts to walk down a path to something we could actually measure, David Mills was quoted as saying in the New York Times’ account of the study.
The findings are both interesting and possibly powerful. All things being equal, wines from different places do tend to taste different; if wine microbes can explain the science behind terroir, so much the better. Where this powerful insight could veer into a vinous horror film is if microbes can be harnessed or replicated to make wines from less expensive regions approximate wines from more expensive regions.
But, then again, maybe it wouldn’t be that disruptive since people who pay up are often drinking the label, as it were, rather than what’s inside the bottle.
I gave the topic a whirl in an article over on wine-searcher.com to separate the good advice from the sediment.
I am not even synthesizing it here since it would be as reduced as a young Cornas; uncork something and surf over to check out the whole article.
Climate change threatens to redraw the wine map over the next few decades. That we know. A new paper suggests that the establishment of new vineyards in cooler areas will endanger the habitat of animals ranging from grizzlies to pandas.
The findings seem to be structured to grab headlines and cause alarm–who would ever want to hurt pronghorn elk or pandas in the quest for a glass of pinot noir? Sure, the wine industry might need a prod to improve water management or reduce pesticide use. But are there concrete examples where vineyards have threatened habitats and how the potential conflicts were resolved successfully or not? In the absence of such concrete examples, it seems a bit like a bogeyman. I visited vineyards in Constantia last year, right up against the Cape of Good Hope nature preserve, which has abundant biodiversity and the vintners there spoke of living with baboon raids on grapes and how there was little they could do about it.
The paper largely ignores practicality and politics. If the climate is changing, wouldn’t there be other (e.g. housing) development pressure in cooler areas? Would other shifts in the environment of the wildlife alter the habitat more than a fenced-in vineyard? And what about preservation efforts–land use regulations in Napa, for example, essentially rendered hillside vineyard development impossible over a decade ago. And pointing to the declining vineyard area of Algeria is a red herring since it was once administratively part of mainland France at the height of French wine consumption, only to have the market removed after independence.
The map of the world’s vineyards will indubitably include new lands 50 years from now and it’s good that the paper again brings this into the popular discussion. New vineyards should be developed in a responsible way, using policy and including consideration for wildlife. But if we’re all drinking grand cru Montana in 2050, we’re going to have a lot more to think about than wine–and so will the grizzlies. Read more…
Don’t store fine wine in a sauna or on your take it with your next jungle expedition. But you knew that. Did you know that a wine’s can be chemical structure can be permanently altered within 18 hours at 86 degrees F (30 decrees C)? And did you know that 90% of wine shipped from France to China reaches 86 degrees, according to one analysis?
Well, for that and more, get on over and check out my article on why shipping temperature matters and what one company is doing about it.
In yesterday’s post about the advantages that craft beer has over wine, I mentioned both price and more consistency from a lack of cork taint as well as vintage variation. However, even in the series of articles over on San Francisco magazine, a group of tasters blind tasted three bottled beers vs draft pours of the same beer and two of the bottled beers were “lightstruck” (including one in a brown bottle). Read more…
Researchers at UCLA are threatening to put this difficult question to wine enthusiasts as they move a “sobriety pill” to clinical trials. Of course, we already have a device for sobering up: the credit card statement. But the researchers are working with extracts of the oriental raisin tree that have been used to treat hangovers in China for five centuries. The pill, based on dihydromyricetin (DHM), a component of the extract, has been found successful in reducing the effects of alcohol and hangovers in lab rats. That’s right, rats fed the substance after binging on alcohol no longer craved greasy breakfast nor did they spend the morning avoiding bright lights and loud noises! Read more at NewScientist.com.
The researchers say they are developing the pill to combat alcoholism, which seems debatable. But it does lay bare the motives for wine enthusiasts: would you continue to pay for and provide tasting notes for fermented grape juice if it gives you the same buzz as Welch’s?
Or would you actually drink more knowing that you could taste through every wine in a given region, pop a sobriety pill, drive home and go for a five-mile run in the morning?
Hennie van Vuuren (right) suffers headaches after drinking young red wine. As a result, the professor in Biotechnology at the University of British Columbia has spent a large part of his professional life researching why. His solution: ML01, a genetically modified yeast.
It’s a coincidence that as Mark Bittman laments the lack of labeling of GM foods at nytimes.com, a story making the rounds in the Canadian press touts a “new” strain of genetically modified yeast for wines called ML01. According to the Vancouver Sun story by Randy Shore, ML01 is so prevalent that “If you drink red wine from the United States or Canada, there’s a good chance you’ve tried ML01 wine already.” You wouldn’t know about it because of the lack of labeling requirement.
I corresponded with Hendrik van Vuuren to learn more. Read more…
SPIT: repurposed content
Snooth.com, a site that ranks high in search results yet often offers frustratingly little hard information, has been scraping Cellartracker content, the Vintank blog suggests. The Snooth co-founder admits the content has “slipped through” their Ph.D. programmers since 2007 and apologizes. The Cellartracker founder comments on the post to say he has emails from 2008 contradicting several points in the apology post. As they say in the Twitterverse: oh, snap!
According to a new study, wine grapes lack genetic variation because of asexual reproduction, making them susceptible to pests and/or disease. This may raise use of pesticides or fungicides to unacceptable limits, which leaves growers three options: developing genetically resistant grape varieties, going organic, or cross-breeding grapes to have naturally sturdier varieties. [NYT]
SIPPED: cool wine
FedEx announces temperature controlled trucks to certain hubs, but the last stage of delivery will be in regular trucks. Is half a trip better than none? [winebusiness.com]
SPIT: frozen grapes
The head of the Canadian Vintners Association points the finger at China in recent icewine fraud. [Reuters]
Australians are drinking less beer than any time in the past 61 years, according to government statistics. Don’t worry, they’re not on the wagon: wine is growing in popularity. Will “wine” ever be Australian for “drink”? [smh.com.au]